I stayed in my room after that. I had known last night that today was not a work day. I spent most of the afternoon trying not to bite my nails. The idea that a dress was conveniently picked out for me made me feel like I was in one of those grocery store novels about the billionaire’s mistress. I looked around as I took it out and laid it across my bed. Shit, I guess I was in one of those novels. I ran my hands across my face. I was restless, irritated, and, even though I wouldn’t admit it to August, I was scared. I have never in my life been in this type of situation and was just plain scared. This was not a scared to get on a rollercoaster type thing. Oh no! This was full fear. Perhaps the fear stemmed from having to be prim and proper and try to act natural in a dress that was as sheer as gossamer wings.
I took a long leisurely shower, and got dressed in that barely there black dress. I wondered how had he known it would fit? Then I scolded myself for not remembering that August had a complete file on me and knew how I liked my coffee, it wouldn’t be difficult to figure out what size I wore. At this point in the game, did it matter? I took the time to spiral curl my shoulder length ebony tresses and let them freely fall about my face. Make-up applied, stilettos on, I gave myself another brief glance over my shoulder, blew a kiss from my burgundy stained lips and sashayed out of my room. I made it to the foyer without slipping, skidding or falling in those damn shoes. I didn’t do thin heels, and for sure I didn’t do thin heels on highly polished marble floors. August was already standing there with his back towards me, which gave me time to study his profile. He was dress in a black suit, Armani no doubt; I didn’t think the man owned anything else. His shoulders filled out the jacket just enough to make it a snug fit. I could smell his spicy but sweet scent. It was Kenneth Cole Black, I knew; I had spent enough time with my nose in magazines to have sniffed a few cologne samples. I cleared my throat so I could get a look at the front of him. He turned and his eyes opened wide, and then a hint of a smile came to his gorgeous lips. He looked like a lion about to attack a gazelle. I tried to meet his gaze and succeeding at staring at the top of his tussled hair. He looked like he never heard of a brush or hair product. I put my hand on my hip and struck a sassy pose. I was trying to calm down enough to make it out the door. Yet, the dress he picked out for me made me feel like this charade was a fragile as a soap bubble and could pop at any moment.
“You are right on time.” August said as he walked towards me with a black box. I could not help to think about Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the jewels type. I had a frown on my face but when he opened the box, they weren’t jewels. Although one was a diamond looking broach and the other item looked a hearing aid. I looked up him with a quirked eyebrow. What the hell was this? He smirked and seemed to read my mind.
“You have a right to look puzzled. This is my latest project. The software thing from the interview, that was not what is really the top priority. I am pinning you with a broach that is also a microphone and a mini recorder. The other item goes in my ear. I will hear everything even if I am not next to you.” August said, matter-of-factly. Now here was the business like man I was accustomed to. When he wasn’t flirting or kissing my forehead or putting my hand where the sun doesn’t shine, he was sane.
“Ok, so this is just embassy people? No technology people right?” My eyes were huge. I don’t know why I didn’t think that I could run into my peers if there were any ‘techies’ running around.
“No, just those with Italian ties in positions of wealth. Why?” He looked very concerned.
“Um hello, I am not some hermit, I have friends, colleagues, peers. If they saw me with you, my career, not to mention this sham is going to blow up in our faces.” I said as I tapped my foot. I didn’t realize that he had started to hold my waist somewhere in my tirade. How did his hands get there?
“Stop pulling away from me. No one is going to believe we are dating if you keep trying to get away from me. Now, have you interviewed Lucy Reeves before?” His eyes darkened and I remembered seeing the same look on a pit-bull once. It was right before the dog ripped the head off my baby doll. I tensed and shook my head no. I know attack mode when I see it, and August was definitely on the defensive.
“Um, if you don’t mind me asking, what does me interviewing her have to do with tonight? As far as I know, she is more of a socialite and not really an engineer. She has the title but doesn’t really do anything preen and pose.” His head snapped down and he glared at me. Shit, I put my foot in my mouth again. That was his fiancé, even if it was an ex-fiancé and I just called her a socialite airhead, loosely speaking.
