Stolen Vows Ch. 01

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The sun was trying valiantly to break through the March drizzle – scattering falsely bright light across the ochre walls of the buildings along the vecchio. Laura was debating whether to close her red umbrella, or leave it open against the sporadic rain that still came down in bursts. She concentrated on stepping carefully along the cobbles, so the heels of her cowboy boots wouldn’t slip into the cracks – which were sometimes quite wide in that ancient part of Rome. She elected to leave the umbrella open as she made her way back to her rented flat.

Her mind flew back to the sculptures she’d so ravenously taken in at the Villa Borghese. Bernini had lifted the art to a level that was truly transcendent, and strangely so sensual despite his purported spirituality. Fingers that curved, muscles that flexed, wispy hair and garments that floated in the air, torsos contorting wildly, all crafted so brilliantly that the marble appeared to be waxy flesh. She wondered again, as she had in the museum, whether his legendary piety was simply no more than pure practicality in a world when Cardinals were patrons of the art of the day. The duality of those in religious life was not exactly an uncommon theme in a place as lush as Rome – or indeed anywhere. And here in the beautiful, posh alleys behind the Piazza Navona, it was easy to feel sensually connected to history – like it was there beside you, brushing its lips across your cheek with pent up longing.

As she neared the gated entrance to the courtyard below her flat, Laura saw the two robed figures standing under one black umbrella, by the intercom. The slump of their shoulders registered resigned frustration, as if whomever they were seeking was not home. They were conferring in hushed tones, no doubt discussing whether to try again or leave. As she approached and could see them more clearly, Laura saw that they were two young priests – or rather – brothers. The one facing her was dark with heavy brows and very Italianate features, and the other, who had his back to her, had hair that seemed tawny like the color of caramel. Her stomach growled – and she realized that she always thought in terms of food when hungry; she’d skipped lunch to go to the museum, and now that it was nearly 5PM, her stomach was protesting.

She tentatively approached, her key in hand, because she needed the two novices to move out of the way in order to open the gate.

“Scuzi” she said shyly, as she gestured toward the gate.

“Si, scuzi Senorina” said the dark one. His colleague turned to see whom he was addressing, and Laura was momentarily struck by his vivid green eyes. This man was devastatingly handsome, no less so because of the full-length cassock and white collar. Suddenly she realized that he was staring back into her eyes with a similar degree of fixed intensity. She felt her face flush scarlet to the roots of her auburn curly hair. The curse of a pale-skinned, light eyed redhead. Made it difficult to play poker, too.

Quickly she turned away and fumbled with the lock, and opened the gate slowly as the two brothers took a step back. Jesuits, she quickly surmised, based on their clothes. She felt almost rude to walk past them into the courtyard’s stairway, since they clearly had been trying to find someone in one of the flats within.

“Posso aiudare?” She asked. As she turned back to them the tawny one was still staring at her with a strange, almost stricken look. Laura was caught up in his gaze; so much so that when the dark one spoke she nearly started with surprise.

He told in very clear Italian that they were hoping to visit the “Orsini Christo” – but that “nessuno e a la casa.” Laura’s head snapped up in sudden realization. The flat she rented was an ancient, special place. That was part of the reason she’d taken it. It had been a chapel of the legendary Orsini family over 500 years ago, and had been turned into an apartment in the 19th century. A fresco depicting the crucifixion, which dated back to the 14th century, still adorned on the living room wall. It was breathtaking. The realtor who rented Laura the apartment had mentioned that it was listed on the historical register.

“Ah – il fresco, Si? E mio apartimento – alora – offreto l’apartimento per due settimane. Volete guardare?” In halting Italian, Laura explained that she was renting the apartment with the fresco they were seeking.

Both brothers smiled. The dark one, who seemed very grateful, continued to speak, expressing their thanks and concern that they were disturbing her. She shrugged it off and pulled the gate wide to allow them in, saying “prego…” as encouragement.

The dark one eagerly came forward, while the handsome green-eyed brother hung back for just a moment before moving. Laura seemed to innately understand his reticence, because in the few seconds that their eyes had locked there passed between them a current that was electric, and utterly dangerous. Her knees actually felt weak. She’d always thought that was a myth. How bizarre, she mused.

