Authors: Melinda De Ross
“Will you follow me, please? I’d like to give you something.”
She led her in a sort of dimly lit hallway, where Linda saw two bookcases loaded with books. From one of the shelves, Chantalle removed a tiny, square box, antique-looking, covered with an ivory-colored fabric. At a closer glance, the material seemed hand-knitted.
“This is part of my dowry,” the woman said, opening the box. Inside was a delicate chain, so thin it seemed crafted by a skillful spider. When Chantalle lifted it, Linda saw a charm dangling from the silver thread. It was a white, immaculate pearl, encrusted in a simple silver half-moon.
“It is gorgeous,” she whispered, impressed both by the jewel’s beauty, as well as by the age and history the shiny little pearl carried.
Chantalle handed her the necklace.
“It’s a present for you. I hadn’t decided if I was going to give it to you or not,” she confessed, smiling sheepishly, then lifted her sparkling brown eyes to Linda. “I waited to see if I liked you.”
Linda opened her mouth, but the automatic protest stopped on her lips, when she remembered Gerard’s words. She took the necklace with gentleness and reverence, enclosing it in her palm.
“Thank you very much, Chantalle. It’s the most precious gift I have ever received. I feel extremely honored to accept it.”
“It has a suave, delicate beauty, but strong at the same time, just like you. Turn around, let me put it on,” she urged, then stood on tiptoe to fasten the necklace around Linda’s neck.
Seized by a strange, unknown emotion, Linda took Chantalle’s hands in hers.
“Thank you again, for the gift and for your trust,” she told the woman, smiling warmly into her eyes. “You have a wonderful son. Now I can see from where he’s got all his qualities.”
Something powerful and meaningful passed between them—a bond of friendship, respect, and something else, beyond all that.
Chantalle squeezed her hands and smiled back. Her eyes glinted with emotion when she said, “Pearls and silver represent protection and balance. They suit you. Now, let’s go see what the others are up to.”
It was almost six in the evening when they said their
s to the two women, with lots of hugs and promises they would be back soon to visit.
Gerard knew Linda was pissed and gave her credit for waiting until they left to vent her anger.
are going to Romania?”
He arched his eyebrows—innocence personified.
“I asked you, don’t you remember?”
“I remember perfectly. I said I’d think about it.”
“Which is almost equivalent with a
Before she could say anything else, he looked at her, all big eyes, and gave her a candid smile.
“Come on, you know you want to go. Who doesn’t want to go to Romania? Especially to Transylvania, the enigmatic and exotic territory in the heart of the Carpathians?” he asked theatrically.
As he’d hoped, she expelled a long breath and started laughing, disarmed.
“I can’t believe this! Is there a woman in the world who can resist you?”
“I don’t know, but I doubt that.” He grinned smugly. “In any case, I’m not interested in anybody but you. So, tomorrow I can reserve the plane tickets, right?”
“Fine,” she consented grudgingly. “So we go by plane. And after that what? Will your friend meet us at the airport?”
“No. Our flight-stop is in Bucharest, which is the capital of Romania. Jean-Paul lives in another city, called Cluj-Napoca. I thought we could rent a car and drive there. It’s only a few hours away from Bucharest. Besides, we have the chance to admire the scenery. I heard that country has splendid landscapes.”
“To be honest, you’ve made me curious. Perhaps it’s indeed going to be an interesting experience.”
“I’m sure of that. I could tell you this city is right in the center of Transylvania. Maybe we’ll encounter a creature of the night,” he growled with a Dracula accent. Then he burst out laughing, seeing her cautious expression.
“Don’t worry, beautiful. I’ll be there to protect you. We can even take some silver stakes with us if you’d like.”
A smile flickered over her face, but before she could reply, he said, “Tell me about the statue that looks like me.”
Linda bit her lower lip in an attempt to control her laughter.
“You have an ego the size of Russia, haven’t you? There’s nothing to tell, it’s just a coincidence. I sculpted that statue of Apollo long before I met you. Granted, there’s a resemblance between it and your features.”
“You know I don’t believe in coincidence, right?”
“Then how do you explain it?”
“Well, analyzing things logically, I assume you sculpted that statue from your imagination, inspired by a fantasy-man. Correct?”
“Sort of,” she consented, suspiciously.
“And after that, you’ve met me. This means I am literally the man of your dreams,” he reasoned with feigned soberness. “So it’s clear that we were predestined to meet and fall in love with one another.”
