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Venetian Masquerade

by Flamenca 

Posted: 09 September 2009
Word Count: 8765
Summary: A romantic novel a la Mills and Boon - 55K words long. They turned it down! Now I don't know what to do with it. I uploaded 2 chapters as they're rather long. Please don't feel obliged to read it all if it's too much!

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Chapter One
‘Amy, you’re so late! For Heaven’s sake hurry into the meeting and bow and scrape to Jake. He’s fuming.’ Sandra rose to her feet as her boss flung herself through the office door.
‘I expect he is, Sandra…and guess what, I don’t give a toss!’ Amy replied, fighting back tears.
‘I’ll go and tell them you’re on your way, shall I? Are you all right?’
‘No. Yes. I don’t know Just let me count to ten and compose myself.’
A few minutes later Amy leaned on the conference room door, listening to the muted buzz of conversation behind it, before taking a deep breath, pinning a bright smile on her face and breezing in. ‘Good morning, everyone. Sorry to be late, I had a minor traffic accident.’
As she had known it would, all recrimination dropped from Jake’s face and he came swiftly to her and took her arm. ‘Are you hurt – no whiplash or anything?’
‘No, Jake, thank you; nothing like that. I’m afraid I backed into a car outside while parking and broke the lights.’
A titter ran round the five men gathered at the board room table and she felt the colour rising to her face. Jake lowered his considerable bulk back into his chair. ‘Not my car, I hope?’ he said, raising an eyebrow.
‘No, Jake, not your beloved Mercedes – it was a red Jaguar with one-way glass in the windows, and I haven’t a clue who the owner is. I left a note on the windscreen with my mobile phone number. Now, shall we get on? Here are the reports you wanted and I’ve translated them into both French and Italian.’
An hour later the meeting ended. Jake and his colleagues left the room while Amy remained, gathering together a mountain of documents which represented yet another series of late nights. Her friend and PA, Sandra, popped her head round the door. ‘Sorry, Amy - phone call. It’s your mother.’
Amy glanced at Sandra feeling vaguely alarmed. Her mother never called unless there was an emergency. ‘Okay, put it through here, would you?’
Sandra transferred the call to the boardroom and Amy grabbed the receiver. Speaking in French she demanded ‘Mama, what’s wrong, has something happened to James?’
‘No, no darling, calm down, James is fine, it’s Maria. I’m afraid she’s dying.’
‘Oh, lord, that’s awful.’
‘Antonio called – and apparently she’s deteriorated badly. They only give her a few days – a couple of weeks at best. She wants you to go to Venice to visit her and I really think you should.’
‘Oh, Mama, this couldn’t come at a worse time, I’m snowed under here. Look, let me think for a few minutes - I’ll call you back.’
‘Amy,’ Jake bellowed, re-entering the room. ‘The car you hit belongs to a new client and he’s furious. How could you be so stupid? I haven’t yet told him who’s responsible – it doesn’t make a very good impression, but he’s going to find out soon enough.’
She gazed at him, angry tears filling her eyes. ‘Jake, I am sorry, but I’ve a little boy at home I hardly ever see, I worked on those reports till two o’clock this morning, I haven’t had a day off for three weeks, nor a holiday in a year. Now I’ve just been told my dear Godmother is dying. I am totally exhausted…and…and what’s more I’m taking some leave, starting now. I need to go to Venice to be with Maria and that’s just what I’m going to do. And if you don’t like it you can fire me, I really don’t care anymore!’
Jake looked at her in amazement for a moment. ‘All right,’ he conceded gruffly, ‘If things are as bad as that, you can take two weeks leave, starting now.’
‘Thank you.’ She stood to face him and he took a step backwards. ‘What about all this work?’ she asked, lowering her tone a little and indicating a pile of folders on her desk.
‘Janice can take over for once. I’ll take her off her current project. You knew this was a high pressure job when you took it on – if you can’t cope, perhaps…’
‘I can cope – but I need a break.’
‘I’m sorry; I suppose I have overloaded you recently. Take two weeks compassionate leave.’
With a sigh of relief Amy re-arranged the work pile and stuck yellow labels on the most urgent things Janice would need to organise. Finally she picked up her bag, and was about to leave the office when Sandra popped her head round the door.
‘That car you hit. Turns out it belongs to an Italian client called Alessandro di Benedetto. He only came to us today, so it’s a bit embarrassing…Amy, what on earth is wrong. Are you okay?’
Amy had collapsed back into her chair, ashen faced, her blue eyes wide with shock. ‘No…no, I don’t think I am, Sandra. This is appalling. If there’s one person in the whole world I can’t see, or have any contact with at all, it’s him?’
Concerned, Sandra came to sit by her friend. ‘Who is he? I mean apart from being a drop-dead-gorgeous, Italian property developer worth more money than I could spend in two lifetimes…’
‘He’s James’s father,’ she said in a hoarse whisper.
‘What! We’ve been friends for two years and you’ve never mentioned him.’ Sandra sat back, mouth agape, staring at Amy.
‘Oh, my God, Sandra, what am I going to do? He doesn’t know about James and he must never find out.’ She covered her face with shaking hands and Sandra came to sit beside her and gave her a hug.
‘Why ever not? I met him in the office and he seems a sweetie. A rich and adorable sweetie.’ She sighed theatrically, fanning her face with a sheaf of papers.
‘Sweetie…huh, a manipulative, lying bastard who thinks he’s God’s gift to the planet would be a better description. His family is powerful – what passes for Italian aristocracy - and ever since James was born I’ve lived in dread they might find a way to take him away. At the very least they’d claim the right to spend time with him and that would mean I’d have to see Alessandro regularly.’
‘Amy, I’m stunned. But he is James’s father, and sooner or later that’s going to become an issue with the boy. What are you going to tell him?’
‘But one day you’ll have to give him some sort of explanation. Amy…you liked Alessandro once…I mean if you were lovers…’
‘It’s a long and painful story. Sandra, I can’t see him and you are sworn to secrecy over James. I never meant to tell you – or anyone. My mother is the only one who knows the truth. If he is now a client here, at this firm of lawyers, I have to leave.’
‘Stop panicking, Amy. You are going away for two weeks and you don’t have to see him today. By the time you get back these initial meetings will be over and I expect he will only be in contact with Jake by e-mail and telephone.’
‘That’s true. No, it isn’t! Sandra, I hit his car – and I left my mobile phone number on his windscreen.’
‘Whoops. But he hasn’t called you?’
‘I turned my phone off in the meeting. Listen, can you go down to talk to him and pretend the car is yours?’
‘He’ll need a name for the insurance…and if I give your name…well, there aren’t too many girls called Amy Storace in the phone book.’
‘Amelie, my full name is Amelie…he may not remember that...’ She ran her fingers distractedly through her tangle of curly, dark hair.
‘Go down and face it out, Amy.’ Sandra said firmly. ‘It’s all you can do. Exchange numbers and insurance details, and walk away. You don’t need to get involved or tell him anything else, do you?’
