Sarah jolted awake to the sound of a thud.
She hadn't realised she had fallen asleep, she had been chatting with Nicoletta but the endless days of sickness had obviously taken its toll on her body which seem to desperately require rest and healing sleep.
Antonello and Giovanni had retired to the study to continue their "investigation", although she knew they had no current suspects, the only one who had acted suspiciously had been Margerita. And everyone had ruled her out. An alibi even came forward about her whereabouts the morning of the gargoyle attack.
Sarah turned her head towards the direction of the thud, her eyes widening in shock as she watched Nicoletta slump to the floor, a silent scream lodged in her throat at the sight of a knife.
Antonello sat on the plush lounge chair, his head buried in his hands.
This all just felt like a bad dream, he prayed that soon he would wake, Sarah would be safe again, in his arms. He watched as Giovanni paced before him, back and forth across the stone floor. They had discussed again and again, who had access to food, to the bedchambers, to poison? They had questioned all the kitchen staff and all had alibi's and no motive. Who had something to gain by Sarah's death? Who wanted her dead?
Or maybe he was the target. Did someone want to punish him? Keep them apart? Besides her husband who couldn't have gotten on the property in daylight, and even he had alibis in town. Faces flashed through his mind. He pictured each member of staff as he flicked through the collection of faces. A face flashed before his eyes. A women. Familiar. But why?
His gaze dropped to the stone study floor and it dawned on him.
Sarah watched as Nicoletta lay passively on the floor, a small trickle of blood meandered down her forehead, obviously from a head wound. Sarah hoped she had just been hit over the head and not stabbed. Sarah's eyes locked on the weapon held securely, the blade pointing straight at her, malice and adrenaline causing the hand holding it to shake aggressively. Sarah remained still, she doubted she would make it to the door before her attacker. She was lying down, and still weak. Sarah look upon the women. Who was she? Why? She wanted to ask her these questions but daren't in case it only infuriated her more.
The woman was probably no older than herself. She wore a maids uniform, her dark hair pulled tightly and securely back from her face. She had cold features her lips thinned, holding no sign of warmth or mercy. Her eyes, dark, staring straight at her, mere slits of dark intensity. Sarah watched the women circle her bed, neither removed their gaze from each other.
"Time to go for a little walk" Sarah listened to the words and wasn't sure if she was thankful she was once again capable of hearing. The women's voice shook with emotion, for a second Sarah prayed it shook with fear of what she was about to do, perhaps even nervousness. Yet she knew better, although the maids voice shook with intensity she could hear the anger and pure malice radiating from every word she uttered.
Giovanni and Antonello raced back towards Sarah and Nicoletta.
They had presumed with Margerita locked in her bedchamber and the kitchen staff being questions their women would be safe. Both sent a silent prayer they still where.
Rounding the corner, Antonello watched Giovanni drop to his knees and cry out in anger. Antonello looked to see Nicoletta locked now in his brother arms, her hair being smoothed from her face. Antonello looked desperately around the room. Sarah was gone. No!
He spun on his heel, and started to run. He had no idea where to look, where she would be, but he couldn't remain there passively while Sarah was in danger. His blood was simmering with adrenaline to do something; to find her. His heart screamed for vengeance, to tear the attacker limb from limb for the continual attempts to rip it apart. Yet his brain overrode both. He needed to think.
He slammed his fist into the wall, leaning his head against the tapestry lining it, his hands in tight fists. One fist trickled blood down his wrist and forearm.
Where would she take Sarah? Antonello first thought of the study, but they had just come from there. No. Not there. So where? His bedchamber. A definite no. The tower? Maybe.
"Please…just explain to me why your doing this?" Sarah spoke but was unsure if her words could be heard over the wind that had begun to beat against both women. Sarah could feel the sharpened blade of the knife against her neck with every word, and breath she uttered. The blade was relentless never moving from the pulse beating franticly. She could feel the maid pressed against her, her body resented the contact, this was a women who had repeatedly tried to kill her, cause her endless days and nights of agony. The women who had given Antonello his first taste of fear and sorrow. She was being manoeuvred along the ledge bordering the roof of the palazzo. She daren't look down, the ledge they where walking on looked ancient and was cracking in place.
"Why?" Sarah heard the bitter words whispered in her ear, the hiss of breath between teeth "Do you know who I am?" When Sarah shook her head, careful of the blade "I was the women who should have been you"
Antonello raced up the staircase leading to the tower.
He had seen no sign of them.
His heart seemed to be the only thing he could hear anymore. Beating erratically.
