House of Sin, Book Five
The cold was the first thing I registered. Icy fingers sliding over my skin. Pulling me forward. Drawing me into a darkness that would consume my soul for all eternity if I let it.
I jerked upright. Gasping, I struggling to breathe, struggled to see. But all around me, there was darkness. Darkness and that sinking feeling I was lost for good.
A cold sweat broke out across my skin when I realized I wasn’t alone. A shadowy figure stood still as stone beside me. Staring down at me like a silent wraith.
My pulse roared in my ears. I quickly scanned the small dark room as much as I could without turning my head, searching for a way to escape. But I couldn’t see anyone else. The room was so dark, I couldn’t even see the door.
My hands shook. My body trembled. I didn’t know where I was. Didn’t remember anything but being alone in the main house on Marco and Felicity’s estate in Tuscany. Luc had left me earlier in the day to meet with his father to discuss the status of our marriage with the leaders of his House. Felicity had gone at dusk to take Dante, Luc’s youngest brother, to safety. And late in the evening, Marco had finally left the estate in an effort to help Luc.
Pain throbbed inside my skull. I racked my mind, trying to remember. Why had Marco needed to help Luc?
It hit me like a swift punch to the gut.
Their House… The leaders of House Salvatici, one of the five remaining Houses in an ancient Entente I’d recently learned ruled the world from the shadows, had called a gathering. The leaders had sanctioned our marriage, but they weren’t happy Luc, the heir to the Italian Salvatici Dynasty, had broken one of their sacred rules by marrying me, a commoner and an American to boot, without permission. Marco had left me alone at the estate to see what he could do for Luc. Because he’d feared the leaders were planning to somehow…
He’d feared the leaders were going to punish Luc.
I swallowed hard as the memories rushed back. I’d gone upstairs to wait for Luc to return to me. The balcony doors had been open. I’d crossed the dark room to close them. Turned. And…
My pulse raced as the memory flashed behind my eyes.
Four hooded figures in black, wearing stark white bauta masks, had stepped out of the shadows of my room. Had moved toward me.
Slowly, I looked up at the shadowed figure still standing quietly beside my bed, wondering if this was one of them.
The one who’d thrown a black sack over my head? The one who’d injected some drug into my arm that had made me pass out? The one who’d abducted me and brought me here?
My throat closed all over again. I didn’t know where here was. I didn’t know what they planned to do with me. And Luc…
Terror wrapped icy arms around my chest and squeezed like a boa constrictor when I thought of my Luc and what they could have already done to him.
Very carefully, I placed my hands at my sides and scooted back. Springs squeaked beneath me, and I realized I was on some kind of mattress. But I didn’t take my eyes off the figure standing still and silent at my side. And I didn’t open my mouth, too afraid of what would happen if I made a sound.
“There, there, now, dear,” the figure finally said in a clipped Italian accent. “You’re perfectly safe. There’s nothing to be frightened of.”
I froze because the voice was female, not male as I’d expected, and it was familiar in a way it shouldn’t be, especially in this place.
I squinted but still couldn’t make out anything more than a dark shape. But I knew that voice. I’d heard it in Tuscany, the first time Luc had brought me to Italy almost two months ago. “M-Mrs. Salvatici?”
“Yes, dear. It’s me.”
Fabric rustled, then the springs in the mattress squeaked as she sat on the side of the bed.
I squinted harder, only to realize… I was right. This close, I could make out the whites of Luc’s mother’s eyes and the shape of her beside me. I also picked up the familiar scent of roses I remembered from my short visit to the Salvatici estate all those weeks ago.
“As soon as I heard what had happened,” Francesca Salvatici said, “I rushed right over.”
Her hand covered mine on the mattress, but it wasn’t warm as I expected. It was cold. Cold and clammy. As cold as the fingers of death that had tried to draw me into the darkness before.
“Now, there’s nothing to be frightened of, but you really do need to learn to be more docile. We’ve wasted precious time because you were so combative.”
I was having trouble following her, but I wasn’t sure if that was because I was still fuzzy from whatever drugs the men in black robes had given me, or if I was dreaming this entire conversation.
“Wh-what’s going on?” My voice shook even though I tried like hell to keep it steady. “Where’s Luc?”
“Do not worry your simple little head about Luciano. He is anxiously awaiting your arrival.” She squeezed my hand in a way that was anything but reassuring. “That’s why I’m here. To take you to him, of course.”