Authors: Danita Minnis
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #romance, #Fantasy & Futuristic, #historical, #Historical Romance, #Paranormal, #angels
“Angelina Natale, I would be honored if you would let me escort you home.”
She put the violin case under one arm. “I would like that.”
There was blood on her closed fist.
“Are you hurt?” He moved closer.
She moved her hand behind the folds of her skirt and backed into the wall.
He waited, leaning his hand against the wall above her head, inhaling her perfume. A beguiling combination of … amber, apples and musk. The scent suited her, organic, delicious. He wanted to lift her skirt right now and take her against this wall, those long legs wrapped around him.
Angelina examined the buttons on his shirt that were in such close proximity. Stepping away from him would be cowardly, and he would guess she was made of sterner stuff. When she looked up it was with the defiance he expected from a cornered tigress.
He held her gaze, reaching behind to bring her fist out from the folds of her skirt.
The bloody gold in the center of her palm was a heavy medium-sized loop engraved with a stylized dragon. She had pulled it from the man’s ear and he had not made a sound.
“A memento?” He whispered in English close to her lips.
“I don’t want it. You can have it,” she answered in her native tongue. Now, that was the truth. Her British accent was tinged with a weary sadness. He wanted to pick her up against his chest and carry her home.
She had courage. Even while his mind worked to figure out what her role was in the mystery of the Stradivarius, he admired that.
He couldn’t leave her alone now. Not on a street where men escaped him when cornered in an alley and black clouds slid up church walls.
“Are you hungry?” Their lips were inches apart and he wanted to kiss her, but that would have to come later.
“I forgot about lunch. I had caffe at four. I’m starving,” the beautiful tigress admitted.
* * * *
Falcon took her to the
Most of the dinner crowd had cleared out. An old man sat by the picture window with his chin tucked into his chest. With liver-spotted hands clasped over a protruding belly, he was oblivious to the lights of passing cars that illuminated his table in a stark vignette.
Falcon and Angelina sat in a booth in the back of the ristorante with steaming bowls of spaghetti. A single lamp on their red and white-checkered tablecloth enclosed them in a soft halo of light.
“When I was six I asked my mum for a violin. She asked me what I liked about the violin and I told her it sounded like love.”
She glanced at him, a smile playing against moist lips. Like she’d just licked them.
She dropped her gaze to the bowl.
He must have made her uncomfortable. That was understandable since they did not know one another. But she was adorable, and would have to forgive him.
She swirled spaghetti around the fork and the cheese got soaked with sauce.
He passed her the grater of parmesan cheese.” A third helping?”
He watched pouty lips quirk up into a teasing moue. Innocent enough, but it was also an erotic affectation she seemed unaware of. That same expression had transformed her features several times tonight, particularly when she was about to share something amusing. Falcon took it as a sign that she was at ease with him.
“My parents soon found an instructor for me.” Her forked stopped swirling and she looked at him. It was time for his story.
“I know that feeling, the way music drives you. When my father bought my first piano, I needed a stepstool to reach the seat.”
Angelina’s husky laughter enveloped him. She would be frightened to know it revved up his pulse. “And what would your instructor say if I asked what kind of student you were?”
He shrugged. “Dinner was on the house and at least I wasn’t tone deaf.” He loved making her laugh. “By the time I was ten, I was arguing with my instructor. He wanted me to follow the sheet music, but I played what I heard in my head.”
Angelina was staring at him again. “Me, too.”
The sights and sounds of the
went away. Her eyes never wavered from his.
He wanted to know her, but not like this. Not with the stolen Strad on the table between them. It was one hell of a drawback that his years of hunting criminals made it impossible to ignore.
“Dessert? Caffè?” A waitress stood near their table.
Angelina sat back in her chair.
They had been leaning towards each other. He frowned and sat back. He’d been slower to react—not good. He looked up at the waitress.
“No, grazie,” he said with brusqueness he immediately regretted. He paid the check. “It is getting late. I should take you home.” He stood and held out his hand. Once again, she took it, smiling.
Is there a boyfriend waiting for you in England, tigress?
“Where to, Angel?”
Angelina stood up. “
Casa di Città
. Do you know it?”
“Do I know it? Hey, you took my room.” He took a step closer, unable to stop himself.
No, he could have stopped himself. He was trained for this role and could slip in and out of it easily. He just didn’t want to.
She was making him feel things, like this was something other than an investigation. This could be their first date, if it were not for the gun in his jacket. And the Stradivarius.
“Was that your room?” There was not a shred of sincerity in the sympathetic smile that did not reach Angelina’s eyes.
He gave her a curt nod. “I even called ahead, made a reservation. When I got there they told me it was a full house.”
