Monday, January 28, 2013

GRANDE AMORE - Chapter One

This is the opening of my current novel, it's going to be a full-length, and I'm two chapters from the end, but thought I'd share the opening with you and see what you think.... (The beautiful image of the street in Rome is  the work of Vincenzo Chiofalo, and is used with his permission.)

 Grande Amore
© Denysé Bridger

             The sunshine of Rome felt like it was burning through Jillian’s skin to sear her soul. She was staring in confusion, completely lost and helpless to ask for directions. Getting separated from the tourist group she’d been with had been careless and she was paying the price for her lapse. The outdoor caffè where she sat drinking iced cappuccino was pleasant enough, but the crowd was making her uneasy. Activity a short distance away seemed the centre of everyone’s attention, though she had little interest in the ripples of excitement that drifted back to her from the rush of people.
             Her guide and friend, Luisa, would be aware of her absence by this time, but getting Brad Markham to start looking for his wayward girlfriend might not be as easy as it should have been. The bright sun, coupled with the stress, was waking a headache that pulsed more strongly with each passing minute.
             Startled, she looked up and offered a shaky smile to the pleasant caffè owner. She struggled to recall the few basic words of Italian that Luisa had drilled into her in case she needed them. Awkwardly she spoke the foreign words, hoping she’d said them at least well enough that he would understand her inability to communicate further. Ordering the cappuccino had been difficult enough, though he’d been remarkably quick to bring her the drink.
             “Is there a problem?”
             The words, spoken in English made her weak with relief. She glanced past the owner’s shoulder and her reprieve was instantly tinged with uneasiness. A young man watched her. His smile was open and friendly, but the gleam in his eyes told her he was fully aware of her situation and was equally willing to take advantage of it.
             She shook her head, but the caffè owner was already speaking to him in a rapid-fire rush of Italian. The headache started banging in her temples with relentless force. She gritted her teeth and closed her eyes for a moment, dragging in a much needed breath to calm her anxiety.

