She looked up, and her smile was radiant in
the soft glow of the nearby streetlight. “La Galleria d'arte di Idillio,” she
murmured. “I love this place.”
“It’s mine,” he told her as he dug out the
key that would unlock the doors to the small gallery.
There was enough real shock in her voice to
make him stop as he held the door for her to go inside. “Why does that surprise
you so much?”
“I’ve come here a number of times, and I’ve
never seen you,” she replied, once he’d locked the doors and turned on the
“I’ve never seen you,” he noted. “Except at
“I’ve always felt this place was a tribute
to love, and romance.”
“It is. My father began the collection for
“Your father was a romantic?”
“My father was a gentleman, in the truest
sense of that word,” Stefano said with a familiar sense of loneliness and pride
combined. “He lived la dolce vita,” he smiled, “with the passion of a man who
loved all life had to offer him, good and bad.”
A curt nod was all he could offer without
revealing how deeply the loss still affected him. He set his coffee on the
reception desk, hung his jacket on a rack then did the same with Bianca’s
things. Then he took her arm and led her to a small area that had been his work
for the past year.
“This is my latest addition to the
Bianca wandered the area, studying the
beautiful collection of photographs. Each one was in a different area of Italy,
and the women smiling and lovely, but each one as unique as her surroundings.
“What do you see?”
“Beauty. Romance.” Bianca stared at the
photographs for a few moments longer, considering them with serious thought,
then turned to face him. “In every photograph, they are not looking at you, but
at the camera. They’re seeing the opportunity, but not your reason for wanting
Something fluttered against Stefano’s chest
from the inside, an excitement he hadn’t felt in a very long time. He let his
gaze drift, cataloguing the woman in front of him. Standing next to him the top
her head was at his chin. She had long, waving hair, dark brown with a distinct
tint that caught the glow from the lights and turned her thick mane into a mass
of warm, burnished auburn. She had eyes that resembled Chinese jade, and a
wide, full mouth that curved upward, as though a secret hid behind her smile.
She was curvaceous and feminine, effortlessly graceful, and with minimal
makeup, appeared very much without artifice of any kind.
“What is my reason for wanting them?” He
forced his tone to calm and curious, sincerely interested in her reply, but
also caught in the spell she was exerting. Part of his mind was still watching
her, measuring the emotion and internal workings of her mind as she analyzed
his photographs with real interest. Her teal-colored dress was simple in
design, flared skirt unevenly cut at the hem, swirling around her shapely legs
as she walked, pausing often to peer intently at the images on the walls. The
upper half of the dress clung to luscious contours, and the silver crucifix,
her only jewelry, drew his eyes to the shadow between her breasts. He wanted
very much to touch her, and instead stuffed his hands into his pockets and went
to join her as she stopped at one of the last photos, then looked at him over
“She loved you.”
“So she said.”
“You didn’t love her?”
“Not the way she thought I should.”
“You wanted love from every woman here, yet
not one of them saw who you really are,” she observed softly, sadness evident
in her tone.
His eyebrow rose. “Who do you think I am, bella?”
“How honest do you think I should be?”
“I admire honesty, Signorina,” he told her.
“I respect the courage it takes to offer it to anyone.”
“But do you respect it if the object of
discussion is you?”
“Now you’re beginning to worry me,” he
teased with a smile. He was fascinated by her intelligence and her insight. She
looked past his appearance and his presence to probe his secrets, and whatever
she was seeing made her even more alluring to him.
“You want attention,” she told him, not a
shred of question in the observation, only the certainty that she was right.
“You enjoy women vying for your favor. It gives you security, even while it
makes you lonely. Because you know it’s not you they love, but the image you
present to keep the world out of your heart and your head. You’re a complex
man, Stefano.” She smiled. “I don’t know your last name.”
She nodded. “Marino,” she offered, so that
he knew hers, too.
“Why are you asking me to analyze you?” She
had started walking around the showroom again, stopping to look at the various
displays. She halted at one of the cases that housed a collection of love
letters. “These are beautiful. Do you know who wrote them?”
“A friend of my father’s,” he answered. “To
my mother. When he was killed, they drew comfort from each other, and it became
a love affair that lasted forty years.”
“The love affair that you seek in your own
He smiled but remained silent on the
matter, and she moved to another display case, one dedicated to his family’s
“This ring is exquisite,” she noted. “I’ve
never seen another one like it.” It was an antique, but beautifully wrought.
The gold base shone as though it had been forged and shaped the day before. The
design was unique, a horizontal figure eight—the symbol of infinity, with a
perfect emerald balanced in the centre and outlined in tiny, sparkling
“My grandmother’s engagement ring,” he
informed her. “She wanted me to have it, and I wanted it to be here, where many
people could see it.”
“Is she still alive?”
“Yes. She has a small villa in Amalfi. I
see her often.”
“Has she seen this, Stefano?” Bianca smiled
as she glanced around. “Everything here fills the heart with peace, and hope,
and joy. It’s overwhelming some days when I’ve come here.”
“Will you add your history to this place
one day, or leave it to your children to show the world their papa’s romantic
“Only time will answer that, Signorina,” he
laughed. Before she could speak again, he touched her lip with the tip of his
finger and shook his head.
Her mood curious, she followed him when he
led her to a beautiful open area, with a gleaming, polished hardwood floor. He
punched a few buttons on a wall console and seconds later music filled the air,
soft and rhythmic. Bianca laughed quietly and walked into his arms.
“You’re avoiding me with this distraction,”
“I’m indulging myself,” he admitted with a
smile. “Do you mind?”
She stared at him for a few moments then
shook her head.
“Why this song?”
He didn’t answer, merely looked at her as
the sultry music of Alta Marea, by Patrizio Buanne filled the air and settled
over them like a cloak.
“This is the sexiest piece of music I’ve
heard in years,” she whispered. “I love it.”
“So do I.”
As the seductive sound of the singer’s
smooth voice enveloped them, Stefano permitted himself the luxury of simply
enjoying the moment he was in, and the feel of the beautiful woman in his arms
as she nestled close and moved in perfect attunement with him.
* * *
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