Eternity Unveiled

Eternity Unveiled

Status: In Progress

Genre: Romance

Details

Status: In Progress

Genre: Romance

Summary

Gary Sanders, as an elite soldier he faces danger everyday and he’s afraid of nothing, except the words “Do you love me?”. Similarly, Holly’s ideal relationship is swiping right on Tinder. Tasked with finding a missing priceless artefact, they find themselves undercover at an exclusive couples therapy retreat. Now, finding the artefact is only one of their problems as they discover dangers far more intimate than they bargained for, in this fast paced wild ride of action, laugh out loud fun, and hot and steamy romance.

Summary

Gary Sanders, as an elite soldier he faces danger everyday and he’s afraid of nothing, except the words “Do you love me?”. Similarly, Holly’s ideal relationship is swiping right on Tinder. Tasked with finding a missing priceless artefact, they find themselves undercover at an exclusive couples therapy retreat. Now, finding the artefact is only one of their problems as they discover dangers far more intimate than they bargained for, in this fast paced wild ride of action, laugh out loud fun, and hot and steamy romance.

Chapter7 (v.1) - Chapter 7

Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: April 28, 2021

Reads: 8

Comments: 1

A A A | A A A

Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: April 28, 2021

A A A

A A A

7

Gary Sanders tipped his nose into the air, sifting through the delicate and complex, interlacing layers of scents along the Florentine street.  Normally a job such as this would pose little challenge for his lycan nose, however, at this early evening hour the many surrounding restaurants were busy with evening meals, loading the air with the strong aroma of food, heavily accentuated with garlic and freshly brewed coffee, which masked the more subtle scents, making it difficult to get a true read of the area.  Beneath the mouth watering  culinary bouquet, there was the heavier odour of suburbia and human habitation, car exhaust fumes, pollution, vegetation and all manner of human body scents.  And, beneath all that, there was the subtle scent of age.  Not surprising since Florence was one of the oldest cities in Europe.  Everything was old, the buildings were old, the streets were old, and right now,…he was feeling old.  At least, too old to be doing this kind of bullshit assignment.

“This is it?” Holly asked as the taxi pulled up outside a large, non-descript building, she sounded as excited to be here as he was, Sanders thought, sparing her a deferential glance and poorly camouflaged indignant grunt of acknowledgement in reply.

In the twilight gloom, the palazzo looked every bit the protective fortress it was built to be, protecting its occupants within, both the people and its priceless collections.  However, to Sanders, it felt like he was about to enter a prison.  With another grunt, this time from resignation, he stepped from the taxi, his eyes fixed on the arched doorway in front of him.

“May I help you with your bags madam?” the driver asked politely, smiling at Holly, but keeping a wary eye on Sanders in his periphery, who was giving off a serious, If you want to keep you junk attached, fuck off and leave me alone, vibe.  And, considering this was Italy, the taxi driver was well versed in the concept.  Well dressed men wearing all black, heavy scowls and a physique that looked like their muscles had muscles, usually meant trouble if you pissed them off, or their women.  The local Mafia had a way of making people disappear, usually with a pair of concrete boots and a trip to the bottom of the river.  However, since this guy was American, he suspected he’d simply opt for a bullet between his eyes, and wouldn’t give it a second thought afterwards. 

“No, thank you, I’ve got it,” Holly replied, pasting on her best fake smile.

Regardless, the driver helped her carry her bags as far as the doors of the Palazzo, placing them down quietly, he quickly turned, almost running back to his taxi and driving away as fast as he could, leaving Holly standing beside Sanders at the threshold of the building. 

Looking up, she inspected the enormous domicile she was going to be calling home for the next two weeks.  The building materials used for the construction were meant to accentuate the structure of the building through the threefold grading of masonry stone, using rusticated blocks on the ground floor, an ashlar face for the top storey, and the cornice.  The exterior design of the rusticated blocks and ashlar also created an optical recession illusion which in turn, made the building appear even larger by the use of rough texture with smoother textures as the building rose higher.   When the palazzo was originally built, it was larger than other palazzi in Florence, but its more modest design made it less noticeable.  Right now, Holly wished she could be less noticeable too.  In fact, she wished she could be invisible.  She really didn’t want to go in there.

