The Echoes of Love(10)

By: Hannah Fielding

‘You’re tired; you can hardly stand up. Come inside and sit down, you’re shivering.’ Paolo’s voice came to her through the reluctant fog of her desire, as he guided her to one of the soft leather seats inside the cabin. He sat her down, brought her a thimble-size glass of grappa and settled himself beside her, after having poured one for himself. ‘Here, drink this, it will warm you.’

‘Grazie. Ancora una volta sei venuto in mio soccorso, once more you’ve come to my rescue,’ she said, a new elation in her voice as she took the glass from Paolo’s hand and tried to calm herself. She was thankful that he had been ignorant of the insanity she had been prey to for a few moments, and hoped he had not noticed the deeper colour that throbbed in her cheeks.

The cabin was large with seats upholstered in Napa, a soft Italian leather. It was surrounded by windows adorned with royal blue curtains held back with cords. All the fittings were in plated chrome brass. Venetia noted that it was luxurious without being ostentatious and garish, unlike many of the launches. Somehow, she wasn’t surprised; Paolo did not seem to be a show-off.

‘This grappa is quite different to the one I’ve normally been served,’ she told him, as she took a sip of the warm amber liquid. ‘Isn’t grappa supposed to be crystal-clear with a distinctive herbal aroma? This is almost golden in colour, and spicy with…’ Venetia hesitated and took another sip, ‘… hints of liquorice and vanilla, is that right?’

Paolo whistled with admiration. ‘You have a very sensitive palate, signorina. You’re right. This is a Reserve Grappa from a vineyard not far from my home in Tuscany. They only produce a thousand bottles a year, for the personal use of the family and local consumption. Do you like it, then?’

‘It’s got an interesting taste which I admit could become addictive, but I’m afraid it’s more potent than I’m used to.’

Paolo flashed her a charming smile. ‘I see you’re feeling better. Your cheeks have regained some colour. It was a long walk in the cold.’ He downed his grappa in one go. ‘Would you like a little more?’

Now that Venetia had actually accepted the invitation he had pressed on her to ride in his launch, he seemed oddly ill at ease, she thought. Was he perhaps embarrassed by their accidental collision earlier? Had she misread his apparent attentiveness as something more?

‘No, thank you – I think we can be on our way now,’ she said, her guard back up again. ‘I have taken up enough of your time.’

‘Non dirlo neanche per scherzo, don’t give it a thought.’ He poured himself another glass, which to Venetia’s surprise he drained with equal velocity. ‘Would you like to sit outside or stay in the warmth?’

‘I’m definitely an outdoor person, so I think I’ll sit alfresco.’

‘You said the other day that the way into your home is on the Canal in Dorsoduro. I know Dorsoduro well and there aren’t many buildings with their entrance on the waterfront.’

‘My apartment is in Palazzo Mendicoli, a couple of streets away from the church of San Nicolò Dei Mendicoli.’

‘Sì, sì, so bene dov’è il palazzo Mendicoli é, yes, I know well where that is. I spend a lot of time in Dorsoduro. It’s a place of artists, designers and writers, and is one of the most beautiful and charming of Venice’s sestieri,’ he said, his voice soft as he stood looking at her intently again, motioning for her to go up on deck ahead of him. For some inexplicable reason, she found herself blushing, and she hastily climbed the steps, keen to cool her flushed cheeks.

They went back into the open air and Venetia sat on the U-shaped bench, upholstered in blue and white canvas, in the stern of the boat. Silently she watched Paolo’s hard, firmly corded figure move around the boat untying the ropes, preparing to exit the mooring basin. Her eyes slid down to his narrow hips as he stood at the helm, tall and relaxed, every contour of his sculped, muscled thighs outlined in his tight Harlequin costume. Once more she was struck by the leanness and power of his body, by his shoulders that were imposing without being heavy. Paolo had a build very similar to that of Judd’s, she noticed, and she found herself wondering how it would feel to make love with him.

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