The Escort - By Gina Robinson Page 0,1

faith he would risk his livelihood to leave in the middle of the day to rescue a young woman he'd never met. "He will come."

She said a silent prayer to her dear, departed grandmother, who was most certainly a saint, for help. Please make Mario come for me.

"Good." The official smiled, looking relieved by the discovery of her cousin. He hustled her toward another desk. "You can wait here until he comes for you. I shouldn't. It's against policy, but I'll send someone for him. What is the address?"

Chapter 1

New York City

April 1899

Little Italy awoke with vigor as Angelina di Maria Allessandro cruised Mulberry Street on her way toward salvation and escape. Street vendors took up residence on the sidewalk and opened their carts for the day of business ahead. Shopkeepers unlocked their doors and drew up their shades to let the morning light stream in. Early customers milled about outside, waiting to be summoned in to do the day's shopping. The air was warm with the rich scent of baking bread from numerous panetteria scattered among the stores. The low-slung eastern sun cast long, thin shadows and lit the corner window of Perelli's Farmacia like a sparkling jewel. Single-minded of purpose, Angelina noticed none of it.

Almost by rote, she weaved her way around the growing number of pedestrians filling the street. Under the shade of store awnings, displays of every Italian delicacy imaginable beckoned. But she paid little attention to the now familiar sights. Above her, five and six-story brick buildings blocked the blue of the sky with their girth. Dishtowels hung out to dry on wrought iron balconies above street level where rows of apartments looked like so many prison cells of this great, confining place. What was it to her? Where was the beauty? She was a country girl. The smell of fresh grass in the field. The sounds of birds chirping. That was beauty. Not pigeons clucking in eaves.

Men perched on the backsides of wagons parked against the curb and swapped stories, hailed buddies, and eyed women. They whistled and hooted as Angelina walked by. She should have ignored them, as Mama had taught her. But she couldn't resist casting them a sidelong smile and adding a bit more sway to her walk as she hurried past.

Angelina was not a classic beauty. Not that she cared. She had a dark, exotic, Mediterranean look—full lips, a large mouth, and snapping, lively eyes that men told her distracted them from all rational thought. If her straight Roman nose was too long, they didn't seem to object. Here in New York, even a look meant to upbraid couldn't turn the men away.

As Angelina came to the next intersection, she scanned the street for Nonna Gia and the aging tables where she sold her homemade pasta. Nonna Gia should be in her usual space outside Villari's Fish Market, with her husband Papa Joe at her side. Nonna Gia's pasta was unarguably the best to be found on Mulberry Street, and she always undercut the prices of her competitors. Angelina never bought her pasta anywhere else, but today she sought the old woman out for another reason.

A gentle breeze kicked up from the direction of the waterfront, threatening to blow off the white scarf Mario had insisted Angelina wear for modesty's sake when she went out. She reached up and secured it as she looked quickly in each direction and crossed. On the other side, a short, heavy woman peddled her wares.

"Finocchio! Fresh finocchio!"

Angelina stepped around two heavy metal washtubs perched on wooden stools and filled with fennel bulbs. She had barely cleared the tubs when Nonna caught sight of her and called out.

"Angelina!" Nonna Gia hurried around to the front of the pasta table to greet her. Angelina set her shopping basket down and bent forward to let the tiny woman kiss both of her cheeks, catching the licorice scent of anise oil, Nonna's version of perfume.

"How is business this morning?" Angelina hid her excitement behind the mundane question. It was a game she and the old woman played, each putting on a poker face for the other's benefit.

"We've just opened, but it looks to be a good day. The weather is nice. It brings the people out." Nonna turned to her husband. "Papa Joe, tend to the table while I have a word with Angelina."

"Listen to this old woman!" Papa Joe threw up his hands. "She never has just a word with anyone. Don't keep her long. Look! The