Battaglia Mafia Series, connected
“One word. You must learn it, before we begin,” he traced his finger now across the outline of her lip. “Say it with me. Rallenti.” – Renaldo Cracchiolo
The year is 1993. Life as an enforcer for one of the most notorious crime bosses in Italy isn’t easy. Renaldo Cracchiolo is a Sicilian who takes pride in the oaths of omerta to honor and obey the wishes of his Don. It’s the reason why he was chosen to cross the Atlantic to New York City. However, the woman he meets and the time they share changes his heart and destiny.
“Kyra, you will fail. Do you hear me? We raised you better than this. School is what you should be working toward not a silly dream!” Her father’s words thundered in her skull. He looked to her mother and aunts for affirmation. When the women fell silent he threw up his hands in defeat. “I can’t deal with this!”
Her father walked out of the kitchen.
“Sit down, Kyra. Now.” Her mother said, as if she were only twelve instead of twenty-two. Kyra sat. Her mother began to flip from one sketch to another. “These are lovely, Kyra. I’m proud of your talent,” her mother began. She looked up at her with tears in her eyes, which overshadowed her praise. “But this is not your future. Your future is to be a doctor. It is what you have worked your entire life for.”
“It’s what you and Daddy want. Not me. Adika is only eight and she talks about being a lawyer. Esinam and Doe are both out of college working in jobs they hate and married to men they can’t stand. They made all of their choices based on what you and Daddy wanted.”
“That’s not true!” Doe said from behind her.
Kyra looked back. Her oldest sister was in the room. She didn’t mean to break Doe’s confidence about the troubles in her marriage but she was sinking. Her mother and aunts were banding together. She saw the writing on the wall.
Doe marched into the room, her long micro-braids swaying down her back. “You are selfish and spoiled.” She pointed a finger at Kyra. “Mama and Daddy have always spoiled you. Don’t sit there and talk about my husband when you have a different boyfriend every week.”
“That’s enough, Doe,” her mother said.
“Mama, you need to know the truth. Kyra has been sleeping with half of New York! She’s no angel!”
“I said that’s enough!” her mother snapped. Doe looked at Kyra with fury and stormed out. Her sister was only three years older than her and already she had four children. She knew Doe loved to dance, and had wished to go to dance school. Those dreams were set aside after the arranged marriage to the son of their minister. It was one of the reasons why Kyra feared her mother’s decisions for her daughters. Because marriage or school were the only two choices.
“I am not sleeping with half of New York. I have one boyfriend. One!”
“I will put it this way to you, Kyra,” her mother replied. “Either you stop this and join the medical program at NYU, or your father and I will cut you off financially. We will not pay for you to go to this fancy fashion school, and you will not sit here and live for free.”
“No, Mama,” Kyra shook her head sadly. “Please, listen to me…”
Her mother put up her hand. “Doe is right. You’re spoiled. Now you’re reckless with your future. You break my heart, girl. You think I don’t know about the nights you are out in the streets with those loose girlfriends. I keep the gossip from your father. I prayed you would get it out of your system. You made us so proud when you graduated with your degree. So happy when you were accepted into medical school. You are smart, Kyra, smarter than all of them. You could be anything. But not this.” Her mother shoved the portfolio at her. Kyra glanced to her aunts for support. They all looked at her as if she would fail.
She sighed. She stood and picked up her portfolio. Her heart was so heavy and her sadness so deep it had a strangle hold on her vocal chords. She couldn’t explain herself further. She wouldn’t try. In her family there were rules and expectations that everyone adhered to. She loved her parents. They sacrificed everything to bring them to this country, from Nigeria and provide them every opportunity. Her mother and father worked hard. It was disrespectful to abandon their teachings now.
The only course she could take would be the one she would have to take alone. One where she proved them wrong and earned their respect. She picked up her purse and started for the door. There was nothing left to say if she couldn’t say the things her mother wanted to hear. As she passed out of the back room to the front she saw her father sitting in his favorite chair. He didn’t bother to look up. The sight of him so angry with her choices made her courage falter. Would it be all that bad to dedicate another six years of her life to medical school? Could she not give her father his dream of having a daughter who was a doctor?
