“So who was Saint Valentine, anyway?”
Giovanni hummed a little, stirring the sauce that was simmering on the stove. “No one is certain. According to one of the most popular legends, he was a Roman priest who was beheaded for marrying Christians during the reign of Claudius the Second. It was illegal under Roman law for Christians to marry, so they had to marry in secret, but Valentinus was found out, beaten with stones and clubs, then finally beheaded outside the walls of the city.”
Ben frowned, staring at the pot with the same quiet focus as his uncle. “Wow. Romantic. That explains all the hearts and flowers.”
Giovanni raised an eyebrow. “It does exhibit a certain romantic dedication, despite the unfortunate end result.”
“Sort of like this dinner you’re making.”
“The pasta did not turn out that badly.”
Ben used a wooden spoon to poke at the mangled lump sitting in the strainer. “I don’t think it’s supposed to stick together like that, dude.”
“It’ll be better with sauce.” Giovanni shoved his nephew’s hand back and covered the pasta protectively. “Do not call me ‘dude.’ Besides, she doesn’t eat much.”
Ben shook his head sadly. “You’re how old? And you look like an Italian supermodel. You should be better at this. Did you get her flowers at least?”
Giovanni huffed. “Beatrice doesn’t like flowers. She would rather have a book.”
The young man rolled his eyes with all the wisdom of his seventeen years. “Every woman likes flowers. Even if they say they don’t, they do.”
He tried not to laugh. Ben still had a lot to learn about women, though the girls all seemed very eager to give him a chance. “I have actually celebrated this holiday with my wife before, Ben. But thank you for thoughtful input. What are you and Chloe doing tonight?”
“I made reservations at her favorite restaurant.” The boy’s chest puffed out. “And I bought her flowers. Not roses. Lilies, which are her favorite. And we’re going to a club later.”
Giovanni raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“Not one that serves alcohol,” Ben muttered, clearly unhappy with the fact. “But a bunch of her friends will be there, so we’re all going to hang out.”
“Ah.” Giovanni nodded, pleased that the boy was spending time with other humans. “Excellent. And I like Chloe, she seems like a clever girl.”
Ben stared at the red sauce thoughtfully. “She may be too smart for me.”
Giovanni smirked. Leave it to Ben to finally find a girl who could outsmart him. “That’s good. She can teach you humility. Something of which you are sadly lacking.”
“Look who’s talking.” Ben snickered. “Who’s keeping you humble, pretty boy?”
“Benjamin…” Giovanni’s voice was a low warning, though he was trying not to laugh.
Ben lifted his hands, framing his uncle with them. “Come on, Gio. Blue Steel. Show me your best ‘Blue Steel.’”
Calmly, Giovanni picked up a sizable chef’s knife from the block, glanced at the wall behind the boy, then flung it toward his nephew. Ben sucked in a breath when he felt the knife whoosh past him and stick in the wall at his back.
“Okay, no more Zoolander jokes. Got it. Caspar’s gonna be pissed you put a knife mark in the wall, though.”
“Go.” He waved his nephew away as he turned off the sauce. “Beatrice is coming up the drive. Shoo. Have fun with Chloe. Be back before the sun is up.”
“Can I borrow your Mustang?”
“Will it get your out of here faster?”
“Fine.” Giovanni reached over and tossed the boy the keys from the hook on the kitchen wall. “Now go.”
“Sweet!” Ben ran to the refrigerator and grabbed a box of flowers, then hightailed it out the door just as Beatrice was walking in. “Hi! Bye!” He dropped a kiss on top of his aunt’s head then disappeared.
“Wow!” she laughed. “Date with Chloe?”
“I let him use the Mustang.”
“What a nice uncle you are…” She sidled next to him and wrapped an arm around his waist as he stood at the stovetop. “And what a nice husband you are, too. You didn’t have to fix dinner. Thanks!”
“Here, taste the sauce.” He lifted a spoon to her lips and she blew on it a little before she stuck out her tongue. The edge of one fang peeked out as she tasted the red sauce. The sight held him transfixed. She closed her mouth, pursing her lips together, a bit of sauce still lingering on her lower lip.
“It’s… Hmm, well it’s—”
“Let me.” Swooping down, he licked at her lip, covering her mouth with his as he grabbed Beatrice and lifted her to the counter. He let his hands drift from the curve of her hips, up her ribs, brushing the sides of her breasts as she let out a playful growl.
“Gio,” she murmured, pulling her mouth away for a second. “The sauce is—”
“Awful.” He dragged her mouth back to his. “Absolutely awful. I know. The pasta is worse.”
