I was in my happy place.
La Bella Rossini in North Beach. The best Italian food in San Francisco.
The first bourbon had warmed my insides and flushed my cheeks. My second glass of liquid gold sat sparkling in the candle light. A man I was crazy about was smiling at me like I was the best birthday present he’d ever received. The food was obscenely delicious.
My boyfriend, Bobby, agreed. He reached his fork over the table trying to spear the massive scallop bathing in butter on my plate. I swatted him away. “Back off if you want to keep that hand.”
I chiseled off the tiniest of pieces from the hockey puck-sized scallop. I closed my eyes, letting out a small groan as it melted on my tongue.
When I opened my eyes, Bobby was smiling and shaking his head.
“Don’t do that in public. Please.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” It was the truth.
“If you want to stay long enough for dessert, you’re going to have to stop doing that.”
“Moaning as you eat. Every dude in this restaurant is watching.”
I swung my head looking around. The restaurant around us bustled with people celebrating this glorious late fall weather. The wall-sized windows were open, extending the dining room onto the bustling North Beach sidewalk. Diners sat at the sidewalk café tables. Low murmurs of people speaking Italian filtered inside. We were in the Italian part of the city. Although I didn’t leave here anymore, it was very much my home. My people.
A large group of chicly dressed diners was at a table near the door. Although many of the North Beach old timers still spoke Italian, tonight this group of young beautiful people speaking Italian were definitely from the bel paese. Italians for sure. They had la bella figura down pat. From the women’s glossy hair and designer clothing to the men’s polished, custom-made shoes. Italians.
Most San Franciscans who came to eat in the Italian section of town donned the city’s unofficial laid back utilitarian uniform: skinny jeans, environmentally friendly slip on canvas shoes, flannel shirts, and fitted down jackets.
I was somewhere in between in my nicest leather pants, blazer, and high-heeled boots. It was my dress-up uniform. We were celebrating Bobby’s birthday, so I ditched my motorcycle boots and faded jeans just for him.
I took another bite of my scallop and tried not to moan this time after I noticed that Bobby might be right: A few men at nearby tables were giving me the side-eye.
A slight moan had slipped out. “I’m trying!”
“I can’t help it if I enjoy my food.” I gestured at my plate with my fork. “I mean it’s practically orgasmic.”
“Exactly.” Bobby said, making an exasperated face.
We both burst into laughter.
Over our pistachio dotted cannoli’s, I pushed an envelope toward Bobby.
“Happy birthday.” For some reason, I was embarrassed and nervous for him to open it. I could feel my cheeks warm.
He slid one finger into the envelope and withdrew a thick stack of papers, reading the top sheet. I knew the first piece of paper listed our airline reservations to Italy.
“You bought the tickets.” He gave me a look.
He’d told me he couldn’t afford to go to Dante’s wedding in Italy. He’d thought I was going solo.
“When I said I couldn’t afford it, I didn’t mean you should buy my ticket.” He looked a little pained, instead of happy. Damn it.
“Shut up, it’s your birthday. Dante’s my best friend and I want you to be my date for his wedding so my treat. It’s actually more of a birthday present for me.”
He rolled his eyes, but he seemed less distressed.
“We’re leaving tomorrow?”
“I don’t even have the time off work.”
“I already talked to your boss. He was down for the surprise.”
Bobby raised an eyebrow.
“It’s cool,” I said. “He was really nice about it. Keep looking.”
He turned to the next page. It was a printout with color photos. He raised an eyebrow.
“It’s where we’re staying.”
“You’re joking, right?”
I couldn’t stop grinning. “No joke.”
He shook his head. “It’s a freaking castle.”
“It’s actually a villa.”
“It’s incredible.” He flipped through the papers. “Is there a picture of our room?”
“Bobby, the entire place is ours.”
“You’re shitting me.”
“For three weeks?”
“Yep. Happy birthday.”
He put the papers down. “It’s too much.”
“It’s not. You should see Dante and Matt’s place.”
He pressed his lips together. I reached over and rubbed my fingertips over his creased brow. “Say thank you. Please.”
Bobby leaned back and let out a big breath and then smiled. “Thank you.”
I relaxed back into my seat. The smile that always made me melt, also made everything perfect in my world again. My heart was full to bursting. If I could purr, I would. I’d have to make do with ripping his clothes off and having my way with him. Not a bad compromise, I thought, grinning to myself. I snaked my foot under the table and rubbed it against his leg.
“Should we blow this joint? I can think of something I’d rather be doing right now.” I gave him my sexiest smile.
“Check please.” He raised his arm.