‘Easier said than done.’ Amy, walked nervously around the room, anxiety oozing from every pore. ‘I walked out on him, and you know what Italians are like for holding grudges.’
‘What did he do to upset you so much?’ asked Sandra.
‘I’ll tell you when you have a week or two. Oh dear… I suppose I’d better go and face the lion. Wish me luck.’
She went to the rest room to splash her face with water and repair her lipstick. The pale, heart-shaped face staring back at her in the mirror was etched with anxiety. She was horrified at the idea of coming face to face with Alessandro and her heart was beating so violently she felt light headed. At last, taking a deep breath, she took the lift to the ground floor. Perhaps Alessandro had simply left his number on her car and gone, she thought, crossing her fingers. Maybe he was late for another meeting and she wouldn’t be forced to face him. But when she stepped outside into the August sunshine, she knew lady luck was not on her side at all that day.
The tall, rangy figure of Alessandro di Benedetto was standing by the red Jaguar. He was talking into his mobile phone in rapid Italian, gesturing dramatically with his free hand; a habit which had always made her laugh. He didn’t see her at first and it was a moment before she could move, so stunned was she by the impact of setting eyes on him again. Still lean, darkly tanned with almost saturnine good looks, a straight Roman nose and that deep dimple in his chin, he had changed very little in six years. He was wearing a black, immaculately tailored suit with a plain red tie and white shirt, but an image of Alessandro without his clothes on flashed, unbidden, through her mind, and Amy felt an instant heat rush through her body. She stayed out of his sight for a moment longer until she could breathe normally again, smiling ironically as several women walking by slowed down to gaze at the handsome Italian. Yes, she mused, he still has the wow factor. Swine!
As she watched, he switched off his phone, glanced at his Rolex watch, tapped his foot in irritation and wandered round to examine the damage to his car.
If I just wait a bit, perhaps he will drive away, thought Amy. But then she realised he couldn’t move his car because she had left hers too close in front for him to pull out and a van had parked behind almost touching his bumper. Ha! Alessandro the Great is blocked in, how humiliating, she thought with a smirk of satisfaction. Taking a deep, steadying breath she walked up to him.
‘Hello, Alessandro.’
He spun to look at her and his eyes widened, then darkened, as he gazed at her in utter surprise. ‘Amy?’
‘I’m sorry, but the long arm of coincidence has touched us. I’m afraid I am the culprit.’ She gestured to the damaged cars and making a great effort to be calm, fished around in her bag for a notepad and pen. ‘If you give me the number of your insurance company I will make sure the claim is settled immediately.’
He folded his arms and leaned back against his car, staring at her in astonishment. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘I work as an interpreter for Judge and Johnson’s… the lawyers I believe you employed today to represent you? But don’t worry, with your linguistic skills you won’t need my services, so there will be no need for us to be in contact after today. Now if you could give me the details…’
‘Wait a minute. I need to catch my breath…after six years you appear in front me like a ghost from the past and all you want is the number of my insurance company?’
‘That’s right.’ She wished her heart rate would calm down – it was almost painful.
‘Amy, I don’t believe this! Can’t we at least have dinner?’
‘Coffee – there’s a coffee shop across the road?’
‘No. The number please…’
‘Where did you run away to? Why did you go?’
‘That has nothing to do with you.’ Her eyes were bright with unshed tears. Here she was, facing James’s father after almost six long years and the pain was as acute as on the day she had left.
‘On the contrary, I think it has everything to do with me,’ he said, taking her arm.
‘Let me go.’ She stepped away from him, shaking from head to foot. ‘Please give me the number, Alessandro or leave it with my PA, Sandra. If you’ll excuse me I need to go. I have a plane to catch.’
‘Where are you going?’
‘Why are you so angry? It’s my car with broken headlights – you’ve only got a crack in your reversing light.’ He touched her face – the merest whisper of a caress and a million volt shock went through her. The same sensual cologne wafted past her nostrils, the same tension flooded hotly to her loins; the same urge to pull his mouth down on hers…
‘No, don’t touch me.’ Roughly, she pushed him away and scrabbled for her ignition key which had sunk to the bottom of her bag. Somehow, in her anxiety to get away, the contents tipped onto the pavement and in despair she crouched to pick up her makeup, purse and a photo of James, which she palmed into her pocket. Alessandro took her hand, pulled her to her feet and inspected her fingers.
‘Not married?’
‘None of your business,’ she gasped, tugging her fingers away. ‘Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m running late.’
‘I think you and I are running late, Amy, by about six years. Do not imagine I am going to let you escape again, at least until I find out what the hell happened.’
His eyes blazed down at her and something between raw terror and raw desire made her heart leap in her chest.
‘Get in the car.’
‘Unless you want me to make the most embarrassing scene here in the street, outside your office with a dozen people almost leaning out of the window to listen, you will do as I say. I can’t kidnap you - you’ve blocked in my car.’
Glaring at him, she permitted him to open the car door and slid inside. He climbed in the other side and sat staring at her. ‘I don’t believe this.’
‘Neither do I.’ Close proximity to him made her feel faint. It was like being in a time warp which was why, when he reached across and pulled her violently to him, she barely resisted.
‘How could you throw away what we had – have you forgotten the love, the passion?’ he demanded.
‘No, nor the pain, the betrayal. You’ll never hurt me like that again. Now let me go. Whatever we had is long gone and I really do have a plane to catch.’
‘Not quite yet,’ He brought his mouth down on hers in a crushing kiss and his hand slid between her legs stopping half way up her thigh. She was horrified at the shudder of anticipation which passed through her and knew he felt it too. His kiss became deeper and it was several seconds before she was able to gather the strength to push him away.’
‘No! How dare you presume to touch me like that? I have nothing to say to you. Haven’t you done enough damage?’ She turned and began to open the car door but he caught her hand and pulled her round to face him.
‘Damage? What happened, Amy, we had so much. You have to tell me why you ran away when I know you were as much in love with me as I was with you.’
‘No!’ Somehow she wriggled free, opened the car door, and fled to her own black BMW parked in front. She managed to lock herself in before he reached her side.
‘I’ll call you.’ he shouted through the closed window.
‘Please don’t.’
‘Amy, you ran out of my life with no explanation and I searched for you for a year after that. We’ve unfinished business and I will pursue you until it is resolved. I now know your number and where you work.’
‘You finished any business between us a long time ago you arrogant pig. Go to Hell, Alessandro. I hate you.’ And she drove off into the lunchtime traffic and headed out of London to the relative peace of the Hertfordshire countryside.

