The heat in the Napoletanis’ drawing room was already stifling less than an hour into the event. Enzo tugged at his tie, trying to loosen it discreetly. If he could only get a little more air, it would ease his nerves. He glanced at his sister and wondered if she could tell he was worried.
Agreeing to have Gina here was terrible. His sister hadn’t met Carlotta, but if she saw the ‘criminal girl’, as she persisted in calling her, she wouldn’t be pleased. Fortunately, he found his sister completely occupied with staring stiffly at something at the other end of the room. It was Lorenzo, dancing. Crucially, he was doing it with someone else.
“Who’s the girl with Lorenzo?” Lia asked, her voice cool.
“Lia…” Enzo said with a sigh.
“I’m only curious. I don’t think I’ve seen her before.”
He tightened his jaw. By the time this evening was over, he would have a headache. Lia didn’t look like she would dive at the woman with her claws out, but he was afraid that someone would notice. Her jealousy wasn’t subtle. Forcing himself to stay neutral, he replied:
“I believe that’s your fiancé’s cousin, Costanza.”
Lia said: “Oh, that makes sense. She’s rather plain, isn’t she? I don’t think Lorenzo’s parents would approve of a match like that.”
“Because she’s plain?”
“Because she’s a nobody. He can do much better.”
“I don’t think his parents care,” Enzo said. “They’re more… laissez-faire on such matters.”
She snorted. “Well they should care. She’s a plain nobody and he could do much better…”
“Lia, stop that and smile,” he said, nudging her in the ribs, because just then Fabrizio turned and came over.
“I thought I heard my lovely Rosalia.”
Fabrizio Aiello was a small man, around the same height as Lia, though he had a way of taking up more space than you would think possible: Big arm movements, big smile, big voice, all of it combining to form one of the most revolting people Enzo had ever met. Fabrizio kissed his fiancée’s hand, though thankfully Lia’s face revealed nothing but a beautiful smile.
Good girl, Lia, Enzo thought, proud of her. Any hint of jealousy was gone.
“I was hoping you would dance with me,” he said.
“Oh, I would love to, darling,” she said. “Let’s—”
“You waltz out onto the floor and wait for me then,” he said. “I need a word with your brother.”
Lia smiled and did as told, and Enzo would wager that nobody but he saw the spark of anger in her eyes at being sent away like a child. Even their father, who looked over to check on them, didn’t notice. He wasn’t sure he fared so well himself, facing Fabrizio.
“She’s a sweet thing,” Fabrizio said.
My sister isn’t a thing, he thought, but he didn’t say it out loud, instead taking a leaf out of his sister’s book.
He said: “We’re both looking forward to the engagement party.”
“As am I. As a matter of fact, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. That painting….”
Enzo’s stomach dropped. Fabrizio didn’t have to lower his voice or scowl to get the threat across. It was enough to mention the painting. The popular painting that was turning out to be more difficult to get a hold of than he had ever imagined.
Enzo said, in a lowered voice: “It’s all sorted.”
“Great, great. It’s so good of you to get it for me. I hope you know I appreciate it.” Before Enzo could reply, he continued: “But I confess I’m worried, because I heard that the Napoletanis have it right now. Surely, that’s not true, since you assured me you do.”
“O-of course I have it.”
The nasty little man patted Enzo’s shoulder, either not noticing or ignoring his nervous stutter. “Nice, nice, very nice. I know it would break Lia’s heart if she couldn’t present it to me when we get engaged. It’s all she ever talks about, the sweet dear. But I’m sure if there are any problems you’ll have them solved in no time. You’re a good brother to her.”
“Well, I’d better go dance with her. I can tell she’s excited. Talk to you later, Vinny.”
Enzo took deep breaths and tugged at the stupid tie again. The curses Regina had taught him came in handy, as he imagined letting them rain over Fabrizio’s head… ending with telling him not to call him ‘Vinny’. Only Lia called him that, and he even hated it a little when she used it.
