Architect Logan Cascini is on edge when the discovery of an ancient fresco brings Lucia Moretti back to Tuscany. He hasn't seen his ex since they parted twelve years ago in the most heartbreaking of circumstances
Facing Logan again unleashes a torrent of emotions that has Lucia's normally calm and collected heart racing. Perhaps it's time for Lucia to loosen her grip on the pain of the past and allow them both to rediscover the joy they shared together
The Vineyards of Calanetti
Saying "I do" under the Tuscan sun
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Lucia stared out of the window, sipped her coffee and licked the chocolate from her fingers.
If her desk hadn't been on some priceless antiques list somewhere she would lift her aching legs and put them on it. She'd just completed a major piece of work for Italy's Art Heritage Board. Months of negotiations with frazzled artefact owners, restorers and suppliers. Her patience had been stretched to breaking point, but the final agreement over who was going to fund the project had taken longest. Finally, with grants secured and papers signed, she could take a deep breath and relax.
She pushed her window open a little wider. Venice was hot, even for a woman who'd stayed there for the last twelve years, and the small-paned leaded-glass window obstructed her view out over the Grand Canal.
A cruise ship was floating past her window right nowin a few months these larger ships wouldn't be allowed along here any more. The huge currents they unleashed threatened the delicate foundations of the world-famous city. So much of Venice had been lost alreadyit was up to the present generation to protect the beauty that remained.
Her boss, Alessio Orsini, put his head around the door. His eyes were gleaming and she straightened immediately in her chair. Alessio had seen just about every wonder of the world. There wasn't much left that could make his eyes twinkle like that.
'I've just had the most interesting call.' She waved her hand to gesture him into her room, but even though he was in his late seventies he would rarely sit down.
'What is it?'
He gave a little nod. 'There's been a discovery. A new frescoor rather an old one. Just been discovered in Tuscany during a chapel restoration. I've given him your number.' He glanced at her desk. 'Seems like perfect timing for you.'
She smiled. Alessio expected everyone around him to have the boundless energy he had. But her interest was piqued already. An undiscovered fresco could be a huge coup for the heritage boardparticularly if they could identify the artist. So many frescoes had been lost already.
It seemed as though the whole of Italy was rich with frescoes. From the famous Sistine Chapel to the ancient Roman frescoes in Pompeii.
The phone on her desk rang and she picked it up straight away. This could be the most exciting thing she'd worked on in a while.
It was the voice. Instantly recognisable. Italian words with a Scottish burr. Unmistakable.
Her legs gave a wobble and she thumped down into her chair.
'Logan.' It was all she could say. She could barely get a breath. His was the last voice in the world she'd expected to hear.
Logan Cascini. The one true love of her life. Meeting him in Florence had been like a dream come true. Normally conservative, studying art history at Florence University had brought Lucia out of her shell. Meeting Logan Cascini had made it seem as though she'd never had a shell in the first place.
He'd shared her passionhers for art, his for architecture. From the moment they'd met when he'd spilled an espresso all down her pale pink dress and she'd heard his soft burr of Scottish Italian she'd been hooked.
She'd never had a serious relationship. Three days after meeting they'd moved in together. Life had been perfect. He had been perfect.
They'd complemented each other beautifully. He'd made her blossom and she'd taught him some reserve. He'd been brought up in a bohemian Italian/Scots family and had often spoken first and thought later.
She'd had dreams about them growing old together until it had all come to a tragic end. Getting the job in Venice had been her lifelineher way out. And although she'd always expected to come across him at some point in her professional life she hadn't realised the effect it would have.
Twelve years. Twelve years since she'd walked away from Logan Cascini. Why did she suddenly feel twenty years old again?
Why on earth was he calling her after all this time?
He spoke slowly. 'I hope you are well. Alessio Orsini suggested you were the most appropriate person to deal with. I'm working in Tuscany at the Palazzo di Comparino in Monte Calanetti. I'm renovating the chapel for the upcoming wedding of Prince Antonio of Halencia and Christina Rose, and yesterday we made the most amazing discovery. A fresco of the Madonna and Child. It's exquisite, Lucia. It must have been covered up for years because the colours of the paint are so fresh.'
