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Chapter 65

When Marco was summoned to Petro Dorma's office at sunset, he assumed it was due to the near-disaster with Rosanna in the private corridor the day before. This time Marco followed the servant to the top of his house with only a little trepidation. He had, he thought, handled the whole mess fairly well.


The east windows framed a sky that was indigo blue, spangled with tiny crystal star-beads. The west held the sun dying a bloody death. Petro was a dark silhouette against the red.


Marco cleared his throat. "You sent for me, Milord Dorma?"


Petro did not turn around. "It seems," he said dryly, "that you have fallen into the muck-pit of Dorma secrets. Doctor Rigannio told me a bit—'Gelina told me more." He sighed. "It seems to me the older and more honorable the House, the deeper and darker its closet. Almost as if our 'honor' were a reaction to this."


He seemed to be waiting for a response.


"Every House has secrets," Marco replied carefully. "You know more'n—more than a few things that neither the Valdosta nor the Dell'este could be proud of. You can trust me, Petro."


Now Petro turned, though he was still nothing more than a sable shape to Marco. "Well. I will admit I have been toying with this notion for a while, but—I didn't quite know how to phrase this delicately, yet I also did not want you to have any deceptions about what I was going to offer. Angelina told you, she says, that she's—"


"Expecting," Marco supplied.


"And who the father is." Petro coughed. "We are in something of a dilemma. It just isn't done for a Case Vecchie daughter to have an—unacknowledged child. Yet we can hardly look to Caesare Aldanto as a husband. It would seem best for Angelina to make a marriage, but frankly, there wasn't anyone she wanted to confide in—really, no one she truly didn't find repugnant even for a titular husband." He paused, significantly. "Until today."


Marco was considerably less of a fool than he had been half a year ago, but this was still a shock.


"You mean—" He gulped. "You mean me."


"It would be of great benefit to Dorma," Petro admitted frankly. "A marriage with Valdosta would get us out of an awkward situation—and not incidentally, give us a chance to negotiate for a better access to Ferrara's steel trade." His voice was wry. "I do have to think first of Dorma as a whole before I think of Angelina—but if I can benefit both . . ."


Marco fought for solid ground. "Was this Angelina's idea, not yours?"


Petro tapped his chest. "I suggested it after she told me about this afternoon. She seemed to welcome the idea. She does like you, Marco—and so do I. I'd be quite pleased to have you further tied to my House."


Marco was floundering. He could have Angelina Dorma, the girl he'd once dreamed of—and if he kept his mouth shut, she'd continue to blame Caesare for her mother's addiction. That would, eventually, break the hold Caesare had on her heart. Which would please Maria, and maybe Caesare too. It would save the Casa Dorma from a potentially damning scandal. Marco could read between Petro's careful words. Finding a husband for Angelina that wouldn't drag the family down was going to be hard, to say nothing of expensive. And he, Marco Valdosta, owed the Dorma. For protection as much as advancement. He owed Caesare. He owed Maria too.


But what about Kat? His heart felt like it would break.


Dell'este honor.


He'd followed the dictates of his heart before. The result had been disaster.


Dell'este honor demanded payback. And he might be in love with Kat . . . yet he still had no idea if she was in love with him.


More than anything, at that moment, Marco wanted to talk to Kat. Desperately. But he had no idea how to reach her before their appointment on Thursday. He didn't know where she lived—even her last name.


Everything hurt.


He was almost gasping like a fish out of water, now. His mind, reeling, tried to find a point of solidity somewhere. The only one which came was—


Honor. Family honor.


Marco had a feeling that if he saw Kat again, family honor might just crumble. But honor demanded that he did see her. Didn't it?


"Milord—three things," he said carefully, choosing his words and somehow managing not to stammer. "The first is—I need to think about this. There's someone—never mind. I'd like to get out of the House for a while."


His mind slipped into a medical track, seeking comfort in the familiar. "For your mother . . . I'll suggest a few things that I know of to Doctor Rigannio. But while he's trying them, it might be a good idea anyway if Milady Rosanna wouldn't be in a position to see me."


Petro nodded. "Certainly. I didn't expect an immediate answer. But please keep in mind . . . Marriage can't wait too long, Marco. Angelina's three months pregnant already. Closer to four months, I suspect. As for the other, a place away from my mother could be arranged—but not back with Aldanto. Did you have anything in mind?"


"Well—my friend, Rafael de Tomaso, was talking about there being a suite of rooms at a boarding house not far from Zianetti's. He was kind of wishing he knew somebody he could trust to split it with him. I think he was hinting at me. He's Father Bellini's protégé, in art."


Petro nodded again. "A good choice. I think we can arrange that. What else?"


This was daring, but— "Caesare Aldanto isn't where Milady got her drugs. There isn't much he hasn't done, but that's not one of them." He coughed a little, shamed, but offered the confession to balance the secrets he'd stumbled on. "A while back, I think I found out where the introit of lotos shipments was. This was about two months ago. This . . . problem with your mother has been going on for some time longer than that hasn't it? And Caesare Aldanto didn't know about the lotos sales then. So . . . I can't prove it, not yet, but—it wasn't him."


"So?" Petro's voice was neutral.


"Before I say anything to Milady Angelina, I want to be able to prove to her that it wasn't Caesare. I want everything clean between us."


Dell'este honor.


He sighed. "I want her making her choices without any lies. I messed her up with lies before; I don't want to do it again. If she knows the truth—she might make different choices. And that's her right."


Petro folded his arms across his chest; the sky behind him deepened to blue and the first stars sprinkled across it. "I can respect that," he said, a certain warmth coming into his voice. "I can respect that and I can understand that. Of course as the head of family, I can tell you that Aldanto will never be acceptable to Dorma. And you know that I serve as one of the Signori di Notte. Since Lord Calenti's death we know the damned lotos trade has started up again. Even if it was not my mother, I'd want to know. Because it is . . . I want to know badly. Very well—you seek your proofs and I'll see about getting you moved out of Dorma so that you can have your time to think. But please. The wedding has to be soon."


"Thank you, milord," Marco replied quietly and turned to go.


"Marco—"


He stopped and turned back.


He could just see Petro's smile in the blue dusk.


"You are part of our secrets. Therefore, you are part of us. Whatever decision you make regarding a marriage to my sister—welcome to Casa Dorma, Marco."


* * *

Marco was in a daze after he left Casa Dorma. Now that he was no longer in the presence of Petro Dorma, the Head of the House, matters of family responsibility and honor seemed less overwhelming. His personal hopes and desires loomed far larger.


I have to talk to someone!


But who? He considered Benito, but ruled him out almost immediately. His younger brother's advice on this matter would be useless, or even worse.


Rafael, perhaps. Marco needed to speak to him anyway, on the subject of the lodgings.


But, as he made his way through the narrow streets, dark now that evening had fallen, Rafael's advice on the matter seemed less and less attractive. Marco couldn't help but remember that the last time he'd taken Rafael's advice on a matter of the heart, the results had been . . . mixed, to say the least. For all of Rafael's self-confidence and ease, the truth was that he was still too young himself to really understand what would be the right course.


Thoughts of Rafael, however, triggered thoughts of Chiano. Or Dottore Luciano Marina, as he was now. Chiano will have good advice.


Marco didn't know where Chiano lived. But he was sure that Rafael did. The student would be reluctant to tell him, since Marco was not another Strega. But that he would, Marco had no doubt. He would just have to be persuasive.


At the moment, Marco was certain he could persuade a stone to talk. Compared to everything else, persuasion seemed the easiest task in the world.


 


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