Holiday romance on the menu?
Passionate chef Rafe Mancini is renowned for his foodand his temper! No one meets his exacting standards, until stand-in maître d' Daniella Tate breathes new life into his restaurant, and Rafe
Daniella is only visiting the picturesque Tuscan village of Calanetti, but with Rafe she finds the sense of belonging she's always craved. Clutching her ticket home, Daniella must make a decision return to her old, safe life or stay as Rafe's bride!
The Vineyards of Calanetti
Saying "I do" under the Tuscan sun
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Italy had to be the most beautiful place in the world.
Daniella Tate glanced around in awe at the cobblestone streets and blue skies of Florence. She'd taken a train here, but now had to board a bus for the village of Monte Calanetti.
After purchasing her ticket, she strolled to a wooden bench. But as she sat, she noticed a woman a few rows over, with white-blond hair and a slim build. The woman stared out into space; the faraway look in her eyes triggered Daniella's empathy. Having grown up a foster child, she knew what it felt like to be alone, sometimes scared, usually confused. And she saw all three of those emotions in the woman's pretty blue eyes.
An announcement for boarding the next bus came over the public address system. An older woman sitting beside the blonde rose and slid her fingers around the bag sitting at her feet. The pretty blonde rose, too.
"Excuse me. That's my bag."
The older woman spoke in angry, rapid-fire Italian and the blonde, speaking American English, said, "I'm sorry. I don't understand a word of what you're saying."
But the older woman clutched the bag to her and very clearly told the American that it was her carry-on.
Daniella bounced from her seat and scurried over. She faced the American. "I speak Italian, perhaps I can help?" Then she turned to the older woman. In flawless Italian, she asked if she was sure the black bag was hers, because there was a similar bag on the floor on the other side.
The older woman flushed with embarrassment. She apologetically gave the bag to the American, grabbed her carry-on and scampered off to catch her bus.
The pretty blonde sighed with relief and turned her blue eyes to Daniella. "Thank you."
"No problem. When you responded in English it wasn't a great leap to assume you didn't speak the language."
The woman's eyes clouded. "I don't."
"Do you have a friend coming to meet you?"
Dani winced. "Then I hope you have a good English-to-Italian dictionary."
The American pointed to a small listening device. "I've downloaded the 'best' language system." She smiled slightly. "It promises I'll be fluent in five weeks."
Dani laughed. "It could be a long five weeks." She smiled and offered her hand. "I'm Daniella, by the way."
The pretty American hesitated, but finally shook Daniella's hand and said, "Louisa."
"It's my first trip to Italy. I've been teaching English in Rome, but my foster mother was from Tuscany. I'm going to use this final month of my trip to find her home."
Louisa tilted her head. "Your foster mother?"
Dani winced. "Sorry. I'm oversharing."
"It's just that I'm so excited to be here. I've always wanted to visit Italy." She didn't mention that her longtime boyfriend had proposed the day before she left for her teaching post in Rome. That truly would be oversharing, but also she hadn't known what to make of Paul's request to marry him. Had he proposed before her trip to tie her to him? Or had they hit the place in their relationship where marriage really was the next step? Were they ready? Was marriage right for them?
Too many questions came with his offer of marriage. So she hadn't accepted. She'd told him she would answer him when she returned from Italy. She'd planned this February side trip to be a nice, uncomplicated space of time before she settled down to life as a teacher in the New York City school system. Paul had ruined it with a proposal she should have eagerly accepted, but had stumbled over. So her best option was not to think about it until she had to. Next month.
"I extended my trip so I could have some time to bum around. See the village my foster mother came from, and hopefully meet her family."
To Daniella's surprise, Louisa laughed. "That sounds like fun."
The understanding in Louisa's voice caused Danielle to brighten again, thinking they had something in common. "So you're a tourist, too?"
Dani frowned. Louisa's tone in that one simple word suddenly made her feel as if she'd crossed a line. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to pry."
Louisa sighed. "It's okay. I'm just a bit nervous. You were kind to come to my rescue. I don't mean to be such a ninny. I'm on my way to Monte Calanetti."
Daniella's mouth fell open. "So am I."
The announcement that their bus was boarding came over the loudspeaker. Danielle faced the gate. Louisa did, too.
Dani smiled. "Looks like we're off."
"Yes." Louisa's mysterious smile formed again.
They boarded the bus and Daniella chose a spot in the middle, believing that was the best place to see the sights on the drive to the quaint village. After tucking her backpack away, she took her seat.
To her surprise, Louisa paused beside her. "Do you mind if I sit with you?"
Daniella happily said, "Of course, I don't mind! That would be great."
But as Louisa sat, Daniella took note again that something seemed off about her. Everything Louisa did had a sense of hesitancy about it. Everything she said seemed incomplete.
"So you have a month before you go home?"
"All of February." Daniella took a deep breath. "And I intend to enjoy every minute of it. Even if I do have to find work."
"A waitressing job. Or maybe part-time shop clerk. That kind of thing. New York is a very expensive place to live. I don't want to blow every cent I made teaching on a vacation. I'll need that money when I get back home. So I intend to earn my spending money while I see the sights."
As the bus eased out of the station, Louisa said,
Dani sat up, not wanting to miss anything. Louisa laughed. "Your foster mother should have come with you."
