Home > A Place in the Sun(15)

A Place in the Sun(15)
R.S. Grey

I kicked myself for not thinking of the idea myself. I would have enjoyed a bit of company. “I didn’t know if you’d be working at the market or not.”

“No, no.” She shook her head. “Most days, I keep a clothing shop just along the main road off the square. It’s only open in the late morning and early afternoon, when the tourists are really out and about.”

I grinned. “Perfect, then I’ll come by the shop before you close up to have a look around and then we’ll go swimming.”

She nodded, excited. “Tomorrow?”

Paolo laughed and turned to Massimo, rattling off fast Italian.

Massimo turned to me with a cheeky smile. “He says he’s supposed to be the one asking you on a second date, not Katerina.”

I blushed and adjusted the napkin on my lap. That’s right. There I was on a double date and I’d been more interested in chatting with Katerina than I was in getting to know Paolo. After that, I made a real effort with him, turning my body toward him so he’d have my full attention.

He told me about his work up at Massimo’s farm, how they were currently harvesting the summer produce.

“Big, ripe zucchinis and fat lemons. We grow them there and then bring them down for Massimo to use in his restaurant.”

“You should bring some for Georgie!” Katerina chimed in.

“Oh, no. It’s all right. I’ve only got the small room and there’s no kitchen or anything. I’d just let them go to waste.”

Paolo’s smile fell as if I’d turned him down instead of the vegetables. I laid on the sweetness, assuring him I’d take a lemon or two, but it didn’t really help.

After that, the four of us sat in silence, waiting for the food. Paolo had ordered us the fish of the day and when they brought it out from the kitchen, it was presented in a massive tin pan, a few inches deep in sea salt.

The waiter turned it down for us to see, we clapped and smiled, and then he set about cleaning it and serving it up on plates for us.

“It’s lovely,” I said, leaning into Paolo. “Thank you.”

And then Paolo took a big bite of fish and chewed…with his mouth open.

I understand that for some people, it wouldn’t mean much, but for me, it was a deal breaker. His gnashing teeth gave me flashbacks to my blind date with Chompers, and I knew whatever chemistry we might’ve had was extinguished. I didn’t know where mums had gone wrong teaching table manners to their sons, but I wasn’t having it.

Katerina nudged me beneath the table to get my attention and when I glanced over, she tilted her head, trying to get a read on the situation.

“Good?” she mouthed.

I knew she wasn’t talking about the fish.

“Mmhmm,” I said, but I shook my head no, gently enough so the boys couldn’t see.

After dinner, Katerina insisted on walking me home, telling the boys we had things to discuss. I hugged Paolo and thanked him for dinner. Though I’d tried to split our bill down the middle, he’d insisted on paying, which I thought was very kind.

“You’ll come up to the farm?” he asked, hopeful.

I let my mouth hang open for a moment, trying to work out a proper response, and then I caved and nodded, adding an indecipherable hum on top. He grinned and Katerina looped her arm through mine, tugging me away from the restaurant.

We hurried back to my hotel and I insisted she come up and see my room.

“It’s very messy,” I warned as I turned the old key and pushed the door open.

“If you’ve got wine, I won’t mind the mess.”

I grinned and presented the bottle of Sciacchetrà I’d picked up on a whim at the shops that afternoon. I’d nearly stuffed it in the package for Freddie and Andie (lord knows they needed it with those nieces and nephew of mine running them ragged) but I’d held on to it instead.

Katerina clapped with excitement.

“I don’t have any glasses though.”

The hotel wasn’t like the proper ones I was used to staying in. There were no mini bars or room service.

She shrugged. “We’ll share.”

And with that, she popped the top and took a long swig, handing me the bottle after her. It was my first time trying Sciacchetrà, but the woman at the shop had raved about it. Apparently it’s made from Vermintino grapes and has a sweet, honey-ish flavor—perfect for sitting at my window with Katerina and taking in the last few minutes of the sunset.

“Pass it, you hog.”

I took another quick sip and she laughed as I handed it back over.

I hadn’t known Katerina long, but there was a level of comfort between us that usually took years to develop. I glanced over to her, admiring the way she’d wrapped up her long blonde hair into a knot on top of her head. Her dress was just as stylish as the one she’d worn the day before, and I guessed she’d been quite popular in school. She gave off that sort of vibe, but without the snarky attitude.

“So Paolo didn’t sweep you off your feet?” she asked, handing me the bottle.

I took a long swig, wiped the drop slipping down my chin, and shook my head. “No.”

“Shame.”

“Shame,” I agreed.

“You fancy Gianluca, don’t you?”

I blushed, a fierce red shade I prayed she couldn’t see. “What? Why would you say that?”

Had I been that transparent at dinner the night before? I’d stared at him a few times, but I hadn’t realized I’d made a show of it or anything.

She sighed, this sad, hopeless sound that nearly broke my heart.

“Because women always do,” explained Katerina. “They think they’ll swoop in and coax him out of his shell. They want to heal him like a bird with a broken wing, but it’s actually easier with birds, because they want to fly so badly. Gianluca—well, for the past five years, he’s made it clear he doesn’t want to be healed. He wants to stay on the ground.”

“Where it’s safe,” I muttered.

After that, we passed the bottle in silence until it was empty.

“YOU KNOW, MOST people shower before they eat in my restaurant.”

I glanced up from my plate of seafood pasta to find Massimo grinning at me from across the bar.

“I came from the farm. I was helping Paolo with the harvest.”

“Hopefully the produce was less ripe than you are. You’re scaring away my customers.”

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