Balance of Power, 74

Their encounter wasn't going as GianFranco would have preferred. A scowl furrowed his brow; his handsome face was painted in frustration. Still Sabrina held firm to her determination that they talk. "I want to tell you about my trip to Cambridge. It's important to me." She waited while GianFranco pushed himself up into a seated position, then she did the same. "My mother is buried in Cambridge," Sabrina began. "At Mount Auburn. I went there so I could tell her about you."

She paused to gauge his reaction to her statement. GianFranco nodded to show her that he was listening carefully. "All my life," Sabrina began again, "Cassandra taught me to close myself off from the possibility of a committed relationship. She was living proof, she told me, of the fact that trusting your heart to a man only resulted in pain and regret. And even though I always thought I tuned her words out, I finally realized a few years ago that I hadn't. I was just as closed off as my mother when it came to love."

"And that didn't bother me." Sabrina exhaled a shaky sigh. "Then I met you. And it started to matter to me whether I was the kind of person who could be in love with somebody, who could let someone love her back." Her eyes filled with tears. She wiped them away impatiently when they began to course down her face. "It felt so good to tell Cassandra about you, to prove her wrong. I told her how patient you've been with me, helping me understand my father's world. And I told her how completely honest you've been with me… even when it painted an ugly picture of my family and yours." She reached for GianFranco's hand and meshed her fingers with his. "I told her how you've proven yowrself to me without expecting anything in return. That's something I never, ever thought I would be able to do."


" I don't think you understand how amazing you are to me, GianFranco. When I think about us being together forever…" She leaned in to kiss him.

GianFranco stood abruptly and put some distance between them. "Sabrina…We need to talk."

"We… need to talk." Sabrina slowly repeated the words. "I'm sorry, I guess I misunderstood all the hints you've been dropping about us these last months."

"You didn't misunderstand me. I love you." The declaration was thrown out casually. "I have from the first moment I saw you."

"Then what's wrong?"

"You keep giving me more credit than I deserve," GianFranco bit out. "I have made some mistakes with you."

"Mistakes…" The word began wrapping icy tentacles around Sabrina's heart. "What kind of mistakes?"

GianFranco debated internally just how honest he should be. He brushed his hair back with his hand; it was a gesture he made whenever his emotions were high. "Although our fathers have been dear friends for some time, it was no simple thing that our families became bonded over your father's stadium project." GianFranco hoped that Sabrina would break the silence to ask the details, but instead, she waited in silence. "My family was included in the project because Don Corleone wished to thank my father for a promise he had made – a promise involving you . My father," he continued softly, "agreed to provide a family for you should something happen to Don Corleone. You would fall under my father's protection – or Francisco's, if he has come into power."

"I would fall under their protection ?" Sabrina tilted her head to one side. A bitter smile danced about the corners of her mouth. "You mean their control, don't you?"

GianFranco hesitated. "Yes," he finally said.

"So… where I live, where I go, what I do… those would be your father's decisions... or Francisco's. I'd have no say in any of those things."

"No. Sabrina, I know you think that this is unfair. But Don Corleone must make these arrangements for your future! His power lets him place you front and center of his life without much fear that you will be in harm's way. But if something should happen to your papa, that assurance disappears quickly – and completely. You would become a target, a symbol of Don Corleone's power that every potential capo would seek to destroy and so cement his reputation." "

"I see." Sabrina folded her hands in her lap. "So you're suggesting I shouldn't be upset about all this because it's what is best for me. " The conversation lapsed into silence. GianFranco tried to catch Sabrina's gaze, but she stared blindly at some point on the opposite wall. "Tell me, GianFranco," she asked after a while, "how long have you known about this promise?"

"I haven't always known about it. Francisco told me about it the night of the fundraiser."

"And you didn't tell me because?"

"I could not endanger the arrangements Don Corleone had already put into place."

"Were you a part of those arrangements?" Sabrina's voice was frightening for its very calmness.

GianFranco blinked. "I don't understand. What do you mean?"

"It's a pretty simple question. Were you one of the things my father arranged? Did your father pimp you out to me in exchange for my father's good will?"

"No! No!" GianFranco shook his head vehemently. "Didn't you hear me say that I loved you? That I fell in love with you from the first moment I saw you?" He padded, naked, over to the dresser and pulled open a drawer. He reached inside and brought out a small black velvet jeweler's box. "I bought this a month after we met." He returned to the bed and sat down on the edge. Silently GianFranco placed the jeweler's box on the comforter halfway between them; Sabrina made no effort to touch it. "Sabrina Corleone," GianFranco grabbed her hand, "I love you."

Sabrina twisted her hand out of his grasp. "That's touching…and romantic, GianFranco. But at this moment I'm not really inclined to believe your declarations of love. Apparently you have a habit of talking with my father's dick in your mouth."

GianFranco's jaw tightened. When she was angry, Sabrina had a wicked talent for saying things that cut deeply. A couple of times when they'd argued she had used that talent to piss him off royally. GianFranco reminded himself that in this case she had the right to be angry at the way he had kept her in the dark. "You're angry," GianFranco said. "I get that. Why don't we get dressed and go get something to eat. Then maybe we can talk calmly."

