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     “Grey, father,” Lucezia interjected before Robert could answer. “His name is Robert Grey.” Her confidence had returned after her brief setback.
     “Please call me Rob,” he said as he slowly got to his feet. “Nobody calls me Robert at home.” 
     The Signora stepped forward, took his right hand in both of hers, and looked into his eyes. The gesture was so exquisite, he had to resist the impulse to bow and kiss her hand. A slight smile played at the corners of her mouth, as if she knew her impact on him and enjoyed his momentary discomfort. Robert detected the scent of roses in the lustrous, black hair that flowed about her neck in a carefully bushed coiffure. 
     “I very much regret what happened to you, Rob. Rosa told me about your unfortunate encounter with my son. Please accept our hospitality and our apologies.”
     She stood inches taller than Robert, and even though her face had yielded tiny concessions to time -- a few crinkled lines about the eyes and mouth and a hint of sagging tissue along her cheeks -- her beauty radiated with the power of a nearby sun. Yet her beauty was only a part of her aura. When she looked at him, he felt he was the center of her world. Her eyes told him nothing else mattered but his comfort and happiness. It was an intoxicating feeling.
     Robert realized how he must look to her: a disheveled and flustered youth whose wrinkled clothes needed changing. As he withstood the Signora’s inspection, he silently thanked Lisa for the chance to shower and shave that morning. Still, he found the intensity of her gaze unnerving and awkwardly shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
     “Look at your nose.” She lifted a manicured hand towards his face but never touched him. Instead, her fingers outlined his bandages like a painter sketching in the air. “You must rest now, yes? We will talk more later, when you feel better. Lucrezia, will you show him to the guestroom? I must talk to your father.” The Signora turned away so suddenly, that Robert felt he’d just been dismissed from her court.
     Lucrezia led him down a long, carpeted hallway with numerous closed doors on either side, each interspersed by porcelain vases, small tables, and gilded mirrors.
     “Mama can be too dramatic sometimes,” Lucrezia said after they were far enough down the hallway not to be overheard. “You must excuse her.”
     “I thought she was quite charming.”
     “Yes, charming. She can be when it suits her.” She spoke without rancor, but he sensed an undercurrent in her feelings towards her mother. He remembered her reaction when the Signora first entered the living room. Was it jealousy, he wondered, or intimidation? A belief, perhaps, that she could never shine as brightly as her mother.