He reached the tower, throwing the door wide, desperate eyes sweeping the derelict room. No sign of Sarah. Antonello slammed his fist into the stone tower wall, the stone ancient and crumbling under his aggressions. He lifted his face, the deceiving summer sun shinning happily, engulfing the gardens in glowing healthy light. He breathed in a deep breath of fresh air, determined to think, to find Sarah. He raised his eyes, searching the gardens as something caught his eye. Immediately he flicked his eyes to the roof of the palazzo and froze in terror. All he comprehended was the silver flashing of a blade catching the sunlight pressed against his loves throat. Tightly. He could see how tight by the small and thin blood red line visible along the pale column. Calling desperately for his brother Antonello raced for the ledge high above the ornamental gardens and prayed he would not be too late.
Giovanni lay Nicoletta upon their bed, he had Signora Pia called for immediately from her visit into town, four of his best soldiers where on guard, called back from securing Margerita yet he didn't want to leave her alone.
Without his protection and love.
Yet when he heard the desperate bellow from Antonello he knew he was needed imminently. He lay a adoring kiss against Nicoletta's cheek and ran towards the direction of the bellow.
Taking the steps to the roof two, sometimes three at a time, Giovanni swung open the door. Blinded momentarily by the bright light and swirling winds, he squinted to adjust and assess the situation as quickly as possible. He saw Antonello only, his large body motionless, palms up in a non threatening gesture. Giovanni couldn't yet see Sarah or her attacker, so decided to sneak the opposite way around the ledge to creep upon them from the other direction. Box them in.
Walking one foot in front of the other was the only way he dared to walk, the ledge was crumbling along the edges and was centuries old and in desperate need of repair. As he stealthily turned the corner of the palazzo he got his first glimpse of the situation.
He could see the knife, he could see the blood smearing Sarah's delicate throat, the tears swimming in her pale blue eyes, the hatred burning in the maids dark eyes. He couldn't help but assess the situation as hopeless at worst, dire at best. There was no way he could get everyone down alive. If the knife slipped when they apprehended the maid, Sarah would die. If the maid lost her temper she could easily kill Sarah and there was no way either him or Antonello could reach to stop her in time. Another dangerous factor was the ledge, ancient and crumbling was the icing on a disaster.
"How many times do I need to explain this to you? What don't you understand. This – "sweeping her hand to incorporate the whole palazzo "– all of this. My life. Meant nothing to your family. You could have saved me. You could have taken me to your bed instead of this –" The blade pressed more ominously against Sarah's throat "- taking me would have saved me!"
Antonello tried to calm his thoughts, to focus on more than the blade and the blood. He allowed his mind to go mercifully blank, just as he did on the hunt.
"Olivia, I tried to save you. We where young. I tried. Mio padre was an evil man I am sorry you where brought into any of this. But harming Sarah wont solve anything" He allowed his voice to come out a calm, soothing melody in an attempt to calm Olivia.
He had known her for years, she had helped with his Nonna. His Nonna had raised the young orphan as her own away from his padres eye. Olivia had been the first innocent to be sent to him, the one before his little nymph. The one he had failed to save, from such a harsh punishment.
He could clearly remember how she had looked in his bedchamber. He hadn't been expecting anyone to be there. Yet there she had stood, tall, slim, rivers of dark hair cascading down her slim back. He had seen her tremble, shake with fear as she dropped the thin shift to pool around her tanned ankles, and he had known he couldn't hurt her, couldn't take her innocence from her. And yet watching her inch towards the edge of the palazzo with Sarah, he wanted nothing more than to wrap his large hands around her throat and squeeze every last traitorous breath from her body.
Sarahs heart was beating so fast it was a unbearable pain in her chest. Fear made her lungs seem to stop working, she was fighting for every breath. She had tried to prevent the tears from falling but looking at where she was and why, made her face that she was going to die.
There where so many things she hadn't said Antonello.
Some many things she wanted to do.
Play in the flowers and sunlight with little Sophie, laughing and carefree.
Learn how to swim.
Learn to cook.
She wanted to live.
She wanted to spend her life with Antonello. Every breath she took she wanted it to be in his presence, her every waking in his embrace.
Safe. Loved. Cherished.
She thought of all the things she had dreamt of; family and children. She had only known what it was like to be in a family from Antonello. He was her family. She loved him. Complete and true. Nothing could change that, nothing ever would.
Antonello saw the exact moment Olivia had won. It wasn't when she had dragged Sarah here, or when she had poisoned her repeatedly, it was when Sarah excepted her death and the sight of it caused Antonello's heart to break.
He had listened patiently to Olivia shout her pain, her humiliation of that night 12 years ago. He listened to her anger and rage, her experiences since. The failed marriages, the nightmare of that night branded in her thoughts, tainting her relationships.
He heard how she blamed him. To him, the words seemed to come from the 16 year old girl she had been and not the 28 year old she had become. She looked on that night with the eyes of an immature innocent; looking for someone to blame. She didn't look on it with mature eyes.
She blamed him, even though he had tried. She blamed him even though he had fought for her but had been restrained. She blamed him and wanted him to suffer. Her judgement was unfair, that night had ruined him also. Did she think watching a young innocent girl being raped by your father on a stone floor was an easily forgotten or looked over event?
