Pendergast had expected Lord Victor Maskelene to be an old man, someone doddering and imperious. But he's young and handsome and cuts quite a fine figure in his worn blue jeans and old flannel shirt, and his eyes sparkle when he talks about his garden. He's extremely courteous to her in that needlessly chivalrous way of old-fashioned men, in a way that might have annoyed her if she were a few years younger. But it's been so long since anyone has treated her like that without expecting to get something out of it, and she's charmed.

Somehow, the conversation turns from the violin to family history, and to the history of the island, and to the way the sea looks when the sun is setting. She notices D'Agosta fidgeting and sighing, clearly bored. If she remembers his dietary habits, soon he will begin to finish off the bread and olive oil solely out of boredom. A very bad habit, but very difficult to break--especially if one is on a low-carb diet.

She rises and thanks Lord Victor for his hospitality. "Oh," he says, "but we never quite finished discussing that violin, did we?"

"It's quite all right," she says. "I'd hate to take up more of your time, and I do believe we have all the information we need."

"Yeah," D'Agosta adds, "and we're going to miss the ferry. Can we get a move on?"

"But there's so much more history," Victor protests, "more intrigue. More romance."

He proposes dinner that night, at a bistro he knows and that Pendergast had passed during the day. She's about to tell him no, she has work to do, but his eyes are so lovely and sincere, his hand so warm on hers, that she capitulates. A rare moment of weakness, but as she and D'Agosta make their way back to the dock, she doesn't think she regrets it.

D'Agosta is quiet and subdued on the ferry back, leaving her alone to go stare moodily over the rail at the island they've left. She's rather disappointed. She'd been pleased to see him so cheerful on this excursion, such a change from the sullen, dissatisfied man she'd found him in Southhampton. He must be missing Laura, she thinks, and stifles the twinge of jealousy she feels at the thought.

~o~o~

They depart to their separate rooms to refresh themselves, back at the hotel, and she eschews her usual black pantsuit in favor of a blue dress she'd almost forgotten tucking away into her luggage. While she's fixing her hair, D'Agosta knocks at her door. "Ala--um, Pendergast?"

"Come in," she says, ignoring the way he'd bitten off her first name. He's actually changed into a suit she approves of, and he looks very presentable in it. Not that it would be appropriate to inform him of this.

He leans on the wall by the door, watching her carefully apply makeup. She's gotten out of the obnoxious and time-consuming habit of wearing the stuff, unless strictly necessary for a disguise or a special occasion...tonight might very well be that sort of occasion. "I'm ready whenever you are," he says, at last.

"For what?" she asks, and opens a tube of lipstick.

~o~o~

D'Agosta can't take his eyes off Alastrina--off Pendergast, but it's hard to think of her as just Special Agent A.X.L. Pendergast when she's wearing that blue thing that matches her eyes and shows off her legs, when her white-blonde hair is down around her bare shoulders. He's never seen her in anything but that black suit, he thinks, not except for that time in Southhampton. Ever since then, he can't quite forget the pale swell of her breasts under the flowered bikini top, the faded cut-offs and her smooth stomach, the ratty flip-flops and the perfection of her legs.

"I thought we were going to interrogate Maskelene," he says.

"Question," she says, "not interrogate, as he isn't a suspect. Yet." She caps the lipstick. "Interview, even. Converse, perhaps. And I'm going, not you."

He doesn't argue, doesn't complain. Instead, he says, "You look good." It's not quite as simple as a compliment.

"One ought to dress well when dining with a member of the peerage," she says, a little distantly. The implication is clear in her voice and her words: It's not any of your business, Vincent.

He can feel his heart drop down through his stomach. Something--the weird intuition he inherited from his Nonna, that flares up at the most inconvenient moments--tells him that this is the start of something, that if anything starts with anyone it will happen tonight and it will be life-changing.

And he loves Alastrina, like...well, like the best friend he's ever had, or maybe like a sister. Like a sister, that's it, and maybe he can't help feeling a little protective, even though she could kick his and anyone's ss six ways from Sunday. Just because she's tough as nails doesn't mean that she's immune to the charms of this vapid British prettyboy, obviously.

And either that vapid prettyboy is going to string her along like his other girlfriends and then break her heart, or it'll be true f~o~o~cking love and she'll get swept up in it all and go away to live on his island and this is the last case they'll ever work on together. He'll be stuck right back in New York (with Laura, Laura who made the first move when he was still feeling like sh~o~o~t and convinced that no woman would ever want him again, Laura who's amazing in bed and smart and driven, Laura who he knows is way too good for him...and so's Alastrina, way too good for him, but some part of him doesn't think that matters, not with her.)

~o~o~

D'Agosta sighs, and Pendergast is beginning to get annoyed. "He's pleasant," she says coldly, "and courteous, and attractive. And contrary to the rumors circulating around your own precinct, I am not composed solely out of ice--and I don't believe I need to explain myself to you any further, Vincent."

What's annoying her is this ridiculous streak of jealousy, this unprecedented possessiveness. D'Agosta has always been eminently sensible--he's never treated her the way so many men in law enforcement have, as though she needed to be protected more than anyone else, as though her plans and opinions mattered less, as though her personal life were up for scrutiny and somehow made her lesser. They are friends, and she admits that she cares for him--she's let him into her personal life more than almost anyone else. But that doesn't mean that he has the right to pass judgement like this, not now.

