Content warning for sexual themes in the text as well as shirtless rich boy.
Gina had the strangest experience the next afternoon. She walked up to the door of a fancy house, knocked, and waited politely to be let in—no lockpicking, no disabling alarms. She was welcome here. While waiting, she let her eyes scan the lock on the door, because she couldn’t help but note that it was a simple tumbler lock which was easy to pick, but then the door was opened. A woman—Maria Sartore, she’d wager—peeked out at her. She looked confused for a moment.
“I’m Regina,” she explained. “I’m here to see Enzo.”
Lorenzo’s mum smiled broadly. “Oh, it’s you! He told me all about you. Come on in and I’ll go get him.”
Gina stepped over the threshold and closed the door behind her. She looked around the room, at a house that was different to Enzo’s dad’s house in just about every way. It was warm and homey, with little signs of life in the living room—a blanket thrown messily over the arm of the sofa, a book abandoned spine-up, a coffee cup left behind with stains on the rim. Things would have been a lot easier if it had been someone like Lorenzo she took a liking to back then. But then nobody, nobody, could compare.
Enzo came down the staircase, in a casual blue T-shirt that clung to his body just right. His hair was messy compared to last night, but in a way that suggested he had tried to look nice for her. Gina threw herself at him, clinging to his chest and breathing in his scent while he weaved his fingers through her hair. When he drew back, he rested one hand on her shoulder and with the other he stroked her cheek.
“I missed you,” he said.
“It’s been one night.”
“It’s one night too much.”
Gina bit her lip because the edges of her eyes were wetting and she hoped it would stop her tears from progressing. It didn’t. A stray tear got away from her and he wiped it with the tip of his thumb.
“Let’s go outside,” he said softly. “I’ve always wanted to show you this place and we should talk.”
He pointed to a door to their right and when they walked through it, they found themselves on a bridge over a small pond. In the summer sun, with a light breeze caressing their faces, it was a beautiful sight. The garden surrounding it was packed with flowers of all shapes and colours, so many different ones it should have been gauche, but it worked.
“This garden is my second favourite place in the world,” Enzo said, taking her hand and walking over the bridge, towards a small deck with a roof over it. “I spent as much time here as father would let me.”
“Second favourite?” she asked. “Is there some other place you prefer?”
He smiled, but didn’t explain further, only smiled at her in a way that made her think she should know what his favourite place was. She drew a blank and was about to ask him to tell, but they had made it to the covered deck and he drew her down onto a bench along with him, his expression slowly changing from sweet teasing to one that was more serious. Gina gave his hand a squeeze.
“What is it, honey?”
Enzo took her hand in his and sat looking at it while, she sensed, not really seeing it. It was more like he clung to it for support and a reassurance that she was there.
“I owe you an apology.” His voice was low when he finally spoke.
“You don’t need—”
He interrupted her protest. “Please, Gina, let me do this. I know I tend to apologise and feel guilty when I shouldn’t, but I hurt you. I should have stood up for you at Fabrizio’s house.”
Despite the fact that it had seemingly turned out okay, Gina’s breath caught for a moment. The pain of his rejection still sat there, like a small, cold bead of pain in her heart and she suspected it would take a long time for it to go away. That small remnant of it had messed with her head after he had told her to leave his dad’s house. He called her shortly after to say that he was out, that the path ahead of them was clear, and still she couldn’t escape the hurt that had been with her since his dad caught them together. Not that she would tell him and give him an extra excuse to feel guilty.
“You’re… kind of brainwashed, though,” she said, trying to sound nonchalant. “Lotta said that’s normal when you grow up like that. It’s not your fault.”
Enzo reached over and brushed her hair behind her ear.
“My father carries some of the blame, I suppose. I was raised to never go against him and the few times when I’ve done it, I’ve experienced what I now understand are anxiety attacks.”
Gina’s head snapped up.
He let out a breath. “Yes. Apparently, I had one last night. Lia and I made it here and I was okay for a few hours before I started feeling anything. Then it all came crashing down on me and I was much as you saw me at Fabrizio’s house. I was shaking, sweating, feeling short of breath… it took Lorenzo and his parents the better part of half an hour to calm me down. They called a doctor who told me that was probably what it was… an anxiety attack. I believe she said that it’s a… common symptom of emotional abuse.”
The way he said the words, they sounded like he recited a list of terms, not like they really applied to him.
“Fuck. I’m sorry, Enzo. I had no idea that night that you…”
“Neither did I.” He let out a sigh. “Frankly, I don’t think anxiety attack was even a word in my vocabulary until recently. Neither was emotional abuse. Or therapy. But that’s… all something I have to consider now.”
