Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.
For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.
The Man from Tuscany by Catherine Spencer released on Oct 01, 2008 is available now for purchase.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Something was definitely amiss. Anna Wexley was a creature of habit, and asking Carly to drop everything and visit her on a weekday morning was a marked departure from the usual. A critical care nurse, Carly knew how precariously balanced her grandmother's health was, and how little it would take to tip the scales against her. For that reason alone, she wasted no time driving out to Allendale House, the elegant old mansion that was now a retirement residence, where Anna had lived for the past several years.
At first glance, nothing appeared out of the ordinary. No ambulance waited in the paved forecourt, and the French doors to her grandmother's suite, directly above the building's main entrance, stood ajar. A good sign, surely, on this warm June morning, because Anna loved sitting on her balcony, listening to the birds and enjoying the distant view of Block Island Sound.
Better yet, no sympathetic voices greeted Carly when she signed in at the front desk. Nor, when her grandmother answered her door, was there any overt hint of trouble. Anna had obviously visited the residence beauty salon earlier, and wore the pretty pleated skirt and white blouse Carly had given her the previous Christmas. With pearl studs in her ears and, as always, her gold filigree heart pendant, she looked remarkably well put-together for an eighty-three-year-old with a history of congestive heart failure. On closer examination, though, Carly saw that although her face lit up with pleasure at the sight of her granddaughter, Anna's eyes glowed with a feverish agitation that was anything but normal.
Folding her in a careful hug, Carly said, "You seemed upset on the phone, Gran. Has something happened?"
"I suppose it has," Anna replied tremulously. "Come sit on the balcony and have a glass of lemonade, while I try to explain."
Following her outside, Carly urged her onto the wicker love seat, sat down next to her and pressed two fingers to her grandmother's inner wrist. "What's wrong? Are you in pain? Any difficulty breathing?"
"Not at all, darling girl. I've decided to go to Italy, that's all, and I want you to make the travel arrangements."
"Italy?" Subduing the impulse to blurt out At your age and in your state of health? Carly asked instead, "Why Italy, Gran?"
"There's someone there I very much want to see."
Instincts on high alert again, Carly inspected her critically. "Are you talking about a doctor?"
"No, no. Nothing like that." Her grandmother indicated a leather-bound scrapbook lying open on the wicker coffee table in front of her. "I want to visit him."
Carly scooped the book onto her lap, frowning at the grainy photograph of a man in his twenties. "Who's he?"
Anna sighed and traced her forefinger over his features. "It would be easy for me to lie and say he's just an old family friend, but I can't bring myself to belittle what we've always meant to each other, so I'll tell you the truth. He's the great love of my life, Carly."
This time, Carly couldn't hide her shock. "But he can't be. He's not Grandpa!"
"No, precious, he's not."
Although she seemed in complete command of her faculties, Carly wondered if her grandmother was losing it. Had the distant and more recent past merged into one gauzy memory in which neither people nor time were clearly defined anymore? "This is an old photograph, Gran," she pointed out gently. "Do you remember when it was taken?"
"Of course I do. Right before the outbreak of World War Two."
"Ah! So what you're really saying is, this man was your first love, but Grandpa was your real love."
"Your grandfather was my husband and I was devoted to him, but not even he could take Marco's place in my heart."
"That name rings a bell. Didn't he visit you once in England, when Mom was little?"
"Yes. He came all the way from Italy to be with me at a time when I desperately needed him."
"Well, yes, dear," her grandmother said. "Why else do you think I want to go there? Marco lives in Tuscany."
"Oh, Tuscany!" Carly shrugged disparagingly. "It's such a cliché. Everyone goes there."
"Not when I first met him. It hadn't been discovered then. And we were never a cliché."
"What were you, then?" She knew she sounded as defiant as a child who'd just learned Santa Claus wasn't real, but she couldn't help herself.
"We were magnificent."
"Did you sleep with him?" Carly chose the word deliberately, intending it as a belittlement of what her grandmother and this man had shared.
Anna shot her a reproving look. "Yes, I did. And made glorious love with him, too."
"I thought that sort of behavior was frowned on back then. That girls from good families like yours saved themselves for their husbands. If he was so wonderful, why didn't he marry you?"
"He would have, if"
"If he'd loved you as much as you loved him?"
"Oh, he loved me, Carly. He adored me."
Hating how she felt insidebetrayed somehow, and almost angry with her grandmother for shattering her illusions of one big, happy familyCarly spread her hands helplessly. "Was he already married, then? Was that the problem?"
"No. I was the problem." Anna's voice broke. "I didn't have enough faith in us, and by the time I learned my mistake, it was too late."
"Oh, Gran! Is he dead? Is it his grave you want to visit?"
Her grandmother shook her head, making her thinning white hair float delicately over her scalp. "No. Not that death changes the things that matter the eternal things. One day, I'll be with him forever, and with your grandfather, too. But before that, I want to hold his hand and look in his eyes once more, and tell him again how much I've always loved him."
Carly watched her in silence, then glanced away. "I've always sensed there was some deep, dark secret that no one in the family ever talked about," she said hollowly, "but not in a million years would I have guessed it was something like this."
"Are you disappointed in me, Carly?"
She shrugged. "In some ways, I guess I am. You and Grandpa always seemed so solid. Mostly, though, I'm confused. Once or twice I've thought I was in love, but it didn't last. But you and this Marcohow many years has it been, Gran?"
"Going on sixty-five."
"How could you bear to be apart from him?"
"Sometimes I didn't think I could. But then I'd think of what I'd have to give up in order to be with himmy dear Brian, my daughter and you, my beautiful granddaughter. And I couldn't bear that, either, because I loved you. You bring me such joy, Carly, and I am so proud to be your grandmother. From the day you were born, we've had a special connection, one I treasure beyond price."
