Authors: Lucy Gordon
They had reached the room. He flung open the door, drew her inside and began to undress her at once. She responded instantly, wrenching off his jacket, pulling open his buttons, tearing off his shirt.
They fell onto the bed, still working on each other's clothes until they were both naked and ready for each other.
âYou're mine,' he said huskily. âNow and for ever.'
She was dizzy with passion and delight, wanting him more than she had ever wanted anything in her life. Their previous lovemaking had been wonderful, but this one was pervaded by an extra sense of triumph.
She reached for him, offered herself to him, claimed him, and sensed his delight not only through his movements but by the glow in his eyes. His lovemaking was tender, emotional, and at first this was enough. But soon she wanted more. She was his, heart and body, and with every movement she demanded that he accept the gift and return it. When he claimed her finally she cried out with joy.
Afterwards, lying contentedly in his arms, feeling the warmth of his flesh and the gentle power of his embrace, she knew that she had come to the place that was always meant for her, and where she could live happily for the rest of her life.
She had meant to tell him about the letter, but things beyond her control had swept her up. Was that an omen? she wondered. Should she try to tell him now?
âMy love,' she murmured.
âMy love,' he echoed, âif you knew how wonderful it is to hear you call me that. I am your love and you are mine.' He stroked her breast. âI was afraid this would never happen,' he whispered.
âIt's not the first time we've made love,' she reminded him.
âNo, but it's the first time we've made love like this, with all doubts settled, all fears gone, everything open and clear between us. When you told me that you trusted me I felt as if I'd gone to heaven.'
âYes,' she whispered. âI feel like that too.'
âAnd we must keep it that way. We lost two years, but we mustn't lose any more time. We must marry as soon as possible.'
âMarry,' she said in wonder.
âI told you yesterday that we should set the date. You didn't give me an answer. Are you trying to put me off?'
She glanced down the bed at their naked entwined figures. âDoes it look as if I'm trying to put you off?'
âI just want to be sure of you. Say yes. Say yes.'
âOh, yes. Yes, with all my heart.'
âNow we've found each other,' he whispered, ânothing can ever come between us.'
He kissed her again before saying, âI've just rememberedâyou had something you were trying to say to me.'
âYes, it sounded urgent but I kind of distracted you.' He grinned, recalling the way he'd grasped hold of her and made her run.
âI suppose you could call this a distraction,' she agreed, smiling.
âSo what were you going to say?'
Natasha's head was whirling. This was the moment she'd planned to lay bare the secret, but suddenly everything seemed different. To speak of it now would be to let Tania intrude on them again, and she was determined never to let that happen.
âNatasha?' he murmured.
âAre you awake?'
âEr...no. Iâmust have dozed off again. Did you say something?'
âI asked you what you'd been planning to tell me.'
âI can't remember. It's gone out of my head now, so it can't have meant much.'
âIt's just that you made it sound important.'
âNo, it couldn't be.' She touched his face. âOnly one thing is important now.'
âAnd that's us,' he agreed. âYou're right. Nothing else matters. Come here.'
She did so, taking refuge in his arms and his love, so that the rest of the world ceased to exist.
The letter didn't matter, she decided. This was how it would always be.
* * *
She opened her eyes next morning to find Mario regarding her anxiously.
âYou did mean it, didn't you?' he asked. âYou really will marry me?'
âNo,' she teased. âI was just making fun of you. Oh, don't look like that. Of course I meant it. Would I have said it otherwise?'
âI can't be sure with you. You always seem to have a surprise to spring on me. I get nervous waiting for the next one.'
âOh, really?' She regarded him with wicked humour. âLet's see now. I could always thump you.'
âBut that wouldn't be a surprise. You've already thumped me so often in different ways.'
âSo maybe it's time to find another way. How about that?' She delivered a light pat on his shoulder.
âOuch!' he cried comically. âNow I'm in agony.'
âGood. Then I'll know how to bully you in future.'
She patted him again and they both burst into laughter.
