Because Florence had been her destination, or rather the outskirts of Florence.
Where, exactly, she couldn’t quite remember. Having committed the address to memory, she’d realised that her memory wasn’t quite as obliging as she had hoped.
She had ended up spending far too much money on a mediocre meal simply because she’d been too tired to carry on trekking, and her broken Italian combined with her white-blonde hair had made her feel strangely vulnerable. Lingering over coffee, she’d realised just how much Riccardo had protected her from the open stares of Italian men. She had felt their eyes boring into her, on top of her sickness, and she had been halfway regretting the impulse to follow him.
But there had been no turning back, and besides she’d wanted to meet his mother, had wanted to prove to him that she loved him whatever his background. She hadn’t cared if he didn’t have any fixed plans or career path!
In the end, it was sheer luck that she landed up in the right place. After several hours, she could only remember bits of the wretched address, and she had forlornly managed to find a taxi driver with only the despairing hope that he could piece together what she recalled and somehow work out where she was supposed to go.
But, of course, she had Riccardo’s name—di Napoli. And that was the key that eventually unlocked the door.
He knew the family name. In fact, knew exactly where to find the house, looked at her curiously, although she was too relieved to notice that fleeting glance.
She arrived late in the evening, and even in the fading light could see that this was not the house of a destitute woman.
‘Are you sure you have the right place?’ she asked the taxi driver anxiously. ‘Are you sure you have the right di Napoli? I mean, there must be hundreds of them!’
A mansion faced her. It was of that distinct washed terracotta colour, but this was no simple dwelling. Portico after portico stretched along its clean main façade, and above them rows of windows and yet more doors sitting squarely behind a long balcony that extended the width of the building. And the pattern was repeated yet again. Surrounding the villa were extensive manicured lawns and trees that looked as old as time. Behind her, the taxi driver was talking rapidly in Italian, way too fast for her to understand a word he was saying, but she recognised the name Elena di Napoli, and if nothing else that was enough to make her realise that she had reached the right place. And no insignificant little place with dodgy electricity and erratic plumbing.
Charlotte felt her stomach constrict now as she remorselessly replayed the remembered scene—the old lady who’d answered the door, the old lady who had not been Riccardo’s mother but one of the maids. Then his mother had arrived, then Riccardo, and from thence on her hopeful dream had turned into a nightmare.
She switched on the radio, but the distraction failed to work. Riccardo had been literally horrified, and while she had stood there, clutching her bag with all her worldly goods, stammering out that she had decided to surprise him with a visit, he had looked at her as a stranger would, with cold, black eyes, talking between her and his mother—English with her, Italian with his mother, who had the autocratic bearing of someone whom the daily inconveniences of life as most people would know it had not touched for decades. She had been tall, erect, with a long aquiline nose down which she’d stared at Charlie as though she was something the dog had chewed up and decided to spit out. Right onto her gleaming marble floor.