Set in Rome, Bella Signorina is a sweet, romantic story of two people who meet in a trendy caffè, and through the magic of dance and music discover they have many things in common. Bianca comes to Caffè Rosati every week, and for many weeks she's been watching a special man, a handsome, charming stranger who dances, flirts, and leaves alone each week. Bianca is a woman who enjoys her freedom, and has been hurt before, so she's not anxious to fall in love again. Something about the enigmatic Stefano has captivated her heart, though, and she is drawn to him in spite of herself. When she finally gathers her courage to approach him, and ask him to dance, little does she know that her entire world is about to change.
Stefano Esposito is a man who's past relationships have not left him much in the way of ideals about women. Many have claimed to love him, none have understood him. Stefano is a rare breed in today's world of fast-paced life and love. He is a gentleman, a man who many consider a little out of step with the times. For Stefano, falling in love is the completion of a soul, not the consummation of a sexual itch. He wants the woman in his life to respect, understand, and adore him, as he will her. When he meets Bianca, he wonders if he's finally found the one he's waited a lifetime for? She understands his internal conflicts, his desires, and his dreams, after only hours together.
When their attraction to each other flares too quickly and too intently, Stefano pulls back. Confused and uncertain, Bianca flees his beautiful home and business, and goes back to her busy life. But, once the dance has begun, is there a way to go back to what you knew before, or is it just a matter of time before the music lures you back to your dreams and, perhaps, makes them reality?
Stefano kept a close eye on the pretty dancer even as he walked to the small caffè. She was lovely, and he’d seen her many times, always enchanted by her presence, but never inclined to find out if the outward beauty was all there was to her. If she was another vain and brainless girl, he didn’t want his illusion shattered. The romanticism of the thought made him smile. He wasn’t as jaded as he pretended to be if he was still protecting his heart with illusions.
Less than fifteen minutes after he’d left her, he rejoined her and handed her a steaming cup of coffee.
“It’s so different here at night,” Bianca noted, her eyes scanning the area. In a matter of hours, thousands of people would begin their daily movements, passing over the steps, not noticing anything but the need to be wherever they were headed. “There’s peace here now.”
“Is that why you dance, to find peace?”
She sipped her coffee and considered an answer. When it came, it surprised him.
“The music is freedom, and the motion is passion. Sometimes the only passion that matters.”
“All passion matters, bella,” he commented. “It’s what gives us life.”
“Or burns it out of us.”
He turned on the steps, faced her fully. Then he touched her chin and made her look at him.
“Who abused your love so fully that you can believe that?”
“People destroy each other for love,” she replied after a lengthy pause.
Stefano shook his head. “Love is the only gift there is worth having, Signorina. It’s what men live and die for.”
“Who are you, Signor?”
He was startled again, twice in less than five minutes.
“Would you like to walk?”
She laughed in the growing darkness, and Stefano felt it ripple the length of his spine, as though cool, flawless silk had glided over him.
“Where are we to go, Stefano?”
“I think you’ll like the place,” he observed, with a hint of irony texturing the subtle undertone of his voice.
She eyed him for a few timeless moments, then nodded and rose.
He smiled when she offered her hand, and he curled his fingers around hers in a loose, but firm grip.
“So, is there a wife hidden somewhere?”
He laughed. “No. What about you? A husband who will come looking for me before dawn?”
She shook her head and sipped her coffee. “How does a man with so much passion not have the woman of his dreams in his arms every night?”
“I could ask you the same question,” he pointed out. “Why are you alone?”
Her laughter washed over him again and she stopped walking to look up at him. “No one I’ve met has inspired the things I need to feel.” She shrugged. "I've been too honest with too many, and it scares them away."
For a moment he said nothing, weighing her surprising confession. “What do you need?”
“To be respected for who I am, what makes me unique.” She tilted her head to one side and held his level gaze. “I need to be given all the things I’m expected to provide, and that seems to be something quite beyond many men. Real men, who understand the value of a smart woman, also see that her beauty is in her wisdom, and her spirit.”
“And her ability to be all things without effort, because she is all things naturally,” he concluded, genuinely pleased at the startled flicker of surprise his words lit in her eyes. “We’re here,” he announced, indicating the building they’d reached.
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 lights.
“I’ve never seen you,” he noted. “Except at the caffè.”
“I’ve always felt this place was a tribute to love, and romance.”
“It is. My father began the collection for my mother.”
“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 collection.”
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 them.”
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 her shoulder.
“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.
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