Read an Excerpt
The Treasures of Venicea passion they never expected and a danger they cannot escape
By LOUCINDA McGARY
Sourcebooks, Inc.Copyright © 2009 Loucinda McGary
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSamantha Lewis gazed over the nearly deserted square at the bulbous crown atop St. Mark's Cathedral. She blew across the surface of her hot caffè latte. The dull, dreary February morning matched her mood. Here she was in Venice on what should have been her honeymoon, but she was alone.
She took a sip of creamy beverage and tried to wash down the bitter taste of her failure. She still had a hard time accepting what had happened. Everything in her life had gone so well for the past ten years, just the way she'd planned and dreamed. She'd been so careful to make sure Michael Atcheson was the right guy, that he met her criteria for a stable, long-term commitment.
How could she have been so wrong?
Ending their engagement three weeks before their scheduled wedding was so unpredictable, so irresponsible, so unlike the Michael she thought she knew. He'd given her some lame excuse about not wanting to spend the rest of his life in a relationship that lacked spontaneous fun and excitement. Turned out what he had really meant was he wanted a fling with his twenty-one-year-old teaching assistant.
How had she not seen that one coming?
Determined to prove this was Michael's loss, not hers, Sam hadhighlighted her hair and started a new workout routine that included yoga. At least that had helped her relax, even if sleeping remained hit-and-miss, and her crying jags soon gave way to good old-fashioned indignation.
The ten-day tour of Italy had been purchased at discount and was non-refundable. At the urging of her psychologist and friend, Dr. Sandra Goldfarb, Sam went by herself.
Now here she was halfway through the tour. Even if she did feel like the odd-woman out and didn't really relate to the rest of the group, she was finally sleeping soundly. Though her dreams had become unusually vivid and seemed to take place during the Middle Ages-undoubtedly a side effect of jet lag and too many museums.
Wonderful museums and incredible sights! Dr. Goldfarb's advice had been right.
Michael was wrong.
She was capable of spontaneous fun and excitement. She hadn't really thought he would change his mind and join her when he found out, had she? He'd made it abundantly clear that he didn't need her and the new-and-improved Sam Lewis certainly didn't need him.
She'd repeated this litany to herself every day for the past three weeks. Maybe today she might start to believe it.
As she took another sip of the steaming brew, a flurry of movement in the corner of her vision made Sam turn her head. A dark-haired man in a black leather jacket strode purposefully across the damp, gray cobbles in her direction.
A dozen startled pigeons flapped into the air as he traversed the wide courtyard between St. Mark's and the outdoor restaurant where she sat. He wasn't exceptionally tall, maybe slightly over six feet, but his broad shoulders and narrow hips gave his stride an athlete's grace and self-assurance.
When he came closer, she could see that his hair, though cut away from his ears, spilled over the back of his collar with just enough curl to make him appear charming rather than unkempt. Then he made eye contact, and she almost dropped her cup. Such incredible blue belonged on the della Robbia Madonnas back in Florence, not on a mortal man.
She couldn't stop staring, and to her surprise, neither did he. He walked right up to her table as if they knew each other. In fact, Sam experienced this sudden eerie feeling in a far corner of her mind that she did know him.
"Hello, luv, sorry I'm late." The handsome stranger spoke with an unmistakably Irish lilt.
No way had she ever met him before; she'd definitely remember those eyes, that accent. Then he bent and kissed the air next to her right cheek in greeting, but as he moved to her left, instead of kissing, he whispered, "Play along with me, please."
His urgency surprised her even more than his bold actions. Sam pulled back and stared again into the clear sapphire depths of his eyes.
All the oxygen flew out of her lungs.
She gasped in a noisy breath. "I-I'd almost given up hope."
She had no idea where that inane statement sprang from, but she was rewarded with a wide smile as dazzling as the stranger's eyes.
"Ah, never do that, luv," he admonished, then signaled the waiter.
Feeling like she was observing the scene from outside her body, Sam watched him pull his wallet from inside his jacket and slap down a bill to pay for her half-finished drink. She'd seen plenty of men like him. He practically sported a neon sign flashing over his head: "Mr. Wrong."
His mesmerizing gaze locked on her again, and he extended his hand. "Ready to go to the Doge's Palace then?"
Dr. Goldfarb would probably tell her to go ahead. Her own mother certainly would. In almost fifty years of perpetually rash behavior with regard to men, the worst consequence Mom had ever suffered was a broken heart.
Well, Sam already had one of those, so what did she have to lose? The Doge's Palace was one of Venice's most crowded tourist attractions and all of a hundred yards away.
Throwing twenty-eight years of caution and predictability into the damp Venetian air, she grabbed his offered hand. "Sure, let's go."
