RT Book Reviews
4 1/2 stars
"A passionate story of romance and family ties set amidst the rolling hills and vineyards of Tuscany will tug the heartstrings of readers everywhere. Bravo!"
~ THE SECRET THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING ~
Tired of being in the shadow of her
prettier, more popular sisters, Charlotte Patterson decides to leave
Manhattan behind and discover just what Italy's la dolce vita has to
offer—good food, fine wine…delicious men?
On her first night in Rome, Charlotte meets Lucio in her hotel. They’re immediately on the same wave-length, and when he leaves she goes with him, wandering the streets of the romantic city.
As they turned the corner Charlotte stopped, astonished and thrilled by the sight that met her eyes.
“The Trevi Fountain,” she breathed. “I’ve always wanted to see it. It’s so huge – so magnificent – ”
This was no mere fountain. A highly decorated palace wall rose behind it, at the centre of which was a triumphal arch, framing the magnificent, half-naked figure of Oceanus, mythical god of water, ruling over the showers that cascaded into the pool below. Everywhere was flooded with light, giving the water a dazzling glitter against the night.
“I’ve read about it,” she murmured, “and seen pictures, but – ”
“But nothing prepares you,” he agreed. “Some things have to be experienced before they become real.”
Nearby was a café with tables out on the street Here they could sit and watch the humming life about them.
“Nice to see people having a good time,” she murmured.
“Does that mean your life is unhappy now?”
“Oh no,” she said quickly. “But it does tend to be a bit too serious. Not exactly filled with fun. And sometimes you need to remind yourself about fun.”
Her regarded her curiously, thinking that a woman with her looks could have all the fun she wanted with all the men she wanted. So there was a mystery here. But he was too astute to voice the thought.
“But Italy should remind you of fun,” he said. “It’s not all cathedrals and sober history.”
“I know. You’ve only got to stroll the streets of Rome in the twilight, and see – well, lots of things.”
His grin and the way he nodded spoke volumes about his own life. Doubtless it was full of ‘twilight activities’ she thought. And they would be fun. She didn’t doubt that either.
“Anyway,” she went on, “my favourite Italian was – ”
She named a historical character with a legendary reputation for wickedness.
“He wasn’t as bad as people think,” Lucio observed. “He was actually quite a serious man who – ”
“Don’t say that,” she interrupted him quickly. “You’ll spoil him for me. If he’s not wicked he’s not interesting.”
He regarded her curiously. “There aren’t many people who’d see it that way.”
“But it’s true.”
“Certainly it’s true, but we’re not supposed to say so.”
“Well, I’m always doing things I’m not supposed to. There was the politician who came to hold a meeting in our town, all virtue and pomposity, except that he’d spent the previous night in a place where he shouldn’t have been. I’d seen him leaving and I couldn’t resist getting up at the meeting and asking him about it.”
“Shame on you!” he said theatrically.
“Yes, I have no sense of propriety, so I’m told.”
“So you’re wicked and interesting, eh? Cunning?”
“Certainly. Cunning, devious, manipulative, wicked – whatever it takes.”
“Is that the real reason you broke off your career to go travelling?”
“In one sense. I wanted to find another world, and I’m finding it.” She raised her glass to him. “I guess there’s probably a lot of interesting wickedness in your own life.”
He assumed a shocked air.
“Me? I’m far too busy earning a respectable living, I assure you.”
They plunged into a light-hearted barney with much vigour on both sides, but also much laughter. She had a strange sense of being mentally at one with him. Almost like a brother.
But the next moment he turned his head so that she saw his profile against the glittering light from the fountain. Not brotherly, she thought. Disconcertingly attractive in a way that eclipsed other men.
Suddenly there was an excited cry as more crowds surged into the piazza, eager to toss coins into the water. For a while they both sat watching them.
“It’s the age of science,” she reflected. “We’re all supposed to be so reasonable. Yet people still come here to toss coins and make wishes.”
“Perhaps they’re right,” he said. “Being too reasonable can be dangerous. Making a wish might free you from that danger.”
“But there are always other dangers lurking,” she mused. “What to do about them?”
“Then you have to decide which ones to confront and which to flee,” he said.
She nodded. “That way lies wisdom. And freedom.”
“And freedom matters to you more than anything, doesn’t it?” he asked.
“Yes, but you must know what it really means. You think you’re free, but then something happens, and suddenly it looks more like isolation.”
A sudden bleakness in her voice on the last word caught his attention.
“Tell me,” he said gently.
“I thought I was part of a big happy family. An older brother and sister who were twins, a younger sister I’ve always been close to, but then it turns out that there’s been a big family secret all along. It began to come out and – ” she gave a sigh, “I was the last one to know. It’s like I’m not really part of the family any more. Just an outsider, in nobody’s confidence.
