The following is an excerpt from Stone of Thieves by Diane J. Reed, a sexy, stand-alone, new adult romance & the sequel to the young adult novel Robin in the Hood. In this scene, Robin & her boyfriend Creek have arrived at her family’s ancestral home in Venice to search for what happened to her long-lost mother. The palazzo now offers tours of its grand interior, so Robin & Creek take advantage of this opportunity to search the house for clues, only to be confronted by stranger evidence than they anticipated…
Stone of Thieves
As I give Creek a swift nod and head toward the kitchen, I feel a tap on my shoulder.
Swiveling around, I half-expect to see the Italian tour guide. But I find myself gazing at a man so desperately handsome he steals all breath from my chest.
His dark unruly hair frames his cheekbones in random curls, and his face is all hard angles—smooth and sharp as Venetian cut glass. Eyes twinkling, he gives me a broad smile filled with enough charm to send a dozen girls’ hearts into spirals. The second that thought strikes me, a strange flutter arises in my gut and works its way out to my limbs in waves. I feel the stone throb against my pocket, harassing me with whispers that are drowned out by the pulsing sound of blood rushing to my brain.
Because something about this man’s eyes mystify me and holds me into place.
Although he appears in his early 20s at best, somehow there’s a shadow in his gaze that bears the weight of a very old man. Like the other tour guides, he’s dressed in period clothing from the Renaissance, an ivory peasant shirt and pants with brocade detail and black boots. I have to presume he’s here to help with the tour.
“You want to see the rest of the palazzo, sì mia amica?”
He doesn’t wait for an answer, holding out his arm in an oddly cavalier way, as though he were about to ask me to dance at a ball. “Here, let me show you the map room. The group will-a join us soon.”
I hesitate, grinding my heels into the alabaster floor.
Truth be told, I’d love some of that pasta in the kitchen because I’m still starving, even after the bread and cheese we wolfed down from the nun’s handout earlier. But as I hear the Conté de Bargona bragging about his blood-red sauce, I can’t help thinking anything’s better than being near him right now. He did seem to recognize me—at least as someone who looks spooky-close to his ancestor. Does that mean he pegs me as his daughter’s bastard child?
Before I can entertain the possibilities, the tour guide forcefully whisks me up several stairs by the time I manage to jerk my elbow away from him. Glancing over my shoulder, I spot the other docents cleaning up the blood spill, and I wonder how Creek is doing with rifling through desks and files. At least this trip to the map room could buy us some more time. I give the young man a hint of smile.
He responds by breaking free of my arm and bolting up the steps to the landing, where I can see a room at the top covered in yellowed, archaic maps. Flashing that broad smile again, he disappears, and all of a sudden the landing is filled with a warm, inviting glow. Curious, I head to the map room and find him standing beside two French doors that are opened wide to a balcony.
“The only way to truly know Venezia is by its light,” he says with a certain triumph in his voice.
He’s merely a silhouette now, his amazing physique backlit by the subtle morning sunshine, almost like a phantom.
As my eyes readjust to the outline of his dark contours, I notice there are Mardi Gras masks hanging on the walls next to the double doors. Their hollow, black eyes and faces empty of the warmth of human flesh spook me a little.
“A-Aren’t we here to see the maps?” I remind him, cautious about stepping any further into this room. I turn slightly to glance into the hallway, my eyes hunting past several doors that have been left ajar.
“Creek,” I whisper sharply. “Where are you . . .”
Returning my gaze to my host, I find he’s grabbed two of the masks and he’s motioning for me to step out onto the balcony.
“Maps only record the past,” he insists. “Come, let’s see the future.”
I draw in a breath, rationalizing it won’t hurt to stall for more time. “OKAY,” I voice too loudly, hoping it might help Creek detect where I am, “I CAN CHECK OUT THE VIEW WITH YOU FOR A MINUTE.”
Not a sound stirs from the hallway.
Only my echo as it slowly fades away.
With a sigh, and several excuses in mind to bolt free from this guy as soon as I hear evidence of Creek, I shrug my shoulders and stroll out to the balcony to take in the sights.
Before us is the Grand Canal, its waters a deep murky green with hints of shimmer from the early sun that’s begun to peek above the elegant domes and spires. A layer of mist still shrouds the city like a blanket, making it appear hazy and sepia toned, and every bit as ancient as its architecture belies.
“Tell me,” the young man asks, “what do you see, Rubina?”
My heart skips a beat.
I haven’t told him my name yet. Much less the Italian version the de Bargonas gave me at birth—
And I feel the ruby wobble to match my quickening pulse.
“Um, I see green water,” I pipe up, extremely antsy now to get back to Creek. The time for politeness is way over, and as I spin on my heels to go inside, his hand stops my shoulder with the abruptness of stone. He holds up a glittering gold mask.
“Un momento. Just put it on—then tell me what you see.”
He adjusts a shiny black mask over his face that instantly makes him look foreboding.
“This will only take a second,” his accent rolls in an almost musical tone, “I promise. I simply want you to understand. Everything in Venezia changes. The light, the masks, the people—nothing is ever as it seems.”
Annoyed, I slip the gold mask over my head, only because I calculate Creek will emerge from the hallway any second now. Interestingly, when I glance back over the canal, the water has transformed from emerald to an ethereal amethyst with hints of rose that sparkle over the currents as the sun ascends more boldly over the city. It’s beautiful—there’s no doubt about it. But it’s way past time for me to join Creek.
Just as I open my mouth to say a swift goodbye, the man grabs my face in his hands and swallows me in a kiss.
Not just any kiss—
He wraps himself around me as though he could pour his spirit like a searing liquid into my throbbing veins.
And the fluttering I felt earlier now runs up and down my spine like wildfire, stinging me with a heat that focuses like a laser on the stone inside my pocket.
It takes every ounce of strength I have to break free from him. And the second I do, I haul off and slap him so hard it knocks that black mask off his face.
“WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING!” I cry, reeling, my fists clenched tight.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spy a wash of red. The bold sun now glows like an angry ball that pierces the mist of the city, coating the entire canal the color of blood.
The young man gazes at me without apology.
“I only wanted to kiss something beautiful before it dies,” he says. “Because make no mistake—Vittorio de Bargona will kill you.”
He steals another kiss before I can gather the wherewithal to shove his ass back.
“Go to the gypsies, Rubina,” he whispers, “out in the countryside. That is, if you want to live.”
In that moment, he becomes hazy, like the mist that still threads between the buildings of the city. Then he disappears.
And all that’s left at my feet is his shiny black mask.