“Will you be alright from here?” Alexander asked as Matteo got a half-sleeping Adrianna to the entrance of the tavern.
“I can carry her,” he said, putting his arm under Adrianna’s arms to support her. “I’ll be fine once I sit her down in the buggy, she can sleep until I get her home.”
“Look after that one,” Alexander warned, “she’s a good’un, even a fool could see that.”
“What do you mean?” Matteo asked as his friend began walking away.
“You know exactly what I mean.”
Matteo ignored Alexander’s comment, confused as to what he might mean. He couldn’t stand it when his friend became cryptic. For someone who was so obviously revolutionary, he could be really ambiguous when he chose to be.
Instead, Matteo turned back towards the buggy and swept Adrianna’s feet from underneath her and cradling her in his arms. She was surprisingly light and he had no trouble walking the short distance to the buggy. He was glad that Luca had done his job well and no one had stolen it while he was away. One could never be too careful in this part of town.
He struggled to get Adrianna into the buggy, twisting this way and that in an attempt to get her sat down without waking her up. He managed it eventually, having to climb precariously into the buggy himself with the sleeping girl in his arms and then putting her down.
When he sat down beside her, Adrianna’s head leant softly against his shoulder. Matteo didn’t mind too much smiling down at her as he took the reigns and urged the horse into a slow trot.
He rode in silence for a while, enjoying the peace and quiet that fell over the city at night. The carriage occasionally hit a rough patch and the buggy jolted along for a few feet but Adrianna remained asleep. Matteo hadn’t noticed how beautiful Adrianna looked while she slept, her hair falling freely over her face and her long dark eyelashes caressing her skin. It stirred something inside him; an urge to protect her, a need to be near her.
She stirred in her sleep, her arm snaking around his, pulling him closer. The embrace felt strangely comfortable so Matteo didn’t disturb her, continuing to let the horse plod on.
It wasn’t until Matteo reached the road that went towards Adrianna’s house and he pulled the horse to a halt that he began to rouse his sleeping passenger.
“Adrianna,” he whispered, shaking her gently. “You’re home, it’s time to wake up.”
Adrianna groaned, her eyes flickering open. “Matteo? How long have I been asleep?”
“About half an hour. I’ve driven you home.”
“I didn’t even realise,” she mumbled. “I’m so sorry,” she exclaimed as she realised that she was clinging to Matteo’s arm, quickly removing herself from the embrace. “I didn’t mean to do that, honest.”
“That’s alright,” Matteo chuckled. “I don’t mind. Do you want me to walk you to the house?”
“If it wouldn’t be too much trouble. I’m not sure I can find my way in the dark.”
“Nothing is too much trouble for you,” he replied, hopping down from the buggy and holding out his hands for Adrianna to follow. She got unsteadily to her feet and edged along the length of the carriage until she was close enough to climb down. What she wasn’t expecting was for Matteo to put his hands on her waist and lift her down that way.
“Thank you,” she said uncertainly.
“You need to stop thanking me so much, I don’t mind. Do you need me to carry you?”
“I think I’m alright,” Adrianna lied, not wanting to tell him that she was feeling unsteady on her feet and was unsure if she would make it back up the tree and into her room. Unfortunately for her, it only took her a few steps before she stumbled and Matteo had to catch her.
“I think I’d better carry you,” he laughed. “It’ll save us both an injury.”
“No, you really don’t-“ Adrianna protested as Matteo’s left arm went around her back and his left swept her legs from underneath her. Adrianna could feel herself blushing involuntarily as she felt the warmth of his body against hers; his heart beat pulsing against her side. “You know my father would kill you if he saw is now.”
“Why?” He asked innocently.
“Because I shouldn’t be fraternizing with someone like you. And no man should hold me this way, only my husband.”
“Well it’s a good think he can’t see us then.”
Adrianna was very grateful for the darkness as she felt her blush deepen.
“What about Ava?” She asked, her tone betraying a spiky texture she hadn’t intended. “What would she think of you holding me like this?”
“What does Ava have to do with it?” Matteo asked, confused.
“I’m not sure,” Adrianna replied, wondering if she had made a horrible mistake. “I thought that, because of the way she was with you, maybe you two were more than just friends.”
“Not any more we’re not,” Matteo said.
“Not any more?” Adrianna said, hope returning to her voice. “So you were close once?”
“We still are close, just not in the same way. I thought I loved her, many years ago when I was stupid and young and didn’t know any better. She was my whole world.”
“What happened?” Adrianna asked nervously.
“It didn’t work. I was a fawning puppy when it came to Ava; following her around wherever she went. That’s not something that’s very attractive. In the end she told me that it would be better if we were friends, that she didn’t love me in the way I adored her. It was cruel but in a way it was also the best thing she ever did for me. Now we’re closer than we’ve ever been and I know that she was right; we’re better just as friends. Why do you ask?”
“No reason in particular,” Adrianna lied, turning her face away from Matteo’s.
“Adrianna,” Matteo said seriously, “I hope you know me well enough now to understand that I’m a blunt sort of person. I say what I think and if I want something I’ll go after it for as long as it takes and make sure everyone else knows what it is.”
“I’ve noticed that about you,” Adrianna replied, turning to look at him. “Like the first time we met; you were going to speak to me no matter what.”
“Which is why I don’t want to be completely honest with you. I’ve noticed something, a feeling I’ve been having.”
“Yes?” Adrianna said, her eyes fixed on Matteo as he tried to find the right words.
“I like you Adrianna, maybe more than I ought. When you smile it makes me smile. The things you say always make sense; they’re always interesting or insightful. I can’t think of one thing I don’t like about you. Tonight it took me all my strength to take my eyes off you.”
“What are you saying?”
“I think I might be falling in love with you.”