Bella never goes to Forks, instead living with Renee and Phil throughout high school. During her 3rd year at NYU, she is studying abroad in Florence, Italy. Her life is forever changed when she is compelled to visit Volterra; stumbling into a world she never dreamed could exist. AU, OOC, MA, Bella/Jasper

A Note from Mae

I am an avid fan of Twilight fanfiction. I've also been a fan of writing my own stories from time to time. So I decided to combine the two and recently started writing my own fanfiction. Feel free to check out my profile on FFn.

This blog is primarily for additional info and pics to accompany my story, Unfathomable Bonds. This is my first multi-chapter fanfiction story and I'm very excited about it.

If this story sounds interesting to you, please check it out. If you do, please feel free to let me know how you like it.

Lots of love, Mae.

Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight and all its affiliated characters; I just like to play with them. I also do not own any of the artwork discussed in any chapter of this fic. I am merely using them in one way or another for the purpose of my story.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

UB Chapter 2 - Birthdays and Fate

Just a few notes based on some confusion reviewers had last chapter: 

Bella is in Italy on a semester abroad program with NYU.  Most students who study abroad do so via an affiliated American based school, in this case, NYU.  They have a beautiful campus and lots of information on their site, which is linked on this story’s blog.

Also, just to clarify, the Prologue mentions it is a few weeks till Bella’s birthday (which is Sept. 13th).  Chapter 1 deals with the time from the Prologue up until the evening before her birthday.

I hope that clears any confusion.  Thanks!

Maj, me love you long time girl.  Thanks for helping with the ‘research’!

Again, thanks to my beta, Sparagus.  My story would not be what it is without her! She has some amazing proofing skills.  You are a lifesaver!

Additional thanks to Jaspersdestiny for betaing part of this chapter.  Sparagus needed a much deserved break and Jaspersdestiny was kind enough to step in and help.

Rating: This story is rated M (MA) for a reason.  It will at times contain violence, lemons, and other adult content.  I really don’t do PG, as anyone who knows me could tell you.  So if you aren’t of age, you should not be reading this.  

Disclaimer: Stephanie Meyer owns Twilight and all affiliated characters.  I just like to play with them.  Nor do I own any of the artwork discussed in any chapter of this fic.  I am merely using it in one way or another for the purpose of my story.  

Chapter 2 – Birthdays and Fate

Bella POV

I launched myself out of bed an hour before my alarm was due to sound, grabbed a change of clothes, and headed into the bathroom to get ready.  I was so excited that I nearly bounced everywhere as I got ready for my day.  I’d been waiting for this for nearly a year!  I didn’t care so much about my birthday, but rather that I would be in Volterra in only a matter of hours.  I would finally see Didyme herself and not a mild representation of ink on paper.

It was still quite early, so I decided to make breakfast for Sera and I.  Hailey and Kelli were late sleepers, and I knew I wouldn’t see them before we left, anyway.  We needed to be out of the house by seven if we wanted to make it to Volterra before it got too late.

With my iPod in my ears, I hummed along to Lily Allen and fried up some eggs and bacon.  I fried extra bacon for the girls so they could just reheat it later for breakfast, or more likely lunch, knowing them. 

As I sat breakfast on the table, I noticed it was later than I thought, and I hadn’t seen Sera.  Going into the bedroom, I noticed she was sitting up in bed, her pale blonde hair in messy clumps around her head, her nose bright red, and her eyes bloodshot.

“Geez, Sera, you look awful.”

Groaning, Sera fell back onto her pillow and curled up in a ball.  “Thanks, chère,” she said, or rather tried to say.  Her voice was raspy, and it sounded like it hurt.  “Damn, that hurt.”  She rubbed her throat and sniffled loudly.

I went into the bathroom and checked the medicine cabinet.  Last week, a bug had been going around campus, and Kelli had caught it.  It only lasted a day or two, but it was pretty rough.  I grabbed the leftover medicine we’d gotten from the pharmacy for Kelli and took it to Sera with a glass of water and some tissues.

“Here, take these,” I told her, handing her the pills.  “They’ll make you sleepy, but I imagine that’s what you need right now.  Lots of rest.  Dr. Bella’s orders.”

Sera sat up on her elbow and took the pills.  Grabbing a tissue, she sneezed into it, and then blew her nose.  “Ech!  This sucks.  I’m so sorry, chère.”

Taking the glass from her, I put it on the table and made her lie down.  “Don’t worry about it.  I was planning to go alone originally, right?  You just get better, and I promise you can come with me next time.  Are you hungry?  I made some eggs and bacon.”