âI don't believe this is real,' he said against her neck. âNobody could be as happy as I am now. It's an illusion.'
âNo, we're going to teach the world what happiness looks like.'
âMmm, that sounds nice. Can I thump you back?'
He rolled her onto her stomach and lightly patted her behind. âYou be careful,' he said, âor I'll do it again.'
âIs that a promise?' she chuckled.
âIt's whatever you want.'
He was right, she thought, nestling contentedly against him. Nobody was allowed to be as happy as this. It must be an illusion. And she would do everything in her power to make it last.
room downstairs, they found Damiano, Sally and Pietro waiting for them. They all looked up, eager for news.
âHave you got something to tell us?' Damiano asked. âSally seemed to think you might have.'
âYou mean after she tried to talk to me yesterday and we dashed upstairs?' Mario said. âSorry, Sally. It was urgent.'
âWell, I gathered that,' she chuckled. âSo come on, tell us.'
âWe're going to be married,' he announced. âNatasha has decided she can put up with me.'
Pietro cried, âYippee!'
Sally hugged Natasha, and Damiano declared cheerfully, âWelcome to the family, Natasha. We're all delighted that you're going to take charge of Mario and turn him into a sensible man.'
âThanks, brother,' Mario said, grinning.
âBy the time you discover your mistake it'll be too late,' Mario added. âHe'll have put the ring on your finger.'
âAnd I'll never let her take it off,' Mario said.
âYou must marry here in Venice,' Sally said. âAfter all, it's where you met. It'll be such fun to arrange.'
âThat's very nice of you,' Mario said, âbut I think there's another place that would be more right for us. In Verona, we can marry at Juliet's house.' He glanced at Natasha, who nodded, smiling.
âRomeo and Juliet,' Sally mused. âBut you two can't be Romeo and Juliet. You're having a happy ending. I suppose there's still time for something to go wrong, but it won't.'
âNo, it won't,' Mario said. âWe're together, and now nothing is going to go wrong. She is my Juliet, and Verona is the right place for us.'
Sally insisted on having a party for them that evening. Her warmth was a special blessing to Natasha. Her life had been lonely, with no relatives but her bitter mother. Now, suddenly, she had a brother and sister, and a cheeky nephew in Pietro.
They laughed and danced their way through the party, spent the night nestled together, and set out for Verona the following morning.
When Giorgio heard the news he roared with delight.
âRomeo and Juliet made it at last! What a story.'
âIt's not exactly a story,' Mario protested.
âIt is to me. You hired me as your publicity manager, and I'm going to do my job. When you've fixed the date we'll get some pictures.'
âThe date will be as soon as possible,' Mario said.
âIt'll have to be a Monday morning,' Giorgio told him. âAll wedding ceremonies are held then because the house has to be closed to tourists while it's happening. Then we'll have the reception here in the afternoon, and everyone in the
Later that day they went to the City Hall to make the booking for two weeks' time, and learned what they could about the wedding procedure. The actual ceremony would take place inside the building, with photographs taken afterwards, on the balcony.
Giorgio was in his element, planning to broadcast the information as far and wide as possible.
âThis isn't just a wedding,' he said gleefully. âIt's the biggest publicity opportunity the
has ever had. You really must make the best of it.'
âThat's fine,' Mario said. âI'm happy for everyone to know that I've secured the best bride in the world.'
But Natasha drew him aside, feeling some concern. âJenson will get to hear of it,' she said.
âGood!' Mario declared at once. âI want him to know that his bullying has achieved nothing. That should stop his nonsense.'
âBut suppose it doesn't?'
âThen I'll make him sorry he was born. Don't tell me you're still afraid of him. You're going to be my wife. There's nothing more he can do.' He took her in his arms. âTrust me, darling. You have nothing more to fear from him. I told you I'd scare the living daylights out of him, and I have.'
âYou scared Jenson? But how?'
âBy slashing his advertising revenue. There are several media outlets I've been able to persuade to drop their adverts. Some here, some owned by friends of mine elsewhere. It should be enough to put the wind up him.'
