“How are you?” Ludwig asked when Quintilius answered the call.
“I’m okay. Drowning in shipments of products we can’t move fast enough. We have acquired the majority of a Swedish company, and I’ve been traveling back and forth to Ystad to check how much cargo their container terminal can manage on a daily basis.” Another sigh. “I know this is boring.”
“I’ve been dealing with death and dismemberment the whole week. I love boring.” A storm of birds swept before the window, obscuring for a moment the bright light from the fireworks.
A long pause, then Quintilius said, “Why aren’t you here, angel?”
“You know why.”
A strangled sound came from the other end of the line. “I must go back outside and attend to my guests.”
“Will I see you next week?” Ludwig knew he was being selfish, but he couldn’t help it. They had seen each other last at Drako’s residence, the night of the Valentine’s Day party. More than once, he had been on the verge of responding to Quintilius’s invite with a yes. But going to the party would have been an exercise in restraint he couldn’t bear anymore. He told himself he had never been a masochist and didn’t intend on becoming one any time soon, and yet he was prolonging his agony by staying on the phone.
“I might be busy.”
“I’ll call you.”
Ludwig heard the call drop and part of him was relieved Quintilius had decided for the two of them. The part of him that wasn’t elated was louder in its reaction though, and his heart fell and broke like glass.
His invisible wings stirred behind him and he cloaked the rest of his body, then levitated over the cobblestones and reached for the bridge parapet from where he took flight. Skirting the fireworks, he rode the thermals over Rome and floated, numb and weightless, until he found himself staring down at Quintilius’s villa.
Unable to resist the call, he descended toward the gardens, spiraling down, his presence still concealed. Among the sea of people milling along the paths, hundreds craning their necks toward the sky, he saw Quintilius right away. Under the trellis of a white lattice gazebo, the werewolf was talking to his adopted daughter, Ophelia, and her companion. His mane of dark hair dusted with silver at the sides moved as he laughed at something Ophelia had said.
Then Quintilius stopped laughing, his whole body stiffened and he turned.
Ludwig was filled with a bitter-sweet emotion when Quintilius’s unseeing eyes met his. The werewolf shouldn’t have been able to sense Ludwig, but he had. Shivers ran along his spine, making the white feathers on his wings bristle. His legs moved of their own accord, and he marched toward the gazebo. Quintilius stood and stepped down from the wooden structure, walking toward Ludwig.
As if an invisible rope was pulling the two of them together, they advanced toward each other. Quintilius’s steps never faltered, and Ludwig wondered at the strength of their connection and how it had grown stronger through the centuries.
One more step, and they stood face to face.
Ludwig’s breath hitched and his heart skipped a beat, he raised one hand and let it hover ever so close to Quintilius’s jaw. Quintilius leaned into his touch, but Ludwig didn’t close the distance. Instead, he stepped back, then took off, leaving behind a gentle vortex that engulfed Quintilius…