Sera made a face and shook her head as she curled back up in bed.  “Eating is not an option right this moment.  Maybe later.”

I tucked the covers around her.  “No worries, hon.  I’ll clean up.  There is extra bacon in the fridge if you guys get hungry.  I’ll leave a note for the girls to check on you later.  If you need anything, just give me a call.”

Sera just nodded into her pillow, but she was practically asleep, so I grabbed my things I would need for my trip and left, closing the bedroom door behind me. 

I ate, cleaned up the kitchen, and left a note for Kelli and Hailey before loading up my bag and heading out the door.

It took about twenty minutes to get to the train station.  I had extra time, so I stopped and picked up a strong coffee, a bottle of water, and some snacks for later in case I needed them. 

I actually had to take a train to a town called Colle di Val d'Elsa and then get a bus from there to Volterra.  The entire journey would take almost two hours, but I had plenty to keep me busy.  Settling into a window seat, I put in my ear buds, picked a classic rock playlist, and pulled out my book.  I didn’t read, though.  Instead, my eyes were glued to the beautiful scenery speeding past my window.  The weather was mostly cooperating with me for my trip.  It wasn’t raining, but it wasn’t sunny out either.  There was an ample supply of clouds and no hints of the bright sun.  I had checked the forecast, so I knew it wasn’t meant to rain until tomorrow.  I mentally crossed my fingers that the weathermen here were more reliable and that I wouldn’t get caught in a storm on the way back to Florence.

I didn’t see much of Colle di Val d'Elsa except for the road out of the town.  I had heard it was known for its glassware and vaguely noted a few shops here and there, but I was so excited to get to Volterra that I didn’t notice much.  I had gotten a seat in the front of the bus, and my eyes were glued on the road ahead of me as we got closer to Volterra and Didyme.

We had been driving approximately forty minutes when I got my first glimpse of the wall surrounding Volterra.  I could see the upper stories of some buildings jutting up above the wall.  Since coming to Italy, I had come to the realization that pictures do the scenery no justice.  The same was true in this case.

As we approached from the east, I could see the city at the top of the sloping hillside surrounding it.  My eyes took in the beautiful scenery as we went up the road, seeing more the closer we got.  Camera in hand, I snapped off a few shots through the window and wished the sun were out so the colors would shine.

After taking some pictures of the surrounding area and a few of the city from afar, I packed away my iPod and the book I’d been reading. I watched out the window as we entered the city.  Winding through the streets, I marveled again at how the old and new worlds collided.  There was a mixture of architecture, designs, and even people, that seemed to come from varying periods of time in history, from past to present.  I was dazzled by the feel of the city already, and I’d not even stepped off the bus yet.

In moments, we were at the bus station.  After disembarking, I found an information kiosk and grabbed a map while looking over what events would be taking place in the coming weeks.  I had just missed the Astiludio, which seemed to be a flag throwing competition held each year on the first Sunday in September.  Nothing was planned for today that caught my interest, but next month there was some sort of truffle exhibition that looked interesting.  Volterra was also a gastronomical community, and it would be fun to drag Sera along and sample the truffles and other local products.  I took the pamphlet on the festival and tucked it into my bag. 

Checking the map, I made note of where I was and how to get to Il Duomo, the church that held Didyme. It wasn’t far from where I was, so with a bit of a hop to my step, I followed the map toward my destination, taking in the sights and sounds as I made my way through the streets.  There were a few bistros and a mix of shops selling souvenirs, leather bags, and clothes.  I didn’t stop at any of them since I was in a hurry to get to Il Duomo. 

As I walked along the sidewalk toward the church door, I pressed my hand against the ancient rocks, marveling at their age.  The last few weeks, seeing these structures and the various centuries-old artwork, I couldn’t help but feel that as beautiful as America could be, it couldn't compare to this.  Sure, we had the Native Americans, and their history was quite old, but I was more interested in the places like Il Duomo.  The original cathedral had been reconstructed in 1120 in the same spot as an older one had been.  Over the years, the structure had been updated and added to until it became what was now before me. 

Feeling awe for the age of the building and the fact that Didyme was right inside; I stood just outside the door for a moment and took a deep breath. 

Pushing open one of the portal doors, I stepped into the nave of the church, letting it fall closed behind me.  The door opened into the nave of the church.  Ahead of me were rows of pews leading to the altar.  There were marbled columns mixed in with the pews, and the ceiling of the nave was decorated in gold.  I noticed there were a few other tourists and a couple of people sitting in the pews near the altar.

