I Found My Heart In San Francisco
Book 16: Paradigm
By: Susan X Meagher
Catherine woke on Saturday morning, her nose itching where Giacomo’s chest hair tickled it. She wasn’t sure how long they’d been asleep, but from the pale light coming in the window it looked like it was almost dawn. She was amazed that she didn’t feel jet-lagged, but her mind was humming along at its usual morning pace.
She stirred a tiny bit and heard Giacomo’s sleepy voice ask, “Why doesn’t your daughter like me?”
Lifting her head from his chest, Catherine looked at her lover. He was barely awake, but he looked deeply troubled. “It’s not you,” she said, moving up to kiss his cheeks, then his lips. “She doesn’t like that I’m seeing a married man. She thinks it’s wrong on every level.”
“And what about you? Why have you changed your mind about being with me?”
“You look so worried,” Catherine said. She scooted up and pressed Giacomo’s head against her chest, ignoring the bristly stubble of his beard as it rubbed against her skin.
“I am,” he said quietly. “I don’t want you to change your mind again. I can make myself sick thinking about the day I received your letter.”
“My poor dear,” she soothed. “I never should have written to you that way. I honestly didn’t realize how deep your feelings were.”
He tilted his head, gazing up at her, his expression so sad that her stomach flipped. “I always made it clear. Didn’t you believe me?”
Hating to tell the truth, but resolved to do so, Catherine said, “I suppose I didn’t. I know this isn’t a good excuse, but Jim lied to me so consistently that I have trouble believing you. And it’s still hard for me to believe that a handsome young man like you truly desires an older woman. It’s almost always the other way around at home.”
Giacomo showed a wan smile. “Age doesn’t matter. I’d be attracted to you if you were eighteen or fifty-eight.”
“Do you…do you prefer older women?”
His smile grew. “Do you think I have an attraction only to women older than me?”
Catherine shrugged, a little embarrassed.
“It’s not true. Tessa is older than I am, but I’ve loved women who were younger.”
“We don’t have to discuss this—”
“No, it’s good to talk. And I like to think about why I do things.” His eyes closed for a few moments, his forehead lined with thought. “The first woman I had sex with was much older. Maybe that let me see that women of all ages can make magic.”
Catherine nodded. “The logical part of me knows that. But Jim always wanted young women. The girl he’s dating now is just a few years older than Jamie. That has always made me feel…old and worn out.”
Laughing, Giacomo turned his head and nuzzled between Catherine’s breasts. “I’m the one who’s worn out! I think we should go back to sleep until at least noon!”
“I don’t feel worn out when I’m with you.” She stroked his dark head, running her fingers through the thick hair. “I feel young and energetic and so very alive.”
“While I feel old and tired and depleted,” he joked. “You’ll be looking for a younger man to keep up with you.”
“That won’t happen, Giacomo. You’re just perfect for me.”
He pulled away and scooted up to her eye level. “I had a perfect idea during the night! I thought of what you said about not being able to be ourselves here in Milan. So, let’s go to Capri!”
“Capri? Do you know a place there?”
“Yes. Several. When I was young, my family went often to Capri. I have many wonderful memories there and I’d like to share them with you.”
“That sounds like fun,” Catherine said. “When should we go?”
“After you hold me in your arms and let me sleep. I must replenish myself to be able to love you the way I wish to.”
Catherine kissed him, while squeezing him tightly. “How could I ever say no to a request like that?”
Giacomo was awake and brimming with energy when he woke again. Shortly after he’d fallen asleep, Catherine had snuck out of bed and showered and dressed. “Cara!” he called. “You’ve abandoned me!”
She started down the hall, but he met her before she’d gone three steps. “What a delightful vision,” he purred, giving her one of his most lascivious looks. “We can go to Capri another day.”
“No, no, no,” she said, pinching his chin. “I’m not going to drain your energy just when you’ve gotten it back. We’ll travel today and spend tomorrow in bed.”
“A wonderful plan,” he agreed, smiling broadly. “I’ll be ready in moments. Then we can have some breakfast and go to the station.”
“Station? We’re taking the train?”
“Yes, yes, it’s the easiest way. It’s how my family always went.”
“All right. I’ll go down to the bar and buy you an espresso. I already have some bread.”
“I’d like a double, please. I have to be at my best!”
The ride was long, but Giacomo had secured first class accommodations, so they were able to enjoy the trip in private. As the train sped past the industrial cities and small towns, Catherine mused that Giacomo never allowed her to pay for anything unless the cost was inconsequential. He’d bought the train tickets, and she knew he’d pay for their hotel. She had no idea how much money he had, but she guessed he did well. There was something nice about not knowing how well fixed he was, and she hoped she would never find out.
Giacomo was holding her hand and he gave it a slight squeeze. “Are you dreaming?”
“Yes,” she said, smiling at him. “I was day-dreaming.”
“What is it that you dream of?”
She stretched and moved her shoulders back and forth. “I dream of seeing the ocean in Capri. I’ve only been there once, I think, and it was many years ago.”
“You will love it,” he said with his usual zeal. “I haven’t been in a long time, either. But it will be wonderful.” He brought Catherine’s hand to his lips and kissed it, then spent some time looking at it closely. “Such lovely hands you have, so tender and soft.”
