“Sure,” she replies, and I can hear the questions in her voice. “Is everything okay?”
“Of course,” I lie. I just have to go have it out with my parents, which is long overdue. “I just have some personal things to see to.”
“Okay. Don’t worry about anything.”
I swallow the lump in my throat and take a deep, silent breath.
“You’re the best. Thanks.”
Gianna is fussing at the stove over our grandmother’s red sauce, humming under her breath, then pulls fresh bread out of the oven. I missed this kitchen. It makes me think of Nonna and laughter and home.
Our grandfather updated this kitchen years ago, installing an industrial stove, oven and refrigerator, and Nonna made good use of it, always in the kitchen, always feeding someone.
If we’d been smart, we would have bottled and sold her red sauce while she was alive, rather than wine. It most likely would have sold better.
But she would have had none of it.
I sip my wine, a pretty little Merlot that came from this land, and page through my cousin’s financials on her laptop one more time.
“So, he was making withdrawals of more than ten thousand Euros at a time, and you didn’t notice? Come on, Gianna, I’m not stupid.”
“He always had reasons,” she says, flailing her arms about as she paces the kitchen. I check the time, conscious that Liliana will be here soon, and I want this wrapped up before she arrives. “His car was broken. He had medical bills.”
“Marco has never been sick a day in his life.”
“Why would I question him?” she demands, her deep brown eyes on fire. “Why? He’s my brother, yes?”
“You would question him because he’s done this before.”
“But never like this!”
I sigh and push my fingers through my hair. I’m still exhausted from jet lag, from being angry at Alecia. From worrying about this vineyard.
“I’m going to go to the bank next week, Gianna. I’ll get you figured out. I’m still digging through your records, which are a mess by the way, and trying to figure out exactly how much he owes you.”
“He’s not going to pay it back, Dominic.”
“Oh yes,” I reply, my voice full of steel. “He will. And when I find him, I’m going to kick his ass.”
“That’s not why I asked you here.”
“Well, it’s happening anyway. You wanted my help, and you’re getting it.”
She stops by the table, twisting the kitchen towel in her hands and finally wraps her arms around my shoulders and hugs me tightly. “Thank you for coming right away, Dom. Thank you for helping.”
“You should have called me months ago.”
“I thought it would stop. I thought maybe I could help him.”
“He doesn’t want help, Gianna. That’s something you need to remember.”
She smiles up at me sadly. “He’s my brother.”
The doorbell rings and Gianna pulls away. “I’ll go get the door.”
I close the laptop and stow away the paperwork before Gianna leads Liliana into the kitchen, both chatting excitedly.
“You’re here!” Liliana exclaims and launches herself into my arms, plants her lips on my cheek and clings to me.
It very nearly turns my stomach.
“I’m here,” I reply and pull her off of me and motion for her to sit at the table. “How are you, Liliana?”
“Oh, I’m great.” She smiles, and I can’t help but take her in, from head to toe. She’s in stylish, brightly colored clothes that fit her long, lithe body like a glove. She’s always been thin, almost too thin.
But her breasts are full and almost spill from her blouse.
She’s had them done.
Her lips are bright red, her skin pale and perfect. Her raven black hair spills around her shoulders in loose curls, and her blue eyes are bright as she watches me, her lips tipping up in a flirtatious smile.
“I’ve missed you, Dominic.”
I cock a brow. “Have you?”
“Very much.” She leans over and grips my hand in hers, but I slowly lean back, out of her reach.
I don’t want her touching me.
Gianna serves dinner, and the two of them chat happily, gossiping about mutual friends, giving me a chance to watch Liliana.
Was I ever really attracted to her? Of course I was, but the reasons why are a mystery to me. She obviously works very hard to make herself beautiful, and yet ironically, she’s incredibly unattractive.
Being a cheating bitch will do that, I suppose.
“Oh, Dom, do you remember that weekend trip we took to Rome? That last one when we got engaged?”
I physically flinch before I can stop myself. Of course I remember the weekend trip to Rome.
“What of it?”
“Well, I was just there a few weeks ago, and that little bed and breakfast that we stayed in is for sale. Of course, I so longed to buy it, purely for sentimental value.” She bats her eyes at me. “You should buy it.”
“Why in the hell would I do that?”
“Because it’s our special place, of course.”
Gianna frowns at Liliana, and then watches me warily. I set my fork down, lean on my elbows, and watch Liliana over the rim of my wine glass.
“What’s your game, Lil?”
“Game?” Her eyes go wide, innocently, and four years ago, I would have bought it hook, line and sinker. “There’s no game. That place is special to me. I would hate for someone to buy it and turn it into something horrible.”
“Gianna,” I begin and stand, gesturing for Liliana to take my hand, which she does without hesitation. “I’m going to take Liliana outside to talk privately.”
“Of course,” Gianna replies, and begins clearing the table. I try to pull my hand from Liliana’s, but she holds firm, smiling flirtatiously up at me, the way she used to do when she couldn’t wait to get me home and rock my world, as I lead her outside and around the side of the house on the wrap-around covered porch.
“Thank goodness we’re alone at last,” she purrs and glides her hands up my chest, leaning into me, tipping her head back in invitation. “I’m so happy that you’re home, mi amore.”
I back away from her touch and cross my hands over my chest. “I’m not your love, Liliana. I’m not anything to you.”
“That’s not true.”