When she opened to him, his tongue slid against hers. He growled appreciatively, angling his head.

He toyed with her for a moment before withdrawing, making her follow him into his mouth.

She enjoyed his taste and the way he moved in an unhurried fashion, focusing only on the interplay of mouth, tongue, and lips.

She rolled to her back and he followed, bringing his body to cover hers.

It had been a long time since Raven had been in such a compromising position. Her hands slid up and down his back, pressing their chests together.

She could feel his arousal hard against her thigh.

Suddenly he lifted himself on his forearms.

He kissed the corner of her mouth. His eyes glittered and he seemed very pleased with himself.

But Raven also saw regret.

“I can’t stay,” he rasped, sliding his nose along hers.

“Why not?”

He kissed her again, a searing, toe-curling kiss. “Do you want me to stay?”

She turned her head from the burning intensity of his eyes.

“When you ask me to stay, I’ll stay.” He shifted to his side and placed his hand on her abdomen.

“We’re still searching for the hunters. The patrols need my help.”

She looked at him askance. “You left the search so you could kiss me?”

William lifted the hem of her T-shirt and slid his hand over her bare skin, back and forth, back and forth. “Is that an objection?”

She shook her head.

William continued his movements, lightly tracing the curves of her waist. “Tell me what happened at the Uffizi today.”

She placed her hand over his, stilling his movements. She found it difficult to think while he was touching her.

She recounted her conversations with Patrick and with Batelli, explaining how the inspector had threatened her with a formal questioning.

“Don’t worry about that.” William slid his hand to her hip and squeezed.

“He heard me talking on the phone to Ambrogio about Agent Savola. If he goes to the public prosecutor and has me brought in for questioning, I’m sunk.”

“There’s a security guard at the Uffizi who’s part of our network. He made a videotape of Batelli’s encounter with you and presented it to the director of the Uffizi this afternoon.

“He also sent me a copy. There wasn’t any sound from the security cameras, but what I saw was extremely damaging to the inspector. He accosted you, shouted at you, and tried to prevent you from leaving. The director reported him to his superiors and he was escorted from the gallery.”

Raven was surprised. “No one at work said anything.”

“Since the investigation at the Uffizi is ongoing, I’m sure things are sensitive.” He brought his face closer to hers. “When I promised to protect you, I meant it. No one, human or vampyre, is going to intimidate or harm you.”

She kissed him, bringing her hand up to brush through his hair. “Thank you.”

“The inspector is still in charge of the investigation but he’s been ordered to stay away from you and he’s been formally reprimanded. Now the police can’t bring you in for questioning in connection with the Interpol agent’s disappearance, even if they wanted to.” William tugged a lock of her hair. “The outcome is better than expected.”

Impulsively, Raven wrapped her arms around him, shoving her face into his neck.

William seemed taken aback by her reaction, but he recovered, hugging her back. “What’s that for?”

“For helping me. I’m used to having to rely on myself.”

“I’m more than willing to help you, in almost anything. Just say the word.”

“He scared me,” she whispered. She’d become emboldened, perhaps by their closeness.

William held her more tightly. “I could see that. But you stood your ground.”

“I didn’t realize it was Agent Savola who was killed by the feral. I didn’t get a good look at him.”

William brought his lips to her neck.

“Um, I spoke to Professor Urbano about the restoration of Primavera.”

William ignored her remark and continued to kiss her throat.

“When I was in the archives I noticed that Botticelli changed Mercury’s hair color and length.”

“I told him to,” William murmured against her skin.

It took a moment for Raven to process his remark.

“Because?”

“Because he was trying to paint me into the painting. I instructed him to adjust the features and the hair.”

“Mercury still looks like you.”

“Perhaps. But Zephyr doesn’t.” He kissed her once again, moving to the indentation at the base of her throat.

“Why doesn’t Urbano know what’s in the radiographs? He worked on the restoration with Baldini.”

“Probably because I used mind control to adjust his memory.”

“You did that?” She pushed back to look at him.

“Of course.” He frowned. “Their interest in Mercury would have raised questions. I’ve been known to visit the Uffizi on occasion. I didn’t want to be recognized.”

“How did you get into the gallery the night you took the illustrations?”

“Don’t ask those kinds of questions.” He nibbled on her skin.

“I can’t help it. It bothers me.”

He pulled away, his eyes hard.

“They were stolen from me. I’ve owned them since Botticelli completed them. I had no idea where they were until they materialized at the Uffizi over a century after they were taken from my home.”

“Wait a minute. You said Botticelli completed them?”

“Of course.” He sounded cross.

“But they’re copies, made by one of his students. The originals are in the Vatican and the Staatliche Museen in Berlin.”

A ghost of a smile appeared on William’s lips.

“No, the illustrations in Rome and Berlin are copies. I own the originals.”

“Holy shit.” Raven clapped a hand to her mouth.

Now William was grinning.

“During the Renaissance, I took an interest in human affairs. There were tremendous innovations in architecture, science, painting, and sculpture. I moved in human circles from time to time.

“Botticelli heard rumors about my true nature and decided to illustrate it in the original version of Primavera. I appear as Mercury and as Zephyr. A human woman who fell in love with me was the model for Chloris as well as the second of the three Graces.

“I was angry when I found out what he’d done and intended to kill him. He begged for his life, offering me the painting in question and a set of illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy. I agreed. He completed the copies later on.”

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