There is worry that goes around, when Liliana Adornato becomes romantically involved with the young Falzone Boss. After all, she was raised a church girl through and through, pious and idealistic, seemingly untouched by such violence that the mafia is so often exposed to or the cause of. Even those who do know her history of run-ins with the mafia worry at least a little, because it’s one thing to be caught up in their problems or under their protection, and another to be the lover of one of the most prominent Family’s Boss.
Liliana can be described in many ways, but they all boil down to the same thing—polite, well-mannered, pious, gentle…if one must offer up a flaw, then it is probably that she can work herself too hard for those she cares for, and that she can be kind to a fault. All in all, she is not the sort of girl that one imagines entangled with the mafia. Though the rest of the Falzone family are used to her presence—and enjoy it—even they will consider her something of the Family princess, a delicate girl to be protected, even more so because she is their Boss’ precious lady.
It is something of a surprise when Dante Falzone and Liliana Adornato are married in springtime, and she becomes Liliana Falzone. Oh, there was never any doubt of their deep affection for each other, but marriage is simply more binding, especially when one marries into the mafia.
Nevertheless, the wedding is celebrated with joy, and Liliana officially moves into the Falzone manor and takes on the position of a mafia wife—the lady of the Falzone Family, a woman with even more status and position than before—
And she settles in just fine.
The Falzone soldati are surprised when they walk into the training rooms one day to see their Boss and his Lady in front of the targets. There is a gun in Lili’s hands, and Dante is standing behind her, helping position her arms and correcting her posture. It would be something out of a romance novel considering how he is practically cradling her to teach her, but the soldati see the absolute seriousness in both of their eyes, and they understand that this is not some mere whim of either of theirs.
It makes sense, for a mafia wife to learn to shoot a gun. But even so, it is a shock seeing the weapon in Lili’s hands, when they are so used to her cheerfully passing out plates of dolce or taking flowers from the Boss with a radiant smile.
But she does not cut much of an intimidating figure, even with the sheer focus on her face, and she yelps when she fires the gun, stepping backwards into Dante’s chest. It’s something of a relief that this incongruent thing does not seem to change her at all.
Dante chuckles a little, but repositions her.
“You’ll get used to the recoil,” he says, and Lili laughs a little, looking at her shaking hand.
“I’m used to the sound, after everything that’s happened,” she says ruefully, “But shooting one yourself is very different, isn’t it?”
Dante looks troubled.
“I still hope that you’ll never have to use one. But you’ve had to take my gun on at least two occasions and shoot on one, so…while I’d much rather protect you personally, or have Nicola or Leo do so, I will concede to the fact that it is much better for you to know how to shoot than not.”
“Thank you for agreeing to teach me, Dante,” Lili says warmly.
He sighs and gives her a wry smile.
“I didn’t expect you to ask for this,” he admits, “But you never fail to surprise me.”
Lili giggles, holding up the gun again and narrowing her eyes at the target.
“I love you, Dante,” she says simply, “So I’m prepared to stand by you, and that means the Family too. I don’t want to be a burden.”
“You are never a burden,” Dante says emphatically, a little pink from her declaration, and Lili smiles.
“Well, I’d like to be able to protect you, and the Family, at least a little bit,” she amends, “Just as you all protect me.” She tilts up to press a brief kiss to the corner of his mouth before she faces forward once more. “Can you show me again, please?”
Dante clears his throat, a little off balance from the kiss, then wraps his hands around hers again to assist her.
The soldati make their presence known after she fires the next shot, and the Boss and his wife greet them but continue with their own practice as the men begin their own. After an hour passes, Dante and Lili finish up and end their session for the day. She is only to shoot when either he, Nicola, or Leo are present until she becomes more proficient, and she waves cheerfully as she departs the room.
The soldati don’t think overmuch about this new development other than the fact that it does seem like a good idea if she can train herself to be a half decent shot. In their minds, Liliana is still that sweet church girl, even if she is now the donna of the Falzone Family. So long as she can hold a gun without shaking, that’s enough in their minds. When she’s hardly seen in the training rooms again, no one thinks less of her for it.
But something that they come to learn more fully in due time is that Liliana Falzone nee Adornato does not do things by halves.
Some months down the line, she and the Boss walk into a fairly populated practice room. They are greeted respectfully and space is made for them at one of the targets.
“I’m sorry I haven’t been able to practice with you much,” Dante apologizes to her, as they take up their positions.
“Don’t worry, you’ve been so busy,” Lili replies soothingly as she loads the gun with ease. Dante watches her and raises an eyebrow, but Lili merely smiles. “Nicola taught me a lot, and you know I’m cleared to practice by myself now.”
