As she talked she was surprised at the amount she had taken in. They chatted and he interjected every now and then with interesting facts from his extensive knowledge.
He had a quirky way of explaining things with little diagrams. In a while she sat in front of paper napkins with historical time lines and tips from Ryan on how to test the provenance of antiquities.
“Tonight, we’ll all be asking Makso about correspondence or old catalogues which he’ll have to go with his artworks, proving they’re genuine.
“Each item will have a story, details of where it’s been exhibited, invoices from when and where it was sold. But that’s the business side of art. Which of his pieces do you like and which do you hate?”
“Well, he has a beautiful pink alabaster goddess. He told me all about her this morning. She’s cold to the touch and so beautiful.”
They began a discussion.
“There,” he said finally. “You’re really getting into your stride because you’re expressing your own opinions. You’re backing up your views with valid arguments.
“Be yourself tonight, Mel, and you’ll surprise even the great Makso Yurcich.”
Ryan sat back, crossing his long legs.
“I feel better now, thanks. It’s an amazing coincidence bumping into you.”
“Not at all.” He waved his hand at the square. “Vodnjan’s a little place. I’ve sat here most of the morning and keep seeing the same people. You’re not in London any more, like I’m not in San Francisco.”
She glanced at her watch.
“Goodness, time’s flown. I must get back.”
“And I have places to go and people to see.”
He shook her hand, holding it a second more than necessary and looking into her eyes.
“I look forward to renewing our acquaintance this evening.”
As she cycled away with a light heart, Mel mused on how one person with a positive attitude could turn a day round. Ryan Peacock had given her confidence in herself.
What was more, he was very handsome, and she found herself blushing at the way he’d looked at her.
* * * *
Cesare sat in silence at the desk in his police station office in Sorrento.
He’d bought a special pad of expensive writing paper, but after trying yet again to pen a letter to Mel, always in his thoughts, he threw it in the bin. The pad was nearly finished and he still hadn’t been able to say what was in his heart.
How do you tell a girl you love how much you’re hurting, and how much you miss her without scaring her away?
How do you ask to try again without sounding as if you’re begging?
It was late, and he must work. Later, he resolved, he would write the letter. He would try to write to the girl he had asked to marry him, the girl who had turned him down and inexplicably run away.
But for now, he was done in, his emotions frayed.
He straightened his tie, and got back to work. Work was the only place he could find solace.
* * * *
Mel freewheeled out of the square, past coloured shutters brightly reflected in the afternoon sun.
The lavender fields marked the edge of Makso’s impressive estate. Perfume from the purple flowers lay thick on the afternoon air, and all seemed right with the world until she drew near the walls of the villa and heard an unholy commotion.
There was barking and shouting, raised voices and even crying. She cycled faster. War had broken out at the normally peaceful Villa Lavanda.
As she turned the corner, there in the driveway, clutching his arm, was the chauffeur, Ivan. The housekeeper’s husband was staring daggers at Makso, who stood with a guard dog at his side while his poor wife Severina wept.
Their son, sixteen-year-old Mihovil, comforted her, all the while looking warily at the stand-off between Makso and his injured father.
Mel skidded to a halt next to Mihovil. In all the upset, the birthmark on the boy’s cheek stood out like a red traffic light.
“What’s going on?”