Authors: Courtney Cole
Tags: #Romance, #Adult, #Contemporary
Of Blood and Bone
The Minaldi Legacy
By Courtney Cole
Copyright © 2012 Lakehouse Press
Names, characters and incidents depicted in this novel are products of the author’s imagination and are used fictitiously.
Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations or persons (living or dead) is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of author or publisher.
No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the author or publisher. If you are reading this book and you did not purchase it or it was not given to you directly by the author/publisher, then this book is pirated. Piracy is a crime. Please delete it and support the author by purchasing it from an authorized distributor.
To M. Leighton
My crit partner and
one of my dearest, dearest friends.
This is for you,
because you have loved Luca as much I have this entire time.
Thank you for holding my hand while I wrote his story.
And thank you for the Madly glass,
which I have used excessively while I wrote this story.
I love you. Forever and ever.
Also, to my husband.
Our love may not be as dangerous as Luca and Eva’s,
But it is real and beautiful.
Thank you for putting up with me,
And for not complaining when I am texting M in bed at midnight.
I will love you forever and ever, too.
Luca is gone.
I know it before I open my eyes. The weight of his body next to me is absent, the scent of him gone from the air. I sigh, reluctant to begin this day because I know what it holds for me. I know that if Luca is truly gone, I will spend every hour frantically searching for him.
Gazing around, I find my large suite empty. Everything is neat and tidy and exactly in place. Each lavish piece of furniture is polished with lemon oil, each extravagant painting on the wall carefully dusted. Each expensive vase, each crystal lamp, each woven rug is perfectly aligned and exactly how I left it. Something is different, though, somehow changed in this room that I fell asleep in last night.
My sleepy eyes do another quick sweep, and this time I notice the balcony doors standing wide open while the bright morning sun streams onto the mahogany floor and the white sheer curtains on either side flutter in the sea breeze.
This is the difference and it slams into me like a concrete wall. I didn’t fall asleep with those doors open. I would never do that now, not since I know what dangers lurk in the world, the darkness that can find me.
Immediately after I notice this inconsistency, I also see that across the room, my bedroom door is tightly closed and the bolt is still slid firmly in place.
Just as I left it last night.
My heart stutters as I realize what this means.
While I slept, Luca must have climbed from my balcony ledge to escape. But the drop is well over thirty feet and there are sharp rocks at the base of the house. There are gardens directly behind, but beyond that, there is a cliff with a hundred foot drop to the sea below.
I leap naked from bed and rush to the balcony’s edge. My bare breasts press against the cold railing as I peer down at both the gardens and what I can see of the pristine sand beyond that. Luca is not lying broken and bleeding there, so I try to still my racing heart. I search the beaches and craggy landscape on both sides of my periphery and I still do not see him.
He somehow survived the fall.
A hundred different things run through my mind, but the one that stands out in the forefront is the image, the possibility, that he managed to drag himself, broken and bleeding, to a different location, somewhere where he is even now waiting for me to help him.
Because I promised.
I promised him that I would help him, that I would keep him from the darkness that plagues him, that I would heal him.
That I would save him.
I swallow hard and as I do, I realize that my throat is tender from Luca’s hands last night. I know that if I look into a mirror, there will be a bruise in the perfect formation of his long fingers around my neck.
As I softly touch it, I remember his face from the night before. It was shadowed in the moonlight and like always, he was beautiful. Luca is handsome in a very classic and beautiful way, dark hair and cut cheekbones. His bangs are long and almost hide his magnificent dark eyes until he shakes his hair away. And when he does, the sadness that dwells there is apparent to anyone who knows him.
But last night, I didn’t need to look into his eyes to see that his darkness had returned. I knew it from the moment he stepped into my room.
I can always see it. It changes everything about him, even the way he walks and moves. The way he stands. The way he speaks. The way he feels.
He is an entirely different person when the darkness comes.
These are the moments that he dreads with every breath when he is himself; the moments when he is no longer Luca. In these moments, he is filled with thoughts that are no longer his own.
He cannot help it, he cannot control it, he cannot stop it.
But I promised him that I would.
And I have failed him.
I scramble to my wardrobe and pull on clothing, choosing a shirt with a collar, hoping to somewhat hide the bruise on my neck. The only other people here at Chessarae are servants, except for Luca’s mother in her lonely wing. But she is locked in so she never comes into the main part of the house. No one will see me but the staff. And they are used to seeing strange things.
I rush through the house, through the extravagant corridors and over the marble floors, the rich and polished surroundings that I would never have dreamed I would find myself in. I don’t notice it now though. It has faded into an insignificant corner of my mind. All that matters now is Luca.
I make my way out the back of the house, through the gardens, through the English maze that is perfectly manicured and challenging to maneuver. I manage it with ease, however. I memorized its twists and turns on a happier day.
The weather is stormy today and the normally cheerful and bright Maltese sky is gray and thunderous. I can feel the electricity in the air, snapping the ends of my long hair with static. This day looks as foreboding as I feel, which I hope is not a sign.
