Lily felt her lips quiver again as once more her eyes filled with tears of happiness.
‘I love you,’ she said.
‘And I you,’ Vito replied. ‘With all of my heart and soul.’
‘MY GREAT-GRANDSON,’ Giovanni breathed, looking down at the little baby cradled carefully in his arms.
Lily sat next to him on his huge bed, feeling tears well up in her own eyes as she heard the tremulous notes of awe and gratitude in his voice.
‘He’s called Giovanni,’ she said.
The old man lifted his head to stare at her with sparkling blue eyes, momentarily speechless as the information sunk in.
‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘Thank you for making me very happy.’
‘It’s an honour to do so,’ Lily said, leaning forward to kiss his paper-thin cheek. ‘I can never explain what your kindness has meant to me. How delighted I am to be part of your family, and how much pleasure I have knowing that my son will carry on your family name.’
‘You are wearing the necklace,’ he said, suddenly noticing the exquisite piece of antique jewellery that was fastened round Lily’s neck. ‘When you never wore it I thought it was not to your taste after all.’
‘Oh no, I love it,’ Lily said, reaching up to trail her fingertips over the smooth beads. ‘Vito was having it checked by antique jewellery experts to make sure it was strong enough to wear. I didn’t want to damage it.’
‘But today is an important occasion, Nonno—introducing you to my son,’ Vito said, gazing at his wife. She was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen, and just looking at her made his heart swell with the great love he felt for her.
He was embarrassed that he’d kept hold of the necklace for months after it had been restored, but somehow he had never been able to find the right time to return it to her. But then she had asked for it this morning, smoothing away his awkwardness with tender kisses, and making him fall in love with her all over again for her kindness and understanding.
‘Yes, it is,’ Giovanni said, his eyes focussed back on the baby again, but Vito could tell he was beginning to grow weary.
‘We’ll leave you to rest now, Nonno.’ He lifted the baby gently out of his grandfather’s arms. ‘Don’t worry—we’ll come back tomorrow.’
‘See that you do,’ Giovanni said, but the abruptness of his words was softened by the fact that his eyes were already starting to close as he leant his head back against his pillows.
Vito led the way down to the canal entrance of Ca’ Salvatore and, once Lily was safely on the boat, he passed baby Giovanni down to her.
‘You’ve made my grandfather very happy,’ Vito said as he stepped down into the boat and sat next to her. A thick autumn fog was rolling in from the Adriatic, and the city was taking on an eerie quality. It made him want to hurry home and snuggle his little family up, safe and warm inside.
‘I meant what I said to him.’ Lily looked up through the fog at the magnificent façade of the baroque palazzo as the boat started to move out into the flow of traffic on the Grand Canal. ‘About being proud that my son will be part of this family.’
She dropped her gaze to look into the gorgeous face of the man she adored, and as their eyes met a little frisson of pleasure ran through her. She was tired from looking after their newborn baby, but she had never felt so happy in her entire life.
‘I love you.And I am so proud to have you as my wife,’ Vito said, slipping his arm around her and hugging her gently. ‘You belong here in Venice.You belong with me.’
‘I love it here,’ Lily said as the boat turned off the Grand Canal to head towards home. Tendrils of fog were creeping into the smaller waterways, and the boat driver was taking it carefully. ‘But, more than that, I love you. And I’ll always belong with you.’
About the Author
The day MAGGIE COX saw the film version of Wuthering Heights, with a beautiful Merle Oberon and a very handsome Laurence Olivier, was the day she became hooked on romance. From that day onwards she spent a lot of time dreaming up her own romances, secretly hoping that one day she might become published and get paid for doing what she loved most! Now that her dream is being realised, she wakes up every morning and counts her blessings. She is married to a gorgeous man and is the mother of two wonderful sons. Her two other great passions in life—besides her family and reading/writing—are music and films.
