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The Medici Prince

Glass of Obsession

Author: Rebecca Bernadette Mance

Copyright July 5, 2013. Published 9/11/2017. All rights reserved by the author including publishing rights. This work is registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Dedicated, as always, with love, to my son Joseph and husband Joe, both Army soldiers who served in combat. Dedicated to all soldiers and those who died, were wounded, or lost loved ones on 9/11. Dedicated also to editor and friend Liz, who is finally going to get the extremely erotic novel she has been waiting for, and Debbie, my childhood friend who will be shocked by this extremely erotic novel…especially since I wanted to be a nun when we went to Catholic School together. I cannot forget my dearest friend C, who always believes in me, even when I don’t believe in myself and gives me great confidence when I am not certain. Dedicated also to my puppies, Magic Merlin and Mr. Oliver, faithful collies and desk friends, during my final months of writing. I am blessed to have completed book number 7, after years of riding BART on crowded trains commuting to San Francisco…. to end up completing this novel back on my farm Finnegan’s Run. My final edits from Liz were done while watching a soft Kentucky summer rain outside my office window. Beyond the window is a long country lane that I am blessed to have traveled back down again. Finally, dedicated to my fans and extended family, especially those that have been waiting patiently for this book a long time. I finally finished it! Thank you so much for your support and inspiration.

*****

The House of Medici acquired wealth through success in commerce and banking in Florence in the 13th century. The Medici family through their support of the arts and humanities, established Florence into the center of the Renaissance.

Chapter 1

Lorenzo Cosimo Medici, Prince of Ottaiano and Duke of Sarno picked up the stunning vase that had been sent to him by one of his infinite number of spies.

“Someone has not just stolen the secret of the glass...” His dark whisper tore apart the room in ruthless, ageless echoes. “This individual has developed an astonishing and revolutionary technique unlike anything I am aware of as even being possible.”

In contrast to the medieval room surrounding the dark prince -- the heir to feudal wealth, intrigue, obscure secrets and ancestors with a bloodstained past -- the playful piece had come from the Sausalito Art Festival in California. The image invoked a notion of bohemia flamboyance under California sunshine. Yet, there was not a single Avant-guard thing about the complicated piece. It was as intricate, complex and regal as Venice itself and the factories of Murano. It was a piece that could surely only have been meant for the Kings of Venice and Milan.

Lorenzo studied the details with razor intensity, then slowly extended his arm so that he held the glass against the firelight for flawless display. “Someone has taken the craft several steps further than even I could conceive. This individual has added layer upon layer of perfectly crafted glass within impeccably crafted crystal and incorporated gold and other fine metals in ways I have seen nowhere before.” His dark voice dropped to a low ominous tone. “I have not even seen hints of this method in the expected natural development.”

His breathing paused for several seconds while Lorenzo turned so that he could view the glass in lamp light. What he saw caused his liquid gold eyes to fire inner sizzling energy. “It is the first clearly patentable glass technique I have seen in my lifetime.”

His sister, Arabella’s gaze touched the glass from her side purview. “Yes, it is quite lovely.” Then she smiled against her growing unease. “Who would dare do such a thing without telling you?”

He frowned into his perusal. “Arabella this is not an amusing turn of events, though I admit I am completely in awe. It is in fact most troubling for that singular reason.”

Arabella considered laughing lightly in an attempt to coax him from his mood, however, she knew Lorenzo too well to do that. He was indeed most insulted that someone had dared to do something like this. “I am just teasing you Lorenzo. It is not the end of the world after all. Who sent this to you?”

When he didn’t respond, Arabella regarded her older brother’s profile with mounting concern. His eyes, that were zealously fixed on the glass, held a sinister flavor that she recognized with troublesome clarity.

That look did not bode well for someone.

Because, as with all things that he pursued, for Lorenzo, this too was obviously now an obsession. Since his time in Afghanistan, his darkly-possessed habits had gained intensity.