I wasn’t sure where Didyme was, so I ambled around Il Duomo, exploring as I went.  Each of the chapels were named and held various works of art, from sarcophagi to wood-paneled paintings to statues. 

I had only just started down the aisle to the right of the pews when I saw her.  A niche was set in the wall with a small platform.  She was resting peacefully on the small pedestal within.  I approached her in awe, my hand raised to touch her, but I was hesitant.  I had been waiting to see this piece for a year.  It was the defining reason for my trip to Italy, regardless of what it could do for my education. 

“Didyme,” I breathed quietly. 

With great reverence, I pressed my fingers to the veil covering her face.  I knew it wasn’t cloth, but it was still surprising to find it so hard. It looked so much like a real veil. 

“I’ve waited quite a while to meet you.”  I kept my voice a whisper, in case someone came by and heard me.  “This is crazy,” I told her, speaking to the statue as if she would answer.  “Why am I so drawn to you?  Why do you comfort me when no one else can?”  I sighed.  “I miss her.  A lot.  I never really had very many friends.  I was always happy to just have her.  When she died, it was so hard.  Charlie is a lot of help, but he’s more the silent, hands-off type of Dad, you know?  With Renee, she was always interested in what I was doing.  She never let me wallow away my life in just my books, but made me try things.  I’m so glad for that.  She helped me realize that life can be pretty boring if you’re always afraid to try and live it.”

I didn’t know why I was pouring my heart out, but it felt right, and it felt good.  I felt like I was finally able to let go.

“I’m glad you brought me here.  I’ve had more fun here in Italy than I have in a very long time.  I love my classes and living in New York, but this is different.  Part of me feels as if I’m being pulled to you, or by you, to Italy itself, especially Volterra, and also to Sera.  She is so full of life.  In some ways she reminds me of Renee, with the same zest for life experiences.”  I smiled.  “But you and this place … I can’t explain the feeling I have.  Since coming to this city, and especially now, standing in front of you, I feel like I’m coming home.  It’s a strange sensation.  I haven’t seen much of the town, but I know I would love it.”

I laughed at myself.  “Maybe I am going crazy.  I’m standing in a church in a small town in the middle of Italy talking to the bust of a woman who has probably been dead for at least five centuries.  I’m losing it.”

“Perhaps she simply wants you to be happy,” came a soft, deep voice from behind me. It was heavy with an Italian accent and embodied masculinity.

Shocked and embarrassed, I spun around.  My cheeks heated as a blush spread across my face.

Standing next to the column by the pews, about five feet away, was a man who looked to be about my age.  He was tall, about half a foot taller than I, with long, jet black hair that flowed past his shoulders and down his back.  He was pale for an Italian, with a strong face and very expressive, dark brown eyes.  His stature spoke of elegance.  He wore simple jeans with a white button down shirt and a long black jacket, but contrary to the casual style, I had a feeling that he’d spent a pretty penny for everything that touched his skin.

He was absolutely gorgeous, but he definitely wasn’t breathtaking—not like my Mr. Hottie from the airport.

After a moment, I realized I hadn't responded to him, my mind busy processing his being as I checked him out.  Feeling awkward, I finally found my voice. 

“Who are you?”

His expression was curious as he appraised me.  I was starting to feel a little nervous under his scrutiny when he finally stepped forward and bowed slightly at the waist in greeting.

“Forgive me.  My name is Marcus Volturi.  It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Marcus POV

During my rare trips to the city, I often found myself at Il Duomo.  It had become my habit to visit the statue of her, of Didyme, my wife.

Standing next to the column across from the sculpture, I stared.  I knew my work had been flawless when sculpted.  The perfect recollection of a vampire helped me to create a beautiful piece of art, even if I had sculpted it so many centuries after her death. 

The statue was beautiful, but it paled in comparison to the woman herself. Her quiet soul was exactly what I had needed at a time when fighting was rampant amongst both humans and vampires alike.

Now, it was I who had become quiet, resolved to live a solitary life, regardless of the occasional women I bedded.  My days were spent attending to business matters, both human and vampire, while in the evenings I pursued a number of other interests.  No one had ever compared to her, and I imagine no one ever would.

So lost in my thoughts was I, that I nearly missed the woman who now stood so close to the likeness of my lost love.  I could see only the woman's profile, but her face depicted reverence, much as I had seen in the faces of zealots upon the arrival of a beloved icon.  Her expression piqued my curiosity.