The drive home seemed interminable. Even at mid-morning, traffic on the motorway was at a standstill and it was steamily hot. Frustrated, she switched on her phone and called her mother. ‘I’m on my way home. I’m taking two weeks leave and, Mama, I want to be on a plane tonight – this afternoon if possible. Could you book for James and me to go to Venice? I have an account with BA and they have my credit card numbers. Will you call me back when you’ve confirmed the flight? Thanks, I should be with you in an hour if the traffic moves.’ A few minutes later the phone rang and she answered quickly, anticipating her mother.
‘Amy, where are you. Please, can we meet this evening?’
‘No we can’t, Alessandro. I told you, I’m going away.’
‘Where are you going?’
‘None of your business. Leave me alone.’ And she switched her phone off and flung it on the floor of the car. To her relief, the traffic began to move and she gave all her concentration to her driving. One accident in a day was enough…no, make that two, because meeting up with Alessandro di Benedetto could be a far worse catastrophe than a broken reversing light.

Chapter Two
When Amy finally reached home, her mother told her she had flights for five-thirty from Heathrow, which just gave Amy time to pack.
‘I’ll drive you to the airport so you don’t need a taxi…you’re very pale and stressed, are you all right?’
‘Yes, Mama, and no. Apart from feeling so sad about Maria, I had a terrible shock today; I backed into another car and it belonged to Alessandro.’
Her mother sat down abruptly and stared at her. ‘Oh, how very unfortunate.’
‘Putting it mildly. What’s worse, before I knew who my victim was I left my mobile phone number on his car, so now he will keep calling me and he knows where I work.’
‘Well, at least you will be away for two weeks and you can turn your phone off now.’
‘Yes. Where’s James?’
‘Next door, playing with Beth. I decided not to tell him you’re taking him away; he would have got over-excited. Amy, what did you feel, seeing Alessandro again?’
‘Nothing, Mama, absolutely nothing.’
‘I don’t believe you. Be careful cherie.’

Amy and James stepped out of the plane at Marco Polo airport into late evening sunshine. She dragged their case to where the vaporettos, the Venetian water taxis, bobbed in the choppy water, their owners chatting over cappuccinos at the quayside bar. She was about to buy a ticket when a voice behind her enquired ‘Signorina Amy Storace?’
Startled, she turned, almost into the arms of a man who towered over her.
‘Si, signor,’ she said, stepping back from him and looking up at a ruggedly handsome, vaguely familiar face. Brown eyes twinkled flirtatiously down at her and a generous and very sexy mouth widened to a broad and infectious smile.
‘Maria asked that I meet you with the boat and bring you to the villa. It’s over here.’ He indicated a launch a few yards away.
He looked familiar but she couldn’t place him. ‘Wait a minute…who are you?’ she asked in Italian, standing her ground and hanging onto her case as he tried to take it from her. James craned his neck to stare at the man and was rewarded with a salute and handshake, which made the child laugh aloud.
‘You don’t recognise me, Amy? Well, I recognised you, even after so long. I am Gabriel, Maria’s nephew.’
For a second she stared at him in astonishment, remembering the little boy she had played with on visits to Venice with her parents. A little boy who turned into a lanky teenager, who had taunted her unmercifully when she was fifteen and with whom she had had many a quarrel. ‘Gabriel? Yes, yes of course I remember you. You were horrid to me and I think I still owe you a ducking in the pond at the villa.’
With a smile she held out her hand which he took and raised to his lips. Amy was amused at his gallantry. ‘And who is this young man?’ he asked.
‘My son, James.’
‘Hello, James, welcome to Venice.’
‘I’m nearly five,’ replied James, in perfect Italian.
‘So grown up. I shall take you fishing; would you like that?’
‘Really? Oh, yes please. Is that your boat?’ he asked, brown eyes wide with excitement.
‘Yes, come along, I’ll lift you in.’ And with an easy movement he placed the small boy safely in the boat and turned to help Amy who, with a smile, stepped into the small launch unaided; but as he lifted in her heavy case, the boat rocked alarmingly and he steadied her by holding her round the waist, lowering her into a seat, his hands lingering a second longer than was necessary.
‘Thank you,’ she stammered, and he chuckled, started the boat, and turned it towards the marked boat lanes heading for Venice. ‘It was very kind of you to collect me. I could have taken a vaporetto to the Lido.’
‘No problem.’ He turned and studied her frankly. Irritated, she flushed at his scrutiny aware of his eyes taking in her petite figure and shapely legs.
‘Do you approve?’ she asked frostily, and he turned away laughing.
‘You should be flattered.’
‘Well I’m not.’
‘It seems we are destined to fight as much now as we did as children. It will be fun.’
‘Gabriel, I came here to spend time with Maria. I don’t want to fight with you or anyone else.’
‘So, you are now a housewife?’
‘No, I’m an interpreter with a law firm in the City of London.’
‘So, who cares for your son, his father?’
‘No, my mother.’
‘I see.’ He fell silent for a moment and she felt his disapproval.
‘I need to make a living for us both,’ she said defensively. ‘James is very well cared for…’
‘And he will be here in Venice. This will be a new life for you both.’
It was a statement, rather than a question and she was puzzled. ‘I’m only here for a visit. Two weeks, only two weeks’
‘I see… obviously nobody told you…well, never mind. I presume you don’t have a lover in England – someone to go back to?’
‘No,’ she said sharply, ‘and anyway, that’s none of your...’
‘Was his father an Englishman? He has an English name but the boy looks more Italian than I do.’
‘Will you mind your own business? He’s named after a Scottish Great Grandfather,’ she snapped, thinking how little that irritating teenager had changed in the fourteen years since she had last seen him.
‘I apologise.’ He steered the boat towards the glorious city, sitting like a jewel in the Adriatic. The setting sun turned the water to fire with the Doges Palace and bell tower, a floating apparition, shimmering before them.
‘I’d forgotten how beautiful it is,’ Amy murmured. ‘Look, James…’ But the little boy had fallen asleep, his head on her lap.
‘He‘s a fine boy, and already he speaks Italian.’
‘And French. You may remember that my mother is French and she’s with him during the day. My father was half Italian, so I speak to him in English and Italian at home.’

