Hello again, all! :) I haven't done a proper Thursday Thirteen for a while, so I wanted to come back with something I could get excited about (besides the eye candy, that is).
So, today, I've decided to share a few snippets from my work in progress, presently titled "Alternate Rialto". The question is, of course - will they make the final cut?
Ypsilanti was nothing like this. For that reason alone, Emily knew that the scene before her should have been perfect as it was. Beyond the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, the sun faded from the sky, the streaks and splashes of orange, pink and red darkening and draining down into the sea. The water of the lagoon itself deepened to violet and then to indigo at the base of the Molo, while the black-and-white striped shirts of the gondoliers glowed over the sleek black forms of the gondolas drifting silently toward the Bridge of Sighs.
She eased herself under the steaming spray and adjusted the temperature to a more endurable level. Her humming echoed off the tiled walls as she rinsed away the suds and luxuriated under the rapid pelting of the water.
They had no set plan for the day, save an aimless stroll around the city after breakfast and then lunch. Emily had hopes of photographing everything possible. She intended to use up all of her film before getting on the plane to go home, if only to prove her mother wrong for having said she'd never need all the rolls she'd bought. She only had a handful left, after all, so it shouldn't be a problem. Maybe they could go to Murano? Or Burano? She wanted to get some shots of the lace makers and the glass makers, too, if she could. A few "mood pieces," perhaps? And maybe -
A muted "thump" cut into her musings, followed by another, and then another. Emily froze in the warmth of her own shower, feeling icy all over save for the rush of heat to her ears and cheeks at the sound of Jenn and her male companion on the other side. Laughter, audible through the shower wall, made her heart race.
She shut off the water and hurriedly stepped out, wrapping herself in a towel before she returned to her bedroom. The scene formed in her mind's eye, unbidden - Jenn and the blond stranger of the night before making love in the shower, the natural wake-up refresher for the morning after.
The stranger shook his head, an amiable grin spreading across his mouth. The humor of it touched the corners of his eyes as he offered her his free hand.
"My name is Jacopo Spadon."
She took his hand without thinking, momentarily cursing his handsomeness. He'd pulled her right in with that, hadn't he?
"Emily," she said, trying not to stammer. "Emily Miller."
"Emily," he repeated, pronouncing her name "Emmy-Lee."
With his accent, her name sounded almost exotic to her own ears.
"Emily Miller, it's nice to meet you. Would you do me the honor of joining me for dinner this evening, or must I chase you across this city again?"
At once she pulled her hand out of his and stepped away from him.
"What do you mean by that?"
Jacopo's golden brow furrowed for a moment before smoothing out once more.
"Isn't it obvious?"
"No, it isn't."
"I saw you when you arrived last night, and I decided to make your acquaintance. As it turns out, however, you are a very hard person to get close to."
"Why what?" He tilted his head to one side in a disarming gesture.
"Why do you want to 'make my acquaintance'?"
"Do I need a reason?"
What do I say to that?
"I guess not," she said and attempted a nonchalant shrug. "Let's just say it's a mystery to me, then."
"All right, a mystery it is. But do you accept?" He leaned toward her, just the least little bit, and she felt the urge to step away before a faint breeze brought the scent of his cologne to her.
For a moment, she could taste it on the back of her tongue. A blush rose swiftly to her cheeks at the surprising, intimate sensation, as though she had just kissed him and tasted his skin for herself.
This is crazy. What am I doing, talking to this man? This man who I've already pictured naked, with Jenn, just a few hours ago...
"Oh!" Her blush intensified when he drew away, startled. Her eyes widened and she took a sudden, belated step away from him.
His smile returned and she forced herself to calm down, praying that her racing heart wouldn't be too obvious.
Stone steps ascended from the water to the walkway, and Jacopo's steadying hand kept her from losing her footing on the slippery surface of the steps. Once on the pavement he held her hand secure in his own, placing his hand at the small of her back to steer her along the bridge.
In spite of herself, she felt compelled to pause at the top and push through the crowd that had gathered along the wall to have their photographs taken with the Grand Canal as the backdrop. She wished that she had brought her camera with her, but smiled to think how silly her bulky camera bag would have looked with her outfit.
Jacopo's own smile greeted hers in response.
"Che peccato," he said, taking her hand and drawing her away from the wall. "What a shame. If only we had a camera to make your photo."
