Today, Susan and I are sharing the cover for Miracle, the sixth and final book in the Pagano Family series, as well as the synopsis and a teaser. Miracle is Joey’s story. Since the first book, Footsteps, Joey’s had a rough time. He’s due a miracle or two.
Miracle opens just about where John’s story, Prayer, leaves off, so we’re going to share the prologue as a teaser, since it puts us in Joey’s head at a key moment at the end of Prayer. It’s not a high point for Joey.
Though all the Pagano Family books stand alone pretty well, they share the same world and family story (and chronology), so there are spoilers here for the other books in the series, especially Prayer.
Miracle is set for release on Saturday, 6 August. As usual, we’ll set up the preorder a couple of weeks before that. Here’s the Goodreads page, if you want to add it to your TBR.
This summer is pretty…interesting…in our household, but we’re trying to keep up with all the dates and deadlines we’ve set for ourselves.
THE CONCLUSION OF THE PAGANO FAMILY SERIES.
Joey Pagano was left disabled following a violent moment in his family’s history, a moment he chose to be a part of. During the past ten years of a life he’s only half lived, all of his brothers and sisters have gotten married and made families of their own, but Joey’s had no one. Before he was hurt, he was the carefree family clown, living a life of privilege and excess, with any girl he wanted hanging on his arm. Now he’s resigned himself to being alone. He’s given up.
Tina Corti grew up in Quiet Cove, just like Joey. She’s known him most of her life, though she hasn’t seen much of him since his troubles. No longer the daydreaming schoolgirl with a crush on her oldest brother’s best friend, Tina has worked hard to accomplish her goals. She wants to make a difference, to do her part, for her family and the world. She’s stretched her wings beyond the Cove, but she’s kept her roots firmly in place.
A chance meeting kindles a fragile friendship. Joey, scarred in body and soul, is guarded. But Tina’s gentle optimism and patience give him room and cause to trust, to love, to breathe. She brings him back to life.
Before they can settle into their love and imagine a happy life together, their families bring violence into their world again, and Joey will have to return the favor.
Note: explicit sex and violence.
Joey Pagano stood at the altar at Christ the King Catholic Church, beside his brother John, feeling uncomfortable in a blue suit and tie. The tie felt like a fucking noose, and he kept pulling at it to try to let breath move up and down his neck.
Breathing was hard enough as it was. He only had about sixty-percent capacity on his best day. The last thing on this earth he needed was something to cut that down.
Fuck, the tie was tight. Why was this one so tight? He wore a suit and tie every single Sunday for Mass; his father would have had a heart attack if he—
He shoved that thought away with a burst of silent shame. His father’s heart was actually failing. He was dying, right before his family’s eyes. There he sat, in the front pew, a cannula in his nose and an oxygen tank on the pew at his side, between him and Adele, their stepmother.
Damn, it was hot in this church. It was December. Had they cranked the heat up to a hundred or something? Between the heat and the silk noose around his neck, Joey thought he was going to pass out.
Why had John picked him to be his best man? Why not Carlo or Luca? They were the successful ones, the responsible ones, the ones who’d made their lives into something. Joey was nothing but a loser. Wasn’t it bad luck or something to have a loser standing at your side when you got married?
Shit, had he lost the ring?
He checked his pocket and found it, right where it was supposed to be.
The ceremony was starting. Cousin Nick’s oldest little girls, Elisa and Lia, came down the aisle carrying silver baskets of white and blue flowers. Between them walked little Teddy, his sister Rosa’s oldest, in a blue suit and tie that was the miniature of Joey’s and John’s. Except John had a white tie. Was his as fucking tight? Was Teddy’s? No—Ted’s was a clip-on. Lucky.
Shit, even Rosa, their baby sister, had her life figured out. The spoiled little shit of an Italian American Princess had turned into some kind of big deal lobbyist in D.C. She was five whole years younger than Joey, but she had a career and a house in Georgetown, and a husband with his own restaurant, and two kids.
His whole family was successful. In an hour or so, John would be married, and only Joey would be alone. Their mother was dead; their father was dying. Carlo, Carmen, Luca, John, Rosa—they all had love and family of their own. Joey hadn’t had a girlfriend in more than ten years. Shit, he hadn’t had a fucking date in more than three. And what an unholy disaster that had been.
He was always going to be alone. Poor Joey, loser Uncle Joey—couldn’t talk, couldn’t breathe, only had a job because his family owned a business. Someday, they’d have fights about whose turn it was to take him in.
Maybe that day was coming up fast. When Pop died…fuck.
Nick’s wife, Bev, the bride’s best friend, was coming up the aisle. Nick looked like a lovesick fool. Nick Pagano—Don Nicolo Pagano, the king of the New England underworld—making googly eyes at his wife of seven years, for all the world to see.
The music changed, and there was Katrynn, John’s bride, standing at the doorway, her arm hooked with her father’s. She was gorgeous and sparkly and happy. Joey looked sidelong at his brother. John was so obviously happy it seemed his feet might lift right off the floor.
