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Authors: Meadow Taylor

Midnight in Venice

BOOK: Midnight in Venice
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MIDNIGHT IN VENICE
Meadow Taylor

 

Dedication

To Hannah Silverman

 

Epigraph

The winter light in this city!

—Joseph Brodsky

 

Chapter 1


Signorina
, would you come this way? I think you know what it's about.”

Olivia Moretti whirled around and found herself inches from a very broad chest. Her eyes followed the row of shirt buttons up until she was looking into the eyes of the most handsome man she had ever seen—and the angriest.

“No, I don't know,” she returned haughtily in Italian. He might be handsome, but she didn't like to be ordered around. And it had been a very long flight, even without including the time they'd spent sitting on the plane in Toronto while snow was cleared off the runway. “Who are you,” she said, “and what do you want?”

“Alessandro Rossi, Venice police.” He took his identity badge from a pocket in his black leather jacket and held it up.

Olivia stepped back and compared the ID photo with its owner. It was him, all right. Perfect Mediterranean good looks: thick black hair; high, chiseled cheekbones; beautiful olive skin; and eyes as dark and velvety as an Italian sky at night. Great, she thought. She must look like hell after being on a plane since yesterday.

“Okay. Let's start again,” he said slowly in Italian. “May I see some identification?”

Olivia took her passport from her shoulder bag and handed it to him. He glanced at it. “You're Canadian?”

“Yes,” she said. “You seem surprised.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Your Italian's perfect,” he said, switching to beautifully accented English.

“My father was born here,” she replied. She felt a little catch in her voice as she said
father
. He'd been only fifty-five when he'd died of cancer the past summer, and Christmastime made his absence feel even more final.

“I see,” he said. “And where are you staying?”

“On the Rio de San Vio in Dorsoduro. What's this about?”

He closed her passport but didn't return it. “Well, to begin with, Ms. Moretti, where is your suitcase?”

Olivia pointed to her suitcase, which she'd left in the care of the elderly lady who'd been sitting next to her on the flight. Except now the woman was gone, and the bag looked as if it had been abandoned outside one of the terminal cafés.

“Don't you listen to the announcements?” he asked sternly. “They are very clear: Do not leave your luggage unattended, or it will be picked up by airport security.”

“But I didn't leave it unattended,” she protested. “I left it with the woman sitting next to me on the plane.”

“What was her name?”

“Doris . . . I don't know her last name. She was about my height but with short gray hair. For heaven's sake, she gave me a peppermint—”

“Where is she now?” he interrupted, and Olivia felt his dark eyes boring into hers.

“I don't know,” she said, scanning the crowded terminal. “She said she'd watch my bag until I got back. I was on my way to make a phone call.”

“Don't you have a mobile?”

“Yes, but I don't have an Italian phone plan, and I didn't want it to cost me a fortune.” She was used to being careful with her money and had heard horror stories about the price of using a cellphone while traveling. Especially given that she was from Canada, a country whose telecommunications industry was still in the dark ages.

“Who were you calling?”

“My cousin.”

“What's his name?”

“Marco Moretti. He said he'd be here to meet me, but I can't find him.” A garbled rendition of “Deck the Halls” oozed out of the café.

The gorgeous cop's cellphone rang, and, taking her by the arm, he pressed it to his ear. He didn't say much, just
sì
and
no
.

As wonderful as Christmas in Venice had sounded when she'd booked the trip, traveling at this time of year was enough to quash the heartiest of holiday spirits. It was hot in the terminal too, and her Canadian winter-weight coat didn't help. Even the giant Christmas tree hung with lights and shiny red ornaments the size of beach balls didn't cheer her.

What was she doing here anyway? She should be at home right now with her family, watching Christmas specials on TV while drinking eggnog, like they'd done for every other of her twenty-nine Christmases. But her dad was gone, and her mother was in Vancouver, spending Christmas with her sister and her sister's family. Olivia could have spent the holiday in the suburbs with her own sister, Claudia, and brother-in-law, Phil. Phil would probably catch up on all the hockey he'd PVRed, while Claudia would lecture her on how, at age twenty-nine, it was time for her to get a real job instead of working in their cousin Marco's art gallery, Silvio Milan, and living in that dump in downtown Toronto. And why did she break up with Ryan, a surgeon, of all things? And Olivia would have to tell her yet again that she liked her job and her “dump,” and that Ryan was a jerk who cheated on her with his research assistant . . .