That his touch was so warm in spite of the chilly temperature astonished her, but not half as much as the way the warmth seemed to seep right into her fingers and course up her arm. He felt it too. She saw the spark of bewilderment flare in the depths of his eyes in the moment it took her to rise from her chair.
Then he pulled her along, and she hurried to keep pace. They crossed the square in the direction of the Palace, which stood between the cathedral and the lagoon.
"The Wedding Cake," one guidebook called the famous structure. When she'd visited yesterday, Sam had pictured the ultramodern cake separated by translucent plastic columns Michael had convinced her to order. The pink, ornately carved Doge's Palace with stone curlicued windows bore no resemblance to that three-layered confection.
Today, all she could think about was the strange, though not unpleasant, heat sizzling up her arm. Something she never felt with Michael.
More pigeons flew up in front of them as they approached the wide swath of marble steps leading to the Palace entrance.
"You Americans are such good sports," the Irish rogue murmured as they mounted the stairs.
His unexpected comment left Sam's wits as scattered as the pigeons. Her mouth opened in surprise, but no sound came out. He dropped her hand, held the door for her, then proceeded to the cashier's window where he asked for due biglietti, per piacere, "two tickets, please," in what sounded like a perfect Italian accent. She continued to gape at him when he turned to hand her a ticket.
"This way." He placed his hand on the small of her back to guide her to the front staircase.
Even through her heavy coat and three layers of other clothes, Sam could feel the heat emanating from him and seeping into her. Sexual attraction? She stumbled on a carpeted step. Surely not.
He gave her a quick, questioning glance from the corner of his eye, and she suddenly realized where she'd seen him before. He'd been in her dream last night. She stumbled again on the top step.
"All right then?" he asked, his head cocked slightly to one side in a boyish gesture.
"How-" Sam took a steadying breath and changed the question. "How did you know I'm American?"
Yes, that sounded much saner than asking, "How did you get into my dream about Renaissance Italy?"
His head was still cocked, his grin lopsided. "Your sneakers, luv, they're a dead giveaway."
He dropped his hand and unsnapped his jacket. Sam caught a glimpse of a heavy fisherman's knit sweater before she stared self-consciously at her shoes.
"First time in Venice?"
"First time anywhere."
Maybe she was still dreaming. Hunky strangers just did not swoop into her real life. Or if they did, she'd learned better than to trust them. They were never around for long. When she looked up, he probably wouldn't be there at all.
"Came for Carnevale last week, did you?"
Okay, she had to peek.
He was still there, movie star handsome with his mussed hair and knowing azure gaze. He held open a gallery door, and she stepped inside.
"No, we only arrived yesterday. From Florence, I mean. We were there for three days."
She sounded like a flustered fourteen-year-old. Apparently her scanty knowledge of how to act with an attractive man had abandoned her along with her philandering fiancé. She could feel a blush creeping up her cheeks as they crossed the polished wooden floor.
"So, you're not traveling alone."
Was that an undertone of disappointment in his voice? No, she must be mistaken.
"I'm with a tour group. There are fourteen of them-fifteen counting me."
Sam's blush deepened as the Irish hunk's perceptive eyes made a slow trip from the toes of her shoes to the top of her head. She took one of those deep, cleansing breaths she'd learned in yoga then extended her hand.
"I'm Samantha Lewis. Most people call me Sam."
"Sam?" He frowned in a playful way. "That's no name for a pretty girl."
Rather than shaking her hand, he placed it in the crook of his arm and escorted her to a side door. The leather of his jacket felt smooth and supple under her fingers, the muscle in his forearm solid and substantial. Definitely not a dream.
"I'm Keirnan Fitzgerald from County Kildare." He opened the door and scanned the room beyond. "Though for the past nine years I've resided in your city of brotherly love."
He led her to another door, and when he opened this one, Sam heard voices speaking what sounded like French. Keirnan held the door for her.
"Let's join this group, shall we?"
Together they sidled up to a cluster of elderly ladies and three men. A fiftyish man with a hawk nose gestured at a painting and spoke in rapid-fire French, then moved to the next painting and said something else. No one seemed aware of their presence.
Unfastening her coat, Sam pretended to listen carefully though she couldn't understand a word. Resting her hand on Keirnan Fitzgerald's arm felt like the most natural thing in the world. They shuffled from painting to painting, then moved into the next gallery.
How could she feel this comfortable with someone she'd only just met? Heaven forbid! What if dear old Mom's propensity for attracting the wrong man was genetic?
She studied him out of the corner of her eye and was struck again by a confusing sense of familiarity that raised more questions and no answers.