This was not a party pad for party people.  You know, rentals for holiday makers with a preference for partying hard, making lots of noise and disrupting the neighbours, that sort of thing.  Although, she suspected you could hold a rock concert behind the palazzo walls and the rest of the world would be oblivious, its stone façade looked that impenetrable.  Not that she was into that sort of thing, at least not these days, she’d done her partying in her twenties.  Now, in her mid thirties, she was happy to have the occasional night out, but she preferred the comforts of home.  Right now, home seemed like the best place in the world.

 “I’m liking this place even less already,” Holly muttered under her breath as the heavy wooden door slowly swung open in front of them, and the figure of a very fit, mid twenties man with stylishly messy hair, stood before them. 

“Welcome, we’ve been expecting you.  I’m Enzo De Luca, one of the psychologists and also the activities director here at the retreat.  We’re very glad you chose to join us.  The rest of the guests have already arrived, so if you’d like to leave your bags here I’ll have someone take them to your room, and I’ll take you to the great hall where they’re just beginning the formal introductions,”  he told them in a heavily accented Italian, deep voice.  The kind of voice that normally would have had her ovaries doing back flips to get his attention.  Today…not so much.

Holly had a sudden urge to grab Sanders’ hand and flee before they could be sucked into this whole nightmare further.  There wasn’t a single thing that Dr De Luca just said that didn’t have a conflicting connotation.  At no other retreat did they have a resident psychologist to poke about in your brain.  Nor did she think that it was necessary for guests to have mandatory formal introductions.  Not to mention his use of the phrase Psychologist and Activities Director, in the same sentence was a complete contradiction.

“No thanks, if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather take our bags to our room myself,” Sanders replied as politely as he could manage, which came off sounding only slightly less hostile than his stony faced expression portrayed.

“Of course sir.  You may leave them here and when the formalities are complete, you can collect them.” 

Holly was mildly impressed.  Enzo De Luca didn’t bat an eyelid at Sanders curt reply, he simply broadened his smile and gestured for them to follow him.  So, they did. 

“Aren’t you worried about leaving your duffel bag there?” she whispered, careful to keep her voice low enough that only Sanders would hear.

“Nope.  It has a biometric lock on it.  No one can get that bag open except me,” he whispered back.  While his face remained expressionless, Holly could see a glint of cocky satisfaction in his eyes. 

“What, if someone else tries opening it, do they get an electric shock or something?” she smirked in appreciation.

Sanders chuckled quietly at her remark.  “No, but I’ll consider it for the future.”

As they fell into step behind Enzo De Luca, winding their way from one corridor to another, Holly took note of the differences and  similarities between the Medici Palazzo and Havenswood Manor.  The palazzo was gilded with an unrivalled expansive opulence with polished marble floors and pillars throughout, while the manor had a much more rustic interior, using darkly stained timbers and restricting the bulk of its marble to the fireplaces.  What they did have in common was the general interior design and layout, and although the manor did have a handful of priceless paintings and tapestries adorning its walls, the palazzo had ten times its number.  However, the most striking similarity was the great hall. 

As Holly and Sanders entered the enormous room, both raised their eyes to the frescoed ceiling.  The angelic scene painted on the vaulted dome was magnificent, and very similar to the one in the manor’s great hall.  Holly made a mental note to ask Alaric who the artist was.  Not that she should’ve been too surprised by the similarities, she decided in hindsight, both the Medici Palazzo and Havenswood Manor were probably built around the same time period, and no doubt this was the accepted style of the day for a grand house.

And then it was time to do the meet and greet with all the other unfortunate suckers attending the Couples Therapy Retreat.

