Authors: Danita Minnis
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #romance, #Fantasy & Futuristic, #historical, #Historical Romance, #Paranormal, #angels
Tony sighed. “He is not going away, is he?”
Angelina peeked over Tony’s shoulder. A rotund professor with a balding pate was walking into the room, grinning from ear to ear. She turned back to Tony, shaking her head.
Tony released her, caressing her thigh as her leg slid down his.
A quivering giggle escaped her at the promise in his eyes. She turned to gather her violin and case.
Tony turned to the instructor. “Scusi professore, we were just … practicing.”
Angelina stifled another giggle. She almost burst out laughing when Tony winked at her.
Whistling the first movement of the Brandenburg concerto, he took her hand and they walked past the instructor and out of the room.
* * * *
Falcon had decided to set up in the bedroom because it was in the back of the apartment and out of plain sight. The room had enough space for his GPS, digital recording and computer gear. The bed was the only surface in the room not covered with equipment.
Scanning a pile of local police reports, he looked for any unusual activity that jumped out at him. He couldn’t concentrate on anything but Angelina. He glanced up at one of the surveillance videos on the dresser for a view of her apartment door down the hall.
She was familiar to him, and becoming more of a puzzle by the hour. He must have seen her in
, but Angelina said she had never been there.
When they had played the concerto today, he knew how she would solo, knew her joyous style. He had kissed her and remembered those soft lips.
Her eyes had been wide open while she tried him on for size. Then she relaxed and let the feeling take her, revealing promising passion. He had almost laid her down on the desk.
He tamped down an overwhelming desire to go back to her apartment and finish what they had started in the Conservatory. He told himself that he had her feelings in mind. He almost convinced himself that he wanted to give her time to get used to him, but she wanted him too.
If was no longer the question. It was just a matter of when they would come together. If it were up to him, he would have spent the night. He needed some answers, sooner rather than later. He’d kissed her goodnight at the door, pressed a tiny lithium cell sensor camera into the doorframe above her head. Now he could see anyone who entered and exited Angelina’s apartment.
At midnight, he was still sitting at the desk in his bedroom, going over a list of persons of interest Rome headquarters had faxed to him. Some of the mug shots and names on the report were familiar, ranging from local small-time offenders to known felons of leading crime families. The people on the list were not of the caliber he was looking for. He was after an art connoisseur, a classical fanatic who knew the history of the Stradivarius and coveted it.
Falcon picked the phone up on the first ring. “Yeah.” He brought up the image of the earring on the laptop in front of him.
“The dragon. A symbol of wisdom and longevity, but also of divinity,” Granger said. “It represents the unity of heaven and earth by combining the forms of the earthbound serpent and the airborne bird. This is
, the symbol of Saint Mercurialis. Legend has it that this Saint Mercurialis was the first bishop of Forlì around the first century A.D., and he was against paganism. The story is that he saved the city by killing a dragon. Where did you get this thing?”
“She pulled it off the guy’s ear when he attacked her.”
Granger chuckled. “She’s a feisty one, huh?”
Falcon chuckled. “At dinner, she asked me about reporting the mugging to the polizia. I told her it was a waste of time, the guy is probably long gone by now. She can’t identify him in a lineup.”
“Things like this happen all the time in the city.” Granger was chomping on something. Sounded like the phone.
“I don’t want the local authorities getting involved in this. They will just interfere in the investigation. I don’t know, Grange. When she came to me about the polizia, I wondered why a thief would want to report the attempted theft of a priceless violin.”
“We’ve seen stranger things in this business.”
You’ve got that right.
He remembered that night with their silent thief. “If it was a matter of one thief stealing from another, she would be turning herself in if she went to the police,” he pointed out.
“Then again, she could be looking for protection. Whoever is after the Strad wouldn’t come near her if she cooperated with the authorities.”
And I would be protecting one thief from another…
But something was not right. Falcon saw that dark shadow climbing the church wall again. That was not his imagination. There was more to this, more to her. He just needed some time to get to the bottom of it, and he wanted more time with Angelina.
This was harder than he thought it would be. He wanted her, wanted the Stradivarius also, but he couldn’t have them both.
When he finally confronted her about the violin, it would all be over. The well-oiled machine that was the Organization would take over, making some very unpleasant arrangements for her future.
He already knew he would not let that happen. If he had to, he would shield her, a possible thief, from lawful processes. The why of that, he didn’t want to examine. He just had to make sure she was safe before he made the move back to New York.
“Whoever it was isn’t going to give up so easily.” Granger interrupted his thoughts.
Looking around his makeshift command center, he said, “I’m ready for the next attempt.”
“So, you two had dinner, huh?”
“Yeah, hours ago. And guess what?”
Granger stopped chomping. “What?”
“I don’t feel the need to eat around the clock like you do. Isn’t there some work a tech guru like you should be doing when you can’t sleep?”
