As long as Gina could remember, her dad had been the focal point of the gang. His orders were obeyed with hardly any questions asked. Even when he informed his men that his hot-headed youngest girl was supposed to be their new leader, they trusted him. They would willingly break the law, kill, and lay down their lives for him.
Tonight, he had given his last order. At his word, they had piled up in the living room at the villa. As with any other gathering they had held, Carlo’s retirement party was a festive occasion, though Gina couldn’t enjoy it the way she usually did. When, at the end of the night, her dad gathered everyone around to speak and to raise his glass to everything they had accomplished, she felt dread settle in the pit of her stomach.
“We started as just a few guys in an old warehouse,” he said, a warm hand firmly planted on Gina’s shoulder. “But we’ve become so much more. With Regina at the helm, I know you will become bigger and better.” He raised his glass to the ceiling. “I propose a toast to my daughter, but also to everyone of you, who’s helped to get us to where we are.”
Glasses and bottles reached for the ceiling, so the contents sloshed and spilled. It made her glad she had decided to forego a wall-to-wall rug in the room.
“To you, sweetheart,” her dad said, tightening his grip on her shoulder.
They clinked their glasses together, and she choked back tears.
“To you, daddy.”
The crowd around them dispersed to be replaced, instead, by Carlotta and Franco, accompanied by Leoni. Everyone congratulated Carlo on his retirement. Even Leoni, although he sounded less than sincere.
“It was so good of you to join us, Mr. Leoni,” Carlo said, amusement playing in his golden-brown eyes.
The thief grumbled and cast a glance at Lotta. “I didn’t exactly have a choice. Carlotta dragged me here. Though since you have the painting I don’t know why I’m still your prisoner.”
“Oh, come on, Marco,” Lotta said with a laugh. “We’ve had some fun, haven’t we?”
Leoni muttered something that sounded a lot like fucking Stockholm Syndrome under his breath, and Gina looked at Lotta. Her friend had a wicked gleam in her eye.
Carlotta and Leoni? Now there was a weird thought.
“You’re free to go whenever you like,” Gina told him. “We do have the painting. Though keep in mind that we’ll come for you if you encroach on our territory again.”
“How could I forget?”
Gina’s attention was forced from Leoni when Franco cleared his throat.
“I have something to say.”
She froze and turned. Her dad’s arm wound its way around her again, which suddenly made her feel bad. Looking at his face, she realised that there was something he hadn’t told her. Franco looked the same way.
“Regina, since Carl is retiring, I’ve decided that it’s time for me to do the same.”
It felt like a punch to the gut.
“Wow, Franky, that’s great.”
She winced at how unconvincing her voice sounded. And she hadn’t called him Franky since she was seven. Pull yourself together, Gina!
“I’m going to go live with my daughter,” Franco continued. “Our relationship has been strained, but since she had a child, she asked if I wanted to live with them and patch things up. I said yes.”
“That’s wonderful,” Gina said. “I’m really happy for you. You deserve it.”
“If she doesn’t mind, I’ll leave some of my contact lists with Carlotta.”
Lotta grinned. “I thought I’d never get my hands on those.”
The old man—and God, now that Gina looked, he was so old—chuckled and assured her he wouldn’t dream of leaving them with anyone else. The word now spread in the room that he was leaving, too, and he was dragged away for congratulations and reminiscence. It left Gina standing in the middle of the room surrounded by her dad, Lotta, and Leoni. Especially the two former stared at her intently.
“I was going to tell you before,” Carlo said. “But with all the planning and the move…”
“It’s fine, dad,” she said. “It’s weird is all. Franco has always been here…”
Franco was the one who inducted Carlo to the gang. He supported her dad, was instrumental in making sure that he became the leader. He was her godfather and he had even babysat her and her siblings—reluctantly, perhaps, but he always seemed to care. And now he was leaving.
“We’re both just a phone call away,” her dad said.
As if it had just been waiting for its cue, Gina’s phone buzzed, and when she checked, Enzo’s name came up on the screen. A whole other set of emotions mixed in with the sadness. She talked to him every night now, and every time he called, it sent jolts of electricity racing up and down her spine. This call was a good excuse to get outside, out of the stuffy house and into the fresh air, so she excused herself and went outside.
If she had hoped for a simple, uncomplicated chat like any other night, though, she was disappointed. He was in Monte Vista and he was going to come around for the painting. She felt something indeterminable at the thought of seeing him. The sensation reminded her of the time she got food poisoning from some bad shrimp. But it also reminded her of the drop of a rollercoaster. The very best moment, when you were weightless and free and terrified at the same time.
She assured him it was okay. He could come over once the party was done. Then she collapsed on the bench outside, because her knees were so wobbly they couldn’t carry her weight.
“He’s a difficult client, that one.” Her dad smiled softly at her.
“He’s coming for the painting once the party is over,” she explained. “So not that difficult for much longer.”
“I have my doubts about that.” Carlo took a seat next to her on the bench. “You know, in one thing you’re nothing like your mother. You have a terrible poker face.”
