Starting again is meant to be the purpose of Sally Franklin's trip to Venice. Not finding herself spontaneously married to enigmatically handsome Damiano Ferrone! Maybe it was the magic of Venice or simply Damiano's captivating good looks that made his proposal impossible to resist!
Damiano needs the perfect mother for his little boyand a marriage of the utmost convenience. But before long Damiano is seeing Sally in a whole new light and realizing he's got a lot more than he bargained for a wife for real!
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
'Wow! Casanova! Fancy that!'
The young man devouring the contents of a book was alight with excitement. Sally, his sister, sitting beside him in the plane, regarded him curiously.
'What are you on about, Charlie?'
'Casanova, the great lover. He came from Venice. It says so here.' He held up the tourist booklet about the city. 'He had a thousand women and gambled a fortune every night.'
'Then I can see why he attracts you,' she said wryly.
At eighteen, Charlie had gambling debts that were fast mounting, something that barely troubled him while he could rely on his sister to stump up. But Sally had rebelled. Appalled by his developing addiction and the fearsome characters who were beginning to haunt their home, she'd hurriedly got him out of London. Now they were on a plane approaching Venice in what looked like a holiday but was actually an escape.
'It's not just the gambling,' Charlie said. 'He could have any woman he wanted, and they say that even now his legend lives in Venice. Aw, come on, that should interest you.'
'Shut it!' Sally told him.
His manner became comically theatrical. 'How can you be so hard-hearted? You're going to the most romantic city in the world and you couldn't care less.'
'Just as you couldn't care less about the trouble your gambling causes. You're only trying to change the subject. So just drop it, little brother. Or else!'
'Or else what? Throw me out of the plane?'
'No, I'll do something much worse than that. I'll cut off the money and make you get a job.'
'Aaargh! You're a cruel woman.'
Their tone was light, but beneath the banter was a hard reality. Since their parents had died seven years earlier she'd been responsible for him. She wasn't proud of the result. He showed no signs of growing up.
As he'd said, they were travelling to the most romantic city in the world: Venice. Over a hundred little islands, connected by canals and bridges. A place of staggering beauty and magical, romantic atmosphere. And if she 'couldn't care less' as he accused, it might be because there had been little romance in her life. Without being exactly plain she had looks that were ordinary, with nothing enchanting or alluring about them. Men did not tend to fall at her feet, and the one time she'd fancied herself in love there had been little happiness, and pain in the end. She had no illusions that her life was about to change now.
'Why did you insist on coming to Venice when we could have gone anywhere?' Charlie persisted.
'Because I had a friend who'd booked a trip here and had to cancel at the last minute,' she said. 'I managed to get her hotel rooms, and air tickets.'
She had seized the offer as a chance to get away fast and cheaply. Otherwise she wouldn't have chosen to make this trip in January.
A voice on the loudspeaker announced that the descent was about to start. Soon they could see Marco Polo Airport near the boundary of the mainland. Close by was the sea, with the two-mile causeway stretching out over the water to the multitude of little islands that made up the city of Venice.
'Hang on,' said Charlie. 'It says here that there are no cars in Venice. Does that mean we have to walk along that causeway?'
'No, there's a car park called Piazzale Roma on the very edge of the city,' she said. 'A taxi can take us as far as that, then we get out and do the rest of the journey by boat through the canals.'
As they descended she gazed out of the window, enchanted by the glittering sea stretching out to where Venice could just be glimpsed on the horizon. When they landed there was the relief of finding a plentiful supply of taxis, and soon they were on their way across the causeway.
Now the city was just ahead, looming up in all its legendary beauty. The taxi turned into Piazzale Roma, and stopped near the water. Here there was a crowd of motor boats, the Venetian version of taxi. Sally gave their destination, the Hotel Billioni, and soon they were moving out into the Grand Canal, the huge elegant highway that sliced through the centre of Venice. At last the boat turned into a tiny side canal and halted where a flight of steps came down to the water. The boatman took their bags and led them the few yards to the hotel.
After checking in they were shown upstairs to the two rooms where they were to stay. Sally went straight to the window and threw it open.
Below her the little canal was quiet and mysterious. Darkness was falling and the only light on the water came in soft gleams from the windows above.
The little she had seen of Venice so far was enough to confirm its reputation for romance and mystery. It would attract lovers, perhaps for their honeymoon.