His shoulders fell and now she could really see how tired he was. There was tension in his arms and in his jaw, as well as shadows under his eyes. No wonder, since he must have been awake most of the night.
Gina took his hand in hers and kissed the palm. “How could it possibly be your fault, then?”
“That’s beside the point,” he said. “Maybe it wasn’t my fault or maybe it was partially my fault. Blaming me or my father isn’t the point. The point is that I hurt you. I didn’t intend to, but that doesn’t erase the fact that I did. I hurt you when you had been nothing but wonderful to me, when you stood up to my father and defended me in a way nobody has ever done before. I’m sorry for that, Gina.”
She nuzzled close to him on the bench and his arms wrapped around her.
“I forgive you,” she said.
Enzo’s cheek rested on the top of her head and they sat close together on the bench.
“So you’ll take me back?” he asked.
“Was there ever any question?” Gina straightened up so she could look him in the eyes. “How could I not?”
Enzo let out a relieved sigh and smiled. “I hope I’ll deserve your forgiveness someday.”
“Silly rich boy,” she said, leaning in close so her lips were hovering by his. “You already do… after all, you saved my career. I heard about your little rumour, I’ll have you know.”
He smiled sheepishly. “Ah, how did you…?”
“Ms. Antonini called me and she kept not so subtly referencing that time I got pregnant as a teen. I thought it was probably you who came up with that.”
“Do you think it’ll work?”
She thought about it for a bit. “Probably. Let’s just hope they don’t find out that I didn’t actually raise Doriano’s love child.”
“Are you assuming that they’ll investigate the truthfulness of a rumour? Please, they’re too rich for that.”
Gina snorted. “God, don’t you already miss those people?”
“I can scarcely breathe for missing them.” He smiled. “But then I’d miss you more.”
She kissed him, then. At first carefully, only slowly testing to see if they were the same as before, but she quickly realised there was no need to worry. His lips on hers immediately electrified her body and when the next kiss came, it was urgent, warm, and eager. They didn’t let go of each other until they needed to breathe and then they stayed close, nose tips touching. She wished she could stay here, entangled for hours, but her concern for him overruled that desire.
“I should probably leave,” she said.
His eyes flew open. “Why?”
“You haven’t slept all night. I’ll come back tomorrow when you’ve had time to sleep and recover.”
Enzo’s hands stroked possessively over her arms and she could tell he didn’t want her to leave. But as tempted as she was to stay, she didn’t think it was what he needed right now.
“Tomorrow,” he said, “will you meet with me somewhere else?”
She looked at him with squinted eyes. “Why? You don’t like me coming here?”
He must have realised what it looked like—his former fear of being seen with her came to mind—because he quickly said: “It’s not like that. I’ll be happy to introduce you to Lorenzo’s family later and I know they want to get to know you. But first, I want to show you my favourite place.”
Gina let her shoulders fall and nodded.
“Okay, where is it?”
Enzo shook his head. “If you don’t already know, I’m not telling. I’ll send you a location, so just meet me there, okay?”
When pouting didn’t work, she agreed. “Fine, I’ll come to this secret favourite place.”
“It’s not secret,” he said with a laugh. “You should already know… but never mind, just come, okay?”
She rolled her eyes and kissed him, but despite his silliness, she would go where he asked her to.
The next day, they met on one of Collesena’s dirt paths in the early afternoon. It was right when the sun had most power, when the light warmed her skin and the world was slowing down in the thick, lazy summer heat. Enzo was there before Gina, this time dressed in a cotton cardigan, white T-shirt, and jeans. She didn’t think she would ever tire of seeing him in casual wear.
“Hey gorgeous,” she said.
She didn’t give him time to reply before she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him. Enzo smiled against her lips and when they disentangled, he took her hand and pointed down the path.
“It’s this way.”
He wrapped an arm around her as they walked in perfect silence. It was a little while before they came to a small park and when Gina saw it, she stopped as she realised that she did know the place. She looked up at Enzo and he smiled.
“I really expected that you would know.”
The place had changed subtly in the past eight years. It had been allowed to grow wild, long grass and dandelions had taken hold of the pond’s banks, not to mention, the wood of the old bridge was badly in need of maintenance. But she still recognised it, even though she had never seen it in daytime.
“It’s where we had our first kiss,” she said.
Enzo smiled broadly and took both her hands, leading her onto the bridge. She looked out at the scenery while he moved close and wrapped his arms around her from behind.
“My favourite place.”
She frowned. “Despite everything that happened after?”
“Yes, absolutely.” He kissed her cheek. “I don’t mean to be bleak, but I wouldn’t say my growing up has been a happy experience. There are few times I’d say I’ve been truly happy and the night I spent with you, right here, was one of the best. No matter what happened after.”
