Authors: Gaelen Foley
Tags: #Romance, #Fiction, #Historical, #General
With a huge hug across the miles.
My crown is in my heart, not on my head.
The greatest lover of all time was at it again, smoothly seducing the artless country girl Zerlina, as Mozart’s famed duet
“La ci darem la mano”
filled the sumptuous theater with a graceful spire of twining voices, tenor and soprano making love to each other in exquisite song.
No one was paying attention. The wink of opera glasses and the rustling whispers betrayed that the glittering audience’s fascination was fixed, not on the stage, but on the first and finest theater box on the mezzanine, stage right, perched over the orchestra. Cloyingly sculpted with cupids and urns and draped plasterwork ribbons, the box was permanently reserved for royalty.
He sat at the carved marble rail, half in shadow, unmoving, his suntanned face expressionless. Light from the stage gleamed on the signet ring on his finger, played over the patrician angles of his face, and gilded his long dark-gold hair, which was swept back in a queue.
The audience watched with bated breath as he moved for the first time since the performance had begun. Slowly he reached into the pocket of his extravagant waistcoat, took a peppermint from a flat metal tin, and placed it in his mouth.
Ladies watched him suck the candy and blushed, fluttering their fans.
I am so bored,
he thought, his eyes glazing over.
So, so very bored.
The favored members of his entourage sat around him in the theater box, sullen, gilded young lords, gorgeously dressed. Behind their air of studied idleness, they had hard, hooded eyes, weapons concealed beneath their coats. With a few, the scent of opium smoke clung to their rich clothes. Some in his little flock went further than others, but everything was allowed.
“Your Highness?” came a whisper from his right.
Never taking his dull, heavy gaze off his beautiful mistress on the stage, Crown Prince Raffaele Giancarlo Ettore di Fiore flicked one jeweled hand, brushing off the proffered flask. He was in no humor for liquor, brooding in a cynical mood that Dante had had it all wrong.
The Inferno, with all its fire and brimstone, could not be worse than this echoless realm of Limbo where he was suspended in eternal waiting.
Being born the son of a great man was a hard thing; yet somehow Rafe had managed to get himself sired by one who was not only great but also evidently immortal. He did not by any means wish his father’s demise, but in light of the fact that he would turn thirty tomorrow, he was besieged by a general sense of doom.
Time was flying past and he was getting nowhere. Had any aspect of his life changed significantly since he was, oh, eighteen? he wondered as the robust song from
faded into the background of his awareness. He still had the same friends, played the same games, still languished in pointless luxury, a prisoner of his rank.
Unable to make a move in control of his own destiny, he was merely his father’s puppet, nothing more. Every matter of consequence concerning his existence must first be debated over, voted on, and approved by the court, the newspapers, and the whole damned senate, and Lord, he was tired of it. He felt more like a prisoner than a prince, not a man but an overgrown adolescent.
He had given up arguing with Father to assign him some meaningful task worthy of his ability and education. It was futile. The old tyrant refused to part with an ounce of his power.
Ah, what was the point of caring? He fancied he might as well sleep the years away in a glass coffin behind some enchanted wall of thorns. They could wake him when it was time for his life to begin.
After an eternity or so, Don Giovanni was dragged off to Hell and the opera was finally done. He and his followers left the theater box while the audience was still applauding.
He stared straight ahead as they strode in a pack down the marbled hall, pretending that he did not see the people lined up, beaming eager smiles at him, all the nice people who wanted a bite of him, like the stout, vaguely familiar matron who attempted to stop him presently.
“Your Highness,” she gushed, curtsying with her nose almost to the floor, “how marvelous to see you this evening! My dear husband and myself and our three lovely girls would be so honored if you would come to our soiree—”
“My regrets, madam, thank you and goodnight,” he muttered harshly as he kept walking.
God, save me from hopeful mothers-in-law.
One of the dread journalists pushed his way to the fore. “Your Highness, did you really win fifty thousand lire in a wager last week and did your phaeton really break an axle in the race?”
“Get him out of here,” he muttered to his boyhood friend Adriano di Tadzio.
Then Lord Someone-or-other stepped partly into his path with a dignified bow. “Your Highness, what a smashing performance by Miss Sinclair! Beg pardon, I have some people here who would love to meet you—”
He growled and moved past the bald man, then he and his entourage did not stop until they reached the backstage regions of the large, elegant theater.
With a slow swagger, chin high, Rafe stepped inside the actresses’ dressing room and instantly began to feel better, the tension easing marginally from him. There were scantily clad women everywhere and that was a sight to lift any man’s spirits, however jaded.
The warm, sweet smell of their flesh made him breathe easier. With a rather cool half-smile he glanced around slowly, surveying the selection.
“Look! He’s here!”
A shrill chorus of feminine screams of delight filled the drafty, candlelit dressing room. They raced at him from every quarter.
A pack of screaming, squealing girls swamped him. All talking at once, they pulled him down into a chair, three of the actresses sitting on his lap, giggling and stroking his chest, and two draped around his neck, covering his face in kisses.
“Ah,” he sighed, smiling slightly for the first time that night as he leaned back lazily in the chair, closing his eyes and drowning pleasantly under the soft, scented, writhing mass of lovely limbs and unbound breasts and lace flounces and careful curls. “I love the theater.”
He heard them giggling, felt them rummaging in his coat and waistcoat like pickpocket children searching for treats. Ah, well. He supposed he had spoiled them, rolling them a handful of jewels last time he’d been here, foxed as Pharaoh.
Soft lips alighted on his mouth, caressing lightly. After a judicious moment, he began kissing back, willing ennui away. Touching wherever he pleased, he sampled their kisses one by one, but the fun ended when Chloe arrived.
Rafe watched the English diva strutting toward him in her clinging silvery gown.
She had a perfect body and a gleaming smile, his latest toy. They had been lovers for four months now, a record for Rafe. He did not quite know how to tell her that he had begun losing interest. He was rather hoping she would figure it out for herself.