Hearts at the Holy See
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The sheer old-world romance of Vatican City nearly took Amalie Winter’s breath away. The guards in their uniforms—much more regal and imposing than she’d anticipated—the height of the buildings, the breadth of Saint Peter’s Square, all combined to make her feel more as if she’d dropped into another century, rather than another country.
The glow of the sunset threw their shadows ahead of them as Amalie followed her cousin through the square. They navigated a wide boulevard screaming with traffic into a slightly quieter, and much narrower, two-lane street. An old street, old in age, old-fashioned in feel, almost like a page from an illustrated manuscript.
If Casey weren’t already five steps ahead and moving fast, Amalie would have stopped to soak in the ambiance.
“Where are you going?” she called.
“I need lunch.”
“Don’t you mean dinner? I think you’re still on U.S. time.” Amalie had no idea what time zone she’d landed in. Exhausted, excited, exhilarated, she didn’t care what the clock said. For the first time in her life, she was in Vatican City. Or—she looked around—just outside the tiny country, and now, in Rome.
The light faded from bright, new-coin shiny to a darker tarnished gleam, and the gold of the manuscript lost its glitter.
Amalie grinned at Casey as she caught up.
Casey made another detour, and they came to a street so narrow, two normal sized vehicles couldn’t pass each other with more than half an inch clearance. But no cars tried. Instead, pedestrians filled the place, making the walk a struggle against whatever tide the rest of the world followed. Casey barreled past three restaurants, each reaching out with scents that tried to grab Amalie by the nose and slow her down.
“How much farther—” she started, but Casey was gone, disappearing inside the door of yet another delicious smelling lure. Amalie sidled in after her, just in time to see three waiters converge.
The first got to hand Casey a menu, the second threw his arms around Casey, welcoming her in a delightful mix of English and Italian. The third got the consolation prize—Amalie. Used to the phenomenon, Amalie gave him a smile that left him blinking and headed for the group now gathered around her cousin.
“I take it you’ve been here before,” she said when waiter number two turned to babble at waiter number one, obviously demanding more services than customers usually received. “This must be the famous Rossetti restaurant.”
Casey blushed. “Yup. That’s Leo. I’ll introduce you in a few minutes.”
Amalie studied waiter number two, who had transformed into a young man named Leo—AKA Casey’s one true love. His dark eyes flashed as he gave even more instructions, and he topped the other waiter by several inches—and had towered over Casey. When he turned back, she caught a look on his face which told Amalie that Casey, at least, had picked someone with a true heart.
“Casey, caro, I didn’t expect you to come until tomorrow. I am so pleased!”
“I couldn’t wait to see you.” And when his eyes lit up even more, Casey added, “This is Amalie.”
She got the same tremendous hug that Casey had, and then Leo stepped back with his hands still on her shoulders. “You are Casey’s special cousin. I’m honored to meet you.”
If he weren’t officially Casey’s, Amalie might have swooned.
An older couple joined them. The man wore what would be Leo’s face in twenty years, and the woman, dressed in classic black, with gray threading through her hair, motioned them all to a large table which was surrounded by seven chairs. She shouted in Italian at the man, at Leo, and finally, at waiter number one, who scurried off.
Casey grinned through it all, but Amalie, after a terrified study of the older woman, edged closer to her cousin.
Leo held a chair for Casey then hurried around the table, waving Amalie to join him, where he seated her with the same flourish. “Please. Armino will bring appetizers.”
The older man held the chair next to Amalie for his wife, and sat next to her. Leaning around the woman, he pointed to himself. “Bernardo,” he said, and then, putting his hand on his wife’s shoulder, he said, “Manuela.”
Manuela nodded and beamed. At least she didn’t yell.
Amalie introduced herself in a like manner, sure that this might be the only type of communication they’d be able to have unless Leo could tear himself away from mooning over Casey to translate. Or Manuela started shouting again.
So this man—this gorgeous man—was the reason Casey had begged Amalie to come to Italy with her, had bribed her with promises of tours of Vatican City, and even, if at all possible, a Mass with the Pope presiding. Amalie’s heart bubbled with excitement. If Casey could deal with her prospective mother-in-law—and Amalie had no doubt Casey could—then her world was set. And if Amalie attended a Mass with the Pope—her world would be full, as well.
Waiters number one and three carried out platters brimming with mounds of cheese, bread, olives, and tiny bowls of herb-infused oil, followed by yet another waiter, who carried an armful of small plates and silverware. After he handed these around the table, he pulled napkins from the waistband of his apron and then, with a flourish, sat on Amalie’s other side.
The most gorgeous of all men in Italy—even more so than Leo, as if that were possible—sat next to Amalie.
She gaped at him then smiled. Chances were, he was yet another member of Leo’s family. He certainly shared the Roman nose, and even better, his dark eyes crinkled at the corners in a way that could set Amalie’s heart pounding. She hoped his English came closer to Leo’s proficiency rather than Bernardo’s.
She pointed to herself. “Amalie.”
His mouth twitched as he poked at his own chest. “Giovanni Rossetti. Yes, another Rossetti. Leo’s cousin, this time. Pleased to meet you, Casey’s cousin. She’s told us a lot about you.” He held out his hand.
Amalie blinked as she shook it. “Wow, your English is really good. You have hardly any accent.”
“I hope not, since I grew up in Los Angeles.”
At least the night and the candles did what they could to hide her blush. “Oh. I’m sorry. I thought—”
His eyes twinkled. “I don’t blame you. But you’re safe talking to me. No sign language required.” He held out a platter of crostini and, after she’d served herself a few, offered the olives, then the cheese. Once she’d over-filled her plate, he did the same and then dunked a round of bread into the oil. “Casey tells us this is your first time in Italy. I hope you enjoy it.”
“I will.” Then, when he glanced at Leo, his mouth twitching again, she hurried to add, “I’ve wanted to visit Vatican City practically my whole life.”
“Have you?” He tilted an eyebrow at her and then reached for more olives.
“I’ve been researching for years, just in case.” Amalie nearly squirmed with the delight of seeing everything she’d learned right there in front of her, real life. “There’s so much history—”
“And you’ve read all the books and seen all the movies?”
“Some of them. I liked Anthony Quinn in Shoes of the Fisherman, but I think it ended up being a bit controversial.”
His mouth twitched. “I haven’t seen that one.”
“Well, there’s a bit about selling all the church’s treasures. I mean, if they did, what would we have to visit now?”
“You’ve got a point.”
“The Agony and the Ecstasy is better.”
“That one, I’ve heard of. It’s about Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel, isn’t it?”
“Yes!” Clearly, this man had absorbed at least a drop of Catholic culture.
After he chose another oil-dripping olive, Giovanni glanced up. “I think Casey’s roped both Leo and me into being your tour guides.”
“Roped you?” Oh, now this sounded bad. No doubt Leo would love spending the next two weeks with Casey, but why on earth had her cousin bribed a man to drag Amalie around? And with what? “That’s not necessary. But thank you.”