“They haven’t been subjected to much hard work,” she teased.
“No, that’s not it. They’re gentle and delicate, just as you are. If you were a grape-picker, they’d be just as gentle.”
“Giacomo,” she said, her voice suddenly serious. “Why do you love me?”
He turned and blinked, his dark eyes searching her face. “Why do you ask me that? Do you not believe that I do?”
“No. I believe you. But I… I’m not sure what made you love me. I’d really like to know.”
Looking puzzled, he spent a few moments gazing contemplatively out the window. “I don’t think I have the ability to tell you why I love you, Catherine. That would be like listing the reasons I love art. I don’t have words for the things that mean the most to me. Feelings and words don’t work together very well.”
“Never mind,” she said, giving his leg a squeeze. “It’s not important.”
“If you asked the question, it’s important,” he said. “I know you.”
She looked at him curiously. “Do you?”
“Yes, I think I do. And when you ask a question like that—there’s a reason.”
“Not a good reason. I just,” she looked away, thinking for a bit. “I didn’t know why Jim loved me, if he did.”
“Then I’ll try to tell you.”
His expression grew serious and thoughtful. Catherine put her arm around him and said, “Don’t worry about it. It was just a passing question.”
“No, I’m going to make the words come,” he said, lips pursed. “Give me a moment.”
She hugged him, then sat back in her seat, delighting in watching him struggle with the question. After a few minutes, he looked at her and said, “I have some explanations. They’re not the best, but, as I said, this isn’t something I can put words to.”
“I understand,” she said, unable to stop smiling at his earnestness.
“I love the way you inhabit your body.”
She blinked. “Pardon? What do you mean by that?”
“Did I not say it properly? I mean that you seem very confident and comfortable in your body.”
“Hmm, that’s what you said, but I don’t know what you mean.”
He looked a little unsure of himself, but he explained. “Some people look like they’ve borrowed a body that they’d like to return. You look like you fully inhabit yours. That’s very appealing.”
“Thank you,” she said, still not really seeing his point.
“You walk with a beautiful, graceful fluidity. You’re never clumsy or ungainly. Your body is you. Do you understand?”
“I think so. Yes, that makes sense.”
“You’re very elegant, very refined. There is nothing coarse about you. Every part is beautiful. Your manners, your speech, everything.”
She smiled and shrugged. “My mother’s influence.”
“Whoever guided you did a very lovely job. Your voice is never harsh or grating. You have no bad habits at all! I’ve never known a woman who didn’t annoy me in some way.”
“You shouldn’t annoy someone you love,” she said, leaning over to kiss him.
“No, you shouldn’t, but everyone does!”
“You don’t annoy me, either. It must be fate.”
“I’m very thankful for fate if she brought you to me. Your elegance and sophistication would be enough for any man, but you’ve been blessed with a wonderful mind. I admire the way you think, Catherine. You have your own views, and I can tell that you don’t parrot other people. You think for yourself, and you express yourself in the most gracious manner. And the best thing about you is that you don’t force your views on others. I admire that very much.”
“How do you know I don’t do that?” she asked, truly mystified.
“Because you’ve never done it to me and I know you don’t do it with your daughter. I recall how sad you were when she was falling in love with Ryan but she wouldn’t confide in you. Even though you were hurt, you didn’t punish her for keeping her secret.”
“I couldn’t very well do that—”
“Of course you could! Most people do! It’s so easy to hurt the people we love when they hurt us. But you don’t do that. I know you don’t.”
“You know a lot of things about me that I’m sure you haven’t had the opportunity to test.”
He gazed at her for a moment, his eyes filled with love. “You don’t test the people you love. Love is built on faith.”
She smiled at him. “That’s beautiful.”
“So is love. I’m not good at telling you why I love you, but I feel so much love for you that it hurts me sometimes. I feel like my heart will break when I look into your eyes when we make love. Why? I don’t know. Why does Carravaggio make me cry? I can’t express why, but he does. That’s what matters.”
Catherine gently touched his cheek, then cupped his chin in her hand. “You’re right. It doesn’t matter why you love me, it only matters that you do. And I believe you do, Giacomo. I truly do.”
The phone rang early on Saturday and Jamie picked it up. “Hello?”
“Hi, Niall. How are things?”
“Nothing,” she said, smiling. “Just making conversation.”
“Oh. Right. Well, Bren gave us the contract he drew up. Are you sure this is fair?”
He paused for a second. “Yeah. Who else?”
“No one,” she said, very glad the boys hadn’t found a profit-motivated investor. “Yes, it’s perfectly fair.”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“Okay. We’ll sign.”
“Great. Will I see you at Ryan’s graduation?”
“Uhm, I don’t know. Mam hasn’t told me if I’m going.”
“Well, I hope you do. But you’ll be at the party, right?”
“Right-o. See ya.”
“See ya, Niall.” She hung up and gave her lover a silly smile. “Someone could fleece those boys out of their own clothes.”
“Yeah, but they’d beat the guy to death if they ever found out.”
“Finding out might be a bit of a problem. They’re not particularly savvy when it comes to business.”
“Not particularly,” Ryan agreed, laughing. “That’s what happens when you still live with your parents and never have to make any decisions.”