Kyra sighed and walked out of the door.
“Miss Okeeno!” A strong male voice barked her name.
Startled, Kyra Okeeno slammed shut the top cover of her spiral ring sketchpad. Mr. Tate stood in front of the receptionist cubicle drumming his fingers over the surface. Kyra’s heart pumped hard. She knew she flushed with guilt. Tate’s hooded gaze locked in on her.
“Well?” he asked.
Kyra’s mouth opened to respond and nothing but a short breath escaped her. Her mind went blank. She could read displeasure in the set of his face, fixed jaw, and coal black eyes that were both all knowing and unblinking. Those dark orbs under blondish brown lashes narrowed on the sketchpad she concealed with her hand.
Kyra was busted. She needed to be quick with her reply. “I’m sorry, Mr. Tate, did you need something?”
Theodore Tate let go a snort of disapproval. He wore a steel grey suit. He had mastered the tailored Wall Street businessman look down to his diamond cufflinks, tiepin, and Prada loafers. He was one of those men who appeared tall even when sitting. His dark blondish brown hair gleamed under the office lights, polished and tapered with not a strand out of place. Mr. Tate was handsome, but the kind of loathsome handsome guy that would fuck a waitress in the bathroom while his dinner date sat at the table thinking he’d just left to wash his hands. He was the voice, the face, the dealmaker for one of the top fashion houses in New York—Mirabella’s. The dictator of their lives made Kyra nervous every time he spoke her name.
“Did you not hear me, Miss Okeeno?” he asked.
She had not. Was he talking? Sometimes when caught in the middle of a thought the volume went down on the scene before her and all she could hear was the inner voice in her head warning her of how to speak, and behave with these people. Kyra swallowed and tried to appear composed.
“Ah, no, forgive me.” Kyra turned the sketchpad over and put on the sweetest smile she could muster for her boss. “What can I do for you, Mr. Tate?” she asked again. She maintained a poised and unassuming posture in her seat. He called her ‘Miss Okeeno’ when he was pissed, and Kyra after he finished off a bottle of scotch in his office. It was his regimen every day before lunch at ten-thirty in the morning. Kyra was tasked with discarding the evidence, providing a breath mint and a fresh cup of coffee. If she were caught sketching out her personal design ideas on the company’s time when he was in this mood it could cost her, probably her job. And Kyra needed her job.
“Catalina Battaglia arrives today. She’s bringing Mirabella’s sister Marietta Battaglia,” Mr. Tate informed her. “Or have you forgotten?”
“Sister?” Kyra doubled back. There was a rumor that Mirabella Battaglia, the reclusive and mysterious black American fashion designer, the namesake and owner of the company, had given birth to twins in Sicily. There were a lot of rumors about the Battaglias. But Kyra had never heard one referencing a sister. As far as she knew Mirabella was an only child, who had grown up poor and unnoticed until she struck gold with her fashion scene in New York. With the help of Mr. Tate and her slain best friend, Fabiana Girelli, Mirabella Ellison went on to create a multi-million dollar empire and then ran off with a Sicilian mob boss never to return. That company was where Kyra now worked. Kyra knew her idol’s bio by heart and could recite everything she’d researched on Mirabella’s life before she became a recluse.
“I didn’t know Mrs. Battaglia had a sister… Wow that’s amaz—”
Theodore leaned in with his hand braced on the cubicle. His breath smelled as if he just guzzled down a gallon of Listerine. A mask to cover up an early morning cocktail before his business day began, which might explain his surly mood. “I don’t pay you to know these things,” his voice was low and intimidating. “What I want to hear is that you have prepared the conference room for the meeting and all is in order. Now. Miss Okeeno, let’s try again. Is everything in order?”
