Battaglia Mafia Series, Book 5
In the spring of 1994 the fashion would awaits the return of the reclusive designer Mirabella Battaglia. Many have speculated for years about the torrid love affair between their fallen star and the world’s most notorious crime boss Don Giovanni Battaglia.
Mirabella is overjoyed. She has it all, a husband who loves her, a new sisterhood with her long lost twin, healthy children and a loving family that supports her. Now is the time to reclaim her passion for designing. Giovanni loves his wife, and though her reemergence into the fashion world would expose them to the risks of fame and celebrity he willingly makes the sacrifice. Nothing is more important than his Bella’s dreams.
However, a very dangerous enemy lurks in the shadows. He has watched Mirabella’s life blossom with seething hatred and envy. He wants the woman and life he thinks was stolen from him, and he is prepared to burn the Battaglia dynasty to the ground to have her again. Secrets, plots of revenge, and lies infiltrate the Battaglia family. The destruction and pain left behind is catastrophic and can only be healed by true love. But will Giovanni and Mirabella learn that lesson too late?
Villa Mare Blu – 1972
Mondello Beach / Palermo Sicily
Rage and hurt should never exist in a young boy at once. Blinded by tears, fifteen-year-old Giovanni Battaglia stormed down the stairs of his seaside home in search of sanctuary. The cellar welcomed him. It was a dark paneled, windowless cavity that only the men in the family frequented to smoke hand rolled cigars and guzzle homemade whiskey.
Hurt lashed his heart once more when he too recalled the room’s prior personal use. Often he’d sneak Carmella inside through the cellar doors for a lover’s kiss, and adventurous sex. The whore!
She was never his.
She betrayed him.
She was dead to him now.
The chair flew from his hands and smashed into the wall. It splintered with two of its legs breaking. He threw everything within his reach. First went an oil lamp with a glass ball shade, and then a cedar box of cigars that had recently been delivered to his father. Bottles of aged whiskey flew from his hands. Each plucked out of the open crates and tossed as if they were bowling pins. Wet streaks of pungent liquor and kerosene splattered over the walls. Shattered glass shards littered the concrete floor.
It hurt to love.
That’s what amore was—pain. He loved his mother and couldn’t protect her. He loved his father and couldn’t please him. He loved his girl and she betrayed him.
Giovanni Battaglia failed at love. He wanted to destroy something. He needed to destroy someone. He needed it more than he needed to breathe. Killing Armando Mancini was his intent. Even now he didn’t know if he succeeded. Still he wished to do more harm. To himself and everyone that betrayed him.
“Hai una faccia tosta!” A voice boomed like a blast from a cannon behind him. Giovanni whirled on the intruder. He squinted in the shadowy darkness for clarity. Breathing was hard when angry. He exhaled deeply through flared nostrils. He stumbled backward and tried to remove any trace of tears from his face. But his actions were all the more revealing and the tears kept flowing. He heard Patri was in Palermo on business. No one expected him to return to Villa Mare Blu until the weekend.
He had been summoned.
“Answer me, boy! Who the fuck do you think you are?” Tomosino demanded. He descended the last stair and flipped the switch. Light flooded the room thanks to a single bulb hanging from the lowered ceiling. Giovanni squinted against the glare. He would have preferred the darkness.
Don Tomosino Battaglia was a lion amongst men. Not just in stature and build, but in ruthless intolerance. He wore a long tan trench coat splattered with wet spots from the rain, and a fedora that rested on his head. His father had just arrived and came in search of him. That meant he knew the truth—all of it.
Tomosino took off his hat and threw it. He shrugged off his coat and dropped it. Giovanni continued to step back. Tomosino rolled up one sleeve and then the other to the bend of his elbow. His hands curled into fists as large as boulders.
Giovanni glanced around at the destruction he’d done to his father’s belongings, and shuddered inwardly over the expected consequences. Before he could explain the scene and his actions to his father, his left jaw caved in and the molar to the left side of his mouth loosened. The backhanded blow ripped through his face and rattled his skull. He was knocked into the shelf. Several bottles crashed on him and the floor.
“Disgraziato! Minchia fredda!” shouted his father. He was called a spineless pussy before his father delivered a swift kick to his stomach. Giovanni nearly choked on his vomit.