“I just did it. How was dessert?”
“Hey, you sound different when you don’t talk about her, buddy,” Granger prodded. “I thought we were friends.”
“Don’t get emotional, Grange, it’s just a job.”
“Ah yes, the notoriously tight-lipped Falcon replies. But you are even more tight-lipped now, which is why I’m curious. You sure you’re not falling for the leading lady again?”
“It’s not going to happen. This isn’t like New York.”
“You almost had the Jeweler. Almost. Do me one favor; don’t get too close to this one.”
The Jeweler was not of Angelina’s caliber. He wasn’t about to tell Granger that because he didn’t want to invite any more questions that he didn’t intend to answer. “Give it a rest, will you?”
“I’m just saying let’s keep an open mind,” Granger said. “Maybe your little prodigy was attacked that night in the marketplace, and maybe she wasn’t. Maybe she was drawing you out into the open because she knew you were watching her.”
After a long beat of silence, Granger cleared his throat. “Speaking of the Jeweler, that reminds me. Jacobs checked in. He wanted me to tell you that it looks like she took the Ming trio a couple of weeks ago. He’s working on it with the Chinese officials.”
“She’s crisscrossing the globe.”
“Last week’s job in New York was clean. In and out. Darien said the Jeweler got the diamonds but left no traces. There’s a viable lead in Montreal. Darien is sending a team there to sniff her out since you’re tied up here. He thinks it’s going to take another couple of weeks.”
“I’ll call him later,” Falcon said, studying the gold earring in his palm. It was inlaid with a darker burnished gold on the wings and tail. Its eyes and fiery breath were made of rubies. “So, this is a pagan’s earring.”
Granger put on his professor’s voice. “The design is the late Gothic period. Note the decorative coloring and flowing lines, the emphasis on pageantry. You’ve got yourself a piece of Florentine art, my friend. I would say circa 1400 A.D. Oh, one more thing…it’s full of blood.”
“I cleaned it before I sent you the image.”
“No. I mean there’s blood in the stone. You’ll have to send it to me so I can analyze it.”
Falcon leaned back in his chair and propped his feet on the desk between two computer screens. “Some type of religious order. I checked the database. Save for certain rogue warriors that strayed from the path, there isn’t anything substantial on these groups. They prefer to remain low key and rarely tangle with the law.”
“So, what’s your girlfriend’s name, anyway?”
“I call her Angel. I’ll talk to you later, Everett.”
“Hey, don’t call me…”
He hung up and spent the next hour online researching Saint Mercurialis and the city of Forlì in the
When he finally went to bed, he wondered what this ancient saint had to do with Angelina and the Stradivarius.
“How are you feeling, ma petite?”
“Mum! I’m fine,” Angelina said. “It is so beautiful here, but I miss you so much. Are you already on your way?”
“We are at the airport. Will you meet us in Egypt? It will only be a few days away from the music.” Her mother’s tone was light, but Angelina could tell she wanted her daughter home.
“I can’t. But you and Dad have a good time. It will be like a second honeymoon.” She applied lip-gloss, smiling at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. Her parents were so cute. They still acted like a couple of kids when they thought no one was looking.
“Miles will be back from Paris next week. Why don’t you give him a call?” her father said on the other line.
Of course, I’ll report in.
“I will Dad. Muddy must be bummed I’m not there for him to tease.” Her oldest brother Miles had taught her many things when they were children, including how to make the squishiest mud pies on the River Wharfe, thus his nickname, Muddy.
“Shame on you, and he’s not here to defend himself.” Her father chuckled. “So, what are you doing with yourself over there?”
“Nothing, really. Just some sightseeing.” She did not want to tell them about Tony and have her father put out an all-points bulletin on him. In the last couple of weeks, she had learned so much from her tour guide. “I toured the ruins of Pompeii, and have seen the most beautiful medieval churches. I’ll send you the pictures so you can sketch them, Mum.”
“Merci, ma chérie.”
She slipped on a pair of loafers. “Today I am going to a football game.”
“With whom?” her father asked.
“Some friends from the Conservatory.”
“I didn’t know you liked football.”
“Oh, but this is the Italian Super Cup, Dad…”
“I know that, but I didn’t know you knew that,” her father said.
“…and Naples is crazy about their team. There are billboards everywhere with the team members’ faces plastered all over them. They are treated like celebrities here!”
“Well, it sounds like you’re enjoying yourself over there.” Her mother laughed.
Her father wasn’t laughing.
“Yes, well, I won’t keep you,” she toned it down.
“One more thing,” her father said.
Damn Tony and his Super Cup-loving heart! The cat is out of the bag now. I shouldn’t have gone on like that…
“Did Pietro show you the new piece from your collection?” her father wanted to know.
“The first to be manufactured for the public?”