Of course, he had been this way long before Afghanistan. In fact, according to their parents, from the moment he had been born, he had been very fervid child. His passion exceeded what others had the capacity to understand, even those who loved him. When something was beyond Lorenzo’s reach and control, it became an even darker obsession that appeared to consume him and nearly always everyone around him. When he dropped into this thirst about something, he was utterly terrifying to Arabella.

“Lorenzo, come on, you are being a little obsessive. Where did you get this piece?”

“I know I am fixated, I am sorry.” His words were quiet and distracted. “I was sent the piece by one of my contacts in San Francisco who came across it in a local art show.”

Arabella exhaled and attempted to find the right words to appease him. “Perhaps it was made in your own factory here on Murano and someone took it to the U.S. to sell.”

He shook his head slowly, his golden eyes never leaving the finely crafted piece. “I would know if a technique like this was developed here. I would have known the very day it happened.”

“Then maybe it was made at another glass factory on Murano. If it was, you could buy the factory, then you would have two.”

Her suggestion elicited a trace of laughter. He shook his head. “I don’t want two factories. Besides that, we both know better. Even if it was developed at another factory in Venice I would know. Nothing happens on Murano, Venice or indeed in all of Italy that I am unaware of. You know this. At any rate, of course to be certain, I have already checked the other factories. Despite knowing the origin. I have emissaries everywhere and they have been checking. Nothing like this is on Murano.”

His voice dropped to a dark hiss of force. “Nothing like this is anywhere in the world. In fact, I have truly never seen anything that even hints at this advanced technique.”

Lorenzo always had information and intelligence at his fingertips of things far more significant than glass making. It was impossible that the glass had been made in Venice though it had shades of some of the local techniques.

Arabella turned to a forced nonchalance to aid her. “Okay, fine, so someone has done this and you are allowing it to become a fixation. Really Lorenzo, is it such a terrible thing?”

His fist tightened on the delicate piece, his lips twisting slightly with frustration. “I can’t even determine how it might have been done.” His eyes narrowed further into the glass. “At least I do know where it came from which casts aside any doubt that I will soon also know the artist and how it was accomplished.”

“Do you really believe you know exactly where it was made? How could you be sure?”

“I am very certain that this piece came from a glass maker in Benicia, California. The initials on the bottom are “S” “B” and under them it says “Benicia, CA. To be absolutely certain, I confirmed this with private investigators, personally, after it was purchased for me.”

His voice cut low and inflexible. “I am going to find the one who crafted this glass and extract the secret of this method. No matter what it takes.”

Arabella’s heart accelerated and she stepped closer to the fireplace to chase away the chill that touched her. “Lorenzo…please…..you cannot punish someone for having a gift for making the glass outside the confines of Venice. That is ridiculous.”

Lorenzo sat down in a leather chair extending the vase in front of him and turning it slowly to allow the dancing fire-light to catch all of the facets of the intricate piece. “Really Arabella…who says there will be any punishment involved?”

Arabella shivered and extended her hands toward the heat. “It certainly sounds sinister coming from your lips. It is as if you are angry at this person.”

He frowned thoughtfully, reflecting on the direction of his true intent. “As if I would do anything unpleasant to one who possesses such talent?” Reconciling his end game, Lorenzo set the glass on the table next to him with deliberate and precise care, positioning it so that the lamplight illuminated the glass.

No flaw. Not a single one.

“I merely wish to own the person who can do this and I will do what I have to in order to accomplish this.”

Or if I cannot own the creator of this art within a month, I will crush this perfect vase under my foot.

Arabella exhaled deeply turning her face to the fire. “Own? You think that is any better and what is the difference?” Arabella shook her head then turned her head toward him. “Lorenzo….you don’t need to own anyone else.”

“But I certainly do need to. This is a most urgent matter.”

Arabella stepped from the glow of the fire and sank with obvious surrender into the chair next to him. She regarded the vase that sat on the table between them.

