Battaglia Mafia Series, Book 3
Marry Me Amore Mia…
You are cordially invited to the wedding of Don Giovanni Battaglia and Mira Ellison….
The year is 1991. Two years after discovering love and losing it Mira Ellison has finally accepted her destiny. She will become Donna Mirabella Battaglia, the wife of one of the most notorious crime bosses in Southern Italy. And she plans to have it all, her man, her children, and the fashion dynasty she left behind. But with privilege comes ties to bloodlines that will threaten to destroy her love and family from the inside. Nothing, especially happiness, is ever promised to the Battaglias. Don Giovanni knows this best. On the eve of a new beginning he learns a dark secret regarding Mira’s past that could destroy everything they hold sacred. He is forced to decide, for love and marriage—how far should a man go to protect his bride.
Prelude to Giovanni’s Big Day
Sorrento Italy, November 1963
Giovanni, in his schoolboy uniform, lay flat on his tummy with his legs up, and crossed at the ankle. The assignment Sister Mary gave today instructed each pupil on how to spell the names of every family member under their roof. In his family he had over thirty, including the men who served his father, and the cousins who often came to visit and always found reasons to stay. He traced out the letters and concentrated on the spelling without the assistance of anyone. Once done, a great sense of pride swelled in his chest. He sat up on his knees and studied his schoolwork. At six years old he had the best penmanship of any peer in his class. Ma-ma would be glad of his accomplishment. As he rose to his feet with pencil and paper in hand his gaze flickered up and his attention froze. As far as his sight could reach stretched a massive bookcase replete with literary classics. Rows and rows of books both small and tall were neatly aligned or stacked between black marble lion bookends. Giovanni loved to read. But he could only read the books approved by the church. His stirrings of intellectual curiosity peeked constantly over what lay between the leather- bound books kept from his reach, especially the fictional tales told in English. One day he’d speak English and travel to America on a pirate’s ship! One day.
“Gio?” his mother Evelyn entered the reading room. “There you are, beloved. Let’s get you changed,” she gestured for him to follow. “Your father has retuned, he’ll want to see you before dinner.”
“Papa!” Giovanni gasped. The pencil dropped from his hand and so did his schoolwork. Both were forgotten. The nuns whispered that Don Tomosino would return from Sicily on this day, but Giovanni had been disappointed before.
“Papa’s home? You sure?”
Evelyn nodded with a smile. “You didn’t think he would miss your birthday did you?”
“No!” Giovanni grinned. “In two days I turn seven! And Papa’s here.”
His mother was just over five-foot-four, and to some she looked like a child herself. Born of plain and homely kindness, her beauty was a rare natural mix of fair skin, fiery red hair, and eyes as clear as summer rain. Evelyn, who most called Eve, had long crinkly locks that flowed to her waist. Each day she smoothed the wild curls into a single braid, but when his Papa came home Tomosino insisted she wore her hair loose behind a blue ribbon as she did today. Blue was Evelyn’s favorite color and the Don made sure they had a garden of blue roses all year round. The delicate flower matched the color of her eyes under slender blondish-red brows and long lashes. Today she was ready to receive Papa. She wore a white dress with tiny blue flowers laced in the fabric, which belted tightly along her petite waist with a skirt that belled out over her hips stopping just above her knees. The short puffy sleeves and button down front made her beauty modest, but her heavy bosom emphasized feminine traits that separated a woman from a child. Most were unkind to his mother, especially the nuns who ran his parochial school. However, Evelyn never showed any reaction. She had a smile and sweet word for everyone.
“I will go see him!” Giovanni announced. He ran for the door. Evelyn knelt and caught him by the waist.
“Slow down, Gio.” Evelyn released a soft amused chuckle. “He’s with his men and a visitor. You know he doesn’t like to be disturbed.” She rubbed his cheek. His mother’s touch was always so calming. Giovanni could feel the patter of his heartbeat slow. “Let Ma-ma talk to him and he will send for you. Okay?”
“Aww!” Giovanni pouted.
Evelyn chuckled. “Tu vai. It won’t be long. I promise.”