“Yes, I couldn’t get through to your email, so I sent it to him.”
“Oh Dad, I can’t wait to see it. I’ll ask Zio to send it to me. I love you.”
“Love you too, sweetheart, call us if you need anything.”
* * * *
After the game, they bought groceries at the old Roman marketplace. They waved their Napoli flags at a rowdy group of fans joining the throng of people celebrating on the avenue.
Angelina stopped to make way for the fans cheering the home team victory. She could not see Tony now that she’d left his side, and the dancing group closed in.
A sun-bronzed hand grabbed hers, pulling her along, further away from the laughing group. She had to jog to keep up with Tony while he forcefully parted the bodies surrounding them.
“I should have worn my sneakers!” She laughed.
They reached the end of the avenue where the crowd thinned. Angelina saw who held onto her wrist.
The silent man’s brown eyes warned her, before holding her close. He was not much taller than she was, but he was stocky. There was strength in the arm he put around her waist. There was no getting away from him as he dragged her across the busy street.
“Let go of me!”
The man’s grip loosened around her waist and he stumbled, jerking his head in her direction. Recovering quickly, he reined her back in, but not before she saw the wariness in his eyes. She almost tripped over her own feet as the crowd pushed them along.
“Tony!” Her screams blended in with the jovial shouts around her.
She tried to twist out of the man’s arms, but he held onto her so tight his arm was pressing into her ribcage. He didn’t look at her again, but nodded and smiled to the mob of fans that moved toward the town square.
“Somebody! Please, help me!”
A woman passed by, laughing and waving a flag in Angelina’s face.
They had reached the other side of the street. She was being abducted in the midst of a drunken celebration. Tears streamed down her face and she screamed again as everyone skipped past her and the silent man, laughing and singing.
She felt rather than saw Tony jump on the man’s back, dragging him down to the ground, and breaking his hold on her.
Angelina slumped down while Tony and her abductor wrestled in the middle of the street. While Tony pummeled the silent man in the face, she backed away on her elbows, never once looking away from his calm, calculating eyes.
He’s not going to stop.
Tony raised his fist, ready for the descent and the silent man rolled from underneath him with a groan.
Her abductor fell into the crowd, pushing the bodies in front of him out of the way.
“Stay here,” Tony ordered, and ran after the man.
She got to her feet but could not see either of them, only the blood streaks on the ground from her abductor’s beating.
The crowd closed in around her. There was a squeal of tires as a car pulled away from the curb.
Tony walked back through the crowd. The sweat on his brow was the only indication that he’d had some exercise. “He wasn’t alone. There was a car waiting for him. No license plate.”
She didn’t know what she had expected to hear, certainly not his matter-of-fact tone. When she looked into his eyes, his unspoken words hung between them.
He was going to take you…
Angelina had the distinct impression that if the silent man had taken her, it would have been his last action on earth. She stared at her companion of several weeks, a fellow musician with beautiful long fingers that mastered the piano.
. She hugged herself.
Tony murmured something and with a shake of his head, he opened her arms and lifted her against his chest.
A warrior’s chest. Better than a breastplate. His next words were so anticlimactic it took a moment for them to register in her mind.
“Are you all right?”
“Yes.” Angelina shook in his arms. He
her Roman soldier, and she was his battle prize. “Thank you for rescuing me. Again.”
She put her arms around his neck and did what she wanted to do. She kissed him.
He slanted his mouth over hers, and the crowd cheered.
Angelina didn’t know if they were cheering the kiss or her champion, and she didn’t care. She was more interested in what he was doing with his tongue and the way her body fit the hard body holding her up.
Neither she nor Tony said anything while she made a delicious slide down that body and her feet touched the ground.
The last of the crowd moved away towards the celebration in the square as if they witnessed a beating and a criminal’s escape every day in this town.
It was some moments before Tony let her go. By the time he did, she almost protested. He was scanning the street as if he could track the silent man’s getaway car.
Angelina took the time to compose herself. How she could feel so violated by her abductor and so completely aroused by her defender at the same time?
Tony picked up the bag of groceries he’d dropped to beat the silent man. “Let me get you home.”
* * * *
“You hit the ground hard with that last blow. Come.” Angelina led Tony to the bathroom.
Tony leaned against the sink while she stood between his legs gently dabbing at his hand with a wet cloth.
“There were scrapes before,” she murmured, touching his olive skin. He was hard and yet smooth.
“It was nothing,” Tony said, breaking that intriguing train of thought.
They did not speak while she cleaned his knuckles, which were now only reddened.
My warrior heals fast.
She could feel his gaze on her lips. Despite her frazzled nerves, she felt warmth pooling inside of her, coating her stomach like honey.
Angelina reached behind him to get antibacterial cream out of the cabinet and Tony’s lips brushed her ear. She was hoping those lips would follow the quiver of sensation running down her neck. They didn’t, and she concentrated on applying the cream to his knuckles.
