Venice at Valentine’s? Andrew didn’t bargain on outrunning the Mafia, fighting for his life…or meeting Sergio.
Post break-up Andrew, in Venice for Valentine’s Day, isn’t alone and pining for very long before handsome local Sergio sweeps him off his feet—and into his gondola.
What should have been the most romantic evening of Andrew’s life turns into the deadliest when a dying policewoman they rush to help slips them a vital piece of evidence…and they’re accused of shooting her.
With both the Mafia and corrupt cops in hot pursuit, Andrew and Sergio must deliver the evidence to the only man who can clear their name. The only problem is he lives at the other end of Italy, which sends them on the most action-packed Valentine’s date ever.
It’s going to take some serious Valentine’s magic for the shy Englishman and the sexy gondolier to have a second date, never mind a chance at a relationship…
Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of mild peril, injury, and a gun battle.
General Release Date: 9th February 2021
“Pronto, vuoi un passaggio?”
Not even in Venice yet and already asked if I wanted a ride.
I nodded and stepped onto the water taxi. Yes, there were cheaper options, but this being my first trip to the famous island, I wanted to arrive in style.
The crisp February air hit me as we got out onto the water. Even so, I had no intention of sheltering inside the wooden boat. I hadn’t paid a ridiculous amount of money to miss everything below deck.
Then I saw it. Venice.
It took my breath away. Beautiful pastel-coloured buildings lined the coastline with the iconic St Mark’s Campanile dominating the skyline behind. Butterflies filled my stomach as we sped towards our destination. So much history calling to me to discover it.
Whatever the driver hollered to me, I couldn’t hear above the wind in my ears. I wouldn’t have taken it in anyway, not when the island looming larger in front of me had all my attention.
Soon it stretched out and filled my eyeline. Details became clearer. The shoreline was busy with traders and visitors and all manner of people. A market selling the usual rubbish was an irresistible call to the tourists. Huge boats tugged gently against their moorings outside big houses. What a life to live in one of those. In this world of water, I couldn’t have been further away from the crowded London streets I was used to.
We pulled up to a jetty and excitement built inside me.
“Come ti piace Venice?” asked the driver, spreading his arms wide like an orchestra conductor.
“Bella.” Yes, I thought Venice beautiful, all right.
Safe on terra firma and more than ready to dive into this city, I paused at the edge of a group of people congregating on a bridge having their picture taken. They dispersed to reveal the Bridge of Sighs.
I gawked. This had been high on Matt’s sightseeing list when we’d planned the trip. But he only had himself—and his wandering hands—to blame for missing out.
I snapped out of it. The bridge before me had seen worse heartbreak than mine—they’d named it the Bridge of Sighs as convicts would get their last view of Venice before succumbing to their gruesome fate in the dungeons down below, and they would sigh.
I stood staring, absolutely transfixed. I’d only been here for five minutes, but I could understand why those sighs would be filled with such loss.
Things got even better when I got my first glimpse of a gondolier, expertly steering his craft through the city and under the bridge. I’d been dismissive of the gondolas and their high prices, but now I saw one drifting through the canals, it tempted me. Would I feel like a bit of a loser taking one on my own?
This city could be full of possibilities for me and I refused to dwell on being alone for this trip. Lots of people travelled solo and now I’d joined their ranks.
I took a selfie with the bridge in the background and sent it to my friend, Jodie.
Here safe and sound. Speak soon x.
Almost immediately I got a reply.
Go get ’em, tiger.
My phone told me my hotel lay on the other side of St Mark’s Square. All my life, I had yearned to stroll across one of the most famous squares in the world. Taking a deep breath and channelling my inner chic Italian, I set off to discover what Venice had in store for me.
Just my luck, the biggest rain shower I’ve ever encountered ruined my picture-postcard arrival. Huge dollops of rain bounced off those iconic cobbles as I dragged my case across them, making it spin out of control. In the end, I just picked it up and made a run for it. Being a lanky six foot two, it was hard for me to run stylishly, and so I ran full pelt. My painstakingly styled blond spikes were flopping with all the water, the hair gel running into my eyes and making them sting.
I must have looked like a drowned rat by the time I burst through the unassuming doors of the Hotel Buon Sonno, which caused much amusement for the achingly handsome receptionist who greeted me. I ignored his smirk as I dripped on the marble floor, although I did feel like the least glamourous person in Venice.