The artist within me took note of her features.  She was a pale, young woman, perhaps in her early twenties.  Her long, dark brown hair was swept off her face and neck, secured atop her head with some kind of fabric.  Her large, expressive brown eyes held faint flecks of green and were surrounded by full, dark lashes.  Pale, pink lips were parted slightly as she studied the sculpture.  She had an understated beauty for a human. 

My curiosity only grew when she began to speak.  Her voice was a soft whisper, but I heard every word as she spoke to Didyme.  The cold stone was a silent audience as to this woman who spoke of her loss, her anguish, how she felt the need to come to Italy, to Volterra, and how she felt at home here.  I, too, was a silent audience to her words as she gave voice to her melancholy and confusion.

As I listened, my gaze again moved to the sculpture.  It was puzzling that this woman felt compelled to come here, to see Didyme, and that she was conversing with her as if she were a friend or relative in whom she might confide.  Was it fate?  Was I meant to meet this woman?  Who was she to me?  Who was she to Didyme? 

My mind was inundated with questions as I closed my eyes and called upon my ability.  When I felt the tell-tale tingle behind my eyes, I opened them and perused the small form of the woman in front of me.  Shock coursed through me, and I stared.  I was certain that I had never before seen this woman; therefore, there should not have been any ties between us.  However, I clearly saw the thread connecting us. 

I was baffled by this realization as I studied the thread.  In times past, when I had seen a connection between two strangers, it had been a strong, solid white thread indicative of mates.  This, however, was only a sliver of a thread, barely visible.  Also perplexing were the colors.  Pale versions of yellow and brown mingled together, surging back and forth between us.  Regardless, how might strangers also be friends and, even more bewildering, family? 

I must learn more about this peculiar young human woman.

Bella POV

“Bella Swan,” I smiled.  “Pleased to meet you, as well.”  I bit my lip and hoped he wouldn’t bring up my embarrassing conversation with the marbled figure next to me.

“Well, Miss Swan.  What brings such a beautiful young American to our city?” he asked.

I blushed at the compliment.  “I guess the accent is a bit of a giveaway, huh?” I grinned.  “I’m actually studying in Florence for the semester, but I’m in Volterra to sightsee.”

“I see you are interested in Didyme.”  His voice was soft, almost reverent as he spoke of the sculpture.

“Yes, very,” I told him, looking down at my fingers playing with the hem of my shirt.  “It’s a beautiful piece.  I first saw her in a book when I was studying in New York. I knew I had to see her in person.”  I shook my head and smiled at my bizarre urge that lead me here as I looked up at him.  “I’m not crazy, really.”

“I do not question your sanity, Miss Swan.”  One corner of his lips quirked briefly, as if he were on the verge of a smile.

“Please, call me Bella.  Miss Swan is so formal.  It makes me feel old.”

“Bella, then.  And you must call me Marcus.”  I nodded.  “May I ask…?”

He trailed off, as if he wasn’t sure if he should ask the questions, but I could imagine what he wanted to know.  “Why was I speaking to her?”  He inclined his head. 

I sighed and walked over to sit on one of the pews next to him.  He followed suit so that he was seated to my right in the pew behind me. 

“I lost my mother a little over a year ago.  It was a difficult time for me.”

“I am very sorry for your loss, Bella.  It’s never easy to lose someone we love.”

A sad smile crossed my lips as I looked at him again, the dark brown of his eyes staring down into mine.  I could see that he’d lost someone close to him, as well, and I wondered who it might have been.

“Renee, that’s my mother, was my best friend.  I’ve never had any really close friends.  Not that I’m a recluse, of course.  But nothing like with her.  She was very eccentric, to put it mildly, and oh so fearless.”  I giggled remembering some of the things Renee had gotten me to try.  “She signed us up for clown classes once.  Can you imagine me with mismatched clothing, big shoes, and a squeaky nose?” 

That got me a smile and I was glad to have lightened the mood somewhat.

“Well, last year I was researching for a paper, and came across a picture of her.”  I nodded in the direction of Didyme.  “She looked so serene, so calm.  Just looking at her…” I trailed off and looked down, not sure how to describe the feelings I’d had without sounding insane.

I felt Marcus’ dark eyes on me for a moment before he spoke.  “She made you feel calm in a time when your very existence was in uproar.”

I considered for moment, then nodded and turned to him again.  “Yeah, you could say that.  Is that weird to feel that way from just a picture of a sculpture?”  I didn’t wait for an answer, but continued on.  “Not only that, but it compelled me to do this year abroad.  I don’t even need it for my degree, but I needed it, for me.”  I sighed.  “I did all this so I could come here and see her.”

