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Authors: Lauren Henderson

Flirting in Italian

BOOK: Flirting in Italian
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also by lauren henderson

Kiss Me Kill Me

Kisses and Lies

Kiss in the Dark

Kiss of Death


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


Copyright © 2012 by Lauren Henderson
Jacket art copyright © 2012 by Britt Erlanson/Getty Images


All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.


Delacorte Press is a registered trademark and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.


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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data


Henderson, Lauren.
Flirting in Italian / Lauren Henderson.—1st ed.
p. cm.
Summary: Spending the summer in the Tuscany region of Italy on a secret mission to solve a family mystery, a teenaged English girl is distracted by her exciting American roommates and some sexy Italian boys on Vespa scooters. eISBN: 978-0-375-98452-5


[1. Identity—Fiction. 2. Dating (Social customs)—Fiction. 3. Tuscany
(Italy)—Fiction. 4. Italy—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.H3807F1 2012




Random House Children’s Books supports the
First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.




For all the Lucas, Giacomos, Giovannis, Riccardos, Francescos, and Sebastianos I danced with during my party years in Tuscany; for Sabina Broadhead, who was always beside me when I was dancing on tables, and whose house the girls visit for the party; and in fond memory of Golia the donkey, who lived there and was exactly as described in this book.


Ci sono trenta modi per salvare il mondo,
ma uno solo perché il mondo salvi me—
che io voglia star con te, e tu voglia star con me

There are thirty ways to save the world, but only one
way for the world to save me—if I want to be with you,
and you want to be with me

Prologue: London

The picture in front of me is like a magnet, drawing me closer and closer, till my shoulder is nearly brushing against its antique gold carved frame. It’s like looking in a mirror, and it’s holding me spellbound. I can’t look away from what’s almost my own reflection.

Eyes, dark, with a slant up at the outer corners that my mother calls almond-shaped. Hair as dark as my eyes, wavy today, frizzy and wild when it’s damp. Skin that’s sallow in winter, needing sunshine to warm it up, turn it pale gold. A short, curvy figure and a small waist, made even smaller in mirror image by a corset much lower-cut than I would ever wear; I’m spilling out over the top.

In this enchanted mirror, I look truly lovely. My hair
is piled on the crown of my head, which makes me look taller, and it’s decorated with small white pearls, which gleam subtly against the dark mass of carefully tonged and arranged curls. There’s a matching pearl necklace around my neck, cool and delicate, and the square-cut neckline of my sea-green taffeta dress is trimmed with lace that feels as soft as chiffon. It looks as if I have a beauty spot on my cheek, and I lean in, trying to see if it’s really there or just a speck on the glass.…

“Miss? Miss! You can’t touch the paintings!” barks the guard.

I jump, startled out of my wits. I’ve forgotten that I’m in an art gallery with other people around. The security guard is a young woman, and she is tapping me on the shoulder, indicating that I need to step back from the portrait, which I’m so close to by now that my nose is butting up against the glass.

“Oh!” she exclaims as I pull away and mumble an apology. The guard is looking from me to the portrait now, and her jaw has dropped, something you read about but don’t often see; her mouth actually gapes wide for a moment.

“My goodness me,” she says, shaking her head. “Look at that resemblance! No wonder you were looking at it so closely! You might be twins, dear. Are you related?” She laughs. “Funny way to put it—she’s been dead for hundreds of years! I should have said, are you from the same family?”

“I don’t know,” I say slowly, stepping back from the portrait.

“Well, you must be! It’s positively uncanny.”

She peers from me to the girl in the portrait. For the
first time, I focus on the background behind the girl in the beautiful taffeta dress; she’s standing, quite composed, with one hand on a table stacked high with books, in what looks like the turret of a castle; the stone walls are curved around her, the windows small. Behind her is a picture on an easel, a landscape in the process of being painted. A wooden palette lies on the shelf below, brushes fanned out decoratively. To her right, through the narrow turret window, is a panoramic view of green hills, cypresses marching down them in a winding curve that leads to the valley below. On the windowsill a large tabby cat basks happily in the sunshine. It’s serene in her little private room. Books to read, a picture to paint, a cat to play with, a beautiful view.

I look at the square brass plaque next to the painting. It doesn’t offer much in the way of information.

