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Chapter 68

Marco sat, patiently. Well, impatiently. Kat had always been on time. Unlike Angelina. He'd only been a couple of weeks in Casa Dorma, and her attitude to time was already grating him. Almost everything was held up slightly for Angelina. She'd be late for her own funeral. Kat—he got the feeling—wouldn't ever be late without reason.


So Marco sat and sipped his wine, making it last.


And Kat just never showed. He waited. He had to talk to her. Petro was doing his best not to be impatient, but well, the days of Angelina's pregnancy were ticking past. You could claim a six-month child but not less than that.


It was quarter to twelve, and Marco was about to abandon hope, when Maria came in. Marco had "dressed down" for the occasion but still his appearance caused Maria to snort—half derision, half admiration. "Mighty smart. Mighty fine," she said dryly. "Where's the young girl sitting on your knee, Marco Valdosta?"


Marco blushed. "I was waiting for Kat. But not to sit down on my knee. I . . . I have to talk to her."


Maria smiled. "Well, she sent you a note. Which is why I'm here instead of in my bed. See. Them—those—reading lessons are paying off. I can manage your name at least. I just picked it up at Giaccomo's. Figured you'd be here tonight."


Of course. He'd known he could rely on Kat. And to send him a note to explain was just like her. A world apart from Angelina. Angelina only seemed good at thinking of herself. No worries about that with Kat.


* * *

Maria could see worries were weighing on the boy. But he lightened up with that scroll . . . Kat was good for him. And they were both Case Vecchie now. Funny, it did far more than a year's living with Caesare had done to convince Maria that nobles were just human too. Because, if she had it right, Marco's blood ought to be blue. She'd seen it. It was definitely just ordinary red. Maria watched as Marco cracked the wafer. Unrolled the scroll.


And she watched his face change . . . Marco had a very open face. First surprise. Then hurt. And then his face closed down. He rolled the scroll up again and stood up.


"I'm probably getting married in the next few days," he said abruptly.


Maria felt as if her eyes would pop out. "What! To Kat?"


"To Angelina Dorma." His voice was expressionless.


Maria floundered. "But . . . but . . ." Those Dorma bastards wanted to lock him in! Well, she owed Kat. "That's far too soon, Marco," she said, firmly. Her mind raced. She'd have to get Benito in on this. The damn scamp didn't approve of Kat, for some stupid reason. But anything—anything!—was better than Angelina. Even if she had to tell Benito that Kat was also Case Vecchie. He'd been pestering her to reveal the identity of her posh friend. . . .


"I can't. She's nearly four months pregnant," said Marco, woodenly.


Maria caught her jaw. "Ah . . .who's the father?" she croaked.


Marco paused. Looked her straight in the eye. "I am," he said in a dead level voice.


And he turned and walked out.


* * *

Petro Dorma looked grim. "I'm sorry, Marco. Only the Signori di Notte knew, until an hour before. That means somehow someone must have bought one of them. But the Badoero were gone."


Marco felt flattened. Caesare's ploy hadn't worked. Caesare had been sure if Petro could arrest the Badoero they'd confess, quickly enough to tell just whom the real go-between was. He had ascribed Angelina's accusation to spite.


"Of course Paulo knew the way here. He was Ernesto Dorma's confidential runner. I did some business with Ernesto. Commercial information. Valuable if not glamorous. And for heaven's sake, yes. Marry Angelina Dorma," he'd said. His words were fresh in Marco's mind.


Petro sighed. "Well, we're no closer, Marco. We still don't know how my mother got the stuff—even if we know where she used to. You don't feel you could just . . ."


"Marry Angelina now," said Marco quietly. "Yes."


Petro breathed a sigh of relief. "Well. Thank you, Marco. I can't deny I am pleased. . . . She always was father's favorite. We lost my other sister in the plague . . . And 'Gelina got . . . rather spoiled by Mother too after that. She's used to getting her own way. But, well, she'll be handsomely dowered. And we'll be happy to have you as part of the family."


He smiled. "Dorma is not as old as Valdosta, but we're prosperous. And, well, I predict that the Republic is going to have a rough time in the next few years. The Doge is old, the succession is not as clear cut as Ricardo Brunelli imagines it is." He patted Marco on the shoulder. "I trust you, Marco. I trust that Dell'este honor. I trust the name 'Valdosta' too. It was a proud one in my father's time. I'd rather have it with Dorma than against us, and many of the longi Case Vecchie will rally to it."


Marco had never thought of his name as a political point. "Never rich though," he said quietly.


"Oh, not lately. But the family used to work with another Casa—the Montescue—in my grandfather's time. Organizing Colleganzas. I can still remember my grandfather cursing them and saying it seemed like they could do nothing wrong. Like the shadow of the Lion was on them. Anyway, to practical details. I've spoken to the Metropolitan. He has agreed to let pass with just one reading of the banns. The wedding itself . . . will be something of a political affair, Marco. I want it clear in a lot of minds that the Valdosta are under the protection of the Casa Dorma. So the guest list will not be friends. In fact, some of them may have had a hand in your mother's death."


He paused, took a turn around the table. Took a deep breath. "Your sudden 'reappearance' has started just a little buzz about 'witchcraft.' I need to squash that. Would you be prepared to take a test of faith from Father Sachs of the Servants of the Holy Trinity before the service?"


