Selina shielded her eyes against the bright Italian sun. Sleep en route--even on a luxurious private jet--wasn't the same as sleep in a bed, and it felt too early for the sun to be this high. Cassandra clung to Selina's left hand while her wide eyes scanned the bustling airport. Selina heard the drone of a busy highway behind the terminal buildings and glanced back at Bruce who thanked the flight crew for a smooth flight.
The airport official reached Selina and Cassandra. "Buongiorno! Welcome to Firenze. Passports please?"
"Good morning." Selina pulled their passports out of her purse.
"Do you have anything to declare?"
"Not this trip," Bruce answered as he offered his passport.
The customs official took it while frowning at Selina and Cassandra's. "Cassandra Wayne is your daughter, Signora Barr?"
"I never took my late husband's name. Do you need to see a copy of the adoption papers?" Selina pulled out that sheet of paper while Cassandra stared at the official.
"My apologies and condolences, Signora Barr." He passed the adoption certificate back and stamped their passports. "Enjoy your stay in Italy, Signor Grey."
"Grazie." Bruce took back his stamped passport, and gestured at the airport terminal. "Do you fancy a quick bite here or rather try our luck in town? I'm not sure how far away the house is."
Selina ignored the sudden English timbre to his voice as she grabbed her suitcase. "Better eat here. Cassandra wakes up hungry."
"Hungry," Cassandra repeated.
He contained his amusement until they were tucked in a semi-private corner of a café with their food. "You named her Cassandra Wayne?" His hazel eyes crinkled.
"Do you want to pay child support, Mr. Grey?" she groused as she sipped her coffee. It was too early to spar.
He consulted Cassandra's passport while the girl under discussion stole his toast. "If this birth date is right, she was born three weeks after I left Hong Kong. I didn't visit that long."
She reached and snatched it from his hand. "Impressive, Mr. Grey. It's been a long time since someone dipped into my purse."
"I was aiming for the adoption papers."
"Her father was Alfred Wayne."
The strangest sound emerged from his throat. It was too loud for a chuckle, but his expression was too delighted for it to be a snort. She decided to call it a chortle unless he convulsed and hit the floor. She grabbed empty air instead of her muffin and glanced to her right. Cassandra's cheeks puffed out like a chipmunk's. Selina shook her head. "I knew you didn't order enough. Chew and swallow."
Cassandra wrinkled her nose, but her jaw moved.
Selina pulled her purse to her lap. "You can order more food if you need more." She dug for her wallet.
"I got it." Bruce slid a card out of his wallet and passed it to Cassandra. She swallowed before taking the card and leaving the table.
"Buy him more toast and me another muffin," Selina called after her. Cassandra nodded and headed for the café's counter. Selina placed the passport inside her purse again.
"Alfred Wayne." His eyes and mouth smiled over that. "I think you missed me."
"For such an obnoxious man, you are surprisingly easy to miss," she admitted. There was a limit on admissions; telling him she cried over his picture, hell no. "But you prefer eccentric as a description, don't you?"
"I'll own my fair share of obnoxious behavior. One day, I'll tell you how Bruce Wayne ended up with the Gotham Arms."
"Sounds intriguing. I don't think I caught your given name, Mr. Grey." She took a bite of her eggs.
"It's Hemingford, actually Sir Hemingford Bruce Grey. If your friend Dorrance can buy a knighthood, so can I." His lips tightened before he cut into his prosciutto.
That put his jumping up wallet first in a new light. "It was only a business meeting attached to a diner meeting he already had set up. He couldn't resist singing 'Ding Dong Bane is Dead,' but he was kind enough not to double cross me and warned me about Cassandra. I was only there to trade my cufflinks for cash."
He started to say something, but stopped when Cassandra set down two plates and climbed into her seat. She handed him his credit card. "Thank you. Got enough to eat now?" Cassandra nodded and he picked a slice of toast from the second plate. Selina took her replacement muffin.
After breakfast, Bruce rented a Fiat Sedici for their tourist family charade. The map Bruce plotted on his tablet sent them through the outskirts of Florence and onto an overpass that bridged over the Arno River. Cassandra kept her nose pressed against the window as she sat on the back seat behind Bruce. The area was as hilly as Hong Kong, but instead of glass skyscrapers reaching for the clouds, the yellow and red-roofed buildings of Florence slouched to the ground. Selina twisted her head like she was fascinated scenery, but her gaze lingered on Bruce's profile as he drove.
