Venetia tightened the belt of her coat around her slim waist and lifted the fur collar snugly about her neck. The sound of her footsteps echoed off the pavement as she hurried towards the Rialto Bridge from Piazza San Marco, a solitary figure in an almost deserted street. She was on her way to catch the vaporetto waterbus that would drop her off at Palazzo Mendicoli, where she had an apartment. A few huddled pedestrians could be seen on the opposite pavement, and there was not much traffic on the great inky stretch of water of the Grand Canal.
Suddenly Venetia saw two figures spring out in front of her from the surrounding darkness. They were enveloped in carnevale cloaks, with no visible faces, only a spooky blackness where they should have been. A hand materialised from under the all-encompassing wrap of one of the sinister creatures and grabbed at her bag. Chilled to the bone, Venetia tried to scream but the sound froze in her throat. Struggling, she hung onto the leather pouch that was looped over her shoulder and across her front as she tried to lift her knee to kick him in the groin, but her aggressors were prepared. An arm was thrown around her throat from the back and the second figure produced a knife.
Just as he was about to slash at the strap of her bag, an imposing silhouette emerged from nowhere and with startling speed its owner swung at Venetia’s attacker with his fist, knocking him off balance. With a grunt of pain the man fell backwards, tripping over his accomplice, who gave a curse, and they both tumbled to the ground. Then, picking themselves up in a flash, they took to their heels and fled into the hazy gloom.
“Va tutto bene, are you all right?” The stranger’s light baritone broke through Venetia’s disoriented awareness, and he looked down anxiously into her large amber eyes.
“Yes, yes, I think so,” she panted, her hands automatically going to her throat.
“Are you hurt at all?”
“No, no, just a little shaken, thank you.”
“You’re shivering. You’ve had a bad shock and you need a warm drink. Come, there’s a caffetteria that serves the best hot chocolate in Venice, just a few steps from here. It’ll do you good.” Without waiting for a response, he took Venetiaís arm and led the way down the narrow street.
Venetia’s legs felt like jelly and her teeth were chattering. “Thanks,” she murmured, still trying to catch her breath, her heart pounding, as she let herself be guided by her tall, broad-shouldered rescuer, who seemed to have taken the situation into his hands.
Thus does Fate cast her thunderbolts into our lives, letting them fall with a feather-like touch, dulling our senses to the storm they would cause should we realise their devastating powers.
They sat in silence at a table in a far-off corner of the crowded caffetteria. There was too much noise to talk and Venetia was exhausted, so she concentrated on appraising the man sitting opposite her as she listened to the music playing: Mina’s nostalgic 1960 love song, “Il Cielo in una Stanza”, the unashamedly romantic hit that was so Italian, and therefore still frequently played as a classic all over the country.
Venetia’s guardian angel looked more like Lucifer than a celestial being, with his tempestuous blue eyes, curiously bright against the warm tan of his skin, which slanted a fraction upwards under heavy, dark brows when he smiled. They were staring intently at her now with an emotion that puzzled her, and for a few seconds she found herself helplessly staring back into them. It was like gazing into shimmering water.
Strong, masculine features graced his nut-brown face beneath a thick crop of raven-black hair, sleek and shining, swept back from a wide forehead. He wasnít good-looking in the classical sense, his face was too craggy for that immediate impact, but he was a striking man who emanated controlled power, someone used to making decisions who would not be swayed by any argument or sentiment; a hard man. Still, his steeliness was tempered by the enigmatic curve that lifted the corners of his generous mouth into a promise of laughter; this, coupled with the deep cleft in the centre of his chin, gave him a roguish expression that Venetia found appealing.
The waiter brought over a cup of hot chocolate, a double espresso and a plate of biscotti which, he said, were offered con i complimenti della casa. Her rescuer was obviously a regular customer.
Venetia took a few sips of the thick, warm brew. She felt herself revive as it trickled down her throat, becoming a warm glow in her stomach that reflected on her cheeks.
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