For those of you waiting for Book 4 in the Italian Summer Series, I’m hoping to release Gina’s story by the end of June. For now, here’s an unedited 1st chapter excerpt:

“Don’t, Mama. Don’t say things like that.”

“It’s the truth” her mother snapped. “They all want one thing.” Gina gave her mother a weary look and wished that she would at least show a morsel of happiness for her today. But instead the old woman waggled a finger at her. “Don’t go making the same mistake your sister did.”

“Stop it, Mama.”  She hadn’t expected her mother to wish her well, or to hope that she had a good weekend but she hadn’t expected this level of vitriol.

Her mother had never met Davide. In fact, her mother had never met any of Gina’s boyfriends, as few and far between as they were. This was the way Gina preferred it.

Running into her old school friend at Nico and Ava’s wedding last summer had been the strangest thing, especially when so many of the people she had gone to school with had moved away or gone abroad. But Davide had recognized her—it probably wasn’t difficult, she guessed, even though fifteen years had passed. She hadn’t changed much. Her hair was longer and she had more fine lines on her face, but other than that she looked the same now as she had then.

He had come up to her at the evening reception party. It was a pleasant surprise once she got over the shock of seeing him after so many years. Men tended not to hit on her, or notice her much but Davide had come up to her and they had been inseparable for the rest of the evening.

Their courtship had been slow. For months they had remained friends, catching up on the past and slowly rekindling their old romance.

“A weekend in Venice,” her mother sniffed. “Don’t come back pregnant.”

“Mama!” exclaimed Gina, her face burning. She had been looking forward to her weekend away with Davide and didn’t need her mother’s venomous words to taint it. This would be the first time they had gone away. Finding time alone wasn’t easy. For one thing, she never allowed Davide to come here, to the house she shared with her mother, and he lived in rented accommodation, sharing a house with a few of his friends. With both of them busy with work, they never found much time to spend together but having him around these past few months had made the time more bearable.

Working at the Casa Adriana hotel fulfilled her completely. Nico, her boss, relied on her more than eve and she had never worked harder. Even when he had hired two new people to join the management team, Gina found that her workload hadn’t decreased; neither had Nico’s. Taking on more people had made her life busier because she had been responsible for helping them to settle in while Nico concentrated on his new hotel.

It didn’t matter. She thrived on the frenetic pace of her working life because it took her away from the misery of her life at home. Having Davide around made it even better.

“I’m leaving now, and I’ll call you when I get there, Mama,” she declared. Not so much to tell her mother that she had arrived safe and well in Venice but more to make sure her mother was fine. Her mother mostly was fine, albeit that she was getting nervous, and playing up because of her upcoming surgery. Her mother being a glass-half-empty person considered herself as being ill, and therefore in constant need of attention.

“Don’t forget to take your medicine on time,” Gina told her, glancing over her shoulder as she picked up her overnight bag. “The taxi’s here, Mama. I have to go.”

She could barely wait. They had agreed to meet at the train station in Verona at 10. It meant they would be in Venice in time for lunch.

“Go!” Her mother shrieked. “You don’t care if I get sick. It’s what you want so that you won’t have to look after me. Go and leave, like that sister of your.” Her mother waved her hand dismissively.

Gina squeezed her eyes shut. Increasingly her mother was becoming harder to live with. It had been her fault for coming back home six years ago after the friend she shared an apartment with decided to get married. Her mother had fallen sick then, and Gina had been the only one around to help. Moving back home and taking care of her mother had seemed the only way back then.

Her sister Mimi was the lucky one who got away.

“Did you get my medicine?”

“Yes. You have enough for the weekend, Mama.” She inhaled deeply. It’s only one weekend.  “Ciao, Mama.” She stepped outside, not even bothering to wait for her mother’s goodbye.

She got into the taxi and breathed easier when the car pulled away, leaving the row of tidy houses further behind her. A wave of relaxation rolled over her and it suddenly became apparent to her that this feeling of relief was becoming common; that Davide had been a distraction, a much needed injection of light into the bleak canvas that was her life.

She always felt better when she walked into the marbled hallway of the Casa Adriana. There, Gina felt truly at peace but lately even that was becoming a place she wanted to avoid. It had never grated on her before, but it was starting to now.

People passed things onto her that they couldn’t manage, managers from the other hotels offloaded their problems onto her and expected her to magically solve them. Nico seemed to demand more and more from her and now with his new hotel getting closer to opening, the pressure was full on. Everything was piling up and she found it almost impossible to be as chirpy in the face of mounting work pressure as she had been before.

