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Authors: Dar Tomlinson

Slightly Imperfect

BOOK: Slightly Imperfect
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SLIGHTLY
IMPERFECT
by
Dar Tomlinson

A Books To Believe In Publication
All Rights Reserved
Copyright 2012 by Dar Tomlinson

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission, in writing from the publisher.

Proudly Published by
Books To Believe In (a division of)
Thornton Publishing, Inc
17011 Lincoln Ave. #408
Parker, CO 80134

BooksToBelieveIn.com

Phone: 303.794.8888
Fax: 720.863.2013
Cover Design by Capri Brock
DesignsByCapri.com
Cataloging in publication data is on file with the Library of Congress

Chapter 1

Chapter2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

CHAPTER ONE
Portofino, Italy
1976

The boy feeding the pigeons, sprinkling breadcrumbs on the stones of the piazza in the warm Italian sun, appeared mesmerized and tentative in one motion. Zac Abriendo watched, his eyes drawn with a will of their own. He didn't know if he should damn God or praise Him for allowing a glimpse of a child who so resembled his own.

When the boy stood, his eyes met Zac's. His quick smile traveled a path of jagged
déjá vu
straight into Zac's longing, a craving which would never again be appeased.

He had to pass Zac to return to his own cafe table.

"Hi," Zac said quietly, not knowing what to expect.

The boy stopped. "Hi. I'm Marcus." His fingertips whitened when he grasped Zac's

table edge, pulling himself onto the balls of his feet, delineating his calves.

Healthy and vital.
Alive.

Zac looked into the guileless face. "Nice name." Marcus wasn't Italian, but Zac had known that the moment he?d spotted him, despite his coloring that matched the locals.

"Who are you?" Marcus's eyes honed with interest.

"I'm Zac." He put out his hand, and Marcus latched on.

A woman seated with two other children at a nearby table stared intently. Zac had felt her watching as he sipped coffee and tilted his face to the Italian sun. Each time he had stolen a glance, she looked away. Once his eyes had settled on the boy, hers never left the two of them.

At first, she had looked as if she knew him, but now he classified her look as longing. The expression was not unlike what he felt for the dark child who had migrated back to her.

"Are you American?" The woman's voice interrupted the resonant piazza atmosphere.

A bit hushed in the rattle and clink of coffee drinkers, but her words carried easily.

"Born and bred. You're American, too." He had heard her speaking to the children. Her accent, South Texas he'd bet, caused a nostalgic nagging.

She nodded. "Are you alone?"

Her eyes were an arresting shade of green-he had seen a ring that color in Singapore. Jade. He looked around, over his shoulder, then back at her, smiling wryly. "Looks like it." Something undetermined tightened in his chest when she smiled.

"Would you care to join us?" The propriety of her tone set the stage.

"Sure. Thanks." He stood, dragged his small metal table to touch the edge of hers and brought his chair forward. Sunlight waned from diamonds to old gold as the afternoon began shutting down, bringing with it a nip in the air, an unspoken signal to clear the piazza. He sat down, leaning his forearms on the table. "I'm Zac." Last names didn?t seem called for. He held her extended hand briefly, finding her skin cool, the bones beneath delicate as spider webbing.

"I'm Victoria." The perfect name. Anything else would have sounded like a pseudonym. She said, "I was staring at you-I know. I'm-sorry."

Zac smiled, almost shrugged. Her halting, disjointed way of speaking kept him hanging on, for whatever came next.

"This is my son Macario. Marcus. I was staring because you remind me of-his father."

Then she whispered, "So much," to herself, he thought.

The child, about four, maybe five-years-old, had jet hair and ebony eyes framed in thick, sooty lashes and bronzed skin like Zac's. Victoria's hair, skin, even her clothing, was eminently blonde, like Pampas grass in a Texas winter.

"This is Alexander and Ariana." Her announcement sounded like afterthought. The two younger children, a boy and girl, were fair, blue eyed, their hair almost white. Twins, he assumed.

Intrigued by the incongruous little family, Zac smiled. "I sense a story here."

A shallow furrow formed between pale brows. "You aren't a journalist are you?"

He shook his head. "It was just a guess."

She smiled, eyes softening, mouth easing. "I thought you were Italian. At first. You fit the ambience." Suddenly she looked undecided, contrite. "The scene."

"Ambience. The surroundings or atmosphere of a place," he recited quietly.

Her smile held apology, then relief.

"Now you know I'm not illiterate." She'd probably judged by his too-long ponytail and beard. "When did you decide I'm not Italian?"

"The boots. They're real. Not a prop. And your mannerisms. I had a feeling-. " She reached, almost unconsciously, stuck a spoon back into Alexander's Gelato. When she handed the child a napkin, Zac's eyes sought her hand. She wore an unpretentious wedding band on her ring finger, and, on her little finger, a diamond that belonged in a safe.

"Shall we divulge what we're doing in Portofino, so far from home?" she suggested. "Why we're so relieved to find a fellow expatriate?"

Realizing her derisive tone was not for him, he nodded toward the harbor. "I'm on that freighter. My captain is enjoying Italian hiatus." He waited as her gaze stole contemplatively to the nearby harbor. "What about you?"

