Read One Hot Summer Online

Authors: Norrey Ford

One Hot Summer

ONE HOT SUMMER

Norrey Ford

 

Jan didn

t need reminding of her carelessness by the handsome, arrogant Italian who'd witnessed the theft of her purse. Bad enough that she was stranded in Rome.

However, Marco Cellini did offer a solution. Jan was to spend her remaining holiday on his island as companion to his mother during the absence of his sister, Bianca.

But where was his sister? And why did Jan have to masquerade in Bianca

s clothes?

 

 

CHAPTER I

Jan
Lynton had already discovered Rome was at its most attractive in the early mornings, before the tourist coaches and their loads began perambulating through the narrow streets and fascinating piazzas which opened one out of the other like a box of tricks. She didn’t in the least mind being the first in the hotel dining-room, or pushing her way into the single-decker trams and buses which were so cheap and crowded.

The handsome boys, slim as dancers, dark
ha
ir curling into slender necks, dark eyes flashing with amusement, disappeared into offices and shops. The girls, wide across the eyes, pointed chins plump and soft, vanished too, when the buses disgorged. Jan had seen those faces so often, in paintings and statues, this last week, that it seemed natural to see them in flesh and blood.

Then, for a little while, there was just Jan; flower
-
sellers setting up their stalls; the orange-sellers, the sellers of hand-made jewellery and leather goods; the artists, arranging their watercolours to catch a buyer’s eye.

This way, she felt part of the Roman world; as much at home as she was in London. She felt sorry for the tourists, goggling out of their air-conditioned buses like goldfish in bowls.

She had not intended to come to Rome alone. It had been Jan-and-Michael for so long. Mike was a history student, crazy to see the Forum, Pompeii, a dozen other places dating back over two thousand years. Then, without reason, the bottom fell out of their relationship. Quite suddenly, it was Jan alone.

Today she wanted to see the Spanish Steps again. Funny how the guide books and postcards showed the
Steps empty and covered with azaleas; never as they really were, swarming with the international young wearing the international uniform of faded blue jeans and skinny tops. Some had things to sell, paintings, flowers, jewellery. Some were hippy types, bearded and dirty. Pale-haired Scandinavian girls, clean as new wood. If one sat long enough, and watched, half Shakespeare’s characters walked up and down the Steps. Romeo and Juliet, hands clasping, heads bent together, oblivious of the world around them. Dark Othello.

The Steps were empty now. But as Jan began the long climb up to the top, to the twin towers of the church of Santa Trinita dei Monti, her eye was caught by the figure of a man walking down. Slim, tall, well
-
dressed in an elegant suit of light blue-grey; a marked contrast to the usual crowd haunting the place. Now who was he? Her eyes wrinkled, concentrating on the Shakespeare game. One of the Two Gentlemen of Verona, obviously. Valentine—that was the one.

Suddenly he seemed to catch sight of someone he knew. Hesitated, as if to make sure; then came running lightly down the Steps at such a speed that Jan crossed her fingers for him. Was he intent on breaking his neck?

He came to a halt, his gaze intent on Jan herself, walked more slowly, and as he passed her, he seemed to study her intently. Not with the full, insolent, appreciative Roman stare, but certainly more boldly than an Englishman of his type would have scrutinised a stranger.

I sympathise, chum, Jan thought. Dear heaven, I know how you felt. A figure in the distance, the leap of the heart, the hurrying forward with delight. And then the let-down. I was the wrong one, wasn’t I? We may not speak each other’s language, but love speaks for itself. Being alone isn’t fun.

In a moment she heard someone running up the Steps and was unable to resist looking back to see if it was the stranger. But it was only a boy, one of those tiresome, irresistibly beautiful Roman urchins, blackhaired, with the looks of a Michelangelo and the whining voice of a beggar. She turned away.

Next moment she felt a crippling blow on her elbow. Her arm, momentarily paralysed, dropped; her hand opened. As she staggered to keep her balance, her handbag fell to the ground. The twelve-year-old, he couldn’t have been more, swooped and snatched his prize and almost without pause, continued his race up the steps.

Jan called after him, tried to follow. But the sickening pain of her elbow made her weak and dizzy. She sank down and buried her face in her hands.
I’ll be all right in a minute,
she thought.
All
right in

Through a haze, she saw a pair of elegantly-shod feet beside her. Looking up, she saw the man who had gazed at her so inquisitively only a minute or two before. He bent and offered her a hand, addressing her in Italian.


Inglesa
,’
she told him. ‘I don’t understand you.’ The little Italian she knew was adequate for travelling, but how was she going to explain the awfulness of what had happened to anybody here?

