A postcard from her high-school flame, Giovanni, an Italian exchange student, sends divorcee Anne Marie Jackson on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Italy, where she comes face to face with the handsome but mysterious Marco Moretti, a man who offers to show her Italy.
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Carol Grace was born with wanderlust. She spent her junior year in college at the Sorbonne in Paris, then sailed on the hospital ship HOPE to Guinea, Nicaragua and Tunisia. With her husband, she taught English in Iran and Algeria. Now living on a mountain overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Carol says traveling and writing about exotic places is the best of both worlds. She hopes readers will fall in love with Italy as she did.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
She was lost. All the streets looked alike, and all the street signs were in a foreign language. Perspiration dripped down the side of Anne Marie Jackson's face as she pulled her new Samsonite suitcase through the back streets of Sorrento. Though it was early September, by ten o'clock the Italian sun was so hot her money belt was plastered to her waist. The guidebooks warned of petty theft; thieves were everywhere, they said, looking for innocent tourists. Tourists like her, dragging suitcases, weighed down with visas and passports and Italian phrase books and still unable to say more than a few words to anyone.
She heard footsteps behind her. With a swift glance over her shoulder, she noticed a man in a dark suit with a long loaf of bread under his arm. She made a quick turn down a narrow cobblestone street with laundry hanging from a line above, and prayed he wouldn't come after her. But he was right there behind her, slowing down when she slowed, speeding up when she sped up. Her heart pounded. Even if she knew the word for help, the street was empty -- who would hear her? He might take everything she had -- cash, traveler's checks, and credit cards.
After all, there would be no witnesses. No one to see him drag her body away, where it would lie in an alley for days until stray dogs gnawed at her bones. And who would ever find her and notify her family? Her family, which now consisted only of her eighteen-year-old son.
Two little boys in tattered T-shirts came around the corner, bouncing their ball off the cobblestones and casting curious glances in her direction. The man with the bread passed her by without a second glance. A man on his way home with bread, that was all. She was paranoid, that was all.
"Buon giorno," she said to the boys.
They stared. She hauled out her Italian phrase book to ask directions. She was not only lost, she was late. If she didn't find the station soon, she'd miss the bus to the Amalfi Coast.
"Dov'e il termini?" she asked.
The boys burst into laughter at her accent, and she felt her face turn red. With a glance at her watch, she repeated the phrase, and they pointed back the way she'd come.
"Grazie." With her suitcase clattering behind her, she turned around and headed down the hill.
Ten minutes later, she had a sinking feeling she was no closer to the bus station than before. She felt like giving up, like sitting down on her suitcase and giving in to tears of frustration. Instead, she kept going. Block after block, street after street.
Suddenly, there it was -- the station! Swamped with relief, Anne Marie checked her watch. She'd missed the bus. When she went in to buy her ticket, she learned there would be another in an hour. Wonderful! She would still make it in time to meet Giovanni.
There was already a line outside, and she stood at the end of it. She didn't mind waiting; she was in Italy! If she could handle a ten-hour plane flight squished in a center seat between two Sumo wrestlers, followed by a second-class train ride from Rome to Sorrento, seated in the aisle on her suitcase while the train swayed and lurched, an hour in line under the sun was nothing.
She sniffed the air, laden with the scent of lemon blossoms. She had to remember everything to tell Evie, who'd insisted she make this trip, even when Anne Marie said she couldn't afford it.
"Borrow money against your retirement fund," she'd urged. "You must have at least six months of vacation accrued. Do you think the library will close without you? Do you think people will stop reading, stop dropping in to use the Internet, because you're not there?"
"No, but maybe I should just go to Oregon or Yosemite..."
"You've always wanted to go to Italy. Now go."
So she'd gone.
Though she wouldn't be here without her friend's encouragement, the person she had to thank most was Dan. Funny she could thank him for anything, after what he'd done to her, but she was no longer bitter about the divorce.
How could she be bitter about anything when she was in Sorrento, a gorgeous old town wedged between the mountains and the Mediterranean, where tourists had been coming for hundreds of years for the climate, the views, and the relaxed atmosphere of dolce far niente? The hills were dotted with lemon groves and olive trees. Her senses sang in the fragrant breeze that came up and cooled her face. She was here, she was really here. At last.
The guidebooks said to arrive early to land a seat on the right side of the bus, for one of the world's most spectacular drives along a winding road with views of the cliffs and the sea below. Looking at this line, she'd be lucky if she got a seat at all.
When the bus finally came, belching diesel fumes that clouded the air, Anne Marie wound up standing in the aisle, just as she feared. She stood between a solid German man with a mustache and a young Italian man who was listening to his Walkman. With her suitcase at her feet, her hand wrapped around the strap hanging from the ceiling, she felt the bus lurch, and they were on their way.