Slowly and unobtrusively, they traversed the second gallery. A subtle tightening of Keirnan's biceps registered inside her snarled brain. She could sense his suppressed energy gathering like coiled springs about to bounce.
Sam sneaked another peek at his profile. He looked impassive, his bright blue eyes focused straight ahead, betraying nothing. However, as they moved into a third gallery, he pressed his hand against her back.
"I've had enough of this bloody bore," he murmured close to her ear. The warmth and pressure of his hand urged her in the opposite direction of the group.
"You speak French, too?" she asked as he steered her to a roped-off staircase.
"Enough to know that guy is full of himself." He ducked under the thick velvet rope and held it up for her.
Sam glanced furtively behind them at the French tourists. Their departure seemed as unnoticed as their arrival had been. Then she looked at the coil of black velvet in his hand.
"I don't think we're supposed to go this way."
"Nah, I've been here dozens of times. It's a shortcut to the Bridge of Sighs on the exclusive Fitzgerald tour." He smiled in that endearing, lopsided way again.
A ribbon of warmth unfurled within the deep reaches of her stomach. Sam bit her lower lip for a second then ducked under and followed him up the narrow stone steps.
This was far and away the most exciting-not to mention illicit-thing she'd ever done. Now if she could just shut off that insistent voice whispering from the back of her mind about charming rapists and handsome axe murderers, it might be fun, too.
Well, they were in a public place with dozens of other people just a scream away if she needed them. A scream translated the same in any language.
A closed door blocked the top of the stairs, but it must not have been locked because Keirnan opened it after only a moment's hesitation. They emerged into another corridor right on the heels of a Japanese family-mother, father, and two bored teens. While one parent snapped photos, the other ran a camcorder to capture every millimeter.
Within moments, they all reached the Bridge of Sighs. Keirnan stepped forward and offered to take a picture of all four family members. Sam was not the least bit surprised to hear him utter some phrases in Japanese.
"Shall I take your picture, too?" he asked after the family moved on.
She gestured at the fanny pack beneath her coat. "No camera. Besides, I was just here yesterday."
He tilted his head and studied her for a long silent moment. The blue of his eyes gleamed, iridescent in the dimness of the narrow, enclosed bridge.
"You don't seem to fancy this romantic Venetian landmark."
His open scrutiny made funny flutters kick up along the nerve endings in her spine. She wished some other tourists would show up.
"I hardly think a bridge built to secretly imprison your political enemies is romantic."
His dark brows lifted in a sardonic salute. "You had an excellent tour guide yesterday."
"Actually, I'm a librarian, so I read several books before the trip."
Sam turned aside to escape the probing of his too-perceptive gaze and stared out the small square opening cut into the stone. Urban legend said during the Middle Ages prisoners got their last look at Venice through this window, and their sighs of longing gave the bridge its name. Wintry gray walls rose up on either side, and the cold, green-black water of the canal loomed far below. Nothing romantic here at all.
"He's a fool."
"Excuse me?" His sudden pronouncement caught Sam completely off guard. She turned to find the charming Irish rogue standing uncomfortably close. She took a step backward.
"Whoever 'twas that let you come to Venice alone. He's a bloody fool."
Was she that transparent? A mixture of humiliation and annoyance washed over Sam.
"Obviously." Annoyance won this round. "The trip was nonrefundable." She turned to look in the direction the Japanese tourists had disappeared. End of story. "Can we skip the prison section on this exclusive Fitzgerald tour?"
"Most surely. That's not exactly my favorite spot either." Message received. He extended his hand in what might be a peace offering. "Did you see the armory?"
The images of long pointed pikes and iron battle-axes hanging on the walls in easy grabbing distance sprang into the forefront of Sam's mind. "Uh, yes, and it's not high on my hit parade either."
Keirnan chuckled low in his throat as if he knew exactly what prompted her comment. "All right then, no prisons and no weapons. How about if I show you my favorite painting in the entire palace?" He raised his hand again, eyebrows lifted with feigned innocence.
That certainly sounded safe enough, not that she was afraid of him. Just the opposite in fact. That inexplicable feeling of familiarity continued to hover around him like an aura, if she believed in such things. And if she didn't, why did something in the depths of his sapphire eyes seem to cloud her judgment and paralyze her vocal cords?
"Okay," was all Sam could manage to say as she took his hand.
His favorite painting in the entire palace-that was the last place he needed to be taking her. Or himself, for that matter. Still, Keirnan knew better than to second-guess his seat-of-the-pants instincts. They seldom failed him in either personal or business pursuits, and the good Lord knew he could not afford to fail this time.
Excerpted from The Treasures of Venice by LOUCINDA McGARY Copyright © 2009 by Loucinda McGary. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.