Portrait of a Young Lady: Unknown painter, school of Carducci, c. 1750

“Excuse me—do you know if they have any postcards of this in the shop?” I ask.

The guard shakes her head regretfully.

“I doubt it, dear,” she says. “We only stock ones of the really famous paintings. The Canalettos and the Hogarth. And the Watteau, of course.”

I came to see the three Canalettos, which are masterpieces: views of Venice. I’m doing coursework on them for my art history A-level. My teacher said not only would it be a wonderful experience for me to see the real thing, but it would sound excellent in an essay to slip in a comment about having visited Sir John Soane’s Museum. Examiners love that kind of thing.

But now my face falls in disappointment. I’ve read about Sir John Soane, after whom the museum is named. He traveled to the Continent in the late seventeen hundreds, for two years, when he was twenty-five. That was quite common then, doing what was called the Grand Tour—young men visited France and Italy to have adventures and collect sculptures and paintings. Sir John Soane did that on a huge scale: he ended up as the professor of architecture at the Royal Academy, and his house became a world-famous museum.

That doesn’t mean that everything he bought on his travels was a masterpiece. Some things he just picked up because he liked them. Like this
Portrait of a Young Lady
. Clearly, he bought this without knowing who the painter was—or the name of the young lady.

I bite my lip. I don’t know anything about the portrait. I can’t even buy a postcard of it. So how am I ever going to find out who the girl in the painting is? I have to discover why on earth a girl who lived in the late eighteenth century—in Italy!—looks so like me she could be my twin sister.

Seeing my woeful expression, the security guard takes pity on me and walks over to the other side of the room and looks away. Quickly, I take a photo or two on my mobile, then fiddle with the flash settings and take several more. “Photos not allowed,” the guard now says as she turns around and sees me. I put my mobile phone away.

I want, very much, to go on staring at the painting, to see if there are any clues I can find in it, any secrets that it might
yield on close examination, but this discovery feels intensely private. I don’t want to share it with some random woman: I want to keep it for myself, hugged close to my chest.

“Thanks,” I mumble, turning away.

Mercifully, the man downstairs at the information desk isn’t familiar enough with
Portrait of a Young Lady: Unknown painter
to recognize me as its living incarnation. He looks up its details on his computer and tells me that Sir John Soane’s biographer has “tentatively identified” the location of the painting as the Castello di Vesperi, in Tuscany.

“Nothing concrete on the subject of the painting,” he continues, scrolling down the screen. “But obviously the assumption is that it’s a family member. An unmarried young lady. No wedding ring. Probably a daughter.”

He glances at me. “I’ll print you out the information we have on it, if you’d like.” I nod and smile my thanks. “Fascinating chap,” he adds. “Doing a school project, are you? You know Sir John’s tomb was the model for the red telephone box?” He grins. “That’s usually the favorite fact on the school tours.”

He’s handing me the piece of paper that he’s just printed. I reach out to take it.

“Thanks,” I say, but he doesn’t release it; he’s looking, now, from me to the portrait, which has come up on his computer screen.

“How very interesting,” he says. “She looks exactly like—”

“Yes, I know,” I say quickly, tugging on the paper. He’s not grasping it that tightly, and it comes loose from his
fingers. I fold it in half, shove it into my coat pocket, and turn away, crossing the hall toward the entrance door.

My head’s spinning. I don’t know how to feel or what to think. The museum faces Lincoln’s Inn Fields, which is a wide green expanse as big as a cricket pitch, bordered with huge old oak trees. I cross the street, so distracted I almost get run down by a very grumpy cyclist who yells abuse at me as he swerves around me dramatically to make his point. It’s March, still too cold for sitting on the grass. I walk over to a wrought-iron bench near the bandstand and sink down on its chilly surface, tucking my coat under me for an extra layer of warmth.

Between the thick gnarled roots of the oak trees, I can make out small patches of snowdrops, fading back now because spring’s on its way, and crocuses, white and mauve. The occasional bright yellow daffodil, slight and fragile, is opening up, looking for the sunshine. I shove my hand into my pocket and pull out the piece of paper from Sir John Soane’s Museum, unfolding it and laying it on my lap.