Dante hums, but she smiles at him, innocent and serene.
“I think I’ve improved a lot!” she chirps, facing the target, “I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Look!”
Without hesitating, she fires off three shots in rapid succession, and the soldati are taken aback by both her accuracy and fluidity of movement. One hits the bullseye, the others hit fairly close. The room is silent, and Dante claps slowly, at which Lili smiles bashfully at.
“I practiced more at night, when the room was empty…it’s a little embarrassing to be watched when I’m doing poorly. The thing is, I’m actually aiming for the outer ring,” she confesses, “If I aim for the center, it has the opposite effect. I don’t think I can say I’m a good shot given that, really, but…I do okay, right?”
Dante blinks, then barks out a laugh.
“So this is what Nicola meant,” he says, “When he said you’re maybe the best-worst shot he’s ever seen.”
Lili turns pink, then even pinker when she realizes all the soldati have stopped to stare.
One by one, they incline their heads in respect.
“Donna,” they chorus, and though she continues to blush furiously, their Boss looks pleased.
Dante is very young, for a mafia Boss, and so he’d had to fight harder than others to cement his position. He’s treated with respect now, but his youth is always apparent when he attends meetings with other clans or business associates. He knows that he is still often being watched for weaknesses, and questioned silently as to whether he is truly good enough to lead the Falzone Family.
Dante is used to all that by now; in childhood, it’d been a burden. Now, he has the support of many, and leads with confidence and determination.
But he worries for Lili, now that they are married. Wives are expected to attend certain functions; as his lover, she’d been exempt from such things, but now that is no longer true. A dinner meeting with some longtime associates has been called, and it will be the first time Lili is attending something like this as his wife.
“I’m nervous,” Lili admits to him the night before. “But I’m ready, too.”
Dante kisses her forehead, and shows his appreciation slowly and sweetly. They rise late the next morning, but the dinner meeting is the only important thing on the agenda today, so they take their time getting ready.
Lili is stunning in her navy and silver gown, matching with Dante’s suit. Crystals wink at her ears and neck, and a bit of lipstick reddens her lips. Nicola smiles widely when he sees them, and Leo gasps in appreciation.
“Furrow your eyebrows a little,” Nicola suggests, poking the space between his own to demonstrate. “It’ll make you look more intimidating. Your natural face is a little too innocent.”
“I can’t help it,” Lili protests, the consequent scrunching of her eyebrows merely making her look cute, “It’s my face!”
“Yes, I suppose you don’t have Dante’s natural scary disposition at all,” Nicola sighs, “We’ll have to develop your expressions next time or they’ll eat you up.”
“Nicola,” Dante admonishes. “She’s fine as is. Stop making her more nervous.”
“Fine, fine. Then knock them dead some other way.”
“I thought the point was to establish better relations,” Lili blinks, and Nicola laughs.
“In the mafia, sometimes it’s one and the same,” he says cheerfully. “In any case, have fun!”
Lili gives him a confused look, but Dante tells her not to pay attention to him and they depart.
Nicola needn’t have worried, in the end.
True, the meeting starts off a little rocky—all of the associates return to their roots, consciously or not, and eye Dante and Lili for their youth. Dante has been tried true over the years, but Lili is fresh blood, and Nicola was right—she looks innocent, despite the darker style she is dressed in. Though she bears the stares of four middle-aged men and their regal wives admirably, they are like sharks in water, ready for the first hint of weakness.
All the women are mostly quiet throughout the dinner itself, but everyone loosens up afterwards, when they enjoy dessert and drinks and cigars. One of the wives offers to pour drinks, and while some of the men decline in favor of cigars and all the other women do, Lili is not given the opportunity to do so.
“Drink up, Signora Falzone,” the instigator says, “I chose the whiskey myself—it is not often we get the opportunity to drink such quality liquor in such good company.”
“Thank you, Signora Rossi,” Lili says smoothly, putting the glass to her lips as everyone watches, discreetly or not.
She drinks, her expression unchanged as the liquor hits her tongue, though her eyes widen a little as she swallows.
“Oh! It’s wonderful,” Lili says, smiling, “I’ve never had whiskey like this before. May I ask the brand?”
Madam Rossi looks a little mollified and shows her the bottle, though she pours more into Lili’s glass with a subtly mischievous look. The madam drinks as well, though less, and the other wives sip digestivos or wine as they begin to chat about various things, and Rossi continues to refill Lili’s glass throughout the conversation.
Dante does not fail to notice, but Lili puts a hand on his knee to let him know she is okay, and so he does nothing. The other men watch out of the corner of their eyes with interest, but say nothing either.
