Lucy chided herself. So much for striding in and giving Mr Spinozzi coffee and confidence. Even though he was clearly trying hard now to be pleasant to her, there was something about him that left her tongue-tied. She took the business card and studied it. Danilo Spinozzi, it said in bold letters, and then underneath in rather formal English: Purveyor of fine wines, olive oil and luxury goods. There were some more lines in tiny print, giving an address in Milan, a phone number, and an email address and a website of a company: Caterina Cattaneo Associates. She looked up and saw him watching her closely. He was half-smiling, but one of his eyebrows was also raised in an assessing way. She felt puzzled. He didn’t really mean for her to contact him while she was in Ravello, did he? Wasn’t he just being polite?
“That’s very nice of you,” she said, smiling back as best she could. That was when she got a better look at him, noticing how richly brown his eyes were, like dark, bitter chocolate, and fringed by long black lashes. His face was bronzed—as though he spent a lot of time outdoors—and sensitive-looking. He had high cheekbones, fine and chiselled, though his stubbled jaw was firm. Then she caught sight of the tiny sparkling stud in his left ear—a rough diamond, if her jeweller’s eye wasn’t mistaken. On another man it could have looked uncool, but on him it somehow melded with his wild beauty. His body was big and muscled, and his large tanned hands with their long fingers spoke of physical work—he had mentioned he had a farm outside Ravello. She also sensed the pulsating of a strange kind of energy as his presence filled the space between them—what was it? Something generated by the way he gestured a lot with those big hands when he talked? No it was more than that; something that if it had a scent would reek of power and style, yet rough-hewn masculinity too. He surveyed her intently, while leaning forward, elbows on knees, his jacket stretching tautly across his broad shoulders, almost like he was daring her to refuse his invitation, to take the risk. She leaned back and her bewitched brain scrabbled for something else to say to break the spell. She fingered his card. “You sell wine and olive oil?” she tried, grasping for the safety of more small talk.
He put his head on one side and let his eyes run over her again, which made her shiver a little, then leaned back in his seat and replied in his musical but growling Italian accent, “I do. I also make them. I run the agricultural estate that has been in my family for generations. We grow lemons, too—and make the best limoncello in all of Italy.” He ran the word limoncello over his tongue, seductively stretching it out and making it sound as delicious as sweet, runny honey.
Lucy’s own tongue felt thick and too big for her mouth. Oh, God! “Limoncello’s an after-dinner liqueur, isn’t it?” she responded a touch too brightly, trying to suppress her physical reaction. She thought desperately of all the research she’d been doing about Italy and its customs, and avoiding drowning in his piercing, liquid-brown stare. “H-how do you make it?”
He nodded. “We steep lemon zest for months in jars of a grain alcohol similar to vodka, then add sugar syrup.”
“I’m keen to try it,” she said, fiddling with the sapphire and gold necklace around her neck that she’d made herself. “I’ll … I’ll be sure to put it on my to-do list for when I’m in Ravello.”
“Perhaps you would like to put me on your list as well?”
Dazed by his persistence and forwardness, she gave a small, hesitant nod.
“If you give me a call when you arrive, I can arrange a private tasting for you at Casa Spinozzi.”
She swallowed in an effort to moisten her dry mouth.
His lips tilted up on one side into a charmingly crooked grin and his eyes crinkled and sparkled. “I mean it. Call me. Let me tempt you with my limoncello speciale,” he urged softly but insistently.
“Okay,” she squeaked, powerless to refuse.
“Bene.” He seemed pleased. He let his gaze run over her once more, then rose fluidly from the armchair. “Now I must go and see about my bike, then leave you and your family to your lunch.”
Later, when the meal was over and her parents, along with The Honourable Mr Justice Harper-Day and Mrs Harper-Day, and Caroline and David were seated on the patio enjoying coffee and the warm afternoon sunshine, Lucy picked at the leftover desserts while helping Nana Morag load the dishwasher in the kitchen. She could hear her mother drawling in her poshest voice, clearly trying hard to impress David’s parents.
“Och, your mother sounds like the Queen,” Morag observed tartly.
“Yes,” Lucy replied wearily. She could understand how it irritated Morag that her daughter—once plain Fiona Dawkins and a medical receptionist—had become so regal since she’d married a doctor and gone up in the world. She herself just wished her mother wasn’t quite so fussy and keen to get on. She knew she was a disappointment to her mother, especially in comparison to Caroline, who was a shining star in Fiona’s eyes, as she was now doing her pupillage training to become a barrister and about to marry into a top legal family. There was no doubt that Fiona’s constant pushing had not soothed Lucy’s own sensitive, rather anxious nature while she’d been growing up. But it wasn’t just Fiona’s social aspirations that were needling at Lucy now; her mind kept on returning to Danilo Spinozzi, and her reaction to him. He’d reduced her to a stuttering jelly with his looks, charisma and kindness … and an undertone of something, of—what was it? Something untamed, which made her senses tingle.