The little boat picked up speed and headed for her godmother’s house on the Lido, the long narrow island separating the Venetian lagoon from the Adriatic Sea. Twenty minutes later they veered out of the boat lane into a little canal, passing under some low bridges and Gabriel moored the boat outside Maria’s villa. He helped Amy, carrying the sleeping James, up a flight of steps onto the road and brought their case from the boat.
She stood gazing up at the large villa, saddened to see the almost derelict state of it; the garden was overgrown and the paintwork peeling. Clearly, the elderly lady whom she remembered as a robust and feisty person, full of life, was in decline.
Gabriel came to stand beside her. ‘I wanted her to move somewhere smaller where she could be looked after, but she wouldn’t hear of it. Neither will she consent to an army of servants running around after her. There’s only Carmela and Antonio who are quite elderly themselves. They live here and shop, cook and tidy for her, but the house is in a sad state.’
The front door opened and Carmela, with a cry of welcome, beckoned them in.
‘Signorina Amy, come in…I’m so glad you are here…Oh, what a beautiful boy.’
‘I’m so happy to see you too, Carmela.’
‘You have grown into a beauty,’ smiled the elderly lady. ‘So like your dear mother; the same curly dark hair, blue eyes, and yes, a very similar mouth.’
She could feel Gabriel’s eyes on her mouth and when she glanced sharply at him, he ran a tongue round his own lips and smiled cheekily, his eyes narrowing. She instinctively knew what he was thinking and glowered at him. Italian men, she thought, are born with a whole section of brain dedicated to bottom pinching and the seduction of any woman under fifty. No, more like sixty. And Gabriel was, without doubt, a past master, with his good looks and easy smile. I bet there’s a different girl in his bed every night, she thought contemptuously. Well, he’s not having me!
Amy followed Carmela into the salon, where the remaining light filtered through a grimy window and fell on her godmother, seated in her wheelchair, with hands outstretched. ‘My dear, dear, girl! Let me look at you…Oh, your mother… so like your mother. How lovely. Come and sit beside me…Gabriel, will you take her case upstairs please, it’s too much for Antonio, and Carmela, please can you make us coffee…or tea; Amy, would you prefer tea?’
‘Tea would be perfect, please,’ laughed Amy, stooping to kiss Maria’s papery cheek. Clearly, her godmother was still in charge of her life – and everyone else’s. James opened his eyes, stuck his thumb in his mouth and regarded Maria from his mother’s lap.
‘He’s so handsome, Amy. Those dark eyes and that huge dimple in his chin. He’ll be a heartbreaker when he is older.’
Exactly like his father, thought Amy wryly.
‘I am glad you were able to come and I hope you will stay. I want to spend some time with you and your child before I move beyond the veil…and I’ve plans I’ll tell you about tomorrow when you are rested. Tell me, what do you think of Gabriel?’
‘Charming, good looking and I expect we shall fight just as much as we did as children.’
‘Good. So you will have fun. He is a kind man – take no notice of his flirting; he has a good heart.’
‘He hasn’t married?’
‘No. In spite of his eye for the ladies – and there have been a number,’ the old lady chuckled, ‘he’s a soft old romantic at heart and he’s waiting for someone special.’
They talked for a while about Amy’s life in England but soon the elderly lady began to tire. ‘I need my bed, child. If you will push my wheelchair to the foot of the stairs I can get into the stair lift and manage into my bedroom. Carmela will come and help me.’
As the bedroom door closed on the old lady, Gabriel joined Amy at the top of the stairs. ‘This is where you are sleeping,’ he said, opening another door. A large double bed took centre stage and the room overlooked the canal, now in darkness. ‘James has a bed in the dressing room through there…and over here is your bathroom. ‘
‘And you? Do you live here?’
‘Me? No, I live in an apartment on the island. I’m an art and antique dealer and I travel a lot around Europe. But tonight I shall stay here. Maria keeps a room for me because I sometimes sleep over if she is particularly unwell.’
‘That is kind. How long has she got…have the doctors told you?’ she asked sadly.
‘Not long. She is not in pain, fortunately, but she gets weaker each day and it’s only a matter of time before she is completely bedridden.’
‘It‘s very cruel.’
‘She doesn’t see it that way. She has her faith and no fear of dying. Now, why don’t you put James to bed? Carmela will take care of him, while I take you to dinner.’
Amy suddenly realised she was starving. James had eaten everything put in front of him on the plane, but she had been too stressed to have more than a cup of coffee, her mind continually flipping back to her encounter with Alessandro. She became very still and thoughtful as she contemplated her problem until Gabriel gently touched her shoulder.
‘Amy, did you hear me? Would you like dinner?’
‘Yes, thank you, I would -very much.’
After a quick shower and change of clothes, she tucked up James with Teddy, his beloved bear, and watched as he almost instantly fell into a deep sleep.
If only I could sleep like that, she thought, remembering the endless nights she had worked until two or three in the morning in her small study at home, and how she had then been mentally too active to sleep until dawn.
Gabriel had changed into jeans and a tee shirt. ‘We’ll go to the pizzeria near the water taxi station. It’s cheap and cheerful, but I’m sure you are not in the mood for a cordon bleu meal tonight.’
She was grateful for his thoughtfulness. ‘Perfect. I’ll let Carmela know we are leaving.’
Walking along beside the lagoon with the moon rising above the distant towers of the Doges Palace and the Bell Tower across the water, Amy began to relax. The air was balmy and she gave a deep sigh, glad to be away from London and the unsettling presence of Alessandro di Benedetto.
‘Tell me about him.’ Gabriel said and she turned to him and pulled a face.
‘I told you earlier, Gabriel, there’s nothing to tell.’
‘Then why are you so sad…and sighing so sorrowfully? Okay, I know, none of my business.’
They ate at a candle-lit table outside the restaurant and Gabriel regarded her solemnly for a moment. ‘You’re truly very lovely Amy. You were a thin, spotty teenager but even then you had good bones.’