Holly barely glanced at the alluring finery about the room, choosing instead to view and mentally categorise each person in the room, giving them a ranking from one to ten.  One being a likely serious pain in her arse, and ten being possibly likable.  Beside her, Sanders was similarly assessing the room, building a mental picture of the placement of each piece of furniture, memorising every artefact and book behind the glass in the locked display case, and most importantly, making a mental map of the exits for a quick escape if all the touchy-feely bullshit got too much.

Holly turned to Sanders, giving him her best sour expression.

“What?  Have I done something to offend you already?” he asked.

“No.  I’m trying to fit in.  All the women are glaring at the men with anger and contempt, and the men all look bewildered and annoyed,” she whispered.

“Yeah, I can relate to being bewildered and annoyed,” he replied gruffly.  He had noticed the other couple’s passive-aggressive hostility toward each other, although he hadn’t actually cared enough to assess it, he figured that was for the counsellors to do.  “All except her.”  He pointed out a rather tall woman who emulated the men’s uncomfortable countenance, while her wife, he assumed, fell into step with all the other women.

The general chatter in the room fell silent as one by one, each couple introduced themselves and where they were from.  It was an interesting mix of participants, none of whom appeared to have much in common other than a large enough bank balance to afford the exuberant cost of the retreat.

Holly’s attention faded in and out as each couple spoke  There was an American couple in their late 40’s, Carter and Madison, he clearly had a narcissistic streak, and she was his dolefully submissive wife.  Although, maybe no so submissive if she’d managed to drag him along to this.

Then there was a British couple in their 30’s, Nate was a musician, the lead singer of DWE (Deep Water Express), Holly recognised him as she’d bought one of their CD’s once, and beside him stood his perfectly manicured wife Candy or Cindy, or something like that, wearing more expensive bling than Cartier stocked in their store.

Further around the room was a Belgian couple.  The husband, Matteo, was a very attractive fireman in his early 40’s, and out of all the men gathered in the room, he looked the most uncomfortable.  There was no doubting this was the last place he wanted to be, but Holly assumed he must love his wife a great deal, despite whatever their current issues were, if he was prepared to come a retreat like this.  Then again, despite his size and occupation, it was clear that Irina, his wife, wore the pants in that house and he was probably terrified of her.

There was only other couple in the room which managed to hold Holly’s attention throughout the hour long meet and greet.  An Italian couple Valentina and Sara.  What was interesting about this couple was that Valentina was transgender, she was born a male but was now a female, married to another female.  Holly couldn’t help wondering if she’d had the full package of gender reassignment, or whether she still had the man parts.  That was an interesting situation, she had been born with the biological equipment to pleasure a woman, but if she’d had it all chopped off, did she have to use a dildo on her wife to accomplish the deed now?

In total there were ten couples, including herself and Sanders.  And since they were the last to arrive, they were also the last to introduce themselves.  It seemed that their tardiness had relegated them to the bottom of the pecking order, not that either of them cared, they both would have preferred to disappear quietly into the background like ghosts.  Sadly, that wasn’t going to happen.  It seemed that since they were the last to speak, they had the full attention of everyone in the room.

Sanders cleared his throat uncomfortably, it was the only sign of his agitation, his tempered affect maintaining a calm exterior.  If you didn’t know him, it would be easy to believe he felt perfectly at home in this crowd. 

“I’m Gary Sanders, and this is my wife Holly.  We’re here because I’m a career military man and the long periods of time we have to spend apart has put a strain on our relationship.  Over the next couple of weeks we hope to find some common ground again and rekindle a few common interests,” he told them, keeping it short and sweet. 

At the back of the room a man stood alone, watching and assessing the entire group, individually, and as a whole.  Stepping forward he joined the group, but refrained from speaking for a moment longer.

The Belgian woman Irina, looked at the name tag on the man’s jacket.  “Dr Emil Wagstaff.  Doctor of what, Proctology?”

The doctor cocked an eyebrow curiously.  “What makes you say that?” he asked in a chipper Irish accent. 

