Love and Crime in Rome

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 8 (v.1)

Submitted: September 10, 2014

Reads: 150

Comments: 1

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Submitted: September 10, 2014

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Evangeline’s heels and Niki’s black dress shoes made no sound on the thick hall carpet of the upper hallway, but on the marble stairs down to the foyer the loud clicking of her shoes seemed to beat in time to her frantic heart. Loud music and party laughter came out of the large reception room to their left.

Niki’s hand squeezed hers as they entered the large room; crowded with couches in bright colours, tables filled with half finished drinks and bowls of savoury and sweet snacks, a roaring fire in the huge fireplace, despite the warm weather, and everywhere art of all styles decorated every wall.  The loud room was also filled with twenty or more people having a wonderful time. Men wearing expensive suits crowded close to Niki to wish him a boisterous happy birthday, and to be introduced to his new girlfriend, while women in evening dress leaned close to kiss her cheek and welcome her.

After a few minutes, Evangeline’s face ached from smiling and she sank gratefully into a wide backed leather chair on the other side of the room near the French windows.  Smiling brightly, Niki left to get her a drink while two women drew up chairs to sit close to her.

“Aren’t you just the cutest thing!” a very artificially blonde woman named Marie, wearing an electric blue dress, shouted to her above the jazz music from the stereo. “Niki hasn’t had a girlfriend in forever!” she waved a long, red fingernail at Evangeline. “We thought he’d given up on women.”

“Well, I know I tried hard enough to get into that!” the dark haired woman named Jessica nodded lasciviously at Niki’s powerful figure across the room, shaking her body suggestively in her low-cut purple dress. “But he never even looked at me.” She pouted humorously.

Evangeline didn’t know what to say. “Well, ah” she hesitated.

“Don’t worry, honey. We’re not jealous. I’d glad he’s happy with you. I’ve known him a long time, and I’ve never heard him talk about a women like he does about you.” Marie assured her, taking a swallow of her martini.

“What has he said about me?” She was too curious not to ask, but was angry at herself for caring.

The blond Marie replied around a mouthful of salted cashews from the crystal bowl on a nearby glass topped table. “Well, he says you’re smart, beautiful, and talented. He really wants you to move to Moscow with him. He says he won’t go, otherwise.” She laughed, “ but I think Bruno might make him anyways.”

“Can Bruno make him leave Rome? I don’t think I want to live anywhere else?” Evangeline tried out their story tentatively.

“Well, it’s not really Bruno. It’s more like the big boss, you know.” Jessica nodded her curly brown head significantly. “Niki can’t say no to a command like that, so you’ll just have to move to our home town!” the other woman Jessica nodded enthusiastically in agreement. 

“That would be great! We could go shopping together!” Jessica squealed and squeezed Evangeline’s arm in solidarity. “We girlfriends have to stick together.”

Evangeline smiled in agreement, and the conversation moved to shopping options in Rome. Both Jessica and Marie were eager to spend as much money as they could before they left town.

--

Finally, Evangeline spotted Niki across the room in deep conversation with the unpleasant Bruno. Niki didn’t look like he was enjoying the conversation much. His wide mouth was set in a firm line, and his arms were crossed over his chest, and he was scowling at an oil painting of cherubs across the room as Bruno talked heatedly into his ear.

She walked over to them as quickly as she could in her high heels and tapped him on the shoulder. Distracted, he looked down at her as she smiled up at him as flirtatiously as she could.

“Did you get my drink? I thought maybe you’d forgotten about me already.” Evangeline pouted her lips in mock disappointment, and then turned to Bruno. “I hope you won’t mind if I steal this gorgeous man away from you for a moment,” she said as she put her hand on Niki’s arm and led him to another corner.

“I’ll have him back in a moment,” she tossed over her shoulder, as Bruno smiled reluctantly and turned away to talk to some of the other men at the fireplace.

She backed Niki into a quiet corner of the room and gazed up at him with a loving expression while stroking the black lapels of his suit jacket suggestively.

Without changing expression, she asked “What the heck is going on? Were you in trouble back there?” Niki smiled warmly down at her.