* * *

             “We’re picking up too much noise!”
             Biting back a curse, Riccardo Bartolinni crossed the distance separating him from the sound engineer who was scowling at the electronic board in front of him.
             “This was supposed to be finished today,” he commented, and took the headphones that were pointedly thrust at him. He lifted one of the padded cups to his ear and heard the telltale static of raised voices filtering past his music.
             They were shooting the location pieces that would turn the video for Man of a Thousand Dreams into another international hit for the singer who was, for many women, the man of a thousand dreams. The song was a strong, dramatic, romantic ballad, the kind that had sold millions of records worldwide. Creating the video in Rome was being done at Riccardo’s request, because it would allow him to then go home to Amalfi for a brief vacation. The music overlay was easily done in the studio, background noise wasn’t a technical problem, as such. Riccardo liked to actually sing though, not lip-synch, even for his videos, so they did try to keep the background noise minimal.
             He handed the headphones back to the sound technician and turned slowly, eyes scanning past the curious spectators who’d stopped to watch the film crew. A couple leaned together, and the change in their positions gave him a clear line of vision to the caffè next to their location. Standing next to a table was the owner, Enrico Scala, an old family friend. His deeply tanned face was livid with anger as he shouted at the good-looking young man who was responding with equal intensity.
             But, it was the girl seated at the table, watching with horrified confusion that stirred empathy in him. She was staring at the two men, her eyes wide. In the afternoon sunlight, the burnished auburn of her flowing hair caught the rays like tongues of flame, and he smiled.
             “Let me see what I can do,” he said without glancing back. Ignoring the raised voices in his wake, he strode past the onlookers who cleared a path for him as he went straight for the caffè.
             Arriving unnoticed by the two men shouting at each other, Riccardo paused for a moment to listen to the cause of the argument. It didn’t take long to understand what was going on and his irritation surfaced swiftly. From the corner of his eye he noticed the girl appeared ready to make a run for it.
             The relief on the older man’s face was almost comical. He spoke in Italian, and asked what was causing the disruption. The young man who’d been the cause of the noisy dispute told him to mind his own business. He was ignored, and Enrico quickly verified that his assumption was correct.
             The girl was a tourist with little knowledge of the language, and the boy was trying to take advantage of that fact. Riccardo turned his stare to the angry man. He saw recognition in the other man’s eyes, and wariness.
             “Enrico tells me you claim this young woman is your girlfriend?” He smiled, and knew the expression lacked any real friendliness. “She does not seem happy to be with you.”
             “What business is it of yours?”
             “None at all,” Riccardo agreed. “But unless you can convince me, I will ask her myself. What will she tell me?” The challenge in his tone was unmistakable, and the flash of anger in the other man’s eyes flared recklessly, then the stranger offered a rude gesture as reply, followed by an even ruder suggestion as to what Riccardo could do with himself and the girl.
             Enrico’s stifled laugh made Riccardo’s eyes narrow when he looked at his old friend, but he couldn’t suppress the smile that tugged at the corners of his mouth.
             “My apologies, Signorina,” he said, in English, when he turned his attention to the edgy girl. “May I join you for coffee?” He actually laughed at the look of near-fright she couldn’t hide quickly enough. “I assure you, coffee is all I am suggesting we share.” Another quick glance over her appealing presence made him wonder if he’d just lied to her, however inadvertently. She was curvaceous and extremely feminine, the type that always attracted his attention. Aside from the beautiful mane of flowing hair, her face was gently contoured into appealing lines, and the curving bow of her mouth stirred a small tremor of deeper awareness inside him.