‘In that case,’ he said, sitting beside her on the Steps,
‘we can speak English. I saw what that little brute did. It’s an old trick, but they’ll go on doing it as long as women insist on carrying a handbag over the arm. It’s your own fault. You should be more careful, in a big city.’

She blinked up at him. She felt dangerously near tears, but that wretch had taken even her handkerchief.

‘You’re blaming
me
?’

‘Certainly I am. You dangle those bits of nonsense at the end of two fingers, leading youngsters into
temptation. Does the arm feel better now?’

‘Thank you.’ She had recovered her dignity and was beginning to feel angry. His calm disapproval was adding insult to injury. ‘The numbness is wearing off, but the pain is the least of it. I don’t know what—’ in spite of herself she could not stop the quiver in her voice. ‘I don't know what I’m going to do.’

‘Did you lose much?’

‘Everything.’ The enormity of her loss was growing in her mind, now she could think more clearly. ‘All my money. Travellers’ cheques, return travel tickets, passport—the lot.’

‘You were carrying all that about? Here? How can anyone be such a fool? Why didn’t you deposit your valuables with the hotel and just carry around what you need from day to day?’

‘Why indeed?’ she said bitterly.

My misfortune seems to be annoying you. If you’d have the goodness to direct me to the police station I’ll report my loss. Then I suppose I’ll have
to find the British Consul or someone. At the moment I’m not thinking clearly, but I’ll manage by myself, thank you. It was kind of you to speak to me, if only to lecture me on my stupidity.’

‘I’ll take you to the police. It won’t do any good, but you may as well go through the correct procedure.’

‘You mean—I’ll never get it back?’

‘Of course not. Were you naive enough to think .you might? Your bank will replace the travellers’ cheques eventually, and the British Consul will do something about your passport and travel documents. It will take a few days, naturally. Come,’ he stood up and offered her a hand. ‘Since we are going the same way, you may as well ride in my car.’ Her hesitation made him smile. ‘You are learning discretion,
signorina
? Now you are afraid to trust me? All right. We will leave the car parked, and walk to the
carabinieri.
You’ll need an interpreter there; and
remember, I am a witness, too.’

She stood up, shook her skirt straight.

I didn’t mean to be rude. Surely your lecture to young women on their own in a foreign city includes the bit about not accepting lifts from strange men?’

‘It does.’ His voice went icy cold, his gaze flickered over her as if she were something to be swept out of his way. ‘If you can think of any way you can manage without me,
signorina,
I shall be delighted to leave you to take it.’

If only there were! But he was so annoyingly right. She needed him, both as witness and interpreter. ‘I’m afraid I can’t,’ she was forced to admit. ‘But surely I’m being a nuisance? You were going somewhere in a hurry, when you passed me on your way down.’

‘It can wait,’ he said carelessly. ‘Let us be on our way.’

They used his car after all—a low, long white sports model which he launched into the roaring Roman traffic like an arrow from a bow.

‘I’m not surprised your countrymen do so well in international motor-racing,’ she ventured.

You must train them on the streets of Rome. I
—oh
!’

Smiling, he had raced two other cars to get through the narrowing gap between two buses, and won.

We believe in keeping our traffic moving,
signorina.
The faster the better. We have not the temperament for the slow-stop-slow of your London streets.’

Patiently, he explained her case to the police. They took notes, shrugged, consulted colleagues, talked.


I can’t understand a word,

she confessed to her companion. ‘We’ve been half an hour already. Has anything happened yet?’


Not a thing. And it won’t. They are swamped, poor devils. Our summer tourists are like shoals of silly sardines to our youngsters. Rich pickings from
the careless. We couldn’t recruit enough policemen ever to keep track of the handbags and pocket-wallets stolen.’


Signore,
will you do me one more kindness? No—two. Stop telling me how silly I am, because I already know. And lend me a handkerchief. I think I’m going to cry.’

He produced a snowy handkerchief of fine linen.


No gentleman lends a handkerchief to a lady,
signorina.
I give you mine. Fortunately it has not been opened.’

She thanked him, having the tact not to protest at the gift, shook out its cool white folds, and cried a little, which relieved her tenseness. After that, she felt better able to cope, both with the police and with her escort.

‘And now,’ he announced as they left the police,

you need the British Consul. And, I think, a bank.’

It took time. A delightful Englishman gave her tea and biscuits, talked about his mother in Wokingham, and sent her away reassured. Fortunately, the hotel had been paid in advance for the full two weeks, and all her documents could be replaced within that time. Her immediate need was for pocket money, handbag, make-up and comb. Lunches and bus-fares would have to be sacrificed until her travellers’ cheques came through.

He was waiting, her admonitory cavalier. He opened the door of his car for her.