 “You.  Your behaviour.  You’ve got arsehole written all over you.  I saw you perving on us from back there.”

The corners of Emil’s mouth hitched up into a well rehearsed charming smile as he chuckled.  “You’re close, I’m the psychiatrist here.”  His relaxed smile accentuated the small laugh lines around his eyes, and a pair of black rimmed glasses perched precariously near the tip of his thin, slightly hooked nose.  And, while his dark grey Armani suit was cut to perfection, it still looked a little large for his lean frame.

The way he said it, only irritated Irina more, as though she was supposed to be impressed or something.  “So, you’re one of those doctors.  Big deal.”

“Why do you say it like that, ‘One of those doctors’?”

“Isn’t it obvious.  Clearly you got into that field of medicine so you could self-diagnose and treat your own mental health issues,” she told him.

The grin on Emil’s face began to shift into a strained version of his previous smile.  “No, but here’s my card.  You might like to make an appointment at some time to see me about your own issues.”  He wanted to tell her that he believed the marital issues she and her husband there to resolve, actually stemmed from her personal issues, but he refrained from starting WWIII just yet.  He would wait for their private counselling sessions for that. 

In fact, from his vantage at the back of the room, along with having read each couple’s application form, he’d analysed each individual’s personalities before any of them had even spoken.  All except the late arrivals, Gary and Holly Sanders.  With their last minute application submitted only a few hours earlier, he hadn’t had a chance to assess their situation to any degree, nor had their closed expressions within the group made it easy for him to get a true read on them.No matter, he’d figure them out soon enough, he thought.

Just as the conversation was about the either raise a couple of decibels, or Irina was going to use the good doctor to physically redecorate the foyer with his own blood, her husband Matteo, stepped up beside her.

“Dr Wagstaff, I see you’ve met my wife, and I’m sorry, I feel I should apologise on her behalf.  She has a few trust issues when it comes to psychiatrists.  We were told we were only going to be speaking with marriage counsellors, not psychiatrists,” he said, outwardly mortified by her behaviour, but secretly his amusement bubbled with glee.  Maybe that made him the arsehole, but he couldn’t deny he was happy that for once, he wasn’t the one on the receiving end of her spiteful tongue.

“Oh?  You’ve had a bad experience with a psychiatrist in the past?” he asked, tilting his head to one side in Irina’s direction, his brow rising with curiosity.

“My first husband was a psychiatrist,” she grated out bitterly, shooting Matteo a withering glare for making her share that piece of private news in public.  Annnd,… that was where Matteo’s cheerful mood ended.  Although, it was practically a new personal record, he was happy for almost two whole minutes.

“Yes, well, we’re not all tarred with the same brush, I can assure you.  It’s a pleasure to meet you both.”  Dr Wagstaff held out his hand as a peace offering, which Matteo eagerly shook, his tight grip nearly crushing the doctor’s hand.  And, after a moment’s hesitation, Irina reluctantly followed her husband’s lead.  “No doubt we’ll all get to know one another much better over the next couple of weeks,” he added smoothly with a fleeting smile, deliberately shifting his gaze away and raising his voice to include everyone in the room.  “I know you’re all eager to get settled in, but first, we have a few ground rules to go through, then one of our therapists, Miss Gabriella Bruni, wants to give you a brief overview of the Medici Palazzo’s history.”

The rules were simple, certain areas of the pallazo were off limits, and if you go into city at night be back before 10pm, or you’d be locked out until morning.  Not that Sanders was planning on playing by the rules. 

Next, as promised, Gabriella Bruni stepped forward to speak.  She was a short, petite woman, but what she lacked in stature, she made up for in charismatic enthusiasm as she explained the history of the Medici Palazzo. 

“…..The Medici exercised their power behind the scenes.  They lived in this building until 1540, when the majority of the family moved to one of their other residences, the Palazzo Vecchio.  Only the younger members of the family used this building after that, and even though it was sold to the Riccardi family in 1659, who renovated it, the majority of artworks still remain in the building.  Some say there are still hidden rooms, corridors and stairwells that were built by the original Medici family that still haven’t been discovered,” Gabriella told them.