We were curled around each other as we walked through the restaurant. As we stepped outside onto the sidewalk, I couldn’t wait and reached up to kiss Bobby. I turned and went up on tiptoe my lips grazing his at the same time a horrific screeching noise and ear-splitting blare of a horn sent me into his arms. A look of horror spread across Bobby’s face as he threw me against the building. I slammed against the wall, stunned by the impact and blinded by headlights heading my way. I put up my arm to shield myself, stupefied and shocked. The air was filled with blood-curdling screams and the shuddering crunch of crumpling metal. The headlights stopped a few feet away.
But the screaming only got louder and shriller.
Bobby had thrown himself on top of me just inside the alcove of the door and I pushed my way out from under him. “Are you hurt?” Bobby said, taking my chin in his hands and looking into my eyes.
I couldn’t speak. Only shook my head. He held out a hand and pulled me up.
“You sure, you’re okay?” His voice was shaking. But I didn’t answer. I was staggered by what lay a few feet away. The silver fender of a car. Limbs stuck out, helter-skelter from beneath the vehicle, along with the mangled frame of a café table.
“Good God.” Bobby was instantly at the bumper. Several other men joined him. They lifted the car and set it off to one side. A man miraculously scrambled out from under it. He had a tire mark on his chest. He took a few steps and collapsed. Another man lay unmoving. Bobby leaned over and checked the man’s pulse and then shook his head. A woman in a sleek dress that was torn to her waist, stood screaming, pulling her hair and staring at the dead man. A small crowd gathered. The dead man’s eyes were open and seemed to stare straight at me. I looked away.
That’s when I noticed off to one side, a woman who had apparently been thrown by the impact. Nobody had noticed her. She lay on her back on the sidewalk near the building, watching us. Her chest was bloody. Her legs splayed at an unnatural angle. As I met her eyes, she reached out her arm toward me. She gave me a look of such pleading. I’ll never forget it to my dying day.
I crawled over to her on my hands and knees. I lifted her head a few inches, up onto my lap, scooting under her shoulders in an attempt to soothe her. As I did, I felt something sticky. That’s when I saw that the other side of her head, the one near the wall, was laid open bare. A huge chunk of her scalp and brain were gone. I swallowed my revulsion as she spoke to me in Italian.
“Mia madre è malata e sola.” It sounded like she was saying her mother was dead and alone. She kept murmuring it, looking at me in desperation.
“Shhh,” I said, smoothing the side of her head that was still intact. “A chi bene crede, Dio provvede.” It was something my own mother had whispered to me as a child when I was upset. I didn’t know what it meant exactly.
“Mia madre è malata e sola.”
I nodded not sure how to answer, so I repeated my own, hopefully comforting, words: “A chi bene crede, Dio provvede.”
It seemed to calm her. She had been straining against me to lift her head, her neck muscles flexed, but now she relaxed in my arms. In the distance, I heard the sound of sirens.
A nasty taste filled my mouth. I tried not to look at the other side of her head, instead concentrating on her face. Her lovely brown eyes, lined thickly with black eyeliner. Her perfectly shaped eyebrows and lips with red lipstick, forming an “O” as she spoke.
I murmured to her softly, stroking her hair on the still intact side of her head.
A cacophony of sirens grew closer. Looking into the woman’s eyes I knew they would be too late. She stopped talking then. Just stared at me intently. I cradled her head as the light left her eyes and the life seeped out of her.
Bobby came over and tried to move me, but I shook his arm away and continued to stroke the woman’s hair on the one side. I sat there on the cold sidewalk until the paramedics came and gently lifted the woman out of my arms.
GIA AND THE DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL – Book Three
Gia Santella, the fast-driving, hard-drinking, karate-trained free spirit, has finally put her dark past behind her.
UNFORTUNATELY, the past isn’t done with her yet.
The third book in a new, exciting series featuring an unforgettable new character by the Anthony, Barry & Macavity finalist and crime writer …
In this suspense-filled page-turner, Gia travels from her San Francisco neighborhood to her mother’s native Sicily.
There, in her efforts to seek justice for a senseless slaying, she stumbles across a complex underworld that knows more about her than she ever imagined.
She soon finds herself face-to-face with a tangled web of deep dark secrets that threaten to destroy everything she ever believed was true.
An exciting new series full of grit and heart all packed into an edge-of-your-seat suspense thriller. Gia and the Dark Night of the Soul is perfect for fans of Marvel’s Jessica Jones, Jackie Collins’ Lucky Santangelo and Game of Thrones’, Daenerys Targaryen.