The portrait of the girl who looks so like me is reproduced in a small black-and-white rectangle on the top left of the page. The lines of text beside it are barely a paragraph: there’s pitifully little information on the girl from the seventeen hundreds who happens to be the spitting image of me.

It may seem that I’m making much too big a deal of finding my double. After all, it could just be coincidence. With all the historical portraits in the world, there must be hundreds—thousands—of accidental resemblances. People must look at oil paintings from centuries ago and see their
own faces staring back at them more frequently than anyone realizes.

But most of those people don’t have the same nagging feeling that has torn at me, made me wonder about my looks, my coloring ever since I was old enough to be aware that I don’t resemble any of my family—my mother, my father, my aunt, my grandparents. None of them. At all.

My mother and her sister are both tall, fair, with high sculpted cheekbones and deep-set blue eyes. Classic Scandinavian blondes, like their Norwegian mother. My dad is Scottish, sandy-haired and stockily built, with pale skin that freckles easily and hates the sun; his eyes are pale blue-gray, his lashes as sandy as his hair.

And I’m their short, brown-haired daughter. Sallow skin, big dark slanty eyes, a small curvy figure with boobs and a bum, quite unlike my ex-model mother, who’s slim as a wand—exactly like
mother and sister …

Family photos are like a game of Odd One Out. I’ve gone through old photo albums, looking for a picture of anyone who looks like me, and never found one, despite my mother’s vague comments, made from time to time, that I must take after the “dark Scottish” side of my father’s family. I’ve lost count of the times that people have asked me if those tall blond people are really my mummy and daddy. I’ve had strangers assume I’m Italian, Greek, Cypriot, or Spanish; I’ve been into Lebanese and Turkish delis and had the guys behind the counter speak to me in their language; on holiday with my mum last year in Sri Lanka, the locals thought I was half Singhalese. I’ve basically got the coloring and bone structure (ugh, my round cheeks) of someone
from a Mediterranean country, evolved for glorious golden sunshine, hot baked earth, bright blue sea.

Not at all the cold-climate looks of my parents.

And no, I’ve never dared to ask my mother if I was adopted. The possibility has been in my mind for years, of course, ever since, when I was quite young, I read a book where the heroine turned out to have been stolen from another family years before. I don’t for a moment think that my loving, sweet mum could have done anything like that. But it’s not as if I have brothers or sisters who look like me, or like our parents: I’m an only child. Which could make it a real possibility that I was adopted because they couldn’t have a baby of their own.

But that’s where I’ve always stalled in the past when this idea has popped into my mind. Because my mum is really open and honest with me. She doesn’t lie, she doesn’t keep secrets, she’s always answered any questions I’ve asked her. Besides, there are plenty of families where kids are adopted; it’s not a big deal, not something people need to keep secret. I know at least three girls in my school who are adopted, and no one thinks twice about it.

If I weren’t my parents’ biological daughter, I simply don’t believe that my mum wouldn’t have told me the truth long ago, when strangers started to comment on my looks, to say that I didn’t resemble my parents. Surely Mum and Dad would have said something then, sat me down and explained that the reason I look so different was that they couldn’t have kids and had adopted a little girl who needed a home? It wouldn’t have been difficult. I love my parents to pieces. I would have understood; I wouldn’t have been
that upset. I know how much they love me, and they’ve always made me feel really secure. I’d have asked questions, of course, but Mum would have answered them honestly. I know she would. Because she always does.

No, that’s the part that doesn’t make sense. I just can’t believe that my parents would keep something this big from me. It’s completely the opposite of the whole way they’ve brought me up.

I turn the paper over in my hands and realize how cold they are: I forgot my gloves, because it’s sunny out. But March in London is still cold, the spring sunshine is pale and weak, and my hands feel frozen to the bone. I fold the paper, put it back in my pocket, and stand up, rubbing my hands together.

I’m getting the Tube straight home so I can look up Castello di Vesperi, the “tentatively identified” location of the turret room depicted in the portrait, on the Internet. And I know what I’m going to do then. It’ll be the first big secret I’ve ever kept from my mother: I’m going to find some way to visit the castello. It’s the only way I might conceivably find out anything more about the girl in the picture, her history, her family.

The girl who’s the mirror image of me.

BOOK: Flirting in Italian
11.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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