His voice washed over her like treacle as her heart sank to the bottom of her stomach. How stupid. Of course. Alessio had just told her he'd given someone her number. He just hadn't told her who.
Logan Cascini was calling for purely professional reasonsnothing else. So why was she so disappointed?
It wasn't as if she'd spent the last twelve years pining for him. There was a connection between them that would last for ever. But she'd chosen to leave before they'd just disintegrated around each other. Some relationships weren't built to withstand tragedy.
She tried to concentrate on his words. Once she'd got over the initial shock of who was calling, her professionalism slipped back into place.
This was work. This was only about work. Nothing else.
Being involved in the discovery and identification of a new fresco would be amazing. She couldn't believe the timing. If she'd still been caught up in negotiations, Alessio could have directed this call to someone else on the team. Even though frescoes were her speciality, the Italian Heritage Board expected all their staff to be able to cover a whole range of specialities.
She drew in a deep breath. Her brain was still spinning, still processing. This was the man she'd lived with, breathed with. What had he been doing these last few years?
Her heart twisted in her chest. Was he married? Did he have children?
His voice had been brisk before, but now it was soft. The way it had been when he'd tried to cajole or placate her. Just the tone sent a little tremor down her spine.
She cleared her throat, getting her mind back on the job. She had to take Logan out of this equation. This discovery could be career-changing. It was time to put her business head on her shoulders.
'What can you tell me about the fresco?'
He hesitated. 'I almost don't know where to start.' His voice was echoing. He must be standing in the chapel now. She squeezed her eyes shut. She didn't need to imagine Loganhis broad shoulders, thick dark hair and oh-so-sexy green eyes. He was already there. Permanently imprinted from the last time she'd seen him.
After all the emotion, all the pent-up frustration and anger, all the tears, she'd been left with his face on her mind. A picture of resolve. One that knew there was no point continuing. One that knew walking away was the only way they would both heal.
She'd known he wouldn't come after her. They had been past that point. He might not have agreed but he'd realised how much they'd both been damaging each other.
The vision of him standing in the stairwell of their apartment, running his hand through his just-too-long hair, his impeccable suit rumpled beyond all repair and his eyelids heavy with regret had burned a hole in her mind.
'Just tell me what you see.' She spoke quickly, giving her head a shake and trying to push him from her mind.
He sighed. 'I can't, Lucia. I just can't. It's just too too magnificent. You have to see it for yourself. You have to see it in the flesh.'
Flesh. Every tiny hair on her arms stood on end. Seeing it in the flesh would mean seeing him in the flesh. Could she really go there again?
'Wait,' he said. She could hear him fumbling and for a second it made her smile. Logan wasn't prone to fumbling. 'What's your email address?'
'Your email. Give me your email address. I've just taken a photo.'
She recited off her email address. It was odd. She didn't even want to give that little part of herself away to him again. She wanted to keep herself, and everything about her, sealed away. Almost in an invisible bubble.
That would keep her safe.
Being around Logan againjust hearing his voicemade her feel vulnerable. Emotionally vulnerable. No one else had ever evoked the same passion in her that Logan had. Maybe it was what they'd gone through together, what they'd shared that made the connection run so deep. But whatever it was she didn't ever want to re-create it. She'd come out the other side once before. She didn't think she'd ever have the strength to do it again.
Ping. The email landed in her inbox and she clicked to open it.
As soon as the photo opened she jerked back in her seat. Wow.
'Have you got it?'
'Oh, I've got it,' she breathed. She'd spent her life studying frescoes. Most of the ones she'd encountered were remnants of their former selves. Time, age, environment had all caused damage. Few were in the condition of the one she was looking at now. It was an explosion of radiant colour. So vivid, so detailed that her breath caught in her throat. She expanded the photo. It was so clear she could almost see the brushstrokes. What she could definitely see was every hair on the baby Jesus's head and every tiny line around Mary's eyes.
'Now you get it,' said the voice, so soft it almost stroked her skin.
'Now I get it,' she repeated without hesitation.
