I step around stones and seaweed and driftwood that have washed ashore and find myself continually looking at the water. The view is beautiful here, the horizon endless. It is impossible not to put troubling thoughts to bed when the scenery is so beautiful and tranquil.
And then I see him.
Walking toward me, strolling quietly, is Luca Minaldi. He’s calm and quiet and an enormous brindle-colored dog is walking slightly ahead of him.
Luca is dressed in Khaki shorts and a button-up chambray shirt with the sleeves rolled up. The breeze ruffles his dark hair and I can feel the penetrating heat of his gaze even from here.
Why does it seem that I bump into him everywhere that I go? Marianne said that he seldom leaves his home, yet I’ve seen him everywhere.
He’s within speaking distance now, so I call out a hello. His dog, an enormous monster of an animal, growls softly. Luca murmurs something to it and it instantly falls silent, although now it drops back to walk next to Luca’s side, perfectly in sync with his step.
There’s a hint of smile on Luca’s face, but then it is gone and he waves.
“That’s quite a guard dog,” I say as I stay a respectable distance away. I glance at it, at its enormous yet aerodynamic body and slightly shaggy fur. “What is it?”
Luca’s hand rests on the great dog’s back for a mere second and the dog sits at his side, still at attention. “This is Grendel. He’s an Irish Wolfhound.”
“Ah,” I answer. “I remember hearing bits and pieces about that breed over the years. They’re gentle giants, right?”
Luca looks doubtful. “Perhaps some are. Grendel was trained to be a guard dog as a pup. It made my mother feel more comfortable to have one. He gravitated toward me, though, and now I have a constant companion.”
“Nice name,” I reply. “I loved Beowulf when I was in college.”
“It seemed fitting,” he answers. Looking down at his guard, whose eyes are ever alert and fierce, I have to agree.
“He does seem like a Grendel,” I nod.
Luca glances at the notebook in my hands. “Have you been out working?”
I laugh. “If you can call it that. I’ve been chatting with talkative old fishermen out on the wharf.”
“Did you get a lot of material for your project?” Luca is polite, although he does seem genuinely interested.
“Yes, I did,” I answer. “I love the people here in Malta. They are so friendly and easy to read.”
He smiles now and I suck in my breath. Because he usually seems so dark and commanding, it is a breathtaking difference when he smiles.
“Most of them, anyway,” I add. Luca looks amused.
“Not all of them?” And now his dark eyebrow is raised and his bangs are hanging just slightly over his eye. He looks like a fully-clothed underwear model and I swallow.
“No. Not all of them.”
He’s amused again and he takes a step closer to me. Grendel stays where Luca told him to stay, evidence of his training.
“Is there anyone in particular you’re having trouble with?”
He’s near me now, clearly inside my personal space. I can smell his subtle spicy cologne, something unique to him. I’ve never smelled that scent before. He steps one more step toward me and now I can feel the warmth coming from his body. I swallow hard again.
“You know there is. I can’t read you.”
Luca is still now, watching me with his intense gaze. I feel it brushing along my skin as potently as though he were touching me with his fingers.
“Dr. Talbot, you don’t have enough time to figure me out. It would take all the time in the world. And the last I checked, you only have the summer.”
He’s so close to me now that my wits are addled, something that very rarely happens. I struggle with my composure, struggle to seem unfazed. As he looks at me though, I feel like he can see my thoughts. He knows the effect he’s having on me. I’m sure of it.
“Yes,” I confirm. “I’m only here for the summer.”
His chest is broad. I’m staring at it now since it is eye-level for me. His shirt is tailored and stretches perfectly across his shoulders and I’m staring at him so intently that I startle when he speaks.
With his head ducked close to mine, he murmurs, “Pity.”
Then he steps away from me.
And the intense mood is lifted. The electricity between us is alleviated for the time being, although I know that won’t last long. There is an attraction between us, something dark and fierce and I would be a fool to not acknowledge it. And I’d probably be a fool to give in to it, as well.
“What time will you be visiting with my mother this evening?”
He’s polite and casual now and his posture is relaxed. Yes, the charged atmosphere is gone. I can breathe again.
“I think around 8:00 pm. Will that work for you?”
He nods. “That will be fine. Please stop by my study afterward. I’d like a report.”
I nod. “Of course.”
And he turns and walks away without another word. Grendel walks with him, once again perfectly attuned to his master’s movements. I watch them until they are quite a ways away before I take another step.
Luca never looks back.
I feel her watching. Evangeline’s gaze is firmly implanted between my shoulder blades and I fight the urge to turn, to return to her side and continue speaking with her, to continue breathing her in. She smells of fresh air and flowers and I have been taken off guard by the connection that I feel with this woman. I’ve never felt anything like it in my life.
I wish I wasn’t feeling it now.
There’s no way I can tell her to stay away from me, that I’m dangerous for her. It would sound ridiculous, like stuff that fiction and legend are made of. I am not Heathcliff and she is not Catherine, although the reasons that separate us are different from those of that fabled pair. Heathcliff was tortured because he could not have his Love. I will be tortured regardless, but I refuse to drag anyone else into it, which might be my single redeeming quality.
And so I walk away.
Grendel and I make our way over the damp beach back to Chessarae and as I do, a familiar feeling begins to grow from within me and with it, I feel a heavy weight on my chest. My vision blurs, then focuses and I want to punch a wall as immediate and profound rage explodes inside of me.