Her answer was delayed long enough for him to realize she had weighed the inequity of her disclosure before finally speaking. "I'm on that yacht." She was slow to voice the word yacht. "Just down from you. The
Andrea Elena II."

Caught in
déjá vu
again, retrospect he tried to dismiss, he asked, "Is Victoria a pseudonym for Andrea?" She had pronounced the name with a soft A, resembling Spanish inflection. "Or Elena?" She had employed the same inflection there.

"No. We're guests."

"We?"

"The children and I." She fell quiet, her gaze shifting around the barren piazza. A breeze lifted her long silky hair, moved the collar of her blouse against her cheek for a moment. She rallied and rummaged in a bag on the cobblestones, producing a navy sweater. "Excuse me," she murmured. "Marcus? Here, angel. Put this on."

The boy lifted his dark head from a book to take the garment. He and Victoria exchanged smiles that left Zac feeling voyeuristic, but then he smiled at Zac collusively. Zac's heart wrenched, curiosity raging. Marcus seemed older, wiser than his years.

"How long?" Zac asked.

She looked quizzical, as if she?d lost her place in a novel.

"How long will you be in Portofino?"

"Tomorrow we're sailing for Nice."

He nodded. "That's nice."

She appeared neither to get his pun, nor agree with his comment, but asked politely, "And how long will you be here?"

"Until Ruffin Sloan tires of Italian women."

She looked puzzled again.

"He's my captain and mentor."

No smile. "And then?"

"We're sailing for Athens."
Then home to make amends.

"Ships in the night," she whispered, shivering, giving him guilt pangs, as if he were holding her captive. "We should go," she said abruptly. "The twins are tired." She met his gaze, didn't move. Her jade eyes ran moist, swam behind pale lashes, and his throat tightened in reaction. Her cheeks colored beautifully with her penitent smile. "The resemblance is so...striking."

A tragic air enveloped the table; empathy coursed through him. "Should I be glad or sorry? About the resemblance?"

"I loved him." She met Zac's eyes. "Very much." Her being reminded seemed joyless, and gave him no answer to his question.

Her chair scraped back on the cobblestones. "It's getting cold, but it's been wonderful talking to you."

He didn't think so, really.

"Marcus," she said softly, and the dark head bolted up. "Let's go, darling."

The boy left his chair, materialized at her side. She reached to extract the twins from their chairs. Zac felt obligated.

"Can I help?" He reached down for her canvas bag, then stood. "The little girl looks done in." Ariana. A beautiful name. "I could carry her."

"You haven't finished your coffee."

"Yeah, I have. Let me help." He turned to the girl child. "I'm Zac. Can I carry you?"

Ariana held her arms up, her brow creasing with curious trust. She was a whisper in his arms.

Victoria took the bag from him, shouldered it, held one hand out to the blond boy, one to the dark. They walked in the direction of the
Andrea Elena II
. Navy and white. Looming. Victoria seemed content to move in silence.

Zac wasn't. "How old are the twins?"

"Two." Her answer explained Alexander's straggling gait, his languor at five in the afternoon. Victoria slowed her own step, then stopped, looking down at the younger boy.

Her helplessness, only a look, maybe, struck Zac.

"Here." He squatted, held his free arm out. "I'll carry you too,
hombre."

She spoke quickly, almost sharply. "Not both of them. It's too much."

Zac thought of the heavy crates, all the cargo he had lifted in the last year, as Alexander slipped his tiny arm around his neck. A feeling of completion settled onto him, a feeling too long absent. He stood, smiling encouragingly at Victoria, and moved forward.

She and Marcus fell in line.

"Where are you from?" Zac interjected into the sounds of their heels echoing against the concrete pier in the quiet. The scent of creosote and salt settled around them.

"Texas...the Gulf Coast."

His heart hammered.

"Puerto San Miguel, near Galveston. It's very small."

"Do you believe in fate?" In his brief side-glance her full lips tightened slightly, not quite a grimace.

"In bad fate." Her pensive tone caught a passing breeze.

He had never considered categorizing fate. "I'm from Ramona," he announced, smiling. The fishing villages, Ramona and Puerto San Miguel, ribboned along Galveston Bay, nesting side-by-side, equally unpretentious and insignificant.

She looked full into his eyes. For the first time, he thought of her expression as cheerful. "That's wonderful!"

"I always thought so." Especially the past lonely year.

"This is unbelievable." Her enthusiasm appeared real. With the diminishing pallor, she was striking. "Of all the places in the world we could have been today-either of us. Don't you think it's inconceivable?"

"More like predestination." He glanced at Marcus, smiling. "What's your last name? Mine's Abriendo."

"Michaels."

Her expression mirrored his. No recognition. Any association, past the piazza, would have been unlikely. She traveled the yacht circuit. He didn't—except he had. Briefly.

"How long have you been away?" he probed. "From Puerto San Miguel? Have you always lived there?"

"Yes." She kept smiling.

Zac felt Alexander nod, shift his weight before he lay his head on Zac's shoulder, giving up the ghost like his sister. The pleasure of their warm breath on the sides of his neck unnerved him a little.

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