- June 2008 -
MILLS AND BOON ROMANCE
- June 2008 -
Australia & New Zealand
- July 2008 -
watch this space!
Since the death of his wife and baby Count Pietro Bagnelli has lived alone in his palazzo in Venice. Looking out of his window during a storm he discovers Ruth, seeking his friend Gino, who loved but then abandoned her. For months she suffered amnesia. Now she’s half remembered, and wants to know more.
Pietro takes her in, but next morning he discovers that she has vanished, and searches for her through Venice...
Luck was with him. It was January and Venice was almost free of tourists, plus, in that tiny city, he knew almost every other resident, so he was able to consult many kindly friends, and managed to build up a picture of Ruth’s movements, even down to half an hour she spent drinking coffee in a small café.
In no other city but Venice could he have done this. The word began to spread ahead of him. People called each other to ask if Ruth had passed that way, then they began waiting for him in the squares and alleyways. Finally he spotted her in the Garibaldi Gardens, at the extreme end of Venice, where the land tailed off into the lagoon.
He almost didn’t see her at first. It was late afternoon, the light was fading fast and she was sitting quite still on a stone bench. Her elbows were resting on her knees and her arms were crossed as if to protect herself, but she didn’t, as he’d feared, have the look of despair he’d seen last night. She merely seemed calm and collected.
After the frazzled day he’d had, the sight had an unfortunate effect on his temper. He planted himself in front of her.
“I’ve spent all day looking for you,” were his first cross words. “Of all the daft – ” He exploded into a stream of Venetian curses while she waited for him to be finished.
“But can’t you see that I had to do it?” she asked when she could get a word in.
“No I can’t,” he snapped.
“I just felt so embarrassed about dumping myself on you like that.”
“You didn’t. I hauled you in. That was my first mistake.”
“You wish you’d left me there?”
“I wish I’d chucked you in the Grand Canal. But I didn’t. I invited you into my home, where you collapsed.”
“But if I’d known about your wife – ”
“Why should you? Leave that.”
There was a silence, then she said awkwardly, “And now you’re angry with me.”
Remembering her frail condition, he knew he should utter comforting words, designed to make her feel better. But something had got hold of him and the words poured out in a stream of ill temper.
“Why should you think that? I only dashed out without any breakfast and spent the day wandering the streets looking for the most awkward, difficult woman I’ve ever met. I’m tired, I’m hungry, I’m cold, and it was all completely unnecessary. Why the devil should I be angry with you?”
Instead of bursting into tears she regarded him thoughtfully before saying, “I expect you feel a lot better now you’ve lost your temper.”
It was true. All his life he’d been even-tempered. That had changed in the last year, when rage would sometimes overcome him without warning, but he’d put his mind to controlling these outbursts, and succeeded up to a point. But these days self-control had a heavy price, and now the relief of allowing himself an explosion was considerable.
“Can I buy you a drink?” she asked.
“You can buy me two,” he growled. “Come on, let’s go, it’s getting dark.”
They went to a small cafe overlooking the lagoon, and sat at the window, watching lights on the water.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“So you ought to be. Of all the stupid, stupid – ”
“OK, I get the point. I’m stupid.”
“Yes, no! I didn’t mean it like that.” With horror he realised how his careless words might sound after what she’d been through. “I don’t want you to think – just because your head was injured – ”
Then he saw that she was giving him a quizzical half smile.
“It’s all right,” she said kindly. “You don’t have to tread on eggshells. Let’s leave it that I’m crazy but I’m not stupid.”
“Stop that talk! You’re not crazy.”
“How do you know?” she demanded indignantly.
“Why are you suddenly different? Last night you were half out of it, and today you’re ready to fight the world.”
“Isn’t fighting better than giving in?”
“Sure if you fight the right person. But why me?” he demanded, exasperated. “Why am I getting all your aggro dumped on me?”
“That’s what I thought.”
