"Fairy tales don’t exist. There are no knights in shining armor and for all I know there is no such thing as real, honest-to-God, Earth-shattering romance. There is only comfort and ease when it comes to real love. I should consider myself lucky to have found someone who I’m comfortable with. There are no waves, there are no bumps in the road… so why do I feel like I want to crawl out of my skin?"
Life for Gabriella had always been straightforward, albeit a bit boring, but a passionate, almost magical, encounter with an enigmatic stranger catapults her into evolving into stronger version of herself. Her evolution does not come without consequence, though. Gabriella learns the hard way that turning on the lights can reveal just as much ugly as it can beauty. She discovers that the comfortable relationship she’d been idling in for too long is, in fact, far more dangerous than she ever imagined and finds herself desperate for the inexplicable comfort she finds in the arms of a stranger.
The scene was stunning.
All of the pillars to the adjacent open air bistro were covered in white lights and so were each of the many flowered trellis’ that surrounded the pool. Everything seemed to glow in the evening light, making this heavenly place look even more magical.
Fabulous, upbeat music filled the air, thanks to a large band at the other side of the terrace.
People were littered everywhere. All the men wore classic tuxedos with bow ties and cummerbunds, and the ladies were in gorgeous gowns of deep reds and oranges and other vibrant colors of the Mediterranean.
More impressive than their clothes were their ornate masks, each was totally unique. Some masks were feathered, others were bejeweled with bright colored stones, and some even had long dramatic bird-like noses.
The entire atmosphere of the masquerade was pulsing. That same intoxication of salt air and sweet red wine from the night before seemed to be swirling all around.
I decided to go the bar and treat myself to a Bellini when a man stinking of some nasty hard liquor and sporting a brown, long-nosed mask abruptly took my hand. “Hello, my dear. Can I have this dance?” he asked as he pulled me into him and took my hip with his other hand.
Because of his wild mask, I could see almost none of his face, but the opening for the eyes told me everything about him that I needed to know.
His eyes were cold and gray and sharp and he scared me. It was men like these that made me understand my parents’ tendency toward being a little over protective, even at my age.
“I… uh…” The words in my head weren’t coming out so I tried pulling away instead, but his grip on my hand and hip only tightened.
“Don’t be scared,” he almost growled. “I don’t bite.”
Just then, another hand wrapped around my waist, pulling me away from the unwanted admirer and into firm, warm arms. As I turned to see who had come to my rescue, I lost my breath.
Looming almost a foot over my small five-four stature was the most handsome man I’d ever seen. His eyes were the deepest blue and they bored into the center of my dark chocolate eyes. I was instantly dizzy and my sudden lack of balance gave that fact away easily, but he held me steady.
“There you are, love. I thought I’d lost you,” he smiled down at me. Turning toward my unwanted admirer, his smile instantly disappeared and his face turned rigid and his blue eyes pierced into the gray, “I’ll take it from here.”
The other man glared as he stalked away toward the bar.
My head was still dizzy, and he instinctively held me closer to his body, one hand on my waist and the other firmly taking my hand as he gently swayed my body to the tempo of the music. The act felt so intimate when he pressed his hips close to my body and we both swung our bodies in time to the rhythm of the band. Normally when I danced, I felt as graceful as a marionette, but this stranger led the way effortlessly and I felt more coordinated on the dance floor than I ever had before.
I still couldn’t manage any coherent words, “Uh... Uh…” I had no idea who he was, but I was eternally grateful for his perfectly timed rescue.
“Don’t thank me, the pleasure is all mine,” his stare was so burning, it felt like my eyes were about to start watering, like I was staring at a bright light. I had to look away.
Out of my periphery, I was able to make out more of this unfamiliar man who was holding me so familiarly.
He was olive skinned, like myself, and his hair was a dark caramel color, wavy and a little longer on the top and then tapered smoothly to the nape of his neck. He wore a thin, simple black eye mask made of satin so the only part of his eyes I could see were the incredible deep blue of his iris. The tie of his tuxedo was undone and hung lazily around his neck, unlike the other men who were done up so neatly.
His tall frame was broad and from his close hold on my body, I could feel that it was nicely muscular, too.
I had never actually seen someone like this in person, let alone so up close and personal. If I hadn’t heard his smooth, deep American voice, I would’ve pegged him instantly for an Italian male model.
“This is turning out to be a better evening than I hoped,” he murmured as he continued to try and meet my gaze.
I took a deep breath to try and steel myself so that I could actually look back at this Adonis. It worked well enough, “Thank you,” I said as I did my best to stare right back into his eyes. I suddenly felt like I was in way over my head at this masquerade and was looking to make a quick exit as soon as possible.
“You’re not leaving are you?” he asked. “My night was just starting to improve.”
Boy, he was smooth. Too smooth.
“I’m sorry, I am. Thank you again for relieving me from that guy, I do appreciate it, but I should probably go.”
I found it hard to pull myself away from him, and his gentle, but firm grip on me told me he was feeling the same.
“Just humor me for a few more minutes at least,” he leaned down and whispered into my ear. “You are hands-down, the most gorgeous woman here tonight. Or probably anywhere, for that matter. When you leave, at least I’ll be able to say I got a whole dance with you.”
I was stunned at his words. Surely he was just trying to exercise his charms on me.
Abruptly he straightened his posture and continued his deep stare into me, “You’re not here with anyone are you?”
“Uh… no… but…” Why was it so hard to get out the simplest of words?
“Good. I didn’t think so,” he cut my babbling off. His posture relaxed again and he continued to sweep me around the terrace.
Every time I tried to bring myself to pull away, something stopped me from doing so. By the time another song had started, I had stopped trying. I had no idea who this man was, and I was much too curious not to find out.
He continued to answer my unspoken questions, “I’m Jonathan di Luca. And you are?”
“Ella,” I quickly replied. Why had I not said Gabriella? No one besides my close family called me by my nickname. His name sounded familiar, but I couldn’t think from where…
He smiled a huge smile with his full lips pulling back over his perfect teeth. “Ella,” he repeated in a satisfied way. “Well, Ella, what brings you to Italy? Business or pleasure?”
I was starting to relax and regain some of my composure. “Both, I suppose,” I replied, thinking of my father’s business dealings and my own personal mini vacation from life. “And you?”
“It started out as business, but seeing you here tonight, looking like you do… I’m hoping it turns into pleasure.”
I couldn’t believe how forward he was being. Maybe I was just imagining the double meaning in his answer. But at the same time, his words did something to me, made me feel something I hadn’t ever felt before. I wanted to be offended, but I was too busy working on sounding coherent.
I actually found myself imagining what it would be like to experience that kind of pleasure with a man like this… hot, uncontrollable pleasure. My breathing became heavy and staggered and I felt that dizziness from before returning.
Just as my conscience was trying to right itself, Jonathan bore his eyes into mine, locking them in place, and in one swift movement, his lips were on mine.
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About the Author
R. Matthews is a new, independent author from Connecticut. She lives and loves in the hometown where she was born and raised with her husband and dog. With a varied background of occupations and hobbies, R. Matthews has recently discovered a love of writing. She has always loved the creative aspects of life and is happy to enjoy the outlet of emotions and creativity that fictional writing provides. R. Matthews' debut work, Her Soundtrack, has received excellent praise as she treats fans to a compelling story full of twists and turns told in a smooth writing voice. When not writing, you can find R. Matthews enjoying a good glass of wine, cooking, spending time with her boisterous Italian family, or all three!