             When she nodded, albeit reluctantly, he sat at the table. Enrico departed, and returned moments later with two cups of latte, and several delectable looking pastries.
             “He was not your boyfriend.” He didn’t offer it as a question, more a statement he wished her to confirm, and she sighed.
             “I have no idea who he was,” she replied. “Is that what he told you?”
             “Among other things,” Riccardo answered with a smile. His eyebrow rose and his interest piqued when she didn’t respond other than to nod. There was a bleak resignation in her lovely green eyes that seemed distinctly wrong for her. There was also no recognition in their depths. Was it possible she really didn’t know who he was? The idea pleased him. It was a novel change.
             “My name is Riccardo Bartolinni,” he told her. When she smiled politely and offered her hand, he lifted it to drop a light kiss on her knuckles.
             A light flush of pink tinted her cheeks.
             “I’m Jillian Light,” she offered in a voice that was barely more than a whisper, then she hid behind the amenity of stirring her latte.
             “How long have you been in Rome?”
             “Long enough to get hopelessly lost.”
             He laughed. “You shouldn’t be alone, Jillian, especially without proper knowledge of the language.”
             Her eyes sparked with annoyance, but the truth of his words was not something she could argue with, and she nodded in agreement. “I lost the group I was with; they went ahead when I stopped to look at the fountain across the way. I thought Luisa would notice, but she hasn’t come back.”
             “Where is your hotel?”
             “I wish I knew. It’s the Hotel Forte, near the Spanish Steps.”
             She made the statement with annoyance, but he knew it was self-directed.
             “I have to return to work,” he said after he finished his coffee and Enrico had come back to the table. “I’ll have my driver take you back to your hotel, Jillian Light,” he added with a smile. From the corner of his eye he could see her fumbling in her bag. Enrico was speaking in a rush of emphatic Italian, trying to make her understand he didn’t want payment. Riccardo touched her hand and shook his head. “Enrico does not want you to pay, signorina. I think he will be greatly offended if you insist.”
             “Grazie,” she murmured, with the first genuine smile he’d seen since sitting down with her. The older man beamed his pleasure at her, then spoke to Riccardo, insisting that he come to the caffè for a visit and a decent meal when he was done with his work.
             Riccardo stood and gestured for her to walk with him. She cast a final smile at Enrico, then fell into step at his side.
             “Thank you so much, Signor Bartolinni.”
             The film crew watched with no discretion at all as he took her to the waiting limo a short distance away. He tried not to let the knowing grins and nods irritate him, his reputation wasn’t so pure that they didn’t have reason to think he’d just picked up his companion for the evening. The knowledge that it was the obvious conjecture lit a sincere flare of disgust deep inside him though, and he tried to ignore it. It should have been easy enough, he’d been doing it for years, and had cultivated the reputation he had with the dedication of a farmer devoted to his gardens. It kept the media occupied enough not too look into his past, and that was precisely why he allowed himself to be presented as he was to the world.
             “This is Ilario,” he told her, shaking off the moments of retrospect that always left him feeling faintly disgusted with himself. “He speaks English well enough that he will be able to take you wherever you wish to go, Signorina Light.”
             Her eyes glistened with sudden tears and he kissed her hand again.
             “Ciao, Bella,” he said.