“Pretty much. I was just about to kick his fucking teeth in before you came over.” Niki ran a hand intimately down her back and leaned to whisper seductively into her ear. “It’s a good thing you stopped me or the carpet would be bloody right now.”

Caught off guard, Evangeline laughed, and then shivered as his answering laugh tickled her ear.

“When does the birthday cake come out? How can we get these people out of here? She asked, nuzzling her face his chest to hide her concerned expression.

Niki pulled her closer to him. “Soon. Just follow my lead.”

Niki took her hand and led her to the stereo. He turned off the music at the main switch and called to the party crowd.

“Thank you, everyone! This has been an amazing birthday. I’m so glad that you all could be here for this special night.” He looked down at Evangeline with an expression on his face that she didn’t understand.

“This night is an extra special birthday for me, as tonight this beautiful lady,” he hesitated and then put an arm around Evangeline’s shoulders, “This wonderful lady has agreed to be my wife.”

--

After Niki’s announcement, the party erupted into even more activity. Evangeline stood in shock as she accepted the party goers’ best wishes and congratulations.  The rest of the evening was a blur until she found herself outside in the warm evening at the top of the stone steps, standing beside Niki, bidding good night to the guests. Finally the last car circled down the driveway and through the iron gate, leaving them alone.

--

“What the heck was all that about!” she shouted, as Niki took her arm and walked her quickly through the front hall and into the gardens in the back of the house and then let go of her.  In the soft evening dark, he sank into a cushioned lounge chair next to the glowing blue pool, leaned back, and closed his eyes.

Seeing him there, apparently ignoring her, made her incensed with rage. She walked up to him and grabbed the front of his shirt and shook him, somewhat ineffectively, given his much greater weight. Niki made no attempt to prevent her.

“I want to go home! I’ve spent more than enough time humouring you! I bet my friends are all out looking for me right now. Get your car keys, we’re leaving! She burst into tears and sat down onto the stone tiles that ringed the pool, burying her face in her hands.

Strong hands lifted her up and she felt herself settled onto Niki’s lap as he pulled her head to his chest. His strong heart beat under her ear was comforting and she gave herself up to the exhaustion of the day.

“I just wish I knew why you were doing this to me?” she sobbed. “I’ve only ever been nice to you. I trusted you.” Her throat ached because of the lump inside.

Niki kissed her head. “Please, I wish I could have avoided all of this. But I’m desperate. I didn’t have any choice.”

She raised her head, narrowing her wet eyes at him. “How do I have a role in any of this? I hardly know you. I don’t understand.”

Niki took a deep breath and settled her more comfortably on his lap, stroking her hair slowly.  Finally, he sat back and faced her squarely as she wiped her eyes and nose with his white pocket handkerchief taken from his suit pocket. He began.

“I didn’t come to Rome looking for somebody to add to my life. I came here looking for a way out of mine. There’s a lot about me you don’t know.” She snorted and he smiled ruefully in response.

“Ok, most things about me you don’t know, I guess. Here’s the back story: I was raised by my Dad’s brother, a real cold-hearted bastard in the grand communist tradition. By the time I was a teenager, he had me working for the local gang, just theft, to start, and then worse stuff. I did a few stays in juvenile detention, and then prison.” He spread his beautifully shaped hands out to her in the moonlight, and then gestured to the rest of his body in his elegantly cut suit. “All my tattoos are from prison. It wasn’t my goal in life to be covered in fucking tattoos, but it’s part of the system, unavoidable. I didn’t have a choice. And after I got out for the third time, my uncle had a new job for me.”

He hesitated, watching the light reflecting off the pool in front of them. “I went to the UK and got my citizenship and joined the SAS. Over fifty percent of each class flunks out but I did really well. I was trained as a sniper and did a few years in combat for the British in Afghanistan, and then asked for my discharge. When I went back to Russia, I went with a whole new bag of tricks that my uncle had plenty of uses for.” Niki frowned and avoided looking at her as she sat frozen in place beside him.

“I came to Rome to do a job for him, but it got delayed, so I was wasting time in the city, trying to think of a permanent escape plan, when I met you.” He looked down at her white face and shadowed eyes for an instant and then away again.

