The international airport in Rome, like so many others around the world. Chattering voices, mostly Italian, an occasional American accented voice asking directions, proud or desperate Arabic languages I didn’t understand. People with too much luggage bumping their carts into each other making precariously perched suitcases tumble.
As my heart tumbled in these last few moments together…
And through it all Gus, August Howard of the International Guild of Demon and Vampire Hunters—more than a commitment, a true dedication and calling—and I stood facing each other. Inches apart, yet two separate people departing soon on different airplanes to go about our normal lives.
But nothing would ever be normal again without each other.
“Rafaela, we’ve talked about this,” he said, staring down at me with hungry eyes that looked bruised and tired. “We can’t be together. My work, your family… Not even secretly. Or casually.”
“Nothing about us will ever be casual,” I murmured. The shape of his ear and prickly jawline fascinated me. I stared sadly at him, remembering how his lips had caressed mine, tentatively, passionately, lingering here and there, drinking deeply of all that I had to give.
We’d had a long train ride from Florence to Rome yesterday, holding hands, talking, desperate to find a way to prolong our time together. And then one single night, and never any more, in an airport hotel, making love until the time came to shower (together) breakfast in the room, and finally the International Lounge within the airport, waiting for our gate assignments and flights home.
“We have become too important to each other. Our lives will never be the same. Which is why we must part, here, and now,” he said firmly. But his posture—all six feet two inches of him—hunched in on himself, making him smaller, perhaps less vulnerable.
“I don’t want you to go.” I choked back tears.
“And I don’t want to go. But we can’t be together! Ever.”
I closed my eyes and turned my head away. “We work well together. Perhaps…”
“I borrowed some of your family’s ceremonial magic and we… danced nude under the full moon until dawn, we made love in an abandoned hut beside an old stone bridge until the earth moved. The bridge collapsed atop a malicious troll, burying it forever, at the first rays of dawn.”
“It worked. The vineyards are safe. The wine district will prosper once more…” The DiGiorgio vines and winery chief among them—my family’s business headquarters. Half my clientele in my law practice stemmed from the DiGiorgio wineries, both the Italian branch, and the Willamette Valley operation outside Portland, Oregon, run by my father.
“You could try to apply to the Guild.” His eyes brightened with hope for a moment, then clouded over. “But if I recommend you, one of us will disappear. And if you do make it through training and augmentation we will never be allowed to work together again, no matter how much our talents complement each other.”
“My family. They will not accept you because you are not one of us. The Guild seeks to destroy all paranormals. Neither of them will bring outsiders into the fold. No matter how benign.”
He turned his face away to check the digital screens as they shifted to note departures and gate assignments opening.
His flight came up, direct to Newark, New Jersey, then a brief layover before a new flight to Los Angeles. He had twenty minutes before they began boarding.
My flight was still not listed.
He had to go now to get through a last security check in time. Though, with his credentials, he could shave some time bypassing lines and inspections. They’d even let him carry his weapon in a shoulder holster with those credentials.
“Rafe, look at me when I say good-bye,” he pleaded with me.
I turned my face back and opened my eyes, not caring if they glistened with moisture. “Go. Just go. Now. Before I… before I can’t let you.”
“You have my card. If you are ever in trouble, call me.” He fingered his casual jacket pocket as if ready to fish out another little rectangle of heavy card stock with the letters IGDVH and a number in Geneva, but no address. A more dangerous card for him to offer than his usual British MI8 card with numbers in London and Los Angeles. Again, no address.
If you needed to contact the Guild, you were beyond needing to know their location. If you were that desperate, all you cared about was summoning a Hunter, not where the offices were located.
As my great-uncle Rafael had done six weeks ago. His desperate call had brought Gus to us and an end to the troll that had stomped our precious vines into oblivion.
On the back of the card Gus had written in elegant calligraphy with a fountain pen a simple cell phone number. His direct line.
I’d already memorized it.
“Good-bye, Rafe. I love you.” He turned quickly, shouldered his backpack, looking like one of many college kids trekking through Europe before settling down to a job with the family firm. We both appeared young enough to fit that profile, though we were both much older. He took off at a near run for his gate.
The screens scrolled down a notch revealing my flight. I headed toward the gate for a flight to London, then Chicago, and Seattle before finally arriving in Portland.
I didn’t have the resources of the Guild and took the milk run rather than direct flights.
I lifted my chin in defiance of my roiling emotions. I am Rafaela DiGiorgio, of the DiGiorgio vineyards and wineries. I graduated in the top ten percent of my class and passed the bar. I am up for promotion to junior partner after only two years with a prestigious law firm with seven names on the letterhead. I represent both the Italian and the American branches of the family business. I have no time for romance. I have no place in my life for a man to muck up my future, I repeated to myself at least three times before I had to show my passport and boarding pass.
So why did my heart feel as if it broke into about six pieces while I drowned in lakes of unshed tears?
I wondered if I’d ever dance by the light of a full moon again.