Anyone would immediately recognize its unique qualities and the singular stunning beauty that had so captivated her brother.

No question he would not give up until he found this person.

Lorenzo, with his inborn sensitivity, that bordered kinetic, which is why he had been an Italian soldier “who stared at goats”, felt his sister’s concern.

Of course that is what caused his obsessiveness in the first place. The gift. His memory dropped, without warning, to Syria…..though he was allegedly never to have been there at all…. And Pakistan?….Never there either, even on a vodka night.

He’d have lived and died and his family would never know the truth. Just like the Italian secret service in World War II.

The truth of what he did there.

What others had done.

Great Italians, Great Brits, Great Israelis, Great Fins, Great Scotts, Great Indians, Great Saudis, Great Irish, Great Aussies…Great Americans…Great….Great America. What they had all done.

Arabella shifted and the leather chair groaned, bringing him abruptly back.

His beautiful sister had also helped him mentally return when he got back. So had others, like John-Pierre, fellow soldiers…others from past wars.

His family, his world family….the secret family…..brought him back. Always.

Arabella smiled bright with tolerance and understanding.

She meant well. You could not expect civilians to understand, even close family members.

“Your obsession is the family curse, I know that. There is little that can be done about that. Still, as your sister I feel inclined to remind you that this is not Renaissance Italy where you can just do whatever you want.”

When he didn’t object to her words, she pressed on. “Besides that, this person is in America not in Italy. It might not prove simple to find him or her. I too have heard that these days there is a lot of glass made in Benicia, both by very minor artists and by people who are not artists at all….those who just copy.”

She put her finger on the table and pushed the piece slightly to feel the weight of it, then pulled her hand away with knowledge and recognition. “Several people in the same area could be making glass with a similar technique.” She paused in her argument catching his eye and the small smile that touched his lips. They both knew she felt the weight of the glass and the perfectly balanced art, let alone the unquestionable beauty of the technique.

The glass itself was far more convincing than words. Anyone could see it was the piece of a master. Despite this, Arabella persisted. “For all you know it could have been made in a factory in China and is being passed off as art.”

Lorenzo plucked up the vase as if to save it from the insult. Arabella knew the truth, but her intent was solid. “This is not some mass produced piece,” he said dismissively, curbing his frustration for the comfort of both of them, as he possessively fingered the edges with a light caress. They both knew the art of the glass belonged here….but somehow shades of Murano technique had found wings. “This is true and complete art. Even a person who knew nothing of glass would know this.”

He returned the piece carefully back to its original position. “Even to copy it you would have to be a master of the art.”

Arabella nodded but added no fuel to his burning notions.

In the silence, his long elegant digits returned and lingered at the base of the vase. He gently pushed it with his index finger further under the lamp searching for hidden secrets that would reveal themselves in just the right lighting. “My investigators believe it is a very young artist that rents part of a studio in Benicia and sells her products outside the Ferry Building along the water at the Embarcadero in San Francisco. So, despite your doubts, I believe the maker will be easily tracked once I am there in the area.”

“That seems like locating a minnow in a vast sea.”

“Not at all. This glass is too unique and superb for me not to be able to easily trace the master who does such work. I only need to see her other work to know in certain.” He took his finger away from the vase. “Though I cannot fathom how someone young could have done something that I didn’t believe even the most experienced artists could accomplish.”

Arabella looked at her brother sharply. “Young? How young? Lorenzo….please…that makes your plotting even more sinister. You cannot own and buy everything. What difference does it make if someone can do this? You might be a Medici but this is not the dark ages. Surely, you can develop a similar technique, perhaps even more accomplished than this piece, here in Murano.”