“And then I couldn’t stop coming around to see you. I should have known that the bastard would send someone to bring me back. He’s getting suspicious. He knows I want out. And now he’s threatening you to get to me. If I don’t go back…” He didn’t finish, and her stomach turned over.

She asked him “Are my friends in danger? What should I do?” Her voice started to edge into hysteria.

Niki took her hands and stroked the palms from wrist to fingertip with his thumbs. “No, don’t worry about them. I called them earlier this afternoon and told them you’ll call them tomorrow. You’re safe right now. He wouldn’t harm anyone who was going to be family.” He attempted a smile at her, but it soon faded back into worry.

“That was the reason for this whole shit storm tonight. When I saw Bruno had brought you here, that was a warning. I had to do something fast. It’s against the code to threaten someone in the family, so I had to give you that protection. Even though it was a shitty thing to do. I’m sorry.” He looked down at her small hands where they rested in his.

The silence spun out around them while she tried to think what to say. She was so tired her eyes were scratchy. Finally, she said, “I understand.” But she didn’t, really. Maybe it would make more sense in the morning and she would know what to do.

She held his hands tight, and whispered “I’m sorry that all of that happened to you. I want to help. What can I do?”

Tears formed in his expressive grey eyes, but he wiped them away with the back of his hand. “I haven’t formed the plan yet, but I’ll think of something. Will you stay her with me until I do? You’re safer here than out there.”

She assented.

--

“I’m so tired. I have to get some sleep.” Evangeline yawned so widely that her jaw clicked. “What bedroom can I use?” she asked him, walking sleepily back into the house, but he didn’t follow.

She turned to look back at him, his tall shade a black outline against the glowing flick of blue water in the pool behind him. She couldn’t see his face, but she could hear the embarrassment in his voice.

“Ah, that’s the problem. I’m pretty sure Bruno is bribing my staff to find out what’s going on. If we sleep in separate rooms, he’ll suspect that things aren’t like I said. Would it kill you to sleep in my room for a few days? I’ll keep my hands to myself, I promise.”

Too tired to argue, she nodded and went inside, not looking back to see if he followed.

--

Back inside the silent bedroom, the fire had been lit and was burning cheerfully. There was now a large silver tray on the coffee table in front of the fire, filled with chocolate cookies, small sandwiches with the crusts removed, and fruit. She helped herself to the water pitcher on the table near the wall, sat down on the thick brown carpet in front of the fire and grabbed a cookie, realizing that she was incredibly hungry. With food in her stomach again, she started to perk up.

Niki closed the door behind him and sat on the couch near her, removing his red and silver paisley tie and unbuttoning his black dress shirt so that it fell open over his muscular stomach. Evangeline made herself a promise to ignore that. She wondered when he’d removed his jacket. She thought of changing out of her dress, but decided, screw it. He can send it out for dry cleaning if I get chocolate on it. She finished her cookie and started on the sandwiches.

“Do you always eat before bed?” she asked him between bites. “These are so good. Do you know what’s in them?” she held out her half eaten sandwich to him.

Niki leaned forward to look. “No idea.  I just thought you’d be hungry. You didn’t eat at the party so I left a note for the staff to make you up something before they went to bed. Do you want a drink?” he moved to the small bar set up on the tall table under the far windows and started to pour some type of liquor into a crystal glass.

“No, I’m ok.” She hesitated. “Actually, maybe just one. What do you have?”

“Everything. If it’s not here, I’m sure it’s in the bar downstairs. Did you want some champagne?” He indicated towards a bottle in an ice bucket on the bar. I have a bottle of the kind you liked, before. “

She felt very extravagant, having a whole bottle of champagne opened just for her, but she said yes anyway.  What the heck, she thought. I may as well enjoy the situation. She watched him closely as he wrapped a white bar towel around the bottle and popped the cork.

His shirt dropped open from his chest and she looked away. Stop being an idiot, she told herself. Get a grip. Yes, he’s good looking, but you don’t have to act like a love-sick fool. You’re twenty-six years old, and this isn’t your first time in a guy’s room. She realized that she was making excuses for herself; and couldn’t decide what she wanted to happen. Or at least, she couldn’t admit to herself what she was considering. She was torn between wanting to make the right decision, and fearing to miss out on something that she was seriously starting to want.

