“Thank you.” Bruno gave her a warm look. “What would you say to a drink over at the Gucci Museum before dinner?”
“I’d like that.”
He took her hand in his and they walked across the Piazza Signoria to the Gucci Museum, which boasted an open-air bar under umbrellas. They sat on comfortable banquettes and enjoyed their Prosecco, while Raven told Bruno about her work in the restoration lab.
If Bruno continued to feel disappointed by her appearance, he kept the fact well hidden.
Yet, Raven was uneasy. His lack of regard for her previously, and the way the smile had slipped from his face when she approached, distressed her.
Of course, his reactions held far more weight since she’d admired him from afar, knowing she could never have him. To have caught his attention only to lose it would be painful. Raven subtly began to steel herself against that possibility.
Conversation between the two flowed easily and so it was hours later that they strolled the short distance to Gallery Hotel Art. Its restaurant, Fusion, served the best sushi in the city.
Although Raven had walked by the hotel on many occasions, she’d never been inside. Anticipation made her eager.
That was why she forgot that the building they were entering was the one in which Professor Emerson had sensed what he thought was a ghost.
Over dinner, Bruno was charming and attentive. He didn’t bore her with stories about his work—he was a banker—with Monte dei Paschi di Siena. Nor did he focus on the familiar topic of his grandmother, although he admitted she’d been trying to match them up ever since Raven moved into the building.
No, the conversation focused primarily on Raven.
Bruno asked questions and listened to the answers. He laughed when she said something funny and was gently sympathetic when she said something sad. They ordered several plates of food and shared them, while he chose a very expensive bottle of Brunello di Montalcino as an accompaniment.
In short, it was the best date Raven had ever had. But it was also the worst.
Bruno didn’t ask if she wanted to see his apartment or if she wanted him to take her home and spend the night. Instead, he offered to walk with her downtown before he escorted her home.
It was a first date. Raven probably would not have spent the night with him. Even so, she took his lack of initiative as an indictment of her physical appearance.
He held her hand loosely as they wandered the city streets after dinner.
Raven meditated on how handsome and gentlemanly he was. She did not think about the slight twinges in her leg and ankle. She did not think about her temporary demotion at the Uffizi, or of the strange discovery she’d made about Primavera, or about ferals, mysterious intruders, or the relic that had sunk to the bottom of her knapsack.
They admired the way the Duomo was illuminated against the night sky and sat with the tourists on the front steps. They talked about the approaching summer and the special events the city planned.
When it was almost midnight, Bruno suggested he walk her home. As they entered a deserted alley, he took her knapsack from her shoulder and placed it on the ground at their feet. Then he spun her in a circle, over and over, as if they were dancing. At the other end of the alley, he pulled her into his arms.
He whispered a few words about how he’d enjoyed her company.
She responded in kind.
Bruno smiled, his eyes darting to her lips.
He leaned forward.
Raven closed her eyes.
She felt his nose brush hers. He murmured something about how her mouth was tempting.
A low chuckle sounded nearby.
Bruno retreated, looking at the opening of the alley. When he saw a large, oddly dressed man standing nearby, he placed Raven behind him.
“It isn’t her mouth that tempts me.” The man, who was bearlike, with long hair and a full beard, closed his eyes and sniffed.
His eyes fixed on Raven’s. “Who are your masters?”
“Come on.” Bruno took her hand and quickly led her away from the man and toward her knapsack, being sure to shield her from view with his body.
No sooner had he done so than the man seemed to fly over their heads and land in front of Raven, blocking their path.
Raven glanced at the knapsack, realizing he’d cut her off from it.
Her eyes met his.
“Oh, did you want what’s in that bag?” He jerked his thumb over his
shoulder. “Then come and get it.”
When Bruno tried to pull her away, the man came a step closer.
“I asked a question.” He glared at Raven, his voice a low rumble. “You have three bloods in you. Name your masters.”
“I don’t have a master.”
He smiled, exposing yellowed, jagged teeth. “That’s what I thought. No one would be mad enough to master you and allow you to have a talisman.”
As soon as the words left his lips, he leapt forward.
Bruno saw him move and pushed Raven out of the way.
She toppled over and fell on her bottom.
The man grabbed Bruno by his suit jacket and hurled him through the air. A sickening sound filled the alley as he made contact with the stone wall and slid down. Blood began to pour from a wound on the side of his head.
Forgetting the relic entirely, Raven ran to him. “Bruno, get up.”
She snaked her arm around his waist and managed to pull him to his feet.
He was unsteady and slumped against her. Blood smeared the thin strap of her sundress and the skin of her shoulder.
The man took two long steps toward them and grabbed Bruno again, shoving him against the wall. This time Bruno fell and lay unmoving.
“I’m going to get help.” Raven wasn’t sure Bruno could hear her.
She tried to run in the direction of her knapsack, but once again the man blocked her. She turned quickly and fled in the opposite direction.
She’d taken only three steps when he got hold of her arm and wrenched her backward. She felt as if her arm was being pulled out of its socket and howled in pain.
“Now you’re mine.” The man spun her around. “I’m hungry.”
Raven reached out her uninjured arm and began pushing against his chest, trying to get free.
“You seem incapable of following the rules these days, Max. Are you really hunting someone else’s pet?”
Raven turned and saw a beautiful red-haired woman standing nearby, maintaining her distance from the knapsack.
Her appearance must have surprised the man because he released Raven’s arm.
She stumbled, trying to put distance between them. When she regained her balance, she began running as fast as she could, away from the man and woman.