She smiled as he kissed her. “Cooking is not your strong suit.” Then she ran her hands down his back, reveling in the feel of the hard muscle under the grey t-shirt he’d pulled on at dusk. “Luckily, you have many other talents.”
“Mmmm.” He licked at the tip of her tongue, teasing her with a rush of energy that caused a hiss of steam to rise from her neck. “Yes, I do.”
“I’m not hungry anyway.”
He pulled her closer, rubbing up against her as her breath hitched. “Not at all?”
“Not for food.”
“How very fortunate.”
Giovanni lost himself in her. He was surrounded by his mate. Her blood called to him. Her scent sang. Forget having a particular day to show how much he loved her. She was everything. Every night. Every moment. He felt her fangs tease along his collarbone. Her fingers were pulling the edge of his shirt up. Her legs—
“Who was throwing knives and why wasn’t I invited?”
He hadn’t even registered the extra presence. With a groan, Beatrice tore her mouth from his. “Hi, Tenzin. I have no idea. Gio, why is there a knife stuck in the wall and do we need to get rid of a body?”
“Too many people live in our house,” he muttered. “Far too many people.”
Tenzin shrugged, clearly not bothered by his displeasure. “I’m leaving for a while, so please feel free to have sex in the kitchen while I’m gone.”
He heard Beatrice stifle a laugh. Giovanni said, “Where are you going?”
“To the mountains for a while. It’s too loud here. I’ll be back later.”
For Tenzin, being back later could mean a week or two years. There was no way of knowing, so he only nodded and asked, “Anything we need to watch while you’re gone?”
“No.” Well, it wouldn’t be years then. If that was the case, she’d probably ask Ben to water the plants at her warehouse. “Goodbye.”
And with that, she was out the door.
Beatrice said, “Has she always been like that?”
“As long as I’ve known her.” He helped Beatrice down from the counter and opened the fridge to grab a bottle of wine. “And I do have my finer moments, despite what my nephew thinks.”
She cocked her head. “What’s that?”
“This, my wife—” He set the bottle of wine down on the counter and grabbed her around the waist. He hummed a little tune as he turned Beatrice in the middle of the kitchen, dancing in the now-silent house. “This is the last bottle from a very special case of champagne.”
She smiled and moved with him. “Oh?”
“You see, I once drank a bottle of this champagne with a beautiful girl on the night she graduated from university. I was the only one there to celebrate with her, and secretly, I was glad. I was jealous of her attention, and I didn’t want to share her.”
A look of wonder spread over her face. “Really?”
“Mmhmm.” He nodded, continuing to move her in their silent dance. “Later, I went down to the wine cellar in an old house in Houston, and I took the rest of that case and set it aside. There were ten bottles left.”
They continued to sway to the music only they could hear. She asked in a quiet voice, “And what did you do with them?”
“I drank a bottle here and there for a few years.” He tried not to shudder when he thought of the dark years he had spent away from her. “On nights when I especially missed her, I drank a bottle and remembered what it had been like to see her smile and laugh.”
He saw red-tinged tears at the corners of her eyes as he bent down as kissed her again.
“Gio,” she whispered against his lips.
“And then, when I finally saw her again—when she finally forgave me for leaving her—I took her to a play for our first date. And before we went, I opened another bottle and poured it for her, watching her eyes light up, even though I didn’t tell her it was the same wine.”
Her awed expression turned into a smile. “In Santiago. That night.”
“I opened another on the night she agreed to marry me,” he said in a soft, urgent voice. “The night that I knew she would be mine for eternity. I opened one then.”
He had stopped moving as he stared at her, his breath halted as he took her in. Over five hundred years of jaded existence, wiped out by a love so strong and pure, it made him question everything he had become cynical about. “And then there was one bottle left.”
Her smile was soft, tremulous in the low light. “It’s just Valentine’s Day. What’s so special about—”
“I don’t need to be reminded of her smiles anymore,” he said. “Because she gives them to me every night. When I wake, she is the first thing I see. When I dream, I hear her laugh. And so I don’t need this reminder.” He kissed her one more time before he reached for the bottle of wine. “Instead of flowers or elaborate dinners or grand gifts, I’ll share the last bottle from that case with her, then I will make love to her for hours and fall into sleep with her in my arms. And that, Tesoro, is all I need to be happy, on Valentine’s night or any other night.”
Beatrice grabbed the bottle from him and set it on the counter before she leapt into his arms. He caught her and held.
“Wow,” she said breathlessly, “you are really good at this.”
He grinned and said, “I know.”
Giovanni held her with one arm while he grabbed the bottle with the other. Beatrice snagged two champagne flutes from a cupboard before he walked toward the stairs.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Gio.”
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Tesoro.”