The word 'honeymoon' directed her thoughts to Frank, despite her efforts to prevent it. These days she didn't often let herself think of him, not since she'd resolved to put him out of her life.
He'd attracted her. His kisses had pleased her, yet for some reason she'd resisted his urging to take them further.
'C'mon, Sally,' he'd said, sounding irritated. 'This is the twenty-first century. Kisses aren't enough any more.'
He was right. If she'd wanted to go to bed with him she was free to do so. But something held her back. When she found him with another girl it was hurtful but not really a surprise.
He accused me of being cold, she thought, and maybe he was right. Will I ever want a man so much that I can't control myself? Probably not. If it was going to happen I guess I'd know by now.
She gave a little self-mocking laugh.
I've come to the city of Casanova, but somehow I don't think even he could make me passionate. I'm too sensible. But then, I've always needed to be.
The sound of Charlie moving in the next room reminded her why good sense was necessary. She had made many sacrifices for him. Even being here was a sacrifice, as it might have cost her the chance of a wonderful job. She was an accountant, working independently with reasonable success, but suddenly a job with a major firm beckoned. If she'd stayed at home it might have been hers. But they were unlikely to keep it open for her, at least, not for more than a week.
She could hope, but she knew hope could be destructive if it was all you had.
Charlie's head appeared round the door.
'I'm starving,' he said. 'Let's go and have some supper.'
The restaurant downstairs was humming with life. Delicious smells wafted from the kitchen and they spent a merry few minutes choosing food.
'And this is just the start,' Charlie said. 'We're going to have a great time.'
'You might. My time will be taken up watching you to stop you going crazy.'
'Hah! So you say. But this is the city of Casanova, the great lover. You'll be fighting the men off.'
A chuckle overhead revealed that one of the waitresses had heard and understood.
'It is true,' she said. 'This was the home of Casanova.'
'Never mind him,' Sally said. 'He can wait. I want some supper.'
'Fish,' Charlie enthused. 'Did you ever see so much fish?'
'We have everything you want, signore,' the waitress declared.
'It's lucky you all seem to understand English so well,' Sally observed. 'We'd be really lost otherwise.'
'But people come to Venice from all over the world. We must be able to talk with them. Now, what can I get you?'
'I'll have the codfish prepared with olive oil, garlic and parsley.'
'Me too,' Charlie announced.
'Duo baccala mantecata,' she announced triumphantly, and bustled away.
'Is that what we ordered?' Charlie asked.
'I guess it must have been.'
'It sounds great. I'm beginning to think you did the right thing in hauling me out here.'
'I didn't haul you.'
'Come on. You practically chucked me into your suitcase.'
'Well, all right. I was getting a bit worried by those phone calls that kept coming from people who wouldn't give their name. One called himself Wilton but the others wouldn't tell.'
'You mentioned him once, made him sound like a nasty piece of work.'
'Was that the only reason? Didn't you want to get shot of Frank?'
'Frank doesn't exist any more. Don't ever mention him again.'
Charlie gave her a hilarious look.
'First you kick Casanova into the long grass. Then Frank. Perhaps the entire male sex should be nervous about you.'
But he laid a hand on her shoulder in a friendly clasp. Young and self-centred as he was, Charlie could still be sympathetic.
They spent the meal planning the next day's sightseeing.
'We'll get on a vaporetto,' she said. 'That's the water equivalent of a bus. That way we'll see the Grand Canal and the great bridges across it. Then we can go and see St Mark's Square.'
'Only it's not a square,' he said, studying a leaflet. 'It's a huge rectangle full of shops and restaurants.'
'It sounds lovely.'
Finally they drifted back upstairs.
'Goodnight,' he said, giving her a peck on the cheek. 'Sleep tight, and be ready to take Venice by storm tomorrow.'
She gave him a gentle thump and left him. Before going to bed she went to the window to enjoy the view over the little canal. Below, she could just make out a small pavement with steps leading down into the water. A man's voice seemed to be coming from inside. He sounded angry.
Suddenly a door was flung open and the man came out. From a little way above Sally could just see that he was tall, dark, in his mid-thirties, with a face that might have been handsome but for the fierce, uncompromising look it bore. He was speaking Italian, which she couldn't understand until he snapped, 'Lei parla come un idiota.'
I guess I know what that means, she thought. He's calling someone an idiot. Not a guy you'd want to meet on a dark night. He's probably the bouncer.
The man stormed back into the building, slamming the door. Sally closed the window and went to bed.