“Sí, Ma-ma.” Giovanni kissed her lips. She patted him on the butt and sent him out the door. Half way down the hall he heard his father’s laughter echo like thunder. Papa had returned in a good mood! The march of hard footfalls grew stronger and he knew they were coming his way. He hadn’t seen his Papa in almost a month. The excitement over their reunion encouraged him to abandon his mother’s wishes. Giovanni turned and went through the adjoining parlor to his father’s office. If his Papa decided to conduct business inside the villa today, he knew exactly where the men would post up. The parlor near the gardens had an adjoining door connecting to his father’s private study. Giovanni pressed his hands to the large wood surface and gave a hard push. He peeked inside. The dark room with no windows had the lamplights on in preparation for his father’s return. The men often drank and smoked cigars within these four walls. He entered and drew the door shut behind him. His gaze swiveled to the desk taller than him. It was made of dark wood and had carvings engraved into the surface. Giovanni had no clue as to what they meant. It served often as his hiding place when he was in trouble.
Quickly he went around the desk and dropped to his hands and knees. Just as he crawled under, he heard the door to his father’s office open and his father approaching.
“Agh! Balle! I’ve heard enough.” Don Tomosino roared. “Already you want to return to America and you feed me bullshit to justify it! I’ve invited you to my home. And you must go? Now, of all times, when we have the Ciaculli bullshit to deal with.”
“I can’t undo what was done, Tomosino. I told the Grecos not to push the feud this far. The death of those police officers was an unfortunate consequence.”
“And now we have an anti-mafia movement that is reaching all the way to the Campania and Camorra. Now it is my problem and as my only ally to the Mafiosi you must see why it is important that you stay and help me deal with it.”
“Flavio, help me here. You’re consigliere, tell him how badly things are for us all in Palermo. The Dons are not listening to reason; thousands of men have been arrested or fled. It’s time we all pull back.”
When Flavio didn’t answer the stranger, Giovanni heard the man grunt in frustration. “Many have left Sicily, Tomosino. Most are in Canada and the States. You need to come across the water. Business is good. You will see the benefit of what we are doing there. The families in Philadelphia are primed for leadership. We are strong. Much stronger than in Sicily.” The stranger boasted.
Tomosino chuckled. “Fuck the Americanas. It’s not about business with you it’s about your plaything!”
This time the challenge was bereft of humor. A steely silence filled the room. The stranger spoke, his voice low and exact. “Leave her out of this.”
Giovanni heard his father grunt and the cigar box to the top of the desk open and close. He could imagine his father firing up his hand-rolled cigar and soon smelled the bitter stench of tobacco. “Caruso has told me all about her. You are not thinking straight. American Italians are pretenders. They don’t deserve a seat at the table.”
“Those men are of Sicilian blood. Cousins and relatives of families we both respect. They aren’t foreigners, Tomosino.”
“Che palle! Bullshit!” His father’s fist slammed down hard on the top of the desk. “We are your family. The Camorra can give you more than the promise of false power in a country that is not ours. And don’t distract the matter. We’re speaking of her! You’re returning for her! I hear she’s pregnant and run away from you. That you are wasting time and money searching for her and not tending to business and this comes from the Americanas you play mafia with. They are spreading these rumors to the Dons of Sicily. Are you going to deny it? Because your obsession for the puttana makes you weak!”
Giovanni drew back to the far corner under his father’s desk. Careful to remain quiet and unseen, he pulled his knees up to his chest, certain that he made a mistake by choosing this time to play with his Papa. He could tell in his father’s voice he was growing increasingly angry. And the talk of America always made his father’s mood sour.
Unsure of what he was hearing, he closed his eyes and prayed that the stranger hadn’t triggered his father’s rage. It would be a bad thing if he did. And then Tomosino laughed. “Va’al diavolo! Fuck it. Go back to America, for that nigger whore and fake mafia. Leave your family and your responsibility with your father struggling to take his last breath. It’s your disgrace not mine.”