Jesus Christ, his tie was tight. He couldn’t breathe. And holy fuck, was he crying? In front of everybody? He had to get out of here.
He nudged John, whose wide smile faltered when he met Joey face to face.
“Dude, what’s wrong?” He turned away as soon as he asked. Katrynn was more important right now, Joey got it, but damn, he needed…what?
To get the hell out of this church. Right now.
He forced the right words out of his stupid, slow, scrambled head. “I can’t…c-can’t.” Then he gave up and trotted down the altar steps, toward his other brothers.
“Joe!” John whisper-shouted behind him, but Joey didn’t turn around. John’s call had pulled Carlo and Luca’s attention from the bride’s walk, though.
And their father’s attention, too. He was sitting, and the look he gave Joey was an encyclopedia of disappointment.
“What’s goin’ on, bro?” Luca asked, his voice low.
“Joey, don’t fucking flake,” was Carlo’s helpful addition. Judgmental prick.
“T-t-t…” FUCK HIS HEAD! Stress made his troubles with speech and breath a million times worse. Joey closed his eyes and tried to make his breath steady and full. He pulled the ring from his pocket and held it out. “Take…this. C-c-can’t…do it.”
With a look of disappointment that rivaled their father’s, Carlo nodded and took the ring.
Joey needed to get out. He was ruining everything. Carlo had taken the ring. He could go now. So he did. He stalked down the side aisle as fast as his pounding heart and straining lungs would let him, and he escaped into the cold December air.
Once free, he collapsed onto the church steps. He tore his tie loose and fumbled his inhaler out of his jacket pocket. He was going to need to use the damn mask when he got to his Jeep, but right now he just needed to calm down and get enough breath to make it that far. He sucked down the foul mist and tried to get his shit together.
Behind him, his family was celebrating John’s wedding.
Out here in the cold, Joey was alone.
The next day, Joey was stretched out on the sofa in the cellar, playing video games—pretty much where he’s spent the night before, while his family had been out partying with John and Katrynn.
The door at the top of the stairs creaked open, and his stepmother called down, “Joey! Honey, it’s time to go over.”
They were meeting next door, at the real Pagano family house, to have brunch and watch John and Katrynn open all their wedding gifts.
Joey could think of one or two, or a hundred, things he would rather do. Like what he was doing.
Besides, he was not somebody John or Katrynn wanted to see today. He’d almost ruined their wedding, after all.
He closed his eyes and found the words he needed to say and lined them up at his tongue. “Go on over. I’ll…” I’ll come over later. How hard is that to say? “I’ll…c-c-c—”
For Joey, it was extremely hard to say. Ever since he’d been shot in the chest ten years before and almost died, when he’d lost far too much blood and stopped breathing for too long before they’d started breathing for him, when his body had started to shut down and had never turned all the way back on again, words—any words, complicated ones or simple ones, it didn’t matter—got lost on the way to his mouth.
It was better than it had been at first. Back then, right after, there had been a lot of words that he couldn’t even think. Now, he could think pretty straight, but it was like there was a maze in his head, and the words had to go through it to get said. At least half the time, they landed at a dead end.
It was worse than that. Sometimes words got lost in his ears, too. When more than one person was talking, he had trouble making sense of any words being said. In his family, everybody always talked at the same time, just yelling louder and louder over each other, and they usually forgot that that meant he couldn’t follow along.
They usually forgot him, that was.
It had been better for a little while. For a few years in the middle of these past ten, he’d been doing kind of okay. It was hard work to stay almost normal, but he’d been doing it.
Then it had been brought painfully, humiliatingly home to him that he would never be normal again, and that a little slow was just as bad as a lot slow. So he’d stopped trying, and he’d lost ground, acres of it. In words and breath both. Not to mention just general health and fitness. But who the fuck cared?
“Joe?” Adele was back at the top of the stairs. “Your pop wants you to come up and talk to him.”
There was a time that Pop would’ve come down to him, but he couldn’t do stairs anymore. Knowing he was in for a lecture about family and responsibility, Joey paused the game and got up from the sofa.
At the foot of the cellar stairs, he took the deepest breath he could. Stairs weren’t so easy for him, either.
Pop’s guilt trip got him showered and dressed and over next door, to the house that Joey and all his siblings had grown up in, which now Carlo, the eldest, lived in with his wife and kids while Pop and Adele—and Joey—lived in Adele’s house. Like a Pagano compound.
Carmen had had a major bitch fit when Pop had announced he was giving Carlo possession—not ownership, just possession—of the house and marrying and moving in with Adele. It had been a little weird, Carlo taking over the family house, but Joey hadn’t cared that much at the time. It was after he’d been hurt, but he’d gotten his own place by then, and he’d been feeling hopeful that he’d get back to full power someday.