Get in. Is everything all right now?’


More or less. Except I’m stuck, for a few days, till things come through. But I’ll manage fine, thank you. You didn’t wait for me, did you? I’ve been in there ages.’

He was silent a moment.

We didn’t introduce ourselves. My name is Marco Cellini
.
I live in a villa on an island in the Bay of Naples with my mother—who is
elderly and sometimes a little confused—and my sister. It seemed to me that unless you have friends here—and as you did not speak of any I assume you have none— your holiday has been spoilt.’


I wouldn’t say that. My confidence is shaken, and for the next few days things will be a bit tricky, but spoilt—oh no.’


You will find it is so,’ he went on as if she had not spoken.

So I have had an idea. For the next week or two, I need someone to give an eye to my mother occasionally. If you could do that, I would be most happy to offer you the rest of your holiday at my villa. We have our own pool, a boat, an interesting little town, very old. It need not cost you a single lira. What do you say?’

The offer tempted her. He was right, the magic had gone out of Rome. She had almost, without noticing it, grown tired of the incessant noise, the death-dealing traffic, the sleaziness of the city. She had already visited the Vatican and the historic places of antiquity. The thought of a quiet island, a cool pool, a white boat on blue water, was almost beyond refusal.


Signor Cellini, you have been extraordinarily kind to a stranger today, and to offer me hospitality has added to it. But as you lectured me on prudence, perhaps you’ll forgive me if I say it is almost
too
much. We know nothing of each other. Would you think me rude if I told you I would prefer to stay in my hotel? Everything is paid there, except lunches, until the end of my holiday. I really shall be all right there, and I promise you I will take better care of myself and my money in future.’

He nodded.

I understand. I was prepared to pay you a salary,
signorina
—’


Janice Lynton. I’m a student nurse in my final year. I live at the Nurses’ Hostel.’

He nodded, as if filing the information for future
reference.

No sweetheart?’


At the moment, no. I have had boy-friends and I hope to have lots more. But right now, I’m fancy free.’ Free? Would she ever be free of Michael and her memories?

But,’ she added swiftly,

don’t think I’m alone in the world. I have heaps of friends.’


A girl like you would have many friends. Your being a nurse makes me all the more eager to have you. Only till the official end of your holiday. My sister is—away at the moment, so my mother is lonely. She is a little lost in her mind, you see. It is hard to get her to understand why Bianca does not come when she calls.


You tempt me, but—’

He produced his card.

Go back to your nice Englishman and check on my credentials. Please. He will tell you whether I am to be trusted.’

She made a sudden decision.

No, I’ll come,
signore.
I trust you. And I don't want to be paid, thank you. But first I must collect my luggage from the hotel, and leave a forwarding address.’


Of course.’

The white car leapt into the traffic.

For the second time today, Jan thought as she packed swiftly, I’ve been a fool. What if the whole thing was a put-up job, urchin and all, to lure me to his island? Why didn’t I call his bluff at the Consulate, and go back to check?

There was still the telephone.


But certainly,’ said the friendly Englishman who had given her tea and Marie biscuits.

Signor Cellini is known to us. He is a wealthy businessman, with interests in Britain. If he has offered you hospitality at his home, with his mother, by all means accept. I’ll call you there, when the money and your passport come through. Then if you’re not happy, you’ll have the wherewithal to back out. All right?’


Fine.’ She replaced the receiver happily. Now for the island, the blue Bay of Naples, the dream villa with the swimming-pool. Was there a catch in it somewhere? The mother might be a great deal pottier than he’d suggested. How much was a
little
lost in her mind ’? Well, so be it. She was a nurse, wasn’t she? One old lady wouldn’t be impossible.

The traffic of Naples was even worse than Rome. Every man drove with his elbow hard down on the horn.
T
he noise was unimaginable, trapped in the narrower streets. It was not until they sank into the luxurious seats of the white hydrofoil which was to take them to Ischia that she felt able to catch her breath.

It was a glorious day, bright and hot. The sea shimmered like blue silk. The hydrofoil skimmed over the water like a bird.


Another time,’ he told her,

we can take the ferry. You would prefer, perhaps, to be out on a deck?’


I would. Though this is comfortable, like a seaborne aeroplane. I wish one could see more of the view. Is that Vesuvius? Can one get to the top?’

He seemed amused.

Would you want to?’


But naturally. This is your home, but to me it’s all new. Is it possible to visit Pompeii from your island?’

He said rather stiffly,

If you wish to visit the excavations, I shall take you myself.’


Oh, please don’t put yourself to all that trouble. I’m reasonably capable, although you don’t think it. I can potter around happily by myself.’

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