The Echoes of Love(3)

By: Hannah Fielding


When she had finished her chocolate, Paolo smiled at her. ‘Andiamo? Shall we go?’ he asked, cocking his head to one side and scrutinising Venetia.

Sparkling hazel eyes flecked with gold smiled back at him through long black lashes that somehow did not belong with her chestnut hair. ‘Yes. Thank you for the hot chocolate. It is really the best chocolate I’ve had in Venice.’

He helped her with her coat, lifting her glorious long locks over the fur collar. At five foot seven inches, Venetia was tall but as he faced her and began buttoning the garment himself, she noticed again how he towered over her. His hands were strong and masculine; she had a curious sensation of warm familiarity, as though he had performed this act with her several times before. Yet mingled with that feeling came one of embarrassment; his touch seemed a rather intimate gesture instead of the impersonal indifference of a stranger, and she drew away with a little nervous laugh.

‘Thank you, that won’t be necessary.’

He held her gaze intently for a moment, as if surprised at what she had said, and she looked down again, for some reason unable to meet those now midnight-blue eyes and their burning intensity. Then he smiled and held the door open.

‘By the way, I don’t know your name,’ Paolo said as they stepped out into the misty night and began walking towards the Grand Canal.

‘Venetia. Venetia Aston-Montagu.’

He quirked a black eyebrow. ‘A very romantic name, Venetia, like our beautiful city. But you’re not Italian? You speak Italian like a native.’

She laughed. ‘Thank you for the compliment! No, I’m actually English, but I was named by my godmother, who is Venetian – she was my mother’s best friend and she insisted I learn Italian.’

‘So you’re on holiday here?’

‘No, I live here.’

‘Nearby?’

‘No, in the Dorsoduro district. I need to catch the vaporetto, as the entrance to the building where I live is on the Grand Canal.’

‘My launch is moored across the street. Dorsoduro is on my way. It would be a pleasure for me to drop you off.’

‘No, thank you. You’ve already been very kind.’

‘It’s late and snow has been forecast for tonight. The vaporetto is bound to be almost empty. I wouldn’t want you to come to any harm, signorina. I will give you a lift.’ He spoke quietly with an air of command, his hand coming up to her elbow, but she avoided it hastily.

It was very tempting to accept, but Venetia would not allow herself. This stranger was a little too attentive, she thought, and though she had been grateful for his kind invitation to a hot chocolate when she was in distress, and could still recall the feel of his hands buttoning up her coat, she was not in the habit of being picked up by men.

‘No, really, thank you very much. I’m used to travelling by vaporetto. It’s quite safe.’

Paolo did not insist, and for the rest of the way they walked in silence through the narrow, tortuous alleys, Venetia conscious of his nearness in every fibre of her being.

It was bitterly cold. The wind was whistling and a bank of threatening cloud hung over Venice like a white cloak. As they arrived at the waterbus stop, a few snowflakes started to come down. A couple of gondolas, their great steel blades looming dangerously out of the soft velvety mist, glided by swiftly over the gently lapping waters.

‘Are you sure you don’t want to change your mind? It looks as though there’ll be a blizzard and the vaporetto may be delayed.’ He looked at her with a polite, but guarded smile and she felt a momentary pang of regret at her determination to escape him.

Paolo’s pride was spared a new refusal as they heard the croaky purr of the vaporetto announcing its lazy approach.

‘Here comes my bus,’ Venetia said cheerfully. ‘I’ll be home in no time.’

The boat appeared and presently drew up at the small station, bumping the landing stage as it did so.

‘Thanks again for all your help, signore,’ she went on, smiling as she held out her small, perfectly manicured hand to say goodbye. Paolo took it in his own, which was large and warm, and held it a trifle longer than would be usual. Venetia stood there with waves of heat passing over her, her senses suddenly heightened at this contact. She abruptly withdrew her hand.

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