“Do you believe in fate, Bella?” he asked.

My eyebrows wrinkled as I considered his question.  “If you had asked me a year ago, I would probably have said no.  But now, I’m not so sure.  Maybe.  I know that I was compelled to come here, not just Italy, but here to Volterra.  To Didyme.  Now that I’m here, though, I’m not sure what to do next.  Perhaps fate was what pushed me to this point, perhaps not.”

Marcus was still smiling, but his gaze was now on Didyme.  He seemed to be recalling a pleasant memory and I wondered what it was.  I was about to ask when Marcus reached down to pull a cell phone from his pocket and answered it.  I assumed it had vibrated, since I’d not heard a ring.

“Excuse me, Bella,” he said, then stood and walked a few feet away.

I contemplated the man as he took his call.  He wore what looked to be designer clothing.  I could be wrong about that, though.  I wished for a moment that Hailey or Kelli were here to tell me if my observations were correct.  Regardless, they were very well tailored.  The only jewelry he wore was a signet type ring on his right ring finger and a jeweled watch that looked expensive.

I looked at his eyes.  The dark brown was a bit muddled, making his eyes look kind or murky, but he could have a vision problem or be wearing contacts.  He had an olive skin tone, but it was pale, almost deathly so.

He spoke like an old man, as if he had been born a hundred years ago.  It was strange.  But considering he seemed to come from money, and he’s Italian, perhaps he had attended some private or boarding school.  His mannerisms seemed very elegant and proper, as were his speech patterns.

All things considered, I was intrigued by him and glad I was able to speak with him.  Besides, he didn’t call the funny farm on me, so he can’t be all that bad.  And he seemed to truly understand what I meant about Didyme.  I wonder if he knew anything about her.

I noticed Marcus end his call then dial another one.  He spoke animatedly for a moment before snapping the phone shut and putting it back in his pocket.  He looked up and to his right. 

Following his gaze, I noticed a very large man come forward and speak with Marcus.  The man was well over six feet, by at least half a foot.  He was not only tall, but he was also muscular.  He was burly, with a wide chest and shoulders, a thick neck, and large hands.

In the darkened light of the church, his hair looked black and was cropped really short and matted to his head.  He had thick, dark eyebrows covering eyes that were dark like Marcus’ and the same pale olive skin tone as well.

I noticed the man’s attitude was respectful and polite, but as Marcus turned to walk back toward me, the man looked over to grin and wink at me.  I realized his features were very boyish and I couldn’t help but smile at his cheerful demeanor.

“Forgive me, Bella.” Marcus told me as he resumed his seat next to me.

“Not a problem, Marcus.  I’m not keeping you from anything, am I?” I asked.

“Of course not.  Just a small matter that needed my attention.  However, barring any further interruptions, my schedule is cleared for the day.”

“Do you live here in Volterra?”

“Yes, not far from here.”  He smiled at me.  “Bella, would you like to be my guest for the day?”

I frowned at him, confused.  “Your guest?  To where?”

“I would like to escort you around Volterra.  I do not know what you had planned for the day, but perhaps I could show you a few of the sites.  I am quite familiar with the city, as you know.”

“Oh!  Actually, I would love that, but are you sure?” I was excited at the prospect of being shown the city by a local. 

“Absolutely.  I have been having such a wonderful time that I hate to see it end so soon.” 

He smiled at me and I couldn’t help but return it. 

The rest of the day was a bit of a whirlwind. 

He started by showing me around Il Duomo.  I had already perused all the historical information on the church when researching Didyme, so I knew that the existing building had been here for nearly a millennia.  Marcus began by showing me the sections of the building that had been modified or added throughout the years in the various styles of the times.  He then took me around the building, showing me the artwork that he preferred and why, then listened attentively as I gave my own views on the pieces.

I had such an enjoyable time in Il Duomo with Marcus that I didn’t realize the time until my stomach growled.  I was embarrassed, but he didn’t comment.  He simply smiled and suggested we get me something to eat, but professed that he had a late breakfast and was still not hungry.

As we exited Il Duomo, I looked back to see the man Marcus had spoken to follow behind us.  Curious, I asked Marcus about him.  Marcus turned and introduced me to Felix, who was polite and again had a ready smile that I couldn’t resist returning.  Felix was a flirt, but apparently he was also Marcus’ bodyguard.  I found it a little disconcerting and wondered why Marcus needed a bodyguard, but decided to keep my questions to myself for now.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to know, and Marcus seemed relieved that I didn’t ask. 

