The Philosopher's Stone

Rome was beautiful. I had always thought so. I love the cobbled, twisting streets, the plazas and the fountains. I loved the balconies, the food and I love the people.

Even despite the bad memories I have, I still love the city. I stood on the balcony of my apartment watching the sun go down and breathed in the smells of food, sun and petrol. That's another thing I love - a red sunset over Rome.

After a while, I went inside and began to unpack my suitcase. Out of it came two pairs of khaki shorts, socks, underwear, two sleeveless tops, an evening dress and a pair of strappy stilettos. Pressing a hidden spring, the bottom of the suitcase popped open and I pulled out my holsters and pair of .45's.

I smiled. Thanks to Hilary's idea, no one had known they were there - which is just the way I wanted it. I put the guns and holsters in the draw of my bedside table.

I walked out of my apartment and locked the door. I was still wearing the jeans, boots, white T-shirt and leather jacket I had worn on the plane. I flipped on my sunglasses and walked down the front stairs. The buildings around me were bathed in crimson light.

I walked down the street towards the Opera House, where I would be watching a performance that evening. I passed the old, ornate building and followed the street to an open air market. The smells of lasagna, pizza and coffee hit me as I entered.

For the next hour I wandered around, looking at the silks and souvenirs and eating lasagna. The sky had slowly darkened, and I decided to head back to my apartment. I didn't want to be late.

* * *

An hour and a half later, I stood in the elegant foyer of the Opera House in stilettos and a figure hugging black dress. As I walked, the slit of my dress fluttered open, revealing one long tanned leg. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw some men in tuxedoes looking in my direction, grins on their faces. I smiled wickedly at them. I like being the center of attention.

I looked around me at the glittering chandelier above my head, the rich wood paneling and the plush red carpet beneath my feet. People were gathered in glittering groups, with reds, blues and greens shimmering in the light and gems sparkling at throats and ears.

One of my gloved hands came up to my own diamond necklace. Scenes like this always remind me of my father - he used to take me to the opera when I was a little girl. I blinked away the momentary sadness that had come over me, as it often did when I thought of my father. The necklace and matching earrings that I now wore had been a gift from him.

I made my way upstairs to my box seat and made sure the attaché case I had brought with me was secure between my chair and the balcony railing, before settling in to enjoy the performance.

* * *

Intermission came one and a half hours later. I was enjoying myself. It had been a long time since I had treated myself to a night out at the opera. Sipping a glass of champagne, I looked around at the glittering crowd for a familiar face, but saw none I wanted to talk to.

"Well, if it isn't Lara Croft." A masculine voice said behind me, with a familiar exotic accent.

I turned to see a ruggedly handsome man with long black hair pulled into a ponytail and dancing green eyes. "Jonathan." I said coolly.

If he had forgotten our last conversation, I hadn't.

He smiled at me. "You're looking as beautiful as ever." He said, taking my hand and kissing it.

"Let go." I said through clenched teeth, trying to ignore the heat of his hand through my elbow length glove and the tingle I felt at his touch.

He seemed in no hurry to let go, but eventually did when he caught my glare. Instead, he laughed softly. I seethed. Damn that bastard!

"Oh, Lara." He said. "If looks could kill, I think I'd be in trouble."

"You are." I said with false sweetness. "Because while looks can't kill you, I can."

For a moment the grin slipped and a flash of guilt and pain flickered through his gaze, but then it was gone and his grin was back in place. "Still angry with me I see." He said.

"Yes." I agreed flatly.

At that moment the lights dimmed, announcing it was time for the second act. "Well, then" Jonathan said. "Until we meet again, Lara."

"We won't." I said coldly and walked away, his soft chuckle following me.

"Oh, we will, cara. We will." I heard him mutter.

I took a deep breath and tried to calm the anger I felt. My right hand hurt where I had been gripping the champagne flute. It was a wonder it hadn't snapped in my hand. I took another deep breath and drained the glass, letting the bubbles tickle my throat. I was feeling calmer now.

I turned and walked back to my seat after leaving my glass on the small bar. I frowned. To make things worse, Pierre was late. As usual.