The arrangement had turned out not to have changed things much. They still had all their family events at the house they’d grown up in, and Pop still sat at the head of the table. The only thing that had really changed was a few sleeping arrangements.
Today, the house was its usual chaotic celebration self, with women yakking in the kitchen, and kids running around squealing, and people laughing and talking and drinking and eating. After all these years, Joey knew that it was hopeless to try to keep up, so he turned himself down until everything around him was only hum. If anybody ever decided they actually cared what he might have to offer, they would probably have to put their hands on him to get his attention.
Knowing that John wanted to cave his face in, and not entirely confident that his ‘special needs’ status would prevent that from happening, Joey lingered as far back from the day’s festivities as he could get. John and Katrynn were seated together on the living room sofa, next to the big Christmas tree, around which was stacked a mountain of wedding gifts, most of them in blue, white, or silver paper and elaborate bows.
Sabina, Carlo’s wife, and Bev, Nick’s, were helping manage the gift situation—Sabina handing them a gift and Bev writing down what it was and who it was from after they’d opened it. Trey, Carlo and Sabina’s oldest boy, was on paper disposal duty. Everybody oohed and aahed over blenders and crystal and other wedding crap.
Joey stood at the doorway and sucked on his inhaler. When John caught his eye and gave him an angry look, the kind that said he was very much not forgiven for bailing on his best man duties, Joey stopped pretending he gave a shit about monogrammed towels and made his way to the cellar here, which had a much better media room.
He was down cellar watching Reservoir Dogs when he heard someone coming down the steps and girded himself for another lecture or guilt trip. Or maybe John was coming down to cave in his face.
But it was only Manny, Luca’s wife, and pretty much the only grownup in the family he could trust to just hang out with him without pity or judgment.
She had problems of her own, Manny did, some mental condition or something like that. She’d been born in Ukraine and spent her first years in an orphanage there, and she wasn’t good with people. She hated to be touched—almost any touch by just about anybody not named Luca Pagano—and she didn’t always get what people meant when they talked. She had trouble in the Pagano family chaos, too.
She and Luca had been married for years, and she was pretty comfortable with the family, since everybody understood her weirdness and left her alone about it. Joey really liked her. He wouldn’t say he got her, and he didn’t think she got him, but their respective oddnesses made them quiet in the midst of their loud family and set them on the outside, and they’d bonded over that. They’d spent lots of parties alone together down here.
“Hey,” she said as she crossed the room and sat on the opposite side of the sofa.
Joey nodded and started the movie going again. They watched in silence for a while, then, just as Mr. Blonde was about to torture the cop, Manny picked up the remote from the space between them and paused the movie again.
“Everybody’s pissed at you.”
Joey just nodded again. If he’d have spoken, it would have been something brilliant like Duh.
“They’re talking about you more than they’re talking about the wedding and the presents.”
He shrugged. Also duh. He was the family fuckup and the family project.
“Why are you being such an asshole?”
That surprised him. Sure, Manny always said whatever was on her mind without much filter, but he thought she understood what a suck it was to be him. Besides, she had freakouts, too.
“I like…I love you, Joe. You’re like my second-favorite Pagano. But you’ve turned into a whiny little bitch lately. Not to mention a lard-ass.”
Hurt feelings and shock threw up walls in his head right away, and he couldn’t even get his favorite word out. “F-f-fuck…”
Anticipating where he’d been trying to go, Manny shrugged. “Fuck you right back, buddy. You’re an asshole.”
His chest was going tight, and he sucked on his inhaler. “F-freaked…out. FUCK! Th…th-thought…you’d get it.”
“I get what happened at the church. You were right to leave before you lost it all over the wedding. I’m talking about your life, period.”
Now he was really angry. His heart pounded like a war drum. “Bitch….Like y-you’re…so normal.”
“Normaler than you. I work at it every fucking day. Every time I have to talk to somebody or go to the market or have dinner here when everybody’s talking all at once. Every day, I have to work to be a human being. It’s a lot better than it used to be, but it’s hard fucking work. You just sit around and eat junk food and pout. I bet you came back last night and felt sorry for yourself because nobody chased after you and fluffed your pillow and made sure you were okay.”
So what if he had? Like usual, everybody had ignored him. “F-f-f-f—”
“Yeah, yeah, fuck me. Whatever. I’m gonna go up and find Luca.” She stood and flicked a dismissive hand at the television. “Enjoy your vicarious badassness.”
“Easier…for you. Can talk.”
Manny stopped and turned back. “You could, too. When you were doing therapy, you were a lot better. All the things fucked up in your life—you did them to yourself.”
He barked a hoarse, gasping, bitter laugh at that ridiculous statement. “Yeah…sh-shot…myself.”
“No. But you gave up. You quit. That’s on you.” She turned and went back upstairs.
Joey flipped off the empty space where she’d been standing. Then he started his movie again.
Fuck her. Fuck them all.
©2016 Susan Fanetti