The way she bit her lip in an attempt to stifle a giggle drew him even closer. When he reached behind her for the violin case, hard nipples grazed his chest.
A jolt of lust shot straight through his loins, nearly crippling him. She did not move away, and that was not good.
He knew why he was reacting to her this way. He would have to be dead not to. She was gorgeous. But for all she knew, he could be a serial killer. He tried to ignore the fact that she wanted him too. She was too trusting and at this rate, he would have her horizontal in minutes.
He jerked to attention in his jeans, took a step back and handed her the case. “The owner smiled when he told me this.”
“Signor Parisi smiled? I don’t believe I have ever seen him do that. That’s a bit rude, isn’t it?” This time the giggle erupted from her in husky melody. It wrapped around that part of him that wanted to pound into her.
She turned away, but not before her cheeks flushed with color. “If I were you I should never darken Signor Parisi’s doorstep again. Take my business elsewhere.”
There were two reasons he didn’t pull her close and kiss her then. One was the earlier attack. She had experienced enough today, and things had suddenly become complicated. Second, he needed her complete trust. They must be friends first. Still, he wondered how long she would make him wait before he could lay her down.
“Yes?” The warm vanilla limbs wrapped around him disintegrated before his eyes.
“I asked where you took your business.”
“I’m staying with a friend on the
until the tourists either have mercy or have had their full of Naples and a room becomes available.”
“That’s near the old churchyard, isn’t it? I pass it on the way to the Conservatory.”
“So, Bella, we are neighbors. Let’s go home.”
* * * *
Later that night, Falcon spoke to Granger on the phone. “Someone else wants the violin. A man tried to take it from her today.”
“Word gets around fast there’s a Strad up for grabs,” Granger said.
“What’s that chomping sound? Your jaws?”
“Just a little midnight snack. So, who is he?”
Falcon hesitated. Granger caught onto it. “What? Something happened?”
Falcon was not about to discuss darkness climbing up the side of a building with Granger. He had gone back to the church and checked the walls. No doors, windows, or even a loose brick in the alley. But he had felt as if he were being watched during his search that night. He had even camped out for a while to see if someone would confront him, but no one did.
“I didn’t get a good look at the guy, it was dark. I think he was mute. Let me know what you can find out about this.” He pressed Send on the laptop and an image of the dragon loop earring went into cyberspace, to Granger in Rome.
“Sure thing. What about the girl?”
“I’m working on that.”
“I bet you are…”
“Good night, Granger.”
She blinked away a flash of light in front of her.
“Do you miss him, Angelina?”
She could not see the woman. The residual explosion of light blinded her. However, the words were that of a stranger. A stranger who knew her name.
“You’ve taken enough pictures. Move along,” her father commanded, holding a palm up in front of the photographer’s camera.
Pictures of the grief-stricken guests to sell newspapers. She kept her eyes on the darkened asphalt of the walkway. The photographer’s high heels peeked from under black pants as she moved away. A photographer in couture? Dark sunglasses and a wide-brimmed floppy hat obscured the top half of her face so that only her full, cherry red lips were visible. The only lips smiling at this sober affair.
The throng of guests who had come to pay their respects to the Maestro turned into a gathering of crows. They huddled around Angelina under umbrellas, which turned into slick black wings before her eyes. Orderly rows of granite slabs, now ten feet tall, jutted out of the ground at precarious angles, a child’s nighttime terror come to life on this gray morning.
“Angelina! I am coming for you!” The camera flashed again and again, lighting up the rain-soaked day as the photographer circled her, chanting the name, louder, closer with each blinding flash. “Angelina Natale, Angelina Natale, Angelina Natale…”
Angelina woke with a start. She shook her head, willing the Maestro’s funeral out of her mind.
So much for steering clear of the London newspapers. That annoying photographer had followed her to Naples and invaded her rest, aided by a guilty conscience and the name Natale.
She had borrowed her deceased mentor’s name to play in the symphony because her real name was too well known, even here in Naples. She wanted her work to stand alone.
She turned on her side. I wish I’d told Tony my real name.
The lie had just slipped out. She had been frazzled. He was so hot she must have gaped at him in the alley like the bold brown trout that eluded her brothers at home in the River Wharfe.
Tony had walked her to the door.
His green eyes glowed against smooth olive skin. She felt that skin when he had her up against the church wall. As upset as she was, she had almost run her hand over his arm when he took the gold earring from her.
His skin, the color, the feel of it, drew her.
Hawkish brows gave him a dangerous look. His slow smile had broken the spell, softening the cleft in his chin.
