Content Warning: This chapter has a minor mention of violence. Nothing graphic, nothing detailed, but better safe than sorry.
“Come on in,” Regina said, stepping to the side to allow him to pass. At her prodding, he handed over his jacket and had a look around.
It was bizarre for him to see this place now, considering how he had met her eight years ago. He had always known about the cabin, always knew that whoever lived there was a bit of a recluse who only came into town for necessities and to empty the local library of books. It wasn’t a coincidence that they had picked the car outside this house, though he cringed a little at his youthful lack of respect and desire to poke at those who didn’t fit in.
“We found Leoni yesterday,” Gina said, drawing him out of his thoughts, “and Lotta’s bringing him from Monte Vista. Want a glass of wine until then?”
Enzo stumbled on his resolve. Before she had invited him over for the chat with Leoni, he had promised himself to remain civil, but nothing more. It wouldn’t do to start mooning over her again—his sister would murder him—but it was hard.
She looked lovely, which somehow always managed to take him aback. Her preferences for dressing in clothes that exposed a certain amount of skin was something he knew well by now, but it still drew his attention. All resolve abandoned him when she smiled without reserve, without censure, so he said yes. He would like a glass of wine.
Gina hung his jacket on a hook, then waltzed off to the kitchen to pour.
“I hope you like white,” she said. “And don’t worry, it’s a very fancy wine.”
“White’s fine,” he said.
She brought him a glass, matted by condensation and filled with golden wine. When she handed it over, her fingers brushed his, and he focused on the glass to keep her from noticing his blush.
“It’s a very interesting glass, I’ll give you that,” Gina said, and he looked up to see her smirking at him with a glint in her dark eyes. It was, he thought, dangerously close to flirting.
“I’m making sure you’re not joking,” he said. “About the wine being fancy, that is. Rich people are allergic to cheap wine.”
He was rewarded with her lips curling into a smile.
“Don’t worry, rich boy. I’m not trying to poison you with an inferior product. I wouldn’t drink bad wine myself.”
She made a gesture for him to sit, and he took a seat in the nearest armchair. The way he sat was stiff and uncomfortable, even to himself, though she didn’t say anything. She took a drink of her wine and, mercifully, started talking business.
“You remember that Lotta talked to the Napoletanis and got the name of their merchant, right?” Gina began and at his nod she continued: “Well, the name of their merchant was one of Leoni’s aliases. It makes me think he’s the only one who’s been selling the painting and that means he must have stolen it back. All we need to do is persuade him to hand it over.”
“Thank you for letting me be here,” he said.
He wasn’t entirely surprised that she had allowed it, since she had softened considerably, but at the same time he feared she would rather that he left.
“No problem. It might be a good idea. If he’s lying about something to do with you rich folks, you’ll know.”
“And if that fails, you can threaten to shoot him.”
“Yeah, we’re quite the team.”
His heart sped up a little at her words, even though it was only a joke. At least he assumed it was. She may have softened—indeed, he was sure he had caught her checking him out when she thought he didn’t notice—but they weren’t a team. Not really. Even so, every little hint that she didn’t entirely loathe him made him excited. And relieved, as it alleviated the guilt he had felt for years.
“I think that’s Lotta,” Gina said suddenly, tilting her head in the direction of a car door that slammed outside. “Ready, rich boy?”
He smiled. “Ready, rich girl.”
Even though the look she shot him was withering, there was humour underneath it. Her eyes stayed fixed on his for a moment, one long moment where the blood rushed through his veins. He had felt this before, a kick of excitement when she looked at him. It was best not to dwell on it, and to his luck, in that very moment, Carlotta threw the door open and marched in Leoni.
“Can’t you people just leave me the hell alone?” asked Leoni, trying and failing to pull away from Carlotta.
He was in handcuffs and Lotta had a firm grasp of his upper arm. Leoni groaned when he saw Gina and Enzo who was ready to receive him.
“You two again. I’ve told you everything I know.”
Gina shook her head. “No, you haven’t. Sit down.”
He didn’t do as told and after a while of him staring at her angrily, she pulled out a chair and pushed him into it. Leoni didn’t even blink.
