“Does your mother have skin like yours?”
I nod. “Yes, she does.”
“Then your mother must be very wise.”
I smile at her, trying to instill confidence in her. She won’t listen to me if she doesn’t continue to trust me.
“Have you slept today, Mrs. Minaldi? You look a little tired. You should make sure you get your eight hours in.”
She looks pensive. She doesn’t even glance at Adrian or Luca. It’s like they aren’t even in the room. Finally, after she thinks about it a moment, she nods.
“I am a little tired,” she tells me in a conspiratorial whisper. “I haven’t been sleeping well lately.”
She starts to get up and I take her elbow, helping her from the ledge. She barely weighs more than a feather, her arms strikingly thin.
“Oh?” I ask. “We should do something about that. It’s not good to not sleep well. Women like us need our beauty sleep.”
She looks pleased by that as she walks toward what I hope is her bedroom. I continue to hold her elbow.
“Yes,” she agrees. “Beautiful women like us deserve beauty sleep. We aren’t like the others, you know. We’re special. My Nicolas always tells me so.”
I look at her face now and it is open and honest. This doesn’t seem to be an act. She truly does believe that Nicolas is here in the present tense. She was faking her psychotic episode but she’s not faking her belief that Nicolas is alive.
“Well,” I tell her as I ease her into her giant bed and pull her downy comforter up to her chin. “Nicolas must be very wise for a man. They don’t usually know so much about women.”
We laugh together like we know a secret and I know that I have won her over. She curls onto her side and closes her eyes. I am just turning away when I hear her whisper.
I turn back.
“What was that, Mrs. Minaldi?”
Her eyes are open, black as night, and she looks into mine. Her gaze is fierce now.
“You should leave now, Evangeline.”
I startle at the harsh tone of her voice. It is a night and day difference from her laughter a moment ago.
“Because Chessarae is dangerous for you. My son is evil.”
She closes her eyes again and doesn’t reopen them. I feel frozen as I turn and find Luca. His gaze is dark and mine is tied to it. I can’t look away from the pained expression that he is wearing. But he closes his eyes briefly, then turns away. He’s not going to acknowledge what she said. I know that right now.
He motions toward the door and the three of us leave. As we do, Luca locks the door behind us.
“You were very good with her,” he tells me as we walk away. “I’ve never seen her take to someone like that before.”
“It’s just something I’ve learned,” I tell him. “People are much more inclined to be cooperative if they don’t know that you’re probing them for information.”
“That’s probably true in all levels of life,” Luca agrees.
And his eyes! His eyes draw me to him. They are filled with so many things, dark things, pained things; and the psychiatrist and woman in me wants to discover what has hurt him. Because clearly, even though he is strong and confident on the outside, there is trauma lurking on the inside. The average person probably wouldn’t see it, but I can.
Luca looks at Adrian.
“Adrian, I won’t be requiring anything further tonight. Thank you very much for staying late.”
Adrian looks surprised, because it is clear that Luca is dismissing him. It’s also clear that he isn’t used to being dismissed. He looks almost confused as he looks to me, but what can I say? Adrian doesn’t work for me. Finally, he nods and turns to me.
“I had a very nice time tonight, Eve,” he tells me, his charming tone back in full swing. “We’ll have to do it again soon.”
I smile and he hugs me quickly before he leaves us. Luca doesn’t miss a moment of the exchange and I can feel his dark gaze on my skin.
“Would you come with me for a few minutes?” he asks politely. “I’d like to speak to you about my mother.”
“Of course,” I tell him. He leads the way through the massive house and I soon find myself in a dark and masculine study. Luca gestures toward a leather seat.
“Please sit,” he tells me. “Make yourself comfortable. Would you like a drink?”
“I would love one,” I tell him.
He crosses the room in three strides and pours two glasses of what looks to be Scotch. He walks back and hands me a glass half-filled with the amber liquid.
While I am standing next to him, I can practically feel the power emanating from him. He’s the type of person who has been born into it. It has been cultivated in him from the time he was an infant and it shows. Power and money are in every molecular strand in his body. He is definitely a force to be reckoned with.
“To sanity,” Luca says, tipping his glass toward mine. And then he downs his in one gulp.
I take a tentative sip and realize quickly that I was correct. It’s Scotch. Neat. Without one ounce of tonic or even an ice cube to dilute it. It burns my mouth and warms my chest as it slides smoothly down. But for some reason, I don’t want him to know that it makes me want to gag and cough. I want to seem unfazed, so I drink the rest in two gulps and hand Luca back the empty glass.
It is worth my numb lips because there is approval in his eyes as he takes it.
“Aren’t you going to ask?” he says as he sets the glasses down on a heavy wooden side table. He is still staring at me and his gaze makes me feel like my skin will be ablaze soon.
“Ask what?” I feel slightly woozy already from the Scotch. And to be honest, I’m also woozy from being so near to Luca Minaldi. For several different reasons, he has an interesting effect on me.
“Wouldn’t you like to ask me if you’re safe here with me?”
I look at him, remembering his mother’s startling words. My son is evil.
“Am I?” I ask and my voice is barely a murmur.
Luca’s voice is quiet in the study, as dark as the night surrounding us, and I suddenly feel like I should run, somewhere far away from here. But at the same time, I know that I won’t. I am ridiculously drawn to this man and the more I find out about him, the more I want to know. So I shake my head.