At first, she had thought he would kiss her, but he touched her cheek instead to move the long bangs off her face. She had leaned into the caress,
‘Thank you, Tony,’
and watched his broad shoulders swing in an unconscious swagger underneath the jacket when he’d walked down the hall.
Though he wore his wavy black hair short, its wings fluttered in the breeze, like an untamed living thing. The way he had come to her rescue here in this ancient section of Naples, it was easy to imagine him as a handsome Roman soldier. All that was missing was the gleaming chest armor and sword. She could not have fantasized it better, but unfortunately, it had been real.
What would have happened if Tony had not scared the silent man off?
Her fertile imagination created a connection between this attack and the prank someone had played on her just a week ago in London. Her rational mind told her there could not be any connection between the two events. However, the thought did not give her much comfort. There was no doubt she had been attacked last night in the ancient Roman marketplace.
She didn’t know anyone here in Italy besides her aunt and uncle. She had never been here before, so it had to be a random attack.
Maybe it was the determined look on her attacker’s face, or the name he had called her.
He had not actually called her that, at least not in words. But she had heard him as if he had spoken the name. He had invaded her mind. Or she had invaded his.
Whatever had happened, the name Margaux had swirled in the air. Every time she thought about it, her head ached.
The man had not seemed such a stranger to her after the name Margaux popped into her mind. In that moment, rage filled her. She had wanted to kill him.
It had been too dark to see the man’s face, and he hadn’t said a word. She’d wanted to hear his voice—not words in her head—so that she could identify him. All he had done was make a strange gurgling sound and put a hand to his stomach as if she had punched him. After that, he had run off.
I should report it to the polizia.
If she told her parents they would both be here within hours, and her much coveted privacy during this musical sojourn would be no more.
The practical muse inside her questioned if it was not a random attack and if the silent man would return for the violin. The thoughts dampened her spirit a bit, leaving another independent, rebellious muse peeved and feeling abandoned by courage’s sudden retreat.
No, this has to be random.
Naples was like any other crowded city in the world where people were anonymous, and so was crime. A man fallen on hard times did not care who he robbed, only cared about what he gained from it. This man had achieved nothing.
The silent man did not know her. He could not know her. He would move on to the next victim minus a weird gold earring in his ear.
She would talk to Tony about reporting the incident when she saw him at the Conservatory. Her rescuer seemed to know his way around the city very well.
She sighed and drew the sheet around her. If she had a type, she knew what it would be.
When she closed her eyes, his gaze hovered at her lips. She felt his warm breath inches away from hers as she had when he’d backed her against the church wall last night. When his hand had touched her cheek, she’d felt the stroke in her belly.
Lean, strong, and six feet two. Tony was her type. He made her feel beautiful.
* * * *
There was a knock on the apartment door.
Angelina jumped up from the old, overstuffed couch, spilling tea from her cup.
“Ouch!” Sucking her finger, she turned down the volume of the Italian talk radio station. “Who is it?”
“Just a minute.” She sprinted to the bathroom and brushed out her hair. Taking a deep breath, she walked to the door. “Hi,”
“Ciao, Bella, did you sleep well?”
He had come to check on her. Her smile started in her toes. She shifted on her feet. “I slept very well. In fact, I just got up an hour ago, which is late for me.”
“Good. You needed sleep after last night.”
“Please, come in.” She watched the play of muscles under his white T-shirt when he walked past her into the living room. She smoothed her hair down once more.
I wish I had used the flat iron on it this morning
Tony sat down on the couch and stretched out his long, jean-clad legs.
“Would you like some tea?”
“No thanks, Angel.” His eyes traveled down her body when she stopped at the coffee table in front of him and picked up the breakfast dishes.
“So, what are you doing today?” Tony asked.
“I’m going to practice.” She held the teacup and plate in one hand and smoothed down her shorts with the other.
Oh, my God, I’m barefoot…
“On a Saturday? It’s too nice to stay inside. Come out with me.”
It was only the second Saturday in August. She would have plenty of time to practice over the next two months. Why not have some fun in Italy?
Angelina looked down at her shorts. “I’ll have to change…”
“Oh, don’t do that.” His gaze passed over her French-manicured toes before returning to her face. “You might want to put on some shoes.”
“I will be right back.” She giggled.
In the bedroom, Angelina rummaged in the closet until she found shoes. She tied the strings of the high-heeled espadrilles around her ankles. Her legs did strings very well, in case this was a date.
Coming out of the bedroom, patting down her hair again, she bumped into Tony. He was looking at a picture on the wall.
She must have been about ten years old when the picture was taken, a professional shot with her violin. Her mother had blow-dried her hair so that it hung straight down her back. Bangs cut cleanly across her forehead.
She stood side by side with him. “That was a good hair day.”