As if physically touched by the passion of the glass, he drew from it, and his eyes increased their unworldly gold glow. “I am merely going to San Francisco for the see the Luna Rossa Challenge in the America’s Cup. I have a large investment in that endeavor and have planned to visit the area again. I also have other assorted business matters in the bay area, including meetings with investors regarding a new technology that is both a weapon and an important medical advancement. So, in summary, what I find out about the glass, while there, will be …… let us just say… convenient.” He took his gaze from the vase and looked into the fire that blazed red and fringed in blue hues. “Think of it like fate and an hour glass. If the moment is right and I can find this individual, it will happen.”

Arabella followed his gaze to the fire with some resignation. “You make it sound casual, but I know from the look in your eyes it is anything but casual. This intensity in you already has significantly increased since the war.”

Then her eyes grew large. “Oh no! Is this one of your secret missions?”

“There is no such thing as my secret missions.”

“Bah! Lorenzo!”

Arabella reflected that the truth was stark and it mattered to who he was now. Lorenzo had been in the Italian Special forces, 185th Reconnaissance Target Acquisition Regiment “Folgore” (RAO - Reggimento Acquisizione Obiettivi). 1st “Draghi” (Dragons). Their mission was to find and mark enemy objectives for bombers or artillery units.

Lorenzo rarely ever spoke of his time in Afghanistan, but he had returned with a new layer of dark-sinister-edge and intensity. She had long suspected he continued to work for the government even though his service commitment had ended. He wasn’t lying when he told her he was out of his military service, but she was certain he had traded that service of his country for another kind of service equally as dangerous. He, however, could never be pressed to admit it, and Arabella had given up trying.

As if sensing her thoughts, Lorenzo turned to Arabella, a slight smile turned the corners of his mouth and his eyes took on a mischievous glint. “Come now my wonderful sister. You know that I buy and sell things all of the time. There are certainly much worse things than a young and upcoming artist being discovered by someone who can help things along. Don’t you agree?”

Arabella attempted a smile and finished the sentiment with a gentle touch to his arm. “Oh Lorenzo if only it were true and you saw it as nonchalantly as you would like for me to believe. However, your naughty smile doesn’t fool me, it never could. I know that look in your eyes…helping a young artist indeed.” A frown of worry knitted her brows. “You are just like all the Medici in your passion and obsessions. You always have been, ever since you were a little boy. It is so frightening sometimes, Lorenzo, it really is.”

He bent his head in assent. Encouraged, Arabella pressed her point forward. “All I am asking is for you not to allow this new glass technique to become a fixation. Please brother… and for goodness sake do not completely destroy this person’s life to get what you want.”

Lorenzo’s gaze moved back to the vase on the table and lingered over the delicate lines. “As to the former, this is already an obsession, I cannot alter that, only attempt to temper it. As to the latter…it may not be the glass itself that captures me as much as knowing who is behind it. What force of hunger could create such a piece?” He balled his fist. “I simply must know!”

He again touched the glass with gently caressing fingers that contrasted his previous passionate words. Arabella felt him reign in his emotions.

His fingers surrounded the glass vase and he gently squeezed, as if testing what it would take to break the fine piece. “I will discover the identity, then I will possess this individual and unlock the secrets of the this glass. I will get what I want, one way or another. As I always do.”




Chapter 2

Summer swiveled her 1969 VW Van to the curb and parked at the end of Market Street in San Francisco. A few heads pivoted for a better look at the flower-power detailing on her vantage, but carefully-cared-for, vehicle. Strikingly detailed butterflies, rainbows and an array of flowers, in every conceivable hue, covered the cream-colored van.

Under the continued gawks, Summer smiled to herself. Someday, when she got the nerve to tell her parents about her true political views, she was going to have her father paint an American Flag on her beloved vehicle. Of course, he would leave the flowers, butterflies and harmony signs in the foreground. She would ask him to add the American flag in large relief behind the “peace” symbols. In the end, she envisioned the stars and stripes framing the flowers and symbols like a guardian angel.

With all of those cyphers together, the van would be a perfect and a true reflection of her.