Niki brought her glass to her, and sunk down into the soft pillows on the couch, kicking off his shoes so he could put his feet up. Evangeline took a sip, and then slid her own shoes off as well, tucking her legs under her again. They drank together in silence.

After she had eaten three sandwiches and several cookies, Evangeline sat back from the fire and finished her glass of champagne. Her head was starting to float, and the fire was too warm. She turned her blonde head up to Niki on the couch and asked, “You don’t happen to have a custom made set of pyjamas in just my size as well, do you?”

He laughed, and set down his drink. “Sorry, no. Do you want to borrow something of mine?” He offered her his hand to pull her up from the carpet, and led the way into his dressing room. “I don’t know. Help yourself to anything.” He swept his hand in a half circle, showcasing the many shelves and closets.

“How is it possible that you have so many clothes? Did you bring all these from Moscow? Were you planning on staying here forever? This is crazy.” Evangeline opened closet after closet, and ran her fingers lingeringly over the most beautiful suits and shirts she had ever seen all in one place before.

Niki blushed and laughed. “I know it’s crazy. But I make really good money in the work I do, and I don’t have much to spend it on.  I was pretty bored. I like nice clothes and supporting the industry, so I’ve spent the last couple of months here putting in custom orders at different tailors. Just like how we met. I was serious when I said I’d never been measured so well, before.”

Her memory flashed onto that first day in her shop, and she remembered how she’d admired him, standing so still under her hands busy with the measuring tape. Feeling her face blush at the thought, she turned away to examine all the shoes on his shelves.

“And do you spend much time playing tennis?” she flicked the toes of an apparently unused pair of white tennis shoes on a nearby shelf.

He blushed deeper. “No, those are just for walking around. I don’t play many sports, actually.” He turned to another closet and removed a pair of silk boxer shorts in a beautiful shade of midnight blue and held them in his hands. “Do you mind if I get a little more comfortable now?”

She thought about seeing him in nothing but the shorts, and then she thought of him in bed wearing nothing at all and heat filled her face. Niki held her eyes with his gaze until she had to look away, and then he smiled in satisfaction.  “See, I can tease too.” He chuckled as she turned away to help herself to a large blue t-shirt of the top of a stack of shirts on a nearby shelf, and then stepped into the bathroom to get ready for bed.

--

After she brushed her teeth, she slipped off the beautiful dress and hung it over the towel rack, and then pulled Niki’s soft t-shirt over her head. It was very large on her; hitting her at mid thigh, but she kept her underwear on underneath anyway.  Borrowing his hair brush again, Evangeline took down her bun and brushed her long, fair hair until it fell in fine wisps across her shoulders.

Finally she was too tired to delay any longer. She joined Niki in the bedroom again. He was turning down the sheets on the large bed on the far side of the room, dressed not in the revealing boxer shorts he had taunted her with in the dressing room, but rather in a fairly modest pair of blue patterned pyjama pants. Standing in the doorway of the bathroom shyly, she was transfixed by the play of muscles over his shoulders as he leaned over to toss the decorative pillows from the bed onto an antique chair.

He looked up at her entrance. “Does the shirt work?” he asked her, his gaze lingering on her slim figure.

“Yes, thanks very much. I’m so tired I could sleep in anything,” she said, hoping that her words didn’t imply anything risky.

Niki looked uncomfortable. “If you want, I can take the couch.” He moved to grab a pillow off the bed, but she stopped him.

“It’s ok. I’m sure there’s plenty of room. Did you want to put a line of pillows down the middle?” she giggled, remembering family vacations as a kid, and sharing a motel room double bed with her brother who always scratched her with his freakishly long toe nails.

Niki looked at the pile of pillows, considering. Evangeline walked up to the bed and climbed between the crisp white sheets. “I was just kidding. I’m sure it’s fine. I’ll try to keep to my side and not drool so much,” she smiled tiredly at him.

 He laughed and turned out the lights.

--

Evangeline thought that she’d be too uncomfortable with the situation to sleep a wink, but as soon as her head hit the pillow she was out. She wasn’t even aware of when, or if, Niki climbed in the bed next to her, and she slept like a brick until bright sunlight hit her eyes late the following morning.