"Why don't you go to hell?" Sabrina rose from the bed. She grabbed her clothes from the chair and began to pull them on as she headed for the front door of the apartment. "I need to get away from you. Don't. follow. me ."


Balance of Power, 75

Sabrina's cell phone interrupted her thoughts with a simple trill of notes. She did not have customized ring tones for the members of her new family; Uncle Sonny reminded her that there was no reason to provide others with information that might be used to endanger them all. "Yeah," she answered simply. "What is it?"

Her cousin Vincent Mancini was on the line. "Uncle Michael has called a family meeting. I'm a minute or so away from Privete's place. Be in the lobby when I get there." The line went dead.

Numb inside, Sabrina stepped into the empty elevator and pushed the button that would take her to the ground floor. The building, owned by Lorenzo Privete, was less than a year old. Perhaps a third of the available units were occupied, inhabited by select members of Don Privete's biological family, mostly cousins and nieces and nephews.

Security in and around the building was strict. So strict, in fact, that the Corleone guard assigned to protect Sabrina did not bother to follow her into the building each time she paid GianFranco a visit.

She used to look forward to her visits to GianFranco's building. Not just because it meant she got to spend time with her lover, but also because it meant that just for a little while she had the illusion of being in charge of her life. There were no Corleone guards visible, and, after an early comment to GianFranco about it, no visible Privete security on hand for her visits either.

As soon as the elevator doors opened, Sabrina exited and made an abrupt right turn toward the kitchen. It had a back door that led out into a private courtyard where the kitchen staff took their breaks. Since most of the staff were somehow related to Privete family soldiers, it was a generous space with a couple of imported shade trees, marble benches and a man-made duck pond complete with a brace of ducks and ducklings.

At the moment, Sabrina had the courtyard to herself. She made her way over to the bench closest to the duck pond and took a seat. No one watching her would have a clue that she was reeling from recent body blows she'd taken. Sabrina sat calmly and stared through dark sunglasses out over the water. The wind gently teased her dark tresses. She was the picture of leisure.

Sabrina's phone trilled again. " What? " The single-word greeting was curt and rude.

"Where the hell are you?" Vincent barked. "I told you to be here when I got here!"

" You told me? Go to hell, Vincent!" Any other time Vincent's curt message would have only mildly irritated Sabrina. But tonight there was no understanding space between tolerance of his overbearing ways and immense resentment of Vincent's assumption that he could join the line of Corleone men already controlling her life.

Her satisfaction at slamming the cell phone shut in his ear did not last long. Sabrina's innate sense of fairness rose to the surface and she reluctantly acknowledged that Vincent was not the cause of her unhappiness; he was just a contributor. The cause of her anger began and ended with Michael Corleone.

Just thinking about her father and his heavy-handed machinations made Sabrina's resentment rise all over again. In a single move, Michael Corleone had managed to take from her something she had never dared hope to possess – complete faith in another human being. How did GianFranco expect her to believe that he was not a willing part of her father's Machiavellian plan for her future? He'd withheld the truth about the arrangements for her future. What else had GianFranco kept to himself? And even if he wasn't her father's willing participant, the whole thing was shades of her graduation all over again. The possibility that Michael Corleone had maneuvered her coming together with GianFranco meant that Sabrina could never trust that the feelings she had were truly hers and not the result of brilliant manipulation on her father's part.

'I feel sorry for you, Mama.'… 'You'll never know what I feel, Mama.'… 'He respects me with the truth, Mama.' How smug she'd been at Cassandra's graveside. Well, now there was no ignoring Cassandra DuMonde's cruelly mocking voice crowing triumphantly in her head. Sabrina did not even attempt to. Nor did she try to refute the circumstances of her current situation. She had gone against every lesson her mother had taught her and now she was paying the price.

When Sabrina's phone rang for the third time, she instinctively knew who was on the other end. "What is it, Papa?" her voice was resigned.

"I called a meeting."

"Did you? I don't recall you asking me to come."

"I sent Vincenzo for you," the 'Don' patiently replied, as though that somehow answered the point she'd just tried to make.

"I have told you before, Papa. Don't treat me like I'm some little child! I won't take that from Vincent, and I won't take it from you!"

Michael Corleone was silent. "You talk to me about treating you like a child, then you throw a temper tantrum like this?" His voice became glacial. "Enough, little girl." Sabrina flinched. The absolute fury in his voice could be felt through the phone. "I will put Vincenzo on the phone. You will tell him where you are and he will come and get you." He did not wait for her reply. "Do not try me further, Sabrina."

Sabrina had reached a point just on the other side of prudence. "You know what, Papa ?" She spit the word out with all the venom she could manage. " Go rot in hell! " The silence following her statement stretched out for so long that Sabrina wondered if she had lost the call.

"Be truly thankful," Vincent Mancini finally said, "that it was not Uncle Michael who heard your disrespect. I am on the way."