“Niall doesn’t know if he’s coming to your graduation ’cause your Aunt Deirdre hasn’t told him his schedule.”
“See why he didn’t want to live in his house alone? Can you imagine?”
“The mind reels.”
Later that morning Ryan busied herself around the house, doing things that didn’t need to be done. Maria Los still cleaned the house every week, and she did an excellent job. But Ryan was dusting the books in the library, rearranging them according to some system that was over Jamie’s head.
Taking a book off the shelf, Jamie asked, “Why is George Sand next to Willa Cather?”
“She’s blue,” Ryan replied, not looking at her partner as she continued to dust.
“Which ‘she’ is that?”
“George Sand is a woman, too.”
“Weird. Well, they’re next to each other because they’re both blue.”
Ryan looked at her for a moment, seemed to take in a breath, then said, “I felt like rearranging. Does it bother you?”
“No, honey.” Jamie touched her back and scratched it lightly. “Bad mood?”
“No. I’m just cleaning.”
“Okay. Clean away.” She started to walk out of the room, then took one more look, seeing that Ryan was organizing the books by the colors of the bindings—something that she hoped her lover would change before anyone had to find anything quickly.
Jamie went upstairs, and when she reached the landing heard Mia call out, “Oh, James.”
“Yes?” She went into the messy room and sat on the bed.
Mia was standing in front of her closet, wearing nothing but a pair of very brief pink panties. “What should I wear?”
“To the game?”
“Are you going to both games?”
“It’s a double-header. Two games.”
Mia laughed. “Oh sure. I’d go to three if I could find another one.”
“That’s why I asked. Are you sure you wanna come at all?”
“No, I don’t, but I like to support Ryan. And it’s fun to sit with you. For an hour or two, that is. All day on those benches is not my idea of fun.”
“Then come to the first game and leave when you’re bored.”
“Okay. So, what should I wear?”
“It’s nice out, and we’ll be in the sun, so wear something sleeveless.”
“I don’t have anything sleeveless. What to do?” She looked at Jamie with her most angelic expression.
“Come on.” Jamie took her by the hand and led her to the bigger, better stocked closet. “Shirt or dress?”
“Hmm, a dress might be nice for later. I’m gonna go out to dinner with some of my main gays.”
“Are you going to a club after dinner?”
“Probably. The boys love to dance. And look at other boys.”
Jamie chuckled, still looking through her closet. “Hmm, then you’ll need a jacket, too. It’s supposed to get cooler.”
“Oh, all right. If you insist.”
“Here’s a shirt for the game. Do you need shorts?”
“I don’t need them…”
“Here’s some shorts and sandals. Do you need a bra?”
“Oh no, I’ve got bras; I’m just not in the mood.” Mia put on the shorts and shirt, then assessed her look in the mirror.
“Speaking of moods,” Jamie said, “Ryan’s in a bad one.”
“What’s up? PMS?”
“No. She’s anxious about her games, but she won’t say so.”
“Why’s she anxious? She never gets to play enough to have performance anxiety.”
“True. She’s worried because they’re playing Arizona, and they’re in the PAC-10. They haven’t beat ’em this year.”
“Well, even though Cal will make it to the NCAAs, they haven’t done well against the PAC-10. If they can’t beat ’em in the regular season, it’ll be even harder in the playoffs.”
“Gotcha. She wants to do well, but she can’t really help much if she doesn’t get to play.”
Jamie looked at her and smiled. “Good guess. I bet that’s it. She must feel powerless, and she really hates that.”
“Who doesn’t? Besides, she’s so good at everything she does, it must drive her nuts to sit on the bench and chew those disgusting seeds.”
Jamie laughed. “She likes the seeds. But I think you’re right about her not playing. So far she’s been cool about it, but she really loves her team and she wants them to do well. Not being able to make a difference must be getting to her.” She kissed Mia on the cheek. “Thanks!”
“No prob. Thanks for the daytime clothes. Now find me something to wear to dinner.”
Jamie and Jennie sat in the fading sun, waiting for Ryan and Heather to leave the locker room after the double-header. “Bad day,” Jamie said.
“6-14 in the PAC-10,” Jennie said, sighing. “Arizona doesn’t seem that much better than us, they just don’t make mistakes like we do.”
“Yeah.” Jamie nodded. “And when Arizona does make a mistake, they don’t seem to get rattled by it. But when Cal makes an error, you can count on a run or two scoring.”
“Yep.” Jennie rested her chin on her fists, looking utterly disconsolate. “Bad, bad day. Heather didn’t play, Ryan didn’t play, Ashley didn’t show up, Heather’s gotta study tonight, and your mom’s gone. I guess I’ve gotta go home.”
The girl looked so sad that Jamie immediately said, “No, you don’t. Let’s go out to dinner.”
The smile reappeared on Jennie’s face. “Really?”
“Yeah. Ryan and I haven’t been out in forever. Unless we’re on a road trip, that is. And that doesn’t count.”
“Sure you want me with you?”
“Absolutely. And you get to pick the place.”
“I can’t do that. I don’t know any place.”
“Well, then pick your favorite food.”
“Okay. Ryan will be very happy. There’s always a long wait at our favorite place, so we’ll get to chat for a long time.”