His poor sister was currently being dragged across the floor, smiling politely as she could while in the arms of the hateful man. Even though it was an extra stressor, it was still a relief to look out the window and see that Regina was there. If nothing else then because it gave him an excuse not to watch the uncomfortable dance taking place.
He went outside to greet the two women, preparing a remark about them being fashionably late, but then all words escaped him when he could take in all of Regina’s form.
He had been going crazy, thinking of all the reasons he didn’t want her at this party: His sister and Lorenzo would be upset; his dad might find out he hired her; somebody may recognise her and it could cause a scandal… Somehow, it hadn’t even occurred to him that she was already distractingly attractive, and that seeing her like this would make it worse.
Her tattoos had been covered up somehow, and her hair was down, styled into big, soft curls. The dress she wore flattered her waistline extremely well—so well, he had to force himself not to look at her body so as to keep his composure. Despite this being nothing like her usual attire, she moved so gracefully he could have almost been fooled into thinking she belonged here.
Of course, then she spoke:
“Hey, rich boy. Enjoying the party?”
Enzo shrugged. “These functions aren’t exactly meant to entertain. What’s the plan?”
“Find the painting,” she said.
He rolled his eyes.
“Okay, yes, but besides that. How do you intend to find the painting?”
“Don’t worry about that. Leave it to us.”
“Basically,” Carlotta said, sending Gina a warning look, “I’m going to be chatting up all the guests, and Gina’s going to search the house. She can pick locks and I have social skills, so that’s how we usually do things.”
“Okay, then I probably have to go with Gina.”
Dark green eyes fixed on him. There was anger in her voice, but he could tell she was holding it back.
“Why would that be necessary?”
“It’s a big house. You might get lost.”
“I think I can find my way around a house on my own.”
“Look,” he said. “I’ve been visiting this house since I was a kid. I know it like the back of my hand.”
“It’s a house, Cavalcante. I don’t need help, and it’s much better that I do this on my own anyway. You’ll probably be missed at the party.”
“Fine, then I’ll leave it to you.”
“Good,” she said and she barely looked at him before walking off.
That was an improvement, he supposed. It wasn’t that she was cordial to him, exactly, but she was at least coolly civil. With that kind of attitude, she really would fit right into the wealthy circles.
“It kind of shocked her that you apologised.”
He started, having nearly forgotten that Carlotta was there.
“Oh?” he said.
“Gina has very strong ideas about what you’re like, since you dumped her and all. And she has some bad experiences with other guys like you.”
“Oh, so she was with someone else who’s wealthy?”
Lotta laughed. “Oh yeah, and he was pretty bad—even worse than you.”
“Do you know who?”
The blonde wagged a finger at him. “I’m not going to gossip about my best friend. I can get away with a lot, but I think she might shoot me if I tell you that story.”
“I think you’re right,” he said.
“Since she won’t let you help her, perhaps you’ll introduce me. I need to find a husband, after all.”
Enzo smiled and offered her an arm.
“Certainly, Ms. Voltorini. This way, if you please.”
Author’s note: Hi guyssssssss, it’s that time of week again. Not going to lie, I’m freakishly excited about this and the next two chapters. I can’t wait! Thankfully, the next ones are nearly done, giving me a nice bit of buffer for a few weeks. I just started school, and this week was the introductory week. It’s been a pretty positive experience all around, but also draining because of meeting tons of new people. Writing is a welcome retreat from it all 🙂
Anyway, I don’t actually have that much to say about this chapter. I’m super excited to hear your guys’ thoughts, though probably especially for the next two. This is a shorter, not very eventful one. So all I’ll say is: Thank you so much for reading if you’ve made it this far, aaand I’ll see you for the next one.
EDIT: I forgot to mention that the very lovely-looking build I’m using for the next couple of chapters is (obviously) not my work. It’s this one from MTS – all credits to the great builder who made it 🙂
(Look, I made a signature! This took about as much time as getting the chapter ready for posting and was a great use of my time).