Instead of sitting inside at a café, I opted to grab a sandwich and a soda so we could continue to explore.  At Marcus’ suggestion, we ambled over to the Piazza dei Priori and sat on the edge of the fountain.  I ate while he related the history of the piazza and indicated what each of the buildings were, the most interesting of which was the Palazzo dei Priori.  The massive 13th Century building was topped with a large tower.  Marcus informed me that the tower had been partially rebuilt after an earthquake in 1846. 

Once I’d finished my lunch, I excused myself from Marcus and pulled out my cell phone to call Sera.  Her voice was still raspy, but she assured me she was feeling a little better and just needed more rest.  I let her know that I would be home this evening and told her to call if she needed anything.

After hanging up with Sera, I returned to Marcus and we started inside the Palazzo dei Priori.  As we crossed the threshold, I noticed a stairway and a fresco that seemed to be of the Crucifixion.  I went to ask Marcus about it, but when I turned, I realized he was still by the door speaking quietly with Felix.  After a moment, Felix nodded, excused himself, and then continued further into the building. 

Marcus joined me and began to tell me about the fresco, confirming that it was of the Crucifixion and pointed out the saints.  As we made our way to the Council Hall and through the Palazzo, I was awed by the artwork in the various rooms.  Most of the artwork was religious in nature, depicted on frescos, paintings and wood panels.  My favorite was The Marriage Feast of Cana by Donato Mascagni, a large 16th century canvas painting depicting one of the miracles of Christ when he changed water to wine.

We were headed to the entry doors when I looked up and noticed that Felix was standing there, waiting for us, I assumed.  My assumption proved correct when he greeted us, handed a small box to Marcus, then followed us out of the building.   Marcus merely tucked the box into his jacket and led the way into the piazza. 

I told Marcus I would like to do a little souvenir shopping and he just nodded, again leading the way. 

There were a couple of shops situated in nooks and corners between the buildings.  I was charmed by the architecture of the city.  I was truly beginning to love it here.  Many of the walls were made of stone and gave an old feel to the city.  Many of the streets didn’t allow vehicles and some weren’t even wide enough for cars to travel, regardless. 

We made our way into several shops; most were souvenir shops, where I bought various gifts and postcards for friends and Charlie.  My favorite shop, however, was an alabaster shop. 

Marcus informed me that Volterra was known for alabaster and that I should check out one of the shops.  He led me to one called Alabastro Scali and showed me their work.  The pieces were beautiful.  They had everything from chessboards to vases to tiny animals.  I found the cutest little cat with a curled tail and an expression that just screamed Sera to me.  I had to get it for her.  For myself, I fell in love with a rectangular box that had a dark blue base with a white top, painted with a blue rose.  It would be perfect for a jewelry box, but as it was more than I was willing to spend, I reluctantly placed the box back on the shelf.

After buying the present for Sera, I made my way outside, glancing at my watch.  It was close to five o’clock.  Digging in my bag, I pulled out the timetables for the bus and train that would take me back to Florence.  As I tried to work out the schedules, Marcus came up to me and asked about them.

“I need to find out when the bus leaves so I can make the train to Florence.”

“Please, Bella, you are my guest.  I will ensure that you arrive home safely,” he told me.

“How is that?” I asked.

“I can have Felix bring the car and we will drive you back.  It is not far.”

I frowned.  “Isn’t it like an hour drive?  That seems pretty far to me.”

Marcus just smiled and shook his head.  “It is not an issue, truly.  Felix loves to drive and this will give him a legitimate excuse.”

I looked at Marcus carefully and considered if I should accept his offer.  On one hand, I had just met him, and while we had spent the day together, I still knew very little about him.  But, on the other hand, I had been comfortable with him all day.  He had made no overt passes at me, for which I was grateful.  He treated me very well and had been a perfect gentleman the entire day.

Finally, I shrugged.  “Okay, but I will need to go very soon.  A friend of mine has been sick all day and I would like to get back and check on her.”

“Certainly.  That is not a problem.  We could go now if you like.  It is still light out and you would be able to see more of the countryside on your return trip.”  He turned to Felix, who nodded and pulled out his cell phone.  “Now, Felix will have the car brought around, but these areas are still for pedestrian traffic only, so we will need to walk a few blocks over.”

After a few moments, we arrived at a silver sedan.  It was a very aerodynamic design that seemed to be a mixture of sport and sophistication.