It's not as though they are an option, or ever were; D'Agosta is clearly interested in the (eminently deserving and capable) Captain Hayward, and Pendergast has no right to intrude on that nor to even harbor fantasies of doing so. Victor isn't a bad second choice; he's pleasant and intelligent and sincere, all qualities she values. And some part of her does like the excitement after so many years of keeping herself carefully chaste for so many reasons: first for her sanity, then in memory of Allen, then for her career.

(It had been difficult, in Kansas. Corey had been so sweet under that rebellious facade, so artless and adorably awkward in the way he'd approached her...so slim and lovely, and the black leather collar he'd worn as an ornament had spoken of a secret side she'd given serious thought to exploring. But her sense of professional ethics had outweighed any misplaced desire she might have felt. It always will.)

She hates the look on D'Agosta's face, and she manages to eke out a smile at him. "I shall be back tonight," she says. "Without Victor. Do you have any plans?"

D'Agosta shrugs. "I guess I might go for a walk," he says. "Get some pizza. Call Laura."

"That sounds very nice," she says. She stuffs her wallet and gun into her handbag, and tries to imagine stuffing her jealousy in there with it.

~o~o~

Pendergast allows D'Agosta to escort her out of the hotel, as they're both going out that night. He takes her hand, and she lets him, and he tries to wish that it was Laura there in a slinky dress, but he can't.

They part ways at the doorway. D'Agosta walks about twenty yards down the street, and then stops, watching Pendergast. He waits until she's gone about a block, then heads after her, not entirely knowing what he's doing but knowing all too well why.

He keeps to the shadows, staying far enough behind her so that she won't be able to see him, and hopefully not close enough so that she'll feel his presence. The streets are sparsely populated tonight, and it's easy to keep her in sight, especially with her white-blonde hair shining in the moonlight, her hips swaying back and forth. His heart aches for her.

They're only a few blocks from the bistro when Alastrina stops. He stops too, ducking into the shadow of a deserted gelato cart. She turns around and heads directly for his hiding place, heels clicking on the cobbled streets. She's not walking fast, with that purposeful stride he knows from when she's on a case...she's taking her time, being casual, her face carefully neutral.

He can't move--she obviously knows he's there, and if he does try to cut and run, either she'll chase him and she'll catch him, or she won't, and he'll have been scared away and he'll feel completely stupid, pathetic, worthless. So he stays and straightens himself up and tries to pretend like he doesn't already feel like a total moron, and she stops in front of him.

"Vincent," she says, her voice low, "why were you following me?"

"I was worried," he says, and that's a dumb excuse. Whatever might happen to her on the streets of Naples, whatever Victor Maskelene might turn out to be, she can take care of herself and they both know it.

"About?" And God, if this isn't the time to tell her how he feels, no time is.

"I love you," he says. "Don't go out with that Victor guy. Please, don't. It'll kill me." And he probably should feel pathetic after a confession like that, but he feels great. Even if she laughs at him, even if she slaps his face and leaves him there.

~o~o~

Pendergast smiles. For a moment, she can't say anything, and so she takes his hand and leans in to kiss him softly on the mouth. "My dear, dear Vincent."

And then he's looking at her like he's just asked her a question, and there's no way she can give him the answer he wants. She knows how she feels, but she can't say it, not yet. It will take her a little while to get used to allowing herself to love him. But they can have that talk later. Later, after dinner. Perhaps even after they've retired to the hotel, after she's decided whether she's quite ready to do what she desires, yet. She doesn't think Vincent (and O, it is a small thing but a great relief to call him that to herself) will mind if she needs some time. They have all the time in the world, after tonight.

She steps back a little and takes his hands. "I still must meet Lord Victor at the bistro," she says. "There are still questions to be asked and facts to be gathered, and in any case it would be very poor etiquette to not show." Vincent looks disappointed. "But," she continues, "as my partner on this case, you are welcome to accompany me. In fact, your presence would be very useful."

"All right," he says, and he smiles.

~o~o~

They hold hands as they walk through the narrow streets, and this time neither of them has to pretend anything. He still doesn't wish it was Laura there with them, and he doesn't feel bad about it. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knows there will be trouble when they get back, that he'll have to find a way to explain things to Laura without sounding like an ss. But none of that matters right here, right now, with Alastrina's hand in his.

~o~o~

The bistro has moved its tables outside for the night, and she scans the crowd of diners, looking for Maskelene. He hasn't arrived yet. But the man lounging at the little table set for three has. The man with the distinctive red hair, the familiar aquiline nose, and the mismatched eyes that cut through her like a knife.

And then it feels as though the world has gone cold, and all joy has gone out of it. She stops, and she can feel the breath catch in her throat, can feel her heart stop, can feel Vincent's hand squeeze hers, and she is vaguely aware of his voice and his presence at her side, asking her what's wrong, is she okay?

She wants to leave, to tell Vincent that she's changed her mind, that they're ditching Maskelene and going straight back to the hotel. She wants to slide under the covers with the man next to her, she wants to undress him and have him undress her and feel his warm strength and his solidness next to her body, she wants him to touch her and hold her and she wants to f~o~o~ck the fear away, she so very desperately wants to forget (as she has for nearly fifteen years, ever since she met Allen and married him and first knew that the touch of a man did not have to be cruel) that her little brother even exists.

But Diogenes has already seen her. His eyes, the one fiery hazel and the one icy blue, meet hers. And he smiles, and raises a glass of blood-red wine to her. It seems only a greeting, but she knows it for what it really is: a cruel mockery, a sardonic toast to her short-lived happiness.