“What do you mean?”
She had spoken out loud. “My hair is tame in that picture.”
“Angelina, you have the most beautiful hair I have ever seen, thick like a lion’s mane.” He ran his fingers through the length of her hair. Her knees turned to jelly.
“I need to get it shaped,” she whispered.
“Well then, that must be our first stop.”
* * * *
“My friend, it has been too long. Where have you been?” Georgio’s deep Italian was a surprise coming from his thin, wiry frame. He pulled Tony into a hug.
“Traveling, but I’m back now.” Tony took Angelina’s hand and pulled her forward. “This is Angelina.”
Georgio smiled, and exposed yellow teeth. “Beautiful hair,” He turned to Tony. “So, this is where you have been all this time, eh?” Georgio took her hand, and inspected her bare ring finger. “But you are not married yet. You should marry this one.”
Georgio’s gleeful laughter accompanied them to identical barber chairs.
She worked to hide her smile.
Maybe Tony doesn’t have a girlfriend, after all.
Georgio trimmed her bangs so that they fell in long waves down the sides of her face. Tony would not let her cut the length, but she had to admit she liked the glossy layers in the back.
Angelina turned to Tony. His freshly cut black wings shined. “Now you really look like a warrior.”
Tony stroked his square jaw. “Is it the chin that gave me away?”
“Ah, she is smart and beautiful. What more you want, giovane?” Georgio said.
On cue, they rose from their seats.
Georgio stepped in front of Tony. “Your father was in here last week. He comes to see me more than you. Why is that?”
Angelina turned towards Tony.
Tony looked from her to Georgio. “Time to go.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know, it is always time to go. Your father wants to see you. He said…”
“Tell him I’ll see him for dinner one night, will you, Georgio?” Tony gave her an apologetic smile before taking her hand and leading her away.
* * * *
They picked up the Stradivarius at the
Casa di Città
, and made the short walk over to the Conservatory where they found an unoccupied music room.
Tony played an intro to the
Brandenburg Concerto No. 4
. He knew the Baroque composition as well as she did. He closed his eyes and his long fingers glided across the keys until her body wondered how those fingers would feel gliding over her.
Gaping brown trout!
Angelina closed her mouth. She placed one of the straight back wood chairs near the baby grand, but she did not sit down. “I left the music sheets at home.”
“Bella, play with your heart.”
She joined in with the Stradivarius. Her fingers ran up and down the scales, until she heard the Maestro’s gruff command.
… she must remember.
Tony’s masterful control beckoned her. She stopped and closed her eyes at the end of the first movement to listen to his piano solo.
He was impulsive, driving. He owned the notes.
She resumed her part. His piano and her violin flowed together. The notes were a flower spray of light energy against her closed eyelids.
At first, she did not understand what was happening. The hair on her arms prickled, and then she knew what it was … recognition, of a sort.
She could not say what was so familiar in this first time they played together.
She looked into Tony’s eyes and heard another violin and piano. When the concerto ended, their gazes were still locked as she tried to remember where she’d heard it before.
Had he heard the other set of instruments too? She stopped herself before asking the ridiculous question because his solemn eyes held remnants of desire, and praise.
‘Only fools are taken in by praise’
, the Maestro’s voice said in her ear.
If this is how it feels to be a fool, just call me Village Idiot.
Tony sauntered over to her. This was the kind of male domination she knew nothing about. She wanted to know everything about it.
Here was a man with arresting confidence and he was holding back, he thought she wanted that. Here she was wondering what it would be like to kiss him. She held her breath.
Will he kiss me now?
Tony took the violin and placed it on the desk behind her. She stood when he took her hand and moved closer.
He wrapped his arms around her. “Are you a merciful angel?”
She placed her arms around his neck, and moved closer still.
He nipped at her lips, tasting them, searching. When she opened to him, his tongue slipped inside her mouth.
His slow exploration was a teasing assault on her senses. She followed his questing tongue impatiently, sensing there was so much more with him than she had ever experienced before.
His kiss was thorough, determined and so relaxing, she wanted to stretch out on a masseuse’s table.
Angelina burrowed against him, and then she knew.
He had seemed in complete control of himself, but now she stood cradled between his strong legs and she could feel that he was not. She felt exhilarating satisfaction, but she wanted more. She moved against him.
Tony groaned against her lips and leaned her back against the desk.
“You are early. Class does not start for another half hour.”
Angelina stilled. She looked up at Tony, who ignored the gravelly Italian coming from the doorway. Somehow, her thigh had inched up Tony’s leg. His hand gripped her bottom, pressing her against him.
“You are in Musical Theory 401, aren’t you?” the man said.