Leaning against the car in a pair of khaki pants and a black button down shirt was a very handsome man.  He was about as tall as Marcus, but leaner, as if he worked out more, but not so much as Felix.  He had black, shoulder length hair that was cleanly swept back away from his face.  He didn’t have the olive coloring as did Felix and Marcus.  His skin had a peach hue and while he was tan, he still had that pale undertone.  His face was down, but he was looking up at us as we approached and his eyes stood out to me.  They were that now familiar dark brown, though slightly lighter, but they were piercing, as if he were trying to look through me.  A second later, his expression changed to what might have been shock, but I couldn’t be sure. 

I was beginning to wonder what was in the water in Volterra that there were so many attractive men in residence, regardless of their pallor.  Living here was looking more and more appealing every minute.

Marcus introduced the man as Demetri.  I smiled up at him, taking note that he didn’t offer his hand in greeting.  Now that I think of it, neither Marcus nor Felix had offered their hands, either.  In fact, neither had touched me in any way.  Perhaps that is why I felt more comfortable around them?  I filed that thought away for later.

Demetri opened the door for me to slide into the seat behind the driver.  He then rounded the car and opened the door for Marcus to get in next to me.  Felix got in the driver’s seat with Demetri next to him. 

I took a moment to look around the car.  It was, in a word, luxurious.  There was a console that ran the length of the car between the driver and passenger sides.  The seats were soft leather and very comfortable.  Looking up, I noticed a triangle-shaped sunroof over each of the rear seats.

“What kind of car is this?” I asked, curious.  “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Marcus smiled at me.  “No, you probably wouldn’t.  It’s a Mercedes F-700, a concept car.  Felix sometimes picks them up and offers to test them for the company.”

I was dumbfounded.  I had never been interested in cars, but I also never considered I’d be in a concept car.  It was exciting and intriguing in its novelty.

We began to move through the city slowly, Marcus indicating various points of interest for a return trip if I were interested.

“Would you like to return, Bella?” he asked me.

I nodded, smiling.  “Yes, definitely.  I want to see Didyme again, of course.”  I blushed a little at that.  “But I also want to see more of the city.  Maybe Sera can make it next time, too.  I think she’d love the Palazzo.”

“Felix,” Marcus called to the large man in the driver’s seat. 

Felix pulled a package from somewhere and handed it back to Marcus, who then handed it to me. 

I looked at Marcus in confusion.  “What is this?”

“A present, Bella.”

“You didn’t have to get me anything, Marcus.  You’ve done enough just showing me around today.  I’m sure you had better things to do.”

“I assure you, I haven’t had a more enjoyable day in a very long time, Bella.  Please, just accept your gift.”

“Alright.  So what is it?”  I peeked at the bag.  It was from the Alabastro Scali shop we had visited earlier.  I gasped.  “You didn’t.”  I reached inside and pulled out a brown box with the shop’s name on top.  Opening it, I saw, as I had assumed, the box I had wanted from the store.  I was stunned.

“Open the box, Bella,” he prodded.

Lifting the lid, I noticed a necklace of what looked like polished silver lying in a bed of blue velvet.  At the end of the chain links was a small oval shaped pendant with a crest of trees and birds.  Above and below the crest looked like small red gems, and in the background was a large V.  It was beautiful.

“Oh, Marcus.  You didn’t have to do this.  I love it!  Thank you so much!”

In my joy at the gifts, I did what I normally would.  I leaned over the console in the center and hugged him.  He went rigid and I noticed his body was hard.  My cheek brushed his and I noted how cold it was. 

Noticing his posture, I settled back into my seat, embarrassed.  “Sorry, I was just…”  I lightly fingered the box in my lap, tracing the rose detail on its top.

“Forgive me, Bella.  I am unused to…” he paused, as if searching for the word, “affection.”

I looked over at him, pondering quietly.  I wondered so many things about this man.  He seemed so sad, but aloof.  How did he expect to be happy if he never let anyone in?  And yet, he had taken the time to spend today with me and to buy me a gift.  Perhaps he just didn’t know how to get close to anyone.

“I am very glad to have met you, Marcus.  I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all you’ve done for me today.  I had such a wonderful time.”

“As did I, Bella.”

The car got quiet and I spent a few moments looking over the countryside.  “Marcus?”  When he turned to me, I asked, “If I were to come back to Volterra…” I trailed off and bit my lip, not sure if I should ask.  Is that considered pushy?  But, I liked his company and would like to see him again.  Looking up, I noticed he was waiting for me to finish.  “If I come back, would you like to … show me around some more?  I’d like to see you again.”

