“Shut the door,” was Adrianna’s immediate reaction, running from the window seat to where her sister was standing and closing the door firmly behind her.
“What’s going on?” Luisa asked, her poor face confused beyond belief. “I didn’t think Father was allowing you to have any visitors.”
“Father doesn’t know about this,” Adrianna explained, “which is why you can’t tell him that you saw this man here tonight. In fact, you’ve never seen him at all.”
“But who is he?” Luisa persisted. “Father has told us that you’re meant to be getting engaged to Count Alberto. This isn’t him is it?” She was doing a strange little dance now, nerves and no knowledge of how to address a count causing Luisa much stress.
“No, this isn’t Count Alberto, another reason why you can’t tell Father that you saw him. In fact, you’re not meant to be in here either. What’s going on?”
“I couldn’t bear to think of you spending another evening in your room alone so I thought I would sneak up and keep you company, but it seems you’ve already found some.” Luisa was slowly regaining her sense of reason now she knew she wasn’t in the presence of a member of the royal family.
“So if you’re not Alberto then who are you?” She asked, advancing on Matteo who had remained completely silent up to this point, secretly hoping that the young girl wouldn’t think to question him.
“Please don’t ask any more questions, Luisa,” Adrianna begged. “The less you know, the less you can give away if you’re questioned by Father, now please go.”
“I’m not going to tell Father anything,” Luisa insisted, not taking her eyes off Matteo. “Now who are you?”
“My name is Matteo,” he said before Adrianna could say anything.
“Matteo who?” Luisa pressed.
“But who’s your family? You must have a family name.”
“You don’t need to know that,” Adrianna insisted. “Please leave.”
“It’s fine,” Matteo said calmly. “I don’t mind telling her about myself. I trust her not to tell your father.”
“But you barely know me,” Luisa said, surprised by this stranger’s openness.
“You’re Adrianna’s sister. If you’re anything like her then I trust you to keep this a secret.” Matteo smiled warmly at Luisa who was looking suspiciously at him.
“So what is your last name?”
“I don’t know that family.”
“I don’t see why you should,” Matteo said. “My family isn’t as old as yours.”
“What do you mean? You’re not an old family?”
“Definitely not,” Matteo laughed. “I am the very definition of new money. My father only recently retired as a merchant and I’m the first of my family to not have to work for a living.”
“What? So you’re not a noble?” Luisa exclaimed looking directly at Adrianna. “Do you know what Father would say about this?”
“I know exactly what he would say, which is why you can’t tell him that you saw Matteo here,” Adrianna pleaded. Luisa smiled smugly her eyes lighting up.
“Of course I won’t tell him,” she said, suddenly turning cheerful and jumping up onto Adrianna’s bed, gently bouncing up and down. “So when did you two meet?”
“Why do you want to know all this?” Adrianna asked.
“Because it’s romantic,” Luisa said earnestly. “Love across social boundaries, hiding your feelings from the rest of the world. It’s what stories are made of. You are in love, aren’t you?”
Matteo and Adrianna exchanged a look, both of them unsure of how to answer that question.
“I have very strong feelings towards your sister, yes,” Matteo said carefully.
“You don’t love her,” Luisa exclaimed, horrified by this truth.
“I haven’t known your sister for that long,” he said, regretting opening his mouth. “I think I’m falling in love with her but…” his words faded away, not sure how to finish that sentence.
“And I’m not sure I’m in love with Matteo,” Adrianna piped in, trying to salvage the situation. “But that’s not to say that I won’t ever love him.”
“Well you’re going to be in love at some point,” Luisa said confidently, “because that’s the way it always is.” Adrianna liked her sister’s childish naivety and her blind belief that everything would work out just like it did in the fairytales she was told as a baby. But Adrianna knew that the world wasn’t really like that, that princes weren’t always the good guys and love didn’t always conquer all.
“So tell me everything,” Luisa said, leaning intently forward, ready to listen.
“Not tonight,” Adrianna said firmly. “I think you’ve discovered enough secrets for one day.” She hauled her sister up from the bed by her arm and steered her firmly towards the door.
“But you can’t leave it there,” she protested. “I have to know the whole story.”
“If you’re very good and don’t tell Father then I’ll tell you everything later,” Adrianna whispered.
Adrianna sighed as she shut the door behind her sister, wondering to herself whether she would ever get a perfect moment alone with Matteo.
“I’m sorry,” Matteo said, getting up from the window seat and walking across the room towards Adrianna. “Whenever I show up something bad seems to happen.”
“No, I should be the one who’s sorry. My sisters should know better than to behave in the way Luisa just did.”
“I thought it was quite sweet,” Matteo smiled. “She clearly cares a lot about you.”
“We’re lucky that it was Luisa who caught us. Vittoria would have been off to tell Father in a heartbeat.”
“Everything will work itself out, you’ll see. I should probably go. We don’t want to risk being caught again by an unsuspecting member of your family.”
“So soon?” Adrianna complained. “I like having you around.”
“I can come again. How about tomorrow?”
“I’m at court tomorrow for the Ferserian visit,” Adrianna said, shaking her head as Matteo’s hands closed around hers.
“Of course you are. I’m sure I’ll find a way to see you.”
“I hope so,” Adrianna murmured, looking up into Matteo’s dark eyes. He closed the short gap between them, one hand cupping her face and the other sliding around her waist as their lips met. This kiss was longer, deeper than the brief brushing of lips that Luisa had walked in on. Adrianna’s stomach flipped over with joy, her arms going around Matteo’s shoulders and pulling him closer, not wanting the kiss to end.
When they finally broke away, Adrianna still maintained her hold on Matteo, her arms draped around his neck, his forehead resting against hers and both his hands now on her waist.
“I really should go,” he breathed.
“I know,” Adrianna sighed. “But that doesn’t mean that I want you to go.”
The pair parted, Matteo heading to the window, his hand now in Adrianna’s. He stole one last kiss as he opened the window before disappearing down the tree and out across the garden.