“When I was a child I had leukaemia, and there were times when it looked as if I wouldn’t make it. I lost all my hair.”
He reached out and put his hand to her thick dark hair and the gentle gesture nearly dissolved her.
“But I pulled through. Life is a gift and I was given that gift. But only one life – mine. The doctors told me that as a result of the treatment, I would never give life to another. I can never have children. I couldn’t do that to you, Cesare. You’d make a perfect father.”
“Is that it?” His voice was soft. The sky suffused his face with peach and coral. “Was that why you turned me down?”
She nodded, tears in her eyes.
“Dearest Mel, I will only ask you one question. For only one question really matters. Do you love me?”
Mel listened to the water lapping against the boat, and the seagull’s calls as they dived for titbits on the shore. This place was timeless; Cesare’s question was timeless.
How many men had asked that of how many women over the centuries? Some destined to be overjoyed, some to be crushingly disappointed.
She looked at his fine bone structure, his kind eyes, and realised she didn’t need any time to think about her answer.
“Of course I do.”
He took her hand and held it tight.
“Then that is all that matters. For I know that you are the one I want, and only you. That is enough. It doesn’t matter one bit if we can’t have children.
“You are all I need, Mel,” he added. “I love you with all my heart. Let us try one more time. Tell me you will marry me. Please.”
He held her hand and she could feel he was shaking. The truth in his gaze wiped all of her painful worries away. Together they could make it work.
“If you’re sure . . .” she heard herself say.
His smile was as big and bright and all-encompassing as the massive sun on the horizon.
“I have never been so sure about anything.”
“Yes, then, Cesare. If you are sure it doesn’t matter, I will marry you.”
He gathered her in his arms, placed a kiss on the top of her head and the two of them watched the sky melding from orange fire to glowing embers. Mel had truly never felt happier.
Maybe she would now have a home to call her own. Like the two people in the harbourside house, she and Cesare, just the two of them, could be happy.
Mihovil’s grandfather glanced back and nodded his head as the boat continued chugging through the water. They went on for a few minutes in silence.
As they rounded the cove, Mel remembered the reason she had brought Cesare here.
“Look, Cesare,” she said, sitting up. “There in the distance you can just see the lights of the Villa Lavanda, and below it is the cove where Makso’s yacht is moored. Somebody wanted me to see it this evening. I wanted you to see it, too.
“What on earth do you think they are loading on and off that boat there? It’s nearly dark now. My eyes are good, but I can’t make out what’s going on.”
“These will help.” From his pocket, Cesare took a set of binoculars. “I brought these special night-vision binoculars. They even have thermal imaging.”
Mihovil’s grandfather had started to take an interest, too, and pointed as if to ask if they wanted to go closer to the shore.
Cesare shook his head and motioned to him to cut off the motor.
They appeared to be just a fishing boat, searching for the first catch of the evening. The boat bobbed and drifted on the gentle swell, quietly and slowly closer to land.
“What can you see?” Mel whispered.