High atop the steps of the Roman Coliseum, Vittoria laughed and called down to him. “Robert, hurry up! I knew I should have married a younger man!” Her smile was magic.
He struggled to keep up, but his legs felt like stone. “Wait,” he begged. “Please . . .”
There was a pounding in his head.
Robert Langdon awoke with a start.
He lay still for a long time in the foreign softness of the bed, unable to figure out where he was. The pillows were goose down, oversized and wonderful. The air smelled of potpourri. Across the room, two glass doors stood open to a lavish balcony, where a light breeze played beneath a glistening cloud‑swept moon. Langdon tried to remember how he had gotten here . . . and where here was.
Surreal wisps of memory sifted back into his consciousness . . .
A pyre of mystical fire . . . an angel materializing from out of the crowd . . . her soft hand taking his and leading him into the night . . . guiding his exhausted, battered body through the streets . . . leading him here . . . to this suite . . . propping him half‑sleeping in a scalding hot shower . . . leading him to this bed . . . and watching over him as he fell asleep like the dead.
In the dimness now, Langdon could see a second bed. The sheets were tousled, but the bed was empty. From one of the adjoining rooms, he could hear the faint, steady stream of a shower.
As he gazed at Vittoria’s bed, he saw a boldly embroidered seal on her pillowcase. It read: HOTEL BERNINI. Langdon had to smile. Vittoria had chosen well. Old World luxury overlooking Bernini’s Triton Fountain . . . there was no more fitting hotel in all of Rome.
As Langdon lay there, he heard a pounding and realized what had awoken him. Someone was knocking at the door. It grew louder.
Confused, Langdon got up. Nobody knows we’re here, he thought, feeling a trace of uneasiness. Donning a luxuriant Hotel Bernini robe, he walked out of the bedroom into the suite’s foyer. He stood a moment at the heavy oak door, and then pulled it open.
A powerful man adorned in lavish purple and yellow regalia stared down at him. “I am Lieutenant Chartrand,” the man said. “Vatican Swiss Guard.”
Langdon knew full well who he was. “How . . . how did you find us?”
“I saw you leave the square last night. I followed you. I’m relieved you’re still here.”
Langdon felt a sudden anxiety, wondering if the cardinals had sent Chartrand to escort Langdon and Vittoria back to Vatican City. After all, the two of them were the only two people beyond the College of Cardinals who knew the truth. They were a liability.
“His Holiness asked me to give this to you,” Chartrand said, handing over an envelope sealed with the Vatican signet. Langdon opened the envelope and read the handwritten note.
Mr. Langdon and Ms. Vetra,
Although it is my profound desire to request your discretion in the matters of the past 24 hours, I cannot possibly presume to ask more of you than you have already given. I therefore humbly retreat hoping only that you let your hearts guide you in this matter. The world seems a better place today . . . maybe the questions are more powerful than the answers.
My door is always open,
His Holiness, Saverio Mortati
Langdon read the message twice. The College of Cardinals had obviously chosen a noble and munificent leader.
Before Langdon could say anything, Chartrand produced a small package. “A token of thanks from His Holiness.”
Langdon took the package. It was heavy, wrapped in brown paper.
“By his decree,” Chartrand said, “this artifact is on indefinite loan to you from the sacred Papal Vault. His Holiness asks only that in your last will and testament you ensure it finds its way home.”
Langdon opened the package and was struck speechless. It was the brand. The Illuminati Diamond.
Chartrand smiled. “May peace be with you.” He turned to go.
“Thank . . . you,” Langdon managed, his hands trembling around the precious gift.
The guard hesitated in the hall. “Mr. Langdon, may I ask you something?”
“My fellow guards and I are curious. Those last few minutes . . . what happened up there in the helicopter?”
Langdon felt a rush of anxiety. He knew this moment was coming—the moment of truth. He and Vittoria had talked about it last night as they stole away from St. Peter’s Square. And they had made their decision. Even before the Pope’s note.
Vittoria’s father had dreamed his antimatter discovery would bring about a spiritual awakening. Last night’s events were no doubt not what he had intended, but the undeniable fact remained . . . at this moment, around the world, people were considering God in ways they never had before. How long the magic would last, Langdon and Vittoria had no idea, but they knew they could never shatter the wonderment with scandal and doubt. The Lord works in strange ways, Langdon told himself, wondering wryly if maybe . . . just maybe . . . yesterday had been God’s will after all.
