Battaglia Mafia Series, Book 1
Loving a Gangster
Mira Ellison is poised to have it all. In 1989, she is the first prominent African American fashion designer redefining change for both beauty and style among the renowned in Italy. That happens until the evening she meets a tall, mysteriously charming Sicilian businessman who orchestrates a friendship that awakens a wicked sexual heat she has long forgotten. Who is he really? What harm could a little fling in one of the most beautiful countries in the world bring?
Don Giovanni Battaglia is a man who knows how to get his way. He lives his life on the razor edge of control as he balances family and his dark legacy. He is the leader of a ruthless crime family, and those who intercept his purpose are swiftly made to pay. Mira’s design house opens in Napoli, and unbeknownst to her, the property she occupies is one for which the Battaglia family has big plans. Giovanni’s designs for her business set them on a collision course of heated passion, spine chilling danger, and an unspeakable act of murder.
Mondello Beach, Sicily 1962
“Papa, it’s too far,” Giovanni said. The longer he stared down into the rolling waves the worse his plight became. His head grew heavier on his small shoulders, and his vision blurred with the threat of tears. There could be danger below. The mere thought of his tipping over paralyzed him with fear. A long tide rushed in and broke across the stranded rocks near the shoreline. From his angle, twenty-feet above according to Uncle Rocco, he could see the depths of the water where it went from turquoise to midnight blue. The lunch in his tummy bubbled up into his throat and his tiny hands shook as he suppressed his terror. Another cool wind combed through his tightly wound locks, crowning the top of his head. It pushed against his bare chest. He was only six years old. Why would his father command this of him? Would the leap prove him to be courageous, or just worthy of the title son?
“Tomosino. He’s just a baby, don’t do this,” Eve pulled on the Don’s arm and tried to reason with him. Don Battaglia glared at Giovanni’s mother, and her pleas fell softly away. He returned his cool dark gaze to his son, and Giovanni resisted the urge to cry.
“You are old enough boy.” The Don answered in his thick Sicilian brogue that made most men obey without question. “You can swim. Now, show Papa and everyone.”
No one dared question his father once his desired wish was explicitly stated. Not his mother, uncles, or the men that vowed to serve and respect his authority. Don Battaglia’s word was law. Giovanni’s blinking gaze shifted to Lorenzo. His cousin stood near his mother with a towel draped over his shoulders, visibly shivering. He nearly drowned from his failed attempt. The men had to go in and rescue him. The women were crying hysterically. Now the humiliation of defeat left Lorenzo hanging his head in shame. Young Lorenzo was only a year older than Giovanni. Tomosino announced that his son was braver and smarter than his nephew, smarter than any other six year old within Sicily. The Don boasted Giovanni would need no saving. And it was time to prove his father right.”
“Si,” Giovanni said. He stepped to the edge and stared down into the glistening water. He could swim, better than Lorenzo and better than his uncles. Still the leap would be the highest and longest dive of his young life.
“No please! No! I beg you, don’t make him!” His mother wept. He glanced to her and forced a brave smile. Her scarlet red hair blew from her face, and her clear blue eyes held such sadness. He had eyes like his mother but the bravery of his father. He’d prove it. Show them all. Indeed he was strong enough. And though his beloved mother may not be the chosen wife, she had given birth to the Don’s first-born son. Even in his tender years, Giovanni knew how he could ease his mother’s suffering from her tormentors if the Don proclaimed him as so. It made her special, too. He nodded in the direction of his mother and stepped back several paces. Taking in deep breaths like his uncle Rocco had taught him, he counted to three and ran for it.
The wind lifted him. Giovanni kicked his legs and crossed his arms over his chest because his heart beat so hard and fast he thought it would explode. He sailed downward. The invisible pull of gravity roped around his ankles, drawing him closer and faster toward the sea. And he crashed into its icy depths. He felt as if rocks were strapped to his shoulders driving him to the sea floor. He puffed his cheeks and held his breath. The pressure closed in around him. It was as if the water strangled him by the throat and squeezed around his midriff making him want to take a breath. He knew better than to do so while submerged. His eyes opened under the current, and he swam toward the light above. But salvation was too far. He’d gone really deep. He swam harder though his arms tired with heaviness, as did his legs, which he kicked feebly. He wanted to cry, but there was no time to, he had to swim or else Papa would be displeased. When he believed there would be no end to the struggle freedom overwhelmed him as he broke clear of the waves. His mother and uncle had already run down the side of the cliffs to the shore. But his father and his men stood atop the clearing watching his success. A few cheered and several threw their hats up in celebration. Don Tomosino had indeed proven his only son was worthy to take on the Battaglia name.
Giovanni treaded the water smiling up to his father. Tomosino stuffed a fat cigar in his mouth, turned, without a word, and walked away.
Napoli (Naples) Italy – 1989
The day had been balmy in the middle and crisp around the edges with the night carrying in the steamy sea air from the not so distant Amalfi coast. A single tear of perspiration dropped from his brow to the tip of his nose, which he swiped away. Under the cover of darkness Giovanni Battaglia stalked up the narrow cobblestone alley, passing tightly squeezed in shop owners and restaurants. A man of his stature never travelled alone. Isabella’s was at the end of the narrow street. Fine dining was offered through its doors to the front and top levels. The steps that led to the lower floors were locked behind doors that only opened upon invite. Giovanni Battaglia needed none. In his black on black attire, only his tall form could be seen as he and the men accompanying him blended with the night.