‘And you were a horrible tease; you knew how self-conscious I was at fifteen. I didn’t like you at all.’
‘I hope we can be friends now. There are difficult days ahead, so please put the past aside and see me as someone you can depend on. I will flirt shamelessly with you, and if you should fall in love with me, as I could so easily with you…well, who knows… that might be wonderful. But first we should be friends. What do you say?’
Tears sprang to her eyes and she touched his hand across the table. ‘Thank you, I appreciate that. Can we go now? I can hardly stay awake.’
For the first time in weeks, Amy slept for more than eight hours. The next morning, rubbing sleep from her eyes she pulled back the curtains to let in the sunshine and then wandered into the dressing room to find James’s bed empty. She could hear him chattering to Antonio in the garden, so reassured, went downstairs in search of breakfast.
The house appeared even more dilapidated in the morning light. The old wallpaper was ochre-coloured with age and as a result of the forty-a-day smoking habit Maria had been unable to break, in spite of her illness. The threadbare stair carpet and dusty, old-fashioned furniture depressed her. This house had always been full of light and laughter.
Carmela was in the large, airy kitchen, the windows and shutters thrown open to let in the early morning breeze.
‘Antonio and James have been to buy croissants. Sit here and eat while I make some coffee for everyone.’
‘Has Maria had breakfast?’ she enquired, smiling up at Gabriel as he came into the room.
‘She can no longer eat solid food so she survives on a milky protein drink. You can go in to see her soon.’ The elderly woman bustled round the kitchen and called Antonio and James in from the garden to eat.
‘Maria wants to see you this morning, Amy. She has things to say which won’t wait any longer.’ Gabriel drank his coffee standing by the window, shoulders drooping sadly.
‘You’ll miss her.’
‘I will,’ he said simply. ‘You go and talk to her while I take James to the park for half an hour. Would you like that James?’
‘Yes please! Can we take a football?’
‘There’s a toy shop on the way; I’ll buy you one. Come on – who’s your favourite team?’ The small boy slithered down from his chair, grabbed Gabriel’s hand and Amy watched them chatting animatedly as they went through the garden gate.
She knew how much James missed having a father and hoped that in the two weeks they would be in Venice he would not become too attached to Gabriel.
Clearly Maria had been right when she called him a kind man, thought Amy, wishing she could give her heart to someone as uncomplicated as Gabriel.
Amy knocked gently and went into Maria’s bedroom. Her godmother propped up by several pillows, looked tired, her skin pale and waxy.
‘My dear girl, come and sit beside me and take this envelope.’ Her breathing rasped in her chest and she had to wait a moment before she could speak again. ‘It gives you details of who my lawyer is and he will advise you what must be done when I’ve gone. You can trust him completely.’
‘I don’t understand…’
‘Amy, I am leaving you the villa and the bulk of my fortune. There are bequests for Carmela and Antonio of course, which will ensure their comfortable retirement and a gift for Gabriel. But for you and James, there is security.’ She paused and signalled for a glass of water, which Amy, almost numb with shock, helped her to sip. ‘The house has ten large bedrooms, and I had an architect take a look at it a few years ago. He agreed the villa is perfect for turning into a small hotel. There’s enough money to do the conversion, if that is what you decide and you can either keep it and run it, or sell it for…well, quite a lot of money.’
‘Maria…I am utterly stunned. But…well, why me? I’ve hardly been a model goddaughter have I?’
‘Your father was a treasured friend. No, my dear, not a lover, but he was a brilliant financier who helped me make some investments which prospered wonderfully. If he had failed me I would have lost everything. He and your mother became very special to me. It was a blow when they left Venice for London when you were a baby, but I was honoured to be asked to be your godmother and I promised your father that when my time came, I would leave you whatever was left. And actually, there’s rather a lot. I spent very little, as you can see by the state of the villa. So really, you see, this is a legacy from your father.’ Maria paused for a moment, gathering the strength to continue. ‘And you mustn’t feel badly about Gabriel; he has more money than he can spend already and a successful business. You could do a great deal worse than marry him Amy; I would smile down on such a match from my place in Heaven.’
‘Maria…please, give me a minute to absorb all this,’ she gasped. ‘Does Gabriel know your plans?’
‘He does. He’s known for the past year and has promised he will help you over the next few months. Now, in return I want you to do something for me.’
‘I want you to tell me the name of James’s father. I shall take it to the grave with me, but curiosity has been eating away at my soul.’
‘I think I already have an idea, although I hope I’m wrong. Is it someone you met in Rome when you were doing your masters degree?’
‘Yes. Yes, Maria.’ She paused, a wave of anxiety washing over. Just talking about Alessandro was an ordeal. ‘He’s the owner of Benedetto International.’ She continued at last. ‘A property developer – worth millions.’
‘You know him?’ she asked aghast. How many more shocks was this day going to bring?
‘By reputation.’
‘He doesn’t know about James and I dread him finding out.’
‘Then your life is going to be interesting, Amy. I am sorry to tell you that some of the investments your father made for me were done through his company. His father was running it at that time of course, but there’s no way you can avoid contact with the di Benedetto family while the will is being sorted out. His company holds a lot of the paperwork for me so I’m afraid your name may come before him and he will inevitably track you down.
