Authors: Danita Minnis
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #romance, #Fantasy & Futuristic, #historical, #Historical Romance, #Paranormal, #angels
She had come to think of herself as Angelina Natale these past few months. It was like living a double life. A life she loved.
Did the detective have any correct information at all?
There was one thing he had been right about and she couldn’t figure out how he had known; Giovanni had given her the Stradivarius. Did the hand of the polizia stretch so far across the English Channel? It was highly unlikely, but now for the first time she wondered about the violin’s history.
When she entered the apartment, Tony was in the living room playing his digital piano, which faced the piazza. With the headset on, he wouldn’t have heard her come in, but he must have seen her from the window.
Tony took off the headset. “Hey, beautiful, how was lunch?” In his leisurely stroll, he walked over to her barefoot with arms open. He took in her outfit with a slow smile, his eyes roving over her ankle-strap pumps and ending at the gold satin blouse.
“It was good.” The sight of him calmed her. She wrapped her arms around his waist, and buried her face in his chest. His warm scent mixed with the smell of fresh clothes out of the dryer and she breathed him in. He smelled like home to her. She felt safe with him.
He could not be what the detective claimed.
Tony lifted her hair to nuzzle her neck. “You look good, you smell good. You must taste good.” His tongue traveled up her neck and he nipped her earlobe.
“I missed you.” She thought about telling him of the detective, but didn’t want to relive the ugly scene that had taken place in
. Tonight she just wanted him to hold her.
Tony pulled back. He already knew her so well. “Is everything okay? You’re so tense.” He rubbed his hands up and down her arms. They left goose bumps in their wake, and longing.
“I’m just glad to be home, with you.” She kissed him.
Tony gathered her in his arms, and slowly walked her backward until she was up against the apartment door.
“How glad, Bella?” His tender kiss further eased her tension as his hand traveled under her gold skirt.
In answer, she spread her legs and pulled him closer. In her pumps, she was just the height to reach his lips. She melted into him while his hand gave her a sensual massage below.
He unzipped his jeans, and she felt the air on her bare wetness when he lifted her up and brought her down on him.
She wrapped her legs around him and closed her eyes. He was hot and full and she gave herself over to him, needing this, to be soothed with his passion that made her forget everything else.
He thrust into her, driving her up the door with each stroke. While he took her there against the polished wood, she moaned softly. His thrusts came faster. She felt the raw power of him between her legs, welcomed his undeniable possession of her mind and body. He lifted her spirit, took her above her fears.
“Tony…” With pleasure painful in its intensity, her body convulsed around him.
“My sweet Angel.” Tony impaled her one last time, lifting her up as he strained against her, and then shuddered in release.
They stood panting against the door until their breathing returned to normal.
But he had not had enough of her. It seemed that he never would. He carried her into the bedroom for more.
* * * *
The air in her lungs was fire. It hurt to breathe.
The gold crown molding on the ceiling dripped down onto the Aubusson carpet. The heat of the fire drove her backward to the balcony doors. She turned, looking out over the gardens that blazed brightly like some hellish parody of paradise.
She could not get out that way. If the fall from the balcony didn’t kill her, the fire below would.
An eerie wail of despair drifted up with the hot air into the thick black smoke that marred the beautiful blue of the summer sky.
She realized she was screaming when black smoke choked her. Covering her mouth, she ran back into the room and over to the bedroom door. She clasped the doorknob, and then jerked her hand back with a cry of pain. She was nearly doubled over with a coughing fit as the poisonous air around her shimmered with heat. She leaned against the now bare wall, which was frighteningly hot to the touch.
Mon dieu, how will I get out?
She picked up the folds of her brocade skirt, wrapping the silk around her hand to grasp the doorknob again. The door would not open.
She paid no heed to the thick smoke that spiraled up from under the jammed door, but tried turning the knob once more, and pulled on it with all her strength.
Whispering a prayer of thanks when the knob finally turned, she ran forward. The door swung open with such force, she was knocked backward.
Sprawled on the carpet, caught up in the voluminous folds of her skirts, she watched a wall of black smoke churn over her into the room. She fought to free her legs from the tangled silk and instinctively put a hand up to shield her face while she stared through the open door.
There was nothing but flames on the other side of the door. The fire had consumed the entire first floor, and rolled over itself through the hallway like a beast unleashed towards her bedroom door.
In the hall, wood beams fell, disintegrated before her eyes. Through the shifting inferno, she glimpsed the flight of stone steps leading down into the bowels of hell. She was trapped.