There was silence for a few seconds as her eyes swept from one part of the fresco to another. There was so much to see. So much to relish. The palm of her hand itched to actually reach out and touch it.
'So, what now?'
The million-dollar question. What now indeed? 'Who owns the property?' she asked quickly.
'Louisa Harrisonshe's an American and inherited the property from a distant Italian relative. She hired me to renovate the palazzo and chapel for the upcoming royal wedding.'
Lucia frowned. 'What royal wedding?'
Logan let out a laugh. 'Oh, Lucia, I forget that you don't keep up with the news. Prince Antonio of Halencia and Christina Rose. It's only a few short weeks away.'
'And you're still renovating?' She couldn't keep the surprise from her voice. All the Italian renovation projects that Logan had been involved with before had taken months to complete. Months of negotiation for the correct materials sourced from original suppliers and then the inevitable wait for available master craftsmen.
This time he didn't laugh. This time there was an edge to his voice. 'Yes. I have around forty men working for me right now. This frescoit was more than a little surprise. There was wood panelling covering all the walls. Every other wall we've uncovered has been bare. We expected this one to be the same.' He sighed. 'I expected just to use original plaster on the walls. It should only have taken a few days.'
Now she understood. This discovery was amazingbut it could also cause huge holdups in Logan's work. She'd known him long enough to know that would be worrying him sick.
Logan never missed a deadline. Never reneged on a deal. And although she hadn't heard about this wedding she was sure it must be all over the media. If Logan couldn't finish the renovations of the church in time the whole wedding would be up in the air and his reputation would be ruined.
Not to mention his bank balance. She'd no idea who the owner was, but there was every chance she'd put a clause in the contract about delayed completionparticularly when it was so vital.
'I'll come.' The words were out before she really thought about it. She grabbed a notebook and pen. 'Give me the address and I'll make travel arrangements today.' As her pen was poised above the paper her brain was screaming at her. No. What are you doing?
She waited. And waited.
'You'll come here?' He sounded stunnedalmost disbelieving.
Her stomach recoiled. Logan obviously had the same reservations about seeing her as she had about him. But whyafter twelve yearsdid that hurt?
But he recovered quickly, reciting the address, the nearest airport and recommending an airline. 'If you let me know your flight details I'll have someone pick you up.'
His voice was still as smooth as silk but she didn't miss the implicationLogan hadn't offered to pick her up himself.
It didn't matter that she was alone in her office, she could almost feel her mask slipping into place. The one that she'd used on several occasions over the years when people had started to get too close and ask personal questions. When past boyfriends had started to make little noises about moving to the next stage of their relationship.
Self-preservation. That was the only way to get through this.
'I'll email you,' she said briskly, and replaced the receiver. She ignored the fact her hands were trembling slightly and quickly made arrangements on her computer. Alessio would be delighted at the prospect of a new fresco. As long as it wasn't a complete fake and a wasted journey.
But it didn't sound like a fakehidden for years behind wood panelling in a now-abandoned private chapel. It sounded like a hidden treasure. And even though she didn't want to admit it, Logan was so experienced in Italian architecture and art he would have enough background knowledge to spot an obvious fake.
She sent a few final emails and went through to give the secretary she shared with five other members of staff her itinerary for the next few days. It was five o'clock and her flight was early next morning. She needed to pick up a few things and get packed.
She turned and closed her window. Venice. She'd felt secure here these last few years. She'd built a life here on her own. She had a good job and her own fashionable apartment. There was security in looking out her window every day and watching the traffic and tourists on the Grand Canal. The thought of heading to Tuscany to see Logan again was unsettling her. She felt like a teenager.
She picked up her jacket and briefcase, opening her filing cabinets to grab a few books. She had detailed illustrations of just about every fresco ever found. There were a few artists who'd lived in Tuscany who could have painted the fresco. It made sense to take examples of their work for comparison.
She switched on her answering-machine and headed for the door. She needed to be confident. She needed to be professional. Logan would find this situation every bit as awkward as she would.
She was an expert in her fieldthat's why she'd been called. And if she could just hold on to the career-defining thought and keep it close, it could get her through the next few days.
Because if that didn't, she wasn't sure what would.