“Cool!” Now Jennie looked as happy as she usually did, and Jamie realized it wasn’t the dinner plans, it was her and Ryan’s company that made the girl happy.
It was dinnertime when Giacomo and Catherine reached Naples, and when they went into the station Giacomo took his cell phone from his pocket and made a call. The station was noisy and Catherine hated to eavesdrop, so she moved away to give him some privacy. She watched him from a distance, smiling privately as he gestured with his hands while he spoke. When he hung up, he walked over to her. “Everything is arranged.”
“Yes. We’re staying at The Grand Hotel Parker’s and having dinner in the hotel at George’s.” He snuck a look at his watch. “Our reservation is in 45 minutes, so we must rush.”
“You accomplished all of that in just a few minutes?”
He nodded and winked conspiratorially. “I have a service that acts as a concierge for me. They can arrange anything.” He snapped his fingers sharply. “They’ll have a hotel for us in Capri in a few minutes.”
“I think I need the number of this service,” Catherine said, taking Giacomo’s arm to head toward the cabstand.
Late that night, they stood on the balcony of their room, looking at the waxing moon making the water of the Bay of Naples sparkle like gems. “This is so beautiful,” Catherine said, her voice so quiet it was difficult to hear.
“One of the many things I love about you is how exquisitely you experience beauty. I can see it in your eyes. You’re often moved, and often speechless.”
“That’s true,” she said. “That’s one of the things I love about you, as well.” She turned and slipped her arms around him, tucking them under his jacket, relishing the feel of his starched, white linen shirt. “I feel so bonded to you when we look at art together. I know you experience the same level of pleasure I do, even though I’m sure we each have very different reactions to a particular piece.”
“Ahh…art. While we were eating I was thinking about Caravaggio and then I recalled that one of Artemisia Gentileschi’s paintings of Judith slaying Holofernes is at the Museo di Capolodimonte. I think we must stay long enough to see it, don’t you?”
“Just mentioning Caravaggio precipitated that plan?”
“Almost,” he grinned. “I love his painting of Judith, and Artemisia painted it twice. The earlier painting is here, but it’s nearly as good as the later one at the Uffizi. The piece bursts with emotion.” He put his hand over his heart while pretending to swoon.
“You don’t have to go overboard,” Catherine said, trying and failing to move him. “Goodness, you’re hard to move when you don’t want to!”
“But easy when I want to,” he said, once more lifting her and cradling her in his arms for a few moments. “The bay is lovely and Capri prettier still, but neither compares to you.” He kissed her tenderly, then whispered, “To bed?”
“To bed,” she murmured, pressing her lips to his as he carried her inside.
The wait was indeed long at the restaurant, so Jamie, Ryan, and Jennie took a long walk up and down College Avenue. Ryan didn’t wait long to try tactfully to find out what Jennie had been hinting about with Jamie at the previous game. “Who’re you hanging out with these days, Jen?” she asked.
“Same people—my buddies from school.”
“Unh-uh. You get in a group and you kinda stay in it.”
“Yeah, that’s true,” Ryan said. “Especially in high school.”
“I bet you were in the jock group,” Jennie said, looking at Ryan with her usual blend of admiration and love.
“Pretty much. I bet Jamie was in the nerd group. What do you think?”
Jennie laughed while Jamie swatted Ryan on the seat. “I was not,” Jamie said. “I was in the ‘hard-studying, well-behaved, respectful’ group. What do you call that?”
“Nerd,” Ryan and Jennie said in unison.
Jamie laughed. “I wasn’t really in that group. I couldn’t have been, since Mia and Cassie were in my clique.”
“I bet you were in the cool kids group,” Jennie said.
“Always was, always will be,” Jamie agreed, winking.
“What about the other girls in your house, Jen? Anybody new? I haven’t been over in a while,” Ryan said.
Jennie’s expression grew guarded and she answered quickly, “Yeah. One girl.”
“What’s her name?”
Jamie fought back a laugh. “Pebbles?”
“Yeah. Dumb name.”
“How old is she?” Ryan asked.
Jennie seemed fascinated by the display in a deli. “My age,” she said. “What’s panini?”
“It’s like an Italian sandwich,” Jamie said. “It’s grilled. You’d like it.”
“Tell me more about Pebbles,” Ryan said.
Jennie looked annoyed, but she answered. “Nothin’ to tell. She’s new, stupid, and lazy.”
“Sounds like a nice girl,” Ryan said, making Jennie look at her to judge her expression. “I’m kidding,” Ryan assured her. “Why’s she stupid?”
“Dunno. But she is.”
“Do you have to hang out with her?”
“Yeah,” Jennie mumbled. “I hafta share a room with her.”
“Mmm,” Ryan nodded. “How are you two getting along?”
“Fine.” Jennie started walking, leaving Jamie and Ryan to exchange puzzled glances.
Ryan caught up with the girl in three long strides. “What’s up? You said she was lazy. Is it hard to get your schoolwork done with her in your room?”
Jennie stopped and Ryan could almost see her mind working. “Yeah,” she said, the light back in her eyes. “It’s hard to study. She’s kinda noisy and she never does any work.”
“And that stops you from concentrating?”
“Yeah.” Now she was nearly smiling. “It’s hard to concentrate. I’m worried about finals.”
