Ack! It's happened again - I've been swamped with projects and commitments and haven't done a proper Thursday Thirteen. <hangs head in shame>
That said, I'd like to share some samplings from my new novella, Alternate Rialto, out now on Smashwords, which is a prequel to my novel Ask Me if I'm Happy! So here are
13 Snippets from "Alternate Rialto"!
1) Ypsilanti, Michigan was nothing like this. For that reason alone, Emily Miller knew the scene before her should have been perfect. Beyond the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, the sun faded from the sky. Streaks and splashes of orange, pink and red darkened and drained down into the sea. The water of the lagoon deepened to violet and then to indigo at the base of the dock – the Molo, she corrected herself – while the black-and-white striped shirts of the gondoliers glowed ghostlike over the sleek black boats drifting silently toward the Bridge of Sighs.
With a little imagination, it would be easy to be lost in a fantasy of timelessness and forget that it was Nineteen-Ninety-Eight. Forgetting the past year – or at least to forget the last six months or so – would be a blessing, anyway.
2) Dreamlike, watery voices drifted and echoed, calling to each other and reflecting off the walls in a language Emily didn't understand. Dull splashes followed, accompanied by jeering, teasing shouts before the rumble of an engine rattled the windows in their frames for a moment. She squinted through sleep-heavy eyes and behind the fine lace curtains of her window made out a woolen grey sky over the rooftops of the next building.
3) She shook her head and paused atop a bridge to watch a pair of gondolas pass at the end of the canal. Raising her camera she framed the shot, feeling a momentary embarrassment for taking such a "touristy" photo.
Ah, what the hell? Why not? It's not like I'll ever come here again.
Another gondola passed beneath the bridge a moment later and she stilled herself, waiting for the perfect image. An errant breeze lifted her skirt just as the gondola emerged. The gondolier looked up at her, and Emily dropped her free hand down to protect her modesty. His blue eyes flashed with mirth at her reaction before he turned back to focus on the task at hand, taking his crooked grin out of her view.
She couldn't resist the smile that tugged at the corners of her mouth before she crossed to the other side of the bridge.
Finally, a reaction that's just for me - but only because of a panty-flash? That figures.
4) "Emily." His soft voice carried above the sounds of the crowd to feel like a caress in the relative silence after the engine's shutdown. "Let me help you up."
Stone steps ascended from the water to the walkway, and Jacopo's steadying hand kept her from losing her footing on the slippery surface. Once on the pavement he held her hand secure in his own, placing his other hand at the small of her back to steer her along the bridge.
In spite of herself, she was compelled to pause at the top and push through the crowd that had gathered along the wall to have their photographs taken with the Grand Canal as the backdrop. She wished that she had brought her camera with her, but smiled to think how silly her bulky camera bag would have looked with her outfit.
"Che peccato," Jacopo said, taking her hand and drawing her away from the wall. "What a shame. If only we had a camera to make your photo."
Her eyes widened at the statement.
"Besides," he continued when she remained silent, "this light is quite flattering to you." His smooth fingertips slid from her hand to her wrist and back again. "It is like your skin is made of roses."
The thudding of her heart had to be noticeable; it was thumping so hard in her chest. Emily had a vision of his lips on her wrist, just grazing there before continuing along her arm, and she shook her head to dispel it.
This is going to be quite an evening, I'm sure of it.
Her silence didn't seem to disturb him in the least. Jacopo gazed wordlessly into her eyes for a moment before he took her hand in his once more and led her off the bridge. He guided her down a darkened calle, full of twists and turns, until she lost all sense of direction in the coming dark.
5) Jacopo's eyes held hers over the flickering candlelight. "So, Emily… It is just you and your friend traveling? Why isn't your boyfriend with you?"
Pushing her reflexive scowl off her face at the word "boyfriend," Emily shrugged. "I don't have one."
"No boyfriend? Your lover, then."
His bluntness threw her. How was she supposed to answer that?
Her gaze fell to the tablecloth and she fussed with the placement of her cutlery to avoid meeting his eyes. Cheeks burning, she took a deep breath and spoke.
"No lover, either."
Their host rushed out of the kitchen and set a serving plate between them. Emily noted the assortment of appetizers with a wary eye.
Jacopo picked up her plate and placed a few items on it before handing it back to her. "Capesante, aringa affumicata, patè di fegato," he recited, pointing at each in turn. "Scallops, smoked herring, veal liver patè."
She regarded the offerings for a long moment before reaching for the patè. Might as well try something new.
He filled his own small plate, then ate with his eyes on her all the while.