Pain squeezed Daniella's heart. Just when she thought she was adjusted to her loss, the reality would swoop in and remind her that the sweet, loving woman who'd saved her was gone. She swallowed hard. "She passed a few months ago. She left me the money for my plane ticket to Italy in her will."
Louisa's beautiful face blossomed with sympathy. "I'm so sorry. That was careless of me."
Daniella shook her head. "No. You had no way of knowing."
Louisa studied her. "So you have no set plans? No schedule of things you want to see and do? No places you've already scouted out to potentially get a job?"
"No schedule. I want to wing it. I've done a bit of research about Rosa's family and I know the language. So I think I'll be okay."
Louisa laughed. "Better off than I'll be since I don't know the language." She held up her listening device. "At least not for another five weeks."
The bus made several slow turns, getting them out of the station and onto the street.
Taking a final look at Florence, Dani breathed, "Isn't this whole country gorgeous?" Even in winter with barren trees, the scene was idyllic. Blue skies. Rolling hills.
"Yes." Louisa bit her lip, then hesitantly said, "I'm here because I inherited something, too."
"Yes." She paused, studied Daniella's face as if assessing if she could trust her before continuing, "A villa."
"Oh, my God! A villa!"
Louisa glanced away. "I know. It's pretty amazing. The place is called Palazzo di Comparino."
"Do you have pictures?"
"Yes." She pulled out a picture of a tall, graceful house. Rich green vines grew in rows in the background beneath a blue sky.
It was everything Dani could do not to gape in awe. "It's beautiful."
Louisa laughed. "Yes. But so far I haven't seen anything in Italy that isn't gorgeous." She winced. "I hate to admit it, but I'm excited."
"I'd be beyond excited."
"I'm told Monte Calanetti developed around Palazzo Chianti because of the vineyard which is part of the villa I inherited. Back then, they would have needed lots of help picking grapes, making the wine. Those people are the ancestors of the people who live there now."
"That is so cool."
"Yes, except I know nothing about running a vineyard."
Daniella batted a hand. "With the internet these days, you can learn anything."
Louisa sucked in a breath. "I hope so."
Daniella laid her hand on Louisa's in a show of encouragement. "You'll be fine."
Louise's face formed another of her enigmatic smiles and Daniella's sixth sense perked up again. Louisa appeared to want to be happy, but behind her smile was something
Louisa brought her gaze back to Daniella's. "You know, I could probably use a little help when I get there."
"I don't think I'm just going to move into a villa without somebody coming to question me."
"And I'm going to be at a loss if they're speaking Italian."
Dani winced. "Especially if it's the sheriff."
Louisa laughed. "I don't even know if they have sheriffs here. My letter is in English, but the officials are probably Italian. It could turn out to be a mess. So, I'd be happy to put you up for a while." She caught Dani's gaze. "Even all four weeks you're looking for your foster mom's relativesif you'd be my translator."
Overwhelmed by the generous offer, Daniella said, "That would be fantastic. But I wouldn't want to put you out."
"You'll certainly earn your keep if somebody comes to check my story."
Daniella grinned. "I'd be staying in a villa."
Louisa laughed. "I own a villa."
"Okay, then. I'd be happy to be your translator while I'm here."
Glad for the friendship forming between them, Daniella engaged Louisa in conversation as miles of hills and blue, blue sky rolled past them. Then suddenly a walled village appeared to the right. The bus turned in.
Aged, but well-maintained stucco, brick and stone buildings greeted them. Cobblestone streets were filled with happy, chatting people. Through the large front windows of the establishments, Dani could see the coffee drinkers or diners inside while outdoor dining areas sat empty because of the chilly temperatures.
The center circle of the town came into view. The bus made the wide turn but Dani suddenly saw a sign that read Palazzo di Comparino. The old, worn wood planks had a thick black line painted through them as if to cancel out the offer of vineyard tours.
Daniella grabbed Louisa's arm and pointed out the window. "Look!"
"Oh, my gosh!" Louisa jumped out of her seat and yelled, "Stop!"
Daniella rose, too. She said, "Fermi qui, per favore."
It took a minute for the bus driver to hear and finally halt the bus. After gathering their belongings, Louisa and Daniella faced the lane that led to Louisa's villa. Because Dani had only a backpack and Louisa had two suitcases and a carry-on bag, Daniella said, "Let me take your suitcase."
Louisa smiled. "Having you around is turning out to be very handy."
Daniella laughed as they walked down the long lane that took them to the villa. The pale brown brick house soon became visible. The closer they got, the bigger it seemed to be.
Louisa reverently whispered, "Holy cow."
Daniella licked her suddenly dry lips. "It's huge."
The main house sprawled before them. Several stories tall, and long and deep, like a house with suites not bedrooms, Louisa's new home could only be described as a mansion.
They silently walked up the stone path to the front door. When they reached it, Louisa pulled out a key and manipulated the lock. As the door opened, the stale, musty scent of a building that had been locked up for years assaulted them. Dust and cobwebs covered the crystal chandelier in the huge marble-floored foyer as well as the paintings on the walls and the curved stairway.
Daniella cautiously stepped inside. "Is your family royalty?"
Louisa gazed around in awe. "I didn't think so."
"Meaning they could be?"