He seemed to take an age to check me in and the elevator had to be as old as the city itself as it slowly dragged me to my floor. Finally, I made it to my room and what a treat lay before me. It had a big bed and chaise-longue to the side, causing my inner chic Italian to perk up again. I could imagine myself lazing on there after a hard day’s shopping.
I unpacked, stashing my money and important stuff in the safe. Jodie had told me about the pickpockets of Venice to the point of paranoia. After that I had a long scrub in the huge walk-in shower to wash the journey away. The monsoon jets soon brought me back to life.
I lay on the bed in my bathrobe, flicking through the guidebook, when my stomach growled as though a bear had woken up in there. Would anywhere be doing meals this early? Well, time to hit the streets of Venice to find out. Go get ’em, tiger.
I threw on some clothes and headed out to see what this place had to offer. This time I took my umbrella.
Hopefully looking a little more presentable, I smiled at the receptionist as I passed him. I might not have been on the romantic getaway I’d hoped for, but why should that stop me having a little—or a lot—of fun? He didn’t return the smile. I supposed with him having seen me at my worst, my best wasn’t likely to impress him.
Opposite the hotel sat a kind of gondola park. The boats jostled together, awaiting their turn. So did the gondoliers, who laughed and joked to pass the time until their next customer appeared. It might have been February, but that meant Carnival week as well as the romantic epicentre of the year. Plenty of people queued up to pay their extortionate prices. Still tempted to take a ride, I watched a few set off, bearing smiling passengers. My hunger won out this time—my ride could wait for another day.
I had only just set off in the direction where I thought I’d seen a few restaurants from my window when, suddenly, a gondolier jumped in front of me. He looked so handsome in his standard striped T-shirt and straw hat set at a jaunty angle. He took his hat off and bowed in a ridiculously dramatic fashion. As someone who is easily flustered, I could feel my face going bright red.
“Well, hello there, stranger. My name is Sergio, the best gondolier in this whole city.”
All the other gondoliers were laughing and nudging one another…which didn’t help my out-of-control blushes.
“H-hello,” I stammered.
“Ah, he is English! I knew it. I said to my friends, here comes a member of the English aristocracy.”
I might have been named after Prince Andrew, but the similarities ended there. An auntie had traced our family tree once upon a time and found nothing but mill workers and servants. But in Venice, I could be whoever I wanted to be.
“And you were right,” I said in my poshest voice. “My grandmother, the Queen of England, told me Venice is the only place to be on Valentine’s Day.”
He threw his head back and laughed. I had never seen someone so jaw-droppingly perfect, from his shiny eyes to his perfectly groomed stubble to his strong arms which held the railing as he leaned backward. I didn’t dare look any lower.
“Then surely you wish to experience everything Venice has to offer?”
“Of course I do. But I’ve only just arrived. I want to sample some food first.”
He winked. “Sergio will help. There is a beautiful pasta place just around the corner. Tell them I sent you.”
“Oh yes? Will I get a discount?”
“No, but I will next time I am in.”
With that, he laughed his infectious laugh and went back to join his fellow boatmen. I watched him go. God bless the gondoliers in their tight black trousers. What a view.
I decided to take his recommendation. I didn’t fancy spending the evening going from restaurant to restaurant, trying to decide where to eat.
It paid off. The pasta tasted amazing. The sauce, a local delicacy made with three types of tomato, went perfectly with the white wine they brought me. My table overlooked the Grand Canal, the feature of so many paintings. As evening fell, the restaurants lining the banks turned on strings of bulbs entwined around their awnings, giving it a magical feel. They reflected in the water and cast a dappling light on the grand Rialto Bridge.
I had truly arrived in Venice. I caught myself checking every gondola for Sergio, which bugged me. The first man to pay me a bit of attention, and I fall hook, line and sinker. Thankfully, he didn’t make an appearance. I wanted my first night in Venice to be for me and not side-tracked by some man…no matter what lay beneath those tight trousers.
On the way back to the hotel, I had a couple of drinks in a bar. As I curled up in a black wingback chair and sipped my smooth red wine, I looked at my fellow patrons. Carnival fever dominated the bar, with many people in masks and outrageous outfits. A couple in front of me were intertwined, her hanging off his every word and laughing. Tiredness overcame me. It had been stressful travelling on my own for the first time. Draining my glass, I decided an early night could be excused.
The heavens opened again as I wandered back to my hotel. The gondolas had called it a night when I got there and there was no sign of Sergio. It would have been nice to share the big bed with someone, instead of missing Matt. I fell asleep reciting the reasons why I had split up with him.
It made for a scarily long list.