Even though it is the roaring twenties in Ledford, Illinois Belle Anne Lassiter maintains a pristine reputation. However, her carefully crafted lifestyle is jeopardized when she comes to live and work for the Spicuzzi brothers. But her circumstances give her no other choice.
Rumors swirl regarding the charming gangster. Some say he is a womanizer, some say he is a murderer. It is known that he runs one of the most lucrative gambling, bootlegging empires in the Midwest. According to the newspapers he has committed horrendous crimes such as murder and train robbery. Politicians who do not see things his way disappear. Franky is also the favorite of mob boss Salvatore Terranova out of Chicago.
Locals who like Franky call him the ‘saving force’, others call him a murderer. Which is true? Did Franky pay her consumptive mother’s way into a sanatorium out of kindness or so she would be alone in the estate with him?
Belle Lassiter eventually falls under the spell of Franky Spicuzzi. Surely the rumors are false and he is not to blame for her church burning down, or her dear friend, Tony Zirelli’s, death. And now a major competitor is out to kill Franky and take over his lucrative territory. Will Franky succeed in fending him off? And can Franky and Belle find love within the midst of all this mayhem?
In Ledford, Illinois one hot afternoon in 1920 Belle Lassiter observed while Tony Zirelli set cans on a fence. They stood a mile outside town a quarter of a mile behind Tony’s house. Cornfields spread over 400 acres of Zirelli land on their three sides. Behind them Tony’s parent’s well-kept two-story, red-roofed white house stood. Once in a while a horse and rider or a motorcar passed on the road. It was a safe place to shoot. With the sun at her back at 3:00 in the afternoon Belle squinted out to the field at the target he’d set up. Belle planned to take a turn using Tony’s gun.
Tony raised the pistol and aimed. Crack! The can clinked and flew into the air.
"Not bad," said Belle.
Tony shot at the same can and hit it repeatedly, keeping it airborne. Crack…Crack! Crack! She held her ears; the noise was earsplitting.
When he stopped, she said, "Very impressive."
He pointed the barrel skyward. "You want to take a try? Hm?"
Lowering her hands from her ears she smiled. Belle wasn’t nearly as good a shot as Tony. "Sure. Give it here."
A smile curved the corner of his lip as Tony handed her the weapon. "This ought to be good."
"I’ll make you eat those words. Watch this."
He was so funny. He’d been a good friend since they had started first grade. He was as good a friend as Lily Bright.
"I’d better help so you don’t shoot a cow." His gaze was as soft as a caress.
She smiled as she held her arms up. "There’s no cattle around here."
"Or you might shoot me." He shrugged. "Just kidding."
Standing behind her Tony’s chest brushed her back. Belle smelled his citrusy aftershave lotion. His arms stretched, overlapping hers. His nose and mouth hovered inches from her hair. She found his nearness bracing.
As he adjusted her arms, he murmured, "Now, when you’ve got it in the sites, gently squeeze the trigger."
"Daddy taught me how to shoot."
Crack! Belle’s arm recoiled and she rocked back into him. She lowered the gun and saw the untouched can.
"It’s your fault," she said, cupping a hand to her brow. "I can shoot...I think."
He straightened his shoulders and stepped back from her. "You must not be having a good day. Give me that before you kill yourself or me." Taking the weapon he let out a long audible breath. "The question is..."
"What?" she asked. "Say it."
He gave her a questioning gaze. "Would you be able to shoot if someone was going to harm you?"
Squeezing one eye closed Tony checked the chambers then re-loaded from shells that he carried in his pocket. Belle considered his statement. He stopped and eyed her intently.
"Of course I would. Wouldn’t everyone?"
"No. ’Specially not prim and proper misses like yourself."
"I could and would," said Belle.
A bland smile formed on his lips. "Let me try once more."
He raised the gun. In a fraction of the time that she took he aimed and fired. The shot zinged when it knocked the last can into the air. She felt his hand brush her long skirt; her heart danced with excitement.
"Very good," said Belle, drawing back several strands of her hair.
The flaming red lock had loosened from the braided mound that was situated an inch above the nape of her neck. Her skin was ivory and smooth as milkglass; flawless. Her voice was low and soft, her features delicate. Tony wagged his head and chuckled. He shoved the gun under his jacket and into the waistband of his trousers.
"Now that you’re out of high school, what’re you going to do?" Belle asked.
His eyes darkened and his square jaw tensed. "I found work. It’ll pay a lot of money, too."
Did he evade her question? "That’s good." She blinked. "What’ll you be doing?"
Once again, he didn’t respond. They walked toward the back of the boarding house along a hard grassless path. Treetops rustled in the early summer breeze.
"It’s…dangerous work," he finally stated. "If I ever sneak off I want you to know that when I come back…" His voice died.
"Sneak off? Where?" What was he talking about?
"I’d like to see you again, someday, maybe," said Tony, his eyes lazy and hooded. He put his hand on her slender waist. "I’m kind of partial to you."
She felt her cheeks heating; his words baffled her. "Where would you go?"
"I can’t say."
He shrugged. "It’s best I don’t. Well, can I see you again?"
Belle moved away from his hand. "You know how Daddy is."
What else could she say? And, why was he being so evasive?
Tony, a Sicilian-American, stood six feet tall, had a dark thick mane, and penetrating eyes. In high school girls had chased him, because he sported a personable disposition. She glimpsed his summery clean silk shirt under his new dark suit jacket. Being with him brought back memories. In high school he had worn regular clothing--overalls mainly. But now, look at him! A man. The waistline of his trousers fit his slender waist to perfection. His pants bagged about his hips. He looked like a big city boy. Tony gazed down the road toward town as he slipped on a pair of dark glasses and pressed a stick of Juicy Fruit gum between his lips.
"Want a piece?"
"No thanks," she told him.
"Your daddy’s over-affection borders on insanity. I feel funny seeing you only when he’s gone."
"Oh, he’s silly, especially regarding boys." Like Tony didn’t know.
"I’d better get on home. Bye, Tony."
"Okay, then," he said.
They walked in opposite directions. What kind of work did Tony do, anyway? She never found out. Belle walked toward home and looked back once.
Twenty feet away, he said over his shoulder, "We’ll go shooting again one day by Carrier Mills."
Call it feminine insight, but she thought it’d be several months before she saw him again.