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Chapter 40

Petro Dorma refolded the letter. And bestowed it and the bundle of poems . . . in his own desk. He ignored his sister's gasp of outrage. He'd had years of practice.

"You . . . you give that back to me!" yelled Angelina, her face red. "I brought it here so you could deal with the little upstart. If you won't, I'll get someone who will!"

Petro took a deep breath. "Angelina, you have been carrying on a clandestine correspondence with this . . . love-starved puppy. You know as well as I do that half the Case Vecchie would send an unmarried virgin off to a nunnery for that. Your fury seems to be entirely directed at this unfortunate and obviously besotted young Marco Felluci not because he wrote you some very inaccurate if flattering poems, but because you thought the poems came from someone else. Would you care to tell me who this 'Caesare' your young swain refers to is?"

Angelina Dorma looked sullen. "Give me back my letters."

"No." Petro looked at his sister. Almost twenty years younger than he and still a child when their father had died, she'd been pampered. His mother had needed someone to turn to and spoil and—well, so had he. She could be very taking, very sweet, even now. When she'd been younger he'd never had the heart to refuse her anything. He'd seen giving her whatever she'd desired as a way of making up for her missing out on having Papa. He'd always felt guilty about that. He'd been twenty-five, already making his own way in the world, marked and shaped by Ernesto Dorma's hand. She'd been six. Now he was beginning to realize that he and his mother had been the ones who'd missed Ernesto. Angelina had hardly known him. He'd been his father's shadow. Angelina, of course, had not been allowed to go to the dockyards and timberyards.

"Angelina. That is Caesare Aldanto, isn't it?"

Her out-thrust lower lip confirmed it.

"He's a bad man, Angelina," Petro said gently. "An adventurer of the worst sort, not some kind of hero. The Signori di Notte have suspicions about at least two of those duels he's fought. Only Ricardo Brunelli's personal intervention has kept him out in the taverns. Keep away from him, little sister."

She flounced out, angrily.

Sighing, Petro sat back in his chair and looked at the stack of papers on his desk. These magical murders were generating more paperwork than answers. He still felt they were no closer to knowing just who was behind them. Problems generated by Angelina's wild behavior were something he didn't need on top of it. He knew she was—along with a crowd of the wealthy and spoiled of Venice—slipping off to various taverns. He'd done it himself once upon a time. There had always been a couple of Case Vecchie girls who were no better than they should be among the crowd. Looking for thrills, looking for excitement. Enjoying being the "wild ones" able to retreat under the family mantle when real trouble came around. It was something of a shock to realize that was what his sister had become. He'd have to do something about it. Perhaps her aunt . . . he sighed. Better to deal with the immediate problems she would be causing. He rang a bell. A footman came hastily. "Tell Bruno and Giampaulo I want to see them. Now."

The two Dorma cousins came in, looking wary. Petro didn't summon people often.

Petro looked them up and down. Both were dressed with some flamboyance. Both carried rapiers. "And to what do we owe this sartorial elegance, gentlemen?" he asked dryly.

"We . . . we were just going out," said Bruno with attempted nonchalance.

"To see some—a . . . friend," said Giampaulo uneasily.

"Ah?" Petro tilted his head inquiringly. "Who?"

"Oh . . . um . . . just a friend." Bruno said airily. "You, you wouldn't know him."

"I see," said Petro affably. "With swords only, or were you planning to take a horsewhip along?"

They looked uneasily at each other. Said nothing.

Petro shook his head. "You will both forget about it."

"He insulted our honor!" said Bruno hotly.

Giampaulo was slightly more fulsome. "We can't tolerate some lowlife bringing shame on our house, Petro! This Felluci has made Casa Dorma—and your sister specifically!—the laughingstock of Venice!"

Petro's brow lowered. "May I remind you both that she is my sister and that I am the head of Dorma. Not you. I'll decide what needs to be done—if anything needs to be done. And if either of you think of taking over my authority . . . you can try being a Dorma factor in Outremer this year. Or Negroponte may have need of hotheads. I don't. I specifically forbade any dueling. And I promise you if I find out you've disobeyed me—and I will find out, don't think I won't—I'll leave you to rot in the Doge's dungeons. Is that clear? Who else was involved in this?"

Giampaulo and Bruno glanced at each other. Their shoulders slumped. "Bonaldo and Michael," muttered Bruno.

"I suggest you waste no time in passing this on to them. The less we do the less scandal there will be. At the moment only Angelina and this boy . . . and you four are involved. By the time you were finished half of Venice would know all the details and my sister and my house would truly be a laughingstock. I won't have it. Is that clear?"

Both of them looked sulky, wary. Nodded.

"Don't even think of trying to circumvent me," said Petro quietly. "I may just have saved your foolish lives. I wonder if Angelina mentioned that this Felluci is the duelist Aldanto's messenger?"

Petro had the satisfaction of seeing the two cousins go abruptly pale.


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