* * *

             Tucked safely in the luxurious limo a few minutes later, blessedly out of the blistering sunshine, Jillian dared to breathe again. Ilario pulled into traffic after asking where she needed to go, and she was left to wonder if she’d just lost her mind. She deliberately ignored the voice that was screaming inside her head, the one that was calling her an idiot for so blithely accepting the care of a total stranger. She’d been lost, and now she was being taken back to where she needed to go, she refused to consider any other possibility.
             The man who’d come to her rescue was like something from a dream and she allowed herself a minute of pure indulgence as she drew the memory of that first instant of contact when she’d glanced up to see him walking toward her.
             Riccardo Bartolinni was breath-takingly handsome, with his traditional dark good looks. But, it was the brilliant, warm brown gaze that captivated and held you when he looked at you, she reflected. In those striking dark eyes a world of intelligence and charm could be cast out like a trap, and any woman he turned his gaze on would undoubtedly fall willingly into the fathomless depths.
             She catalogued him in her mind; starting with the shining black leather shoes, perfectly tailored black trousers, narrow, silver buckled belt, to the pristine white of his shirt; then on to the thick brown-black hair that had been wind-blown and slightly unruly at the caffè. His face was perfectly contoured, his mouth wide and sensual. Even the tiny, glittering diamond stud that graced his left ear lobe suited him. Everything about him was a study in symmetry and beauty. He was tall, well-built, well-dressed, and confidence came as naturally to him as breathing. Yet, it was the vitality and energy of the man that vibrated in the air around him, and lingered long after he was gone.
             Being in Riccardo Bartolinni’s orbit was like being swept into a world that shone just a little brighter than everything around it. His easy charm had quickly surrounded her and made her the centre of the universe the moment his eyes found hers and lingered. His smile was as warm and radiant as the Roman sun. She’d felt beautiful, safe, and utterly secure while he’d been close to her. The knowledge was like a wondrous discovery.
             Something had been nagging at the back of her mind ever since he’d told her his name, but she couldn’t grasp the evasive thought long enough to figure out what it was that she felt she should know. The car was coming to a smooth halt and she had no more time to consider her benefactor’s mysterious presence as the door was opened and Ilario smiled politely at her.
             He accepted her thanks with a nod and a wave as he got back into the limo and expertly slid the car into afternoon traffic. Jillian went into the hotel and headed straight for the elevator. Her headache had come back with renewed vigor and she wanted nothing more than to lie down and try to calm the tempest in her brain.
             The ride up in the elevator took what seemed like forever and she was starting to feel queasy when she reached the door to the room she’d reserved with Brad. She had her room card in her hand when the soft, muffled ripple of feminine laughter stilled her hand.
             A numbing cold started to seep into her bones and she stared down at her hand, poised to open the door onto a betrayal she knew she did not want to confront.
             Her fingers shook, the tremor barely perceptible despite the earthquake in her stomach. She wasn’t so much in love with Brad that this should destroy her, but was she ready to face Rome alone? After what had happened earlier, she knew just how lost she really was in the beautiful city, and it was a long way from home in Toronto.
             For a suspended moment in time, Jillian closed her eyes and turned, prepared to walk away and pretend she hadn’t heard a thing. A flicker of memory taunted her, Riccardo Bartolinni’s startling brown eyes as he assessed her desperate misery, and the internal strength that was so much a part of him. The ghost of his presence, however brief his appearance in her life had been, gave her courage. Good men didn’t treat women like they were worthless because it suited them. She’d seen the proof of that less than an hour ago.
             She shoved the card into the coded lock and went inside as the door swung open in near silence. Something inside her stilled while she stared at the couple in the bed, their expressions more honestly shocked than she felt. Jillian smiled a little, and let the door glide shut behind her as she went into the spacious room.
             Brad glared at her, and for a moment she wondered why anything about him had ever appealed to her. Her heart was still filled with another man’s image, and despite it being uncharitable and against her nature, the comparison was made, and Brad Markham’s charm was suddenly non-existent. She glanced at the girl who was scrambling from the bed, dragging sheets with her. One of the hotel maids. Jillian had seen her earlier.
             “Where the hell have you been?”
             She gaped at him in disbelief.
             “You’re not serious, Brad? You’re mad at me because I found you in bed with the maid?” She laughed at the absurdity, and his face reddened with rage. “I’ll go for a walk,” she informed him. “When I get back, I’ll pack my things and move to another room.”
             She could feel the tremors reaching upward from deep inside her and knew her bravado was crumbling fast. If she stayed longer, she’d break down in front of him, and the idea of him seeing her tears was suddenly abhorrent. She went to the door, only distantly aware of his voice following her. His words never actually touched her conscious mind, but his anger seeped into her heart and numbed it further.
             Five minutes after leaving the sanctuary of Riccardo Bartolinni’s limousine, Jillian stepped into the warmth of the Roman sunshine again and looked around. A sense of utter desolation clouded her mood and she stared, suddenly at a loss for direction of any kind. As the bright afternoon blurred into tears, she started walking away from the hotel…