“Yes. It is, sir!” Kyra nodded her head so hard and fast that it made her dizzy. She learned early on that whenever the Battaglias arrived it was an important event for the office. And a very stressful meeting day for her boss. Just three months ago Catalina Battaglia had come for a short visit and her presence had rattled everyone from Carole Montague, the fashion house’s lead designer, to the cleaning staff. The raven-haired Sicilian spoke softly but she did so with unquestioning authority.
“Breakfast is catered by Frankfort’s Deli, the projector is on and ready, the phone line connectivity issues from last week have been fixed. We’re able to conference in Mrs. Battaglia from Italy if you choose,” she prattled on. She read off her list to Mr. Tate, to restore his confidence in her abilities. She wasn’t a complete rookie. She’d been with the company six months. The last girl who occupied her chair had left on maternity leave. Kyra had hopes the temporary job assignment would turn permanent. Working at Mirabella’s was the first step she had made to bring her closer to her dream. She wanted to be a designer, but not just an ordinary one. Her talent was in shoes.
“All right that’s enough. I’ll be in my office. Buzz me the minute the doorman calls to announce their arrival.” Mr. Tate stalked off. With a deep sigh of relief Kyra dropped back in her chair.
“He’s on the warpath huh?” Bette asked. She approached with several folders in her crossed arms.
Kyra glanced from Bette to the retreating back of the irate Scottish tyrant. “That man makes me so nervous,” she admitted.
Bette chuckled. She was the Product Development Manager and a very accomplished marketing director under the House of Mirabella’s. Kyra secretly envied her success. They were only two years apart and Bette had a rental on Park Avenue and a cute little beach cottage in the Hamptons. And Bette was confident too. She was a trendsetter like most of the other young, rich, and influential New Yorkers. Bette wore her hair dyed blue-black in a spiked mohawk style. She dressed in pen-skirts and flimsy white loose collar pirate style blouses underneath leather waist corsets. Bette Mitchell had class, attitude, and a superiority complex.
“So I guess you heard?” Bette asked.
“Teddy Bear’s job is on the line. Ever since Fabiana died and Mirabella moved to Italy Teddy lost his golden boy crown.”
“Oh, no, I hadn’t heard that.” Kyra said.
“It should be interesting to see this sister of Mirabella’s though. I don’t remember Mira having family. And a twin?” Bette scoffed. “The woman’s life reads like some trashy romance novel. Every month it’s something else with that family she married into.”
“You think those cute bodyguards are coming back?” Kyra asked with a sheepish grin. She needed to change the subject from office gossip. And it made her uncomfortable to talk trash about the fashion icon she idolized. Bette and the others spoke as if they hated and envied Mirabella Battaglia constantly.
The first impression left on Kyra when Catalina Battaglia arrived for a business meeting was the company she kept. The men were tall masculine gods in suits. One in particular who the others seemed to defer to for orders turned heads and caught the eye of every woman and gay man on staff. Including Bette. He was silent and brooding, never speaking. Always observing. Bette had told her his name was Renaldo.
“Bodyguards? Don’t you mean hired guns?” Bette replied in a snarky voice. “Trust me those men aren’t here to open doors and pull out chairs for the Italian princess.”
“Sicilian,” Kyra said.
“What?” Bette frowned.
“She’s Sicilian. They live in Italy but the family is Sicilian. She may be offended if you call her Italian,” Kyra said. “You’re Asian, aren’t you offended when people call you oriental?”
“Not the same fucking thing, Kyra! Sicilian or Italian, who gives a shit?” Bette leaned in. “Forget about the princess and her band of criminals. You need to be on your toes today. Tate is on the warpath. Anything goes wrong and you know what they say, shit rolls down hill, kid. He’ll be after your neck.”
“And you care about my neck?” Kyra looked her over.
“Hey, whatever, it’s your funeral.” Bette turned to leave.
“Wait, Bette. How about drinks after work?” Kyra piped up. She turned over her sketchpad and revealed her latest sketches. “I wanted to get your opinion on these.”
Bette picked up the sketchpad and scanned the drawings. “Good. These are really good, Kyra.”
“I was thinking maybe I could get my work in front of Catalina Battaglia? What do you think? Let’s have drinks. I need some pointers.”
