We slowly ambled along the bustling streets of Sicily, Eira’s fascinated eyes stuck wide on everything. And me…I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. She was brilliance, sheer feisty femininity, and elegantly beautiful. I felt safe, knowing Gabe was trailing us from a distance. Though I trusted him with everything, there were still things I’d rather keep private, and my burgeoning relationship with Eira was one of them. Also, if anyone were to recognize me and attempt something in the very streets I subtly owned, their blood would flow into the gutters before they had a chance to change their mind.
That, and she still seemed rather scared of being near him. It was something I couldn’t blame her for, not in the slightest. I had to give her credit; I knew that she knew my job—my life—was murky, but she had taken everything in stride. She was strength and quiet, unassuming dignity.
The kind of woman my mother would have wanted me to marry.
Though I didn’t see Eira in that light yet, I knew these feelings were potent enough to lead to more, should I let them. I was still waging a war with myself, though. It wasn’t right to fall for the woman I had had kidnapped.
“Buon pomeriggio!” A kind shopkeeper said to Eira as she paused to admire the overflowing baskets of flowers.
“Ciao!” she quipped back with a bright smile. I chuckled softly, placing my hand on her lower back as I gently corrected her.
“Buona giornata,” I said. The man nodded, smiling, waving her forward into his shop. She glanced up at me, cheeks flushed.
“Go on,” I encouraged, following behind. I wanted her to see Sicily in a new light. I didn’t want it to be a place of horrid memories for her, and so I planned to take my time, going from shop to shop until she felt satisfied. The man showed her bunches of roses and fragrant lillies, but I noticed she was drawn more to the periwinkle hydrangeas.
As her back was turned, I selected the freshest bouquet. She turned to me for translation, her ruby lips forming a circle of surprise.
“Bellissima,” I said, handing them to her with a smirk. She took them graciously, and then reddened even more.
“I…I don’t have my wallet,” she whispered. I rolled my eyes.
“No, you don’t, and you won’t need one for the remainder of your stay with me.”
Her face fell, her eyes wide.
“But…Lilith, my money—”
I held up my hand to quell her worries.
“I had it all transferred to an offshore account. She, nor anyone else besides myself, can touch it.”
She seemed placated at that for the moment, but if I had learned anything about Eira so far, it was that she was fiercely independent and was used to fending for herself.
“Dante…I can’t let you do this…” she said, worrying her lip. I gave her my most innocent expression as I dug out my wallet and handed the shopkeep more euros than the flowers were worth, kindly telling his shocked form to keep the change.
“Who said anything about ‘letting,’ bellissima?” I said with a smirk. Her eyes lingered on my face as she simmered, so red it was cute. I chuckled, leading her out. We’d already enjoyed lunch, but now it was time to get down to business.
“Pick any store, choose whatever you want or need.”
I peeked down at her as she stared at her flowers, the fresh air and sunshine a welcome reprieve from my dusty, stuffy office. I could tell she was about to argue.
“Don’t even start with me, Eira,” I warned. She grit her teeth, glaring up at me.
“I’ll pay you back, then.”
I chuckled, coaxing her forward once more, my hand on her back. I wanted to touch her constantly, to ensure she was safe, close to me.
“I look forward to it.”
She huffed as we ambled forward. By then end of our shopping spree, she had enough clothes to fill a closet, but she was growing more and more distressed after each purchase, especially when I caught her eyeing a pair of heels with red bottoms. I knew my sister wore similar ones, and though the price gave me a mini heart attack, she deserved them.
Lilith had written her death sentence, but I’d been the one to hold her hostage. I knew presents and showering her with gifts wasn’t the way to fix this, but it was all I had at the moment. I hid that bag, deciding that was a fight for when we returned home.
“You need a drink, bellissima. Something to calm you down,” I teased. But she didn’t answer me. Her eyes were trained far away, to a small group of preteens at a gelato shop. I paused next to her, feeling the sorrow she exuded. She missed Maggie, her little sister, and she had every right to.
I sighed, setting down her bags and pulling out my phone. She broke away from her reverie, glancing at me in curiosity. The virulent, psychotic asshole answered on the last ring.
“What the fuck—why are you—do you know what fucking time it is here?” he hissed on the other end.
“Privet, Maks,” I said, keeping my voice cool.
“You’d better have a good fucking reason for calling me—”
“Margaret von Waldeck. Aged thirteen, New York. I need you to find her, and I need you to have someone you trust keep a close eye on her. Got it?”
“Since when do you care about children?”
“Since you became so pussy whipped by your little red head.”
I could hear his annoyed scoff on the other end of the phone. I would rather Nick Fordson do my bidding, but Maks had proved himself and his loyalty, and his woman had created a heart in his once hollow chest. I knew he would keep Eira’s sister safe at all costs.
“Fine. You owe me. Cask of wine, at our wedding, got it?”
I chuckled, nodding, hand on my hip.
“You also owe Aria an apology for waking me up. I’m gonna have to rail her real good before—ouch, shit—”
The phone disconnected as I chuckled again. I could feel Eira’s eyes on me. I took a deep breath, glancing down at her.
“Maggie has never been safer, I have personally seen to that.”
I watched as her eyes changed from angry and heated to frightened to sad all in a few seconds. Those depthless oceans filled with tears as she shook her head to dispel them, her lip wobbling. I frowned, reaching out to her, curling my arm around her waist and pulling her to my side in a show of gentle comfort.
“Come, we need to get home and set up your new closet and rest. You have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow.”
She took a shuddering breath and nodded, reaching up to wipe a few stray tears. I knew I couldn’t make everything perfect, and our situation was still new and tense, but I wanted her to at least see I was trying.
She surprised me by putting her arm around my hips and leaning into me more, resting her head against my side. I could feel her exhaustion sweep through her. I would carry her all the way home, if that was what she wanted right now.
“Thank you, Dante,” she whispered as dusk fell over Sicily.
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