* * *

             Catarina De Luca pushed a newspaper at Riccardo, making it impossible for him to remain oblivious to her presence any longer.
             “Isn’t that the girl you picked up at the caffè yesterday?”
             Startled by the question, he glanced at the page. The photo proclaimed the girl was missing from her hotel. It wasn’t a flattering picture by any means, he noted without conscious thought, probably borrowed from her passport.
             “I didn’t pick her up, Cat,” he replied shortly. “I didn’t see her after Ilario took her to her hotel.”
             “So this isn’t some irate boyfriend I’m going to have deal with when she shows up to tell him she spent the night with Riccardo Bartolinni?”
             Her sarcasm didn’t sting, but Caterina could say his name with so much distaste on occasion that it sounded like a profanity. Only his lovely cousin could grate on his nerves without even trying to annoy him.
             “She did not spend the night with me.”
             Cat’s smile was genuinely amused. “You must be losing your charm, Ric,” she teased.
             He was saved the need for a reply when the car stopped and his door was opened a moment later. The video shoot would be completed by mid-morning and he could escape to his villa in Amalfi shortly thereafter. He kept that thought in mind as his reward for not throttling Caterina. She knew him too well, and it was a constant source of friction between them. But, she was also the best assistant he’d ever had, and there was absolutely no chance of her becoming infatuated with him, an unfortunate occurrence he’d had to deal with more than once in the past. Of course, she was quick to remind him that if he’d stayed out of certain beds, he’d still have at least two of his previous assistants and not have to put up with her.
             He skimmed the short article that accompanied the picture of Jillian Light. According to the paper, she’d never returned to her hotel. He stepped from the limo and indicated the paper when Ilario closed the door after Caterina joined them in the bright sunshine.
             “Where did she ask you to leave her?”
             “I left her at the entrance to her hotel, Signor Bartolinni.”
             Riccardo nodded, already wondering why it even mattered. His indifference wasn’t real, though, and that bothered him. He felt uneasy, and it wasn’t something that happened to him often. He’d spent years learning to keep people from penetrating his veneer of casual charm, a protective instinct that kept him safe, and though few would understand it, kept others safe as well.
             “Everyone’s waiting,” Cat interrupted his thoughts with a nudge to his arm.
             The sound and film crew were set up. They chatted amongst themselves and sipped morning coffee. He passed the paper to his driver then took Caterina’s arm and headed for the small crowd.
             Almost an hour later, they were forced to take a break. He was getting irritable and short-tempered, but knew the interruptions were unavoidable. Despite starting early, things were delaying the completion of his new video. Technical problems arose at just about any public shoot, with people, traffic, and general noise making it difficult for everyone.
             He decided to take refuge in Enrico’s caffè for a short time. Cat was waving to him, but he ignored her and headed for the caffè. He was almost to the door when he glanced back and saw the woman seated at the same table she’d occupied the day before. He felt his mood lighten, and backtracked to where she sat.
             “Signorina Light.” He stopped a few feet from her. The smile that had come into his mood was slowly leeched from him by the chill creeping up his spine despite the glowing sunshine. Jillian stared straight ahead, no change in her expression, no recognition in her eyes. She was frozen, like a beautiful mannequin. He forced his feet to cross the last few feet that separated them.
             She made no sound or movement and he touched her cheek. The ice that kissed the back of his neck emanated from her he realized when he made his  fingers brush over ashen skin that held no warmth. He dropped to one knee and put his hand to her neck, seeking a pulse. It was there, faint and erratic. Fear shivered into his veins and he looked more intently at her. As his gaze dropped to the ground near his knee, he saw the expanding pool of blood.
             He rose in a single, fluid motion, calling out to Caterina. She was already punching numbers on her cellphone as she reached his side. Riccardo looked around, eyes scanning the gathering crowd, searching for someone he knew he wouldn’t find. Cat’s hand on his shoulder was an anchor he clung to as something inside him screamed in objection to the idea that this pretty girl he barely knew might die.