“Mr. Langdon?” Chartrand repeated. “I was asking about the helicopter?”
Langdon gave a sad smile. “Yes, I know . . .” He felt the words flow not from his mind but from his heart. “Perhaps it was the shock of the fall . . . but my memory . . . it seems . . . it’s all a blur . . .”
Chartrand slumped. “You remember nothing ?”
Langdon sighed. “I fear it will remain a mystery forever.”
When Robert Langdon returned to the bedroom, the vision awaiting him stopped him in his tracks. Vittoria stood on the balcony, her back to the railing, her eyes gazing deeply at him. She looked like a heavenly apparition . . . a radiant silhouette with the moon behind her. She could have been a Roman goddess, enshrouded in her white terrycloth robe, the drawstring cinched tight, accentuating her slender curves. Behind her, a pale mist hung like a halo over Bernini’s Triton Fountain.
Langdon felt wildly drawn to her . . . more than to any woman in his life. Quietly, he lay the Illuminati Diamond and the Pope’s letter on his bedside table. There would be time to explain all of that later. He went to her on the balcony.
Vittoria looked happy to see him. “You’re awake,” she said, in a coy whisper. “Finally.”
Langdon smiled. “Long day.”
She ran a hand through her luxuriant hair, the neck of her robe falling open slightly. “And now . . . I suppose you want your reward.”
The comment took Langdon off guard. “I’m . . . sorry?”
“We’re adults, Robert. You can admit it. You feel a longing. I see it in your eyes. A deep, carnal hunger.” She smiled. “I feel it too. And that craving is about to be satisfied.”
“It is?” He felt emboldened and took a step toward her.
“Completely.” She held up a room‑service menu. “I ordered everything they’ve got.”
The feast was sumptuous. They dined together by moonlight . . . sitting on their balcony . . . savoring frisée, truffles, and risotto. They sipped Dolcetto wine and talked late into the night.
Langdon did not need to be a symbologist to read the signs Vittoria was sending him. During dessert of boysenberry cream with savoiardi and steaming Romcaffé, Vittoria pressed her bare legs against his beneath the table and fixed him with a sultry stare. She seemed to be willing him to set down his fork and carry her off in his arms.
But Langdon did nothing. He remained the perfect gentleman. Two can play at this game, he thought, hiding a roguish smile.
When all the food was eaten, Langdon retired to the edge of his bed where he sat alone, turning the Illuminati Diamond over and over in his hands, making repeated comments about the miracle of its symmetry. Vittoria stared at him, her confusion growing to an obvious frustration.
“You find that ambigram terribly interesting, don’t you?” she demanded.
Langdon nodded. “Mesmerizing.”
“Would you say it’s the most interesting thing in this room?”
Langdon scratched his head, making a show of pondering it. “Well, there is one thing that interests me more.”
She smiled and took a step toward him. “That being?”
“How you disproved that Einstein theory using tuna fish.”
Vittoria threw up her hands. “Dio mìo! Enough with the tuna fish! Don’t play with me, I’m warning you.”
Langdon grinned. “Maybe for your next experiment, you could study flounders and prove the earth is flat.”
Vittoria was steaming now, but the first faint hints of an exasperated smile appeared on her lips. “For your information, professor, my next experiment will make scientific history. I plan to prove neutrinos have mass.”
“Neutrinos have mass ?” Langdon shot her a stunned look. “I didn’t even know they were Catholic!”
With one fluid motion, she was on him, pinning him down. “I hope you believe in life after death, Robert Langdon.” Vittoria was laughing as she straddled him, her hands holding him down, her eyes ablaze with a mischievous fire.
“Actually,” he choked, laughing harder now, “I’ve always had trouble picturing anything beyond this world.”
“Really? So you’ve never had a religious experience? A perfect moment of glorious rapture?”
Langdon shook his head. “No, and I seriously doubt I’m the kind of man who could ever have a religious experience.”
Vittoria slipped off her robe. “You’ve never been to bed with a yoga master, have you?”