‘I simply don’t believe this,’ Amy groaned. ‘I spent five and half years trying to put him out of my mind. I moved to France until James was born. A couple of months later, because part of my life plan was to travel, I got jobs which took us to Canada for two years and down to Florida for another year. Fortunately, with my language skills I could get a job almost anywhere. I only went back to London two years ago, thinking Alessandro would have long forgotten me. Yesterday I backed into his car in London.’
‘How did you first meet him? Tell me the story, Amy; indulge me,’ pleaded Maria, a twinkle briefly appearing in her eyes.
‘All right.’ She took Maria’s hand and began. ‘I told you I was working in Rome as a post-graduate after I got my degree as an interpreter at Geneva University. At twenty-one with the world at my feet, I found a job with the Tourist Board. I escorted coach tours, helped tourists in distress, accompanied them to see doctors and so on. Well, one day I was in the office when a very aggressive and pushy American woman, a Mrs Wentworth, came in and asked – no, demanded - the services of an interpreter for her first meeting with a property developer she’d employed to project manage the building a hotel for her. Her PA had gone sick and the local agencies couldn’t help her. My boss thought it would be good experience for me, offered to rent me out to her for an exorbitant fee, and to my amazement she agreed. I barely had time to freshen up before she dragged me off, almost by force, to her meeting. Chairing the meeting, of course, was Alessandro.’ Amy paused, remembering the electric charge that had shot through her body the first time she had seen him. He’d ignored her at first, poring over some papers, his long fingers shuffling the reports around as he talked to a colleague; then he had looked up and frozen for a moment as their eyes met and locked, each, in a split second, recognizing destiny. It was such a cliché Amy had giggled and turned away to hide the deep flush spreading up her neck.
‘Go on, Amy – what happened next?’
‘Well, this ghastly American woman swooped on Alessandro, almost pinning him to the wall, chattering at him. I spent the next two hours interpreting for both of them and I could hardly fail to be impressed by his mind. Of course, he arranged a deal that suited him and she turned to jelly before my eyes. “Yes, Alessandro, no, Alessandro…that’s a wonderful idea, Alessandro”. By the time we finished she was so bemused she thought everything they agreed had been her own idea – so she left, very pleased with herself and didn’t realise he’d manipulated her all along. Clever.’
‘And then?’
‘Everyone else left the room and I picked up my belongings from the table intending to leave too…’ She took a deep breath to calm herself. ‘And he came over to me and kissed me.’
Amy struggled to control the quiver in her voice and for a moment fell silent, remembering the moment. Alessandro, leaving her no choice, no chance to say no, simply walked around the table and took her in his arms. After looking searchingly into her wide, astonished eyes, he lowered his mouth to hers and kissed her so deeply and with such expertise, that she had wilted in his arms under the impact. Afterwards he tipped her chin back and smiled triumphantly, saying in perfect English, ‘That was as wonderful as I knew it would be. For two hours that wretched woman kept me from you and I thought she would never go.’
‘What did you do when he kissed you?’ pleaded Maria.
‘I stepped back, and slapped him very hard round the face.’
‘And what did he do?’
‘He kissed me again.’
And he had told her there was no point in fighting it because he could feel her body responding, her lips growing soft and responsive and moving a hand to her breast, her nipples harden. But Amy kept those details to herself.
‘I knew, I just knew that he was going to be a part of my life whether I wanted him to be or not. He was so arrogant, I absolutely disliked him, but there was a fire in me I had never felt before. Well, I managed to break away when a secretary came bursting in with an urgent message for Alessandro and I fled back to the office in a state of shock.’
‘And he came after you?’
‘He must have called Mrs Wentworth to ask where she’d found me. Within the hour a florist’s van arrived outside. For five minutes the driver went to and fro bringing in about a hundred and fifty red roses, all in crystal vases. My boss and the other girls were in hysterics. The phone rang every five minutes but I refused to speak to him for the rest of the afternoon. Being Alessandro, he wouldn’t give up and came bursting in to the office in person and dragged me off into the back of his car outside. The chauffeur shut the door, drove off and I was virtually kidnapped.’
‘Oh, Amy, how romantic.’
‘Yes, Maria, it was. It was…’ and to Maria’s obvious frustration Amy went into a reverie, remembering how Alessandro sat on one side of the car and she, as far away from him as possible, on the other.
‘How dare you do this, Signor,’ she had said, glaring at him. ‘Just who do you think you are?’
‘Oh, I know who I am, Amy,’ he said, smiling at her. ‘And I know who you are - and who you are going to be.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean you are going to be mine. You already know it, so there’s no point in fighting me – although I am sure you will. The minute you walked into the room and I looked at you, I think we both understood our lives would be intertwined forever.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous! Where are you taking me?’
‘Only to dinner. What did you think I was going to do, drag you to my castle and take you by force?’
She turned to glare at him. ‘I imagine you are capable of anything. Now let me go, Signor. I don’t know you?’
‘Yes, you do, and my name is Alessandro. Your soul recognised me straight away, as mine did yours.’
‘Amy!’ protested Maria, ‘stop floating away. What happened next?’
‘Sorry….well, because he gave me no choice in the matter, I had dinner with him in a small, very unpretentious bistro. After the way he’d kissed me at the office, I had visions of fighting him off afterwards and I was prepared to make a real stand but, to my utter amazement, he took me back to my flat, gave me a chaste kiss on the cheek and left.’
‘And then what?’