“You spoke of nobody caring. Nobody at all? What about outside the family?”
She grimaced. “Yes, there was someone. We were moving slowly but I thought we’d get there in time - well, I’m an outsider there too. It feels like wandering in a desert.”
She checked herself there. She hadn’t meant to confide her desert fantasy, for fear of sounding paranoid, but he seemed to understand so much that it had come out naturally.
“I know the feeling,” he said, “but a desert can be a friendly place. There’s no-one there to hurt you.”
“It’s true there are no enemies there,” she said. “But no friends either, nobody who cares about you.”
“You wouldn’t want to be there for ever,” he agreed. “But for a while it can be a place to rest and recruit your strength. Then one day you can come back and sock ‘em on the jaw.”
She longed to ask him what events and instincts lay behind that thought. All around her doors and windows seemed to be flying open, revealing mysterious roads leading to mists and beyond, to more mysteries, tempting her forward.
But could it be right to indulge her confusions with a stranger?
Then she saw him looking at her, and something in his eyes was like a hand held out in understanding.
What harm could come of it?
“I guess my real problem is that I’m no longer quite sure who I am,” she said.
He nodded. “That can happen easily, and it’s scary.”
“Yes, it is. With Don I always felt that I was the one in charge of our relationship, but then I found I wasn’t. Oh dear, I suppose that makes me sound like a managing female.”
“Sometimes that’s what a man needs to bring out the best of him,” he said.
“Did that happen to you?”
“No, she wasn’t ‘managing’ enough. If she had been, she might have bound me to her in time to save us both.” He added quickly, “Go on telling me about you.”
Now a connection between their minds had been established, and it was easy to talk. Neither of them went into much detail, but the sense of being two souls adrift was a bond. It was a good feeling and she was happy to yield to it.
“What happened to your gift for getting your own way?” he asked at last.
“I guess it failed me. You have to seize the chance, but sometimes the chance can’t be seized.”
A cheer that went up from the fountain made them both look there.
“More coins, more wishes,” he said.
“Aren’t they supposed to wish for a return to Rome?” she asked.
“Yes, but they always add another one, usually about a lover.”
“I’d like to go closer.”
As they neared the water they could see a man tossing in coins by the dozen, then closing his eyes and muttering fiercely.
“What’s he wishing for?” Charlotte asked.
“My guess is he wants his lady-love to appear out of the blue, and tell him he’s forgiven. When a guy’s as desperate as that it’s pretty bad.”
Then the incredible happened. A female hand tapped the young man on the shoulder, he turned, gave a shout of joy and embraced her.
“You came,” he bellowed. “She came everyone. She’s here.”
“You see it works,” someone shouted. “Everyone toss a coin and make a wish.”
Laughing, Charlotte took two coins from her bag and threw one in, crying, “Bring me back to Rome.”
“That’s not enough,” Lucio said. “Now you must wish that Don will come back.”
“Too late for that. We’re not right for each other. I know that now. But what about you? Your lady might arrive and decide to ‘manage’ you after all, since it’s so obviously what you want.”
But he shook his head. “She’s gone to a place from which she’ll never return.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Did it happen very recently?”
“No,” he said softly. “It was a hundred thousand years ago.”
She nodded, understanding that time, whether long or short, could make no difference to some situations. But another thought danced through her mind so fleetingly that she was barely aware of it. Another woman had stood between them, but no longer. Suddenly she had vanished, leaving only questions behind.
Impulsively she reached out and laid a hand on his cheek.
“Hey you two, that’s not good enough,” came an exultant cry from nearby. “This is the fountain of love. Look around you.”
Everywhere couples were in each other’s arms, some hugging fondly, some kissing passionately. Lucio gazed into her face for only a moment before drawing her close.
“I guess they feel we’re letting the side down,” he said.
“And we can’t have that, can we?” she agreed.
The feel of his lips on hers was pleasant, comforting rather than passionate, confirming her sensation that she was in the right place with the right person.
“I’m glad I met you,” he whispered against her mouth.
“I’m glad too.”
They walked slowly back along the Via Vittorio Veneto. Neither spoke until they reached the hotel and he said,
“Let me take you up to your room.”
She could have bid him goodnight there and then, but she didn’t. She knew now that as the evening passed the decision had been slowly building inside her. What she was going to do was right, and whatever might come of it, she was resolved.
When they reached her room he waited while she opened the door. Then he took a step back, allowing her time to change her mind. But she had passed that point, and so had he. When she held out her hand he took it, followed her inside and closed the door, shutting out the world.
From the book THE SECRET THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING by Lucy Gordon.
Copyright 2012 by Lucy Gordon
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~ a taste of italy at home ~