“I told you everything I know,” he repeated insistently.
“Funny, because if you told us everything, why is it you’ve been laying so low lately?”
He snorted. “You had me followed for a week, that’s why.”
“The disguise is stunning,” Enzo said, nodding at Leoni’s glasses, which didn’t exactly hide anything.
“My thoughts exactly,” Carlo’s voice said from the staircase. He had mentioned that he might want to be there, and now he strolled over to press a kiss to Gina’s hair and greet everyone else.
Gina noticed that both Enzo and Leoni looked a little startled at her dad’s appearance. She knew it was normal for people to be intimidated around her father and she could only hope that one day, her own reputation would precede her in a similar manner. Striking fear into the hearts of man—she could hardly imagine a better legacy.
Leoni recovered quicker than Enzo and pouted. “Well, it was either this or a fake moustache and nose. Didn’t think that would be very low-key.”
Her dad snorted. Now that he had made his entrance, he gave her shoulder an encouraging squeeze and drew back to let her work. She smiled and turned to Leoni.
“Selling the same goddamn painting repeatedly isn’t very low-key,” she said.
“Really, because as far as we know, you did. That’s what the Napoletanis told us.”
He shrugged. “They’re lying.”
“They had no reason to lie,” Lotta said.
“Rich people don’t need a reason to lie. They just kind of do. Blue-eyes here—”
Gina snapped: “Shut up. We’re not talking about my client. We’re talking about you and your lying ass. The Napoletanis weren’t lying. You are.”
Over her shoulder, she noticed her dad sending her a subtle warning glance, but she still drew her gun and pointed at Leoni. She was tired of this case, tired of the thief, and tired of getting nowhere fast. She should keep her temper in check, but he didn’t make it easy.
Leoni leaned back in his seat, caring little for the gun pointed at him. “I still don’t know anything.”
Gina aimed her gun at his head and opened her mouth, but then she stopped when Enzo’s hand tapped her arm.
“Regina, can I have a word?”
She felt a stab of annoyance at being interrupted. Without waiting for an answer, Enzo waved for her to follow him up the stairs. The upstairs was open to below, so you could still hear the rush of the water installations and Leoni’s foot that tapped on the floor. Enzo turned to her and lowered his voice so they couldn’t be heard downstairs.
“I think I know how to make him talk.”
Gina groaned. “I do too, rich boy. It’s called a gun.”
But Enzo shook his head and said: “It’s not working and it didn’t work the last time. I have a different idea. Remember what I told you about rich people?”
“That thing about scandals being worse than shooting themselves in the foot?” He nodded and she sighed. “Leoni isn’t rich.”
“No, but his clients are. Does he have a phone on him?”
“Where is this going?”
Enzo looked at her, much like he had at the party, with that steady gaze that told her to trust him. And damn it, but she almost did. At her nod, he outlined his thoughts and when he was done, she couldn’t help but look at him admiringly. She briefly wondered if he had done something with his hair since the last time they met, because his face looked suddenly more striking, if that was even possible.
“That’s… evil,” she said.
Enzo smiled brilliantly. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“It is. Lotta,” Gina said, spinning and marching down the stairs to stand in front of Leoni. “Grab his phone. See if you can unlock it.”
Her friend raised an eyebrow, but did as she was told. Leoni shouted at her to stop, but outnumbered and cuffed as he was, he didn’t have much choice besides observing the blonde as she grabbed his thumb and used it to unlock the phone. She held up the device triumphantly and said:
“I want you to write a message. Enzo…”
Enzo cleared his throat and dictated to Carlotta.
“Write this: I know what you’ve done…” Lotta’s fingers moved quickly on the screen. “Pay up, or I’ll spread the word around. Leoni.”
The art thief’s eyes grew big. “What?”
Gina let Enzo and Lotta work and went to stand next to her dad. She watched the rich boy interact with her friend, casually pointing out contacts on the phone and telling her who to send it to. At one point, Enzo noticed her gaze on him and sent her a heart-stopping smile that made his electric eyes light up. It made her want to do scandalous things to the man.
