Classic Death

Temptation in Florence #6

Beate Boeker

“You know I love you very much,” Stefano Garini said with a carefully controlled voice while lathering his face in front of the mirror. “But tell me again. Why do we have to go to every single Mantoni family event in town? We’ve had five birthdays, one wedding and a funeral in the past six weeks.”

Caroline Ashley stopped applying mascara to her eyelashes. “Was it really five birthdays?” She leaned against the sink and smiled at the tall man next to her. How nice it was to start the day together.

“It was. I counted.”

“You know, you don’t always have to come. If you’d rather stay at home, that’s fine with me.”

Stefano sighed and started shaving off the cream with care. “I don’t want to stay at home on my own. I want to be with you, Carlina, but not surrounded by masses of your wide-spread Mantoni family. I might even – daring thought – wish to take you out to dinner somewhere instead of going to the birthday party of your second cousin twice removed.”

A thrill went through her. How nice it was to be wanted. But how difficult. She bit her lip. “That sounds lovely, but it would really rock the boat if we declined to go to a birthday party and went out dining instead.”

“I know it would, and I’m the last person who wants to rock the Mantoni boat. I’ve seen it happen, and it isn’t pretty.” He finished shaving and washed his face with cold water, then dried it with the towel.

“Well . . .” She reached up and touched his cheek. It felt cool and smooth. “How about a compromise? We’ll agree on no more than two birthdays a month. Marriages and funerals are a must, though.”

“One birthday.” He pulled her near and buried his face in her hair. “Have I told you that I love your scent, Caralina?”

She smiled, her face hidden against his chest. “Maybe once or twice.”

“One birthday per month,” he repeated. “And you agree to go out with me, even if there is a Mantoni birthday party somewhere in town.”

“But not to public places.”

“Agreed.” He smiled down at her. “Thank God I know a lot of secluded places in Florence.”

She lifted her eyebrows. “Now you have me curious.”

“Good. I’ll take you to the first place on Saturday evening.”

Her face fell. “Gosh, Stefano, we can’t.”

He eyed her with misgiving. “A surprise wedding? A spontaneous funeral? We already had the birthday quota.”

“It’s something altogether different. The husband of Benedetta’s colleague invited us to a private showing of his fountain pen collection, and Benedetta made me promise to come.”

His mouth went slack. “Benedetta’s colleague’s husband? That’s not even family.”

“Correct. But it’s culture.”

“Culture? A concert is culture.”

“Being shown a rare piece of beauty and a unique collection is also culture. Maybe that’s even the most classic culture you can enjoy.”

He groaned. “I see we have to expand the list. One birthday per month, any wedding, any funeral, and one cultural event every three months – classic or otherwise.”

“Only every three months?”

“Yes. Only every three months.” His voice was firm.

“With the exception of December,” she said. “That’s when all the Christmas concerts take place.”

“Granted. Now tell me how we can get out of this classic fountain pen thingy.”

“We can’t. I promised.”

“For you or for me or for both of us?”

Carlina felt a flush rising to her face. “I said I would come, but told her you might have to work.”

“Meaning if I don’t have to work and don’t want to go, I’ll have to sneak home, hoping no Mantoni will see me?”

She giggled. “You make the family sound like the secret police. We can relax. We don’t live in the same house anymore, but next door. That makes things a lot easier.”

“Great. I’ll end up having black-out curtains like they used to have in the Second World War, so they won’t see the light in our apartment.”

She gave him a playful punch on the arm. “Stop exaggerating, Stefano.”

“I’m not exaggerating. I’m dead serious.”

She met his gaze. “Please?”

He threw up his hands. “All right, all right. We’ll both go to this unheard of classic cultural fountain pen event. Why does Benedetta say it’s so important anyway?”

Carlina cleared her throat. He wasn’t going to like this. “Apparently, her colleague thinks a higher number of guests will dilute the tension.”

He eyed her. “Why does she expect any extraordinary tension?”

“Because Xaviero – that’s the husband – only shows his collection every three years, and the last time, the other members of the fountain pen club almost killed him because they said he got some of the pens through unsavory business practices.”

“Now I’m all agog to go,” Garini said. “Fountain pens that lead to murder. And I’d thought I’d seen it all!” He cocked his head to the side. “Admit it. You promised Benedetta you’d make me come to play watch dog.”

Carlina winced. She could feel another blush rising.

He shook his head. “The things I do for you, my love.”

“It’ll be interesting. I’m sure.”

“Interesting, my foot. Make sure you prop me up when I threaten to fall asleep on my feet.”