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From Italy with LoveMOTIVATED BY LETTERS, FOUR WOMEN TRAVEL TO ITALIAN CITIES AND FIND LOVE
By GAIL GAYMER MARTIN DIANN MILLS MELANIE PANAGIOTOPOULOS LOIS RICHER
BARBOUR PUBLISHINGCopyright © 2003 Gail Gaymer Martin
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSteffi Rosetti gripped the handle of her carry-on case and headed for baggage claim. At least that's what she hoped when she saw the word bagagli. Other passengers were heading in that direction, so she plastered on a confident expression and trudged through the busy Milan airport.
With a relieved sigh, she found baggage claim, gathered her pieces of luggage, and made her way through security and customs. Outside, she maneuvered her bags toward the long line at the taxi stand.
The smell of fuel and warm concrete filled the air as she jostled her way to the end of the line. Steffi disliked this part of travel most. Long lines at the airport, passing through customs, and waiting for cabs were the worst part of travel. She'd done it before on a smaller scale, traveling for her work as feature writer for the fashion magazine, Mode.
Inching along, she bided her time, listening to the people around her talking with the speed of a race car driver, their voices riding on the air in a jumble of unique rhythms, syllables, rolled Rs, and punctuated with animated motions.
The line moved forward again. Now only one couple waited in front of her. Steffi drew in a long breath, knowing she'd be next.
She heard a male voice and turned, thinking the man was speaking to her. Instead, the impeccably dressed young man was flagging the taxi-attendant. Steffi watched the man move to the young man's side, and they stood talking. The young man was obviously a seasoned traveler. He looked sophisticated, in brown slacks and beige wool sport coat, a brown hanky in the breast pocket. His sport shirt in earth tones lay open at the neck, giving him a jaunty look, like a man who knew fashion.
Steffi looked down at her faded jeans topped by an oversized sweatshirt and cringed. She had flown from the United States to cover a designer fashion show, and she looked like she'd won a competition at the state fair log rolling contest. She shrugged to herself. Who cared how she looked? All she needed to do was write a compelling article about the latest fashions.
Steffi noted the young man's impatience as he huffed and paced beside the taxi attendant. His voice punctuated the air. "Vorrei un tassi. Presto!" With a subtle motion, the young man slipped paper money into the attendant's hand. She felt a frown settle on her face, wondering why he'd paid the man.
Before she had a chance to contemplate, the attendant hurried to her side. "Scusi, Signorina. The signor is in great need of the next taxi."
"He what?" She turned her head to flash a scowl at the young man who averted his gaze, obviously noticing her annoyed expression.
Crimping the fingertips of his right hand, he flexed his wrist. "Grazie. It is urgent, he says. You will have the next taxi. Capisce?"
Steffi stood her ground. She wasn't born yesterday. The money had been a bribe to help the man move ahead in line, she figured. She riveted her gaze to his. "No. The next taxi is mine." She arched an eyebrow and stared at the man.
The attendant shrugged and stepped over to the young man who was now watching her with curiosity.
Steffi's shoulders tensed, and her pulse quickened, curious to see what would happen next. As she waited, shame settled over her. Perhaps the young man had a real emergency. The attendant had said it was urgent. Where was her compassion? Where was her Christian upbringing?
When the attendant glanced her way, Steffi beckoned him over. "If the man has an emergency, I'll be happy to share a taxi."
"S�," he said, taking a step away.
Steffi grabbed his sleeve. "If he's going in my direction."
As she finished her statement, a cab rolled to a stop. The attendant opened the door and she slipped in. He spoke to the driver and hurried away. In a moment, the impatient young man slid in beside her.
"Grazie," he said, giving her a nod. He leaned over the seat toward the driver. "Jolly Hotel Touring."
The driver shifted into gear, and the taxi pulled away.
Steffi gave the gentleman a puzzled look. "That's where I'm going," she mumbled, not knowing if the man understood English.
He laughed. "You're American."
She heard his Midwest dialect and irritation rose up her back. "Yes." She folded her hands in her lap and squirmed in the corner. She'd been duped by an American to share a cab, and she didn't like it one bit.
They rode in silence while she gazed through the windows at the wonderful sights that flashed past-buildings embedded in history and adorned with ornate facades, fresco moldings, and piazzas with magnificent statuary and fountains.