Even now, as the trio climbed bahis firmaları the gently sloping steps to her front door, she could feel his eyes burning into her back. She felt strangely excited and breathless as they walked past the other entrances of the ancient buildings that shared this courtyard, and wondered briefly what it must look like to see a redhead in a floral dress leading two soon-to-be priests into her flat on a drowsy Wednesday evening.

As she unlocked the main entrance to the flat, she looked at both men, and introduced herself.

“Piacere, sono Laura.”

“Piacere, sono Vittorio.” Said the dark one.

“And I’m Gabriel” said the tawny one. She smiled broadly at his deep voice and lilting Irish accent. He smiled back, flashing a set of perfect white teeth. She felt something akin to vertigo.

“Hi.” She said weakly. But then since her throat was dry and strangely tight, she said nothing further.

Pushing the flat door inward, Laura turned back briefly and said in her developing Italian that there were many stairs. Both men shrugged. She tried not to think that Gabriel, who was right behind her, might be watching her as she mounted the many steps to the flat itself. But deep down she knew he was. She wished that she hadn’t worn such a thin silky dress that day, or that she was aware of how, given the dampness, it likely clung to her more than would be seemly. She also tried to not think of his magnetic eyes, thick brows that were much darker than his hair, or the strong set of his square jaw with its deepening five-o’clock shadow. A young priest had no business being that attractive. What a waste.

Reaching the top landing, as she opened one of the double doors leading to the flat, she looked back at her followers, and felt her heart flutter a bit at the way Gabriel’s eyes seemed darkened, and focused on her mouth instead of her eyes. Her command of Italian totally failed her at this stage, so she quickly asked if they both spoke English – to which Vittorio quickly answered yes.

She invited them both in – opening just one of the antique double doors and stepping aside carefully to give them room to enter the narrow opening. She moved back into the hallway and snapped on the lights – and the beautiful fresco was suddenly illuminated on the far wall of the living room. Both men entered carefully – one reverently, the other cautiously, and made their way toward the object of their search.

Laura followed into the living room. It was a large room with a peaked cathedral ceiling topped by a skylight. In addition to a divan, two soft arm chairs, an upright piano and a heavily laden bookshelf that took up nearly an entire wall, the room also held the flat’s large, dark wood dining table. Laura moved the two dining chairs that stood in the way of their view of the fresco. She turned to see their faces – both seemed fixated, but her whole body quivered when she saw that Gabriel’s eyes were on her – and not the ancient artwork.

“Would you like something to drink, some tea – or even wine, perhaps?”

Vittorio replied a little sheepishly that wine would be lovely. Gabriel ran his hand through his thick hair and looked at the terracotta floor. Laura walked carefully past them and gratefully almost ran to the kitchen. She heard their voices speaking in hushed, but excited Italian – and heard Vittorio ask Gabriel if it wasn’t one of the most beautiful things he’d ever seen.

“Yes, no doubt, the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” was his reply.

Vittorio called out to ask if it was okay if he took some photos – Laura stepped back into the hallway and said she was sure it was fine. She saw that Gabriel was standing with his back to her. She wondered for a moment if what she felt was just her own delusion. She went back into the kitchen and busied herself with opening the wine. She chose a bottle, took down three glasses, and decided to put some cheese and bread on a plate. She was now no longer hungry, since an entirely different sensation filled her stomach – like thousands of butterflies were battling within her. As she was cutting the bread, she laughed a little to herself at how her own fantasies could so easily take over for logic. Laura took up the corkscrew, and tried to open the wine – but found the cork to be very stubborn. She was struggling with it – despairing that she might not be able to open it without help — when suddenly she felt him behind her. She knew he was there even before hearing him, though how he’d moved so silently on the tiles with his polished dress shoes, she’d never understand. Laura froze, waiting for him to speak.

“Let me… ” Gabriel said in his soft baritone voice. He was so near she could smell him – a combination of soap, mint, and the whiff of incense. She turned too quickly and almost slammed right into him.