“Smart move,” her dad murmured, looking impressed.
“I can’t take credit. It was Enzo’s idea.”
“I know. I meant it was a smart move to listen to him. Am I to take it that your opinion of him has improved?”
She shrugged in a way she hoped was casual, though all the same her eyes were glued to Enzo, to his fortunate body-shape and to the gorgeous smile that annoyed her so much. Then she nodded reluctantly.
“That is an improvement,” her dad said, “considering you were ready to murder him less than a month ago. What happened?”
Carlo chuckled and patted her on the back. “Good stuff, I assume.”
The truth was, she wasn’t sure herself. His apology had helped, surely, as had his stopping her from ruining her reputation. There was also the fact that he wasn’t as arrogant as she had assumed, at least not when he relaxed and let his façade come down. He didn’t enjoy the confines of his social class, best as she could tell, and a few times now he had been poking fun of himself and his circles. His company, when he wasn’t guarded or around other rich people, was pleasant.
She listened to him, chuckling and pointing out contacts in Leoni’s phone with glee. It wasn’t like she was going to seek out his company, of course, but it made the job easier to at least not hate him.
“Ms. Antonini is a must,” she heard him say. “I’m sure she has skeletons in her closet, and she’s known to talk to other collectors. Oh, and send it to Mr. Conti as well. He’s having an affair with his secretary. That reminds me—”
“You can’t send that,” Leoni said springing to his feet with wild eyes. “I’ll never have another client.”
“Wouldn’t it be better for business to speak up then?” Gina asked.
“You fucking—you goddamned—” more curses followed, too low for her to grasp the precise wording, though the context was perfectly clear.
“Oooh, he has a few criminal contacts as well,” Lotta said. She held up the phone to Carlo, who came to peek over her shoulder. “Hey, Carl, isn’t this that hitman who likes to tear peoples’ eyelids off? Should I send him the message, too?”
Carlo smiled and said: “Certainly, Carlotta. And isn’t that Martino Martelli?”
“Oh, yeah, the leader of the Martellis. Think I should send it to him, too?”
“Send it along to everyone who’s got something to hide,” Gina said. “It’ll be great.”
“Okay, fine, fine, you fucking bitch. I get it. I’ll tell you about the fucking painting. Just…” Leoni was hyperventilating. “Just give me that back.”
“Just give me that back, please,” Gina corrected.
“Send a text, Lotta.”
“Okay, fine! Give me that back. Don’t fucking send that. Don’t.”
Gina stopped smiling and pointed at the chair.
“Sit down and talk about that painting till you’re hoarse, Leoni. I’m keeping your phone and if I find out you so much as left out a single detail, I’m going to blow up your fucking business.”
Leoni sank into the chair, spewing venom under his breath for a full minute before he would—or maybe rather could—talk.
“I don’t have the painting,” he said.
“Already sold it off again?” Gina asked.
He shook his head. “Nope, not yet. It was never me who stole it. It’s a friend of mine who gave it to me so I could sell it for him.”
“That’s nice of him. Why?”
“He got a hold of the painting, but he couldn’t sell it himself. All the rich folks know him because he’s a stone mason and he’s worked on a lot of their houses. The only thing he needed me for was selling the painting.”
“But who stole it?” Lotta asked.
“I don’t know,” Leoni said, but when Lotta hovered her finger over his phone’s screen menacingly, he relented: “He did it himself. I don’t know how he pulled that shit—he got into some really hard to get to places without getting seen.”
“So, where’s the painting?”
“If none of the rich folks have it right now, my buddy has it.”
“And this is where you give me a name. Unless you want Lotta to wreak havoc in your contact list.”
Lotta smiled and mimicked tapping on his phone.
“His name’s Bastien… something. And before you complain, it’s because he’s got some weird French name. I can’t even fucking pronounce it.”
A French mason… why does that seem so familiar?
Gina cocked her head, but couldn’t put the pieces together. Eventually she had to give up on finding the connection, though a little ways away, she could see Enzo’s face grow pale.
“We should be able to find him,” she said. “There can’t be that many French masons around.”