She heard long, shrieking wails of horror and realized they were coming from her. Screams for all that was lost to her now. She backed into the room as the flames licked at the bedroom door, coming closer…
Angelina jerked up in bed, wheezing. Her throat was raw and constricted as she breathed air into her scorched lungs. The smell of singed flesh assailed her and she groped at her face. Her skin was hot and her hair damp against her cheek where it had fallen over her face, but she felt no burns, just smooth skin. Her bare legs tangled in the sheet and made her feel confined to the fiery dream. She ripped off the sheet, hugging her knees to her chest, rocking back and forth, trying to shake off the remnants of the nightmare.
Crying softly, she looked around the darkened bedroom, wanting reassurance that she was safe, there was no fire.
Her eyes slowly adjusted to the gloom. She could make out Tony’s jacket slung over the chair in the corner, and the rich mahogany wood armoire opposite the bed with its old wrought iron handles.
The bedroom was cool and quiet. Moonlight fell over the bed, turning the crimson spread violet in the monotones of the darkened room.
There was still a scorched taste on her dry tongue. She picked up a glass of water from the nightstand and drank it in one long gulp.
The nightmare felt so real, the flames so bright they were blinding, the fear still paralyzing. She had never before experienced this nightmare or anything like it. She couldn’t make sense of it. She had never known such terror.
Now that she had regained coherent thought, she wondered what part of her beleaguered psyche the dream had come from. She could only assume it was a by-product of her encounter with Detective Biagi. Once again, she wondered if she should share this burden with Tony, and tell him about the detective.
Where is he?
She hadn’t heard him get up.
Angelina wound the sheet around her and walked out of the bedroom where she could see down the hall to the bathroom door. It stood open. The room was empty and dark.
She went down the shadowed hall to the living room, and from this vantage point she could see that the room was empty, and so was the kitchen.
Tony was not in the apartment.
The old, Italian clock in the kitchen with a peaceful sun-drenched olive orchard hand-painted on its face showed that the time was twelve-thirty in the morning.
Where could he have gone?
Angelina went back to the bedroom and pulled on the sweat pants and tank top hanging on the chair over Tony’s jacket. She walked through the apartment and opened the front door.
Angelina stood in the darkened hall. The stairwell was deserted as she would expect at this time of night. Three doors down from her apartment, she heard voices. She walked along the corridor.
Tony’s voice was coming from somewhere inside.
“Tony?” She walked in, closing the door behind her.
She stood in a very clean living space, bare, actually. Save for a pair of loafers lying in the middle of the living room floor there didn’t seem to be any personal effects around. The place didn’t look lived in.
Whose apartment is this?
She walked towards the sound of Tony’s voice, passing a desk covered with papers. Something on the desk gleamed in the moonlight.
The gold dragon loop earring she had pulled out of her attacker’s ear lay on top of a book.
What is this doing here?
The book’s title was
and on the cover was a picture of the same stylized dragon, which was wrought in gold on the earring. Flipping through the pages, her eyes caught certain phrases such as ‘dragon slayer’ and ‘Arian’.
A piece of paper slipped out of the book and floated to the desk. Giovanni Buono’s address in London, along with the name Natale was written in Tony’s bold handwriting.
He must have searched my things. Why would he want the Maestro’s address?
The detective’s words came back to her
…‘When your father gave you that violin, did he tell you that someone was after it? Giovanni knew this’.
Is Tony really after the violin?
She didn’t want to believe that the detective was right about him. However it if was true, then Tony must believe her to be the Maestro’s daughter.
She had unintentionally drawn Tony to herself by using the Maestro’s last name here in Italy. It wasn’t love he felt for her, no, she was a means to an end.
Tony’s low chuckle came from another room. It was as if he were laughing at her. No, he was talking to someone.
She had no way of contacting the detective. Her gaze fell on the desk drawer and she opened it before she thought twice. This was Tony’s apartment and if he could search her things, she could search his. There were a couple of small leather cases in the drawer that looked like travel packs.
Angelina picked up the first case and unzipped it. She pulled out an American passport.
Tony’s handsome face stared back at her, but the name printed under the picture was Todd Forster with an address somewhere in New York City. In the middle of the blue booklet was a driver’s license and credit cards, all in the name of Todd Forster.
She blinked through the tears, for there was more to see, more passports and driver’s licenses. Tony’s green eyes mocked her from all of them. There were keys to homes, cars. She didn’t bother opening the other case, she had seen enough.
Angelina closed the desk drawer. Rage cleansed her heart of all feeling. She went in search of him with the passports in hand.
“His real name was Giovanni Natale. His wife died twenty years ago in Forlì. They never had any children.” Granger was slurping something through a straw. It sounded like his tongue.