“Over the years these walls have seen a lot of intrigue.  Besides more than one of the Medici family being murdered, they also plotted and carried out murders.  That much I’m sure you already know, but did you know that this palazzo held a state dinner in 1938 for Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. 

“Another interesting fact, the Medici Coat of Arms that you see in several places throughout the palazzo, and in fact throughout the city of Florence, with the six balls on a shield and crown, represents bezants, Byzantine coins, inspired by the arms of the Arte del Cambio, or the Guild of Money changers, the banker’s organisation to which the Medici belonged.  Originally there were 12 balls.  Over the years it changed to seven, then eight and then in 1465 it was changed to six, which is how it has remained until today.The centre blue ball, it’s said that Louis XI had a debt with the Medici family and in order to reduce his debts, he allowed the bank to use his symbol, giving the Medici bank more clout among the people.

“I hope you enjoyed that bit of trivia.  Now, along with the itinerary you’ll find in your rooms, you’ll also find a map of the house and the areas you are free to explore.  Here on the ground floor are two courtyards, several chambers, anti-chambers, studies and a library, each containing artefacts that the Medici family collected over the years.  There is also the kitchen if you need a snack and public toilets.  Upstairs you also find the Medici’s private chapel with the beautiful fresco, The Procession of the Maji, which is well worth a look.  There are many areas in the house which are off limits, if you can please be respectful of the house rules, it would be greatly appreciated.  

 “One last thing, remember you’ve all chosen to come here to make your relationships thrive, not just survive, so I look forward to seeing you all in the courtyard for yoga at 6am with Enzo,” Gabriella told them all in a cheery, up-vibe tone, to which she received a round of mixed responses.  All the couples having already met the super-fit, male model-esk Enzo, the men groaned while the women practically purred with excitement.

The formalities done, Sanders and Holly moved to make a quick exit, but as most well laid plans tended to do, theirs were derailed within a few steps.

 “Hi, I’m Cindy.  I noticed you came in late, you haven’t been upstairs yet, have you?” Cindy asked, directing her question toward Holly.

Ahh, right, her name’s Cindy, not Candy.  Holly repeated her name in her head a couple of times until it stuck.  Even then she had a crazy urge to call her Candy.  And, it wasn’t because the fumes from her cement-hold hairspray were so overpowering that they made Holly feel lightheaded, or her pink barbie-doll outfit and matching six inch platform shoes, nor was it because of her perfectly applied make-up on top of skin made flawlessly smooth from excessive Botox and Collagen injections, which was ridiculous considering the woman was still in her twenties.  No, she just looked like a Candy.  “No, we haven’t,” Holly replied.

“Then you don’t know the bad news.”

“What bad news?”  Could there be something worse than just being here?

“There’s only one bathroom on each floor which we all have to share,” Cindy told her.  Despite the cost of this retreat, it was clear that she thought the conditions of accommodation were little better than ‘glamping’.

Holly shot Sanders a quick sideways look, who didn’t even raise an eyebrow.  Not that she expected him to, a communal bathroom was nothing new for him.  In fact, he had no issues with others seeing him naked anywhere, any time.  The memory of seeing his twin steely globes of his rear, and his glorious man tackle flapping about in the breeze the night before, was forever etched into her brain.  As for herself, well, what could she say…she lived at the manor with thirteen other people, and while she did have a semi-private bathroom which she shared with her Gran, there wasn’t a person in that entire house who had any regard for anyone else’s privacy.  So, she doubted she would find a communal bathroom too intrusive either.

