36 - All Summer Long

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May 2, 1478

Florence, Italy

"Ow!" Ezio hissed, shaking his hand. Catherine, meanwhile, gazed ahead coolly, her hands back on the saddle pommel after having slapped the young man's.

"I told you—keep them on the waist," she snapped quickly, which only got a grumble from Ezio. He knew better, so of course he had nothing to say. Instead, he pouted and made huffing sounds. Being side-saddle, it was easy to look up at him with a tilt of her head and raise a brow. "Excuse me? Are you pouting? I told you the rules—you agreed to them. If you touch me, it better be on the waist."

"Yes, my lady," he sighed with exasperation, but did return an arm to her waist before urging the horses into a trot. Catherine turned her gaze back to the landscape, which had become exceedingly familiar. It was to be expected, though; they had passed by the closest village hours ago, and in the distance there were the flags raised high above the towers of the city. Monteriggioni was not far at all, and soon the stone walls would be in sight. Not even thirty minutes and they'd be there, and Catherine was all too happy to be able to get there. As fun as the ride had been with Ezio using any and every moment to either go too low or too high making her smack him or the small talk they had about what fate awaited them at home, she was glad it would be over. Even side saddle, her legs were a little sore, although her arm and side did not hurt thanks to Ezio handling things. That, and she'd be happy to walk and sleep in her bed and eat more of Annetta's food.

First, though, they had to get home and have some chats.

Despite the fun on the road, she hadn't forgotten there were things to take care of. Ezio had finally managed to mention he'd sent word to Mario ahead of time and gotten a letter the same night when at Paola's. The older man had mentioned that their courtesans had arrived with Annetta not far behind. Ghita was already getting the last preparations for the brothel done, too, and was ready to take up her roll. La Volpe's representative and men he sent to work for them were also there, and a decent-sized building that hadn't seen much use besides a supply storage was now serving as their home. They were currently decorating it and making it how they wanted, and after the city folk were assured they would never be stolen from—by word from Mario under threat of punishment—things were doing alright. Still, there might be tension yet until things were completely done and trust was built.

Beyond that, though, it meant their forces were exceedingly stronger than they had been in ages. Not only were there swords, they had secrets and swift hands. Monteriggioni's prowess had been spreading, and with it so, too, would their forces. Mario had plans he wished to discuss, and some things she and Ezio had mentioned involved getting their people to San Gimignano and the country side, searching for secrets from guards, politicians, and anyone willing to talk, and relieving anyone with a bit more coin than they might need of their burden. It was something grand to consider, but if it worked, it would prove useful—especially when their enemy had gone into hiding.

Catherine sighed and turned her head towards him, "Stop—I'll ride into the city."

"Oh, no, no; you're hurt," he grinned, but she only rolled her eyes.

"I can ride the rest of the way plenty fine, thanks. Besides, do you actually want to give Ottavio any leeway? I know you enjoy torturing him on his bet—of which is still friggin' ridiculous," she rumbled, glaring slightly.

He waited a moment before grinning and slowing the horses, "You're right. I do. Payback for training, I guess. Thus... I shall concede to your whims, my dear lady. Who am I to say no to beautiful woman, after all?"

"You certainly never can," she hummed dryly, making him wince, but she ignored it as she slipped off. She winced herself when a tiny jolt went through the wound on her leg from the jarring, but then she walked it off to her horse. Ezio kindly relieved himself of the reigns and she was able to hop up. Briefly, she noted there was guilt in his features, and even more briefly, she was glad for it—almost cruelly so. She thought he deserved it, but that wasn't fair of her. He didn't deserve it in the slightest, really. She was just being petty and jealous—that was all.

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