She was in trouble.
Raven didn’t see Batelli when she exited the bathroom. In fact, he seemed to have disappeared.
She sent a text to Ambrogio, not wishing to court disaster by speaking to him on the telephone again.
He texted back five words:
His lordship will address it.
Raven took only a small measure of comfort from that text.
She was too agitated to eat lunch and so she wandered the second floor of the gallery, moving past the Botticelli room to look at Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo.
She hung back, allowing the visitors to admire the work.
She forced herself to stop worrying and simply focus on the great artist’s depiction of the holy family. Her eyes traced the figures, the folds in the fabric, and the men in the background.
By the time she was finished, her lunch break was almost over. She felt much, much better. Great art had the ability to soothe as well as nurture the heart.
Having taken what amounted to a mental vacation, Raven returned to the lab. She was pleased to be able to lose herself in the restoration work, finding a comforting rhythm in every brushstroke.
Soon it was time to go home. She deposited her lab coat in the office wardrobe and slowly made her way outside to where Luka was waiting.
He drove her to Santo Spirito and accompanied her up the stairs to her apartment. He searched her rooms before he allowed her to enter, then nodded at her and descended the stairs.
Clearly he was still a man of few words.
Raven checked her phone for messages, e-mails, or texts, but there weren’t any. It seemed as if everyone she knew was busy with other things.
Her apartment seemed small and maybe even a little sad. She’d spent a glorious day working on a beautiful piece of art, but now she felt unaccountably lonely. It was as if her world had transformed from a brightly colored Renaissance painting to the dark, somber work of a Dutch master.
She switched on her laptop and began playing Mumford and Sons, finding the music a pleasant distraction. She changed into a black T-shirt and jeans, placed her gold bracelet on her nightstand, and ate a modest supper.
After a solitary glass of wine, she retired to her bed, putting on her glasses and picking up The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
In chapter eight, one of the characters warned the others about beings who used to be human or should be human but weren’t, suggesting when they met such a creature they should reach for their hatchets.
She’d read the passage before. She’d read the entire book before. Now the passage took on a new meaning.
The hunters made it their mission to kill vampyres and harvest their blood. If they’d been hunting humans, the world would have cried out to stop them.
Raven wondered if such moral prohibitions applied only to human beings or whether they could be applied to other species.
And what of William? If he needed human blood to survive but did not kill those he fed from, should he be destroyed? Or denied his only source of food?
She was attracted to him. He’d rescued her on more than one occasion. Raven was not used to being protected, at least, not since her father died. Her mother hadn’t protected her or her sister.
The fact that a mysterious vampyre would protect her, at great risk to himself, and that her mother would not, pierced her.
Even now, as she looked around her empty apartment, she wished he were there. She wished she could communicate how important his care had been. She’d been alone and self-sufficient for so long. It was nice to have someone to approach with her problems.
He was gentle when he touched her. And he kissed with tremendous passion. Raven pondered the vagaries of sex with a vampyre and, more improbably, love.
The song “Awake My Soul” began playing. Raven put her glasses and book on the nightstand and focused on the lyrics, staring at the ceiling.
William believed in souls. She wondered if there really were such things.
She wondered if vampyres had souls.
“Why the long face?”
“Ah!” Raven screamed, scrambling toward the window.
William was leaning against the doorpost, wearing a black dress shirt and black jeans, his arms crossed over his chest.
He was chuckling.
“I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
Raven clutched at her heart, willing it to slow. “You scared the hell out of me. What are you doing?”
He frowned. “I came to see you, of course.”
She leaned back against the pillow and closed her eyes. “Can’t you use the doorbell? You gave me a heart attack.”
William stood by the bed and leaned over her, bringing his ear close to her chest. “Your heart sounds fine—strong and healthy.”
“Very funny. How did you get in?”
She turned on her side, facing him, her head resting on an upturned hand. “Just knock next time. Okay?”
His grin faded.
“That reminds me. Don’t let anyone into your apartment, especially if they ask to be invited.”
“Vampyres have to be invited into a home; otherwise, they can’t cross the threshold.”
“You must have entered uninvited when you brought me back the first time.”
“You invited me; you just don’t remember.” He gave her a knowing smile. “And the rules are somewhat flexible when it comes to me.”
“Why is that?”
“I don’t know.”
She lifted her eyebrows.
He shrugged. “It’s true. I don’t know the reason. It’s possible there are others, but so far I’m the only one I’m aware of who’s able to skirt the rules.”
“There must be an explanation.”
“Naturally.” He spread his arms wide and turned around. “Perhaps you’d like to examine me? Come up with a scientific explanation?”
She rolled her eyes, trying not to examine his very attractive backside. “Why are you here?”
He lowered his arms. “Am I not welcome?”
“You’re welcome; just unexpected.”
He approached the bed. “I came to give you something.”
“This.” William placed a fist on either side of her hips and brought his mouth to hers.
Like his presence, his kiss came without warning.
He kissed her lightly at first, becoming more insistent as she responded.
She brought her hand to his chest and up to his shoulders, reveling in the strength beneath her touch. She could feel his muscles, his lean power, and the attraction that flared between them.