Her well was becoming drier.

She had no more compassion, no more words of sympathy, no more empathy left in her. No more could she be a sounding board, a smiling face, or a listening ear.

Some days it all got too much.

And lately, there had been some days when she had flirted with the idea of getting away from it all. Lately, she had been toying with the idea of leaving Verona, leaving her mother’s house, leaving the Casa Adriana and starting over.

She waited with happy expectation outside Porta Nuova for almost twenty minutes watching the swarms of people coming and going. It wasn’t until she looked at her watch that she realized she had been waiting for almost half an hour. They were supposed to catch the 10.30 train.

Still, she wasn’t going to panic. She felt too blissfully happy for anything to dampen her mood. Davide would come, but she would call him if he didn’t turn up in another five minutes.

Just as she started to rummage around in her handbag for her phone, he showed up at her side, breathless, with a flushed face.

“Ciao,” she cried, her face and eyes lighting up at the sight of him. Happiness flowed through her veins and then stopped when she noticed that he had no luggage on him.

“Where’s your…?” Luggage, she wondered, not completing her sentence. He stared at her, half-frowning, half-uneasy. Something wasn’t quite right. She could tell by the way he averted her gaze, by the way he didn’t lean in to kiss her, by the way he didn’t greet her.

By his silence.

“Gina, I…” He took her arm, stared down, and there it was again, his refusal to meet her eyes for more than a second. “We need to talk.”

And then she knew, even before she heard the lengthy explanation. Her insides felt heavy as if her heart had been weighted down by lead chains.

“I see,” said Gina, even though she couldn’t see because everything blurred through the tears in her eyes. But she couldn’t cry. She couldn’t let him see that he had hurt her. He had led her away from the busy main entrance of the station and taken her around the corner which was quiet, where less people would turn and stare and might wonder why this young couple looked so intense and unhappy.

“It’s not you, it’s me,” she heard him say. “I need my own space.”

She frowned. “You couldn’t tell me before?”  Like last night, or earlier this morning.

“I thought it would go away, I thought what I felt was just that—a feeling, nerves, whatever you might call it. It’s taken me all morning to realize that I can’t do it. Going away would be a mistake, Gina. I wanted to tell you sooner but you seemed so happy about going away, I didn’t want to burst your bubble.”

She shook her head. “You think it’s better telling me now?” His timing couldn’t have been lousier. Telling her now when she had packed and was dressed and was about to walk onto a train thinking that this man was the best thing to happen to her in years.

“It’s not you, it’s me.”

“You keep saying that.”

“I jumped from one relationship straight into this. I think I need to do my own thing.”

Listening to him, she wondered how he could stay so calm and put together when inside she was crumpling into herself, but she also knew she didn’t need to think about these things just yet. Not with him around. In private, when she was alone, then. She drew upon her usual reserves of strength—the things that helped her through all sorts of predicaments, both personal and professional, in the past. “I respect your decision, but,” she paused, knowing that she didn’t need to say this, but she wanted to. She needed to get it out so that it wouldn’t fester inside her, so that she could tell him what a difference he had made to her life, before he left it forever. “We were good together,” she said, needing him to know, because she truly believed it. She wanted him to say he’d made a mistake, that maybe he would give her another chance, that they could try again. That she was right. But instead he stared at the floor as if it was too much of an effort to look at her.

“I think it’s best if we …you know…we…” He couldn’t say it and she resisted the urge to rescue him and to make it less painful. “I like you Gina, but this isn’t the right time for me.”

“I have some things at your place,” she said, remembering. Her toothbrush, a few clothes and some undergarments.

“I brought them with me.” From behind his back produced a small plastic bag.

Extending a stiff arm, she grabbed it and wondered if he felt even a morsel of the hurt she did. She glanced at him and saw that he looked perfectly fine. “Thanks,” she said, taking her bag without opening.

She could do this. She could make a strong exit. She needed to make a strong exit. “Goodbye, Davide. I hope you find that space you were looking for.”

“Will you be alright?” he asked. As if he cared.

“I’ll be fine.” She had to be fine because everyone around her depended on her to be.

She turned around and walked as fast as she could, away from him, and the train station. Her tears fell, blurring her vision as she tried to hail a taxi and wondered what to tell her mother, of how she would go back home with her tail between her legs, and humiliation written all over her face.


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