Of course, it was not yet time to pose those “radical” and “conservative” notions to her parents. Though her father was a Vietnam Veteran, she had no indication that he was anything other than a super-liberal. Maybe no time was ever going to be a good time to tell them the truth, and perhaps that is why she always put it off. They would, undoubtedly, be shocked and disappointed beyond belief at her defection to the dark side.

Spotting her friend Moondust, Summer jumped from the van and her musings. When Moondust, the purveyor of fine handcrafted jewelry and pottery, caught her eye, Summer waived vigorously. Moondust was currently unloading her own wares from her gently-aged-lovingly cared for-1980s-mustard-hued Toyota Corolla.

Summer smiled and walked over to help Moondust assemble her pieces for transport to her table. “How are things?”

Moondust grinned as she deftly placed boxes containing her carefully wrapped wares onto the cart. “Sales are up this summer…the America’s Cup sure has brought them in….and they sure are big spenders.”

Summer lifted and placed a display case filled with Moondust’s handmade jewelry onto the cart. “I really love your new pottery designs.” Gently picking up one of the clay bowel creations, Summer eyed it critically. “I think I would like to use this for grinding down herbs.”

Moondust beamed lustrously showing perfect pearly-whites against her warm chocolate skin. “Worked on them all week. I will give you a deal on that one.”

“Oh that would be fantastic, thank you!” Summer hugged her new piece.

Moondust chuckled sending her braids into a dance. “I am sooo…glad you could make it this week. That means you can watch my table so I can go to the bathroom sometimes…it is horrible when you are not here!” Her plaits, secured with colorful ties to match her brightly tinted moomoo dress, presented the fresh, crisp free spirit that embodied Moondust.

Putting the last set of beads onto Moodust’s cart, Summer laughed. “Doesn’t Amy cover for you when you need bathroom visits?”

“Ah you know how it is.” Moondust shook her head grinning. “She’s great when she isn’t off smoking weed with Jacko. Then they are high and useless….they’ll be giving away everything before I make it back.”

“They are very free spirits, but I admit I don’t see what they like about the stuff, I can’t even stand the smell.”

“Right about that…but to each his own.”

“Exactly.”

Summer started back to her van to repeat the same process with her own wares. She pulled open the back double doors of her van with an easy tug on the handles and unloaded her cart and her table. She followed Moondust to the area they would set up, pushing the awkward load over uneven pavement to her assigned location. Lifting the table she pulled the legs out and set the table upright. The breeze from the bay gusted just then, pulling her hair into a wild jazz.

Summer’s heart filled with warm joy as a cold burst of air filtered through her clothing.

That was summer in San Francisco for you.

Cold.

Of course she had brought her jacket as she always did. One never came to the city without one.

Rolling her slightly wobbly-wheeled cart back to her van she judiciously loaded it with her safely wrapped glass and display items. She pushed the cart back to her spot next to Moondust and covered her pieces with a sheet.

“Moondust, speaking of bathrooms, I am going to run to the ‘little girls’ room” before set-up so can you watch my stuff?”

Moodust was deftly arranging her jewelry in a glass case. “Course darl’in.”

The Golden Gate Ferry Terminal where the bathrooms were located was as crowded as ever. As usual, there was a line for the women’s bathroom granting Summer a moment to enjoy the view of the water while she stood there.

People poured out of the glass doors and through to the ferry platform. Bobbing headed pigeons dodged the pedestrians who raced to get on or off of the ferry before the ramps were closed off. Behind the ferry, seagulls dove into the water and swam dipping in and out of the small waves looking for people-food and pooling fish. Above it all, the clouds rolled in with swiftness to block the utter and endless blue of the sky one minute, only to give it back again an instant later.

Two women in front of her was a homeless woman muttering to herself and scratching her frazzled, dirty head. Summer would make sure she didn’t follow into the stall that poor woman went into even if it became vacant when it was her turn.

Some things never changed.