“Get up, you worm!” his father growled, with spittle coating his lips. The savagery of the beating continued. “You’re a man! Right? Right? In piedi!”
How was he to stand? He was being hit and kicked all over. His mind willed his body to obey, but he struggled to protect himself. Giovanni wept. He curled into a ball as his father’s rage became unstoppable. Tears proved to be an unforgivable mistake. His father kicked him again! And again! This time he did spew his lunch. He tried to turn away from the kicks and suffered several to his back.
“In piedi! Be a man! You want to! You think you are! In piedi!”
“Patri!” he begged. “No more!”
How could Giovanni atone when nothing his father had shown him in his young life thus far prepared him for such gut churning emotion? His girlfriend and best friends betrayed him. He was the laughing stock of Mondello, Sicilia, hell the universe. He hated life. He hated his father. He hated everyone. He wept hard.
“You will answer for this. Do you hear me? Only I take a life! I alone decide who is punished! I will break your fucking neck for disgracing me!” His father grabbed him by the hair and brought Giovanni up to his feet. He delivered a bone-crushing blow to the center of his face, either with his fist or a weapon. Giovanni did not know. Darkness began to descend on his mind, and his vision rolled up in his head. He heard a woman scream. Was it Carmella? When Giovanni plunged the knife into Armando she had screamed, and her screams chased him all the way back to Villa Mare Blu.
No! No. It wasn’t Carmella, the whore. It was his mother. She screamed so hysterically that the sound stopped his father’s hands from crushing his throat. Giovanni sagged against the wall. His face was bloody, his nose dripped blood, he spit up a tooth and more blood from the back of his mouth. He blinked awake in time to see his pregnant mother charge at his father with her fists. Her long red hair whipped about as she fought with no consideration of the danger she put herself and her unborn child in.
“Don’t you ever hit him!” she screamed. “Don’t you ever touch him!” she wept. “Ever! Ever! Ever! Ever! Ever!”
Tomosino tried to calm his mistress, the mother of his only son. He took her by the arms to still her, but it was of no use. She fought him with the same madness his father used when he attacked Giovanni. The only defense left to Tomosino was to back away from them both. Evelyn came to her knees and pulled Giovanni over into her arms. She stroked his face. She kissed his brow. She glared up at his father while cradling Giovanni to her breast. “You swore to me, Tomosino. On your life! You swore you’d never raise a hand to any of us. You swore it. But you are a monster who lies! A monster who could beat his own son with his own fists. THE DEVIL! I hate you for this! I hate you!”
“The boy’s actions today, Eve. He has put this family in jeopardy. He knifed the son of Don Mancini—”
“You swore!” she shouted him down, and Tomosino silenced. “He is your blood! How much blood have I lost to give you your son? Whatever his crimes are, he’s learned the sin from you!”
Tomosino looked down at his hands bruised and reddened by Giovanni’s blood. He shook his head in disbelief over either his own actions or his mother’s prophetic words. Giovanni wasn’t sure. What he did see out of his bleary vision was his father’s retreat. No one living or dead could make his father retreat other than his mother.
“I’m not a monster. Perdonami per favore,” his father said before he was gone.
“Let me go, Madre.” Giovanni tried to escape his mother’s embrace. He tried to be a man and rise to his feet. He could not. When he broke free of her she grabbed his face and it hurt. He crumbled. He wept. He cried in pain and humiliation. She made him look into her eyes.
“Listen to me. I want you to go upstairs and pack a bag. You will go to Zio Vito’s. I don’t want you here or near your father now. I know what you’ve done,” she wept. She shook her head and wept. She gathered her strength to continue, and it pained him to see her do so. “You’re my son. I love you, no matter the crime. God help me. God bless your your soul, Giovanni. This is my fault. I should have fought harder to keep you from this… from him. I’m weak. I failed you.”
“Madre, no, no. It’s my fault. Don’t cry.”
Eve nodded but the tears continued to fall. “Please, Gio. Do as I say. Do you understand me? Stay away from your father until his temper cools.”
Giovanni nodded and blinked away his tears. “Armando Mancini deserved it. He deserved it, Ma-Ma!”