“Want me to talk to Sandy about switching you with someone?”
Jennie looked like she was going to leap up and kiss Ryan. “Would you? Do you think she’d do it?”
“I’d be happy to talk to her, Jen. If things aren’t working out, you need to speak up. Tell Sandy or me or Jamie, but you’ve gotta say something.”
“Yeah, I know,” she said, looking down. “I don’t like to complain.”
“It’s not complaining, bud. It’s taking care of yourself.”
“Okay. I’ll try.” She grasped Ryan’s hand and started to run back to the restaurant, dragging Ryan with her and laughing. “I’m starving!”
Later that night, Jamie walked into the bedroom and said to Ryan, “How’re you feeling about today?”
Ryan held the flashcard she was looking at in the air and turned to her partner. “What part of today?”
“The softball part.”
“Oh. Well, it certainly wasn’t how I wanted to finish the regular season. When Pam and Julie banged into each other for that error…” Her look of disgust finished the sentence without words.
Jamie sat on the bed and put her hand on Ryan’s knee. “Was that really bad?”
“Yeah. At least it was to me. When you play a game where one run is usually the difference, you can’t make mental errors like that. You can’t.”
“Why was that mental? I’d think running into each other is pretty physical.”
Ryan smiled a little. “It’s mental because it’s each woman’s job to call the other off if she’s gonna make the play. But people get skittish and they don’t attack the ball. They kinda…” She rolled her head around, looking goofy. “Wander around and hope someone else calls it. I hate that kinda play. If you’re not gonna attack it, get out of the way and let someone else make the play. Hell, Lupe could have dropped back from shortstop and had it.” Ryan looked not only disgusted, but perturbed.
“Makes you wish you were playing, doesn’t it?” Jamie asked gently.
“Shit, yes!” Blowing out a breath, Ryan got up and stalked over to the loveseat, where she proceeded to flop down inelegantly. “Drives me nuts to lose a game like we did today. That error just demoralized the team, and I hate that too. It kills me when I can see them give up.” She smiled and laughed softly. “Makes me wanna grab ’em and knock their heads together.”
“They’re pretty young,” Jamie observed, walking over to sit by her partner.
“Yeah, I know.” Ryan put an arm around Jamie. “But for the past ten years, someone’s been telling every player on that team how to make that play. It’s inexcusable.”
“You’re really worked up,” Jamie said, giving Ryan a sidelong glance. She reached over and touched her jaw. “This muscle is all tense.”
“We’re good, Jamers. We really are. And even though Arizona is better than us, they shouldn’t have been able to sweep us this year. They’re not that much better. I hate to miss opportunities, and we did that today.”
“Maybe you’ll get to play in the NCAAs.”
“Oh, it’s not that. One player isn’t going to turn the tide. It’s a mental toughness thing. Some of the players give in and give up pretty easily. I hate that.”
“I know you do, baby.” Jamie cuddled closer and rested her head on Ryan’s chest. “I like how you didn’t give up on Jennie tonight. I think you got to the root of what’s bugging her.”
“We’ll see. I’ve gotta talk to Sandy and see what she thinks.” She pursed her lips together. “I don’t think I’m gonna be able to get over there this week. She doesn’t work on Sunday, and I’ve got something every minute before I have to leave for Fresno.”
“I could go.”
Ryan patted her absently. “No, that’s okay. We can go together when I get home from the tournament.”
“I just hope Jennie’s not distracted this week. She’s got finals.”
“Hey, why don’t I call Sandy and see if Jen can stay here this week?”
Ryan smiled brightly. “Good idea. But…” She thought for a moment. “If you come down to Fresno, she’ll be here with just Mia. That’s like having the fox guard the henhouse.”
“Oh, Mia could watch her, but I’d hate to ask her to.” They were both quiet for a few minutes, each pondering the issue. “I wish my mom was home.”
“Hey! Marta is, right?”
“Right. And Jen would be close to school. I’ll call Marta in the morning and ask if she’d mind.”
“She’ll love it,” Ryan said, nudging Jamie with her shoulder. Someone to talk to and cook for.”
“You’re right. She’ll be in heaven. Good idea, O’Flaherty. Keep using that big brain.”
Ryan stretched when she stood. She held her hand out to Jamie and helped her to her feet. “I’m feeling pretty antsy. I don’t normally get so worked up about an error.”
Jamie wrapped an arm around her waist, hugging her. “I know you don’t. You’re putting some pressure on yourself.”
“Yeah.” They got into bed and spent a few moments getting settled. “I need to blow off some steam. I haven’t been able to do that for a long time.”
Jamie braced her head on her good arm. “What would you like to do?”
“Study,” Ryan said, sticking her tongue out and making a face.
“I’ve gotta study, babe. My final’s on Monday.”
“You don’t need to study all day. You’ve worked hard, baby, and you can’t pack much more into your brain at this point. I think you’d do better if you had some fun tomorrow.”
Ryan laced her hands behind her head. “Ahh, fun. I remember what that was like—barely.”
Jamie tickled her gently. “You poor baby. What would be fun for you?”
“Just about anything, anything that gets my heart racing.”
Jamie put her ear on Ryan’s breast, listening to her heartbeat. “I think we’ve been getting it going pretty good lately.”