The bus rumbled onto the coast highway and hugged the first curve, only inches from the cliff that dropped five hundred feet straight down to the sapphire-blue sea that sparkled below. She gasped and gripped the strap so tightly her knuckles turned white. She told herself no bus had ever gone over the side and crashed on the rocks before. But there was a first time for everything. She could just see the front page of the Oakville Times:
ANNE MARIE JACKSON'S VACATION ENDS IN DISASTER
"Just like her marriage," the gossips would say.
EX-HUSBAND ON HONEYMOON WITH NEW WIFE
The bus went around another bend. While others brought out their cameras and leaned out the windows taking pictures, Anne Marie was too terrified to look. Her heart pounded. She pictured the tires exploding; she imagined the expression on the driver's face changing from calm assurance to the terrified realization that the unthinkable had happened. Maybe it was his first trip on this road. Maybe he was still a trainee, unused to the curves and bends in the road.
Then the bus would go tumbling over and over until it crashed on the rocks below. She could almost hear the screams of her fellow passengers. Screams that would blend with the cries of the gulls, which would pick their bones clean as their bodies lay broken and bruised on the sand. Her own throat was too dry to scream, her palm was so sticky it stuck to the strap above her head.
Anne Marie turned her head, only to see that the bus was so close to an oncoming car they were certain to scrape sides. By some miracle, the driver avoided both going over the cliff and taking the paint off the Fiat. This kind of close call didn't happen just once but about twenty-five times during the next hour, always accompanied by honking horns and shaking fists. She resolutely stared straight ahead at the back of the bus driver's head, channeling her thoughts on something more pleasant. On Giovanni.
If he was surprised that she was finally coming to Italy to see him, he didn't say so in the brief note she'd received the day she was leaving. He'd just suggested they meet at a hotel in San Gervase today, which had caused her to change her plan of spending her first night in Rome.
If he was afraid she'd expect him to be her tour guide, the way he'd promised so long ago, he didn't have to worry. She had no such unrealistic expectations. She was a grown-up, divorced woman now, on her own. She'd gotten herself this far; she could get herself around Italy, too.
She didn't know if Giovanni remembered the way she'd clung to every word he said about Italy when he was an exchange student back in high school. He wouldn't know that she'd kept every postcard he'd sent afterward. Then his cards became fewer and farther between. And Anne Marie went off to college and got married.
But finally, she was here to do what he'd told her to do: let Italy soak into her skin like the sun. She wanted to see it all -- the canals in Venice, the Colosseum in Rome, Michelangelo's statue of David in Florence. But first she had a date to meet him. After fantasizing about Giovanni off and on for some twenty years, it was time to put the dreams to rest and get on with her life. But if by chance dreams did come true...well, it couldn't happen at a better time.
As they approached San Gervase, Anne Marie craned her neck to the right for a quick look out the window. It was everything she'd imagined: a picture-perfect town squashed into a ravine with shops and whitewashed villas perched on the cliffs. Scarlet bougainvillea tumbled over balconies and climbed stone walls, and wild poppies covered the ground. There was a small sand beach below, and, best of all, there was the sea, sparkling in the sun, cool and inviting, impossibly blue.
Anne Marie stumbled off the bus, grateful to be on firm ground at last. She rolled her suitcase behind her down narrow, winding streets, delighting in the scent of jasmine and mint and lemons, of lemon candy and lemon granita.
On her way down the street, she accepted a free sample of limoncello in a small paper cup, the local lemon liqueur that was so strong it burned her throat. Her stomach was doing flip-flops at the thought of meeting Giovanni.
What if he didn't recognize her after all this time? What if she didn't recognize him? Maybe they'd just have coffee, and she'd give him the high school yearbook he'd left behind when he returned to Italy, and that would be it. She wasn't naive enough to think he'd throw his arms around her and confess he'd always been in love with her, that he'd never forgotten her and had been waiting for her all these years.
But if he did do that and say that, they'd go up to her hotel room overlooking the Mediterranean, and, with the air filled with the scents of wild herbs and flowering vines from the hillside below, and the sea breeze blowing in the window cooling their overheated bodies, he'd tell her that he'd never forgotten her, that he'd never been able to love anyone else.
He was so strong he'd literally sweep her off her feet. When they took their clothes off, she'd blush as he told her that for a forty-one-year-old woman she looked good -- no, great. He'd fondle her breasts that were still firm, caress her still-flat stomach, admire her hips that were generous but not too wide. And he...he'd look like the statue of David on the postcard he'd sent her long ago. Her skin tingled just thinking about it.
Her skin tingled, and perspiration trickled annoyingly between her breasts. Her long hair lay heavy and damp on the back of her neck. She had to get it cut, she suddenly resolved. Right now, even if she was late for their meeting. See? She was already beginning to adopt an Italian attitude: if she was late, he'd wait for her.
