Secrets, lies and . . .
Niccolo traced a strand of my hair away from my neck as we lay in bed. ‘You are otherwise engaged, Lucia.’
I sighed and twisted onto my side away from him and his fingers began to trace the chain of my backbone . . . down, down, down. ‘I am.’ I whispered.
‘Why?’ He kissed my nape and I wished I could shut off my worries and offer myself up to the sensations that curled and twisted at my toes just waiting.
I pushed away from him, away from the tangled sheets, and reached for a peignoir and some attempt at decency. I went to my mirror and brushed my hair into a twist and pinned it at the back of my head, watching him in the mirror. He lay propped on a pillow, the sheets decorous across his loins, but in the line of his belly and thighs giving a hint of the glorious form beneath. I wished I didn’t feel anything for him, this dangerous creature who could hurt me so badly and against whom I had no protection beyond the sign of the horn and Aine knows that is damned pointless!
‘It’s my dear friends, Sarina and Parthenope. They are . . . involved in something. Something dangerous, Niccolo. Like your book. This whole night at the Ball is beginning to be fraught and I fear for their safety. I fear for your safety. This book, can’t you get rid of it now?’
He stood and I turned away, going to my desk until I deemed him decent. He had pulled on his leather breeches, but his chest was bare and he came to me and leaned against the desk.
‘No, I can’t. I must keep the book safe and deliver it to the Elder Samuel, as you know. I leave immediately the Ball is over.’
‘Well perhaps you should leave now. Not go to the Ball at all. Percy will track you down, Niccolo.’
‘Oh he will, of course, but I am his brother and know his wiles. Have no fear, Lucia.’
‘So easy for you to say, Ser de Fleury. But let’s assume I stop worrying about you. I still have monumental concerns about Sarina and Parthenope. I saw Parthenope the other day in a secretive conversation with Rodolfo West. I left before she saw me, but there is something happening. And when I went to Sarina’s straight after, she met me at the door and told me this story that she was delivering fabric to Annabelle. Which was true, but she appeared harried, as if she kept something from me. I followed her to Annabelle’s and watched and when she departed, she carried a tiny jewel case in her hand which she hastily slipped into her reticule, glancing left and right to see who was in the calle. She didn’t see me. But call it intuition, Niccolo, they are both hiding things from me. I am worried and I am hurt that they don’t share their troubles.’
‘Lucia,’ he pulled me into his arms. ‘You haven’t told them about the book I have, have you?’
‘No.’ Perhaps I should have, I thought.
‘Then if you don’t tell them your secret, why should they tell you theirs?’
I shrugged my shoulders, thinking how I wish they would because I want us to be each other’s strength.
He kissed the top of my head. ‘I wish I could uncover their secrets for you, but I am unable. Even so, I shall tell you this . . . I think you are right. They do have a secret each and it may be that all is revealed at the Ball. I suggest that we both, you and I, keep our wits alive and our eyes open. And now, my lady, I must leave you. You must prepare for the Ball. I know women take an age and I have business to which I must attend and I shall send my gondola for you this evening.’ He kissed my palm and I shivered with the audacity of it which was ridiculous really, given our other earlier audacities. ‘I shall see you anon. ‘
And once again my heart emptied as he left me . . .