Her eyes widened at the statement.
"Besides," he continued when she remained silent, "this light is quite flattering to you." His smooth fingertips slid from her hand to her wrist and back again. "It is like your skin is made of roses."
The thudding of her heart had to be noticeable, it was thumping so hard in her chest. Emily had a vision of his lips on her wrist, just grazing there before continuing along her arm, and she shook her head to dispel it.
This is going to be quite an evening, I'm sure of it.
Her silence didn't seem to disturb him in the least. Jacopo gazed wordlessly into her eyes for a moment before he took her hand in his once more and led her off the bridge. He guided her down a darkened calle, full of twists and turns, until she lost all sense of direction in the falling dark.
Jacopo's eyes held hers over the flickering candle's wavering light. "So, Emily… What does your boyfriend think of you being away from home for so long?"
"Well, if I had a boyfriend, he probably wouldn't be too happy."
"No boyfriend? Your lover, then."
The bluntness with which he'd spoken threw her. How could she answer such a statement?
Her gaze fell to the tablecloth and she fussed with the placement of her cutlery to avoid his gaze. Cheeks burning, she took a deep breath and spoke.
"No lover, either."
Their host rushed out of the kitchen and set two small plates out before them, then set a larger, precariously-filled plate between them. Emily noted the assortment of appetizers with a wary eye.
Jacopo picked up her plate and placed a few items on it before handing it back to her. "Capesante, aringa affumicata, patè di fegato," he recited, pointing at each in turn. "Scallops, smoked herring, veal liver patè."
She regarded the offerings for a long moment before reaching for the patè at last. Might as well try something new.
He smiled and filled his own small plate, then ate with his eyes on her all the while.
"No lover?" he asked, continuing as though there hadn't been any interruption.
Emily selected the herring and stuffed it in her mouth. She nodded, then shook her head, unsure what was the proper response. Jacopo's smile embarrassed her further and the familiar heat rushed to her cheeks again.
"Nope. No lover. You?" She asked this last with a bravado she wasn't sure she felt. She swallowed another sip of wine and wondered if maybe that was why.
His only answer was a sly smile.
The streets were virtually empty, the campi deserted. They crossed the Rialto Bridge again, Jacopo guiding her as before, but this time he steered her to a place at the wall. They stood and looked out at the lights on the water that rippled, rose and fell with soft, gentle lapping against the boats moored nearby.
The bridge was ablaze with light, ghostly pale marble glowing from strategically placed lights, and Emily felt as though they were alone in spite of the few remaining residents and tourists around.
"Emily," he said, his voice scarcely carrying above the soft murmurs of conversation around them. She drew her gaze away from the hypnotic dance of light on water to face him.
Yes? she wanted to ask, but the word never formed on her lips. Instead, his hands framed her face and held her still as he brought his lips to hers in a soft kiss. She raised her own trembling hands to cover his as he kissed her again. At once, the other people vanished, along with the bridge, the water and the city itself.
His hands slipped from under hers to stroke her hair, twisting and tangling in the length of it while his kiss deepened. Her heartbeat was distant and remote, somewhere else. There were only his lips, parting hers and lingering while he pulled her to him and held her securely in his embrace. Emily trembled as eagerness, anxiety and need warred amongst themselves, threatening to breach the surface at any moment.
Jacopo opened the wooden door at the far end to reveal a dilapidated courtyard beyond it. She stepped inside and, even in the open air, the wooden door closed with a dull thud that made the ground shake under her feet. The courtyard wasn't much to speak of. Sand-colored paving stones covered the floor, a few terracotta tubs that held stunted plants stood alongside the walls, which ended where a second wrought-iron gate opened onto the rio when it wasn't padlocked shut. The walls of the palazzo were the same non-color as the paving stones, fading from pale beige to a sun-bleached white just beneath where the roof jutted out.
Every window was open. The shutters were locked back and lace curtains drifted in and out on the breezes. Jacopo led her to the single entrance, another wooden door set beneath a whitewashed archway. A stone winged lion curled along the top of the arch, his fierce, frozen features glaring down upon all who entered.
Emily paused, gazing up at this weathered sentry, a nervous smile playing across her lips.
“Do you like him?” Jacopo asked.
“I don't know. He's certainly interesting.”
“He used to frighten me when I was a child. I'd play out here and sometimes I swear he'd move when I got too close to the gates.”