Then he really confused me. He laughed. This man was a quack, a cute quack, but still a quack.
“You are right, she was quite a piece of work, but she will be there. That is the only one from our community you would have to worry about being there.” He offered his arm and I tucked my hand into his waiting elbow.
As we walked to the waiting limo, I noticed that August had lost some of his arrogant stride. He actually seemed a little unsure of himself. I patted his hand as if I was comforting a friend, and met his startled gaze. He was jumpy but I didn’t blame him. If it were me, relying on anyone wouldn’t have been an option, but he was relying on me.
“It is ok, I am going to get through this and not embarrass you.” I said, offering him a gentle smile. It was trying to soothe a beast, I know, but I had to try.
“Just be on your guard. Please, I need you tonight.” He replied huskily. I suppressed a moan at the double meaning of his words and stared out of the tinted limo windows. I wasn’t dead, hell any woman would be thinking with the wrong part of their anatomy if Augustino Romani had just told them that he ‘needed’ them. My hand still clasped his, and his warmth was seeping into my bones and making my mind go blank. The scenery whizzed by, but I suddenly realized that we were pulling into the graveled driveway of the Italian embassy. My nervousness turned on full power as he took my hand to guide me out of the limo. August had his hand pressed into the small of my back and my elbow was tucked firmly next to his stomach.
August plastered a fake smile on his face and we shook hands with people whose names I could not begin to pronounce, let alone remember. There was a Viscount and a Countessa in there somewhere, and maybe another far removed royalty, yet I couldn’t keep them all separated. I was too nervous which pissed me off. I am here, supposedly trying to help someone in need. Some help I was, standing, tongue tied with my stomach in knots. It didn’t matter that these people owned yachts; I was here to observe and report. As August was chatting with some foreign dignitary, I swiped two glasses of champagne. I handed one to August and took a good sip of mine. I needed to focus on something. As I scrutinized the crowd, I noticed a raven haired, fair skinned female stalking through the sea of party goers, a false but deadly looking smile on her face. Her face was as white as a porcelain doll, her lips were blood red and she looked evil; evil like Morticia from the Addams Family. She was touching all the men and giving the women a raised eyebrow, as if all women were beneath her. Well wasn’t she just an ice queen? Then her gray gaze settled on August. I swore I saw her lick her lips. I gave August a subtle nudge in his side but I kept staring at wickedness personified walking towards us. This one was trouble. She was dressed in a red gown that just stood out against her pale skin. Why in the world was she wearing red when everyone else was wearing black and white? August cleared his throat and I gave him another nudge. As his head tilted down towards mine, I merely gave a nod to the devil in the red dress. I didn’t know that humans could let out a growl, but August growled, deep in his belly, but only I could hear it.
I looked up at him and did my best to smile. He pulled me close and whispered one word that chilled me to the core.
August was still growling like some animal trapped in a cage. Whatever Lucy did to him, it scarred him.
Somehow she managed to maneuver through the thrush of people and landed in front of us. She was smiling a crooked smile. August’s eyes had turned a stormy blue. I knew from the feral gleam in his eyes that shit was going to hit the fan.
The lady named Lucy walked like she had diamonds in her hips the way she swayed through the crowd. My first instinct was not to trust her. I couldn’t fathom how August and this vamp were ever an item. Yet, she was cold and calculating. She didn’t walk right up to August like the typical woman scorned. Oh no, she tapped the man August was speaking with on the shoulder.
“Signore Grimaldi,” her voice was low and catlike, “I didn’t expect to see you here.” Her cold gaze fell on August as she was talking. The short man gave her a wide smile, as he openly ogled her form. Ewww. The man was balding and had thick gray nose hairs that whistled tunes as he was talking. She would have to do better if she was going to make August jealous; Signore Grimaldi was the exact opposite of everything that August was.
“Lucy Reeves, such a pleasure seeing you here. Although it is unexpected.” He took her hand and raised it to his lips, perhaps lingering more than she wanted, I saw her lips curl in revulsion. Yet, apparently, she wanted to still play the game. I quickly glanced at August and his eyes held the look of extreme boredom. Lucy put her hand over the aging Signore Grimaldi’s hand and rubbed it seductively.