âYou did that for me?' she breathed. âOh, thank youâthank you.'
Blazing with happiness, she threw her arms around his neck.
âI told you I wouldn't let you be hurt,' he said. âAnd I won't.'
âSo you really are my guardian angel?'
âAngel? Not me. But I can put the wind up people when I want to.'
Chuckling, they embraced each other.
âIt's such a weight off my mind,' she said. âTo know that he won't trouble me again.'
Now her most urgent arrangement was choosing a wedding dress. At Giorgio's orders, several gowns were delivered to the hotel for her to try on. She chose one of white satin, cut simply and elegantly.
âPerfect,' Giorgio declared when he saw it. âIt'll look great in the pictures. We must get started on them quickly.'
It seemed strange to be taking wedding pictures before the wedding, but they were to be part of Giorgio's publicity campaign to promote Verona as a wedding venue.
âThe photographer will be here tomorrow morning,' Giorgio said. âHe's the same one who took the pictures of you as Romeo and Juliet. We'll put the two sets of pictures out together. Romeo and Juliet became Mario and Natasha.' He grinned. âOr perhaps they always were.'
âForget it,' Mario said. âThis story isn't going to end in a tomb.'
He was looking so handsome, Natasha thought as they posed together. For one picture she stood just in front of him, his hands on her shoulders as they both faced the camera. For another shot they danced together.
âDon't look so stern,' Giorgio called. âGaze into each other's eyes. Look romantic.'
âBut why?' Natasha teased. âWe're getting married. âThat's not romantic; it's deadly serious.'
âStop that,' Mario said. âI'm quite scared enough without you scaring me more.'
She began to laugh. He joined in and Giorgio yelled with delight at the picture it produced.
âThat's perfect,' he said. âThat says it all.'
As he'd predicted, the two sets of pictures worked splendidly together. When circulated to the rest of the
, they produced a flood of excited congratulations.
There was one reaction Mario vowed to keep to himself. The text from Jenson was as spiteful as he'd expected, and he was thankful that Natasha didn't see it.
I've warned you but you didn't take any notice. Now see how sorry I can make you.
He checked the phone number of Jenson's organisation and dialled it.
âI want to speak to Elroy Jenson,' he told the receptionist.
âI'm sorry. Mr Jenson isn't accepting calls today.'
âHe'll accept mine. Tell him Mario Ferrone wants to talk to him.'
A pause, some clicks, then a harsh masculine voice came on the line. âWhat do you mean by calling me?'
âAh, Mr Jenson. Good.' Mario leaned back in his chair. âYou know exactly who I am. You don't like me, and you're going to like me even less when I've finished.'
âYou're wasting your time,' Jenson's voice came down the line.
âI don't think so. I think you'll find that some of my recent actions have been very significant.'
âWhat recent actions?' Jenson's voice contained a sneer but Mario thought he also detected a hint of nervousness.
âYou'll be hearing from your Italian publications, wondering why whole batches of advertising have been suddenly cancelled.'
âDon't think you can scare me,' Jenson snapped. âA few hotels and vineyardsâ'
âIt'll be rather more than that. I've got friends working on this, friends you know nothing about but whose tentacles stretch great distances abroad. You'll be losing advertisements left, right and centre. And when they want to know whyâI wonder what you'll tell them.'
âThat's no concern of yours!' Jenson raged.
âEverything that concerns my fiancÃ©e concerns me, as you'll find out if you don't stop your nasty ways. You wrecked her career out of spite because she wasn't interested in your cheap advances and too many people got to know about it. Well, now the whole world is going to know about it.'
âWhat do you mean?' Jenson snarled.
âThe digital age is a wonderful thing. A few texts and emails and the world will know what a pest Elroy Jenson is: a man so conceited that he felt no woman had the right to reject him, and with so little self-respect that he could never leave her alone afterwards.'
âThere are laws of libel,' Jenson snarled.
