“I don’t think anything could be more difficult than the past month.” His expression was grave.
She arched an eyebrow at him.
“I mean it, Raven. I’ve known loss before, incalculable loss. It paled next to losing you.”
She held out her hand, stopping him.
“William, please. I—”
“I want to show you something, then I have a gift I wish to give you. After that, you’ll never see me again.”
Pain lanced through Raven’s body. Seeing him, hearing him, and being reminded that they were separated was almost more than she could bear.
He was gazing on her with what appeared to be hope. The hope was restrained, but still visible.
She could not kill that look.
“All right.” She sighed in resignation. “But nothing has changed. I need you to understand that.”
He moved toward her and gently took her hand in his, pressing it against his heart.
“Everything has changed,” he whispered.
His eyes were focused and intense, as they’d always been. But there was something else in them. Something Raven hadn’t seen before.
“What’s changed, William? Tell me.” Her voice hardened.
“I’d prefer to show you.” He kissed the palm of her hand. “Leave the cane. Tonight you fly with me.”
She leaned into his chest, internally cursing herself for reacting in such a way.
Then she snatched back her hand and placed the cane against the counter before following William to the bedroom window.
He held her with his left arm, clutching her close as he lifted her through the window and up to the roof. Then he ran with her, jumping from building to building, dropping to the ground only to cross the Ponte Santa Trinita.
Raven held on tightly, the speed both dizzying and exhilarating. The gentle midnight breeze blew her hair across her face. She fought with it, unwilling to have her vision obscured.
They scaled a building near the bridge and soon they were flying across the rooftops once again.
“Where are you taking me?” Her voice pierced the silence between them.
William stopped on one of the buildings opposite Giotto’s bell tower.
“I want to show you my city.”
She gazed out over Florence, at the red-tiled roofs and open spaces, at the tourists and citizens walking below.
“Incredible,” she said breathily.
“A better view can be had from Brunelleschi’s dome.” William gestured to the great structure that loomed above them.
She gazed at him skeptically. “It’s holy ground.”
His eyes met hers.
“Holy ground bothers me the way the sun bothers me. It’s a discomfort I can manage.”
“Relics don’t affect you.”
“That isn’t quite true.”
“You gave me a relic. You touched it with your hands.”
He hesitated. “I have a few items in my collection from a single source that have no effect on me whatsoever. Other objects, including holy water, cause physical pain. But their effect on me is nothing like their effect on my brethren.”
“Is that why you looked in distress when the hunters waved their crosses at you? Because it caused you pain?”
“Yes.” He shifted his weight. “I didn’t realize you’d noticed that.”
“Of course I noticed it, William.” Her tone reproved him. “You mean something to me.”
She turned away. The tone of his voice, earnest and almost optimistic, was excruciating.
“You’ll always mean something to me. But I asked you to share your secrets and you wouldn’t. It’s too late.”
He touched a lock of her hair, winding its end around his finger.
“You were right. The secrets function like a wall. They serve their purpose with everyone else, but not with you. Never with you.”
He didn’t give her the opportunity to respond. Instead, he pulled her close and leapt with her to the ground. No sooner had they landed than he ran with her at top speed to the side of the church.
With practiced ease, William scaled the wall with one hand, his figure a ghost in the darkness, a patch of green visible under his other arm.
Raven closed her eyes as they climbed, unwilling to watch the safeness of the earth as it fell farther and farther away.
Finally they stood at the top, under the shade of the gold globe and cross.
William stood behind her, his arms wrapped around her waist for safety. She fancied she felt him nuzzle her hair with his nose.
“It’s so beautiful,” she mused, not knowing where to look first.
From their vantage point, she could see the stars winking above them, the antlike creatures below, and the great vista of the magical city that spread around them in all directions.
She could look across the river to the Piazzale Michelangelo and see the lighted copy of David. Beyond that, she could see the small hill on which William’s villa was situated.
“We’re up so high.”
“The best view of the city is from here. This is where I spend every sunset. But I’ve never shared it with anyone.”
She glanced down at the ground and quickly lifted her head, closing her eyes.
William noticed her reaction—the speeding of her heart and quickening of her breathing, the way anxiety began to roll off her body. He drew her against him more closely, her back to his chest.
His lips found her ear. “What’s happened? What’s wrong?”
“My father fell from a roof.”
William’s body tensed.
“I’d forgotten about that. This wasn’t the best idea.” He sounded apologetic, but also disappointed.
“Wait.” Raven wanted to take one more moment to absorb the view, knowing she would never see it again.
William paused, his gaze alighting on Giotto’s bell tower. His grip on Raven tightened. He could sustain a great many things, but not the loss of her.
The realization continued to haunt him.
“We should go.”
Raven turned her head toward him. “What happens if one of the others sees you up here?”
He shifted his weight. “They’d realize holy ground isn’t a deterrent. The more powerful I appear to my people, the more likely they are to want to kill me.”
“Then why risk it?”
He was quiet for a moment, as if he were choosing his words carefully.
“You brought beauty to my world. I wanted to do the same for you, if only for one night.”
An anguished sound escaped Raven’s lips. Their distance from the ground was the only reason she didn’t struggle to free herself from him.