By the end of the night, half the associates and their wives are drunk, including Madam Rossi. Though Lili has had the most alcohol of all of them, she is practically still sober, if a little sleepy.
Signor Vallone, one who had simply smoked cigars and not drunk at all, laughs heartily in the lobby as their cars are prepared.
“Looks can be deceiving, indeed!” he says, shaking Lili’s hand merrily, “I’ve never seen anyone drink Signor Di Lucca or Signora Rossi under the table like that. That was fine entertainment in of itself.”
Lili demurs, and one of the other wives—Signora Albanesi, who had simply enjoyed one glass of wine—steps forward to say her goodbyes as well.
“It was a pleasure meeting you, my dear,” she says warmly, “Perhaps next time, you will recommend us your favorite drink instead, yes?”
“Of course, Signora,” Lili says, smiling back.
Everyone splits with good-natured farewells, almost as though they were simply friends parting for the night and not partners linked by criminal activities. The atmosphere is markedly different than it had been at the beginning of the night—true approval is not so easy to earn, but Lili has certainly garnered the fondness of the group in the course of a few hours.
She snuggles against Dante in the car, and he presses a kiss to the top of her head. She tilts her face up for a proper kiss, and Dante chuckles before he obliges.
“You taste like whiskey,” he says, amused, “And I’m impressed, myself. I know you can outdrink me, but it’s something to be able to drink more than Signor Di Lucci and Signora Rossi.”
“I did enjoy the whiskey,” Lili admits, “And she just…kept pouring. I thought it would be rude to refuse. But I still like the white wine we drink together best.”
“Shall we open a bottle when we get home?” he teases, and Lili giggles.
“If you’d like. I think I can handle one more,” she says, meaning the bottle, and Dante laughs.
“I know you hate these kinds of functions, Dante,” Nicola says amiably one afternoon in Dante’s office, “But it’s important to keep up appearances sometimes, too.”
Dante sighs, thanking Lili as she sets down two slices of strawberry crostata and a cappuccino for him, as well as a single slice and an espresso for Nicola, who thanks her as well.
“I have far better things to do than to sit down and play card games for hours on end,” Dante grumbles, sipping at his coffee. The frustrated lines around his eyes soften for a moment as he drinks, but then he frowns again. “These guys are getting quite friendly.”
“They’re doing it for appearances too, of course,” Nicola replies reasonably, sipping his own espresso. “They’re politicians. But you’re right—they’re getting quite persistent, aren’t they? You do business with newbies once and they start getting too comfortable.” He pauses to take a bite of crostata. “They’re probably asking so often because they’re aware you hate gambling, too. They want to feel superior in some way or another, since you have the upper hand in all the other ways that matter.”
Dante sighs as he leans back in his seat.
“When?” he asks.
Dante’s frown deepens.
“No. I have a meeting with lobbyists that day, and that takes priority over some politicians who want to play cards to boost their ego. Nicola, you go. You’ll have more fun, anyway.”
“Yes, Boss. But I will say—if you don’t show your face at least once, then they’ll only grow more persistent. It’s not me they want to see, even if I am your Underboss.”
Dante sighs deeply and says nothing else, choosing to focus on his dessert instead.
“Um…” Lili pipes up, having taken an armchair in the corner of the room with her own plate of crostata and a caffe latte. “Why don’t I go, then? With Nicola, that is.”
Dante and Nicola turn to look at her, blinking in surprise.
“It’s actually card games, right?” Lili asks, looking between them a little nervously, “That’s not code for anything?”
“It’s just card games,” Nicola confirms, “Though they might talk business, of course, and money will change hands one way or another.”
“I can play cards,” Lili continues, emboldened by the fact that neither have said no outright, “I could go with Nicola as a…I don’t know, additional representative. I know mafia wives don’t usually participate in such things, but…well, would it help?”
Nicola’s eyes are bright, having played cards with Lili before and knowing her skill firsthand. His lips curve into a wolfish grin, and he looks at Dante eagerly, who glances back at him with a raised brow.
“I don’t like it,” Dante says bluntly, but Lili simply waits, knowing that it comes from a place of concern.
It is also still not a refusal.
“I don’t know that it would help,” Nicola admits, “But it doesn’t mean nothing, either, that the Boss’ wife attends in his place. It would certainly be interesting—there’s no way they would complain at such a development because of that. And I think Lili could do very well.”
Lili smiles, and Nicola smiles back.
“I’d like to assist in any way I can,” Lili states resolutely, “After all, I’m part of the Family, too.”
Both Nicola and Lili look at Dante, just a little pleading, and eventually he sighs and relents.