* * *

             “How is she?”
             Riccardo looked up when his cousin slid gracefully into a seat beside him. The hospital waiting room was sterile and not meant for comfort, yet he barely noticed the cramp that had settled into his muscles while he stared out the window.
             “They’ve not said,” he answered. He sighed and leaned back, eyes closing while he drew in deep breaths. “I don’t even know why I’m still here, Cat.”
             When silence met his statement, he opened one eye and peered at her, suspicious.
             “No comment?”
             She laughed at the edge in his voice.
             “What would I say, Ric? Something about her has you behaving like a caring man again, instead of the image you like to present to the world. I like this side of you. I’ve missed the person I grew up loving so much.”
             He scowled at her, irritated by the observation.
             “Signor Bartolinni?”
             He stood and the doctor came into the waiting room, hand extended in greeting.
             “How is she?”
             The doctor, Abruzzi was written on his ID tag, shook his hand and indicated they go further into the room.
             “Sedated, she’ll be that way for some time. She came through the surgery, but she’s lost a lot of blood.”
             “She’ll recover, though?”
             The doctor nodded, then gestured that they be seated again. He dropped into a chair across from Riccardo and Caterina, leaning forward so his elbows rested on his knees.
             “She was in shock when you found her, Signor Bartolinni. She’s had a delicate surgery. She will need time to recover fully before travelling.” When he was answered with silence, he leaned back. “I understand she’s a tourist, one the police have been searching for as a missing person.”
             “What of it?” Cat’s hand on his arm stilled his spurt of temper, and he covered her fingers with his, suddenly grateful for her presence. “She is a tourist as you say,” he continued, more calmly. “I believe she was with a group.”
             A movement near the door caught their attention and Riccardo straightened in his chair. He recognized Caterina’s fiancé, and his presence was a surprise. Rodrigo Calabria was a police detective.
             “Rod!” Caterina was at his side in a few steps, her smile fading when he kissed her forehead and looked past her to where Riccardo watched them.
             “I need to speak with you, Riccardo,” he informed the singer. “It’s about the girl you brought in.”
             Riccardo felt his eyebrows rise as the words hit him. “Why do the police have an interest in this?” He tried not to make it a challenge, but the antagonism had been between them for years. Long before his cousin had fallen in love with the detective.
             “She was stabbed, Ric!”
             “Do you have to do this every time you speak to each other?”
             Caterina’s words cut into the tension like a surgical blade, her quiet, husky voice shaking with anger. When neither man replied she glared at them both.
             “I want you to see something,” Rodrigo said with more noticeable kindness. He actually smiled when Riccardo’s look darkened with greater suspicion. “I’m not planning to charge you with attempted murder, Riccardo,” he assured. “But this is something you’ll want to see.”
             “Will you stay, Caterina?” Riccardo asked.
             She didn’t look happy, but she nodded, and they left the room after the doctor. Less than twenty minutes later, Riccardo slumped back in the chair where he’d been viewing surveillance tape from Enrico’s caffè.
             “You see why this may concern you?” Rod asked.
             He nodded, thoughtful, and worried.
             “Is there no way to make the image clear?”
             “The lab is working on it, but it’s the audio that’s partly clear. Until we speak to Signorina Light, we have no idea who this attacker is, or why it’s your name we’re hearing spoken.”
             Riccardo rose from his chair, paced the room like a caged panther, then stopped to stare out the barred window of the hospital security centre. He’d acquired some truly bizarre fans during the past few years, but he was finding it difficult to believe any of them could be responsible for what had happened. Yet… it was his name being shouted on the video recording. The sex of the attacker was no more clear than the face, but the name was like a curse. Accusing him. And he felt genuinely guilty, despite the lack of logic in it. A voice from his past tried to whisper, and he blocked it with ease, years of experience in the reactive denial.
             “It’s very likely my sound people can help,” he said when he turned to face a quiet Rodrigo. “Can you give me a copy of the disc?”
             Detective Calabria reached back and took the DVD from the machine, then held it out to Riccardo. “We’d appreciate the help.”
             Riccardo was almost through the door when Rod’s voice held him back a moment longer.
             “I’m sorry this has had to involve you, Riccardo.”
             Riccardo looked back, surprised by the peace offering. He nodded his thanks, and continued out of the room.

