He slid the bottle into her backpack and lifted it onto his shoulders along with his own. He pulled out his camera and took a picture of her and the view. Then, of course, she had to take another one of him.
After that, they continued their walk and were rewarded with glimpses of ruins and an abandoned farmhouse and an ancient arch that once had led somewhere but now led nowhere. Of course, she had to photograph him again in front of the farmhouse and then the arch and had to have him photograph her in front of both settings, as well.
“You must send your pictures to me,” he said, his manner so urgent and sincere she nodded.
She could almost believe this was a real date and that last night had been real, too; that they were beginning a genuine relationship that would be vitally important to both of them.
After they left the farmhouse, they came to an ancient convent filled with fading frescoes of saints. He charmed her by picking a bouquet of wild roses and olive branches. After giving her a rose, which she put in her hair, he knelt. His face grew serious as he said a silent prayer and left the saints the rest of the flowers as a humble offering.
When he stood again, he said, “If you are hungry, I know a perfect spot for a picnic.”
“I could eat something.”
“All right, then.”
He led the way up another bougainvillea-shaded, cobblestone path that passed between the whitewashed buildings of a second deserted farmhouse, more charming than the first, and then through a lemon grove.
With every step the sun rose higher and became warmer on her back. The hike became more of a plod. She was breathless and perspiring long before they’d made their way up the hidden path and a nearly impassable cliff to a stone bench in the shade of an olive tree with stunning views of the mountains and sea.
“You’re right. This is perfect,” she said, still panting from the climb.
When she sank wearily down onto the bench, he came closer. Smiling down at her, he studied her so intently she almost stood up in the hopes that he might kiss her. But instead of doing as she wished, he lowered her backpack to the ground and rummaged in it.
Quickly, he got their boxed lunches out, sat down and spread their sandwiches, cheeses and wine between them on the stone bench. Then he deftly uncorked the wine bottle and poured two glasses of jewel-dark, red wine.
When he began to eat his sandwich in silence, she lifted a thick-crusted slab of bread to inspect hers. The mozzarella, grilled chicken, fresh basil and avocado smelled delicious.
Still, she was thirstier than she was hungry, so she sipped her wine rather too enthusiastically while he continued to eat his sandwich.
Their silence lengthened. The sun felt warmer. Not that his not talking felt the least bit awkward or the heat of the sun the least bit uncomfortable. No, it was one of those comfortable lulls that can happen between two people who are so completely at ease with each other that there is no need for idle conversation.
It was too perfect, being with him, both in bed and out of it.
He looked up at her and then at the view.
“Dolce color d’oriental zaffiro,” he said.
“What?” She was beginning to love it when he spoke Italian.
“A gentle hue of Oriental sapphire.” He smiled. “We Italians are quite attached to our Divine Comedy. I memorized big pieces of Dante’s epic every year in school, and then again in university. We can all quote from it. Even my cousin, Massimo, can be quite eloquent.”
“I’m afraid I read more Cliff-Notes than the Divine Comedy itself,” she confessed.
“You missed something then. The great masters are usually worth reading.”
A gigolo who quoted Dante and defended the great masters with passion?
“The line comes from ‘Purgatory,’ and it describes the sea-tosky horizon when the Divine Poet emerged from the depths of Hell and came to the calm shores of MountPurgatory.”
“What can a girl who crammed for all her quizzes with Cliff-Notes possibly add to that?”
“Perhaps more than you think.”
He smiled. Then he opened a sack of chips and offered them to her. Normally, she never ate chips. But the hotel had made these.
She took one and munched noisily as he grabbed one from the bag for himself.
The chip was pure grease and carb—and sinfully delicious. She glanced at his olive-toned hand holding his chip. Taking the hint, he fed her his chip.
Apparently, she was on a sinfully-delicious kick.
“How did you get started as a gigolo?”
He was swallowing a chip himself and choked so violently she began to pound his back.
He shot to his feet, and she began to beat on his shoulders. “I thought I made it clear I don’t want to talk about my work.” His manner was abrupt.