“I would love that, Bella.  I was hoping to see you again, as well.”  He smiled again.  I noticed he was smiling more as the day wore on.  I had a feeling it was a rare thing, so I was quite pleased with myself.

A sudden thought occurred to me.  “Oh, and I mean that in the most platonic of ways, really.”  I didn’t want to give him the wrong impression.  He was a very attractive man, but I had no desire for him in that way whatsoever.

His smile broadened.  “Not to worry, Bella.  I didn’t imagine you meant it any other way.”

I relaxed, relieved.  “Oh, good.  I mean, not that you aren’t attractive, but it would be like dating your brother, to be honest.  I just can’t imagine it.  It’s kind of icky, actually.”  I’m sure my face was aflame, but I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, either.

Marcus laughed and I smiled, and then laughed along with him.  “I know exactly what you mean, Bella.”

We spent the next half an hour alternating between commenting on the scenery and asking about each other.  I told him a little more about my schooling and what it was like growing up as a child of divorced parents.  He was also curious about the differences between Italy and the U.S. 

He was rather vague about his work, stating only that he and his brothers owned several companies.  But, he was fairly open about his love of art and literature.  We had just gotten into a discussion on the Divine Comedy by Dante when I noticed we had reached Florence.

Felix asked for the address and as I answered, my lips quirked down a little.

Marcus noticed.  “Why so sad, Bella?”

“I don’t want today to end.  I’ve been enjoying myself.”

Marcus opened the console between us and pulled out paper and a pen.  He wrote on it quickly, and then handed the paper to me.  On it was his name and a phone number.

“Please, call me whenever you would like to return.  I will be at your service.” 

“Really?”  I grinned up at him as he nodded.  “May I borrow that?” I asked, indicating the pen he still held.  I then wrote my name and number on the bottom of the paper and tore it off, handing it to him.  “Call me anytime, Marcus.  Even if you just want to chat.  I’d love to hear from you.”

He took the paper from me and tucked it into his pocket.  “Thank you.”

“I would like Sera to return with me, if that would be okay?” I hoped he didn’t mind.

“You may invite whomever you wish, Bella.  I would love to meet your friend.  From what little I’ve heard of her, she sounds like a very interesting young lady.”

I giggled at him.  “Interesting barely begins to describe Sera.  But you’ll have to see that for yourself.”

The car was drawing to a halt in front of my apartment building when Marcus spoke. 

“Bella, would you do something for me?”  His voice seemed almost hesitant.

“What is it?”

“The pendant I gave you.  If it is not too much to ask, please wear it.”

“Of course I’ll wear it, Marcus.  I think it’s lovely.”  I wasn’t sure what he meant by asking me this.

“Please, Bella.  It bears my crest.  It will protect you.  I cannot explain how, but please do this for me.”

I looked into his eyes, trying to decipher the reason behind his cryptic words.  I knew it was an odd request, but I could tell it was important to him.  “Alright, Marcus.”  I reached into the box and withdrew the pendant.  I admired it again for a brief moment before slipping it on.  When it rested snugly against my chest, I smiled at him.  “Good?”

“Thank you.”  He reached into his breast pocket and withdrew a small box.

“No more presents, Marcus, please.  You’ve spoiled me already the entire day.”

He grinned at me and I noticed he seemed so at ease now compared to when I met him this morning.

“I am afraid this is not for you, Bella.”  He handed the box to me.

I was confused.  “It’s not for me?”

“No, this one is for Sera.  Please have her wear it as well.”

I opened the box and noted an identical pendant inside.  “You’re very strange.  You’re lucky you’re cute and I like you.”  I realized how much like Sera I had sounded and laughed at myself.

A sharp bark of laughter came from the front seat as Felix laughed at my comment.  Marcus gave him a look and he quieted, but I just smiled.  When Marcus nodded his head, Felix and Demetri exited the car.  The rear doors opened a moment later and I climbed out of the plush seat onto my street.

Marcus appeared at my side as Felix closed the car door behind me.

 “Please wear the pendant while you are here.  If you get into any kind of trouble, mention my name.  And no matter how strange, please call me.”

I gave him a look, my eyes assessing him yet again.  “You’re very cryptic, you know.”

“I know, but it will help you, I swear it.”

“Okay,” I told him.

“I had a lovely day, Bella.  Good night.”

“So did I.  Thank you again, for everything.  Good night, Marcus.”

I opened the door to the building and walked inside.  As I shut it behind me, I heard the car doors close and the hum of the vehicle as it pulled away.

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