Authors: Danita Minnis
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #romance, #Fantasy & Futuristic, #historical, #Historical Romance, #Paranormal, #angels
She turned to Detective Biagi. “Stop!”
The car’s engine sputtered. They coasted until the driver got the engine started again.
The detective turned. “Jacopo, put her out before she…” His eyes traveled over her in compassion, as if she’d breached social etiquette. “…Upsets herself,” he finished quietly. He faced forward in dismissal.
Angelina stared at his dark ponytail, speechless, and then felt a pinprick on her arm.
She turned just in time to see the man sitting next to her put a needle away in a leather case. When the man turned facing front, folding his hands in his lap, done with her, she saw the gold earring in his ear.
Angelina tried to lift her hand to pull at the dragon loop, but it wouldn’t move. Her body felt weighted down, as if something heavy rested on her chest. She could only move her head now, and turned it slightly, an arduous task, it felt filled with water.
Hardly able to keep her eyes open, Angelina tried to get a look at the driver, who remained silent throughout this high-speed getaway. Her last thought before she lost consciousness was that his ear was no longer bleeding.
Carlo and Margaux
He was running down the piazza.
It was dark and he couldn’t see anything but her lithe figure ahead of him—a white, incandescent blur running straight down the open pathway.
His peripheral vision faded. He couldn't see any of the buildings on either side, but he knew that they were there.
Her bare feet made no sound on the cobblestones as if they too were swallowed up by the darkness closing in around her, encroaching on the light that was hers, his love. Only the sound of his heavy breathing reverberated in his ears.
A feeling of dread hung over the repeating tableau, as always, he knew this, even in the dream state.
She was running from him, they had quarreled and she was upset. But he had to bring her back. She was in danger. He was almost there. Very soon, he would be right behind her. He must get to her before she did this thing.
He could see the back of her head now, could almost touch the black shining waves dancing behind her while she fought to stay ahead of him, and out of reach. He felt the familiar satisfaction as he gained on her, the assurance that he would overtake her, save her.
Just when he was about to touch one midnight lock of hair trailing behind her, the blaze sprang up ahead, as it had countless times before. The fire fed off the very air around it. Unrelenting, it reached to the sky in triumph and lighted the piazza with its hellish glow.
He called out to her to stop, but she never slowed. She ran right into the conflagration, killing him all over again. The fire enveloped her, closing around her like a fiery curtain, instantly consuming her white light. She was gone, and he knew the anguish of having lost her once again.
The shock was fresh, no matter how many times he witnessed it.
As before, he tried to step back from the burning heat and flames licking at his bare feet. There was a terrifying moment when he thought he wouldn't be able to stop. The momentum of his run made him stumble and lose his footing as he attempted to reverse his forward motion, and not follow her into the inferno.
He was falling backward, his feet came right up from underneath him. When he went down with a sickening thump against the cobblestones, a blinding jolt of pain rang through his skull.
“Margaux!” Carlo Francis Falco, the Marchese of Mariano, bolted upright. The blaze was still before him. He was still trying to save her life. He groped at the sheets and tensed when a small, soft body hugged his back.
“Shh, Carlo.” Arms wrapped around his waist.
He relaxed against her, rubbing the back of his head gingerly where it throbbed.
“Always the same spot?” Rosa murmured thoughtfully.
“Dottor Molinieri cannot explain it. The man is going to bleed me dry.”
“Amore, he is on a quest for an answer.” She swatted away his hand and started to rub the base of his skull.
Carlo grunted and put his head in his hands. He didn’t trust himself to speak further on the unexplained pain he always experienced upon waking from the nightmare. He had finally lost his patience with the physician and refused treatment, preferring to endure the ache in silence. He had vowed never to mention it to the doctor or his father again.
It was strange that he did not feel himself, as in the dream. When he ran after her through the night, he had a different awareness. He wasn't Carlo then. He could never remember who he was in the dream once he woke, but he knew who was running from him in anger, his love. He had never quarreled with her.
Rosa brought a golden hand up to his brow, smoothing it out. He was angry, and sorry for it. She didn’t deserve this.
“It has been one year since Margaux’s death, and you are still dreaming of her,” she said.
“It is just a nightmare. It will pass.”
“Will you take it down?” Her eyes were on the painting above the marble fireplace. Its gilt wood frame gave off a soft glow in the candlelight.