“And what of your whore, Tomosino? Evelyn right?” The man’s voice dropped threateningly low. “You have a wife in Sicily and an Irish comate in your bed. How are you different than me?”
“My whore knows her place. That is the difference!” Tomosino shouted. “At this very minute she is busy with plans to welcome me home. She exists to please me. If you and I didn’t have years of blood between us, I would cut out your tongue and shove it up your man-hole for speaking her name.”
Flavio cleared his throat. “He meant no disrespect, Tomosino.”
The stranger gave a short laugh. “I did mean disrespect. Just as you meant disrespect to me! Whatever my reasons are for returning to America it is my choice. I don’t want any part of the Ciaculli cleanup, or the military police that are hunting me. My father understands this. I’m leaving until the heat on us all cools down.” The man sighed. “Forgive me, Tomosino, and I will forgive you. You are like my brother. I just can’t deal with the hypocrisy. She’s not a whore, she’s more than that. And she’s run away pregnant with my babies. Two babies. Little girls.”
Tomosino’s leg kicked out and his shoe connected with Giovanni’s foot. His father paused. Giovanni held his breath. Tomosino pushed back in his chair and peeked under the desk. “What are you doing under there, boy?” he shouted in Italian.
“Papa, I-I-I wanted. I wanted to surprise you,” Giovanni answered, eyes unblinking with fright.
Giovanni crawled towards his father and was yanked up to his feet. He blinked up into his father’s eyes refusing to show any fear. After a second, Tomosino smiled. He grabbed him by the chin and forced his face up to kiss his lips. “You missed me? Couldn’t wait to see me eh?”
“Sí.” Giovanni nodded.
Tomosino pulled him up to his lap and patted his face. “I missed you too. This is my boy, the future of the family. Children are important. Sons are important. The woman who can carry your seed and give you a son is the treasure. Keep that in mind when you attach false sentiment to that American puttana.”
Giovanni glanced over to the man who narrowed his gaze on him. Tomosino continued. “You have a son, it should be enough.” Tomosino then hugged Giovanni to him with a sharp bite of laughter. “Now go find Ma-ma. I will come for you both.” He set Giovanni back down and he immediately did as he was told. This time he got another look at the man who his father argued with. He was the son of one of the Five Dons of Sicily—the next in line according to rumors. He didn’t remember his name, but he’d seen him once or twice when they visited Sicily; and Giovanni sat at his father’s side while he conducted business. And he’d never forget his face. He had striking features, bronzed skin with dark hair with long side burns and piercing black eyes. According to the girl cousins who whispered and giggled whenever he came to visit Papa, he was handsome.
The man winked at Giovanni as he passed. He hurried to the door where one of his father’s men stood guard. The man opened the door and let him out. Giovanni went down the hall to the kitchen, hoping to find his mother there. He stopped at the sight of her. She beat a lump of dough with her fist. Papa always wanted one of her pies when he came home. And it had to be fresh from the oven when he sat down to his afternoon dessert. He knew she’d be there preparing one.
“Gio? I told you, get changed out of your school clothes.”
“I saw Papa. He said he missed me.”
“I’ll go change.” He turned to leave and stopped. He looked back at her. “Ma-ma?”
“What’s a puttana?”
The smile on her face dimmed. “Where did you hear that word, Gio?”
“Papa. He said you were his whore.”
His mother stood silent at first. She then stepped around the kitchen counter and wiped her hands on the apron she wore. “Come to me.”
He walked over to her and she smoothed back the curls to the top of his head. “Promise me, Gio, when you grow up to be your own man, and you fall in love, you will cherish the woman you choose. And never take her love for granted. Promise me you will never make her your whore.”
“What is a whore?”
“It’s a woman who has no family, no honor, nothing but shame.”
“That is not you!” Gio said determined.
Evelyn nodded in agreement but her eyes glistened with tears. “True. Because I have something a whore doesn’t.”
“A son, who sees me as his mother, and respects me,” she smiled brightly. It was the tears in her eyes that made his heart patter faster and faster in his chest. He touched his mother’s cheek and she blinked. A few tears dropped.