She leaned against a muscular thigh, and though the circumstances warranting this closeness were not ideal, there were no words to describe her satisfaction of being near him like this. Even while she shook from her ordeal with the silent man, she had wanted to jump onto Tony’s lap and never leave it.
“Angel, did he speak to you?” His breath feathered her cheek. Her busy hands slowed. Not trusting herself to speak, Angelina shook her head.
“Have you ever seen him around before that first attack? Maybe at the Conservatory?”
Angelina kept her eyes on the bandage she wrapped around his knuckles. “No, but he has a tattoo of a dragon on his neck. I can identify him now. Can we go to the polizia tomorrow?”
“Of course, we’ll go in the morning.” Tony lifted her chin. “Hey, don’t be afraid. I won’t let anyone hurt you.”
The lump in her throat made her mute once again so she nodded.
He kissed her lips, a feather-light touch. “Let’s go make dinner.”
* * * *
“He’s not local,” Falcon said later that night in his apartment.
“Yeah, I don’t see the families operating this way,” Granger said.
“No, if they really wanted her, they could have had her.” He shook his head, leafing through a book on Saint Mercurialis. “It’s not the Mafia.”
“Did she have the violin with her?”
“No, just me.”
“And they didn’t even try to break into her apartment for it? Think they know who you are?”
“I think they’re trying to figure out who I am,” he said, “and today was some kind of warning. Maybe a test.”
“Just for the heck of it, I’m going to check this description you gave me and see what I come up with,” Granger said. “Oh, Darien’s got a report on Montreal. It was the Jeweler. She exited a window on the 40th floor of the clearing house, leaving a fine piece of Florentine art behind.”
“Are you talking dragons and rubies?”
“And blood, or something like it, in a ring,” Granger said.
“First the mute’s earring, and now a ring,” Falcon murmured. “What’s the Jeweler got to do with it?”
“Falcon, the blood…it’s not human blood.”
“So it’s animal blood.”
“Well, technically, I don’t know if blood is the right term.”
“Grange, what are you talking about?”
“It’s not blood from any animal we can identify.”
Falcon stared at a page in the book. It was a depiction of a dragon with blood red eyes. “We need to sit down on this, re-think our strategy.”
“Darien’s coming in tomorrow.”
“I’ll see you then.”
“Falcon, bring the ring.”
* * * *
On a beautiful Saturday morning, they sat in the Naples police department, looking through mug shots.
“He was bald and a bit stocky. There is a dragon tattooed on the side of his neck.” Angelina pursed her lips so tightly that she bit her lip.
Nothing would make her forget the man’s determined expression, and being dragged away from Tony. She did not want to think about where the man would have taken her.
“What about his voice?” the officer asked.
She shook her head. “I think he’s mute.”
The officer turned to Tony. “We’ll make some inquiries, but there isn’t much we can do with that description. The dragon tattoo might help. We’ll call you.”
They left the police station.
Angelina looked around the avenue.
Though it was almost September summer hung on with a determination Naples had not experienced in years.
Goose bumps rose on her arms.
Is the silent man watching now?
“They won’t do anything, will they?”
Tony was holding the car door open for her. “There isn’t much they can do.”
Angelina turned toward him.
His grim expression lightened into an apology. “It’s the city. There are so many hiding places, and most of them the polizia don’t even know about.” He helped her into the car. “Let’s go to the Pantheon today.”
“It’s a nice long drive to Rome, and it will make you feel better to get out of the city. Bring your violin. You can play for me on the steps.” He went around to the driver’s side and got in, giving her a quizzical glance. “What?”
“That’s one of the things on my ‘to do’ list here in Italy. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
“Stick with me, Angel, and there’ll be a few more things you can check off that list.”
She brushed fingers through her bangs, because that sounded like a promise.
“So, what do you say, let’s get out of the city this weekend.” Tony’s eyes asked the question he had in the Conservatory’s music room the day they had played together.
‘Are you a merciful angel?’
Like the hot springs of Bath, those jade pools engulfed her in satisfying warmth, banishing the impersonal, methodical procedures of the polizia.
She nodded, thinking,
Tony is the merciful one.
* * * *
It took Angelina two weeks, but with Tony’s help, she managed to stop looking over her shoulder when she rounded a corner at the Naples Music Conservatory. In unspoken agreement, she met Tony after classes and they walked home together.
One day, on the way back from classes, they got caught in the type of summer storm that restored the old pavements of the
to their original slate color.
She slipped out of her sandals upon entering the apartment and laughed at the sound of Tony’s squelching steps behind her.
“You’ll have to wait until it stops raining. You can’t go home in this.” She padded into the bedroom. She came out with her hair wrapped in a towel and wearing a fresh, dry blouse.