“Yeah,” Ryan agreed, chuckling. “But I’d like to do something outside first before we get our hearts racing that way.”
“Boy, the bloom is off the rose,” Jamie teased. “Not even a year and you’d rather play outside than inside.”
Ryan pushed Jamie onto her back and leaned over her. “If I had to choose, I’d choose to stay inside.”
Smiling up at her, Jamie said, “You don’t have to choose. We can play all day.”
“Excellent. Now I’ll sleep like a baby, dreaming about playing with you.”
“And I’ll give you the night off so you can rest,” Jamie said, kissing Ryan’s cheek.
“You’re extremely generous to your sex slave. I appreciate it.”
“Oh, you’ll make up for it tomorrow. No doubt.”
Catherine lay in bed on Sunday morning, so lost in her thoughts that she didn’t hear or feel Giacomo waken. He startled her when he flexed the arm he had around her back and tumbled her onto his chest.
“Good morning.” He grinned, his eyes barely open.
“You’ve been tossing me around like a toy,” she said, giggling.
His expression turned serious and his eyes opened wide. “I won’t do it if it bothers you. But it’s fun.” He shrugged his shoulders, looking boyish.
Catherine kissed his chest several times, making her way up to his mouth. “I like it. It is fun and makes me feel young.”
“You are. You’re young and beautiful and very light. I feel like I could put you in my pocket.”
“I’m not that light. But I like the thought of being very close to you.” She rolled off him and tucked a pair of pillows under her head. “Men have often been tempted to pick me up, and I didn’t use to like it. But when you do it, it doesn’t feel like you’re being possessive.”
His brow furrowed and his eyes narrowed a bit. “Other men have been possessive?”
She waved off the comment. “I’m talking about years ago, when I was in high school.” She spent a few moments lightly touching his chest, her expression serious and contemplative. “I was thinking about Artemisia Gentileschi when I woke.”
“Yes. I was thinking about her life and what she was going through when she painted Judith the first time.”
Giacomo nodded somberly. “Ahh…you know her story. She had a very difficult life. I think every woman of that time did.”
“Yes,” she said idly, patting him. “That’s what I was thinking of. To create the kind of beauty she did while she was going through so much pain is remarkable. I so admire people who can go on when things are very hard for them. People like Artemisia give me hope.”
“You know much about art history. Why did you not work in the field?”
“Timing, I suppose. I know I could have been happy working in the arts, but…I chose to marry. Given how much I love Jamie, I’m content with my decision. But my life would have been very different, I think. Working might have given me some confidence, which I sorely lacked.”
“You?” he said, his eyes wide and alert. “You lacked confidence?”
“Very much. Even when I complain about aging, I don’t want to have my youth back. I’m much happier with myself now.”
He hugged her tightly while grinning so infectiously she was sure everyone in the hotel was now smiling. “I can’t imagine being happier with you, so let’s promise not to trade our lives away.”
“I promise,” she said, leaning close to kiss him once again.
After a quick breakfast in a bar, Giacomo and Catherine made a brief visit to the local museum to see the Gentileschi. Neither of them spoke when they looked at the painting, but they held hands the entire time. Catherine finally tore her gaze from the moving painting and nodded at Giacomo’s raised eyebrow. They left the museum and Giacomo hailed a cab, speaking quickly to the driver. Catherine didn’t pay much attention, still thinking about the painting, but when she saw they were nearing the port, she asked, “How are we getting to Capri?”
“You’ll see,” he said, smiling impishly.
Her attempts to elicit more information were met with a playful silence. Giacomo seemed very happy and Catherine could see how much he enjoyed keeping his small secret. When they arrived, he led her to a private dock where he revealed his secret—in the form of a fifteen-meter sailboat. “Goodness,” she said, a little wide-eyed. “I hope you know how to sail, because I’m not much help!”
“Of course I know how to sail,” he said, acting insulted. “My grandmother’s family is from Genoa.”
Catherine was fairly sure that not all Genovese were sailors, but she let the claim pass. “I don’t know that I’m strong enough to hoist the sails. Have you hired a crew?”
“Of course not!” He jumped aboard, then held out a hand to guide her onto the boat. “I want to be alone with you.” Once she was on deck, he wrapped her in his arms and hugged her excitedly. “Just you and me…out on this beautiful bay. What could be better?”
Smiling nervously, she said, “I’ve been sailing my whole life, but I’m not a wonderful sailor.” She surveyed the part of the bay she could see. “It looks a little choppy.”
“But the day is glorious!” He lifted his chin towards the sky, letting the bright sun warm his face. “A perfect day for sailing. We’ll have a wonderful time.”
He was so passionately exuberant that she couldn’t continue to express her reservations. She tried her best to look happy and tamp down the anxiety that was building in her. “How will you manage the whole boat? I can probably get the jib up, but the mainsail is beyond me.”
“Have no worries,” he said firmly. “Everything is set. I have to go settle some business. I’ll be right back.”
Catherine sat in the captain’s chair, surveying the harbor while trying to calm herself. She’d always viewed sailing as a test—one administered first by her father, and then by Jim. Both men had loved the sea and the rigors of sailing as close to the edge as possible. She was sure she would love the water if she were in a canoe on a tranquil lake, but it had never been like that. She had been very happy when Jamie was infected with a love for the sea, and she could let Jim take her alone. It gave them time together, which they loved, and it let her not disappoint her husband when she would be holding on, white-knuckled, while the boat cut a razor-thin edge through the water.