At a red light, her pulse skittered, seeing a unique art form that spanned both sides of the median. On one side a towering threaded needle rose from the ground while a strand of yellow, green, and red intercepted the needle's eye in a loop, then dangled to the ground. On the opposite side of the street, two strands of thread rose from a small fountain pool and knotted at the end. The whimsy was an amazing tribute to Milan, the center of the fashion industry. She nearly commented to her fellow passenger, but caught herself. The young man shuffled through papers in his lap, and she decided to curtail a taxi-ride friendship.
The hotel came into view off the via Turati, a pink and gray concrete structure with a black overhang sporting the hotel's name. When they came to a stop, the driver unloaded the baggage, and Steffi paid the driver and toted hers inside.
At the registration desk her irritation with the young man faded as her mind filled with her purpose in Milan. Covering the new couture fashions for Mode was a coup for her career, but more than that, her thoughts settled on the letter she carried in her shoulder bag. The letter from her grandmother had weighed on her heart-a grandmother she'd never met, yet a woman whose sadness and grief rose from the words on the stationery.
Steffi had fought the idea of visiting the woman ... her father's mother, but curiosity and compassion nudged her to reconsider. Steffi's mother had filled her head with negative comments about her father, a man who'd forsaken them when Steffi was young. What could her grandmother tell her to make things better? How could the older woman excuse her son's abandonment of his family in the United States? The questions weighted Steffi's mind as she clasped her key and rolled her luggage to the elevator.
The young man from the taxi had vanished, and Steffi was relieved. Yet curiosity infiltrated her thoughts. He was an American, staying at the same hotel. A strange coincidence, she thought. No matter, she hoped she never saw him again.
She erased the last thought as her inquiring mind poked her with questions.
* * *
Paul DiAngelo dropped his bag on the bed and set his tote on the luggage rack. He gazed around the room-nothing luxurious, but pleasant. After tugging off his sport jacket and hanging it on the chair back, Paul slipped off his shoes and sank into a chair, thinking about his trip from the airport. He'd acted like a pompous jerk, slipping the taxi attendant money to move ahead in fine. Why? He was no better than anyone else, but he'd watched others do it and he thought he would give it a try.
He'd certainly made a bad impression on the woman he'd met on the ride to the hotel, and he was disconcerted when he learned she was staying at the same hotel. For some reason, he figured she was a farmer's daughter returning home from somewhere or perhaps her family owned a small vineyard. Her casual attire-the baggy sweatshirt and jeans and her hair tied back in a ponytail-had thrown him off course. What he had noticed was her pretty face ... until she glowered at him.
The vision made him laugh. Who was she? And why was she in Milan? His stomach rumbled, and he put his clothes away for the week's stay. From another bag, he pulled out his camera equipment. He'd carried it on the airplane rather than take a chance on having it misplaced in baggage or damaged. Cameras were his livelihood. Paul approached his new position with Mode filled with excitement and a sense of challenge. Shooting the new fashions in Milan would be his first assignment for the magazine, and he wanted to do well. His photographs would be published as a pictorial article on the latest Italian couture.
As he hung his clothes, he heeded his stomach's call for food, and when finished, he made his way to the second floor dining room and scanned the filled tables. His shoulders sagged, and he realized he shouldn't have wasted time unpacking. The airplane meal had been tedious at best-the typical thimbles of tasteless food. With an appointment in little more than an hour, he felt anxiety rise.
When the ma�tre d' approached and explained he'd have to wait, Paul thought of tipping the man for a reserved seat he guessed was somewhere, but he stopped himself. He needed to ask God's forgiveness for his impatience as much as for his manipulation.
Paul scanned the crowd again, hoping to find someone ready to leave. Instead, his pulse quickened when he spotted his taxi partner. "I know that woman," he said. Before the ma�tre d' could stop him, Paul hurried into the dining room.
As he approached her table, he saw surprise, then irritation, settle on her face. "Do you mind?" he asked, pulling out the chair. "I have an appointment in an hour, and I'm starving."
"You seem to have a lot of emergencies," she said, giving him a restrained nod.
He sank into the chair, wishing he'd made a better first impression. He found her interesting for some unknown reason. Before Paul could apologize, the waiter hurried over and stood while he scanned the menu, made a selection, and placed his order. When the waiter left, Paul folded his hands and gathered his thoughts. "I'm sorry. I've been rather impudent."
"Yes. You have, but thanks for the apology."
"I'm Paul DiAngelo from New York."