She had never found a man who matched her proclivity for adaptation before. Haunted shut-in, eccentric billionaire, disgraced businessman, caped crusader, and now acting like a devoted father: will the real Bruce Wayne please stand up? Her gaze catalogued his features as if that would help: brown hair lighter than photographs of his father's and flecked with grey at his temples, the raised jagged line on his forehead courtesy of Bane, a straight nose no longer than her own, and a pair of lips that hinted at other talents with how quickly they could shift expressions.
"You're thinking awfully loud over there," he said. She got caught staring, so she grinned at him, the one Jen had named bye-bye canary. He glanced at her, then the map on his tablet, her again, and focused on the traffic. "I don't want to know."
"Do you need help navigating?"
"You can read Italian?"
"Enough to get us there. If you want non-translated Divine Comedy read out loud, not happening." She compared the map to the street they drove down. "Turn left onto SS67 at the roundabout."
"Are you a fan of Renaissance literature?" He turned onto the major highway lined with apartment buildings and townhouses.
"Had to read the Inferno for a class. If I'm a fan of anything, it's the tangible mediums. Florence has lots of museums, right?"
He fought not to frown. "When do you plan on visiting them?"
"When do you want to go?" She smirked. "I usually give them at least one admission. They're open for the entire public to enjoy, after all. Do you like art or did you just buy because someone told you it was a good investment?"
"We found works by the same artists to replace what was lost when I rebuilt the Manor. Otherwise, I haven't purchased any art." He shrugged. "It didn't fit the obnoxious billionaire playboy image other than pretending to get drunk at art exhibits."
"Turn right onto Via della Casa Giovanni. It merges with Via Pisana." She looked at the buildings lining the new street. A few buildings changed their facades from a rough stone finish to a smooth one, but they all had the same type of poured concrete balcony that acted like a porch for the door. She waited until after he merged their vehicle onto Via Pisana before asking a prying question. "Was there anything you enjoyed about the billionaire playboy?"
"Lamborghinis are fun to drive, as you well know." Bruce grinned as they turned onto another tree-lined street.
Selina glanced back at Cassandra. "You okay back there?"
"Yes." She glanced at Selina with wide eyes before going back to the window. "Many trees but roads?"
"They have parks with trees too, but the trees were probably planted when this road was the driveway to that palace." Selina pointed to the Villa del Poggo Imperiale as they drove past its main gate. "Not much further now," Selina added as she consulted the map.
Bruce turned the car onto a road bordered by stone walls on both sides. As they drove past the first few black metal gates, the wall on the right shrank and revealed the ground sloping as a green pasture down into a valley.
Cassandra tapped Selina's seat. "Park?" She pointed to the pasture.
"It's fenced off, so it probably belongs to someone."
"Or it holds livestock," Bruce added. "I didn't research the neighbors when I bought the house."
"So why a house in Italy? Or do you have one in every country?"
"Just Italy." He turned the car left through an arch formed out of two stone pillars and a vine-covered arc. A stone wall and the upper story of a grey house were visible beyond the scraggly trees. The driveway took a sharp right turn up the hill behind a black metal gate. Bruce punched his code into the control box. "All other property belonged to Bruce Wayne, so it belongs to Alfred now. I put this one with the offshore assets because I wanted it to be a surprise."
Selina craned her neck to get a better glimpse of the house. He probably bought it to impress a girlfriend.
Bruce eased the car through the open gate. "Now the surprise is on us. I've never seen the place in person. It's supposed to be furnished."
"As long as it has a roof and walls, we can manage." Large trees extending their shade over the driveway and blocked the view over the stone wall bordering the house.
"I want to offer you better than just manageable."
Selina smiled as she shook her head. "Has anyone told you that you have extremely high expectations?"
"My standards start with myself." He smirked as he parked the car at the end of the wall.
They looked up at the three-story, ivy-covered tower as they climbed out of the car. The two-story, L-shaped house connected to it and surrounded the paved patio that reached from the loggia to the driveway. The ivy was trimmed around the arches. A wooden fence separated the driveway and the lawn with a mini-orchard of olive trees behind the car.
"Pa-lace?" Cassandra asked. "Story house? With dragons?"
"Castle?" Selina supplied and Cassandra nodded.
"It's not a castle or a palace, just a villa," Bruce answered. "But the tower is medieval."