Miraculously, she came to a cool, dark shop with a sign on the door -- Salone de Bellezza. When she went inside, the smell of shampoo and hair spray hung in the air. A woman in a blue apron motioned for her to take a seat. Anne Marie nodded and, while she was waiting, thumbed through an old fashion magazine with a picture of a Sophia Loren look-alike. The model's hair was reddish brown, cut in layers that brushed her high cheekbones.
"Like that," she told the stylist, surrendering herself into the woman's hands.
And what hands they were. Anne Marie rested her head against the edge of the sink while those hands rubbed, massaged, sprayed hot water, then rinsed with cool water. She gave a shiver of pleasure as the hands worked in shampoo and conditioner and something else that exuded the essence of lavender and mint.
She forgot her worries about losing her husband and finding Giovanni. She forgot she was on a schedule and just let herself float away on a cloud of fragrance and sensual pleasure. She'd never known how sensitive her head was until this woman took charge, with her magic hands and potions.
Every bone in her body had turned to jelly; every remnant of the tension of the last twenty-four hours melted away. Anne Marie closed her eyes while the hands cut and shaped and blew her hair dry and then sprayed it.
"Prego, signora." The stylist lifted the smock off, and Anne Marie opened her eyes at last.
She blinked at her reflection in the mirror. Her hair was no longer dull brown with streaks of gray. It was the color of the hair in the magazine. It brushed against her cheekbones, making them look higher, giving her an exotic look she'd never had before. They'd misunderstood; she'd only wanted it cut! But it did look wonderful. The entire staff of three women appeared behind her, beaming at her reflection with pride. They murmured things like "bella," and "graziosa." What could she say? She smiled and thanked them warmly.
She paid a ridiculously small amount for such a total transformation and walked out into the afternoon sunlight, feeling its heat on her bare neck. She felt naked; she'd had long hair forever. But she also felt lighter, and there was a bounce in her step as she headed for her hotel.
If only Evie could see her now! "You have the perfect excuse for skipping Dan's wedding," Evie had said. "You're no longer the pathetic ex-wife; you are a woman on a romantic tryst to meet her lover. Out of all the girls in our class who were in love with him, he chose you. He heard about the divorce. Now he wants you. He even sent you a ticket -- first class."
"Who's going to believe that?" Anne Marie scoffed, shaking her head.
"Okay," Evie conceded. "Business class."
So she'd borrowed the money, packed, and left. Truthfully, she would have gone steerage class on the first boat; she would have mortgaged the house. Anything to escape the wedding of the year, when Dan married his dental hygienist with the perfect teeth and the perfect size eight figure. Since the divorce was so "amicable," the whole town expected good old Anne Marie to show up with a smile on her face and a gift under her arm. Hah!
Instead, she was on her way to a rendezvous.
But what if Giovanni had changed? What if he weighed three hundred pounds? What if he brought a wife and five children to meet her? Or what if he was single and wanted to marry her so he could get a green card? What if he wore his shirt unbuttoned to the navel and had four gold chains around his neck? She'd find out very soon; it was almost two-thirty.
Anne Marie found a taxi on the main street, across from the small sandy beach with bright blue and white beach umbrellas. As the well-aged Fiat with an equally well-aged driver made its way up into the hills above the town, her ears popped and she felt dizzy.
Finally, they pulled into the circular driveway of the four-star Hotel Athena on the edge of the cliff. When she got out of the taxi, Anne Marie's knees buckled. Nerves? Altitude? The driver set her bag at the hotel's open glass doors. She held out a handful of euros, and he carefully picked out what she hoped was the right amount.
For a long moment afte...
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Descrizione libro Pocket Star, 2003. Condizione libro: Good. Shows some signs of wear, and may have some markings on the inside. Codice libro della libreria GRP10078811
Descrizione libro Pocket Star. Mass Market Paperback. Condizione libro: Very Good. Nice condition with minor indications of previous handling. Codice libro della libreria G0743467604I4N00
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Descrizione libro Pocket Star, 2003. Condizione libro: Very Good. Ships from the UK. Former Library book. Great condition for a used book! Minimal wear. Codice libro della libreria GRP96087838
Descrizione libro Condizione libro: Very Good. Codice libro della libreria SKU-4494968
Descrizione libro Condizione libro: Very Good. Codice libro della libreria SKU-4494968
Descrizione libro Pocket Star, 2003. Mass Market Paperback. Condizione libro: Good. Paperback. Sound, & nice copy, light to moderate shelf/reading wear, doodling on inside of front wrap. Codice libro della libreria c683855
Descrizione libro Pocket Star, 2003. Paperback. Condizione libro: Good. Condizione sovraccoperta: No Dust Jacket. Bon Voyage Series; 6.70 X 4.30 X 1.20 inches; 368 pages. Codice libro della libreria 330362
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Descrizione libro Pocket Star, 2003. Mass Market Paperback. Condizione libro: Used: Very Good. Codice libro della libreria SONG0743467604