“I will always respect you. Always!” Gio said. “And if anyone calls you a puttana, even Papa, I will make them take it back!” He dropped his hand from her face and pounded his little fist into his open palm.
Evelyn chuckled. She drew him to her chest and squeezed him tightly. “And that is all the love I need.”
December 29, 1991 – Sorrento, Italy
Mira reached for her robe and eased her arms through the long sleeves. Black silk floated over her matching nightdress. The garment, once belted tight to her waist, covered her feet under its pooling hem. Its length swallowed her hands beneath wide sleeves. The nights carried in a winter chill across southern Italy. It moved in off of the Amalfi coast blanketing Sorrento after sunset. Most remarked how unusually brisk the weather had become for this region since Christmas. Mira loved it. All of the beauty and sunshine of Italia during the holidays felt a bit unnatural. What she would give to have a few snowflakes and cuddle moments with Giovanni and Eve by a fireplace. She wasn’t quite prepared for how bitter the cold felt with his absence. Tonight the icy temperature seeped in through the windowpanes and locked French doors. The marble floor in her bedchamber felt as if she stood on a block of ice. She walked on her toes over to her slippers and eased them on to ward off the shivers. It did little to help. Cold clung to her bones making her rethink escaping the warmth of her blankets. However, one more minute spent in their bed alone and she’d scream.
In the past three days, Giovanni had rarely called to check in with her. The conversations they did have were brief. She knew it was business, but still his absence was the final straw in a long day of disappointments. First domestic bliss burned away to pre-marital disaster after she ruined the family dinner in the ovens. Of course she knew how to cook, but Zia gave her daily lessons on rolling dough to make fresh pasta, how to skin and clean things from the sea she’d never seen before, and create the tastiest sauces from tomatoes that were as bittersweet as plums. All of it had to be done from scratch. Every lesson centered on meals that were Giovanni’s favorite and proved to be laborious to prepare. If she hadn’t been so frazzled she wouldn’t have over baked and under boiled dinner. Something neither she nor Zia could fix. And her troubles didn’t end there. Eve had a persistent cough and a runny nose that kept her whiney and clingy for her mother only. All of these demands were made of her while she worked tirelessly on her wedding gown with an inadequate sewing machine and less than desirable fabric.
Mira rubbed the tension from her brow. The sweet ache of loneliness bloomed in her chest, adding pressure and doubts to her fragile heart. She tried to avoid the news. To not listen to the reports and speculation of whom she had become, and why she hid from the world. She tried to ignore the gossip swirling over Kei’s arrest and their mutual betrayal of one another’s trust. She tried to pretend that every decision she had made since the birth of her daughter was a solid one. But she was human. Wasn’t she allowed to have these doubts?
Her gaze swept the empty space of her bedroom and paused at the chaise. An open book rested on the antique cushion and a half empty glass of grape juice was left next to the chair on the floor. She chewed on the inside of her jaw struggling with the questions that plagued her. Why hadn’t Giovanni called today? Was he safe? If he was hurt or in trouble how would she know? What could she do? The unfairness of it all is what disappointed her the most. Love chose her. And despite her cautious, critical nature, she had run blindly to this life in Italy with this notorious family keeping her eyes purposefully shut. Subsequently, she would have to learn to accept the good with the bad.
And there was plenty good. Christmas was so wonderful. The day after, she and Giovanni spent time alone with Eve as a mother and father. Her daughter thrived under Giovanni’s undivided attention until she collapsed with exhaustion from fits of laughter and a day of grins after playing with more toys than one child could imagine. They announced to the family a new baby, hopefully a son, would be born and there was much celebrating. And then came Mira’s time. Giovanni swept her away with wine for him and passion for her. She was trapped beneath him discovering the depths of his love for her in their bed. He made love to her relentlessly before he received a call and informed her he had to head to Bologna. And then he was gone? She closed her eyes and sighed. She could go downstairs to the kitchen and bring up another prosciutto sandwich to give her comfort. Or she could stand in her room and question herself until bitterness overwhelmed common sense.