Waking at once, she turned over expecting to see Niki beside her but she was alone. Padding to the bathroom quietly, her bare feet sinking deeply into the thick pile carpet, she took a fantastic shower under his rain sprinkler and wall jets. Evangeline wished she had such a great shower at home. Using his soap and shampoo felt strangely intimate, she thought. She smelled just like him.

Afterward, without a change of clothes, she borrowed another of Niki’s shirts in black to wear until she found a better option..

Since Niki had not yet appeared she went back down the stairs and explored the other rooms that she hadn’t yet seen, expecting to run into a maid or housekeeper at any moment, but the house appeared empty.

Starting at the foyer, she took the opposite turn from the reception room that had been the scene of all the action the previous night, and found herself in a library lined wall to wall with books, mostly the kinds of leather-bound classics that nobody actually bothers to read and decorators purchase by the foot.

She was tempted to root through the large, wooden desk piled high with paperwork, but she was afraid to be caught snooping. A phone rested on the wooden corner of the desk but Evangeline wasn’t sure how to explain any of this to Pam and Erin yet. She decided to put off the conversation until she knew her own mind.

Moving along the corridor, she found a sunny room filled with chinz furniture, bright peonies in highly decorated vases, and a grand piano, shiny and black in the late morning light from the French windows. Filled with a sudden wave of nostalgia, she flipped through the music books lying around and found a song she remembered learning during her lessons as a teenage. She hadn’t been very talented, but she had been a diligent student and enjoyed practicing. She realized suddenly that she’d missed playing, so she sat down and began.

She was finally getting the keys under her fingers to form something like the tune she remembered, when Niki cleared his throat behind her and she jumped.

“Oh, there you are. I’ve been looking everywhere for you.” She exclaimed, all of a sudden aware that she was sitting in what appeared to be his living room wearing nothing but a t-shirt.  

“I went out to get you some breakfast and a few other things, he indicated behind him to a large box of muffins, bottles of orange juice and two coffees sitting on the table next to him. “Today is the staff’s day off.” He smiled. “That was nice. I didn’t know you could play.”

She shrugged but smiled at him, “Not very well, but I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed it. Do you play the piano?” Evangeline questioned as she reached for a muffin and began to eat, carefully moving the risk of muffin crumbs away from the piano to the pretty flowered sofa.

“He shook his head and reached for a coffee, his fair curls falling forward over his high cheek bones. “No, the piano is just decoration.” He laughed and took a cautious sip.

“I always wanted piano lessons, ever since I saw The Piano as a teenager.”

Niki looked at her with interest, “That’s a pretty risqué movie for a teenager. What did you think of Harvey Keitel’s nude scene? I don’t imagine that he was a teen heart throb for most girls.” he asked, light eyebrows raised at her.

Shaking her head in disagreement, she swallowed her muffin and replied, “Oh no, I love him in that movie. He’s so…sincere, I guess. So quietly passionate. And the part where he’s naked and dusting the piano is my favourite. It’s such an amazing movie, you know. A very complicated love story of two very complex characters; both of them so reserved, but also lonely, and so passionate and who recognize that in each other.”

Nike raised his eyebrows at her again. “You don’t think it’s suspect? The way he manipulates and bribes her into being sexually available to him?”

Evangeline blushed, but continued to argue her point. “No, I don’t. I mean, yes, I agree with your point, it is very questionable. But I think the theme of the story is that sometimes we’re led astray ethically by our passions, but if we recognize that, and return to treating the other person with respect, see them as a real person, than it’s somehow “redeemable”, I guess. People don’t always get together in the best way, or treat each other well at first. Like Maya Angelou says ‘When I knew better, I did better.’” She looked closely at his face to see if he understood what she was trying to say.

Niki put the lid back onto his coffee and said, “So, what you’re saying is “any behaviour is acceptable if you love the person.”

“No! That’s not what I’m saying at all. I mean that people aren’t perfect, and sometimes when we love someone we forgive them, and that when we love someone we are sometimes able to be better people.” She looked up at him to see that he was smiling at her. “Were you just teasing me? She asked him.