She’d never complained, and she wasn’t sure if her father, Jim, or Jamie knew how fearful she was of racing. She’d always tried to put up a good front, but she knew Jim was often disappointed when she didn’t express the same kind of animated joy that he found in sailing.
Giacomo returned while she was swirling lazily in the chair. He brought their bags aboard, then presented her with a large basket containing all sorts of comestibles, as well as two bottles of wine. “Well, you’ve been a very busy man. Or someone at your concierge service has been busy,” she corrected, sticking her tongue out at him.
“The result is the same,” he declared. “The details are of no consequence. Now, let me take the helm and we’ll be off.” She swallowed thickly as he started the powerful engine, then got up and released most of the lines. “Can you hold on to this last line? You can drop it into the water when we’re clear.”
“I can stand on the dock and do that. I’m not entirely helpless.”
“Whatever you choose. I want you to be happy.”
That was a new direction in her sailing history, and she smiled, hoping that Giacomo was sensitive enough to realize she wasn’t a thrill-seeker. She stepped off the boat and held onto the bow line, letting it out slowly as he guided the boat from the slip. Gracefully, she stepped aboard, tossing the line onto the dock. “Brava!” he yelled, clapping loudly.
She bowed, then stepped carefully around winches, lines and stays on her way back to the helm. Standing behind Giacomo, she rested her hands on his shoulders, watching over his head as he guided the boat from the harbor.
The bay was a little rough and the wind was blowing briskly. He turned his head and kissed her hand. “Watch how easy,” he said. He pressed a button and used a lever to unfurl the mainsail, setting and trimming it without leaving his seat. “We could sail to Africa and you wouldn’t get a blister on your lovely hands.”
“This is nice. Very nice.”
“I like to sail the old-fashioned way, but this is much nicer when you merely want to enjoy the day. The less you work, the more you enjoy.”
Kissing his ear, she said, “I like the way you think.”
They were going fairly slowly, but as the boat thudded into gully after gully Catherine began to feel the all-too-familiar sensations of insipient seasickness. Not wanting to ruin Giacomo’s fun, she said, “I’m going below for a moment. I’ll be right back.” She made a mad dash for the head, where she lost her breakfast. She stayed below for as long as she could stand it, even though she knew her seasickness was always worse belowdecks. She wanted to make sure she wasn’t going to be sick again because Giacomo would surely know she was having trouble. When she was as steady as she thought she’d get, she rinsed her mouth and went back outside, smiling as sincerely as possible.
Giacomo was clearly more attuned to her than Jim had been, because he took one look at her and said, “You’re ill.”
“I’m fine. Really I am. I think I needed a little more breakfast. The espresso I had was a little too acidic.”
“Come stand by me,” he demanded. When she complied, he looked at her carefully. “Do you usually get seasick?”
“Not usually,” she hedged. “But it’s not infrequent.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because you seemed so happy. I didn’t want to ruin your fun.”
“No, no, that’s not what I mean. I can cure your seasickness.”
She blinked. “You can?”
“Yes. My daughter will sometimes feel sick and I can always make her feel better. Come,” he said, indicating his lap.
Tilting her head, Catherine squeezed between him and the wheel. “Now what?”
“Cianna sits on my lap and steers. It helps every time.”
Catherine turned and gave him a suspicious look. “I think this is just a way to get me on your lap.”
Grinning lasciviously, he asked, “Is that so bad?”
“I suppose not.” With assistance, she sat astride his leg.
“Good. Now hold on to the wheel.” She did, noting that he kept his hand lightly on the wheel as well. “Now, look out at the sea and decide where you want to go and how you want to hit a wave. You’re in control.”
“How do I know?” she asked, her voice tight with fear.
“It’s easy. This boat is yours. You are the captain. It will do what you tell it. You can master the sea.”
“I can barely master the swimming pool!”
“Nonsense. The faster you go, the less you will feel the sea. I’m going to put up the Genoa, then we’ll be able to really move.”
She was too frightened to protest, so he pushed a few buttons and she watched the large foresail unfurl. He nudged her a little and she got to her feet. “Put both hands on the wheel.” She did—hesitantly. “Look at the sea. You’ll feel less if you cut across the waves. Don’t worry about where we go, just make the boat perform like you want her to.”
Catherine did as she was told, and after a few minutes she realized she was concentrating so hard that she no longer felt ill. She also noted that Giacomo was pressing firmly against the pressure points in her wrists. As the minutes ticked by, she started to feel more in control. A good fifteen minutes later, she felt one of Giacomo’s arms encircle her waist.
“Yes. And your color is good. No more green in your cheeks.”
“Mmm…that sounds attractive.”
“I’ve found that the key to many things is to do your best to have some control. If you can gain that, you can master it.”
“Put your arms around me,” Catherine said. When Giacomo did she leaned back against him, snuggling her head against his neck. “I’ve never felt so good aboard a boat. This is the first time I don’t feel like a bottle being washed out to sea, bobbing around without any control.”
“Then you’ll be the captain when we sail. A very easy solution.”