Gina closed her eyes and sank deeper into his arms, feeling his lips brush her neck.
“I used to come here sometimes,” he said, “when I had a chance. It wasn’t often, but sometimes I found a few moments to be here and remember. I never forgot.”
She turned in his embrace to wrap her arms around him, pushing her head into the soft cotton of his cardigan to hide her emotion. There was no need to hide it, but the way he spoke had cracked her wide open and let out all the things she felt back then. Things that had gone unspoken and had been wrapped in layers of anger and hatred.
“I never forgot you either,” she whispered.
He paused. “You mean, because you hated me.”
Gina shook her head. “No, because I couldn’t understand. You were perfect. You are perfect and then… It wasn’t right, the way you acted. I didn’t understand.”
Enzo drew back, taking her hands and forcing her to meet his gaze. It hurt to look him in the eye and say it all. She knew that Lotta and her parents knew. They saw through it ages ago, but saying it herself was different.
“I knew it wasn’t like you, okay? Logically, I knew that you’re not some sort of heartless asshole and that there was something else going on, but… it was easier. If you’re just some monster, I can dismiss you and move on and never mind the fact that I want you in my life so damned badly. If you’re irredeemable, I don’t have to care about you and if I don’t care, then I don’t have to feel like shit. But I did care and I never forgot you. Eight years is a long time, but it’s not long enough to forget you. There was always that whisper, comparing everyone else I meet to the sweet, blue-eyed rich boy who stole my heart.”
His eyes were big and blue, misting over from emotion. He cupped her cheek.
“You say all my plans are shit, but I managed to steal something from you.”
Gina laughed. “And then I stole you.”
Enzo moved in for another kiss. She felt the smile on his lips and his hands on her hips drew her closer to him. What started as a sweet kiss soon turned warmer, hotter. For once, his hands were the first to sneak under her top and graze naked skin and Gina happily let him explore and move his hand higher until he found the sensitive skin of her nipple. She relished the touch and the way his kiss grew more urgent by the second.
She drew back and smiled up at him.
“My aunt’s place is close by if you want to…”
But to her surprise, he shook his head. He put a finger to her lip to quieten her, then he took her hands and drew her after him onto the bank of the lake. Gina’s heart beat wildly as he pushed her into the soft grass and kissed her.
“We could be seen,” she whispered.
“This place is pretty remote.” He pressed kisses to her throat. “When I came up with the idea I thought it was perfect. Symbolic.”
She snorted. “This was your plan? Bring me to where we first kissed, then seduce me?”
“It’s pretty good, isn’t it?”
“Well, out of all your plans, it’s probably the one that’s the least shit.”
“The least shit?” he quoted back. “This is my master plan, my stroke of genius, my-my perfect plot. This is where I tell you I love you, we make love, and then you agree that we’re perfect for each other and we’ll be together forever.”
Gina’s heart leapt in her chest.
“I love you,” he said. “That was really the point of coming here and the seduction was just sort of a nice bonus, but… I seem to have messed it up.”
She laughed, wrapped her arms around his neck, and drew his head down to hers. “You wanted to say that you love me?”
He nodded. “It was supposed to be romantic, but…”
“I love you, too. And you really don’t need to seduce me into staying with you. I already planned on doing that.”
She brushed his lips with hers, then smiled. “That’s the plan.”
“In that case we don’t need to stay here. Wouldn’t want you to get another charge for public indecency.”
“Oh no, rich boy.” Gina grabbed a hold of him and pushed him off her to sit in the grass. She straddled him and tapped his nose with a finger. “We’re going through with this plan of yours.”
Gina manoeuvred his shirt over his head and off, feeling chills of excitement at seeing him again, being close. She pressed her mouth to his neck and felt the rapid beating of his pulse against her lips, then she pushed him back into the grass and her fingertips traced patterns on his skin.
“I can’t believe it,” he said, letting his hands brush over her hair. “I’ll get to be with you every day, like this.”
“You better believe it.” She kissed him. She really, really kissed him. Kissed him with all the force of her love and the longing she felt. “Because we’re just getting started.”
Author’s notes: Hi guysss! Welcome back to Louise Makes a Big Nature Set and Only Uses It in Two Pictures. So, we’re in the home stretch. There are only three more chapters to go, which, you know, is rather emotional. I’ve already written the rest of the story, so has Boyfriend the Beta-Reader, and now all I need is to take pictures for the last ones. I always love the last stretches of the story, because it’s so satisfying. It’s like all the stuff I’m not too happy with doesn’t matter, because at least we got here in the end. 🙂
But enough of that. We’re not quite there, yet. There are a few things to tie off before we’re ready to let go. I hope everyone is having a grand old time and I’d like to thank you guys for reading along if you made it this far.