“Yes, I was. Now, finish your muffin and you can get dressed. I brought you some things.”

--

Niki had bought a few things for her at a boutique near the coffee place where he had purchased their breakfast; a pair of black casual pants, two jersey ankle-length skirts in bright geometric patters, some t-shirts, and a pair of pyjamas with pink bunnies on them.

“Oh, how cute!” she exclaimed over the pyjamas. “How did you know I love bunnies!” she said facetiously but with good humour, and he blushed.

“They were the only ones in your size, so I did my best, but if you don’t like them you can always sleep naked. I have no objection.” he grinned at her and ate a large bit of his muffin.

“I’m sure they’ll be fine,” she laughed. “Thank you.”

--

Once she was dressed and fed, Evangeline felt ready to tackle the issue at hand. She met Niki beside the pool and got down to business.

“Ok. So that’s the plan.” She met his eyes squarely as she pulled up a chair for herself across from his on the pool deck.

Niki grimaced. “I think first we need to define the problems. Number one: I want out of the underworld. I’m sick of killing people for money. I want a new life somewhere else.”

Evangeline sat stunned. “What… what….” She tried again. “Is that what you do? I…..I didn’t know.” She felt unutterably sad and totally horrified.

Niki looked into her shocked face sadly. “What did you think I did” he asked quietly.

Evangeline rang her hands together in her lap. “I thought maybe you sold drugs to people, or maybe blackmailed them.” She realized that sounded stupid. “I guess, it just seems like a movie. I never suspected that people really do that, in real life, I mean.” She finished lamely.

Niki grimaced. “Well, they do. And it pays really well. You can’t believe how well. The problem is, the money never buys you freedom to get out. It just sucks you in further. There’s lots of money in ‘removing problems’ for people. You’re right though, it does have lots to do with organized crime. It’s like industrial espionage, only messier.” He finished and she felt sick.

But Evangeline was an optimist at heart. She asked,” But have you tried just letting your uncle know that you don’t want to do it anymore. Maybe you could just get a normal job?” but Niki  laughed.

“No, if I did that, he’d just kill me. He can’t let me walk away knowing everything I know.”

“Maybe you could go into witness protection?” Evangeline didn’t watch much crime TV but she was aware that sometimes that was an option to people who came forward.

“I don’t have enough evidence of anything, and if I went to the police they’d just lock me up for what I’ve done in my past.” Niki shrugged, and Evangeline wasn’t included to ask for more details about his crimes.

“Well, let’s leave that for now and hope the answer comes to us. What are the other problems?”

Niki held up two fingers. “Problem two: Bruno knows who you are and where you work, and possibly where you live as well. If I disappear, he’ll try to use you to find me.”

Evangeline felt her stomach turn over and ran her hands through her long, fair hair to calm herself. “Well, that doesn’t sound very good. It looks like we have to find a solution for both of us.” Niki nodded in agreement.

Evangeline continued, “So, two big problems. Anything else?”

Niki nodded his head, frowning. “Third: my uncle still wants me to complete the job I came to Rome to do. I’ve been able to delay it because the target was out of town, but I’m going to have to make a decision soon.” He linked his long fingers together and stared at them where they rested on the table top. “Should I do the final job? How can I avoid it?”

Mindful of The Princess Bride, she tried to chancel the bravery and intelligence of the man in black. “But what are our assets?”

Niki looked at her quizzically so she continued. “I mean, what do we have going for us? How much money do you have? Any connections to people who could be helpful? Do you know any helpful nuns, or have a great singing ability, or a music concert to perform for the Nazis?”

Niki looked at her, mystified, and then understanding dawned on his good humoured face and he laughed heartily. “Are you alluding to The Sound of Music?”

She nodded. “Of course I am. It’s not like I have any real world experience of these things to draw on.”

The tall man looked at her with tenderness. “Little Maat. I’m sorry that I’ve brought this trouble to you, but I’m so thankful that I have you here with me. It’s been a long time since I’ve had anyone to share my troubles.” He leaned over and kissed the top of her head with real affection.

She felt bashful at his praise. “It’s no trouble, really. I’m…I’m happy to be here with you too, despite the situation.” She admitted shyly.


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