“No thanks, sweetie. Got plans,” Bette smiled. “And I wouldn’t solicit or give your work to the Battaglias just yet. Wait and see what happens with Teddy Bear.” Bette warned and then sashayed off.
Kyra pulled her bottom lip in between her teeth to avoid a visible pout. She hadn’t broken through with the others in the office socially. Bette was her only hope when it came to getting closer to upper management. Or so she thought. “Shit,” Kyra sighed.
Resigned to her fate she pushed back in her chair. Mr. Tate would need a fresh cup of coffee if he’d been drinking before he arrived at work. When she turned to walk out from behind the receptionist cubicle she heard the elevator ding. To the front of the receptionist area the glass doors gave a clear view of the elevators. Kyra waited to see who stepped out.
It was the Battaglias. The damn doorman didn’t ring her to tell her they had arrived. “Shit! Shit!” Kyra scrambled. The lady named Catalina was who Kyra saw first. She wore a chocolate sable fur over a mint green pant suit that buttoned over a mint green silk blouse, all of it flattering her slender figure. Her skin was smooth like buttercream. Her hair raven, curled with wispy locks and bangs. And her makeup was dark and sultry around the eyes bringing out her striking eye color. Even from the distance between them Kyra recognized how refined and delicate every brush stroke was to heighten her natural beauty. At her side was another woman. Equally stunning, but different in every way. She too wore a fur coat, but hers was black. And the pantsuit she wore was a bone white color. What caught Kyra’s admiration was the woman’s hair. A wild curly bounce of shimmering dark locks that brushed her shoulders. The curly flare framed her face. She had sultry eyes, high cheekbones, pouty rose pink mouth, and mocha brown skin. This was Mirabella’s twin sister?
Kyra snatched up the phone and managed to knock over her cup of pins and small personal photos. She dialed her boss with a shaky hand.
“What is it?” Mr. Tate barked into the line.
“Hi, ah, Mr. Tate, the Battaglias are here.”
The line disconnected. Before she could put the phone down, the women had entered the glass doors and headed straight for her.
“Hello! Welcome to America!” Kyra said.
Catalina Battaglia frowned. She glanced to the other woman who looked Kyra over without a hint of smile. “Ah, I’m sorry. I meant welcome to Mirabella’s. Mr. Tate will…”
“Ciao bella!” Tate exclaimed. He walked out with his arms open and a wide grin on his face. “We’ve been anxious for your return.” He approached Catalina and kissed her on the left and then the right cheek.
“Teddy, le presento Marietta Battaglia. This is Mira’s twin sister and Lorenzo’s wife,” Catalina said.
Mr. Tate took hold of Marietta’s hand and kissed her knuckles. Kyra observed. The stunning woman gave a cursory nod and removed her gloved hand from his. “My, you look so much like Mirabella. This is truly my pleasure.” Mr. Tate said. “When I heard she had a sister I was so surprised. And a twin? Wow. Oh, congratulations on marrying into the family… ah, marrying as well. How was your flight? You two must be exhausted?” he asked.
“Sto bene, grazie,” Marietta answered. Kyra was surprised that the woman spoke Italian fluently. She was evidently black and looked like a black American woman.
“Please ladies. We have breakfast and coffee waiting for you. Kyra!” Mr. Tate snapped his fingers.
“Yes sir!” she hurried around the cubicle and accepted the mink coats from both women. A wave of expensive floral fragrance filled the air. The ladies even smelled beautiful. Marietta Battaglia touched her arm and Kyra paused.
“Your shoes?” Marietta said as if asking a question. Kyra had chosen wisely today. She wore four-inch platform heels that she had hand-sewn and covered with fabric designed with Andy Warhol’s imaging of Marilyn Monroe. The shoes were white and black and the heels purple. Very bold and daring to walk into lower Manhattan for six blocks with them on. And the dress she chose was plum purple. It was a striking ensemble that caught the attention of people when she entered and left a room. Fashion was supposed to provoke or evoke emotion. Kyra braced for Marietta Battaglia’s reaction.