"If he loved you as much as you say, he must have resented me for that."
"No. Marco understood that, for as long as they needed me, my family had to come first."
"And he went on loving you anyway?"
"Yes. Neither of us ever had a moment's doubt about the other."
"How do you recognize love when it comes along, Gran?"
"When it consumes you," Anna said.
Intrigued despite herself, Carly took her hand. "Tell me about him, Gran. Make me understand."
A breeze drifted over the balcony, scented with thyme and oregano from the herb garden. Anna closed her eyes and smiled dreamily. "I met him the summer I turned eighteen ."
"I wish I was coming with you," my mother said, layering tissue paper over the clothes in my travel trunk before closing the lid. "But you and Gene-vieve are such good friends that you won't miss me too much, and with my sister chaperoning, I know you'll be in safe hands."
It was July 6, 1939. My cousin, my aunt and I would take the train to New York the next day, and on the eighth, set sail aboard the Queen Mary for Southampton. Originally my mother had planned to make the trip, as well, but ten days earlier, my father had undergone an emergency appendectomy. So she'd decided to stay home to supervise his recovery.
At first, I'd wanted to beg off traveling, too.
Seeing my strong, active father confined to a wheelchair and looking so wan had frightened me. But neither he nor my mother would hear of it.
"Of course you must go," they said. "It's expected of girls like you."
My father, you see, was Hugh Edward Leyden, a respected lawyer; my mother, the former Isabelle Jacqueline Fontaine, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, active on the board of directors of the Rhode Island Junior League and a prominent Newport society hostess.
As I was their only child, they had great hopes for me to marry well and make them proud. In the 1930s, not a great deal else was required of privileged daughters. If they'd attended the right schools, knew which fork to use, were mannerly, had traveled abroad, could speak a little French or Italian and gave of their time to worthy causes, they were considered a credit to their families.
So there I was, poised to leave on a limited version of the grand tour. Normally we'd have visited several countries, among them Germany and Spain, but Europe was in turmoil and it was decided we were safer to confine ourselves to Italy. We were to "do" Florence, Venice, Milan and Rome, and finish with a few days in Paris if the political climate allowed. At the end of August, I would return home, my enduring passion for great art at least partially satisfied, my exposure to the rich and varied culture of Italy an added bonus to my already sterling pedigree.
The morning we left, our good friends and next-door neighbors, John and Elaine Wexley and their son, Brian, joined my parents on the front terrace to wave us on our way. Brian was twenty-four and home from college for the summer, but despite the six-year age difference between us, we'd been as close as brother and sister since childhood.
"I'm going to miss you," he said, giving me a hug. "Have a wonderful trip, Anna, and stay safe."
Saying goodbye to my family was a tearful business. My mother and I wept unashamedly. My father composed his features into such stern lines that I knew he, too, was struggling to keep his emotions in check.
"Ye gods, Anna!" Genevieve exclaimed, at last managing to pry me away from them and stuff me in the car that was to take us to the railroad station. "Anyone would think you were never coming home again. I hope you're not going to weep your way across the Atlantic. I'm told life on board the Queen Mary is one long, glamorous party and I shall take great exception if you're being dreary the whole time."
I smile in reminiscence .
"And were you?" Carly asked. "Dreary, I mean?"
Her grandmother laughed. "Oh, no! The minute we boarded the ship, excitement replaced homesickness. We'd heard about the kind of comfort the Cunard Line offered its first-class passengers, but nothing could have prepared us for the luxury. It was said that no two staterooms were alike, and I well believe it. Ours was fitted with inlaid wood paneling and the most wonderful art-deco furnishings. Next door, Aunt Patricia was surrounded by such a wealth of elegance that she hardly ever ventured from her quarters except for meals which fell in perfectly with Genevieve's plans."
"Genevieve must've been fun. I wish I'd known her."
"My cousin was a hellion!" Anna said with fond nostalgia. "You won't remember her, Carly. She died twenty-one years and three husbands ago, when you were only three, but even all these years later, I smile when I think of her on that ship. Half the crew and most of the male passengers were in love with her before we sailed out of New York. Before we reached Southampton, she'd turned down five marriage proposals and broken more hearts than all the other women onboard put together."
"And what about you, Gran? How many proposals did you receive?"
Anna laughed again. "Oh, Carly, no one noticed me! I was merely the quiet cousin, pleasant enough in my way, but not nearly as vivacious or memorable as Genevieve."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Man From Tuscany marks long time Presents author Catherine Spencer¿s debut in Superromance, proving that she can ably handle a more complex story and longer format.
Anna Wexley is 83 years old and in frail health when she tells her granddaughter Carly that she must make one last journey to Italy. Carly is dismayed to learn that her grandmother loved a man other than her late grandfather but agrees to accompany her.
Anna met Marco in 1939, just before war broke out in Europe. It was love at first sight for both of them. Shortly after her return to the US, she is devastated by the news that Marco, active in the Resistance, has disappeared and is presumed dead. In shock, and pregnant with Marco¿s child, Anna marries a childhood friend, Brian.
Six years pass. Then Anna receives a letter from Marco. He is alive and he still loves her. Can she leave her happy marriage, or must she forever deny her love for Marco?
The story of Anna and Marco unfolds in a series of flashbacks and letters which they wrote to each other over the years. It says much for the skill of the author that she skillfully blends the past and present into a seamless narrative that is never confusing and always absorbing.
The fascinating characters and elegant writing make this a book that will cause you to laugh and cry and remember it long after it¿s over.