* * *

             “Who is he?”
             Caterina started when he spoke over her shoulder.
             “I think he’s her boyfriend, Ric,” she answered, uncertainty in her tone.
             Riccardo paid more attention when he took a second look, and his anger stirred to life inside him. Never prone to jealousy, he nonetheless recognized the alien emotion as his appraising stare swept over the man speaking with Doctor Abruzzi. Tall, muscular, blond, and far too sure of his appeal, Riccardo disliked the man intensely for no reason that made sense.
             “What room is she in?”
             “This way,” Caterina said and led him down the corridor. She smiled a little and leaned up to kiss his cheek when they stopped outside the door of Jillian’s room. “I’ll see if I can keep him out of here for a short time,” she offered.
             “Cat,” he handed her the DVD that Rod had given him. “See that the sound people get this. I want to hear the voice on it, clearly.”
             She took it and tucked it in a pocket of her lightweight jacket, then she was strolling back to the Nurse’s Station. Taking a steadying breath, Riccardo pushed the heavy hospital door inward with a soft displacement of air. The room was still and so quiet it made his skin prickle with unease. He went to the bedside and looked down at the woman lying there, no sign of motion or life in features that had been animated and full of emotion a day earlier.
             “What’s happened to you, Bella?” He whispered the words into the air, knowing they’d never be heard. He touched her cheek, traced the soft curve, then bent to kiss her forehead, the gesture instinctive, and surprising to him. She was reminding him too vividly of another woman, from long ago, a girl he’d loved and lost for all the wrong reasons. If there were ever right reasons, he’d not lived long enough to discover what they might be.
             A soft flutter of air surprised him and he looked down at her, relief suddenly making his legs feel weak. He took her hand in his and sat on the edge of the bed. She was trying hard to focus, and he waited. Gradually her green eyes opened and her mouth twitched with a ghost of a smile.
             He nodded. It was a familiar use of his name, yet oddly endearing on her lips, though he suspected it had more to do with drugs making her mind sluggish than any conscious effort to charm him.
             “You’re quite safe, bella mia,” he told her.
             She smiled again and before she could say more sleep reclaimed her.
             “Who the hell are you?”
             The accent was American, Riccardo heard it the instant the man spoke. He stayed where he was, ignoring the stranger.
             “I want to know who he is and what the hell he’s doing at Jillian’s bedside!”
             “It’s thanks to Signor Bartolinni that she is still breathing, Mr. Markham.”
             Riccardo knew the recognition, and he lifted Jillian’s hand to his lips, then placed it back at her side. He rose and went to stand in front of the man Doctor Abruzzi had addressed as Markham.
             “I will speak to you outside this room, Signor Markham,” Riccardo told him, his voice leaving no room for argument.
             “I want to speak to Jill, not you.”
             “Jillian is resting,” Riccardo said, his look daring Markham to attempt to push past him. “We have something to discuss.”
             “She needs quiet, Signor Markham,” Abruzzi’s smooth, impersonal voice insinuated itself into the sudden tension, defusing it before the American could cause a scene. “Signor Bartolinni, my office is at the end of the hall. Feel free to use it.”
             “Grazie.” He led the way down the corridor, aware that Markham followed him, albeit grudgingly.
             “The police were reporting her as a missing person until this morning,” Riccardo said without pre-amble when they were in the office and the door was closed. “Why was that? My driver returned her to the hotel where she was staying, presumably with you.” He tried, but he couldn’t quite conceal his disdain when he spoke the last few words.
             “What’s it to you?”
             “I have just found a young woman bleeding to death at a caffè in the early hours of the morning,” Riccardo said with false patience. “A woman you apparently think so little of that you leave her behind without a thought or care to her safety.”
             “Jill moved out of my room,” Brad snapped. “We argued. I assumed she was waiting for me to chase after her, and I didn’t.” He glared at Riccardo with no attempt to veil his anger. “Why does this concern someone like you?”
             “Someone like me?” Riccardo’s smile was mocking. “Would that be a man who does not abandon a woman he cares for, or are you referring to something else in my character?” The sarcasm bled into each syllable, and Markham’s face reddened with indignation. When Markham took a step toward him, Riccardo’s face hardened. “I wouldn’t, signore,” he advised, voice dangerously soft. “Unless you’d like to become acquainted with the police of Rome.”
             “I’m going to see Jill.”
             “She will not be able to travel for several weeks,” Riccardo told him. “Do you plan to stay in Rome while she recovers?”
             “I have a business to operate, Bartolinni!”
             Riccardo nodded and went to the desk. He wrote down an address, then handed it to Brad Markham. “Have Signorina Light’s things sent here. I’ll see that she’s cared for until she’s able to travel.”
             Brad took the paper and glanced at it. He looked up at Riccardo’s watchful expression and laughed. The sound wasn’t pleasant, or the least bit friendly.
             “Whatever you think you’re going to get for your trouble, she’s not likely to be worth it,” Brad declared. “Jillian’s a smart woman, but that’s all she’s got going for her.”
             The conspiratorial tone rankled, and Riccardo’s temper ignited again so swiftly it shocked him. He crossed the space between them and was eye to eye with the other man before he could think about it.
             “If I see you here again, Signor Markham,” he warned, voice dropping to a barely audible growl of contempt, “I will see that your girlfriend is not the only loss you suffer as a result of this.”
             The words were rash, but the intent was patent. Markham clearly saw that there was a real danger to provoking him further. He shrugged, feigning indifference, then left.
             Riccardo picked up the phone and rescheduled the video shoot for the next morning, then went to find his cousin. He knew she’d be in Jillian’s room, it would be like Caterina to sit with the woman until his return.

* * * * *

So there is Chapter One - I'll look forward to hearing your thoughts on this one!!


  1. Thanks so much, Diane!! I'm so hoping Noble contracts this one. It's been a long time in the making, but I'm finishing now because it feels like the right time at last!

  2. Was actually quite disappointed that that was all there was now cant wait till this book is released.

  3. I'm hooked as well and will have a hard time waiting until it's release!!!!

  4. Oh, Denyse, this is fantastic! It could very well be among the best you've ever done - and I definitely want to read the whole book once it's released!!


Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.