“Really?  That sucks,” she replied, putting as much disappointed angst into her tone that she could muster.  What really sucked was the fake camaraderie she was putting into ‘fitting in’ with all these snobby nuff-nuff’s who had enough personal issues to sink a ship.  They couldn’t even have marital problems without turning them into some sort of dystopian soap drama.   If she was honest, and she usually was, Holly felt like she’d just stepped onto the set of The Real Housewives of Florence.  She really hated those reality shows, there was nothing real about them.  They were fake, fake, fake!  Nor did she expect to witness anything real with these people either. 

Seriously, what the hell was she doing here, this really wasn’t her scene.

“I know, right!.....” Cindy prattled on for a few minutes about the indignity of it, and once again Holly’s mind switched off, all she heard was blah blah this, and blah blah that.  Which is why she missed Cindy’s question, and absently answered without knowing what she was agreeing to.

“That’s great.  It’ll just be casual.  And, maybe your hubbie can hang out with mine, I think he’s planning to check out the local pubs, aren’t you honey?” Cindy asked her husband in a sneering tone.

“I don’t think so, my cuddle duck here wasn’t too happy about missing the footy today, so I’m pretty sure he’ll want to catch up on the game,” Holly told her, giving Sanders an affectionate squeeze on the forearm, and nearly moaned from the feel of the rock hard muscle beneath her fingers.

“Cuddle duck?” Sanders asked, lifting his eyebrows. 

Sanders could feel his testicles withering.  His face fell back toward the ceiling and he pressed his eyes closed.

Nate covered his mouth to stifle a laugh.  “Which team do you follow, you’ve got a distinctive Southern American drawl, you follow New Orleans Saints, am I right?”

“Not even close.  Arsenal.  I live in England now, so I follow the local code.”  Sanders didn’t think any Saint, whether it be a football team or the religious variety, quite fit with who he was as a person, Arsenal on the other hand, resonated with his soul in a deep, dark way.  He loved nothing better than to blow shit up.

“Forget the footy, wait until you watch porn on the TV in your room, the HD clarity brings it to a whole new level of filth.”

“When did you get here?” Sanders asked with a chuckle.

“We arrived early and had time to kill, and since my wife isn’t keen on doing the deed, the next best thing is watching someone else do it.”

Sanders burst out with a hearty laugh.  “Well, I guess we should check out our room,” he told the musician, giving Holly a nudge. 

Holly needed no other prompting to get her feet moving toward the door, and once they were away from all the prying eyes of the group, they both heaved a sigh of relief.

“Can I ask you a question?” Holly asked, walking quickly to keep up with his pace.

“Shoot.” 

“What did I agree to tomorrow with Candy,…ah, Cindy?”

Sanders stopped and turned, the move was so gracefully fast that she nearly ploughed into the back of him, his smirk taunting her.

“What?  Tell me,” she bit out with annoyance.  She really hated being kept in the dark.

“You agreed to go out with the other women to a café for afternoon tea tomorrow.”

“I did what?!  Why didn’t you stop me.  I rescued you from having to hang out with Nate, you should’ve done the same for me.”

“I thought you knew what you agreeing to.”

“What?  No!  Didn’t the glazed expression on my face give you a clue that I wasn’t listening to a word she was saying?”

“I know now.”

“Great.”

“It is actually.  You mingle with these people while I search for the Aegis.  We can’t both be absent whenever there’s free time.  You do the socialising and I’ll do the searching.”

“I don’t like that plan.”

“You don’t have to.  Fake it.”

“Yeah, right.  I’m not very good at that.  And, don’t think for a moment I’m going to let you do all the searching, I’m helping too.”

“If you say so.”

“When do you want to do it?” Holly asked.

“What?”  The way Sanders voice rose, made Holly chuckle.

“Get your mind out of the gutter.  I know you’re still thinking about Nate’s comment about porn.  I meant, when do you want to start looking for the Aegis?”

“As soon as we’re settled into our room.”

Right, our room. 

Now, it was Holly’s turn to get her mind stuck in the gutter, she was going to be sharing a room with him for two whole weeks. 

“There’s only going to be one bed in our room, isn’t there?”

“Probably.”

Oy vey, why did she decide to swear off sex now? 


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