"No lover?" he asked, continuing as though there hadn't been any interruption.
Emily selected the herring and stuffed it in her mouth. She nodded, then shook her head, unsure of the proper response. Jacopo's smile embarrassed her further and the familiar heat rushed to her cheeks again before she swallowed.
"Nope. No lover. You?" She asked this last with a bravado she wasn't sure she felt. She swallowed another sip of wine and wondered if maybe that was why.
His only answer was a sly grin.
Kim Rossi-Stuart: the inspiration for Jacopo.
6) The streets were virtually empty, the campi deserted. They crossed the Rialto Bridge again, Jacopo guiding her as before, but this time he steered her to a place at the wall. The bridge was aglow, the ghostly pale stone surface softly illuminated by strategically placed lights. They stood and looked out at the reflections on the water which rippled, rose and fell with soft, gentle lapping against the boats moored nearby.
"Emily," he said, his voice scarcely carrying above the soft murmurs of conversation around them. She drew her gaze away from the hypnotic dance of light on water to face him.
Yes? she wanted to ask, but the word never formed on her lips. Instead, his hands framed her face and held her still as he brought his lips to hers in a soft kiss. She raised her own trembling hands to cover his as he kissed her again. At once, the other people vanished, along with the bridge, the water and the city itself.
His hands slipped from under hers to stroke her hair, tangling in the length of it while his kiss deepened. Her heartbeat was distant and remote, somewhere else. There were only his lips, parting hers and lingering while he pulled her to him and held her securely in his embrace. Emily trembled as eagerness, anxiety and need warred amongst themselves, threatening to breach the surface at any moment.
7) After lunch, they strolled across the campo toward the rio where he'd docked the runabout. A narrow bridge spanned the water, with a wrought-iron gate on the campo side and a huge arched wooden door on the other. The elaborate scrollwork of the iron in the gate revealed countless hours of work and a lifetime of training in every fine turn.
Emily longed to have her camera in her hands, to photograph the details of the ironwork.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" she asked, trailing her hand along the spirals and twirls to feel the movement in the metal.
"Sì, it is. It is very old, too. At least one hundred years – but it has been treated well and does not rust, unlike others."
She turned to ask how he knew that for sure, but stopped upon seeing the large iron key in his hand. His gaze held hers as he stepped forward and slipped his key into the lock with a rather provocative gesture, a wicked grin on his face all the while.
Her throat went suddenly dry and she swallowed hard, a pleasant tingle sweeping through her body at the unspoken statement in his actions. The sound of the iron key in the lock had an audible heft to it, and she pictured the key pushing the tumblers about to unlock them.
8) "My mother wishes me to marry," he said, his words echoing slightly in the grand room.
Even though she was sitting, Emily's knees went to water. Had she been standing, she would have hit the floor in a graceless slump. As it was, she found herself sliding back to sit in the armchair.
"Really?" she asked, hoping the delay wasn't noticeable.
"Sì, è vero." Jacopo looked up at her at last. "That is; yes, it's true. She is fond of saying that she wishes for me to find a wife, before she dies. She wishes for me to be an honest man, with an honest woman." His expression was full of dark humor, a bitter turn to his mouth.
"Wow." At a loss for words, Emily wiped her suddenly clammy hands on her thighs, pulling the fabric of her skirt taut.
"This has become her favorite subject, with me: 'Find a wife, give me a grandchild.'" Jacopo's gaze drifted to the open window, focusing somewhere over Emily's left shoulder. "I can't believe it, but she said it again, just now when she was leaving."
"Just now?" She trembled, her pulse already racing. She drew a slow, deep breath, hoping Jacopo wouldn't notice. The light sweat along the back of her neck felt positively chilly, now.
What is he leading up to? It can't be, can it?
Jacopo blinked and his eyes shifted to her face, regarding her in silence before a short bark of laughter escaped him.
"Oddio! Emily! I didn't mean that she wants me to marry you."
9) The gelateria's storefront lit the entire street in a soft neon glow, and the benches propping the doors open allowed artificially-cooled air to seep enticingly outward. Emily shivered when they entered, her eyes widening at the colorful display in oblong stainless-steel bins that filled the refrigerated cases. Dozens of frosted tubs of bright colors were lined up inside, the flavors they contained written in Italian or what Emily guessed was the local dialect.
She thought of Jacopo, speaking with the man in the restaurant in an utterly incomprehensible and somehow still more foreign tongue. The recollection brought with it both a hint of warmth and pull of longing for him.