To Evelyn, John and Stephen with all my love
IT HAD been a long, seemingly endless journey—the most ambitious drive Georgia had undertaken in ages. Her saving grace was that she adored driving and prided herself at being quite good at it. With her Labrador Hamish in the back behind her she had the best companion she could wish for, next to her brother Noah. Now, well into the summer evening, she— drove silently, with the radio off, her gaze lapping up the extraordinarily beautiful landscape of the Scottish Glens, tiredness banished by what had to be one of the most heavenly sights on earth.
Everywhere she looked she was treated to the most incredible beauty—sunlit lochs, mountain peaks and shimmering green fields. Even Hamish seemed to perk up as he looked out of the window, as if silently contemplating the large open spaces in which to romp and run free with eager relish. It was a far cry from the overcrowded London suburb where Georgia lived.
Already she sensed the accumulated knots and kinks of tension in her back start to unravel a little.
They had made quite a few stops during the long journey, for food and drink, but they had still made very good time. Now, Georgia knew, by the map opened on the seat beside her, as well as her new boss’s very precise e-mail directions, that there was not too much further to go before they reached Glenteign—the large country estate of which he was Laird.
‘No wonder Noah loved working here!’ she declared out loud, and Hamish wagged his tail enthusiastically— as if to agree.
Her brother had assured her that she would grow to love Glenteign too. He’d recently spent six months there, in his capacity as a freelance garden designer hired to help work on the formal gardens. It was a place where a person could really breathe, he’d told her, his passion for nature and beauty spilling over into his voice. And in his opinion Georgia wouldn’t regret leaving London behind for a while, with its continual gridlocked traffic and polluted air. Working as the Laird’s temporary secretary, while his permanent— secretary recovered from a bad fall, she would have some breathing space from the grinding commute into the City every day. She would find out what a different way of life it was up here—a much more relaxed, ‘sane’ way of life.
She had accepted the job because she wanted so much to believe him, but Georgia still had some reservations— about her decision. What would it be like working for a man who had probably never had to worry about where the next meal was coming from in his life? A man who, because of his status, epitomised— the old feudal system of ‘Lord of the Manor’ while— those around him were mere serfs?
She didn’t exactly have a problem with the concept of inherited wealth—she begrudged nobody their comfortable circumstances—it was just that she was so weary sometimes of her own struggle to keep the wolf from the door, and the idea that somebody could just be born into such good fortune and not have to do anything to earn it was apt to rub salt into the wound. Still, no doubt the wealthy Laird of Glenteign had his own problems…they just didn’t come in the same shape as Georgia’s. But—problems— or no—surely he couldn’t fail to take solace in so much wonderful scenery?
When her reliable but old Renault finally drew into the grounds of Glenteign, Georgia switched off the engine, leaned her elbow on the window’s ledge and considered her surroundings with a flare of wonderment— in the pit of her stomach.
The house immediately proclaimed its historic past—its impressive edifice of Pictish stone, with its turrets reaching towards the presently cloudless azure sky, reminding Georgia of an ancient impenetrable fortress that had survived every onslaught both nature and man could throw at it and still there it stood, proud— and inviolable, with an almost defiant grace. Turning her head, Georgia viewed the lushness of emerald lawns rolling out into the distance like an expansive— glittering carpet, and over to the right a high stone wall that perhaps led to the formal gardens that her brother had been working on for the past halfyear.
She couldn’t deny she was eager to see them—not— just because of the work Noah had done there, but— because he’d told her they were incredibly beautiful. Moving her gaze further afield, a grove of tall firs captured her attention, stretching endlessly beyond the exquisite perfection of the immaculate lawns. There was just so much land! It didn’t seem feasible that one person could own all of this. She began to realise what a prestigious opportunity this was for Noah, coming to work here. And now, because— of the success he had achieved, he was working at another large estate in the Highlands—a commission he had secured on the Laird’s recommendation— because he had been so impressed with what he’d done at Glenteign.