Giovanni slipped his hands deeper in his pockets, parting the front folds of his sports coat. A half smoked cigar was tucked tight between his tongue and his left jaw. Danny-boy, his gun, was situated in the back of his pants, well hidden. The street symphony of honking horns and laughing diners or passing tourists blared as a nice cover to the business conducted in the belly of Isabella’s. The doorman glanced his way. When their eyes met, acknowledgement was immediate. Those who knew his true name didn’t dare evoke it casually. He received a few respectful nods and curious stares, but no one approached him. Carlo stepped ahead to the door and opened it. Giovanni and the others continued on, they descended a spiral stairwell with tiled walls and hard marble steps.
Tonight he was out for blood. He’d spill it in his own organization before he tolerated disobedience. There were rules in this life. From birth he heard the vows of secrecy recited by the men in his family. His cousin, Lorenzo, heard them, too. Yet, he found ways to continue to walk the line of disobedience within their brotherhood. At the end of the stairs the lighting dimmed, and the faint sounds of music pulsed through the walls and doors. Nico waited. He was so tall and broad shouldered he crowded the space. Nico bowed his large head and reached behind him to throw the door open.
Giovanni’s glare sliced through the smoke-thickened air scanning the scene. Of course, the sparse seating circled the dance floor. Under spinning lights bodies gyrated in synchronization with dance music. Women in short dresses with ruby red lips and dark flowing hair danced with men twice their age. Whores, instructed to empty the pockets of local businessmen and lucky tourists who were granted entrance.
Above the dance floor, on raised platform pillars facing each other from either side of the club were two Sicilian born beauties seated on their knees in claw-foot black porcelain tubs. With arms raised, fingers entwined, under a light spray from an overhead sprinkler designed to look like rain they moved. Iridescent droplets, thanks to the red spotlighting, rained down their golden tanned bodies. Their breasts bounced and glistened as the sudsy streams drained down their curves, and they rolled their hips giving seductive moves to the music while simulating a bath. One locked eyes with him. She gripped the edge of the tub and slung her dark hair trying to entice him to maintain her stare. He continued to scan the scene.
Carlo moved in closer to his left. “He’s in the back boss.”
Giovanni nodded. They stepped directly through the crowd with Carlo and Nico shoving dancing bodies out of his way. Soon many caught on to his presence and parted without any resistance. The gambling tables were packed tight. Dice were thrown, cards dealt, and to the back of the scene his cousin sat amongst others laughing under a heavy cloud of smoke. Giovanni removed his cigar from his mouth and dropped it on a smoking tray. Their eyes met.
Lorenzo stood and so did the men at the table. His cousin spoke a few words and those gathered discreetly withdrew as a young woman, with a leather mini so short her butt cheeks dropped from the hem with each step she made, sidled up to his cousin. Lorenzo patted her on the ass and dismissed her as well. She walked on shiny spiked heels, giving Giovanni a longing look. He stepped to the table, and Lorenzo greeted him with a kiss to both of his cheeks. Before a question was asked, before he was able to warm his seat, his cousin began to run off at the mouth.
“Excuses. I’m done entertaining them.”
Lorenzo wiped his hand along his jaw.
“Flavio called. The doors will close. Permanently.” Dominic stood behind him. He spoke in a clear but lowered voice. “Consider tonight the last for business.”
Lorenzo slammed his hand down on the table silencing Dominic. He leaned forward under the lamp, and his scowl deepened into a snarl. With his voice lowered, he directed his words to Giovanni only. “The Albanians brought the girls here. I would never drag our family into trafficking of any children. If you will just listen to me Gio…”
“Doesn’t matter how you lost control. What matters to me is you did. And that failure is a reflection on this family and me. Must I remind you of this each and every time you fuck up?”
A few of his men snickered. Lorenzo clenched his fist resting on the table. “We can’t close the doors. It solves nothing. Francesco’s entire fortune is invested in this place as is mine. You only gave us ten percent. We put everything we have in the remodeling. How do we recoup the loss?”
“Burn the place to the ground.” Giovanni shrugged. “I don’t give a shit about your loss.” His order resonated with the men gathered. “I want my fucking investment back and the family name out of the papers. Ten percent equals thirty now that you have disgraced yourself. Tomorrow it will be forty. Every day the doors remain open, the more indebted to the family you will be.” Giovanni’s gaze swung left. Carlo nodded that the order would be enforced. Lorenzo struggled with the inevitable, which was evident by the tension tightening his jaw.
“Appunto. Ti seguo. I get it. I follow you.” Lorenzo nodded in respect. “Dinner? Have you eaten? Prego! Why don’t you join me upstairs for dinner?” Lorenzo ground out between his clenched teeth. “Francesco should be part of this discussion. No? Let’s go above and talk reasonably.”
He hadn’t eaten all day. He had slept even less.
“Andiamo. It’s time I see Francesco.” Giovanni declared.