Emily turned to face Jacopo and found his warm grin waiting for her. “Really? That would freak me out.”
“It disturbed me, as well, until my father explained that this was my protector. If I didn't go out of his sight, I'd be safe. Always.” He chuckled to himself, shaking his head. “Of course, that meant not leaving the cortile. It took me while to understand that was all he'd meant.”
Emily settled in a chair near the window, delicately positioning herself on the ancient-looking pointelle fabric of the padded seat, fearful of damaging it. Jacopo moved to the window and opened the shutter still further, catching a light breeze as it passed, affording her a chance to observe him in silence.
When he turned to her once more, she met his eyes and found them the color of the sky outside the window: a pale, barely-there blue. His golden skin seemed the same color as the walls of the palazzo, his hair the tawny blond of a lion's mane.
Making love to him would be like making love to Venice itself.
She shook her head to dispel the absurd - though appealing - thought.
“What is it, Emily?” he asked with a grin. The knowing tilt of his head led her to think that he knew all too well what she was thinking.
The light pull on her hand drew her to her feet and then against him, so she could feel him breathing, his body warm and solid against her own.
Breathe, Emily. Breathe.
Underneath his cologne lay the clean scent of his skin and the salty tang of his sweat, both of them dancing enticingly at the back of her tongue. Remembering their first meeting, just the day before, she recalled having that same sensation. At once she wanted to close her eyes and smell him, but she was too afraid of how he'd react. Would he think it strange, or would he understand why she wanted to do that? She wasn't completely sure why she wanted it, herself.
His arms slipped around her, slow and strong, holding her securely in place. She realized that if she wanted to pull away from him now, she wouldn't be able to. The knowledge both thrilled and frightened her. That low tremoring in the depths of her belly told her she wanted more from him, regardless.
And they were together, alone, in a palazzo on the Grand Canal; but no-one else knew it.
The gelateria lit the entire street in a soft neon glow, and the benches propping the doors open allowed artificially cooled air to seep enticingly outward. Emily shivered when they entered, her eyes widening at the colorful display in the refrigerated cases. Dozens of frosted tubs of bright colors were lined up inside, the flavors they contained written in Italian on some, in dialect on others.
Jenn debated her choices for an embarrassingly long time, and Emily ordered by pointing out her selections and fumbling through her pronunciations of their names in the meantime. The server was curt without being rude, and Emily was certain that, had Jenn not been, well, Jenn, his patience would run out much faster. When more patrons entered and Jenn was still deciding, the server simply took his spatula in hand, slathered some random selections precariously onto a cone and thrust it into her hand, waving her off.
"I got a freebie," Jenn said as they turned to go out of the shop. Her smile was wide and childlike, full of surprise and delight.
She startled under Jacopo’s hand when he touched her hair and she felt him withdraw with a sharp intake of breath. Whirling around to face him, she was surprised to find him looking at his hand and chuckling softly.
“What’s funny?” she asked, puzzled.
“Didn’t you feel it?”
Jacopo raised his hand and laughed. “We made a sparkle, when I touched you.”
“A sparkle. Like electricity.”
“Oh. A spark? Really?” She smiled, and her heart and breath slowed to more reasonable paces.
“Sì, a spark. That’s never happened to me, before.”
Jacopo’s smile faded, his expression growing slowly serious. He reached for her and she went to him, hesitating when his hand grazed her skin. Their eyes met a moment later and she shrugged.
“I suppose it was a one-time thing,” she said.
“Perhaps. But let’s keep trying.”
Emily sat up, pulling at the bedclothes to cover herself, and Jacopo knelt on the bed to place his hands over hers. He gave a single shake of his head to stop her, then stood once more to resume his place and his watchful gaze.
She met his gaze as best she could, knowing if she looked around the way she longed to, her darting eyes would seem frantic, panicked. All the same, her mouth was going dry and her stomach was threatening a nervous rumble to break the silence.
“When are you leaving?” Jacopo asked.
“Um, what?” Her heart sank at the implication behind his words, her fingers twining painfully in the sheets.
“When are you leaving? Venezia, I mean.”
“Oh. Tomorrow morning. Jenn and I are taking the ferry to the airport.”
The blankness of earlier that morning washed over Jacopo's face. Emily studied him from her position on the bed, too shy to move and disturb his contemplation.