For a few moments she remained speechless, her mouth open, without uttering a sound. Then she started massaging her forehead, shaking her head and laughing softly.
“You are the most arrogant man I have ever come across.”
He smiled, saying nothing.
They put together a plan for the next few days during which they would be away, discussing the arrangements each had to make. Linda decided on asking Mrs. Adams to take Pirata home with her during those three days.
“It breaks my heart to leave him alone. We’ve never been apart,” she complained. “What if he becomes depressed and thinks I won’t come back?”
“Baby, as long as he’ll have food, toys and TV, he’s going to be just dandy. Besides, you told me that Mrs. Adams adores him, and vice versa.”
“That’s true,” she admitted, her face brightening a bit. “In the beginning I was a bit jealous of her and of all the affection my cat showed toward her. Now I’m glad that…Where are we going?” she asked curiously, noticing that, although they’d reached the city, he was heading the car to a direction other than her house.
“To my flat. Aren’t you curious to see where I live?”
“Yes, I am. As a matter of fact, I was wondering when you planned to invite me.”
His flat was situated in the center of London, relatively near Francesco’s gallery. They navigated the crowded streets until they reached a neighborhood of modern buildings. Nearby, there was an underground garage. Gerard greeted the guard with a hand-gesture, as they entered the garage, then he parked the car. He opened her door and helped her climb out. Hand in hand, they walked to the exit and he guided her to a path paved with gravel. It led to the entrance of a coquettish, four-story building, which was painted light beige and had multi-colored flowerpots beaming at every window.
“There are only a few small flats in this building and one of them is mine,” he explained.
They took the stairs to the second floor. He unlocked the door and urged her inside, saying, “
La mia casa è la tua casa!
My home is your home.”
Linda turned to him, shocked and impressed. He’d practiced hard the correct pronunciation and accent of the Italian words he’d Googled.
“Don’t tell me you can speak Italian!”
He smiled softly, looking at his shoes as he confessed, “No. Actually, I’ve learned only a few lines just to impress you.”
She stared up at him in amazement. He could see she was truly touched by his gesture.
“You’ve succeeded!” she congratulated him, her voice charged with emotion and pleasure.
After they gazed at each other for another long moment, he urged her inside.
The flat was indeed small, but he liked it that way. It was extremely comfortable and nicely furnished. The spacious hallway split into three directions—to the left was the kitchen, to the right his single roomy bedroom, and straight ahead was the living room.
To simplify matters and suit his own taste, he’d ordered the furniture, drapes, even the floorboards to be all in shades of brown—a blend of dark walnut and sweet, honey-like tones.
What caught Linda’s attention and made her gasp was the huge aquarium. It was placed along one wall, facing the wide living room window.
“Oh, my! They are gorgeous!” she exclaimed, moving toward the glass beyond which dozens of colorful minuscule fish undulated in the water, in an exotic setting that simulated their natural habitat. Some were more energetic, others lazier, but they all seemed to move in a dance of their own, by a choreography known only by them. She liked watching their tiny bodies intertwine through the rocks and plants, artistically arranged for their delight.
Gerard came up behind Linda and embraced her tenderly, laying a kiss on the soft skin of her bare shoulder.
“Do you like them?”
“They are wonderful! I would love to have some of these, but I think Pirata would go mad with frustration because he couldn’t catch them. And the fish would die of stress,” she joked. “I could sit watching them for hours. It’s so relaxing…It’s like I’m transported in their fluid little world, with no worries.”
He smiled and took a box from a shelf.
“Look, this is their food. Take a little with the tips of your fingers and spread it on top.”
“It looks disgusting!”
“Trust me, they love it.”
She took some grainy mixture and sprinkled it gently into the aquarium, after Gerard had lifted the lid. Then she started laughing in delight when all the fish rushed to the surface, greedily devouring the treat with their tiny, round mouths.
“Told you,” Gerard said smiling. “What do you want to drink?”
“What have you got?”
“Soda, tonic water, red wine, white wine, beer and coffee,” he enumerated, counting on his fingers.
“I almost never drink coffee. Just today I had to make an exception, for an emergency situation,” she said in playful reproach. “Some tonic water, please.”
“Coming right up. Make yourself at home. The couch is over there, the TV remote must be around too.”
“I’ll be fine, don’t worry.”