Antonello no longer wanted to hear her excuses, he had heard enough when she had described vividly how she had clamped her hand viciously over Sarah's poison filled mouth while he lay sleeping unknowingly beside her. He wanted Sarah back.
For the first time he edged towards them. He could see his brother coming closer undetected from the other direction. Olivia was shoving both herself and Sarah closer to the edge, the rock crumbling beneath the additional weight.
"Please Olivia, just come back from the edge" He gestured with his hand for her to come towards him. He heard her laugh over the beating wind before stopping abruptly to look to her feet. Antonello saw the rock begin to crumble more and knew Olivia had felt the rock beneath her begin to give way. It was now or never. He sent the plan to his brother and watched Giovanni nod his understanding. They would lurch for both, Giovanni would grab Olivia and Antonello would grab Sarah and yank them to safety. They where nearly close enough to leap, just a few more feet and they would be able to jump for them.
He watched as Olivia lifted her head and gave him a wicked grin and he knew his time had run out.
Giovanni watched in slow motion as Olivia threw both herself and Sarah from the barricades.
Giovanni leaped a second after Antonello did, desperate to catch hold of Sarah.
Antonello's fist clenched a small handful of material, that ripped ominously. He watched the rip run up to Sarah's waist and reached with his other hand for more material. His body was inching further towards the edge, his weight and Sarah's weight was against rock minutes from falling. He sent a command through Sarah's mind to stop moving. Giovanni gasped more material and both brothers began to lifted Sarah. The rock crumbed beneath them, and Antonello could feel it shift beneath his stomach. He managed to grab an ankle and went onto his knees to get more leverage and strength to pull Sarah up. She wasn't heavy but the wind and the precarious ledge they where upon, Antonello didn't want to risk making any sudden moves and causing the whole ledge to collapse. He absently heard the shouts of domestica and soldiers ordering help for them. His eyes where focused on Sarah. The rock cracked, some rubble fell, Sarah covered her face with her arms, causing movement and the dress to rip even more in his brother hands.
Finally pulling Sarah over the edge they lurched from the crumbling rock just as it gave way. Cascading rock and dirt fell upon the garden below. Some domestica screamed as they feared they had fallen with it. Antonello clasped Sarah to him, feeling her heart beat into his chest, her tears sliding down his neck. He looked across the fallen rock, on the other side, his brother lay on his back, holding his upper body up on his elbows, smiling at the couple and breathing as heavily as Antonello was.
Tilting Sarah's head back so he could see the extent of her injuries. He ran his thumb over the thin red line, blood pooled on his finger. He sigh a breath of relief, it was cut from the fall but not deep. He kissed Sarah's forehead as she clung to his shoulders through her tears of relief.
Antonello, don't you ever learn! Take her from the roof, I'm sure you can check her wounds elsewhere. Antonello could hear the amusement tinged with relief in his brothers voice and could hear his deep, low laughter tease through his mind. He scowled at his older brother in mock threat. He felt like smiling himself.
It was over. At last.
Sarah was safe.
Olivia was dead.
They could get back to their lives.
"Ouch! What was that for?" Antonello scowled at his wife as she sauntered off, hips swaying. His eyes followed the indentation of her waist down to flare of her hips so intently he almost forgot she had just kicked him in the shin.
"For the last 12 years, for not coming to look for me" She supplied over her shoulder with an impish grin. Antonello growled as he ran after her. Spinning her to face him, he saw her radiant smile, her distended belly, round with their first bambino.
"That's not very nice little nymph" He couldn't help himself nuzzling down her tempting throat "What do I get for the next 12 years?" He teased. Engrossed in her taste and silken texture.
He felt her laughter against his tongue. Kissing back up her neck, he lifted his head to smile down at her. It had been nearly a year since the Olivia attacks. They had found a diary under her bed, full of hatred against the Scarletti's and him. It showed how she had waited for him to care for someone before striking. It should how she had nearly given up during the decade without Sarah but she had over heard his conversation to Giovanni and had known Sarah would be found soon enough. He felt Sarah's finger trace the frown he wore, whenever he thought of how close he had come to losing everything.
Stop thinking about it, my love Sarah voice teased like a caress through his mind. It was so intimate to be able to speak this way.
He kissed her with all the love he felt for her.
And she returned the kiss.
He cradled her in his arms tightly and began to walk back to the palazzo.
"Where do you think your taking me? I promised Sophie we would go fishing with her."
Im taking you back to my bedchamber, little nymph. He could feel her heart begin to pound in anticipation.
"What about Sophie?"
I dont think it is a good idea for her to watch, picolla. Antonello teased as he waited patiently for her answering laughter. The sound always made him ache even more for her. Her happiness and light.
He intended to show her what she was going to have for the next 12 years and more.
Love, protection and family.