Content warning: There’s one naked picture in here as well as some mild sexual themes.
They had walked down a mess of corridors when Gina suddenly turned around and stared at him angrily.
“Gina?” he said hesitantly.
“What the hell is up with this stupid house?” she asked.
He chuckled. “It’s very old. Built three or four centuries ago and they’ve just kept on adding to it, not always in the most logical ways.”
She rolled her eyes and walked off again.
“That corridor leads to a guest room,” Enzo said when she turned to the left and tried a door. “And it’s a dead end.”
“Fucking rich people,” she muttered, stomping down another corridor in a very unladylike manner.
He followed with a faint chuckle.
“Isn’t it a little hypocritical of you?” he asked, finding his pace next to her.
“The constant jabs at rich people. There’s your house, your dad’s nice suits. You wear pretty nice things yourself…” he glanced for a moment down over her dress, until he realised where his mind was going. He adjusted his eyes and continued. “You’re pretty well off yourself.”
“I guess.” At his raised eyebrow she said: “Fine, yeah, we’re doing pretty well, but it’s different.”
She thought for a moment and then said:
“Well, it just is.”
“No, there has to be a reason.”
“Okay, for one, we don’t build stupid houses like this—there comes a certain point where the amount of wealth you have overrides your good taste. Look at your dad’s apartment in Monte Vista. It’s atrocious. I guess the difference is we don’t have so much money, it turns off our good taste.”
He was about to reply, but then she suddenly spun and walked into an adjacent room. She had walked straight towards a painting. Not the one they were looking for, but a different one that depicted flowers and rich grass on a deep blue background.
“I love that one,” she said, looking reverently at it. “Monet.”
She nodded at the artwork, but his eyes landed on her instead. There was a genuine smile on her face and her gaze was soft.
“This was stolen from a gallery a couple of years ago. Dad took me to see it before I happened because he knows I like impressionists. Fancy seeing it here.”
“I had no idea you appreciated art,” Enzo said, barely aware that he had spoken it out loud. He had gotten lost in the dreamy look on her face.
Gina raised an eyebrow at him. “Seriously, dude? It’s my work.”
“It’s not my understanding that most art thieves go into that particular business because they enjoy art.”
“Maybe not, but that’s why I’m good at what I do. I love art. I sure as hell didn’t go into the business to mingle with rich people.”
He couldn’t help the snort that escaped him.
“You didn’t? Could have fooled me.”
“Shut up,” she said, elbowing him, though it was only a little nudge, far from the hard shoves she’d given him at other times. “No, I don’t really like hanging out with people like Montanari. Not to mention my other client.”
“Anyone I know?” he asked.
She glanced at him and seemed to be weighing whether to tell him or not. Finally, she relented and said:
“Leandra Antonini. I can’t get her to talk about that feud.”
“Ah, no, that’s not strange.”
Gina rolled her eyes. “Of course you’d know her”
“I do. She’s a shrewd business woman. Took over her husband’s estate ten years ago when he died, and she’s pretty much doubled their fortune since.”
“I had no idea.”
“We don’t like to share with outsiders.”
“No I’ve noticed. Even when it makes it that much more difficult to find the fucking painting, you don’t talk,” she said. “She’s shooting herself in the foot.”
“A gunshot to the foot can be healed. Scandals don’t go away so easily.”
Regina crossed her arms with a sigh. “Do you know how to get her to talk?”
He considered it. “She won’t talk to me, but my sister is friends with her daughter. It might give us an angle.”
His heart suddenly lurched when Gina craned her neck and directed a beautiful smile straight at him.
“Guess there are perks to working with rich boys,” she said.
Damn it, he thought as he quickly looked away.
It had been a mistake to apologise, he realised. As long as she was ranting and hurling insults, her appeal was at least somewhat minimised. You could only be so attracted to a person who treated you like dirt.
But he had hated it as well. It had been a constant reminder of his mistakes and in a moment of weakness, he found he couldn’t stand it any longer. He couldn’t not apologise. And now here she was—beautiful, alluring, wrong. Very, very wrong. He steeled himself and looked her in the eyes.
“We had better move on,” he said and walked out of the room ahead of her.
