and the minute they entered the large ballroom where the auction was being held, champagne flutes were shoved in their faces. Giorgio refused, but between the time they left the grand entrance and made it to the center of the room, Mo had already downed two glasses.
“IDing him should be relatively easy.” She set her empty glass on a passing tray. “Just look for the man who’s yelling that he’s got the biggest penis in the room.”
Giorgio’s large hand met the small of her back, moved her to stand in front of him. “He will find you,” he said, then he ran his hand over the curve of her behind. “In this.”
“I’m fine with being bait,” she told him. His hand remained, caressed, squeezed. “But I can’t be this close to you if I’m to play that role.”
“Men, they want what another has. What I have. Look.”
She looked around the room and spotted heads turning away from her and Giorgio’s direction. Some of the faces were flushed. Some of them were men older than her father. All were attached by the elbow to a woman draped in luxury.
“Come.” He took her by the hand and walked them across the space, over to one of the pieces on display.
Mo would be the first to admit she didn’t quite get this kind of art. Or any art for that matter. And possibly, that meant she was unrefined, but she would never find the time to care, in this life or the next.
“Basquiat,” she read out loud. “Not…bad. But I don’t get it. I swear, my niece, Thandie drew something similar when she was three. We should have submitted it.”
Then she spotted the station where the bids for the piece were written. “Giorgio. The bid for this painting’s currently at twenty-million dollars. Do you think this is the one Casanova’s here for?”
“No.” He jutted with his chin across the space. “German.”
The man was engaged in rapport with a group who also seemed interested in the painting near them, but every so often, his gaze roamed the room. And it wasn’t until she followed it, when it settled on her and he gave her a wolfish smile, did Mo realize what he was looking for.
She tugged at the hem of her dress. “Guess it’s time to play bait.”
Giorgio took her arm, spun her around. He cupped her cheek and jaw with one hand, bent, and pressed their lips together. Mo splayed her fingers against his chest in order to steady herself. His powerful tongue trailed the corners of her mouth, the surface of her lips, before plunging inside.
In the beginning, the purpose of the kiss had been to stoke a little more of Casanova’s ego. A man who kissed his wife, especially like this, felt that in her, he had something too special to lose. But that changed when Giorgio pulled her close, crushed their bodies together. When he devoured her mouth and pressed his other hand firmly against her ass, pulling her even further into him. It felt like days passed when they finally released and she looked up, noting the stars about her husband’s head.
“Bait is okay,” he said. “Touch? Fuck no. Da?”
She went from hot to quivering and then back again. “Got it. He doesn’t touch me.”
“I got it, Gio. I got this.”
He released her, and it was almost reluctant with the way he allowed their fingers to come apart one by one.
Mo pulled a mirror from the clutch, did a quick touch-up on her hair and lips—because that kind of kiss was bound to ruin even the most smudge-proof lipstick—and tossed smiles dripping with molasses to other patrons as she approached the painting. She felt Casanova’s eyes on every inch of her as she walked over.
She studied the piece. It had been done by a female artist who went by the name of Agnes Von Balingen in the early twentieth century, so there was the German connection. According to the note beneath it, the painting was called, The Crying Mother, and had been captured during Germany’s period of expressionism. It reminded her of squinting and looking at a woman with her hands over her face through a fish eye lens. Colors sparked and splashed over the canvas in browns, reds, and blues with streaks of yellow.
“Die weinende Frau.” A deep, German-accented voice alerted Mo to a presence just behind her. “It means, ‘The Crying Woman’ really, but this title, it is okay too.”
“All of this,” she motioned around the room, “is so overwhelming. I feel woefully out of place.”
Woefully? Really, Mo? Dial it down.
He stepped around her so they were face to face. “I did not catch your name.”
“That’s because I didn’t give it.” She held out a hand. “Mona Friedrich. You can call me Mo.”
He bowed and kissed the back of her hand, his lips lingering longer than the amount of life he had left if Giorgio had caught the gesture. Then, his eyes shimmered with a smile as he righted himself.