“They’re sexy. Who are they by?” Marietta asked.
“Thank you!” Kyra gushed. “I made them.”
“You made them? For Mirabella’s? I thought we didn’t have a shoe line?” Marietta asked Catalina.
“No, she’s a receptionist, not a shoe designer,” Mr. Tate chuckled. “Probably a school project of hers.” He half-joked. Kyra glanced to her boss and read the signal loud and clear.
“Thank you again,” she nodded respectfully while carefully holding the women’s coats. Kyra watched as the trio walked off down the hall. She glanced back to the men who were left behind. Two to be exact, and both stared directly at her. Intense. Lucky for her she was immune to alpha male sexiness. She liked her men a little more trainable. Her wild carefree nature conflicted badly with anyone who tried to control or dominate her. These two were handsome but kind of creepy with their stoic faces and unwavering stares. Besides the one she really wanted to see wasn’t among them. She’d only seen him twice. He was the first tough guy that caught her by surprise.
“Would you like something to drink?” she asked the men. The coats were gaining weight by the minute in her arms. She heaved the weight higher in her arms and managed to hold the dead skins of animals. For the life of her she never understood the attraction to mink coats.
Neither of the men answered.
“Do you speak English?” she asked. She knew a little Italian but not much. “Parla inglese?” she asked.
One of them looked away as if disinterested. But the other, he continued to stare directly at her. There was something almost flirtatious in his perusal of her. She could sense it.
Kyra tried again. “Coffee? Water? Tea? Anything?”
“They speak no English.” A thickly accented voice said from behind her. It sent a shiver of awareness up her spine. Kyra’s head slowly turned on her shoulder to the left and her eyes connected with the man she had hoped to see. How did he end up standing behind her? She wondered. Is he talking to me? Yes. Yes! He spoke to me. Mmm, he’s yummy. It was the first time she had heard him say a word. The sound of his voice filled her with nervous tummy flutters and warm arousal.
Bette said his name was Renaldo. Tall, he had an impressive pair of shoulders filling out his pricy suit and trench coat. He looked to be Italian or Sicilian, maybe Spanish. Kyra was a respectable five-foot five and with heels she stood closer to five foot eight or nine. She had to tilt her head back a fraction when he stepped closer. This man had a dark olive tan to his skin that spoke clearly of his Mediterranean ancestry. Beautiful brown ambers in his eyes that smoldered as they stared down at her from under sharp black brows, chiseled cheeks, and a face that was dazzlingly masculine. He had short dark hair that lay in fine curls against his temples and around his ear.
He was close to her.
So close she felt a bit intoxicated by the rich spice of his cologne.
“Ah, do you speak English?” she managed to ask.
He arched a brow in response.
He was dressed in a dark suit like the other two. He wore a black wool trench and leather gloves. His manner reminded her of the kind of guys you’d see tailing the President in the Secret Service.
He returned his melting hot gaze to the men. And for a brief moment she was able to capture air into her lungs. Those eyes hardened and his lickable sculpted lips flattened into a thin line. He said something in Italian to them both. It was definitely a command not a question. The men nodded their heads and like robots they both turned and left. Again his attention swung back to her. “Your name, bella? Tell me.”
“Key-rah,” she pronounced it for him with a smile. Kyra knew she was attractive. She had a figure that developed early. And a sense of fashion that always complimented her dark brown skin. She used to wear her hair in braided styles, but she had decided to wear a more natural curled afro look that showcased her wide long lashed brown eyes, high cheekbones, and full lips.
His gaze travelled down her face to her breasts. It was a bold and suggestive move. Most women would find it rude. But he didn’t look like the type of man who would apologize for the offense. His pretty brown orbs flashed back up.
“Mi chiamo Renaldo.” He gestured by putting his hand to his chest.
“Nice to meet you, Renaldo,” she replied.
“Coffee,” he said.
“Huh?” she frowned, totally caught up by his sexy smile.
“I’d like to have coffee,” he said. The manner in which he spoke indicated he struggled with his English. She savored how he took the time to pronounce each word for her.