She took her eyes from the bay and turned to kiss his cheek. But those few seconds of inattention made her stomach roil again and she slipped off his lap and made for the head. Her hand was over her mouth, and she didn’t even try to disguise her plight. A few minutes later she was back, giving Giacomo a wry smile. “The captain is not allowed to kiss the assistant captain.”
“Come back,” he urged. She did, standing between him and the wheel. Being on her feet and steering helped again, and Giacomo went to get some crackers, which he fed to her in bite-sized pieces. When her stomach was calm again she drank some mineral water, then Giacomo guided her towards Capri, only taking over when they were within view of the harbor.
Attendants were on hand to jump aboard the boat and secure it. Giacomo started handing out Euros, and Catherine heard him tell a young man where to have their bags delivered. He led Catherine off the boat, then took her hand. They walked for a while, then entered a quiet café. “Now it’s time for some solid food,” he stated.
When they’d ordered, he took her hand again. “I wish you had told me that you didn’t enjoy sailing,” he said, gazing deeply into her eyes. “I only want to do things that we both like. This is our vacation.”
“But I want you to do things you like.”
“Ridiculous,” he said, scowling at her. “I can do what I like any time. This is our time. For both of us.”
She nodded, then said, “I would have said something, but I thought I might have conquered my seasickness. In the last few years I haven’t had any trouble. Just last summer Jamie and I went sailing in Rhode Island and I didn’t have a twinge of discomfort.”
“Why do you think you were ill today?”
“Just nerves,” she admitted shyly. “I want to please you, but I was afraid I’d get sick—so I did.”
“Oh, my Catherine, you always please me. From now on I want you to tell me what you like, what you don’t like, what you’re afraid of. We can avoid the things you don’t like and revel in the things you do.”
“You make a convincing argument,” she said, grinning when the waiter put a plate of fresh, crusty bread in front of her. “Nothing helps my stomach as much as bread. I’ll be fine in no time.”
They walked around town for over an hour after lunch. The sun was warm and beat down on them constantly. Stopping to sit on a bench in the shade, Catherine rested her head on Giacomo’s shoulder and sighed. “I need a nap,” she said.
“Ahh…something we both like.” He kissed the crown of her head, stood and held out a hand to help her up. “Let’s go home.”
They grabbed a cab and silently watched the little car climb a series of steep hills, finally stopping near the end of a narrow street. Giacomo paid the driver, then led Catherine to a large iron gate snuggled into an overgrown hedge. Giacomo took out a set of keys and dangled them tauntingly in front of a grinning Catherine. “I have a little treat for you,” he sang.
He jostled the key into the old lock and finally got it to turn. Then he swung the gate open, revealing a lovely white stucco villa surrounded by a profusion of flowers and green plants. “Ahh…the fragrance is fantastic,” Giacomo said, breathing in heavily.
“It’s divine! Oh, Giacomo, the house is wonderful.” She took a breath and her smile grew wider. “Such a lovely scent.”
“The sea, the flowers, the sun—even the earth smells fantastic on Capri.”
She started to walk backwards up the pathway, tugging at Giacomo’s hand. “I can’t wait. Open the door!”
He dashed ahead, laughing when she ran after him, leaning over his shoulder while he tried to open the cranky lock. The lock finally clicked and he threw the door open, revealing a large, two-story entryway tiled in a lovely blue and yellow pattern.
Catherine entered holding Giacomo’s hand. “It’s wonderful,” she purred, looking around the cool, casually furnished living room. All of the furniture was white, and the accents were clear blue and bright yellow, perfectly matching the tile floor. She started through the house with Giacomo’s arm tucked around her waist. “A pool!” she exclaimed when they walked through the dining room and looked out the four large doors that led to the patio and gardens.
“I hate to swim with a crowd,” he said, sniffing snootily.
“This is so wonderful,” she repeated as they went from room to room. They finally climbed the stairs to their room, which was spacious, bright and airy. The doors were open, letting a warm, moist breeze into the room. The sun was shining onto the center of the bed, and Catherine kicked off her shoes. “I love to sleep with the sun on me.”
“If you love it, I love it.” Giacomo began to undress her, taking his time while he interspersed his actions with soft, teasing kisses on the skin he revealed. When he was finished he let her perform the same task for him, smiling at her intensity as she worked on the small buttons of his linen shirt.
He pulled the covers from the bed, exposing soft white sheets. Catherine practically dove for the bed, moaning her appreciation of the luxurious sensations that engulfed her bare skin. Giacomo slid in behind her and began to delicately kiss her neck and shoulders, but Catherine’s response was a series of sleepy sighs and a yawn. So he wrapped his arm around her waist, pressed his head to her back, and held her until sleep came to them both.
Late that afternoon they sat by the pool, light cotton robes covering them. Giacomo had made cold drinks, mixing a pinot grigio with sparkling water. They sipped their drinks, wordlessly watching the light breeze skim over the cool, blue water. Perfectly comfortable with the silence, they held hands and enjoyed the shade. Catherine eventually got up and sat on the edge of Giacomo’s chaise. Without a word she started to kiss him, feeling his smile against her lips. In just a few minutes they were locked in an embrace, enjoying the afternoon in a more active, but equally relaxing pastime.
Continued in Part Twelve
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