Once she finally gained access to an empty toilet booth, Summer was relieved to find that there was at least one square of paper left on the roll in the littered, wet-floored bathroom.

Some things never changed.

Dodging stopped pedestrians in her return hustle, Summer returned to her loaded cart a few minutes later. Moondust waived to her in acknowledgement and resumed talking to a customer that was admiring several samples of her pottery.

From practice at countless weekend fairs, Summer was swift and efficient with her set-up. Repetition had honed her process to a complete proficiency. She believed set-up for a new day was the best part of the weekly vendor fair outside the ferry building. It was the start of endless possibilities. Lately, like Moondust, her own sales had taken off, which made the beginning of each day even more stirring in its possibilities.

Summer carefully unwrapped and placed her newly-produced wine glasses. The set was similar to an ensemble she had made as a wedding gift for her dear friends, Bethy and John-Pierre.

Seeing the glasses reminded her that soon Bethy and John-Pierre would arrive from their winery in Napa for the America’s Cup. Married just over a year ago, Bethy and John-Pierre coveted the glasses and matching wine decanter she made for them and encouraged her with surety to make more to sell. She could not wait to see Bethy and John-Pierre. Even more exciting was that Bethy was going to have a baby! She would have to tell her friends they were right about the glasses.

When she made a new set, they sold within minutes of her setting up her sales table nearly every week despite her small price increases each week.

So, Summer had made one to two sets to sell each week and the collections had continued to fly off of her table. In fact, last week those and all of her newly-made had sold out by end of the weekend. She wasn’t going to be able to keep up product supply with sales very soon. However, that was a good thing.

Besides the additional foot-traffic of the America’s Cup, she was sure this phenomenon was attributed to the new glass technique she had been developing. She had finalized and perfected a method she had been developing over several years. Her new process integrated into the glass so beautifully.

Humming, Summer placed her other pieces of glass onto the table, turning them so that they were bathed in the best light to illustrate their color and texture. She was intimate with each piece because she had crafted each one with care and love.

Of course Summer knew how to place each piece precisely in the light to illuminate the specific, unique and best qualities and characteristics. She often wondered if any of the individuals who bought her pieces ever looked at them in the light, at different angles to illuminate their depth and inner qualities. Did they ever notice the layers underneath the surface?

Did her complex, difficult, time-consuming layers matter to anyone?

A long-fingered, perfectly manicured, masculine hand reached for a goblet among the set of six. His watch, worth a small fortune, flashed its value in the sunlight.

Did he buy that watch because he liked how it looked in the light? Or was it prestige, a name?

“Do you make these?”

The dark velvet voice, framed in a graceful Italian accent, hit Summer with such force, her eyes jumped from the beautiful hand to fall into eyes of stunning liquid gold exquisiteness.

She was lost for several seconds in the gilded fire.

Time stopped. Her world shifted. Her heart fluttered like butterfly wings. “Yes…yes I make them.” Those eyes were the same gold color she diligently tried to achieve each time she fired gold inside of color. She swam and swirled within heart pounding suspense while his beauty glowed like a dark sun.

“Do you design them as well as make them?”

She continued to be lost and pulled deeper within his summer-lightning eyes for several seconds. His complete and pure power of presence assaulted her, leaving her without air.

She grabbed for an anchor and remembered to respond. “Oh, yes, I design them and make them start to finish.”

He nodded slightly and all-knowing as if her confirmation was expected and already known. How odd.

Mislaid in his powerful aura, she was left to wonder if any man had ever been so arresting as to drown the senses with such glorious splendor?

Under his warm olive skin, he possessed a complicated face with farcically high cheekbones and a harsh, yet stunning, bone structure that ended with an angular solid jaw. His lips were just the perfect shape and size to be in a renaissance painting. Thick and slightly wavy, his hair was as dark as night pitched almost blue, like the finest coal.

His features most certainly assembled themselves as a startlingly handsome man of dark appetites.

Not that she had dark appetites. She was a conservative after all.