“No.” He didn’t know how long he stared at the painting of him and Margaux on that white powdered sofa with blue velvet cushions, their heads bowed together, forever in hope, in love. It must have been too long because Rosa was glaring at him.
He lit the lamp on the nightstand with a shaking hand, and then sat on the edge of the bed in the halo of light.
Rosa followed him to the edge of the bed and wrapped her legs around his waist. Her spiked nipples pressed against his back. “It is an obsession.”
Whether Rosa was talking about the painting or the dreams, he couldn’t deny it. His broken heart welcomed the visions and the chance to touch Margaux once more. It was as if he were waiting for her to come back from the grave. That she hadn’t done so yet was maddening.
Carlo ran a hand through his hair. He would sleep no more this night.
Rosa nipped his shoulder, and he was thankful he had woken. The moon directly above his balcony lit the sandstone until it glittered. There was still time, but not an abundance of it.
Adrenaline pumped through his veins and into that part of him that Rosa worked now. He would give her what she wanted, but this energy was not for her. It was as if he really had been running through the night, to Margaux.
“You see, this is for me, not your beloved Margaux,” Rosa whispered in his ear.
Carlo turned, gently pushing her back onto the bed. “Such anger,” he said against her lips.
He wasn’t sure anything could banish the shade of his dead fiancée, but he was certain it would take more than Rosa and her ample curves.
He entered her slowly, testing her moist folds inch by inch, and giving to her what he should have given Margaux long ago. If he had, these visions would be much more to his liking.
Rosa wrapped her legs around him, already bucking against him. She was royalty, but the lust in her was handed down from gypsy ancestors, along with the fiery curls she tossed to and fro against the satin pillows. She was a generous and uninhibited lover. She gave him pleasure, yet when her lips found his, they became the full, velvety lips he dreamed of.
Margaux’s lips. She had allowed him to steal a kiss in her mother’s salon, but it had not been enough to appease the raging desire he felt for her. How he wished he had taken her then, laid her down on top of the white baby grand and spread those milky virgin thighs, propriety be damned…
Rosa’s keening escalated. She would wake the entire household with the base language her ancestors had used to curse their enemies.
She could take it. Rosa was small in stature, but her body was compact. The elaborate gowns she wore hid a feast that would sate any man.
He covered her mouth with his, deftly rocking against her healthy hips. She was ready, and he wanted to play the Stradivarius. He always felt closest to Margaux when he played.
Carlo ran a hand down Rosa’s golden brown curves and between their slick bodies. Her legs flew wide open, giving him complete access to the greedy, little nub that waited between her thighs. He squeezed it and the curses she screamed into his mouth were those reserved for a most hated opponent. Her nails scraped down his back. They would have been airborne if he had not poured himself into her at that moment, impaling her.
He rolled off her and she fell against his chest.
“I love your cock.”
Carlo unhooked her arms from around his neck and rose from the bed. He crossed the room and lit the candelabra on the armoire. “You should be able to sleep now.”
“Umm-mm, yes, but I will sleep here, with you.” Rosa leaned up on an elbow. Her breasts, heavy as melons, jiggled as she patted the bed in invitation.
He wiped his face with the washcloth in the porcelain basin before turning to her. “You will go back to your room, Rosa Gisela.”
Rosa sighed, and sat up. Her knees peaked the sheet until she kicked it off. Her legs were spread so that the burnished curls between her legs were clearly visible. Rosa’s hand traveled down. “Now you are mad at me.”
Carlo picked up the robe she’d dropped by the door upon entering his room.
Rosa had wasted no time in seeking his bed with the excuse that she could not sleep. It was not wise, but she had come from the guest quarters in a far wing of the house. She had passed through the glass-paned corridor above the courtyard, clearly visible with her lamp.
It was a wonder Otto, blind as he was, had not met her on the way. The old butler never slept and lurked around the grounds like a loyal hound.
He walked over to the bed and held the robe out to her. “Cover yourself.”
She came to her knees on the bed and licked his lips. “You would have let me stay if you had not dreamed of her.”
Carlo draped the robe across her shoulders. “And have the Countess find your bed empty in the morning?” He helped her off the bed. “Is that any way to treat my visiting relations?”
Rosa tossed flaming curls up and out of her face, her hands on her hips. With her hair tousled around her shoulders, the gypsy princess affected a hurt pout. It was a disturbing picture, but also a relief to see because in it he saw the truth. She didn’t feel anything for him, either.