“I don’t like it,” he repeats, looking at Lili, “But if you want to go, you can go. Nicola—”
“I’ll protect her with my life, Dante,” Nicola says, a hand over his heart, “I swear it.”
Dante sighs again, and finishes his crostata in resignation.
He’s not home when Nicola and Lili leave for the meeting, but he’s just arrived back for a few minutes when they return, merely a few feet away from the door when it opens again.
Nicola is laughing, and Lili looks a little embarrassed as she tells him he’s overreacting, but both light up when they see Dante walking back over to them.
“Dante!” Lili exclaims, hugging him in greeting. “Welcome back.”
“Hello,” he says, kissing her cheek, “I should be saying that to you. You’re both back earlier than I expected, though.”
He looks between Lili and Nicola, the latter whom is brushing a tear out of the corner of his eye from laughing so hard. Dante raises a brow, and Nicola grins, gesturing to the salon.
“Alright, what happened?” Dante asks, as Giulia goes to prepare refreshments.
“Go on,” Nicola says encouragingly to Lili, and she hesitates before she opens her pocketbook and drops a few hefty rolls of cash onto Dante’s lap.
His eyes widen.
“Dante, it was incredible,” Nicola practically crows, accepting a cup of coffee from Giulia, “I haven’t seen anyone hustled that much in a while. Those arrogant politicians…seeing their faces fall…it was magnificent. I don’t think they’ll be pestering the Falzones to attend their card table again so soon.”
Dante raises a brow, and Giulia stays to listen to Nicola retell the entire story in detail. Lili had simply played well—far better than anyone had truly expected. The young woman sips her coffee demurely throughout the tale, embarrassed still at Nicola’s praise and gleeful amusement.
“I wasn’t trying to…to hustle them!” she eventually protests, blushing.
“That’s what makes it even better,” Nicola says. “I know you said you’ve never lost at cards, but it is simply delightful to see someone else suffer the consequences.”
Lili sniffs, ducking her head, and Dante gives her an amused look.
“Anyway, that’s our politician problem solved for now,” Nicola hums, “After how much they lost, I think they’ll think twice about trying to get a leg up on the mafia.”
Dante folds his hands, thinking.
“On the contrary,” he says slowly, and Nicola’s eyes brighten as he immediately catches onto his thinking, “The next time they have a card game, I think we should all go. I’d like to see Lili play myself, and it never hurts to remind politicians just who they’re dealing with.”
Nicola starts laughing again, and Lili stares at Dante with her mouth slightly open.
“Good work today,” he says, smiling, and respectfully drops the money back into Lili’s lap.
To the victor, the spoils, after all.
If there is one thing that Lili truly hates still, it is the torture. But she is a mafia wife now and will not interrupt, though nor will she watch the proceedings. Sometimes she is left ignorant that it is happening at all, out of respect.
Yet in this too does she have her role.
Sometimes, for the ones that don’t crack even after hours in the cells but hold information important enough to keep trying, it’s Lili who goes to visit the prisoner afterwards. She goes alone, with medical supplies and water, tears spilling from her eyes. The better prisoners tend to think she is some angel. After some time, they confide in her, confessing their sins and regrets, and in time, the information they no longer consider worth their life.
Sometimes, they are even let go, after their threat is weighed and considered. The prisoners gape when they find out their angel is actually the Falzone Boss’ wife, and more often than not they will pledge their devotion to her—and thus the Falzones, for kindness is near nonexistent in the mafia. It is a double edged sword, in the criminal world, but it has its uses.
But sometimes, the prisoners truly have rot in their hearts. Those types see Lili as some stupid maid who doesn’t know better and isn’t worth anything. They attempt to take advantage of her kindness and body, lunging for her like the snakes they are as they spit the truth of what they’d done viciously, wanting to hurt her.
She’s quicker than she looks, flinging herself back with a little scream, and Dante and Nicola file in, always having waited outside.
Lili runs to her husband, burying her face in his chest as he holds her.
The prisoners are always surprised, but the terrible ones don’t always understand who she is quickly enough. They snarl and spit dirty words, but she is still the one who tended to them—they are speared by her gaze when she half turns and looks at them with her teary eyes, disappointed and damning.
“How could you?” she whispers after learning the depths of their sins, and that’s when they truly feel like scum.
Lili does not watch when the worst ones are executed, though she hears the screams anyway.