Jenn debated her choices for an embarrassingly long time. Emily ordered by pointing out her selections and fumbling through her pronunciations of their names. The server was curt without being rude, and Emily was certain that, were Jenn not there being, well, Jenn, his patience would have run out much faster. When more patrons entered and Jenn still hadn't decided, the server simply took his spatula in hand, slathered some random selections precariously onto a cone and thrust it into her hand, waving her off.
"I got a freebie," Jenn said as they turned to go out of the shop. Her expression was childlike, full of surprise and delight.
10) It all passed in a whirl: the lion over the archway, the musty stairs leading up the chilly stairwell to the upper floors, even the plain front door which Jacopo heaved open and closed with a show of impatience. Emily clutched his hand in hers, focusing on his warmth in the darkness, her excitement warring with anxiety as Jacopo switched on the light in the foyer. He led her through the long corridor with the open windows, taking her past the grand sitting room and into unknown territory.
Now they stood in a room she hadn't seen on her visit earlier that day. The light from the foyer barely reached the doorway. Most of the illumination came from the windows, reflecting off the pale walls to give the room a hazy, unfocused glow. Heavy brocade curtains framed the windows; an aged Oriental carpet lay atop the shining marble floor, and an ornate wrought-iron bed frame draped with luxurious silk bedcovers stood against the wall, a gauzy canopy over the head of the bed shifting ghostlike in a scarcely-felt breeze.
Jacopo's bedroom resembled a museum display rather than a place to rest.
11) Her sleep-weighted eyes adjusted slowly. Still peering through her lashes, she spied Jacopo sitting in the wing chair next to one of the windows. In spite of the faint chill of the early morning he was nude, and a pleasant tremor shook her as she regarded his body from a distance. His hair was in tousled disarray, and her fingers tingled with a desire to stroke it into place again. His gaze fixed upon some midpoint between himself and the bed, but his face appeared utterly without expression.
A small shiver ran through her from head to toe, followed by a prickling of her skin so intense it pulled at the sheets under her.
The sheer curtains shifted in the breeze pushing through the open shutters. A stronger gust followed, flipping the edge of one panel up to obscure Jacopo from her vision, and she closed her eyes while the fine hairs of her arms raised as if someone had walked over her grave.
12) "Dimmi," he whispered, sliding his arm around her waist and picking up her cappuccino to sample it. "Tell me."
Emily took a deep breath and met his gaze with hers, then plunged ahead.
"I was wondering why you chose me over Jenn."
He laughed aloud, drawing a glance from the barista and two older women seated on the bench by the door. "This is what you looked so serious for? Dio bon!"
"Well?" Emily felt the blush rise to her cheeks, a flash fire on her cool skin. "It doesn't make any sense, does it? Men follow her around everywhere she goes, and then the best of the bunch chooses me?"
"'Best of the bunch'?" Jacopo echoed, and her blush intensified. "Emily, cara…" he framed her face in his hands, still laughing. "This, I think, is your true flaw."
My face? she thought, and swallowed the goony laugh that threatened to erupt.
13) Emily didn't need to see the bags beneath her eyes – she felt them there, swollen, containing the bulk of a restless night. The sleepless hours she'd passed alone were nearly enough to convince her that she'd started losing her mind.
The cardboard tube rested next to her as it had since Jacopo left, still unopened despite the loving caresses she'd imparted from time to time. Emily reviewed his giving of this gift over and over again, trying to guess what it might contain. She was certain it was one of the prints that had fascinated her in the shop, and this mattered, for some strange reason she couldn't quite fathom. She desperately wanted to guess the contents before opening the tube, but didn't know why.
It was just a little gift, right? Nothing special about it.
Except for what he'd said, when he gave it to her; "I just thought you should have it, after I saw you admiring it in the shop."
How did he see me looking at the prints? I was talking to the old man when Jacopo came in – I could swear it.
The prints had been lovely, though. One, of a bridge to the square where the shop itself stood; the other, a watercolor of Proserpina eating the pomegranate seeds that would confine her to Hades.
So which was it? The bridge, or Proserpina? Proserpina or the bridge?
The question echoed in her head, an all-consuming thought, until at last the sun shone on the buildings across the canal, and she slept and dreamed.
And there we have them: 13 Snippets from "Alternate Rialto".
I hope you've enjoyed them, and that they've made you a little curious about the novella itself.
And in the spirit of all things Italian and lovely, I give you this:
You can't go wrong with Raoul, now, can you? ;)
Ciao for now!
Author. Happily Married. Survivor of life with two deranged kitties.
Please note: Thanks to an increase in spam comments, I'll be approving the comments before they post. Sorry!