He left her sitting on his massive couch, in front of his massive TV—both typically masculine. She found the remote under one of the couch’s cushions and turned on the TV.
He brought a glass of tonic water for her and a beer for him, then sat next to her.
“Who’s going to feed your fish while we’re gone?”
“Well, I get along with all my neighbors. I’d trust any one of them. I think I’ll ask Danielle. She’s on top of me,” he explained, indicating the ceiling. “She’s an exotic dancer.”
“I beg your pardon?”
Linda looked ready to choke for the second time that day.
“Yeah, she’s a nice girl. We’re friends,
more,” he accentuated when he saw her dark expression.
Then he noticed the pearl-necklace around her neck and smiled endearingly, moved by his mother’s gesture.
“Gift from Mother? It means she liked you very much, if she gave you this. It was her biggest treasure, inherited from grandma. It’s very old.”
“I was bewildered! I can’t believe she gave me something so important to her. I’m practically a stranger. But you’re wrong.
are her biggest treasure.”
He smiled fondly, taking a sip from his beer.
“True. Besides Aunt Sophie, I’m all she has in this world. They both adore me, and I adore them.”
“I can see you’re used to women’s adoration,” she teased. “And now shut up. I want to watch the show. It’s one of my favorites.”
“What’s this?” he asked, looking at the screen.
Dynamo, Magician Impossible
. This guy fascinates me. He’s not like other illusionists. In fact, I don’t think you could actually call him an
, because I don’t believe the levitations and the other things he does have anything to do with illusion. I probably speak unknowingly, but I think I can say one thing with a fair degree of certainness.”
He watched Dynamo slowly coming off the ground, rising toward the sky, in front of an entire crowd next to a huge statue of Jesus.
“I don’t think he got his abilities by practicing yoga. Some advanced masters reach the levitation stage after long periods of intensive training. I don’t think that’s his case though. And I don’t believe him to be a fakir either.”
“Why do you say that?” he asked, intrigued by the topic.
She put her glass on the table and turned to him.
“I’ve read somewhere he suffers from a terrible disease—Crohn’s disease. If he’d practiced yoga at such a high level, he would’ve been long cured. Be as it may, I’m telling you, the guy is not a regular person. He has some special abilities and qualities…”
“Do you want to sit here all night so you can extol this Dynamo dude? I’m becoming jealous.”
“Why?” she replied serenely, entering his game. She smiled wickedly at him, moistening her lips seductively. “If Dynamo comes from Dynamite, the guy must be dynamite in bed. Do you realize? He must be able to levitate a woman using only his…”
“You want levitation?” he interrupted slyly, his tone charged with amused threat. “I’ll give you levitation. Come here.”
He lifted her effortlessly off the couch in a smooth, fluid motion, and placed her onto his lap. With a surprised giggle, she straddled him, draping her skirt over his thighs. He drew her to him as close as he could, until he felt almost every inch of her body pressed to his.
Her breath caught in her chest and she stopped laughing. For long seconds they stared into each other’s eyes, transfixed. Her laser-blue eyes were spellbinding as she looked down at him. His gaze travelled over her every feature, followed by the tips of his fingers. He cupped her cheeks between his palms, tracing the elegant curves of her cheekbones with his thumbs. Her nose was just a tad impudent, dusted with an almost invisible sprinkle of freckles. He couldn’t see the freckles now, in the faint light of the TV screen, but he’d seen them in daylight and marveled over their cuteness. They would have made her look almost like a teenager, but her lips were definitely those of a woman’s. They were full and soft, and undeniably sensual.
He traced them now with the pad of his thumb and the tip of her tongue flicked out to tease him. Just that small touch sent a constricting pressure through his loins. He detached the pins from her hair, sliding his fingers through that golden mass when she shook her head to let it flow down her back.
Then he drew her down and kissed her ardently, sliding his tongue deep into her mouth, absorbing a low moan from within her chest. His hands moved down over her body, without restraint or discipline. He kissed her neck, her shoulders, then his lips traveled lower, and lower. He tugged down her dress straps and buried his face in her cleavage, cupping her breasts. They were soft and full, fitting perfectly into his palms. When he bent his head to take one sweet, rosy nipple into his mouth, he heard her sharp intake of breath. He flicked each of those delicious peaks with his tongue, then drew them into his mouth, becoming increasingly aroused by her every gasp and moan.