‘I wondered if I would ever see him again. I presumed he thought me an unsophisticated little fool and not his type at all. But he was waiting for me outside the office the next evening and the same thing happened. He didn’t make a move on me…just dinner and an avuncular goodnight kiss. For three weeks the same thing every evening; we went to the ballet, to art galleries, restaurants and every night he took me home and gave me a kiss on the cheek at my front door. He was really very charming and funny and he stretched my mind. He would tell me about his business interests, his view on life and wanted to know about me. By then, of course, I was madly in love with him and he knew it. But he was prepared to wait for me to tell him when I was ready to…to.’
‘Make love?’
‘Yes,’ laughed Amy. ‘Are you shocked?’
‘At my age, my dear, it would take more than that. What happened next?’
‘Maria, you can guess what happened next. One night after the theatre, when he went to kiss my cheek, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I kissed him. It was the signal he had been waiting for and the effect was…indescribable.’
‘So, you became lovers?’ asked Maria, sleepily.
‘Yes, Maria, we became lovers,’ Amy replied softly, as the old lady closed her eyes with a smile, drifting into a light doze.
Sitting beside her godmother, Amy remembered that kiss as if it had happened yesterday. Alessandro had brought her home and led her to the garden gate, leaning on it with such a look of longing in his eyes her heart somersaulted. He didn’t touch her, not even a kiss on the cheek and then, to her dismay, he turned to leave. ‘Goodbye, Amy,’ he whispered, and panic had stricken her heart.
‘That sounded very final, Alessandro,’ she whispered.
‘Do you want it to be?’
‘Then you must show me what you do want.’
Amy had taken a deep, shaky breath, knowing what would happen, but she was in an agony of need, longing to be in his arms. Slowly, she walked towards him and standing almost on tiptoe, brushed her lips across his. The effect had been electric and with a groan he had taken her face in his hands and kissed her back, gently at first and then more and more deeply; she had been swept away in a tidal wave of desire and flung her arms around his neck.
‘At last,’ he murmured. ‘I would have gone insane if you had made me wait any longer. Come with me, my darling, come with me now….now…’
And he pulled her back into the car and told the driver to head for Lido di Roma. He made a mysterious phone call, saying simply ‘Luigi, tonight.’
‘Where are we going?’ she gasped, coming up for air a few minutes later.
‘We are going to my yacht. I am taking you away for a few days.’
‘Your yacht? I can’t, I have to work. You have to work…I haven’t packed…’ But he laughed and kissed away her protests and by the time they arrived in the old Roman port she felt as if her insides had turned to liquid fire. The port was lit by myriad lights and Alessandro took a bag from the boot of the car, which she later discovered contained everything she might need, and sent the driver back to the city. Then he led her to a beautiful white yacht named Silver Lady, gleaming in the moonlight, moving sensuously, to the lap of the waves, and led her on board. ‘We’ll stay in port tonight. Tomorrow Luigi and my crew will come on board and I shall take you on a cruise you will never forget. Now come with me.’
He led her to his stateroom - a room such as she had never seen, furnished with exquisite taste with antiques and leather sofas. Next he took her through to the bedroom, in the centre of which a vast double bed dominated the room, draped in blue silk damask, with a bottle of champagne on ice by the bed.
Amy began to laugh. ‘Did you learn all your romantic gestures from Hollywood B movies?’
‘Too much? All right, we’ll take the champagne on deck and look at the moonlight.’ Amy laughed even more, going into paroxysms, making it difficult to breathe.
‘You are impossible, Alessandro.’ She gasped at last. ‘I don’t want the grand gesture for Heavens sake. I just want…’
‘Me?’ he had asked tenderly. ‘Please, say you just want me, cara.’
‘I do, Alessandro, truly I do…but…’
‘But what, Amy?’
‘I’m not very…experienced. I’m afraid you will be disappointed…’ she murmured awkwardly, remembering ruefully her only previous sexual encounter with a fellow student after a party. It had been such a let down, she had fought off all comers ever since.
‘It will be my sublime pleasure to teach you, Amy. Relax, darling, simply relax. Come here…’ And she had gone shyly into his arms.
Sitting beside the slumbering Maria, Amy remembered every erotic, sensual detail as it replayed in front of her eyes. She heard herself crying out joyfully many times during that night, and remembered Alessandro burying his face in her hair afterwards, whispering her name over and over.
When she woke, after the most exhausting and unforgettable night of her life, the boat was at sea and the Italian coast had fallen behind the horizon. Alessandro has disappeared but his side of the bed was still warm and she laid her cheek on his pillow, breathing in the scent of him. Her body felt languid and achy after such a night of love and she sighed, a contented smile on her face. The memory of his hands, touching, exploring and delighting her body made her tremble anew; and his mouth…Oh, how he knew how to use that. Lying there naked in the silk sheets, she blushed and giggled knowing that she’d been led to do things which she could barely have imagined, for Alessandro was an inventive and generous lover. But there had been no embarrassment – just a soaring need to give herself to him as he had to her.
‘Good morning, my sweet. Breakfast.’ He came into the room dressed only in white shorts, carrying a tray bearing scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and a steaming pot of coffee. She propped herself on one elbow and smiled at him, admiring his slim, athletic physique, as he sat on the bed, placing the tray between them. His eyes darkened as he looked at her and she had known that one touch of his hand would ignite the flame all over again. Seeing it in her eyes he laughed softly.
‘I must let you eat or you won’t have the energy you are going to need.’
That amazing week she had needed a lot of energy; it had been an unforgettable experience as they visited Corsica, Nice and Barcelona. Alessandro delighted her mind during the day and her body every night and by the time they got back to Rome Amy knew she had changed. She glowed with a new confidence, a new joy in life, a new love and hope for a future which could only be spent with Alessandro. Only it hadn’t worked out that way.