Regina couldn’t help but notice that Enzo was less cheery as they walked on. It suited her just fine, as it was proof it was just him playing with her. At times, he was likeable, but then the asshole shone through. Lotta’s words from the other day came to her, her assertion that maybe he had really felt sorry for what he did. She was sure that her best friend was wrong. She kept this in mind as they searched, so even though their conversation continued to be pleasant enough, she kept her distance.
The next couple of rooms they checked didn’t have the painting. Gina was half starting to think it wasn’t even in the labyrinthine house, when Enzo suddenly stopped in front of a door and listened.
“What—?” she asked, but he cut her off and held up a hand.
Listening closer, she could hear faint giggling behind the door, then the voice of a woman. A deeper voice, a male one, answered. Judging by the whispering and the soft moans that came through the door, she figured it must be some sort of tryst. Probably a common thing among the wealthy she imagined.
But Enzo looked pissed.
He tore open the door and stormed into the room. For a confused second, Gina thought he had caught a lover of his with another man, but it was his sister. She was entirely naked, lying on a bed with her long, slender limbs tangled up with the owner of the other voice. Lorenzo, as it turned out when he spun and stared wide-eyed at Enzo.
The two lovers sprang up and scrambled for clothes and jewellery that was scattered around the floor.
“Seriously?” Enzo snarled.
His sister spun and glared at him over a naked shoulder.
“Keep your judgement to yourself, Vincente.”
“Fabrizio is downstairs, you idiot!”
Lorenzo snapped: “Don’t talk to her like that.”
“Fabrizio couldn’t find us even if he tried,” Rosalia said. “And turn your back, Vinny, this is humiliating.”
“You should be humiliated,” her brother bit back. “You’re ruining everything. If he gets tired of you, we’re done for. I’m trying to fix this and you’re doing the one damn thing I told you not to do.”
“Oh, as if you’re any better.” She shot a vicious glare at Regina. “Don’t tell me she isn’t here for your amusement.”
Regina looked from one to the other and took a step back.
“Look, I have no fucking idea what’s going on, but leave me out of it.”
She watched the spectacle unfold before her. The siblings threw insults back and forth with Lorenzo occasionally butting in to defend Rosalia. Gina’s head spun with the strength of the emotion in the room, especially Enzo’s.
While his sister was cheating on her fiancé—or future fiancé as she kept insisting—his reaction seemed disproportionate. When she looked closer in his eyes, it wasn’t just anger there. It was fear. The same kind of panic she had seen in his eyes when it came to the painting.
She refocused on the argument. Rosalia and Lorenzo were both dressed now, but emotions were still going strong.
“I told you, I need him!” Rosalia said angrily.
Her brother ran his hands through his hair, looking like he would tear it out by the roots.
“Yes, well, I assumed you meant emotional support not… not his…”
“His cock,” Gina finished helpfully.
“You try flirting and dancing with Fabrizio Aiello for a whole evening. You try being promised to that hideous little man.”
“Look, I know,” Enzo said. “And I’m sorry, but you’re making this harder for us both. We’re already in deep with that painting. I don’t want him to find you cheating on top of everything.”
“I can’t be cheating when I’m not engaged yet,” she said.
“But you may as well be! And if he suddenly decides he’s done with you, we’re done.”
Lia threw back an angry retort. Enzo called her a few select words, and then Lorenzo gave him a hard push.
“Stop that,” he said harshly. “You’re being an idiot. You could have told us you invited her here. What the hell is up with that?”
“Well, maybe you should have told me that the two of you were—”
All three spun when Carlotta appeared in the doorway. Gina heaved a sigh of relief. Thank fuck for Lotta.
“Lotta, you found us.”
The blonde brushed a lock of hair behind her ear and said: “Yeah, I followed the sounds of arguing. Figured it would probably lead me to you. Is this a bad time?”
Her eyes shifted from Gina to Enzo, Rosalia, and Lorenzo. Rosalia’s face was flushed with agitation and Lorenzo had buttoned his shirt up wrong. It was quite the tableau.
“Nope, your timing is impeccable,” Gina said. “Found anything?”
“I found the painting, but I need you to tell if it’s forged.”