At night, despite knowing what occurred earlier, she wants Dante to touch her. He does, lips and fingers cool then hot on her body, reminding her what else he is capable of. He is good with his hands, and he is still the man she loves. Dante just a little apologetic that he cannot keep her away from all brutality, but he cannot be apologetic about the decisions he must make. Lili was never under any illusions when she married him—she just cannot help this sympathetic part of herself, even as she understands. Dante knows that, and loves her for it, too. There is a certain sense of gratitude he feels, when she asks to make love even after these situations, that she doesn’t feel disgust or shy away from him instead.
Dante, she whispers against his lips, Dante, I love you.
She is unbearably precious in his hands, flushed and adoring, just as he must look to her.
Lili, he murmurs back, Liliana, as I love you.
She sleeps peacefully in his arms after, nothing but affection between them, their limbs tangled with each other’s.
Dante counts his blessings, and presses her close.
A few years go by, and though everyone knows that Dante Falzone is married, not everyone has met the rumored Liliana Falzone. Though she does attend various functions and oversee some things in Dante’s stead, as a whole she is kept out of the spotlight, for both of their comforts.
Sometimes, however, people get to meet her in unexpected ways.
The new associate from outside the city Dante is meeting today is shocked when Lili arrives with him, looking angelic on his arm. She has an interest in the business he is offering, Dante says, with an indulgent smile at her, and the associate thinks that she looks like an easy target. Both the Falzone boss and his wife still look very young, and he must be an idiot to bring his wife to such a meeting.
And even more of an idiot to leave to take a call, not matter how supposedly urgent it is.
Signora Liliana smiles pleasantly and makes small talk, while the associate answers in a bored, dismissive manner. But after a while he realizes with a start that her questions are growing more pointed, and that she is probing into his boss, and his relation to a string of issues in Burlone that have resulted in the deaths of a handful of Falzone men.
The associate starts sweating, then rises from his seat, intending to bolt—
Only to freeze at the sound of a gun being cocked.
“Please, sit down,” Liliana says, still entirely amiable, “I’m not a very good shot, actually. I’ll mean for the wall and hit right between your eyes if I’m not careful, and I do so hate unnecessary bloodshed.”
The man slowly sits back down, trembling a little. Signora Falzone is not particularly intimidating in the traditional way, but it is that beautiful, gentle smile at odds with the weapon in her hand that is frightening in its own right. It is evident she is not bluffing, and that she knows perfectly well what she is doing.
Dante returns shortly, raising an eyebrow at the scenario before him.
“Is everything alright?” he asks lightly, though his eyes are entirely knowing as Lili puts her gun away.
She smiles beatifically at him.
“Yes, of course,” she says smoothly, gesturing for him to continue the meeting, “Everything is under control.”
Lili sets the bouquet down on the grave, then leans into Dante’s side. He puts an arm around her waist, tugging her a little closer for his own comfort. They stare at the names etched onto the stone for a while.
“Thank you,” Dante says, “For coming with me, every Wednesday.”
Lili puts a hand on his chest and leans up to press a brief kiss to his lips.
“I like to,” she protests, leaning her head against him. “I…would have liked to meet them, your parents.”
“They would have liked you,” Dante assures her, and Lili smiles again. “My mother in particular would have been delighted.”
“How could she not be?” Dante chuckles, and Lili blushes a little. “And even though my father was not predisposed to show his feelings…he would have been very proud of you, Liliana.”
“Just as he would have been proud of you, Dante,” Lili replies.
They smile at each other, and share a brief kiss before they depart.
They opt for a walk through Falce before they return to the mansion, spending the last hours of the early morning in leisure. Around them, the district is starting to wake up; shopkeepers are coming out to flip their signs or set out their wares, men and women on their way to work or beginning their errands.
“Buongiorno!” they call, as Dante and Lili walk by arm-in-arm.
“Buongiono!” Lili greets back, as Dante nods in acknowledgement.
More and more people greet them as they continue down the streets, some of them making quick conversation with Lili. They do not linger due to Dante’s presence, and it is not that they ignore him either, but it is evident that Liliana is the one who has truly made their acquaintance, and whom they feel at ease with. She does not roam about as often anymore, so while she is not necessarily a rare sight, she is always a welcome one.
As the sun rises higher in the sky, shopkeepers call out to market their wares.
“Signora Falzone! I have freshly baked bread, come have a taste!”
“No, no, come look at my fresh fruits, Signora Falzone!”
“Signora Falzone, how about some flowers for the home?”
Lili demurs all of them with firm but good-natured ease, and Dante watches with amusement.
“Next time, perhaps. We really must get going,” she tells them all laughingly, and Dante inclines his head in polite farewell.
They go on their way, though the friendly calls and greetings continue; Signora Falzone permeates the air like a prayer.
Liliana walks on with her husband, as the streets of Falce hail the name she wears with ease.