Excerpt: Dante's Dilemma, a novella
That’s when he saw her…
She knelt in the shade of one of the trees, surrounded by royal purple hyacinth, chaste white daisies, and a smattering of bright red poppies, her innocent bloom of youth just ripening into the heady flush of adulthood. A straw hat rested in the grass beside her, trailing soft pink ribbons, while a large basket squatted at her elbow, half filled with a selection of blossoms. She wore a simple cotton dress, the afternoon sun shooting soft rays of gold through the thin material, outlining her full, round breasts and the tiniest waist he’d ever seen.
She hummed while she worked, her hands moving gracefully among the flowers, snipping the choicest flowers. A gentle breeze kicked up and stirred the orange blossoms overhead, sending them raining down onto her hair. They landed like dainty white stars captured in an endless current of hip-long ringlets containing every shade of brown imaginable. And in that moment Rom knew the image before him would remain part of the fiber of his being for the rest of his life, indelibly branded into the weft and warp of who he was…and who he’d eventually become.
He wanted her as he’d wanted nothing before in his life. He didn’t know who she was, didn’t really care. He simply understood on some primal level that she belonged to him, just as he belonged to her. Take her! Take the woman. The words echoed through him, filling him, overwhelming him with a desire so strong, he shook with it. He didn’t dare approach her, not until he regained his self-control. He lowered his head, fighting for focus. For clarity.
He knew what this was. How could he not when his mother, Nicci, had warned him of the Dante curse from the time he’d been a baby. It was the dreaded Inferno, a disease of the blood, passed from one generation to the next. A craving that overcame all inhibition and stole intellect and reason, leading those who suffered from it to their ruin. An inescapable desire that drove sense and sensibility from the mind, leaving behind a lust so strong he didn’t have a hope of escaping it.
After all, The Inferno was responsible for his conception and birth…as well as his mother’s shame. His mother had experienced the curse and had indulged in an ill-fated affair. Then her lover died, leaving her pregnant and disgraced. The fact that Rom’s stepfather had overlooked her indiscretion and even accepted her bastard child into his home, was considered a marvel by everyone in Santa Lucia. Since then Nicci had led a pious life, keeping a spotless home, devoting herself to the care and feeding of her family, all the while attending daily mass. But she’d warned Rom of the dangers. Warned Rom that the Dantes were cursed.
Not that it changed a damn thing. The words came again, echoing from head to heart, seeping into his very bones. Get. The. Woman.
The young woman clipped another blossom and lifted it to her face, the red of the poppy the same shade as her sun-kissed cheeks and ripe, full lips. A molten ribbon of passion burned through Rom and seemed to stretch toward her, connecting them. And all the while, he heard the desperate demand urging him to cross the field to her side. To take her into his arms and strip away the clothes separating them, and make her his. Make her his right here, with wildflowers for their bed, orange blossoms for their canopy, and the scent of love perfuming the air.
He must have made some sort of sound of desperation, for her head jerked in his direction and her eyes widened in alarm, like a lamb spying its first wolf. She reached for her basket of flowers, clutching it close, as though for protection. He paused, waging an impossible battle between caution and desire.
“I didn’t mean to startle you,” he finally said, the words low and hard-won. “I was cutting through the field on my way home.”
She glanced uneasily in the direction of Santa Lucia. “You live near here?”
“Another couple of miles. I’m Rom Dante.”
“Julietta Bianchi. My family and I live a few hours further west. We’re…visiting.”
He grinned at that, amazed he could find anything the least humorous about his situation. “Romero and Julietta? What are the odds?”
That had her laughing, a sweet, pure sound that called to him. He answered the call, slowly approaching. He could see her eyes now. They were a lovely hazel, an intriguing mix of green and gold and brown, the expression wavering between caution and something else. Attraction? He could still hear the whispering voice of sin hammering at him, filling him with an unsettling awareness he could do nothing to suppress. Slowly, her amusement faded, replaced by a matching awareness. She stood, the basket of flowers tumbling to her feet, the contents surrounding her in a colorful pool of innocence and passion. The wild sorrel for Rom’s grandfather slipped from his grasp, forgotten.
He simply held out his hand, waiting to see if she took it. Eve tempted by the apple. Slowly, oh so slowly, she slipped her hand into his. Eve biting the apple.
And that’s when The Inferno took fire.
Rom felt Julietta’s start of surprise, her expression reflecting shock at the burn passing from his palm to hers. It didn’t actually hurt, certainly no more than a spark of static electricity hurts. But the warmth lingered, sinking through flesh into bone, strengthening and quickening with each beat of their hearts, bonding them physically, as well as on some deeper, more spiritual level. Where before desire wove them together, now that same desire sealed the bond, joining them through their linked hands.
This was a curse? Curses should be taken seriously. His mother had taught him so. He also didn’t think Julietta would appreciate knowing he’d cursed her with his touch. Then, he shook his head. No. This didn’t feel evil. Not even a little. How could something so incredible be considered wicked? It wasn’t possible. Instead, this felt… A strange certainty filled him.
The Inferno felt like a gift. A blessing.
And as that certainty took hold, he gazed down at Julietta, his Inferno mate. “You’re mine now,” he stated.