Marco nodded. He was, after all, no heretic, and knew no reason to fear . . . except knowing that Sophia and Luciano used Strega magic in their healing and that some of the herbs he'd dealt in were "blessed." Even the frightening Pauline monks could find no real stain on his soul, surely? Like this wedding, it was nothing to be afraid of.


Dorma studied him for a moment. "The sooner we can do this wedding the better, Marco. I've already quietly cleared the way. If you are certain . . ."


Marco shrugged. He could hear a little voice somewhere inside shrieking at him—too fast! too fast! you haven't even talked to Kat!—but he ignored it resolutely. Kat's letter had been . . . harsh and angry.


"Yes, I'm certain." His voice sounded hollow. "Do it tomorrow, if you wish."


Again, Dorma heaved a sigh of relief. Then, shook his head and smiled. "That'd be a bit rushed, Marco. How about the day after tomorrow?"


When Marco nodded his head, even his head felt hollow.


* * *

"You seen Kat?"


Benito knew Maria's work patterns well enough to know she'd deliberately waited around to speak to him this morning. He shook his head. "Not in a while. Since that night at Zianetti's. She keeps herself to herself, does that Kat."


Maria sighed. "I need to talk to her. Even if Caesare says to leave her alone."


Curiosity and protective instinct rose in Benito. He'd promised Caesare . . . "What about?"


"Nothing to do with you," Maria snapped. She paused, looking uncomfortable. "Well, I guess he is your brother."


Benito had it now. "Marco's getting married has nothing to do with Kat, Maria. It's . . . it's Case Vecchie stuff. They don't marry for love. It's all for politics and money. Caesare explained. Kat's . . . she's trouble. A canal girl. Marco can't . . . He doesn't have that choice. And . . . Oh hell. Don't cry, Maria."


Maria sniffed determinedly. "You don't know everything, Benito Valdosta. More like, you know very little."


Benito handed over an embroidered handkerchief that had belonged to a Case Vecchie lady only yesterday. You had to keep your hand in even if you weren't going to make a regular thing of the snatch. He offered a cautious pat, and was rewarded by a roundhouse swing. She was feeling better. "Si. I don't like it much either, Maria. But Dorma will look after Marco. And I don't know where to look for Kat."


Maria shook her head. "I've been to her house. Twice. The first time I left a note under the water-door."


Benito cleared his throat, unsure what to say. He'd been helping her with her reading and writing now that Marco had moved out. Maria wasn't stupid. But like most women—except courtesans—she was illiterate. She could tally like anything. But her writing was still limited to her name and a few words.


"I kept it simple," she snapped. "But she didn't come, so I went around. The old man said she wasn't there. I was kind of hoping you'd seen her. Or might know where else to look. I've got to talk to her before Marco goes off—idiot!—and gets married."


Benito shook his head. "I'll keep an eye out for her. But it's too late, Maria. It's as good as done. I wondered if I should have gone, but Marco said 'stay away.' He's having the test of faith before the wedding tomorrow—an' he didn't want me around. Besides . . . he said it wasn't like it was going to be a real marriage or anything."


Maria looked stormy. "You should have stopped him, Benito! You could have stopped him."


Benito felt uncomfortable. That had been his first, irrational reaction. But he'd talked it over with Caesare . . . "You don't understand."


Maria lifted her square chin. "I do understand, Benito Valdosta. Maybe you will one day."


She turned and left, slamming the door behind her.


* * *

Caesare, when he came down a few minutes later, was in a far better mood. "I had word last night that the job you pulled for me getting that door open over at the Accademia has paid off handsomely. First time I've ever been paid by two separate parties for the same job. You'll need to do a spot of running for me this evening. I can't really go to either place. But there'll be a bit of coin in it for you, Benito."


Benito grinned. "That was a piece of cake. Cloister doorlocks aren't much."


Caesare shook his head. "Forget you were ever there. Don't make a noise about how you got that coin, when you spend it."


Benito nodded. "Actually, I'm not going to spend it. I'm going to invest it."


This brought a snort of amusement from Caesare. "Spoken like a true Veneze. And what great venture are you becoming an investor in? Second-hand scarf business?"


"Nah," said Benito. "A couple of us over at Ventuccio . . . we wanted to get in with a Colleganza for the galley convoy. We've got an insider hot tip. Silver is right up in Outremer right now. We can make a killing. You want in, milord?"


Caesare laughed. "A killing! No, boy. I don't think I'll put money on that convoy."


"It's a great-galley convoy! Safe as houses. Come on, Caesare. You've got real money. We 'uns'll get a tiny share."


That hooded look came over Caesare. "No."


Uncomfortable now, Benito decided to change the subject. "I've been thinking," he said, looking at the stack of three bright ducats on the table, his reward for the two collection runs well done. "I should put two o' these into the housekeeping." Maria managed the finances of the house. And Benito had heard her swearing about them enough lately.


Caesare shook his head, and pushed the ducats toward him. "Put them in your pocket. You just keep your mouth shut about this windfall, Benito. You don't even tell Maria. I'll sort out housekeeping."


Benito nodded. Still, it was enough to get him thinking about his two shadowy pickups. Both in the same part of town. And both, unless one of Caesare's male clients had an odd taste in scent, female. One had been using a nun's habit for disguise. He totally failed to see the other. But he'd smelt her.


 


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