“Oh,” her voice pitched high just a little, as if she wasn’t supposed to be in attendance. “I had a previous invitation and I couldn’t let it go to waste.” That made me think, August seemed to know that she was going to be there. I wondered if he was her ‘previous invitation?’ Of course she would have wanted to come and rub some salt in August’s wounds. I didn’t think that fawning over this balding cherub of a man was going to hurt him. I began to scan the crowd, looking for what I would assume that vixen brought as a date.
Lucy extended her hand to me and smiled her fake smile. This woman could give Susan Lucci a run for her money with the soap opera theatrics she was pulling.
“I don’t believe we have had the pleasure. I am Lucy Reeves.” I took her hand and gave it a good squeeze, my eyes briefly meeting hers before going back to scanning the crowd.
“Yvonne Mason. Pleasure to meet you Ms. Reeves.”
“Pleasure is mine. I don’t think I would have seen anyone like you here.” Anyone like me? What the fuck was that supposed to mean? Oh, she was a condescending little witch.
“Mmmm, you shouldn’t think so much then. As they say, all roads lead to Rome. I am here with August.” I said through gritted teeth. Her eyes cut to August and a seductive smile graced her face.
“Hello Lucy,” August voice was just as cold as that bitch was.
“August, darling, it has been some time.” She held her hand up, perhaps expecting her to kiss it. This bitch was pissing me off good. August left it there. Good for him. I continue to scan the crowd and I caught a glimpse of two men that almost made me stumble. They walked like August, they looked like August and if I wasn’t holding on to August, I would have thought they were his clones. They were weaving through the crowd. The shorter ‘August’ looked upset and the taller, wider ‘August’ looked straight-up angry.
“Si, Lucy. It has been not long enough, I’m afraid.” At the sound of August’s voice, the razor edge to it, I turned my attention back to the conversation.
“Aren’t you going to introduce me to your date?” She said that last word with a sneer.
“Why? She just told you her name.” August’s accent was getting thicker by the moment. I knew from that he was about to strike. I had to do something.
“August, baby,” I said, capturing his chin in my hand and tugging his head to meet my gaze. The motion caused August’s body to turn and I felt him turn stiff. I knew had had seen the ‘replicas’ of himself moving through the crowd; I could just sense it. I figured the bigger one would have been Adriano, August’s brother, but who was the shorter more wired one? I heard huffing behind me and Lucy gave out a small squeak. August pulled me close and I felt his body tense, as if he was bracing for a fight. I turned in his arms to see what the commotion was all about.
“Adriano, Raphael.” August said his voice monotone. Adriano I knew was his brother, but who is Raphael?
“August.” Said the bigger one, that must be Adriano. His voice sounded similar to the voice I heard on the phone in August’s office. The shorter one, Raphael, looked as he belonged in the Romani family, but then he put his arm around Lucy and gave her a huge peck on the cheek. I could hear August grinding his molars. He couldn’t have been family, not kissing on August’s ex-fiance.
“You must be Yvonne,” Adriano said, extending his hand and giving me an assessing look. I shook his hand, still eyeing the odd couple, trying to figure out why the leech they call Raphael was touching and simpering all over Lucy. It was like watching an octopus get busy.
“Pleasure to meet you finally Adriano. I knew you would be here.” I smiled warmly. Adriano didn’t seem as nearly as dangerous as his brother, even though he was a good inch or two taller than August.
“Yes, unfortunately,” Adriano said, sparing a backward glance and Raphael and Lucy “I did not expect to find our cousin here. This isn’t the family reunion I had hoped for.”
I felt August’s arm tightened around my waist. Oh shit, the leech was his cousin. His cousin was groping his ex-fiancé?
“Yes,” I said clearing my throat, I was speechless. I turned to August who had remained silent. Silence wasn’t good. I felt August move and I knew that I was already too late. Before Adriano or I knew what was happening, August walked up to his cousin and punched him in his eye. As I blinked, Raphael crumpled to the floor, out cold.