“Oh – sorry!” She said – a little too breathlessly. He looked at her with utter seriousness, and didn’t step aside for a moment – forcing the two of them to be in strangely close proximity – with his body nearly trapping kaçak iddaa hers against the counter. He reached up with his hands, which were inches from her now, and after the slightest of pauses – gestured toward the bottle. Laura slipped to the side and moved out of his way, so that he could open the wine. He turned and pulled the cork quickly and smoothly – as if very practiced.

“You’re pretty good at that.” Laura said lightly.

“Yeah, five years as a waiter during University.” He replied. He smiled as he looked at her – looking more open and relaxed than he was before this point. She naturally smiled back at him – responding almost against her will — like a flower unfolding to the sun. His eyes scanned her face, and then moved down her neck to the deep v of her silk dress. The nervous self-consciousness returned to them both as tension built between them. Laura’s breathing quickened and she felt a pulse point in her throat begin to pound uncontrollably. As if reading her mind, his eyes found the spot at the base of her throat, and again the green irises darkened. Neither of them moved for several moments. For a wild second, she thought he might be slowly leaning forward in order to press his lips to the spot. She held her breath, torn between the desire to break the tension and the desire to take it further.

Suddenly his eyes found hers, pinning her with their intensity. “How can I help?” He asked. She decided to pretend he meant with the refreshments, so she asked him to bring the wine, while she took the tray of cheese and the glasses. Finally remembering to breathe again as she moved toward the hallway.

When they returned together to the living room, Vittorio was making notes into a small flip-top notebook that he must have produced from somewhere within in his long robe. He seemed excited by the fresco. He began talking quickly about the importance of the details – which confirmed that the work had been done in the 14th century. Apparently, the fact that Christ’s eyes were closed, and the way in which Mary Magdalene captured blood from his chest wound into a chalice, all verified that this was appropriate to that period. He went on to say that this was the century during which the Papacy was in Avignon – and not Rome – a major issue for Italy at the time.

Laura heard his words, but was instead focused on the fact that Gabriel was slowly pulling out a dining chair to sit down, and was removing a grey wool scarf from around his neck, placing it on the chair next to him. He was slowly and carefully pouring red wine into each of the glasses, and took a moment to inhale the aroma from the last glass, an appreciative smile on his ridiculously handsome face. She wondered if those strong lips had known kisses, before the calling had pulled him out of the everyday world. Realizing that he was looking straight at her, she suddenly flushed again. He rose from the table to bring a glass of wine to her and Vittorio. She was sure she saw the flicker of a smile from him – as if again he knew what she was thinking.

As he handed the glass to Laura, their fingers touched. She felt his index finger slide deliberately down the length of hers before releasing the glass to her hand. The casual onlooker would never have seen it. Her heart began to thud in her chest. There was no mistaking that. He was sending her a message. Vittorio raised his glass, and thanked Laura for her hospitality and said “saluti” – and they all raised the glasses to their lips. Her eyes were locked with Gabriel’s as they drank.

The next 30 minutes were filled mostly by the happy, uncomplicated chatter from dark young brother, who munched on the cheese and bread, talked of Piedmont, where he was from, and asked Laura a number of questions about why she was in Rome, whether she was married, and didn’t bat an eye when she said she was divorced. Gabriel stared at the table, occasionally sipping his wine. He looked up now and again directly into Laura’s eyes, each time for a little longer.

Finally, the clock in the hallway chimed 6PM, and Vittorio exclaimed that time had flown so quickly. Before he’d even finished his thanks and apologies for taking so much of Laura’s evening, Gabriel was up and gracefully bringing the plates and glasses back to the kitchen. Laura took up the last remaining glasses and followed him. Vittorio, seemingly loath to leave the fresco, took the opportunity to snap a few more photos.

In the kitchen, Gabriel put the tray on the scrubbed farmhouse table, and then turned to Laura. Taking the glasses from her hands, he set them on the tray and turned back to face her. Unable to move – and uncertain what to do – she stood still as a stone while he lifted up one hand and ran a finger gently down her cheek. There was a melancholy longing in his face, and he looked as if he were about to speak. She felt a trail of fire where he had touched her.

