The Minaldi LegacyCourtney Cole
The Minaldi Legacy
By Courtney Cole
LOVE IS DANGEROUS.
OF BLOOD AND BONE
Chapter Thirty Two
The Minaldi Legacy, Part Two:
OF DARKNESS AND DEMONS
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Preview of IF YOU STAY
OF BLOOD AND BONE
By Courtney Cole
“Nothing makes us so lonely as our secrets.”
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. After thirty hours of traveling, mere walking is a difficult feat. 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 can’t 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 the silliness of that notion. There are 400,000 people on Malta and half of them live in Valletta. To be fair, 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.
I remember Italian ices, shell-hunting by the sea and long periods of boredom during which I entertained myself as my father played poker. Poker is, and always has been, Eric Talbot’s life’s blood. It’s how he makes his living, how he gets his blood flowing. It also allows him to be very, very mobile. Each summer that I spent with him was in a different place, from Portland to Taiwan. But I remember Malta as being my favorite, because of its easy way of life and happy people. It’s why I am here now.
Alanzo and I slip inside the air-conditioned interior of the car. I lean my head against the seat for a moment. I’m so tired. Tired enough, actually, that I find myself waking up as the taxi comes to a stop outside of a little bungalow.
I blink the sleep from my eyes and open the door.
“It’s perfect,” I breathe as I step from the car.
Alanzo beams. “You like it?”
“Of course,” I nod.
The small flat is made from stucco and is situated on a bluff overlooking the sea. I can see for miles and miles here and the beach below us beckons to me. The sand is pristine and perfect, the sun beautiful and cheerful and there doesn’t appear to be anyone else for at least a mile. I have surely found paradise. I will have to watch myself to make sure that I don’t succumb to the temptation of lying on the beach all day. I have work to do.
“Come, Dr. Talbot,” Alanzo beckons.
“Please,” I call from behind him. “Call me Eva. Everyone else does.”
He smiles. “Alright. Come, Eva.”
I follow him up the winding path to the door. Green vines and fragrant white flowers are tangled on each side of the little walk and I pass a motorized scooter leaning against the house in the shade. I raise my eyebrows.
“It’s for your use,” Alanzo explains. “You can ride it almost anywhere that is too far for you to walk and for other needs, you can ride the bus.” I nod as I file the information away.
He unlocks the door and hands me the key, then steps aside so that I can enter.
“One bedroom, one bath, kitchenette,” he says. “Just as you asked for.”
It is clean, cozy and efficient.
I nod. “It’s perfect.�
“Linens and towels are included. You will have a cleaning lady come once a week. You will not need to care for the house. If you require something or if something breaks, call Tomas and he will contact your land lord.”
I nod again.
I don’t bother insisting that I can take care of it myself. Malta is a very patriarchal society. The men enjoy being caretakers. I don’t wish to intrude on that. I only wish to study their behavior when I meet them.
I walk through the small flat, taking note of the cozy furnishings, the open back doors that lead to a little patio area surrounded by a garden and the very small bed. I cringe.
“Not what you are used to?” Alanzo guesses.
I shake my head. “I haven’t slept in a twin bed since I was a kid,” I tell him. “But it’s okay. I’ll make do.”
Because I definitely don’t want to sound like a spoiled, self-entitled American.
Alanzo looks at me kindly.
“You seem very tired, Eva,” he observes. “You should rest. Tomas will be along in the morning to welcome you.”
I nod again. “You’re right. I am tired. Thank you so much, Alanzo. It has been a pleasure meeting you.”
He smiles, a wizened old grin, and then he is gone and I am alone.
I look around at the quiet little cottage with the dusk settling in and I know that I won’t be able to hold my eyes open for much longer.
I curl onto the skinny little bed and close my eyes. I have a scant few minutes to appreciate the ocean crashing outside of my open window before I drift into a dreamless sleep.
It is dark when I wake.
I lie still for a moment because I know that something has woken me, but I don’t hear anything out of the ordinary in this unfamiliar house. Shadows fall in angular slants against my wall but nothing is moving. The silence is still.
And then I feel it again, a tickling on my arm. My stomach sinks with dread as I brush at my skin and come into contact with something moving; something thin and fleshy.
I scream and leap from the bed, fumbling for the light switch on the wall.
There, sitting on my bed atop twisted sheets, is the largest, most terrifying spider I have ever seen in my life. Its hairy leg-span must be four or five inches. It is black and white striped and has a huge bulbous abdomen with some bright yellow stripes thrown in. I scream again just looking at it. It is so horrifying that I hesitate to even squash it with a shoe. I don’t want to get my hand that close.