What a relief it had been when Marco had given her this opportunity in Venice. His business partner, Silvio Milan himself, was in need of someone for six months to do some translating and help with their upcoming Murano glass shows. She was to start in January. But Marco, knowing how much she was dreading the holidays, had gone on to suggest that they meet in Venice and spend Christmas there together. They could go to some concerts, visit the museums and churches, shop at the Christmas fairs, or just wander around getting lost. They'd eat her father's favorite Christmas treats—panettone, Italian chocolate, and clementines—and wash it all down with gallons of Prosecco. They'd take the train to Padua, where her father had been born, to scatter his ashes, as he'd requested. Her mother had encouraged it. Her sister had thought their father's ashes should stay put in Canada.

The job was the opportunity of a lifetime, and this Christmas in Italy was a chance to heal.
And it still will be
, she told herself. This was just a small glitch. A misunderstanding. Be polite and cooperative. Smile. “I guess I should thank you,” she said humbly to the cop, her smile feeling more than a little strained. “Someone could have taken my bag. If we're done here, I'd really like to make that phone call. So, Merry Christmas—”

“Not so fast,” the cop said, renewing his firm grip on her arm.

Instinctively, Olivia tried to shake off his hand. He tightened his grip further, and his voice was tense and cold. “Give me your shoulder bag.”

Olivia obediently handed it to him. He relinquished his hold on her arm and pulled out her Kindle, her laptop, and her iPhone, flicking each one on and off before setting it aside. He flipped open her wallet too, checking the name on her credit card and bank card. He even rifled through the little cosmetics bag with her lipstick, Advil, and emergency tampons. At last he stuffed everything back in.

“What's in your suitcase?” he asked, without giving her shoulder bag back.

“Clothes,” she answered, feeling as if her privacy had been invaded.

“Nothing else?”

“Some shoes, makeup, the usual stuff.” She was glad Marco had brought her father's ashes with him. She'd hate to have to explain
that
—though it might have bought her a little sympathy. “Now,” she added, “please let me go. I'm tired, and I really want to make that phone call.”

“Not until I find out why there's a strange sound coming from your luggage.”

“What do you mean?”

“Your suitcase is making a strange sound,” he repeated, “and I'd like you to tell me what it is.”

“I have no idea,” she said. “What kind of sound? Is it ticking?”

“And why would you say that?”

“I don't know. You're acting like there's a bomb in there.”

“Bombs don't tick, Ms. Moretti. This is the digital age. Now, would you open your bag for me?”

“You think I have a bomb in my suitcase? That's ridiculous. Do I look like someone who would have a bomb in my suitcase?” Olivia could hear her own voice growing shrill. She was also aware that they were attracting attention. A small group of travelers who had stopped to watch them was being herded away by security guards, and four more police officers were now stationed by her suitcase. They were cordoning off a very large circle around it, though they didn't seem to be clearing the airport.

“I believe it was you who mentioned a bomb,” the cop said.

“I wasn't being serious! It was the only thing I could think of. This must be some kind of sick joke.”

“This is no joking matter, Ms. Moretti. Now, please open your bag.” He took her arm again and started to steer her back in the direction of her suitcase.

Olivia resisted. Was it possible that somehow a bomb had been put into her luggage? She thought of the woman in whose care she had left it. It didn't seem possible that a gray-haired woman named Doris who was on her way to visit her grandchildren for Christmas had planted a bomb in her suitcase. She even knew the grandchildren's names: Melinda and Byron. Doris was giving them the video games they wanted for Christmas. But where was Doris now? She certainly didn't fit the stereotype of international terrorist any more than Olivia did. But then again, wasn't Olivia as opposed to profiling as the next person? Finally, Olivia looked up at the handsome cop. “No,” she said firmly.