“Oh no.” She faked a blush, touched her chest. “My husband.”
“Husband?” Casanova glanced around the room. “What kind of man leaves a woman like you to roam on her own? Especially when she has captured the fancy of the one, Jakob Meier.”
Mo giggled, turned her head, tried not to gag. “Oh, stop. You’re putting me on.”
His eyes darkened. She’d figured men like him out enough to know he’d twisted the “putting me on” phrase in his head into putting her onto something else.
“Prima!” He encouraged her to turn in a circle. “Beautiful.”
Mo redirected their attention to the painting. “If I may, because you are such a connoisseur of these things, ask your opinion on this piece. My husband only comes here for art he can put in our house that no one else has. He doesn’t care about the meaning or history.” She pouted. “And, I suppose that’s okay.”
“For another woman. Not for you.” He guided her with a hand surprisingly a respectful distance away from her bottom closer to the Balingen painting.
“My country has not always been the way it is now,” Casanova explained. “The reason it is called, ‘The Crying Mother,’ is that she is a depiction of Germany right after the Treaty of Versailles. My country was stripped of its honor, its power, its status. My grandmother, she wept for Germany. I did too, when I became a young man and fully understood.”
Mo felt an argumentative streak threatening to burst. “I think I can understand,” she said, relaxing her jaw to prevent her teeth from clenching.
“Of course, you can.” He motioned to her. “Look at what your country has done to those with your likeness. America, the superpower, is a cesspool of racism.”
It probably wasn’t the best time to tell him she’d spent most of her life in Australia. Not when he was on such a self-important rant.
“You came here, specifically for this painting?” she asked.
“Oh yes, mein Schmetterling. My butterfly. It is the only painting of Agnes Von Balingen to have survived. You see, Agnes was a staunch supporter of nationalism. Some would even argue that she is a pioneer of the movement. So, because of that, her work was destroyed in 1947. All, it was thought.”
He finally released her and glided toward the painting. It was how he moved, gliding, his long legs stretching in a tempered movement. Like he walked to the rhythm of Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday.
“Look at the colors.” He opened his arms wide. “The way her hair thins, the bones in her limbs. Hidden inside each of them is a little bit of my country. It is my duty to bring this piece home, regardless of what the Chancellor believes.”
Mo walked over to him. “So, you agree with her stance? On nationalism, I mean.”
“That is tricky, mein Schmetterling. I believe in my country. I love my country.”
“Well, you can imagine why her work was destroyed.” She moved to the other side of the painting. “The Treaty of Versailles stripped Germany of their status because of what happened in the First World War. And it is a rise of nationalism, as well as a repudiation of the requirements set forth by the treaty that led to one of the largest atrocities the world has ever seen in the Holocaust. A purposeful rejection which directly led to World War Two.”
She expected anger. All she got was a slight tint to his face, as if he was blushing.
“It is still history and history cannot be changed,” Casanova argued. “Where are you from, Mona Friedrich?”
“Australia, by birth. My husband and I have homes there, in the US, Germany, France, and we are looking for something off the Amalfi Coast.”
He took her forearms. Mo felt that sensation again, that humid heat of a storm threatening a downpour on the coastline, and looked up directly into Giorgio’s menacing gaze. She sent him a look to let him know she was okay and not to advance. Not when they were this close.
“You have lied to me, Mona,” Casanova said, grinning. “You made me believe you know nothing about art when you know enough about history to argue art. The women here,” he flicked his hand in an arbitrary direction, “the most they know is how much German cock they can fit in their cheeks. And me, I am not upset with this knowledge as it benefits me. But a man needs…more.” He licked his lips. “He needs more than just his cock sucked, mein Schmetterling. He needs pleasure of the mind. I do not want a woman who will, when I get home, take my coat and rub my feet. I want one who will say, “Dummkopf! That was a stupid business decision, and this is why.”
Mo pretended to look away, shy. “My husband is in this room, Mr. Meier.”
Matter of fact, he’s behind you, and I’m pretty sure he’s planning to kill you.