Adrianna felt a rush of joy spread through her as those words left Matteo’s lips. I think I might be falling in love with you.
“Are you going to say something?” Matteo asked, an anxiousness in his voice that made him vulnerable in a way Adrianna hadn’t seen before in a man.
“I’m not sure what I can say,” Adrianna replied. “No one tells you what to say in this sort of situation and I want to choose the right words. Nothing like this has ever happened to me before.”
“If you don’t know what to say then maybe it’s best if you don’t say anything at all,” Matteo said, suddenly defensive, his warm embrace suddenly stiffening.
“It’s not that,” Adrianna hurriedly corrected herself. “I feel the same way, I just don’t know how to express it. I don’t even know what this feeling is, let alone how to put it into words. You make me feel safe; just being near you is enough for me. You holding me like this makes me feel comfortable in a way that people have told me for years that it shouldn’t. Men and women aren’t meant to interact like this. But because it’s you I don’t care.”
“So what you’re saying is…?”
“I think I’m falling in love with you.”
“Thank God,” Matteo breathed, holding Adrianna a little tighter. “I so hoped you would say that, it would have been way too awkward if you hadn’t said the same.”
“I just didn’t think that you felt that way. You always seemed so relaxed and comfortable with everyone. I couldn’t think of a reason why someone like you would choose someone like me.”
“What do you mean ‘someone like you’? You’re a wonderful person, Adrianna. Don’t let anyone tell you any different.”
The pair had reached the gates at the end of the driveway leading up to Adrianna’s house but Matteo didn’t move to put her back on her feet. Instead he continued walking through the gate and up the edge of the driveway as quietly as possible.
“What are you doing?” Adrianna whispered in his ear. “I told you my father would kill you if he saw us. I don’t even know if he’s worked out that I’m missing yet.”
“I said I would make sure you got home safely so I’m not leaving you until you are tucked up in bed.”
“You know you’re asking to get caught,” Adrianna couldn’t help giggling.
“I know,” Matteo shrugged. “Exciting, isn’t it?”
The couple made their way around to the back of the house in silence, Adrianna only occasionally giving Matteo directions as to where to take her. The fact that there were no lights on in the house reassured Adrianna that she hadn’t been discovered, or if she had that her father was waiting until the morning to shout at her.
When they reached the tree underneath Adrianna’s window, Matteo put Adrianna down and stared up, working out a route to the top.
“You don’t have to come any further,” Adrianna said. “It will be easier if only one of us climbs up to my window.”
“Nonsense,” Matteo exclaimed. “I’ll go first and help you up. Don’t follow too closely behind me.” And before Adrianna could stop him he had found his first foothold and had hoisted himself up into the tree.
“Come back down,” she hissed, but Matteo either didn’t hear her or chose to ignore the protestations coming from below. This forced Adrianna to give up and follow Matteo as he had told her to. He was a good climber, nimbly moving from branch to branch, making quick progress up the trunk.
When he reached the highest point he could safely manage he quickly assessed how he would get to the window.
“I think I can reach it,” he whispered back down to Adrianna who was waiting on the branch below him. “I’ll climb in and then I can pull you through too.”
“It’s fine, really,” Adrianna insisted, but yet again Matteo didn’t listen and instead jumped as high as he could, arms outstretched. He grabbed hold of the windowsill, much to Adrianna’s relief and delight, elegantly pulling himself up and disappearing through the open window.
His head shortly reappeared and he held out his arms for Adrianna to take. “Your turn.”
Adrianna climbed up to the branch Matteo had been standing on only moments before and reached as high as she could, her fingertips only just brushing Matteo’s.
“Jump,” he encouraged. “I’ll catch you.”
“You have got to be kidding me.” Adrianna hissed back.
“Do you trust me?”
“Yes,” she replied without hesitation.
“Then jump and trust that I will catch you.”
Adrianna dawdled for a moment contemplating what to do. “I must be mad she told herself before hurling herself towards the window, eye firmly shut. She felt Matteo’s hands enclose themselves around her arms and as she plummeted back towards the ground, her arms screamed in pain when Matteo’s grip held, stopping her descent.
“See,” Matteo whispered as he pulled her in through the window, “I told you I would catch you.”
Adrianna ignored that comment, walking further into her bedroom instead. “Well here I am, safely home. Your job is done.”
“I said I would make sure you’re safely tucked up in bed before I leave and I’m not going to break my promise.”
Adrianna sighed. She didn’t have the energy to fight Matteo so decided to humour him, picking up her nightdress from where she had left it at the end of her bed and disappearing behind her changing screen.
“No looking,” she whispered as she began to undress.
“I’m a gentleman, I wouldn’t dare.”
Adrianna changed as quickly as possible, throwing her nightgown on and hiding her undergarments behind the screen before shyly stepping out.
“I’m ready for bed,” she said. “Your job is done and you are free to go.”
“Why are you still wearing your mask?” He asked, staring earnestly at the black mask that still covered her face.
“No man has ever seen me without my mask, except my father.”
“May I?” Matteo asked, stepping forward, his arm outstretched tentatively.
“No Matteo,” Adrianna said firmly, taking a step back. “I can’t let you do that.”
“I understand,” he said, dropping his hand. “Maybe one day I’ll get to see your face without a mask to hide behind.”
“Maybe,” Adrianna said wistfully. “But not today. I’ll close the window behind you.”
“I’ll come for you again next week?”
“Of course, I wouldn’t miss it for anything.”
“Then the time can’t go quickly enough until then.”
“Will I not see you before the meeting next week?” Adrianna asked, knowing she would be disappointed with the answer.
“I don’t know. We’ll just have to wait and see.” Matteo leaned over and kissed Adrianna on the forehead, his lips lingering for longer than would have been deemed proper. But after what had happened earlier Adrianna hardly thought that a kiss on the forehead was going to ruin her. “Goodnight Adrianna,” he whispered as he climbed out the window.
“Goodnight,” she whispered back, leaning over the windowsill to watch him go. She didn’t shut the window until Matteo had reached the ground and scurried across the garden and into the darkness beyond.