Leo Barratt hadn't written his bucket list, but he was pretty sure there were several things hewouldn't have put on it. Like... waking up to a Dear John letter from his fiance, Eric, the day before their wedding... or going on his honeymoon - alone.
But, under the strict instructions of his mother, he found himself in Venice at Bauta, the beautiful bed and breakfast where he'd supposed to have started off married life. Instead, he planned to spend three weeks inside his room and wait for the pain to go away.
Or at least that's what he thought...
Bauta, was run by Matteo Leghissa and his mother, Luana. Used to getting his own way, Matteo refused to allow Leo to wallow in self-pity and appointed himself as Leo's official guide.
Apparently, falling in love with a beautiful stranger wasn't on Leo's bucket list either but.....
The insistent sound of the storm trooper death march jabbed at Leo’s eardrums like a pissed off woodpecker. Not that he should be surprised. His mother had called him what seemed like every ten minutes for the last week. He sighed heavily and didn’t even bother opening his eyes as he felt around on the bedside cabinet for his mobile. His fingers brushed against the sliver of metal and he snatched it up, then cracked an eye open enough to press the answer button and put the phone to his ear.
“Mum, long time no harp,” he drawled, not even trying to hide the twang of sarcasm.
“I gave you seven hours of blissfully uninterrupted sleep, what more do you want?” she quipped.
“Isn’t the recommended average eight? Call me back in an hour.”
“Pish, don’t believe everything you read, dear. You’re not ten.”
Leo smiled fondly despite the missing hour. No one did condescension better than Susan Barratt. His mother was from a titled background and, as such, expected to be treated with the same impeccable manners she had been raised to extend to others. Leo’s lips twitched; and woe betide anyone who didn’t meet her expectations. “So,” he stifled a yawn, “to what do I owe the pleasure of your dulcet tones at this ungodly hour?”
“It’s nine-thirty you lazy so-and-so and unless I’ve got the wrong end of the stick, you’re getting married tomorrow.” Her tone brooked no nonsense. “There are things to be done, son of mine!”
“You’ve been saying that all week,” Leo complained. “Haven’t we done it all yet?”
“Don’t make me come over there.” The warning was clear.
Leo scrubbed a hand over his face. Surely he wasn’t the only thirty-two year old who was still just a little bit afraid of his mother? But then his father was sixty-four and hid in the shed when his mother was on the rampage, so Leo figured he could allow himself this one tiny foible. “Sorry, Mum,” he mumbled, suitably chided.
“I should think so. Now nudge that idle fiancé of yours and let’s get this show on the road. He’s got to pick up the buttonholes while you pick up Auntie Maureen and Uncle Clive from Gatwick.”
Leo threw out an arm to do as he was told but hit cool sheet instead of warm Eric. He frowned and turned over, the phone still clutched in his fingers, his mother reeling off a list of last-minute tasks in his ear. Not that he was listening to her anymore. He was too distracted by the sheet of folded paper with his name on it lying on the pillow where Eric’s head should be. His stomach tightened and he tasted the unpleasant acidity of bile in the back of his throat. He sat up slowly, his eyes never leaving the paper which suddenly seemed dazzlingly white against the duck egg blue of the pillowcase.
“Leo? Are you listening to me?”
“Mum, I’m going to have to call you back.” How he managed to speak he would never know.
“Leo?” Her tone immediately changed, her famous mother’s intuition obviously kicking in. “Leo, what is it?”
“I’ll call yo—”
Leo hung up and the mobile dropped from his nerveless fingers onto the duvet. He swallowed hard and tried to ignore the rush of blood in his ears as his heart began to race.
Get a grip, Leo. It’s just a couple of lines telling you he’s gone to get that paraffin wax pedicure he was talking about last night.
He breathed in a sigh of relief, but couldn’t quite bring himself to let it go the same way. Instead it spluttered from between his lips like a half-hearted raspberry. Whatever was on that piece of paper wasn’t good, of that he was certain, which is why he didn’t want to touch it. Maybe if he stared at it long enough it would disappear. He’d seen a trick like that once in Vegas. Couldn’t be that hard, could it?
That was how his mother, father and his sister, Alex, found him twenty minutes later when they burst into his bedroom—still staring. When his mother grabbed the note and opened it, he briefly wondered why he’d ever given her a key. A feeling that was quickly overshadowed by the relief that flooded through him as she shoved the note at his father then climbed onto the bed next to him and took him in her comfortingly familiar embrace. Leo closed his eyes and clung to her as if she was a life raft in a very choppy sea.
He was right. It was not a good note…