“What if you didn’t go tomorrow? What if you stayed here longer?”
Oh, my god...
Jacopo's eyes shifted back to her, the corners of his mouth turning slyly upward. “You would stay here. When Mamma returns, you would go to the guest room upstairs.”
She laughed and decided to play along. “I suppose we’d have to keep up appearances.”
“Sì, sì. You would stay upstairs, and I would visit you each night.”
Emily’s laughter caught in her throat. Dear God, he’s serious.
“I would visit you each night,” Jacopo repeated, removing his robe and hooking the hood of it on one bedpost. “We would have to make love quietly, so Mamma would not hear us.” He knelt on the bed once more, stalking slowly forward to pull the bedclothes out of her hands. Her fingers cramped, then released, the air cool on her sweating palms as he smoothed the counterpane out on either side of her and guided her to lie back, beneath him.
He kissed her, soft and slow at first, but with increasing passion until she found herself wrapped around him with little recollection as to how it had happened. His own arousal was readily evident and he pressed closer to her, an echo of his teasing dance from the night before.
“Luckily for us, Mamma isn’t here, now,” he murmured against her lips, and slipped inside her.
Jacopo picked up the cardboard tube and tapped his fingers along the length of it, his eyes restlessly scanning the room. Emily watched him out of the corner of her eye while he examined the tube with a seemingly indifferent gaze.
“You haven't opened it,” he said, a statement instead of a question.
“No, I haven't.”
Emily permitted herself a shrug and continued packing clothes in her suitcase.
“I'm waiting for the right moment?”
Jacopo put the tube back on the desk and opened the window. “And when might that be, Emily?” He crossed the room to stand beside her. “Before or after you leave Venezia?”
“I hadn't thought about it, really.”
He framed her face in his hands and kissed her with an intense, hungry effort until she dropped her handful of clothes atop the open suitcase on the bed. She could feel him smiling through the kiss even before he drew away and she could see it for herself.
He seemed about to speak, but kissed her again instead. His arms were tight around her so she had to struggle to put her arms around his neck and press against the length of him. His own warmth and the heat of the day made a sheen of perspiration on her body where they touched, and Emily moved against him, savoring the heat and craving more of it.
“Emily...” he murmured against the curve of her neck, and she shivered as his breath cooled on her skin.
“Yes?” she whispered, her lips brushing against his ear, and was gratified to feel his own shiver follow.
Another kiss, long and deep, and his hands were stealing furtively over her clothes, pushing them aside to stroke and caress her skin beneath. When he pulled away, her body followed as though of its own accord, unwilling to give up the contact.
“...Oddio...” his appreciative sigh was muffled in her hair as he unfastened the buttons of her blouse with impatient fingers. He scarcely managed to push the garment off her shoulders before he began undoing his own shirt and trousers with frantic energy, his hands and mouth returning to her again and again in fleeting, delirious feasting.
Emily didn’t need to see the bags beneath her eyes - she felt them there, swollen, containing the bulk of a restless night. The sleepless hours she’d passed alone were nearly enough to convince her that she’d surely started losing her mind since Jacopo left her alone in the hotel room.
The cardboard tube rested next to her as it had all night long, still unopened despite the loving caresses she’d imparted from time to time. Emily reviewed his giving of this gift over and over again, trying to guess which print it could be. It mattered, for some strange reason she couldn’t quite fathom. She desperately wanted to guess the contents before opening the tube, but had no reason.
It was just a gift, right? Nothing special about it.
Except for what he’d said, when he gave it to her; “I just thought you should have it, after I saw you admiring it in the shop.”
How did he see me looking at the prints? I was talking to the old man when Jacopo came in - I could swear it.
The prints were lovely, though. One, of a bridge to the square where the shop itself stood; the other, a watercolor of Proserpina eating the pomegranate seeds that would confine her to Hades.
So which was it? The bridge, or Proserpina? Proserpina or the bridge?
The question echoed in her head, an all-consuming thought, until at last the sun shone on the buildings across the canal, and she slept and dreamed.
I hope you've enjoyed these selections, and that they've at least made you a bit curious about Emily and Jacopo, and the twists and turns of their Venetian affair.
And no, I didn't forget.
I have a nice finish for all this reading for those who've read this far.
Enjoy, ladies (and gents of the correct persuasion...)!
Though I confess, I just liked this pic! ;)