Vittorio was calling from the hallway that he and Gabriel should be going. Looking deeply into Laura’s eyes, he said very quietly:

“We should be going…” but kaçak bahis his inflection made it sound more like a question than a statement. Laura’s voice was caught in her throat – she looked up almost helplessly at him for a lingering moment, until they both heard Vittorio’s shoes coming down the tile hall. Stepping guiltily away from each other, Gabriel expressed in slightly too loud a voice that he’d enjoyed the wine and was grateful that she’d taken the time to indulge wayward clergy.

She laughed aloud, running one hand through her long curly hair. She followed them both to the door, and shook first Vittorio’s, then Gabriel’s hand. His was warm, and when he gripped her hand a current ran through them that coursed all the way through her to the soles of her feet, then back up to that tender place between her thighs.

Then, they were gone, moving silently away, down the stairs and out the door.

She closed the apartment door and walked back into the living room – staring at the fresco as if expecting the figures to speak. What, she wondered, was that?! Why had she been shown this glimpse of something so moving and so potentially passionate, only to know that it was impossible? Why was this beautiful man becoming a priest – and moving into a world that she could never be part of?

How she wished that there was some parallel universe – and that this afternoon could end differently. Gabriel was walking away – and she’d never see him again. He’d take orders, and move into that strange, separate, rarified world of the Vatican. Laura was not religious – but she had respect for those her were – normally. But again, what a waste!

She started to feel a strange, hollow ache inside. Lonelier than she’d felt since arriving in Rome, she sat down on the dining room chair that Gabriel had occupied, as if to try to feel some bit of him still. Unbidden, some tears began to well in her eyes, causing the room to blur. Then she noticed something out of the corner of her eye – his scarf!

There it was, still on the chair next to his. She snatched it up and looked toward the door – for a moment thinking she’d run down to return it to him. Just then she caught a trace of his scent. She held it to her face – inhaling him – taking him into her lungs. The very smell of him triggered a thrill down her body, and she felt the rush of that telltale wetness in her panties.

She remembered how he’d removed it so carefully, and placed it deliberately on the chair next to his as Vittorio spoke. This was no accident, she realized. He’d left it behind on purpose. “Oh my god, he is planning to come back.” She thought, and felt a ripple of excitement, her thighs beginning to tremble.

Her delight nearly bubbled over, and she held the scarf again to her face as she tremulously giggled. Just then, the buzzer sounded from the intercom at the garden gate. She leapt up from her chair and lifted the phone from the receiver – pressing the switch that triggered the electronic release. She ran to the bathroom mirror to check her face – she looked slightly flushed and her eyes shown with a strange light. She put a tiny bit of gloss on her lips, and ran nervous fingers through her tangle of long red curls. Then the door buzzer sounded, and she again buzzed him in. She opened the apartment door and waited. Slowly, silently, Gabriel mounted the stairs toward her.

She stepped back to allow him to enter. He stopped just inside the door and turned toward her. His face was unreadable.

“Your scarf…” she began.

“Yeah… uh…” He paused, rather discomfited. “I left it on purpose.” He confirmed.

“I thought that might be the case.” Her voice sounded faint even to her own ears.

“So…what do you think about all of this?” He asked, his hand waved between them as he spoke – confirming that the connection she felt was reciprocal. He looked down at Laura with wonder, uncertainty, and something else that she was not sure she was ready to define.

“I don’t know what to think, to be honest. I’ve never experienced anything like this before… not ever.” He nodded, waiting for her to continue. After a moment, she ventured: “I only know what I feel.” She was barely speaking above a whisper as she willed herself to continue: “I’m just happy that you came back!”

He let out a sound that was half sigh, half growl, and he pulled her to him – crushing her mouth with his. She molded herself to him and wrapped her arms around his neck kissing him back with a heat and fervor she hadn’t felt in years. She was aflame with it, and no longer afraid. Pulling away for a moment, he pushed the apartment door closed, and locked it. He looked at her for a long moment, his face a study in passion at war with indecision.

Laura didn’t know what to do, so she reached one shaking hand up to his face, laying her palm against his cheek. It was an act of comfort, but also something of a plea. He caught her hand against his face and turned to press his lips into her palm. His eyes closed for a moment, and he exhaled. As he opened his eyes, they were dark and suddenly no longer conflicted. He moved close to her, and taking her face in both hands, lifted her mouth to his. The kiss was gentle and probing at first, but then it deepened and became more insistent.

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