Besides all of that, and despite his unqualified old world elegance, he still commanded this modern moment in the city filled with contrasting bohemian flower children under the warm late July day at the America’s Cup. He exuded power that conspired with him to make everything around him to belong utterly to him.

Even the seagulls, that flew overhead, appeared to pause to acknowledge his presence.

He smiled, continuing to weave her further into his dark wizard’s spell. Summer stepped back from the supremacy of him. It was raw omnipotence as old as time.

Dancing within her thoughts, eternity moved her soul and shifted the ground under her feet. The candy dish that might have ended as a gift for her parents’ anniversary, dropped from her stunned-frozen fingers bringing her sharply back to reality.

“I can’t believe I did that,” she whispered dropping instinctively to her haunches as much to escape the hypnotism of his eyes as to clean up the broken glass. Her mind raced in pace with her pulse.

She plucked up the shared pieces with shaking fingers. Working with, and frequently breaking glass, had honed her skill of avoiding cuts when gathering broken pieces.

“Do not touch the broken glass!” He commanded with a harsh low voice that moved around them with commanding presence. Then in follow-up, Mr. Tall Dark and Heart-Stopping-Handsome stepped around her table as if he owned the place. He too kneeled down on one leg while taking out a handkerchief with initials embroidered on it.

L.C.M.

Who still carried a monogramed handkerchief in this day and age?

Him. Of course he would. That was most appealing on a conservative level.

A real gentleman...no doubt about that. But was he the right kind of gentleman?

She reached out and touched his hand with a closed knuckle to nudge him away from the remaining shards. “Don’t touch it! I am okay. I am probably better at this than you could dream of being.”

“I doubt that,” he said with some private sarcasm of intense knowledge. He was better than her at picking up glass? No, that could not be it.

Better at what then?

He must be better than her at anything, except picking up glass. No one was better than her in picking up broken glass. Failed attempts to make perfect glass. Trying again, and again.

Yet, he had come to her hadn’t he?

Admiring her art.

Her talent with glass.

Was it possible that someone else was as obsessed with the glass as she was?

Her heart was nearly busting out her ribs.

Summer pulled her eyes away from him and his old fashioned kerchief that stood in startling relief against his urban athletic clothing. She began plucking up the shards with swift accuracy while gathering her thoughts in similar fashion.

He cursed in Italian and grasped her wrists. When she didn’t let go of the broken pieces, he pressed her hands open with a strong but controlled squeeze. She released the glass, letting it fall back to the ground like rain in the cloud-mottled sunlight.

“Look, now I have to start all over.” Summer whispered into the riot of her emotions.

It was then that she saw a flash under his opened sport jacket. She knew a gun holster when she saw it. She leaned forward for a better look.

Berretta automatic pistol.

Was he a cop? An Italian drug dealer? A member of the mafia? Yikes!

“Why are you carrying a gun?”

He paused, motionless for an instant. His gave her a warm smile, meant to sooth. “Do not be alarmed. I am a very rich man and a bit of a celebrity in my own world. It is merely for personal protection.”

“Oh, okay….no problem, my dad has one too, from his days in Vietnam, well…not that one but others. I know how to shoot it…them…I mean…the guns.”

He grinned. “Everyone should know how to shoot guns.”

Summer grinned back. “Yes.”

Who ever said anything like that in this city?

He turned her hands over eyeing them critically and scowling before blowing away the tiny shards in masculine annoyed puffs, then fired his golden gaze back up to her. “Why would you take such a risk with your hands?”

Captured firmly in his intense scrutiny, Summer laughed nervously. “I break a lot of things….I always have….after all….I work with glass…it is all in how you pick it up again.”

His eyes pushed deeper, brushing her with gentle strokes of intense heat. “Perhaps that is also the key to life isn’t it? How to learn to pick up the shards. That has always been the mark of fine women through the ages, how they pick up pieces of life…and perhaps broken glass.”