“The reason doesn’t matter now, Gio. What you did will put your father at war with the Mancinis. Rocco is on his way. Stay out of your father’s sight. Do you understand me? Say you understand! Say it!”
“Sí, sí, Madre, I understand.” He nodded.
“And I will pray for us all,” she said.
Four Days later –
Giovanni wiped the damp rag down his face. The swelling to his left eye had ripened to the point of shutting. But he could see out of both. His nose was broken. The dottore had insisted he wear a splint to keep it from misshaping horribly. It was the bruise to his stomach and back from Patri’s kicks that made his aunts weep whenever they caught sight of him without his shirt. Still each day the physical pain hurt less and less.
“Avanti,” Giovanni answered.
He walked out of the small bathroom into his room. Lorenzo and Santo entered. Carlo and Nico were noticeably absent. Though he was still angry at his friends, it was Lorenzo’s betrayal that hurt him the most. However, he’d rather have them visit than continue to suffer under forced exile alone.
Santo closed the door.
“Is he dead?” Giovanni asked.
“Who? Armando? No. But the pig squeals.”
Giovanni’s gaze slowly lifted. Lorenzo looked to Santo and then back to him. “Alejandro is dead. They bury him tomorrow. It wasn’t your fault, Gio. He got in the way of your strike. I told Patri this. The fight with Armando got out of hand.”
The news of Alejandro’s death did not catch him by surprise. He heard his aunt’s whisper about it days ago. Giovanni went to his bed and sat. He had never imagined he’d be responsible for taking someone’s life. He’d seen it from his father’s and uncles’ hands, but never his own. He closed his eyes and accepted the grim responsibility. It was Lorenzo who approached him. It was Lorenzo who betrayed him.
“You made me do this,” Giovanni said to his cousin. “I think it was you that set me up, to see her that way. Wasn’t it?”
“It was him, Gio,” Santo confirmed. But Santo couldn’t look him in the eye. He didn’t trust the opinion of anyone who could not look him in the eye.
“Shut the fuck up!” Lorenzo hissed. Lorenzo stared down at Giovanni but offered no explanation. He knew they treaded carefully around him. None of them had killed a person before. Giovanni had unintentionally garnered respect among his friends and cousin that would shadow him for the rest of his life. His cousin spoke in a low contrite voice. “We can’t visit long. Vito isn’t here but he will return. He’s out with Patri now. They meet with the Mancinis.”
Giovanni nodded. He again looked at his hands and remembered the knife and blood.
“Gio, I am sorry. What we did. What I did. I shouldn’t have. We were in trouble because of your obsession with that puttana. It made you look weak! I only did this to make us strong. I make you strong, Gio,” Lorenzo said.
“It is time for you to shut your fucking mouth!” Giovanni slowly stood. “Santo’s right. You betrayed me. You have blood on your hands too!”
“She’s a whore! I didn’t force her! You saw her, Gio. Did it look like I forced her?” he shouted. “What is my crime? I’m your brother! Your blood brother! You had us fighting with Mancini in the streets for her. They laughed at you. They don’t laugh anymore do they?” Lorenzo smiled.
Giovanni cast his gaze away. Lorenzo put his hand on his shoulder. “Yes, I was wrong. But so were you, Gio, about her and everything. You see that now. Eh? With me at your side I will always make sure you do the right thing, because I love you, brother. I will protect you.”
The words failed Giovanni. He could barely process any of it now. Walking in on his girlfriend sucking the dick of his greatest nemesis, while his cousin and friends laughed, broke something in him. It wasn’t just her betrayal, but his inability to not see it in her. It made him weak and Lorenzo was right to wake him up.
“Where is Carlo? Nico?” Giovanni asked. “Why aren’t they here?”
Lorenzo looked back at Santo, who again kept his eyes trained to the floor. And then Lorenzo’s gaze swung back to Giovanni. “It’s Carlo. He’s in trouble.”
Giovanni frowned. “What kind of trouble?” he asked.
“Gabriella now accuses him of rape. First she’s fucking him behind every tree they can find, and now she says she was raped. They came for him. Dragged him from his bed in the middle of the night. His sister said they are going to send him away for the crime. I tried to talk to Patri but he won’t listen. Gabriella is a Mancini. And with what you did to Armando… Alejandro… Gio, Carlo will not come out of this without your help.”