“I’d had a bad time yesterday, what with the flight and getting soaking wet. There’s nothing like half drowning for making you depressed. But I’m all right now.”
He wasn’t totally convinced. Her smile was too bright, not quite covering an air of strain, and he guessed that part of this was presented for his benefit. But certainly she was mentally stronger that he had feared.
“I’m glad you’re better,” he said, “but you’re still not ready to go wandering off among strangers. Whatever you may have thought, I didn’t want you to go.”
“Of course you did – ”
“Woman, what will it take to stop you arguing every time I open my mouth?”
“I don’t know. If I think of something I’ll make sure you never find out.”
“I’ll bet you will.”
“I was just so embarrassed when I found out about your wife and child?”
“You needn’t be,” he said, pale but speaking normally. “They died nearly a year ago. I’ve come to terms with it by now.” Abruptly he changed the subject. “I’m ready for something to eat, on me this time.”
She knew he wasn’t telling the truth. He was far from coming to terms with his tragedy. His eyes spoke of a hundred sleepless night, and days that were even worse. He looked like a man who could be destroyed by his feelings, and, strangely, it made her feel calmer, as though in some mysterious way, they were alike; equals in suffering, in need.
“How did you find me?” she asked.
“With the help of a few hundred friends. Venice counts as a great city because it’s unique, but in size it’s little more than a village. We all know each other. Sooner or later there was always someone who’d seen you, and could point me in the right direction.”
“So I’ve been under surveillance?”
“In a nice way. You can’t hide anything from your neighbours in Venice, but it can be comforting to have so many people look out for you.”
“Yes,” she said. “Most of them said something about how I shouldn’t be out so early in the cold, and I should be careful not to get lost.” She gave a sigh of pleasure. “It was like being protected by a huge family.”
“We do that,” he agreed. “Venetians are so different from the rest of the world that we try to look after the others.”
Except Gino, who had simply deserted her, he thought. He wondered if she were thinking the same, but she gave no sign.
“Go on telling me about your day,” he urged.
“Oh, you’d have laughed if you could have seen me. I had all sorts of impractical ideas, take a gondola ride, feed the pigeons in St. Mark’s Square, go to look at the Bridge of Sighs. Something really did come back to me there – the first time I got cross with him and we ended up bickering.”
“About the Bridge of Sighs?”
“Yes. Gino spun me the whole romantic story, how it had been named after the sighs of lovers. I thought that was lovely until I bought a guide book and discovered that the bridge connects the prison to the Doge’s Palace, where trials were held. So the sighs came from prisoners taking their last look at the sky before going to the dungeons.”
Pietro began to laugh. “You quarrelled about that?”
“Not quarrelled, squabbled. I like to have the truth.”
“Rather than a romantic fantasy? Shame on you.”
“I don’t trust fantasies. They lay traps.”
“But so does the truth sometimes,” he pointed out quietly.
She didn’t answer in words, but she nodded.
“I got very lofty and humourless,” she said after a while. “I told Gino sternly that he had no right to tell lies just to make things sound romantic when they weren’t. D’you know what he said?”
Pietro shook his head.
“He said, ‘But cara, one of the prisoners was Casanova, the greatest lover in the history of the world. You can’t get more romantic than that.’”
He had to laugh at her droll manner. “Did you forgive him?”
“Of course. You have to forgive Gino his funny little ways.”
He noted her use of the present tense, as though Gino were still a presence in her life. Was this how she explained his desertion to herself? Gino’s funny little ways?
She went on talking about her day, putting a light-hearted gloss on it, while he watched her with a heavy heart. A stranger would never have known the anguish that lay behind her flippant manner. But he saw it, because it was like looking at himself.
From the book THE ITALIAN'S CINDERELLA BRIDE by Lucy Gordon.
UK Release June 2008
Copyright 2007 by Lucy Gordon
UK ISBN 978-0263854589
The edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
The edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
~ a taste of italy at home ~