That night it rained. By morning the rain had stopped, leaving the streets wet and glistening. They spent the day discovering Venice, wandering through narrow alleys that inspired the imaginative side of Charlie's nature.
'All these twists and turns,' he enthused. 'If you were following someone in secret they'd never know you were there. Or if you were trying to avoid them you could dart out of sight often, then dart back again.'
'You're just a naturally tricky character.' She laughed.
'Well, it can come in handy,' he agreed, not at all offended by being called tricky.
They found where to board the vaporetto for a trip along the Grand Canal, which was followed by a visit to the Rialto Bridge. Finally they took a water taxi down a narrow canal.
'I will set you down just there, where the canal ends,' the driver said, 'and from there it's just a short walk to St Mark's.'
At last they reached the Piazza St Marco. One end was dominated by a huge, decorative cathedral, while around the sides were dozen of shops and cafés with tables outside.
'Let's sit out here,' she said.
'Wouldn't it be warmer inside?' Charlie protested.
'It's not too cold and I like sitting outside and watching the world go by, especially in a place like thisso many people, so much happening. But you can go inside.'
'And look like a sissy while my sister sits out here?' he asked with a grin. 'No, thank you.'
They found a table and ordered coffee, glancing around them as they sipped it.
'Oh, look,' Sally said suddenly. 'That lovely dog.'
She'd fixed her eyes on a brown and white springer spaniel bouncing around, enjoying the puddles.
'It's so nice to see them having fun,' she said.
'You're a sucker for dogs,' Charlie observed. 'If you love them so much I can't think why you don't have one.'
'Because I'd have to leave him alone so much. It wouldn't be kind. You never knew Jacko, did you?'
'The dog you had before I was born?'
'That's right. I adored him. He had a terrific personality, just like that one over there. Bouncing everywhere, demanding attention.' She struck a dramatic attitude. 'Wuff! Look at me! That's what he's saying.' She turned to the dog, who had come close enough to hear her. 'Yes, all right, I'm looking at you. You're beautiful.'
His ears perked, his face lit up, and the next moment he was flying towards her, bouncing into her lap, sending her coffee flying over her clothes.
'Hey, look at your jacket!' Charlie exclaimed.
'Oh, heavens! Well, never mind. It's only a jacket. It was my fault for calling him.'
'And he's covered you with wet paw prints.'
Suddenly a scream tore the air. 'Toby! Toby!'
A young boy was dashing across the piazza towards them, waving his arms and screeching. Just behind him was a middle-aged woman, also running, her face dark with thunder.
'Toby!' the child shrieked. 'Vieni qui!'
He reached Sally and flung his arms around the dog so fiercely that she was knocked off balance and would have crashed to the ground if Charlie hadn't seized her just in time.
The woman began a tirade in Italian. Without understanding the words Sally gathered that she was furious and her manner towards the animal was alarming.
'It's all right,' Sally said firmly. 'It was an accident, not his fault.'
Hearing her speak English, the woman responded in the same language.
'He's a bad dog,' she said. 'He's never been disciplined properly and it's time something was done about him.'
'No!' the child screamed, tightening his arms around the animal. 'He's not bad.'
'Of course he's bad,' the woman said. 'Signor, mi appello a voi.'
The man she appealed to seemed to have appeared from nowhere. Looking up, Sally thought she recognised him as the man she'd seen at the hotel the night before. But it had been so dark that she found it hard to be sure.
'Papa!' the little boy screamed.
So this grim, scowling creature was the father of the boy. Only a swift response would help now. She confronted him.
'It's all a misunderstanding,' she said, praying that he spoke English. 'I don't know how much you saw'
'I saw the dog hurl himself at you and cover you with mud,' he said in a voice that brooked no nonsense.
'He's just affectionate. It was my fault for calling out to him. He was being friendly.'
To her relief he nodded. 'That's generous of you. Thank you. Are you hurt?'
'Not at all. It's not his fault that it's been raining.' She patted the furry head. 'You can't help it raining, can you?'
'There, you see. He agrees with me.'
The boy gave a chuckle. The man's face relaxed and he laid his hand on the child's shoulder. The only person not pleased was the woman. The man spoke a few words to her in Italian. She glared and walked off.
'She hates Toby,' the boy complained.
'How could anybody hate him?' Sally said. 'He's gorgeous.'
'He makes a mess of the house,' the man said. 'Usually in a place she's just cleaned. Pietro, I think you have an apology to make.'