Gina sat up indignantly. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I only mean that you don’t hide your emotions very well, try as you might.”
“I’m trying to get better at that,” she said with a pout.
“Don’t,” he implored her. “Trust me when I say, it’s better if you remain this way.”
“It won’t exactly make my clients happy.”
“Okay, don’t let your wealthy clients know how much you despise them. But there’s nothing wrong with showing your emotions to me or your friends, sweetie. Same goes for the young man, if you’re as fond of him as I suspect.”
Her dad chuckled and patted her arm. “Of course not, love. I’m only saying—you don’t hide your emotions nearly as well as you might like, and I think that’s a good thing.”
“You know Lotta said that, too,” Gina grumbled. “Said I’m transparent.”
“Carlotta’s wise. It almost makes me feel better about leaving.”
“Dad, I told you it’s not a big deal,” she said. “I’ll be fine.”
“Oh, I know that, but I’m your dad, so I can’t stop worrying. Your mother will be furious with me for the next long time, because I won’t be able to stop myself from calling to check. It feels like I’m leaving my little girl home alone for the first time again. It was nerve-wracking, to say the least.”
Gina smiled at the memory. He left her and Giuliano alone for a weekend when they were younger and hounded them with phone calls constantly. Vittoria ended up yelling at him that he may as well not have left.
“Well, you don’t have to worry about me doing anything criminal,” she said. “Because I definitely will. About the worst that can happen is I get a few more tattoos.”
Carlo sent her a pointed look.
“You wouldn’t dare.”
He couldn’t look cross for long. His face softened into a smile.
“Those damned tattoos. I expressly forbade you from getting them.”
“I was eighteen when I got them, so it was none of your damned business.”
“You were eighteen years old and two days, you little bastard.” He laughed and bumped her arm with a fist. “The first fucking thing you did apart from buying alcohol in bulk was get those abominations.”
“And then you acted like a baby about it and refused to talk to me for four days.”
They both laughed, but his soon stilled and he looked at her.
“You looked so grown-up when you came home with them,” he said, looking at her sadly. “I couldn’t bear it.”
“Daddy…” Gina hooked her arm under his and moved to place her head on his shoulder.
He continued as if he didn’t notice her.
“They were permanent, that’s what really got to me. I remember looking at you and thinking how grown you looked and that it was permanent. It wasn’t just a phase, like when you wore those ugly platform shoes or dyed your hair. I looked at you and thought… that young woman, that’s my little girl now. It’s permanent.”
“Like you moving out.”
They shared a look, and she felt so small. Like when she was little and afraid and he comforted her.
“I’ll be here the second you open your mouth, sweetheart. Nothing but being dead and buried can keep me from you. Even then, I’m open to haunting anyone who dares to hurt you, I swear.”
“I know daddy.”
He wrapped his arms around her and cradled her close. They sat like that for a long time and then he said, in a low, careful voice:
“Gina, if you like the guy, give it a shot.”
“But he… I…”
“Think about it, sweetie.”
“I don’t know if I do like him,” she said.
“Yeah, you do. You know.” He let go of her and took a deep breath. “I’d better go say goodbye and then head to Collesena.”
He left that night and somehow it wasn’t until he called from her mum’s cabin that the reality set in: It was permanent. He was gone.
Author’s note: Hi guyyysssss! 🙂 And welcome back. I’m so happy to finally be sharing this chapter. Boyfriend really enjoyed this one, and I have to say I’m pretty pleased with it as well. I’ve wanted to include that little anecdote about Gina’s tattoos since chapter six. I tried shuffling it in there, but it didn’t make sense. Then I tried again in the chapter when Carlo announced he was retiring. Still didn’t work. But when it came to me here, it just slipped right in perfectly – even going so far as to name the chapter 🙂 So yeah, this was probably extremely sentimental, but you probably know by now that father-daughter relationships melt my heart. It’s kind of weird posting this chapter which is kind of the end of Vittoria and Carlo’s journey – because at the same time, I’m writing the beginning in my rewrite. Speeeeaking of rewriiiiites, you could, like, totally go read about Carlo and Vittoria right now because I started posting the gen 1 rewrite this week *NUDGE NUDGE*
Shameless rewrite plugs aside, I also want to draw everyone’s attention to the recap page (you can get to it by clicking the big, friendly letters saying ‘recap’, funny enough). I made some small changes to it. It was getting very long because there are a lot of chapters in this gen, soooo, the recaps are now behind collapsible links so that you don’t have to scroll too much to get to the more recent ones. Is this an important thing? No. But I’m still going to bring attention to it because I can and because I think it looks nice. So there.
Lastly, I really can’t wait for you guys to read the next chapter, which is also the last chapter of part 2! You may have seen from the chapter list that I’ve already started filling out part 3, but I shan’t spoil anything much, just… get excited. I mean, you don’t have to. But it would be nice. Anyway, I’d better stop before I ramble you off the blog. Thank you SO much for reading if you made it this far. I’ll see you for the next post.