“What do you mean, ‘No'?”

“If you're afraid to open it, then so am I.”

He held her gaze, and Olivia saw a flicker of doubt in those beautiful dark eyes. “Did you pack the bag yourself?” he asked.

Olivia nodded.

“And there's nothing but clothes in there?”

“And some shoes and makeup, like I said.”

“Nothing battery-operated?”

There was nothing to do but cooperate now. She thought a moment. “No,” she answered.

“Are you sure?” he insisted. “No alarm clock? Razor? . . . Vibrator?”

Olivia felt her cheeks flush. Unable to look him in the eyes any longer, she looked down instead. But now she was staring at the front of his tight jeans. She felt herself go even redder and tried to find a place to look that didn't cause her further embarrassment.

“Well?” he demanded.

“No, nothing with batteries,” she stammered, more acutely aware than ever of her proximity to this sexy man.

“Rossi,” called one of the other cops. “The guy from the bomb squad's here. What do you want me to do?”

Without letting go of Olivia's arm, Rossi led her over to the cluster of policemen gathered around her suitcase and was quickly introduced to the head of bomb squad. “You're from the bomb squad?” he asked the young man in Italian.

The man nodded. If Doris didn't look like an international terrorist, this guy didn't look like someone who defused bombs. He looked like a skinny kid of sixteen. A tattoo of a dragon curled out from the sleeve of his T-shirt and wrapped around his arm.

“The president is due here in an hour,” Rossi explained to the young man. “A bomb threat was phoned in forty minutes ago, and in the sweep, we found this unattended case. While there's a chance it's just someone trying to cause a disruption, we can't ignore it.” He glared at Olivia. “The president of Italy is coming here to spend Christmas with his family.”

Wonderful
, Olivia thought.
I've ruined not only my Christmas, but the president of Italy's too.

“You're probably right to be cautious,” the bomb guy said as he set up his equipment. “Get everyone behind that line, and then move it back another three meters. Let's have a look before we consider a complete evacuation.”

Her cop nodded to the other men, and they began to wave the crowd farther back.

No one looked terribly worried. The crowd seemed to be genuinely enjoying the show, and Olivia recovered some of her skepticism. “You don't really think there's—”

“At this point, I don't know what to think,” he said. “But if there is something in your suitcase, whether you put it there yourself or not, you're in a lot of trouble.”

Aware of a zillion eyes on her, Olivia meekly allowed herself to be led to what was considered the new safe zone. Just her luck. Here she was in Venice, about to be charged with attempting to blow up Marco Polo Airport and the country's president to boot. She wouldn't be spending Christmas with her cousin—she'd be spending it in an Italian prison.

She looked up, thinking how, under any other circumstance, she would have considered herself lucky to have this man holding her. He drew her closer, and she sensed the hard, muscled arm beneath the leather sleeve as it brushed her own.

He, on the other hand, seemed to have forgotten she was there. He talked into his phone in rapid Italian, ordering everyone around more confidently than she ordered a pizza. There was even a search on for Doris, and she imagined a police lineup of gray-haired women in tweed.

The minutes dragged by. Airport employees joined the curious onlookers still pressed against the line of yellow police tape. The Christmas tree went on sparkling. From the café, Bing Crosby and David Bowie crooned “Little Drummer Boy.” Olivia gazed out the windows. A light snow was falling. Beyond the runways and parking lots lay Venice. She should be in a water taxi now, skimming across the lagoon . . .

God, she was tired, and it was little consolation that the man who was about to arrest her was so damned attractive. One of her friends, who had insisted on taking her out for a good-bye dinner, had dragged her to a psychic as a joke. While Olivia was told she would meet a tall, handsome Italian man who would change her life forever, the psychic had failed to mention that it wouldn't be for the better.

Suddenly, there was an explosion of laughter. That had to be good.

“Come on,” Rossi said, and one of the guards stepped aside to let them pass. Another interrupted Bing Crosby and David Bowie with an announcement that the threat was over and would people please move on.

BOOK: Midnight in Venice
5.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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