“I can help,” Leoni said. “Give me my phone back, set me free, and I’ll wait for him to call me.”
Gina shared a look with both Lotta, her dad, and Enzo, then she laughed at Leoni.
“There’s no way in hell I’m setting you free before I have that painting. I think I’d rather keep you around. I’m sure Lotta will find you a place to stay until your friend calls you. Maybe she’ll even keep you company.”
Lotta smiled and said: “It would be a pleasure.”
She slipped Leoni’s phone into her pocket and made a gallant gesture. The thief stood up with a tired groan.
“You can’t just trust me?”
“I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am if I did trust people like you,” Gina said.
He made what appeared to be more creative curses under his breath.
After a few minutes more of poking at the thief, Lotta left with Leoni and Carlo went back upstairs, leaving Gina alone with Enzo. He looked lost in thought, still pale from whatever the talk had stirred in his mind. He only came back to the real world when she reached out and gently touched his arm.
“You look a little worn. Want to get some fresh air?”
He nodded and followed her outside. She matched his thoughtful silence, because something told her he needed it. Finally, though, he looked at her and said:
“A French mason. That… sounds familiar.”
Gina cocked her head. “He worked for your family?”
There was more to it than that, she sensed. She expected that his wealthy upbringing would shine through and keep him from expounding on it, but to her surprise, he looked up and said:
“He and my mother got rather close before she left.”
Just like that, the pieces fell into place in her head.
“Your mother…” Gina said. “I was told she left your dad for a plumber or—”
“It was a stone mason,” Enzo said. “I mentioned that my mother is French. Well, I imagine they bonded over their shared heritage and sometime after, she took my brother and left us all. She never even said goodbye to me or Lia.”
“It’s been years. I’m over it.”
He was so over it, apparently, that talking about it made his entire body tense up and his hands contract into pale spiders that clutched at his own flesh. But she couldn’t bring herself to challenge him. Instead she made her voice low and calm, suggesting carefully:
“If we’re seeing this mason, she might be there. If you want to talk to her I can arrange—”
“No,” he said sternly. Then he must have realised how strongly his reaction came out and he said, in a softer tone: “No, thank you, Regina, but I don’t want to see her again. If you would only get the painting, I’d be eternally grateful.”
Enzo’s arms twitched, and she suspected he was about to hug her again, but he held back and said:
“I had better get home before my absence is noticed.”
The shields he had once again put up were almost tangible. The way he spun and stalked away put her in mind of eight years ago so strongly that her temper flared and she asked angrily:
“Why did you dump me back then?”
He twirled and stared. “What?”
“Why? You said you’re sorry, but never what happened.”
“Later,” he said, and his countenance softened somewhat. “You deserve to know, but right now, I can’t.”
Gina crossed her arms in an attempt to hold herself together. She didn’t smile, didn’t say goodbye. Then he walked away, leaving her standing by the red car he had tried to steal eight years ago. She felt cold.
Author’s note: Hi guys. So! I’m finally back 🙂 It’s been really nice to have a “little” break, though I can also say that I’m definitely happy to be back. Still a little tired, still struggling a little with how to put the story together and get to where I want to be and… writing is hard, you guys! I’d also like to extend a formal apology for the length and wordiness of this chapter. I don’t know what happened – I couldn’t limit myself, I guess, and the pictures are a little sparse. I’m also afraid that quality wise it’s a little funky. Eh, but enough of all that negativity – I think winter depression is starting to hit because Scandinavia is a dark pit of despair already 😀 (I’m taking vitamins, though – no worries).
Anywho, at least the painting plot is resolved soon so we can get on with other stuff 🙂 Just wanted to say that in my break I’ve updated the character page for gen 2. Honestly, it’s embarrassing how long I’ve neglected to add some of the characters introduced later (like Leoni, for example). I’ve also updated the descriptions for some of the others. I’ve pretty much given up on updating as I go – it’ll happen in batches.
Other than that, there’s not much for me to say. Despite my misgivings about the chapter, it IS great to be back, and I can’t wait to get to explore more of the story with you guys. For now, though, I hope you enjoyed reading. I’ll see you in the next post!