Her forehead wrinkled as a flush mottled her cheeks. "From New York?"
"Me, too. I have an apartment in Manhattan."
"I have a place in Jersey City," he said. "I drive through the Holland Tunnel, and I'm in Manhattan."
"Quite a coincidence," she said, extending her hand. "I'm Steffi Rosetti."
"You're Italian, then? Do you have family here?" He saw her wince, leaving him puzzled.
"I'm here for my magazine," she said. "I'm doing a feature article on the Milan Week fashion openings for Mode."
For Mode? Her statement took the wind out of him. He eyed her sweatshirt, trying to find his breath. "You're kidding," he said finally, motivated by both her attire and the coincidence. "I just hired on with Mode. I'm doing a pictorial feature on Milan's fashion week."
Steffi's mouth gaped a moment before she clamped her jaw. She studied his face and, finally, shook her head. "I took you for some kind of seasoned traveler in your sport coat and slacks. You don't dress like any photographer I know."
He shrugged, embarrassed that she caught him in his charade. "I like to dress well."
Her gaze fell to her own garb, then took a slow trip upward to his face. "You can see, I don't worry much about clothes."
Paul wanted to say she should, but he bit back his words. He'd already made a bad impression, and being a fellow co-worker, he needed to mend his ways.
"So where are you off to in such a hurry?" she asked.
Paul was pleased she'd changed the subject. "I have a press conference in"-he eyed his wristwatch-"forty minutes."
"No one let me know about a press conference," she said, obviously annoyed.
The waiter appeared with their meals, and he halted his response. The man refilled their water goblets, then hurried away.
"Come along with me," he said. He managed to keep his gaze from shifting to her unkempt appearance.
"Looking like this? Do you think?" She tugged at her sweatshirt.
Honesty or politeness? He decided to go for honesty. "If you hurry, you can toss on something else."
She jammed her fork into the salad. "I suppose ... if you think it's necessary."
He swallowed his answer and gazed at his food while his appetite drifted away.
With little conversation, they hurried their meal, signed the bill, and rushed off in the directions of their rooms with the agreement to meet in ten minutes.
When Paul returned to the lobby, he paced near the doorway, eyeing his watch and expecting her to be late. On the dot, Steffi stepped from the elevator, surprising him. Though she didn't look the picture of fashion, she had made an amazing improvement in her appearance. She wore a long purple sweater over black knit pants. She'd let down her hair-waves of long dark brown tresses-that took his breath away. Over her shoulder, she carried a large tote, her handbag, and a camera. A camera? He swallowed the question, not wanting to ask.
She hurried toward him, and for the first time, she smiled. Her face lit the room.
"Ready?" he asked.
She didn't answer but jiggled the tote and moved toward the door.
He followed, and they stepped outside into the warm spring air. Paul waved his hand at a passing taxi. "We could walk there, but we don't have time, I'm afraid."
A cab pulled up to the curb, and Paul motioned Steffi inside. "Piazza Meda. Starhotel Rosa," Paul said, climbing in beside her. He slammed the door as the driver pulled away. "The press conference is close to the Duomo, the main cathedral in Milan. It's magnificent."
"I'd love to see it ... to sightsee for that matter," she said, her attention focused on the passing scenery.
Paul watched her out of the corner of his eye. In the hotel lobby, her smile had been fleeting, and now it had vanished. Her full lips pressed together as if in serious thought. He wondered why someone so young-he guessed in her mid-twenties-gave an air of someone weighted with concerns.
"Have you been on foreign assignments before?" he asked.
She kept her head turned, as if not hearing him. Finally, she glanced his way before turning away again. "Mexico City once. I've worked designer openings stateside most of the time."
"I came to Milan once, but as an assistant. I even speak a little Italian."
She gave him another glance. "I heard."
Her voice held a sarcastic note, and he cringed, remembering his obnoxious conversation with the taxi attendant at the airport.
"I hope you can forgive me for that," he said. "Could we start over again?"
He heard her chuckle.
"Why not?" she asked. "I have to thank you for dragging me along on this press conference."
Paul appreciated her willingness to overlook his past behavior. "You're welcome."
Excerpted from From Italy with Love by GAIL GAYMER MARTIN DIANN MILLS MELANIE PANAGIOTOPOULOS LOIS RICHER Copyright © 2003 by Gail Gaymer Martin. Excerpted by permission.
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