Cassandra blinked and looked at Selina. "We'll take you to a castle so you can learn the difference," Selina said. "Let's check out the interior of your not-a-castle."
He led the way across the patio to the massive wooden door under the loggia's arches. Sunlight forced its way through the skylight over the stairs facing the doorway. "First thing, find the electric panel."
"They didn't tell you where it was when you bought it?" Selina called after him as he stepped into the shadows.
"I bought it over a decade ago. My memory's not that good." He moved silently over the cotta floors, but they heard another door open and cabinet hinges squeak. "Try a light switch," Bruce called back to them.
The light switch in the room to the right of the stairs was visible thanks to the sunlight. The chandelier flooded the room with light and Cassandra recoiled. "Too red."
"Exactly," Selina agreed. The white vines and pagodas had been painted onto the red wallpaper, because there were large rectangular patches where the artist hadn't bothered to move the furniture. Two niches hadn't been papered, but had rods installed to turn them into closets. Bruce rounded the corner and stood in the doorway. "Your house needs a decorator's touch."
"I agree. I think the appliances in that kitchen are older than I am." He pointed over his shoulder.
"You think takeout comes all the way out here?" Selina brushed past him to the next room. It could be a bedroom, but with a door to the kitchen and a door leading outside, it would probably make a better office. Either way, it wasn't furnished to give a hint. She pushed open the outer door. Cassandra and Bruce followed her out into another patio area bordered by a high stone wall as old as the tower and screened from view by trimmed trees and shrubs. "You hired a good gardener at least."
"The property management company did." Bruce circled the rickety table standing in the center of the space. "Remind me to call them about us moving in." He continued studying the shielded spot even after she assented to reminding him. "This makes an excellent training area."
"Training?" Cassandra smiled before biting her lip.
"Are you serious?" Selina crossed her arms.
"Yes, we need to be ready if the League finds us again, and here won't alarm the neighbors."
"What about alarming me?"
"Selina train." Cassandra's solemn brown eyes looked up. "Selina fight League bad."
Selina scowled as she pointed at Bruce. "He has run from them too."
"Because they pulled out guns and I didn't want you shot." His lips twitched to contain his smirk.
"Fine." Selina threw up her hands. "I'll add a first aid kit to the shopping list." She marched back into the house through the second door off the patio. Bruce had opened the top half of the door, and she saw he was right about the appliances in the galley kitchen. She opened the shutters at the other end and found another door onto the loggia. "Any idea what's on the south side of the villa?"
"There's supposed to be a formal living room on the first floor." Bruce took the lead again back into the house. They found that room with a gorgeous fireplace on the left side of the staircase. Beyond it was a greenhouse with plenty of space for plants too delicate for Italy's climate.
The staircase led into an open living room filled with armchairs and side tables. The dark wood rafters contrasted with the white plaster walls. A half-wall partition separated the living room and the kitchen. Selina went in it while Bruce opened the windows. "These appliances are newer, and we have dishes." She closed the cabinet door. "It's not an eat-in kitchen."
He poked his head through the doorway leading to the right off the kitchen. "Dining room is in here, and a door that must go into the tower. There's supposed to be five bedrooms, plus two rooms in the tower that could be bedrooms."
"You do like to live spaciously." He retreated back to the living room and she joined him. "Cassandra?"
"Selina." They looked up. Cassandra waved through an open window cut above the stairwell. It had a black metal railing installed that created a balcony effect. "Bed."
They climbed the last flight of stairs. The skylight made windows unnecessary, but there was the one to the living room and another at the top of the stairs, opaque for privacy in the bathroom. Bruce and Selina stooped under the massive roof beams, while Cassandra bounced her butt on the bare mattress. "Do you want to sleep here?" Bruce asked her.
Selina pulled her head in from the door that led to a rooftop terrace. "A couple of rules." Cassandra wrinkled her nose. "You must use the stairs to enter and exit. The only exceptions are fire and invasion."
Cassandra pouted, "Yes."
"And no practicing or training in here. You'll crack your skull open."
"Train only outside."
Cassandra nodded. "Yes."
Bruce grinned. "Do I get rules too?"
"You probably need more rules than she does." Selina opened the built-in cabinets along the lowest portion of the wall until she found sheets and a blanket. "Now pay attention, both of you. I'm not about to be the only person who knows how to clean in this house."