“Did you check medical records?” Falcon asked his partner over the phone.
“Yeah, his wife wasn’t able to have children.”
Falcon sat back in the chair, staring at the computer monitor.
You’re a bad girl, Angelina.
No children meant there was no Angelina Natale. His gut told him she wasn’t the thief, but who was this young woman he’d fallen in love with? For whatever reason, she chose to go by a name that landed her in the middle of an international investigation, a very dangerous game. He would deal with her later.
“Yes, go on.”
“There is an address, what used to be a caretaker’s house on a small estate, a little rundown. I sent you an aerial photo of it, and a map.”
Falcon opened the file and studied the grainy black and white photo. The place seemed to be in the middle of some orchards.
“Natale went missing from Forlì ten years ago, and was never seen again,” Granger continued. “He’s got the sympathy of the locals. They think he was killed in a suspicious fire on the estate that wiped out one building before it was contained. They say he had enemies and it looks like they finally got him.”
“Clever old man,” he mused. “I wonder who he was trying to get away from by running all the way to England with the Strad and a new face. If we find that out, we find Angelina’s attacker and our violin thief.”
“Our source clammed up when asked about possible murder suspects,” Granger said. “The local farmer knows something, but he refused to give names. He did say one thing that was pretty weird, ‘the dragon is watching’. When I asked him who the dragon was, he stopped talking. But I think we have enough to take care of this. You can be out of Naples by next week and on your way back to New York.”
“Granger, I’ve found something on the Arians. There is an order that still exists today called
A movement in the corner of his eye caught his attention. “Angel, what are you doing up?”
“You’re leaving?” Angelina stood in Tony’s bedroom doorway, looking around at all the equipment. The surveillance monitors on the wall behind her showed the entrance to her apartment and the
Displayed in front of him on a monitor were photos of the Stradivarius at different angles. She recognized the background of her kitchen butcher block on which the violin lay in the picture.
“No, I’m not leaving.”
“Well, it doesn’t look like you’re staying. Unless you plan to live here in this one room. By the way, congratulations on the apartment. What a stroke of luck.”
Angelina’s eyes moved to the gun belt filled with ammunition hanging from the straight back chair Tony sat on. “What did you do, threaten Signor Parisi? An apartment or death?”
“Angel…” Tony moved towards her. He had on a pair of sweat pants and nothing else, which only served to remind Angelina of the night of passion she had spent cradled in his arms.
They had stopped briefly when the pizza delivery guy knocked on the door. She had been satiated and just drifted off to sleep, and must have been sleeping soundly when he left their bed. That must have been his intention.
“Don’t come near me!” She took a step back and held out her hands. “I don’t even know who you are.”
Tony glanced at what she held in her hands and stopped a few feet away. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “I know how this looks to you, but I can explain…”
Angelina swiped at the tears. “First tell me who you are. Wait for it … are you Todd Forster from New York City?” She hurled the passport at his bare chest. “Yes, I think you must be as it seems you’re going back to your life there. Or, maybe you are Juan Garza from Madrid?” That passport hit him on the abs.
“Baby…” Tony’s tender tone prompted more tears, but she raved on.
“Not Juan Garza? Well, then, maybe Hugh Delacorte of Australia?”
She aimed for his face, but he sidestepped that passport. “Oh no! You must be Gage Martin of Paris, France! Tell me, Mr. Martin, have you been watching my grandparents also?” She shrieked.
Tony ducked, and the passport went sailing past his ear to hit the wall above the computer screen behind him.
Angelina pushed the hair out of her eyes and glared at him.
“Calm down.” Tony’s eyes moved over her breasts rising and falling under the clinging tank top, which left her midriff bare. His arousal was bulging against the sweats, despite her anger and his apparent remorse.
“Don’t you look at me that way, you liar!” Angelina wrapped her arms around her chest. “I could kill you for deceiving me.”
“My name is Armand,” he said quietly.
“Why don’t I believe you?”
“He’s telling the truth,” the voice on speakerphone chimed in.
“Who is that? Your partner in crime?” She looked past him at the speakerphone.
“That’s Granger.” Tony took a step toward her, and said across his shoulder, “Shut up, Granger.”
“Is it really? The so-called mute has a voice and a name after all, but still no earring. Well, Granger, how is your ear? Still bleeding, I hope!” She spat out towards the speakerphone.
Her lover, the thief whose name she did not know, was slowly moving closer. She started to back away out of the bedroom.
“That’s not a nice thing to say,” the speakerphone drawled.
“Shut up, Granger!” they both shouted, turning toward the speakerphone.