His business card was burning a hole in her pocket and, now he’d gone and she’d had a chance to collect her thoughts, she realised he’d been serious when he’d asked her to visit his home to try his limoncello. It surprised her that a guy like him had shown interest in her. Was he being gentlemanly, or maybe he pitied her a little? Her stutter did occasionally cause that reaction in a few people. Then a little fist of shock punched at her as a fresh realisation dawned; had he been coming on to her, and she’d only just realised? Surely not. She was not his usual kind of fare, she knew that instinctively. Not only was he incredibly good-looking and quite possibly wealthy, going by the little he’d said about his home and business, but he roared around the English countryside on a mighty motorbike at high speed. Yes, there definitely was an edge to him. He would want a beautiful, sexually confident, adventurous woman, not a plump, relatively inexperienced girl like her. She felt her throat swell and her eyes prick with the threat of tears. She was putting herself down again. But men had rarely showed interest in her, perhaps because of her speech impediment, or maybe because she knew she came across as awkward, too cautious, even stodgy. She smarted when she remembered the nickname that some of the mean girls at school had labelled her with: Lumpy Lucy. It didn’t help, either, that her self-esteem had taken a beating when she’d caught Colin, her only-ever boyfriend and now ex-fiancé, cheating with Della Braithwaite at her twenty-first birthday party last year, and then he’d dumped her. The humiliation still tasted as sour in her mouth today as it had back then. A tear trickled down her cheek, and she swept it away with her hand. She picked up a cloth and some kitchen cleaner and began scrubbing the counters, willing her fit of self-pity to pass. She’d made a pact with herself a while back not to wallow.
“What’s the matter, lovey? You’ve been very quiet since that handsome Italian left.” Morag appeared at her elbow.
“Oh, it’s nothing, Nana, I’m just being silly.” Lucy sniffed, and wiped her face again. As usual, Morag’s finely tuned radar had picked up on her granddaughter’s emotional vibes.
“I don’t think it’s nothing, lovey. Did he say something to upset you? You can tell your old nana.”
Lucy smiled and turned to her grandmother. “Nothing gets past you, does it?”
“Och, no. Especially not when it has to do with my youngest granddaughter. Why don’t you make us a nice cup of tea and we’ll sit down and talk about it.”
Soon they were seated at the central island, with a pot of brewing tea, milk and mugs, and Lucy explained all that had happened with Danilo Spinozzi, her previous sadness turning to mirth as she began to see the funny side of what had taken place and she entertained her grandmother. “He said he wanted to tempt me with his limoncello, Nana. What do you think of that?”
Morag clapped her hands together. “That must be Italian for inviting you up to see his etchings, lovey!”
“But seriously, Nana. Why would he do that? I’m not his type at all.”
Morag’s face softened into a proud smile. “Because you’re a beautiful girl, lovey. You don’t know it, but you are.” Her eyes took on a faraway look. “You remind me of my mother. You’ve inherited her looks and figure. My father used to say that her eyes reminded him of a loch on a summer’s day and her skin of a Highland mist.”
“Oh, how I wish!” Lucy batted the compliments away, though secretly feeling her spirits rise. Could Nana be right and Danilo Spinozzi really did want to get to know her better?
“Aye, you don’t yet know your power, lovey.” Morag paused. “Maybe this trip to Italy will teach you how lovely you are.”
“Maybe.” Lucy reached to pour out the tea for both of them. “But Danilo Spinozzi’s limoncello or not, I’m really looking forward to this trip.” She looked around the kitchen. “It’ll be good for me to get away for a while, do something I really enjoy; be independent and have to rely on myself.”
Morag patted her on the hand, and Lucy knew that her grandmother instinctively understood. “It’s your time to leave the nest, lovey, get out from under your mother’s thumb, bless her heart, spread your wings and fly. Now what are you doing to do about Mr Spinozzi’s limoncello?”
Lucy choked on her tea. “What are you suggesting, naughty Nana?”
Morag gave her a gentle smile. “That perhaps you give it, and him, a chance, lovey. Take a wee risk. You’ve got nothing to lose.”
Lucy let her hands curl round her mug and the liquid inside it warmed her fingers as she considered Nana’s suggestion. Take a wee risk. She could feel her heart beginning to thump, partly with excitement, partly with apprehension. Nana was just an old romantic. Nothing would come of it …
End of Excerpt