“My help? My help!” he knocked Lorenzo’s hand away. “How am I to help, cousin? Patri has banished me here. My mother has taken to bed sick with worry. They fear she could lose the baby. I haven’t spoken to anyone outside of here in days. And I still don’t know my punishment. This isn’t on me alone! You do as you please and then circle back for solutions. I have none!”
“This is Carlo!” Lorenzo shouted. “We must all help him!”
Giovanni shrugged. His father had taught him something four days ago. He would not shed a tear for a woman or friend again. He cut his gaze to Santo. He looked back to his cousin. “I can’t do shit for Carlo now.”
Santo cleared his throat and spoke up. “Armando is being released from the hospital today. He has a broken collarbone and several cracked ribs. The blade you used on him didn’t go deep. It wasn’t the worst of his injuries. He can’t stand. I hear he is wheeled around in a chair and pisses in a bag.” Santo chuckled. “You’re right, Gio. We are all to blame. But Carlo is our brother, our friend. And he has no father to speak for him.”
Lorenzo nodded in agreement. “Help us, Gio. Help him.”
“Va bene,” Giovanni said. “I make no promises.”
Two Weeks Later –
“Avanti!” his father said.
After visiting with his mother he was summoned. Giovanni’s legs felt like jelly, but he stepped inside. He kept swallowing saliva and nerves. For the first time in weeks his father looked him in the eye.
“Close the door,” Don Tomosino ordered.
He did as he was told. Zio Vito was with him. His uncle chose to take a seat on the sofa next to Flavio. Giovanni had to approach Tomosino alone. He glanced over to see that Dominic sat on the floor near his father’s desk playing with his toy soldiers. He looked up at Giovanni and smiled. The fear in his heart lessened. Most days his father kept Dominic close to him when he was in his office working. A privilege Giovanni only experienced when he too was Dominic’s age.
“Come closer,” his father said.
Giovanni walked in and stopped before his desk. His father didn’t speak. Giovanni lowered his gaze and found his voice. “I want to apologize, for my behavior, for everything. I regret my actions.”
“I hear this was all for a girl who hurt your feelings?” Don Tomosino asked.
“Pussy,” Rocco chuckled.
He lifted his head and looked at his father and then his uncles. “No, sir. It was a matter of respect. Armando Mancini and my friends disrespected me. I handled the insult poorly.”
Tomosino cut his eyes over to Flavio who stared directly at Giovanni. He knew what the men thought of his father’s weakness for his mother. Whatever Giovanni did, he was always an extension of his father. It was a lesson he’d never forget. He had hoped his response gave them some explanation.
“You will pay Armando a visit today and apologize to him and his mother.” Flavio informed Giovanni.
The news was an unexpected blow to his gut. He glanced to his father to see if they were his wishes. His father stared back at him expressionless. He turned his gaze to Rocco who smoked a cigar and winked at him. Zio Vito was the only one who couldn’t look Giovanni in the eye. He stared at the floor with his hat in his hands.
“Patri? I am the one that is wronged.” Giovanni tried to reason. “Armando Mancini is no victim.”
“You are the one to react with emotion and without thought. Wronged or not, you are to never let our enemies see you humbled. So I intend to humble you before them. Give you a taste of the humiliation. In the future, no matter what is at stake, you remember the bitter taste of such defeat. And you will make the better choice.” His father leaned forward. “You are my flesh. My progeny. I am you and you are me. But if you ever strike another without my consent, I will not hesitate to strike back. Do you understand, Gio?”
“Sí, Patri,” Giovanni nodded.
“Take Dominic and go!” The Don commanded. Dominic rose with only one toy soldier in his hand. He came over to Giovanni and he took his hand.
“Patri, my friend Carlo is in trouble. He needs your help. He has been falsely accused of rape.”
“I don’t give a shit,” Don Tomosino said. “Leave!”
Giovanni did as asked. He walked out of his father’s office and closed the door.
“Gio? What is the matter?” Dominic asked.
“Nothing. Nothing is the matter,” he said and led him away.
“But what of Carlo?” Dominic asked.
“There is nothing I can do for him now. Someday when I do have control I will not be like Patri. We will be different, Domi.”
“Sí, Gio. You already are,” Dominic smiled.