Granger shut up.
Tony held up a hand, silently asking her to stay put. He stopped, leaning a hand against the doorframe. “Angelina, what are you talking about?”
“You want the Stradivarius!” She jabbed her finger in the air towards the speakerphone, her next statement louder so Granger would hear. “He tried to take it from me that day. You’re working together.”
“It’s not what you think. I’m trying to protect you.”
“Oh, that’s original! You’re not trying to protect me, you’re lying. You lied about everything!”
“No, tesoro, I didn’t lie about us. I love you.”
“Great, just great.” The lament from the speakerphone rang out in the silence.
Angelina looked into Tony’s eyes. She wanted to believe him. She wanted to rewind the last twenty-four hours of her life and go back to living with him, loving him, when she felt safe with him.
But the proof of his deception was all around her. She was standing in the apartment he’d claimed to have missed out on. The detective’s words played over in her mind, a subliminal message.
“No…” She shook her head. “I don’t believe you Tony, or Armand, or whoever you are. If you really loved me, you wouldn’t have lied.”
“You know I love you. You love me, too. You feel it, like I do.” The calm conviction in his voice made her pause. But he moved towards her once again. “You’re mine, Angel, you always will be.”
“No! I believe the detective. He said you wanted the violin!”
“What detective?” He tilted his head as if he hadn’t heard her correctly and his eyes narrowed.
She backed away. “You know what detective! He’s been trailing you for a long time. Detective Luciano Biagi told me all about you yesterday at the restaurant!”
“What did he look like?”
“Stop it! Will you please just stop the lies? It’s over, and I never want to see you again!”
Angelina ran through the living room to the front door and turned the knob. But with the swiftness of a loping panther, Tony had reached the door. His hand above her head held it closed. He stood behind her hip to hip, his breath against her hair.
“You don’t mean that. And I can’t let you go.”
There was love and regret in those quiet words, filling her with a strange ache that she was horrified to recognize as craving.
He kissed the top of her head and for just a moment, she leaned back against him.
Why does it feel so right?
She let out an agonized sigh.
I’m in love with a master thief!
Angelina pushed back, kicking him in the groin before she jerked the door open and ran.
Blinded by her tears, she ran down the stairs, furious for being so weak, for wanting him so badly. For giving herself to him so completely. A horrible notion snaked its way into her thoughts. What if she never got her heart back now that she had given it to him?
She didn’t know where she was going. She ran all the way to the first floor and then jerked that door open. She felt like running all night, until she was out of breath and couldn’t run anymore, couldn’t think anymore. She was running down the deserted
when she heard him behind her.
“That hurt, Angelina!” Tony sprinted towards her like a distance runner, his back straight and elbows bent, his long legs effortlessly closing the gap between them. “Come back here!”
Angelina tried to run faster over the uneven cobblestones on the ancient street that hurt her bare feet. She ignored the pain because he was coming swiftly towards her and would soon overtake her. He was much faster and stronger. She had to get as far away from him as possible.
The midnight street darkened even more. A shadow fell over the moon and she looked up. There was a black fog overhead, hanging so low in the sky it came almost to the apartment building windows.
She stumbled, looking around for whoever had called the name. Someone had spoken in her ear, but no one was there.
“Angelina! Stop!” Tony was gaining on her, she had to run.
“Signorina Natale! In here!”
A Fiat was at the curb with its rear passenger door open.
Detective Biagi waved to her from the front passenger seat. She didn’t think twice, but jumped into the back seat and slammed the door behind her.
She was pushed back onto the seat when the car lurched away from the curb.
There was a loud thump on the back of the Fiat. She turned to see Tony on the hood, shouting at her to get out of the car.
Angelina put her hands over her ears to block out his shouts. Someone was sitting next to her in the back seat, but she couldn’t look away from Tony.
“What about him?” The man next to her asked.
Detective Biagi glanced out the window at the sky above, thick now with the fog blacker than night. “He’s not going to be a problem.”
Detective Biagi nodded to the driver and the car swerved with such force that Angelina was pushed against the person sitting next to her. She had a terrifying view of Tony being thrown backward against the sidewalk headfirst. He lay still on his back.
“Stop! He’s hurt!” Angelina screamed at the driver, but he didn’t stop the car. They were speeding away.
The black fog descended on Tony, obscuring her view of him. “What is that? What is it?” She tried to open the passenger door, pushed against it, but it was locked.
The distance between her and Tony on the dark street grew until she couldn’t see where he lay anymore.
In this old district of Naples, there were no street lamps, no traffic lights. There were no rules in this section of the city. Tony could be killed laying there at the side of the road.