- NA December 2007 -
MILLS AND BOON ROMANCE
- UK December 2007 -
Read more about all six books at the Rinucci Brothers book page.
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"Francesco and Celia are two strong and passionate individuals who have obstacles to overcome on the road to happily ever after. I found myself laughing with them, saddened when things fell apart, and cheering them on to try again. I loved spending the afternoon with these two very likable characters, and look forward to more books by Lucy Gordon."
Celia and Francesco were lovers in England, but she was blind and his well-meaning attempts to protect her drove her beyond endurance. When she went deep-sea diving without telling him the result was a fierce row, and she threw him out.
Francesco returned to his mother’s house, the Villa Rinucci, in Naples, and tried vainly to be forget her. But one day he returned to find Celia talking to his mother. She was determined to give their love another chance, but it was too soon to tell him that.
They returned to Naples, both shattered by the meeting, and not sure what to say to each other.
“Where are we going?” he asked as he started up the car.
“It’s a little café called the Three Bells.”
“I know it.”
Silence. This was the first time they’d been alone together since the split, and suddenly there was nothing to say. Francesco, taken totally by surprise, was full of confusion.
When he first arrived in Italy he’d been sure she would contact him, but as the silence stretched out he’d begun to realise that she’d really meant their parting to be permanent.
But ‘parting’ was too light a word for it. Celia hadn’t left him, she’d cruelly dismissed him, tossing him out of her home as though desperate to rid herself of all traces of his presence.
Even then he hadn’t believed in the finality of what had happened. How could he when their love had been so total, so overwhelming? For him it had been unlike any other love. Transient affairs had come and gone. Women had spoken to him of love and he had repeated the words with, he now knew, only the vaguest understanding of their meaning.
Real love had caught him off-guard with a young woman who was awkward, provocative, annoying, difficult for the sake of it, it often seemed to him, unreasonable, stubborn, and full of laughter.
Perhaps it was her laughter that won him. He’d never been a man who laughed often. He understood a good joke, but amusement had never formed a major part of his life.
She, on the other hand, would never stop. With so much stacked against her she would collapse with delight at the slightest thing. Often her laughter was aimed at himself, for reasons he could not divine. At first it was an aggravation, then a delight. Let her laugh at him if she pleased. He was her happy slave. Nothing would have made him admit that to anyone else, but within his heart he knew a flowering.
In her arms he’d become a different man, shedding the tough outer shell like unwanted armour, and being passionately grateful to her for making it happen.
He knew what had happened to him, and assumed it was the same for her. He tried to take reassurance from this, reasoning that the sheer violence of her feelings meant that she was bound to change her mind about their parting. She would calm down, understand that their love was worth fighting for, forgive him whatever he’d done wrong (for he still wasn’t quite sure) even, perhaps, apologise.
But none of it had happened. She’d been there when he’d cleared out his things from the apartment, had made him a coffee, and told him she was sorry it had ended this way. But that was all. The long, heartfelt discussion that should have marked the end of their relationship had simply never happened. Night after night he’d sat by the phone, waiting for her to call and say they must meet just once more, to clear the air. But the phone didn’t ring. He sat there for hours until the silence had eaten into him and he was close to despair.
He hadn’t called her after that, not even when he was leaving for Naples. Why bother? It was over.
And, when he’d just about taught himself to believe that they would never meet again, there she was, tearing up his preconceptions, stranding him in new territory, as awkward and unpredictable as ever. He wanted to bang his head against the steering wheel.
Sitting next to him in the car Celia tuned into his agitation and distress. That was easy, because she shared it. She had come to his home knowing she might meet him, thinking herself prepared. She had even congratulated herself on her well-laid plans, but they had all vanished the moment she heard his voice. In the surge of joy at being near him again she’d almost thrown herself into his arms.
But that would be a disaster, as she’d recognised when she’d forced herself to calm down. In his arms, in his bed, she could forget the things that had driven them apart – but only for a little while. Soon it would all happen again, and the second parting would be final. At all costs she must prevent that.
She had come to Italy with a set purpose. She would reclaim him, and this time it would be forever – or never.
Per sempre, she mused, practising her Italian. Forever. Per sempre e eternita. And if not – finita.
As he drew up outside the restaurant she said, “Thank you for the lift. There’s no need for me to trouble you any further.”
“Don’t speak to me as though I was a stranger,” he growled. “Let me escort you in. I won’t try to take your arm. That’s a promise.”
He spoke roughly but she knew him well enough to hear the pain that would have escaped anybody else.
“Don’t be silly,” she said, also speaking roughly to cover the fact that his unhappiness wounded her. “I’d like you to escort me. Then,” she added, hastily recovering her self-possession, “I can buy you a drink and show off my Italian.”
“It’s a deal.”
He opened the door for her, and there followed an awkward moment when she reached out for his hand, but it wasn’t there. Swearing, he lunged forward, trying to put things right, and stumbled over Jacko, her guide dog, who’d got himself into position. Celia instinctively tightened her hand on Francesco’s, almost saving him from falling.
He swore again, louder this time and with real fury.
“I’m sorry,” he snapped. “The hell with everything, I’m sorry.”