“My mother does not rise before noon.” She shrugged into the robe. “We are distantly related, Carlo, at best.” Her brown eyes flashed with the anger of being thwarted. “We have had so little time together and father wants to go home tomorrow.”
The Bareschis should never have come. They had returned from their travels to spend the weekend at the
Falco. Her parents never knew how well they played Rosa’s game.
In the beginning, when Rosa had tracked him down at the Falco stables, he had been a willing participant. She’d ridden her mare all that way with nothing but a long, flowing scarf under her riding cloak, and he had thought it would cleanse his soul of Margaux.
But Rosa was not the lifeline he’d sought a year ago when he took her virginity, only a shorter route to hell.
Carlo kissed her. “I’m sorry.”
“For what?” She was Margaux’s age, but wiser, and not in a good way.
Instead of explaining, he put an arm around her waist and walked her to the bedroom door. The corridor was dark and still.
“The passage at the end of the hall will take you down the servant’s stairs. Take the door on the right.”
* * * *
“You are feeling better?” Carlo’s father Fillipo, Duke of Amadeo, made the appropriate inquiries for his well-being, albeit with a determined glint in his eye.
Carlo stared out of the balcony’s double doors across the vineyards, which stretched for miles in the distance. “I have my work.”
He was not surprised his parents had called this meeting tonight. His father had bided his time, no doubt at the request of his mother the Duchess Elena. It had been just a matter of time before his father resurrected the tedious discussion of marriage.
The Bareschi family’s visit was not only one of Rosa’s games, but also a strategic move on the duke’s part.
His mother put a hand on his arm. “The pain will fade with time.”
“Time,” his father called over his shoulder from the wingchair. “There is much to be said for this, Carlo.”
He escorted his mother back to the sofa and sat down next to her. His father was in one of his moods, better to get it over with.
“Our home stands above the ruins of an old Roman temple. It withstood the Sack of Rome in 1527…”
“…When the Papal States battled for their freedom from imperial domination of the Holy Roman Empire,” Carlo recited by rote.
That determined glint in his father’s eyes brightened. “The palazzo has belonged to the Falco family for over twenty generations. The time is fast approaching when it will be handed down to you. You have a history. Now, you shall make a future. You must take a wife.”
“Ah, my duty to beget an heir,” he said. “Who would you have me wed?”
“Carlo, it is your choice,” his mother interjected.
“Margaux was my choice. She has carried my heart to the grave. It matters little to me which one of my father’s choices I wed now.”
“We want you to be happy,” his mother said. She turned to the duke, who was stroking his beard in thought.
“Vittorio would look favorably on a union with Louisa’s family,” his father said.
Carlo nodded curtly. His father’s brother, the King of Sardinia, would of course desire a union that kept the Falco wealth and influence within reach.
What a fool he’d been from the start. He’d been so mired in his grief that he hadn’t realized Rosa would seek the help of her aunt Louisa, the queen, in this game in which they both lost.
“I will never love Rosa Gisela, but she is just as suitable as any of the others on your list.”
“Bene. You will be married at the Vatican. The Pope will officiate the wedding himself.”
His mother interrupted his father with a glare. She touched his cheek. “Carlo, you are only twenty-five years old. Your life is just beginning.”
That thought of a life with Rosa was even more depressing. He stood, and his mother grasped his hand.
“Rosa is in love with you, the Countess told me this. One day I pray you will return her love.”
The worry in her green eyes drew him back down on the sofa, and he kissed her cheek. “You will enjoy this grand affair.”
His father rose in victory to clap him on the back. “You are invited to dinner at the Bareschi
There was something in his mother’s smile he had not seen in a year—hope. That was a good enough reason to offer for the gypsy princess.
* * * *
“Ehh-h.” The coachman Massimo nodded gravely toward Carlo’s favorite team of blacks, Arturo and Rafi.
Massimo rarely spoke. Tonight his grunt of sympathy was an affectation usually reserved for notice of death.
“They need to get out,” Carlo explained before stepping into the coach.
The Friesians, whose ancestors were warhorses in the Middle Ages, stood seventeen hands high. They were among his strongest horses, brothers used for long distance trips. Although he was only traveling to the other side of Quirinal Hill, this journey of deception would not be borne without his prize stallions.