Her Italian Millionaire

By: Carol Grace

Chapter One





She was lost. All the streets looked alike and all the street signs were in a foreign language. Perspiration dripped down the side of Anne Marie's face as she pulled her Samsonite suitcase through the back streets of Sorrento. It was early September, but by ten o'clock the Italian sun was so hot her money belt was plastered to her waist. The guidebooks warned not of violent crime, but of petty theft. Thieves were everywhere, they said, looking for innocent tourists. Tourists like her, dragging suitcases, weighted down with visas and passports and Italian phrase books and still unable to say more than a few words to anyone. She heard footsteps behind her. With a swift glance over her shoulder, she noticed a man in a dark suit with a long loaf of bread under his arm following her.

She made a quick turn down a narrow cobblestone street with laundry hanging from a line above her and prayed he wouldn't come after her. But he was right there behind her, slowing down when she slowed, speeding up when she sped up. Her heart pounded. Even if she knew the word for help, who would hear her? He might take everything she had - cash, travelers' checks and credit cards.

After all, there would be no witnesses. No one to see him drag her body away where it would lie in an alley for days until stray dogs gnawed at her bones, and who would ever find her and notify her family? Her family, which now consisted only of her eighteen-year-old son.

Two little boys in tattered T-shirts came around the corner, bouncing their ball off the cobblestones and casting curious glances in her direction. The man with the bread passed her by without a second glance. A man on his way home with bread, that was all. She was paranoid, that was all.

“Buongiorno,” she said to the boys.

They stared. She hauled out her Italian phrase book to ask directions. She was not only lost, she was late. If she didn't find the station soon, she'd miss the bus to the Amalfi Coast.

“Dov'e el termini?” she asked .

The boys burst into laughter at her accent and she felt her face turn red. With a glance at her watch, she repeated the phrase, and they pointed back the way she'd come.

“Grazie,” she said and with her suitcase clattering behind her, she turned around and headed down the hill.

Ten minutes later she had a sinking feeling she was no closer to the bus station than before. She felt like giving up, like sitting down on her suitcase and giving in to tears of frustration. Instead she kept going. Block after block, street after street.

Suddenly there it was - the termini! Swamped with relief, she checked her watch. She'd missed the bus. When she went in to buy her ticket she learned there would be another in an hour. She would still make it in time to meet Giovanni.

There was already a line outside across the street and she stood at the end of it. She didn't mind waiting. She was in Italy. If she could handle a ten-hour plane flight squished in a center seat between two Sumo wrestlers, followed by a second class train ride from Rome to Sorrento seated in the aisle on her suitcase while the train swayed and lurched, an hour in line under the sun was nothing.

She sniffed the air, laden with the scent of lemon blossoms. She had to remember everything to tell Evie, who'd insisted she make this trip, even when Anne Marie said she couldn't afford it.

“Borrow money against your retirement fund,” she'd urged. “You must have at least six months of vacation accrued. Do you think the library will close without you? Do you think people will stop reading, stop dropping in to use the Internet because you're not there?”

“No, but maybe I should just go to Oregon or Yosemite...”

“You've always wanted to go to Italy. Now go.”

So she'd gone.

Though she wouldn't be here without her friend's encouragement, the person she had to thank most was Dan. Funny she could thank him for anything, after what he'd done to her, but she was no longer bitter about the divorce.

How could she be bitter about anything when she was in Sorrento, a gorgeous old town wedged between the mountains and the Mediterranean where tourists had been coming for hundreds of years for the climate, the views and the relaxed atmosphere of dolce far niente? The hills were dotted with lemon groves and olive trees. Her senses sang in the fragrant breeze that came up and cooled her face. She was here. She was really here. At last.

The guidebooks said to arrive early to land a seat on the right side of the bus for one of the world's most spectacular drives along a winding road with views of the cliffs and the sea below. But she'd be lucky if she got a seat at all.

When the bus finally came, it belched diesel fumes that clouded the air. Just as she feared, Anne Marie didn't get a seat on the right side or the left. She stood between a solid German man with a mustache and a young Italian man who was listening to music on his i-Pod. With her suitcase at her feet, her hand wrapped around the strap from the ceiling, she felt the bus lurch and they were on their way.

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