This was no cold marble—this was a man! Antonia goes to Tuscany to rebuild her life. The last thing she wants to do is fall in love, least of all with rich, arrogant, aristocratic Lorenzo.
Librarian Antonia Gray has fled England for northern Tuscany after an unhappy love affair to work on the archive of a 17th century Italian explorer, a member of a centuries-old aristocratic family. There she meets his descendent, Lorenzo Quattromani, rich, arrogant, handsome—and engaged to the beautiful and ruthless Giselle. The last thing Antonia wants is to fall in love, least of all with someone so dangerous. His engagement, though, is not what it seems, and Lorenzo breaks down Antonia’s resistance. But Giselle has other ideas.
Copyright ©2019 Kate Zarrelli
For a moment Antonia thought that she was once more in England, the England she had come away to forget. Glossy thoroughbred horses grazed in the paddock, the hedgerows were lush and green, and a riot of wild flowers nodded their heads in the gentle breeze that softened the heat of the day. But it was a rainy spring which had given Tuscany a freshness unusual for an afternoon in early July.
The old imperious voice cut through her thoughts. It was a voice accustomed to unquestioning obedience. This was no surprise. Antonia’s employer, Countess Laura Quattromani, was at seventy-eight the last of an illustrious noble line. Her coat-of-arms, four hands held uncompromisingly palm forward, crumbled above the portals of many a ruined castle dotted about the beautiful landscape.
As Antonia turned around to face the direction of the voice, her illusion of an English landscape vanished. Pale gold in the afternoon sunlight, the countess’s three-hundred-year-old villa had as its backdrop rows of vines climbing up into the foothills of the imposing Apuan Alps. In contrast to their rough majesty was the formal garden in front of the villa, with its topiary hedges in the shape of dragons and lions and the pretty splashing fountain with a smiling bronze Cupid as its centrepiece.
The countess was standing before this fountain, looking anything but pleased.
“Guests!” she exclaimed, “We’ve got guests here disturbing our peace!” The old lady’s bony hand shook as she grasped the shiny knob of her walking stick, then waved it in the air.
In the three months Antonia had been at the villa, she had never seen the countess so annoyed. Eccentric, yes, and a demanding person to work for, but never angry.
“And I was so looking forward to getting on with Gianluca’s papers this afternoon!” she added crossly. “I suppose we’ll just have to put up with them!”
“Your guests won’t have come to see me,” said Antonia gently. “I can continue where we left off earlier, and make notes of anything I need to check with you.”
Laura Quattromani’s face softened. “You dear girl. You really are a treasure.” The countess’s English was almost perfect, learned in London when she was child during the war. Because of her father’s political views, he had thought it safer to send the family into exile, while he continued to help and shelter partisans at home. As the countess had explained, even a London threatened by the Blitz was a more secure place for the Quattromanis than staying in Italy.
Although the countess talked about Gianluca Quattromani as if he was a dear cousin, he had in fact died centuries ago, after a career consolidating an already vast family fortune by trading with the Far East along the routes established by Marco Polo. But this afternoon the old lady was going to have to put aside Gianluca’s adventures, which came alive in his letters and diaries, as a silver Mercedes was now drawing up on the gravelled forecourt of the villa.
As Antonia watched nervously, the most glamorous couple she had ever seen stepped out of it. Feeling awkward and insignificant, she tried to move away, but the old lady’s restraining hand on her arm stopped her.
“It gives me great pleasure to introduce my nephew, Lorenzo Quattromani,” barked the countess, “my companion and librarian, Antonia Gray.”
Antonia shook the warm, strong hand offered her, but after her first glance could barely summon the courage to look again at its owner’s face. Her mouth was dry as she mumbled a greeting, and she was aware of a flush creeping up her neck under her pale tan. Italy was full of perfectly ordinary men who managed to look like gods, but this was clearly no ordinary man, and he outshone them all. Lorenzo Quattromani was utterly beautiful, and no doubt he knew it, Antonia thought miserably. He was one of those infuriating men who always seemed cucumber cool whatever the weather, and Antonia was painfully conscious that she must have been looking hot, bothered and very scruffy in the old canvas overall she wore for her work in the dust and mould of the Quattromani library. Unable to raise her eyes, she looked straight in front of her, only to see the shadowed hollow of his throat, the strong column of his neck. Lorenzo was tall, at least six foot two to her five foot six, his shoulders square but not heavy, his waist narrow and taut, it seemed to her, under the fine fabric of his crisp linen shirt. His skin was golden—there was no other way to describe it—his hair black and gently curling. Her gaze dropped downwards in embarrassment. Dark trousers, also of linen, expensively casual, which on any other man would have looked merely crumpled and weary, encased slim hips.
How at ease he is with himself, and he must know I’m not! Her flush deepened as she remembered a long-forgotten incident from her school-days. Charlotte Gardner, the most daring girl in the school, had returned from a holiday in Florence declaring that Italian men had the narrowest hips in the world. As if he was reading her thoughts, Antonia heard Lorenzo’s easy, mocking laughter, and despite herself looked up into his face with a small stab of anger. She caught sight of a classic Roman nose and chiselled lips curled in laughter, revealing strong white teeth. Go on, then, make fun of me! Angry now, she glared into eyes that were a startling slate grey in the warm olive tones of his face. It was these eyes, as much as his mockery and the lithe perfection of his body, that tightened the muscles of Antonia’s throat and made her more tongue-tied than ever.
“Do park that car round the back,” exclaimed his aunt. “Anyone would think we were new money to look at it!”