For a moment they stared at each other, both of them shocked at how completely unlike Domenico Moretti those words were. He usually had more, well, finesse when engaged in a verbal battle.
Domenico suddenly grimaced, as if unable to believe he had indeed said something so juvenile, and Misty burst into laughter. “I can’t believe the great Domenico Moretti, the one who prides himself for being the perfect diplomat, just called me an idiot.”
“Your words, not mine,” he answered coolly.
That only made her laugh again. She continued gaily, “If it was in the past, you would have said something like...imbecile? A dim-witted fool? A---”
Domenico Moretti was not the type to say such a thing either, and this time she really did lose it, doubling over in her laughter.
The sound was infectious, and Domenico felt his grimace giving way to a smile. Right now, his love for Misty was near to making his heart burst and it killed him that he couldn’t say a thing about it. He said gruffly, “We’re here.” He took her hand, feeling it tremble in his and ignoring it. He pulled her out of the portal, and he immediately caught her before she fell. It was a common reaction for humans who had the need to pass through the Midways.
This close to Domenico, his familiar scent wrapped itself around her. This close, her body was reacquainted with his strength. This close, she found herself looking into his eyes and realized what he had been doing his best to hide all along.
He was scared.
“Domenico, what’s wrong?” Misty whispered as she let him slowly help her back to her feet. But she didn’t move away, even reaching out to hold his face so that he would look at her. It was the first time that she had touched him voluntarily – or at least the first she had done when they were not in the middle of making love – and both of them knew it.
Domenico shuddered at her touch, couldn’t help capturing her hand with his, pressing her palm close as he turned his head sideways to kiss it.
The heat of his kiss made Misty’s knees go weak, and for a moment she remembered how oh so deliciously thrilling it was the first time his lips touched hers.
“What’s wrong, Domenico?”
“I’m so f**king scared I’m going to lose you.”
Yes. No. Yes. No. She didn’t know what she should say anymore, didn’t know what she should be thinking or even feeling. Domenico had changed so much. In the past, he would never have admitted something like that because it wouldn’t have happened in the first place. He would have made sure of it, manipulating people and everything else he could control so that someone like Lysander Allard would never have gotten within ten feet of her.
Domenico saw the indecision in her eyes, and behind it lurked insecurities that he knew he was responsible for. Cursing himself silently, he slowly lowered her hand without letting go, saying gruffly, “Come on. They’re already waiting for us.”
Portals leading to the Midways were always hidden in dense forests and heavily guarded. Today, Domenico had used the one closest to the official residence of the Castellano pack, which was where the meeting with other pack leaders would take place.
Domenico held her hand throughout the ride and she let him. As the silence between them continued, it slowly dawned on Misty that this was basically the first car ride she shared with Domenico that nothing even the slightest bit sexual was taking place between them.
Was that a good thing or bad thing, Misty wondered, unable to help sneaking a look at Domenico’s profile. He was frowning at the scenery, his face bleak, his shoulders tense. The feeling that something was truly wrong became even more urgent, and she unconsciously tightened her grip on his hand.
Domenico looked at her in surprise. “What is it?”
Misty asked haltingly, “Can’t you tell me what’s wrong?” She expected him to brush her off again, or at least to tell her that she shouldn’t worry about him but this new Domenico didn’t seem to run out of surprises.
He did the least thing she expected him to do, and that was to tell the truth. “I’m beginning to question whether it is truly right to have you back, Misty.” His lips twisted in a smile filled with bitter regret. “I’m beginning to understand that loving you might not be enough to make me...deserve you.”
She paled at his words, her heart stopping mid-beat as the glass bubble that kept her heart safe start to crack. “Domenico---” But there was no time to answer. They had already arrived, and guards wearing the Castellano livery were already moving forward to open the car door for them and assist them out of the limousine.
Aurelius was waiting for them at the foot of the steps. He and Domenico exchanged greetings first. Aurelius appeared tense, which made Domenico tense as well because it boded ill for the upcoming meeting. In truth, this meeting had taken him completely by surprise. Alessandro as well had not known much about it, but he, too, had been called.
Aurelius turned to Misty with a smile. “You look even lovelier than I remember, my dear.”
Domenico watched Misty try her best to smile and match the older man’s tone as she returned warmly, “And you look twenty years younger.”
As Aurelius led them to where the pack leaders waited to meet her, Domenico pulled Misty close and kissed her forehead. “Relax, cara. Everything will be all right.”
She shook her head at him. “No,” Misty said with unmistakable sadness, “I feel like it won’t.”
The old Misty wouldn’t have said that. She was the eternal optimist, after all, and his heart clenched at how life had made her more cynical. Was he responsible for this, too? More and more he was beginning to think that she truly was better off without him and that if he really loved her, he should turn his back on her and allow Misty to rebuild her life – without him.
“In here,” Aurelius said as he opened a door at the end of the third-floor hallway and gestured for them to precede him.
Inside were a dozen pack leaders, all of them head of the most powerful Lyccan packs. Some, she recognized – like Filippo Cavalier, whom she once worked for…and was accused of stealing from. There were also the heads of the Fontabella and Buenaventura, whose daughter and granddaughter she was friends with. And then there was Alessandro, who winked at her even though his form remained tense. The rest she didn’t know…and couldn’t be sure of.
There were 12 seats, with just one left vacant. She glanced at Domenico.
He pulled out a chair for her, which confused Misty. “Where would you sit?”