“Let’s go and sit down,” she said hastily.
He went ahead, followed by Jacko with Celia walking afterwards. When they were seated at the table under the trees she was as good as her word, speaking to the waiter in Italian, and ordering drinks for them both.
“You did that very well,” he conceded when they’d been served.
“You’re a good teacher. I took your lessons to heart.”
“Some of them,” he remembered. “Some you tossed back in my face.”
“Not about Italian.”
“No just everything else. It got so that everything I said was wrong – ”
“Only because you started every sentence with, ‘I’ll do that for you,’ or ‘You shouldn’t be doing that.’”
“I’m sorry about what happened at the car – I thought I knew what you wanted, so I didn’t reach out my hand to you – ”
“But why not? You’d have assisted a sighted woman as a matter of courtesy, wouldn’t you? So why not me?”
He drew a slow breath of frustration.
“Excuse me while I bang my head on the tree,” he said at last.
Celia gave a sudden chuckle. “It’s like old times to hear you take that long breath. It always meant that you were clenching and unclenching your hands.”
Goaded, he spoke without thinking. “I don’t know what you’d do with eyes if you had them. You see everything without them.”
She beamed. “That’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.”
“Now you’re confusing me again.”
“It’s the first time you’ve ever made a joke about my eyes,” she explained.
“It wasn’t exactly a joke.”
“Pity. I thought you were improving. Anyway, don’t apologise about what happened at the car. If we’d both fallen it would have been my fault.”
“Or your new friend’s, for moving when I wasn’t expecting him to.”
“Don’t blame poor Jacko,” Celia protested, instinctively reaching down to caress the dog’s head. “He was only doing his job.”
“But who is he? Last time I saw you, you had Wicksy.”
“Poor Wicksy was getting old, and it wouldn’t have been fair to bring him to a strange country. He’d earned a comfortable retirement, and that’s what he has. Now I have Jacko. He’s a real Italian dog. He’s always lived in Naples, so he knows it well and I can trust him completely.”
“But how long will you have him? He looks quite elderly too.”
“He’s nine, and he might have been retired when his previous owner regained his sight. But I needed a really experienced dog, so they assigned him to me for a while.”
“Then what? Will they give you a younger one?” Francesco asked casually.
She shrugged. “Maybe.”
He understood. Maybe then she would go home. He wished she would go home now.
He wished she would stay for ever.
He wished she had never come here.
The waiter served their drinks, and they sipped in silence for a while.
“What happened after I left?” he asked at last.
“I went home to my parents for a while, and they said it was time I explored the world a little. Dad gave me a large cheque and told me to blow it on enjoying myself.”
“But you said you have a job here. Aren’t you supposed to be just a tourist?”
“I’ve invested the money. I fancy myself as an entrepreneur. That’s how I’m going to enjoy myself. You taught me that.”
“You used to talk a lot about finance. It was your great interest in life. I listened and learned at the master’s feet.”
“Is that a way of telling me that money is all I know?”
“Don’t be so touchy. You showed me that making money could be fun, so now I’m going to double mine. Or treble it.”
“Or lose it?” he suggested lightly.
“Oh no, that won’t happen,” she assured him.
“How can you be so sure?”
Celia turned her head, so that her clear blue eyes were facing him, so full of expression that he could almost swear that she saw him.
“Because I never lose,” she said simply. “When I want something, I make sure I get it.”
“And when you’ve finished with it you throw it out, marked ‘No longer needed,’” he said quietly.
“Francesco, do you know how bitter you sound? I wish you wouldn’t. We promised each other that we wouldn’t be bitter.”
“Did we? I don’t remember.”
“The day you came to collect your things,” she reminded him. “We had a chat then.”
“Oh yes, it was all very civilised, wasn’t it? But I don’t remember that we talked things over. Five minutes over coffee and that was that.”
“Well, there wasn’t much to talk about, was there?”
“Except you throwing me out.”
“I asked you not to be bitter because I didn’t want you to hate me. Still, I guess that wasn’t very realistic of me.”
“I don’t hate you,” he said gruffly. “But neither can I pretend that it didn’t happen.”
“I don’t want to pretend that either,” she said with a touch of eagerness. “It did happen and I’m glad of it. You left me with some of the most wonderful memories I’ll ever have, and I want to keep them. Don’t you want to?”
“No,” he said with sudden violence. “I don’t want to remember any of it. What use are memories when the reality has gone?”
She gave a little sigh. “I suppose you’re right. We’re agreed then. No memories. We never met before.”
“Why did you come here?” he growled. “To have a laugh at my expense?”
“No, why should you say that? Why should I laugh? I can tell you’re doing very well without me.”
He shot her a look so fierce that he was actually glad she couldn’t see. It was on the tip of his tongue to tell her that she didn’t know what she was talking about. Unless, he thought, she’d been trying to provoke him. He only wished he knew.
From the book THE MILLIONAIRE TYCOON'S ENGLISH ROSE by Lucy Gordon.
USA & UK Publication December 2007
Copyright 2007 by Lucy Gordon
Cover Copyright © 2007 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited. ® and tm are trademarks of the publisher.
The edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
~ a taste of italy at home ~