His notion hit her beautifully and left a tremendous emotional fear of him in its wake.

Get away from him fast. Run Summer. Run Forrest-Summer…Run!

She tugged her hands, but he kept her wrists captured, gentle but strong. “Please, let me go.”

“You should not do this. You will ruin your hands someday.” His voice dropped to melting chocolate as he examined her digits. “And what utterly beautiful hands they are…with such ability within them.”

Someday….maybe he was right.

She tugged again. “Please sir, I am fine…really I have done this so many times. I won’t ruin my hands. They are tough. They are made for work.”

He stood and pulled her up with him. “You, nor your hands, were made for work…you are made for art. And not just any art. It is an art as old as Venice itself and few have the natural skill. You possess an amazing gift.”

His declaration, delivered with an aristocratic Italian air, sent a nervous giggle from her anxious chest. “What a beautiful thing to say.”

He was so flattering and as sexy as all get out. Oh sure, he might be garbed in sportswear, complete with trendy athletic shoes… while hiding a holstered pistol under his jacket…no less. Well, she wasn’t scared of stuff like that…..but he was all shimmering arrogant gentleman. Sensuality just seeped through his pores.

He leaned closer to her as if drawn by her laugh and explanations. “Don’t you keep a sweeper for such incidents?”

“Yes…of course I do, it is in my van.”

“Then let us go retrieve it instead of taking such risk with these lovely hands. Belle mani.

Summer laughed again at his seemingly relentless gentleman’s need to protect her hands. “Really not necessary.”

“Yes it is. I demand this.” The sudden break on his features of an intense scowl was unnerving and more than a little scary

She pulled her wrists with force. He released her rather than hurting her. “You demand? That is going way too far really Mr…Mr...Sir….Mr….whatever.”

He smiled, turning the world to sunlight under the shade of the palms. “Lorenzo De’ Medici,” he supplied his name with elegant arrogance and a softening of his expression, as if this had turned into an introduction. “But usually we just say “Medici.”

His name rumbled through her heart and she was certain moved the very glass on her table. “De’ Medici? Lorenzo?” Hands and glass shards forgotten, she gasped then covered her shock with a chuckle that came out of nervous lips.

She knew while the notion of that really being his name was quite absurd, he certainly personified the legionary name with shocking pinpoint accuracy. “You expect me to believe that? Is this a joke?”

One dark eyebrow arched up. “Ah, so you recognize the name?”

She shrugged. “Who doesn’t?”

He laughed softly his head tilting in authoritative acknowledgement. “Of course.”

“Of course.” She echoed shaking her head with surreal bewilderment. “Really. That isn’t possible. You are making it up aren’t you….to impress me? The D’ Vinci Code and all that stuff.”

“Not only is it possible, but I assure you, it is quite true. However, the D’ Vinci Code business is made up mainly of fairy tales.”

The world was full of magic. It always had been for her. This was one of those moments that just didn’t seem like some universal coincidence…it was truly enchanted.

“Really, that is who you are? Well, you must be a busy man and I am keeping you.”

“Not at all. I came to find you. I like your work very much.”

Summer could not stop the acceleration of her heart and the proud grin that broke over her lips to meet the blush that spread from her ears to her neck. “You own a glass factory…I’ve seen the glass from there….Venice…Murano …. I mean …but what I have seen is not specifically from your glass factory, I mean I don’t know, it might have been.” She stammered through the facts, sorting them with dawning amazement. “I can’t believe you are actually standing here.”

His golden eyes narrowed intensely. “Have you ever been there?” His voice dropped lower. “Have you met any of the glass masters of Venice?”

His fire surfaced higher with his question, dark and frightening.

She’d always wanted to go to Venice, to Murano, to see the masters of the glass.

For years she had gone to studios, events and consulted books in her hungry pursuit to absorb all there was to know about their work. She had spent endless hours comparing patterns and techniques. “I have met them through their glass.”


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