I search through the maze. I search the beaches as my feet sink into the cool sand. I search the gardens with their exotic and sweet-smelling blooms and then I search the garage. His car, a shiny black Jaguar, is still in its slot and its hood is cool to the touch. Luca has not driven it today. I search the front lawns and the back. And just when I begin to panic, to fear that he has not returned to Chessarae after all, I search the stables.
As I walk through the heavy wooden doors, the smells of the horses and the hay and the saddle-soap and leather assail my nose and I breathe them in. I’ve always loved this place. It is peaceful here. And I suddenly know, because I can feel it, that Luca is here.
I walk quietly down the main corridor, staring into each stall as I pass.
And finally, finally, when I come to the very last stall on the left, Luca is there and my breath hitches in my chest, freezing on my lips.
Luca is slumped on the ground, in the corner, his expression desolate. He is beautiful even here, even in this condition, and I cannot help but stare down at him as tears fill my eyes.
He is dirty and his clothing is torn. There are smears of blood on his shirt, dried now to a rusty dark brown. I swallow hard, trying not to imagine where the blood has come from.
Luca’s face is tortured as he stares up at me, his head in his hands. There is blood on his fingers.
“It happened again.”
His words are low and husky and rough, yet elegant at the same time. He is always refined, always perfect, always Luca.
His self-loathe is apparent and it breaks my heart.
I nod mutely because there are no words for this moment. I bend to help him to his feet. At 6’3”, he towers above me. He is slender and strong and masculine. He is lithe and powerful, beautiful and graceful.
And sometimes, on his very darkest days, he is a depraved killer.
But I have gotten ahead of myself. I should begin at the beginning. If I don’t, you will never understand.
From the Beginning
As I step from the ferry onto the pier, the first thing I notice about Malta is the smell in the air. It smells of sand and sea. Everything about this small island nation revolves around the shimmering blue water surrounding it. Fishermen have been born and bred and lived and died for thousands of years here. The sea is everything.
As a testament to that, ships and boats and dinghies are everywhere around me. There are fishermen, sailors and dockhands. There are fish mongers, there are fish markets and there are crusty old Maltese men who creep out to the piers at the crack of dawn to fish just for the pure enjoyment of it. The saltiness of the sea is in their blood.
Romans used to call Malta the Land of Honey. And as I stand here in the early evening light, I can see why. The sun is just starting to sink over the horizon, over the edge of the sea, and everything here is bathed in radiant gold. The buildings created from sandstone and ancient rock appear to glow in the light. And even though the name truly stems from Malta’s ancient history of honey production, I prefer to think it is because Malta is continually bathed in a honey-colored glow from the sun.
I make my way down the wooden planked pier, taking care not to trip over the uneven boards. I have been traveling for thirty hours so I am definitely inclined to stumble. I can’t remember when I’ve ever been so exhausted.
A voice with a Maltese accent calls for me and I turn my head to find a stooped older man in a white floppy fishing hat making his way to me through the throng on the pier.
I smile and hold out my hand.
“You must be Tomas.”
The man shakes his head. “No, my name is Alanzo. Tomas was detained, but he sent me to drive you to your summer cottage.”
I nod. “Thank you. I appreciate that very much.”
Immediately and unbidden, I form an opinion about this man
Loyal, Kind. Trusting and open. An inherent need to please.
I can see all of these things in his eyes. Since my doctoral dissertation involves studying the decisiveness of the first meeting while assessing the personality traits of strangers, I cannot help but do it myself whenever I meet anyone. It can grow annoying. But it is why I am here; to continue my research over the summer and wrap up my project so that I can begin a Psychiatry practice.
The old man stoops to pick up my suitcase. I put my hand on his. “Please, there must be someone I can hire to bring my bags. I have quite a few more.”
I motion behind me at a large stack of bags and sealed plastic crates. Alanzo’s eyes widen and I can’t help but smile.
“My research,” I explain. “It takes up a lot of space.”
“I see that,” he agrees. “It’s no matter. Come with me, bella mia, and we will arrange for your bags to be delivered to your flat.”
Alanzo leads me to a small rickety counter where he speaks fast and fluent Maltese to the girl standing there. He scribbles something on a paper and hands it to her with his gnarled fingers and she nods. Then he pays her. I try to hand him US Dollars, which is all I have at this point, but Alanzo shakes his head and clucks.
“No, no,” he waves his hands. “Tomas instructed me to care for you. It’s all right.”
I’m too tired to argue.
He whistles and holds his hand in the air and hails a taxi.
I am surprised for just a moment. I guess I thought that Valletta was small enough to walk from place to place. Yet even now, I realize that was silly. There are 400,000 people on Malta and half of them live in Valletta. To be honest, the only memories I have from this place are from when I was small, when I spent a summer here with my gypsy-like father. The memories from my ten-year old self are probably distorted as hell.