I take a deep breath and try to relax, slumping against the headboard onto the bed. I made it. Everything will be fine.
But it won’t. This shouldn’t be happening, not so soon. I say that again to Adrian, although even now, my words are starting to slur and my thoughts are beginning to run together. Soon, everything will become visceral and I won’t think anything logical at all.
Adrian stares at me thoughtfully. “I haven’t wanted to say anything,” he begins uncertainly and then he pauses.
I stare at him through the thickening mental fog. “But?”
My lips are heavy and numb. It’s coming. My breathing quickens.
“But this is the way it usually happens, according to everything my father taught me.”
Maddeningly, he trails off and I wait for him to continue, but he doesn’t. He picks up his box and carries it to the cabinets next to the wine and begins to put supplies away. I don’t have time for this. Within minutes, I won’t be cognizant.
“Adrian,” I growl. “Tell me what your father told you.”
“I’m sorry,” he turns around apologetically. “I just hate to upset you. It might be nothing, so I don’t know whether I should worry you with it.”
“Worry me,” I growl again. Adrian looks pained.
“My father told me that the Minaldi curse continues to worsen with age. You have passed your thirty-year mark. You will continue to become more active, the curse more violent with each year. It will become worse when you reach thirty-five, worse still when you reach forty and so on.”
I feel suddenly and nauseatingly numb.
“My father,” I begin. Then I clear my throat. “How often was my father contained here at the end of his life?”
It’s difficult to speak now. I lick my lips.
“Before your father died, my father spent the majority of each month down here with him,” Adrian admits. “Nicolas was down here more than he wasn’t.”
It is a sobering thought. Before my father committed suicide, I had known that he was becoming more and more despondent. I knew the reason, obviously, since we share the same blood. But he didn’t speak of it. Not ever. Not to me, not to anyone, except for Adrian’s father, Benjamin.
Benjamin was the only one who knew the extent of my father’s illness, of the darkness that lived within him. Just as Adrian is the only one who knows the same of me. Our families are intertwined. They have been for generations. The Leopoldos have been our loyal companions for hundreds of years.
“I will not allow it to get to that point,” I say bluntly. Adrian knows exactly what I mean and he nods grimly.
“But we aren’t at that point yet,” he says. “We don’t need to consider anything right now.”
“Not yet,” I concede. “But when we are…” I trail off and Adrian nods.
I feel empty inside, although to be honest, I feel empty most of the time. It is a defense mechanism, something I perfected long ago.
My ‘curse’, as we refer to it, is undefined and undiagnosed by medical professionals. It is a genetic anomaly that has plagued the Minaldi men for hundreds of years. It is inescapable, it is dark, it is crushing.
I believe that is why Evangeline has intrigued me so. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I have felt something besides the dark void that lives within me. Evangeline is a hopeful person, full of light. And being around her is invigorating. The attraction between us is undeniable.
If only I could pursue her as a normal man would.
But I’m not normal, so I cannot.
I strain unconsciously at the chains, pulling as hard as I can away from the wall. The padded manacles bite into my skin, even through the thick cushion that they contain. Even now, my mind is breaking away, doing what it wills, not what I will. The black clouds spill into my brain and I can no longer think as myself.
I am not myself.
I am not myself.
I am not myself.
I bellow like the beast that I am and Adrian closes his eyes. He will stay with me as he always does, but he can’t bring himself to watch the animal that I will become. The blackness closes in and then I know nothing more.
I should be working, but I’m researching instead. And I’m not researching anything work-related. I should feel guilty, but I don’t.
I can’t remember a life before the internet and search engines. It has truly revolutionized everything. Back in my mother’s day, you couldn’t simply plug a man’s name into the computer and pull up his history. And honestly, I can’t believe that I waited until today to do this.
After Luca told me that he wanted to see me the other night after my visit with his mother, he wasn’t there. He simply wasn’t in his study and none of the servants knew where to find him. It was so strange. He made a point to ask me to stop and give him a report, and then he wasn’t there. It’s true, he could have simply been called away on a business matter, but if that were the case, wouldn’t his staff have known? Wouldn’t he have been handling the matter in his study? Something felt very odd, very wrong.
I type Luca Minaldi and push “Search” and a multitude of hits are returned. I sift through them with interest, staring at the various pictures of him. Luca is an intense figure, even through a camera lens. Always handsome and elegant, he poses in formal dress for various pictures at various events. There are also random and candid pictures of him captured by tourists and bloggers and posted online on gossip sites. But there aren’t as many as I would have guessed, not from someone from a family as affluent as his. And I know the reason.
Marianne told me that he is practically a recluse. He ventures into the city for only a few things, for library board meetings, for his company board meetings, and to sign documents at the bank. That is pretty much it, except for when he runs. He is pictured several times jogging along Maltese roads, his running shoes well worn, a testament to his dedication to the sport. He doesn’t compete, so it must just be a hobby for him, an outlet for stress, I would guess.
I do learn a few things that I hadn’t known, though.