Enzo shared a look with his sister and best friend, their argument forgotten for now. The three of them followed Gina and Carlotta in a hurry.
Standing in front of the canvas, there was a long pause and then Gina turned to Enzo. However much of an asshole he was, she felt a deep twinge of sympathy, looking into his fearful eyes.
“They already swapped it for a forgery,” she said.
Enzo crossed his arms and she could see him dig the tips of his fingers into his own flesh. He held his emotions back expertly, though it was as close as she had ever seen him to breaking down. His sister hung her head next to him.
“What now?” she asked, voice weak.
Carlotta said: “I convinced them to share who their merchant is.”
“Lotta, go run the name by Franco and my dad,” Gina said to her friend, in a voice that afforded no arguments. To Enzo she said: “I need a word. Alone.”
Nobody protested. Carlotta, Rosalia, and Lorenzo left. Before Lotta closed the door, Gina saw Enzo’s sister and best friend hold each other tightly in the hallway outside.
When they were gone, Enzo turned to Gina.
“They bought the painting three days ago,” he said, sounding almost like he was going to cry. “How can they already have it swapped? When did it happen?”
“I don’t know,” she replied. “But I think I’m starting to see what’s going on here. Why you need it.”
She let her words trail off, leaving space for him to say it on his own. He didn’t. His gaze was fixed on the wall behind her and he looked stiff and uncomfortable. It was useless—she could tell he wouldn’t talk willingly.
“You didn’t lie about your future brother-in-law,” she said. “But neither of you really like him, so I can’t see you getting him an expensive painting just out of the kindness of your heart. So…”
She faced him and said:
He took a ragged breath and said, with a noble indifference that was eerily familiar:
“I suppose you would call it blackmail, yes.”
“What’s he got on you?” she asked.
He pressed his mouth together to a thin line and Gina nearly slapped him.
Talk to me, you rich idiot! Let me help you!
It would be as pointless as pressuring Ms. Antonini had been. The instinct to stay quiet, to not make waves, was too strong. She thought of how her dad would have acted and instinctively reached a hand out to touch his arm. He glanced up.
“We need to talk,” she said. “But not here, not when your sister’s outside and everyone you know is downstairs. Can we meet tomorrow?”
Enzo hesitated and then agreed with a nod.
“In that case, I’ll be at your house.” Before he could protest, she smiled and added: “Don’t worry, I’ll be discreet. Your dad and sister won’t know I’m there.”
He released a beleaguered breath he had been holding and said:
“In that case I won’t… shoot myself in the foot, as it were. I’ll tell you everything.”
“Good. For a rich boy, you’re pretty smart.”
The corner of his mouth lifted to form a half-smile. This smile, she thought, wasn’t entirely annoying.
Author’s note: Hi guys! Happy Saturday 🙂 Sooo uh, yeah, nudity… is a thing I do. Apparently. I’ll have you know that this rather tame example of nudity is extremely hard for me to post. You would think I was a super prude or conservative or something. I’m not. I think the extreme amount of swearing going on in my story attests to that, but this still leaves me flustered. I don’t even know what else to say.
I also have to say, that I had a big old laugh that EVERYONE assumed Enzo and Gina would end up kissing as a cover-up. I had already written this chapter and knew that wouldn’t happen. Kind of wished I had done it, though I’m still pretty pleased with them just having a semi-pleasant conversation that’s not full of swears. Honestly, considering all the speculation, I almost wanted to relent and change the chapter. But then it wouldn’t work for a few reasons: Gina’s all dressed up and pretending to be a guest so that she can move around freely, no need to hide when you’re a guest with a fake name and invitation. They would only really need to hide from Lorenzo, Lia, and possibly Enzo’s dad… and in the case of hiding from those three, making out would be the WORST possible idea. Also, Lia and Lorenzo were busy doing things other than moving about the house, if ya know what I mean. Still – laughs were had. You guys are the best, seriously 🙂
That’s all from me today. Bit of a longer one, and quite eventful. From this point on, things are generally going to be pretty eventful until we move into part three (if I stick to my plans, that is). I can’t wait for all of that to happen. Until then, thanks so much for reading this far, and I’ll see you for the next post.