âThere's no question of libel. Once those texts you've sent her are revealed there would be no question everyone will know the truth.'
âTexts? I don't know what you're talking about.'
âDon't waste time trying to deny it. I've got records of every word you sent, and where they came from. I can reveal every word and prove it. The world will rock with laughter at you. And if you resorted to law you'd just keep yourself in an unpleasant spotlight longer.'
âWhat are you after? Money?'
âNo, I just want you to leave Natasha alone. One more text or call from you and you've had it. Do you understand me?'
âYou're very good at making threats,' Jenson snapped with his best effort at a sneer.
Mario grinned, feeling that he could risk a little vulgarity.
âI'm good at a lot of things,' he said. âWhich is why she chose me over you.'
âGoodbye. Go to hell!'
Mario hung up. Then he stared at the phone, trying to come to terms with his own actions. He was neither a violent nor a cruel man, but the need to conquer Jenson had brought out a side of him he'd never needed to use before.
But it was for her, and for her he would do anything. That was the effect she had on him, and now he realised that part of him had known it from the first day.
From behind him he heard a sound that made him turn in amazement. Natasha stood there, applauding.
âWell done,' she said. âWonderful! You've really dealt with him.' She engulfed him in an embrace.
âIt was easyâjust threaten to expose him as an idiot,' he said, returning her hug. âHe's far more afraid of that than losing business.'
âBut I don't understand what you said about his texts. Surely you don't really have records of them?'
âOnly the one he sent today. I don't have the others, but he doesn't know that and he won't take the chance.'
âNo, he won't,' she breathed.
âAnd he won't dare send you any more because now he knows the risk he runs.'
âYou're so clever.' She sighed. âI never thought anyone could put this business right.'
âBut you've got me to protect you now. And that's all I want to do for the rest of my life.'
He enfolded her in a fierce embrace.
âThree days before we're married,' he said huskily. âI don't know if I can bear to wait that long to make you mine.'
âBut I'm already yours. I always have been and I always will be.'
âNo doubt about that,' he said, smiling. âI'll never let you go.'
âThat suits me just fine.'
* * *
Now things were moving fast. Two days before the wedding, Damiano, Sally and Pietro arrived and took up residence in the hotel's best suite. That evening there was a party attended by them, by Giorgio and by several members of the
Toasts were made to the bride and groom. Then the bride alone was toasted, leaving no doubt that she was the heroine of the hour.
As the evening wore on, Sally announced that she would retire for the night.
âI've got a bit of a headache,' she confided to Natasha.
âMe too,' she said. âAnd I think Mario might enjoy chatting if he didn't have to keep breaking off to translate for me.'
Together they bid everyone goodnight and went upstairs. A warm, friendly hug and they said goodnight.
Natasha was glad to be alone for a moment for she needed to think. She must decide what to do about Tania's letter.
There had been a time when she might have told Mario about it but events had conspired to distract her and now she knew the moment had gone. Her best course now was to destroy it so that it would be out of their lives finally and for ever.
Going quickly into her room, she went to the place where she kept it hidden.
She found the small piece of blue paper and unfolded it.
She read it again, taking in the words that had meant so much, thanking a merciful fate that had given it to her. Now she reckoned she must burn it.
âWhat's that?' said Mario's voice.
Startled, she looked up and saw him there. He had come in quietly, without her hearing him. Now he was standing with his eyes fixed on the blue paper that she held. With dismay, she realised that he knew what she was holding.
âWhat's that?' he repeated.
âGive it to me.'
He wrenched it from her hand before she could protest. As he read it he seemed to grow very still.
âHow did you get this?' he asked in a toneless voice.
âBy accident. I came across it while I was in your apartment, after my room flooded.'
âAnd you kept it.'
âI needed to read it again and again. It seemed too good to be true. She says there that you'd told her it was over because you wanted to be with me. So after that I knewâ'
âYou knew I'd been telling you the truth,' he said slowly.
âYes. It was so wonderful. After everything that happened, who could have thought it would be Tania who would make things right for us?'