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Comments by other Members

NMott at 10:35 on 10 September 2009  Report this post
It's a long time since I've read Mills and Boon, but I did love their romantic stories with their twists at the end (usually the heroine overcoming the odds and getting her man).
I've been told that M&B is very formulaic, and one really needs to know the conventions of the publisher (not just of the romantic fiction genre) before submitting.
Writing for M&B may be proscriptive, but it still demands good technique and the ability to tell a good story - one can't treat it as a joke publication or an easy ride - so I'll start the crit with those two things in mind.

Chapter One

‘Amy, you’re so late! For Heaven’s sake hurry into the meeting and bow and scrape to Jake. He’s fuming.’ Sandra rose to her feet as her boss flung herself through the office door.

I would swap these around so you have the action before the dialogue.
Also worth checking if M&B follow the rule of not starting with dialogue.
It's only the opening sentences but it does leave me a little confused about the period. 'bow and scrape' is a phrase that came from earlier times, but this is a contemporary story, so using it when you are still inte scene setting stage left me a little wrong footed.

‘I expect he is, Sandra…and guess what, I don’t give a toss!’ Amy replied, fighting back tears.
‘I’ll go and tell them you’re on your way, shall I? Are you all right?’

I think i needed a little bit of description before the character asks if she's alright, because there is a bit of a change of gear at this point, from hurrying her along, to seeing the tearing up and being concerned for her welfare.

‘No. Yes. I don’t know Just let me count to ten and compose myself.’
A few minutes later Amy leaned on the conference room door, listening to the muted buzz of conversation behind it, before taking a deep breath, pinning a bright smile on her face and breezing in. ‘Good morning, everyone. Sorry to be late, I had a minor traffic accident.’

Good, although smiling a little at the 'minor traffic accident' - am I supposed to be?

As she had known it would, all recrimination dropped from Jake’s face and he came swiftly to her and took her arm. ‘Are you hurt – no whiplash or anything?’
‘No, Jake, thank you; nothing like that. I’m afraid I backed into a car outside while parking and broke the lights.’
A titter ran round the five men gathered at the board room table and she felt the colour rising to her face. Jake lowered his considerable bulk back into his chair. ‘Not my car, I hope?’ he said, raising an eyebrow.

I think a little continuity is missing here. One minute Jake has taken her arm (and moved 'swifty' despite his bulk), and the next he's lowering himself back into his chair as though he's only just stood up.

‘No, Jake, not your beloved Mercedes – it was a red Jaguar with one-way glass in the windows, and I haven’t a clue who the owner is. I left a note on the windscreen with my mobile phone number. Now, shall we get on? Here are the reports you wanted and I’ve translated them into both French and Italian.’

Gosh, she's digging a bit of a hole for herself with this elaborate lie - at least, I'm assuming it's a lie, made up on the spot to excuse her lateness. If it's not a lie, then maybe the accident needs be be clued in a little in the opening paragraph.

Sandra transferred the call to the boardroom and Amy grabbed the receiver. Speaking in French she demanded ‘Mama, what’s wrong, has something happened to James?’
‘No, no darling, calm down, James is fine, it’s Maria. I’m afraid she’s dying.’
‘Oh, lord, that’s awful.’

Um, I'm sorry, I know this is meant to be a serious moment for the character but I laughed.
Serious news like this needs a bit more of a build up - some of her internal thoughts and feelings (although it's 3rd person, it's her pov, so internal thoughts and feelings can be added between the dialogue). Why does the mc think it's 'James'? And how does she feel when she's told, instead, it's Maria (who is Maria?). Just having a 'that's awful' reaction to the news sounds very dismissive.

‘Antonio called – and apparently she’s deteriorated badly. They only give her a few days – a couple of weeks at best. She wants you to go to Venice to visit her and I really think you should.’
‘Oh, Mama, this couldn’t come at a worse time, I’m snowed under here. Look, let me think for a few minutes - I’ll call you back.’

In a short space of time you have thrown 4 new characters at the reader - Mama, James, Maria and Antonio - but not introduced any of them, so it's difficult to know what's going on.
Also, this section of dialogue seems to be contrived to get the mc to Venice. Presumably she knows 'Maria' is in Venice, so that doesn't need to be spelt out by her mother just for the sake of the reader.
Once the MC make her excuses and hangs up quickly, I think you can then have her agonising over whether or not to go, and at which point you can inform the reader it’s means a trip to Venice.

‘Amy,’ Jake bellowed, re-entering the room. ‘The car you hit belongs to a new client and he’s furious. How could you be so stupid? I haven’t yet told him who’s responsible – it doesn’t make a very good impression, but he’s going to find out soon enough.’

A little more description needed to set the scene for the reader - I had assumed Amy had gone back to her desk to take the call - and to describe Jake's re-entry. As it stands it gives the impression Jake is bellowing at Amy before he's opened the door and before he even knows for sure she's in the room. If she wasn't there - or hid under the table - he might find himself bellowing into and empty room.
There is elements of a humorous tone, more suited to Chick-lit, in this piece, but unfortunately I suspect they are unintentional. If you took it just one step further (played to your stengths) this would make a very good chick-lit story. eg Amy is sort of lying about the accident; Jake discovers it's really his car she's backed into and bellows at an empty room while Amy cowers under the conference table spilling armfuls of folders and mixing up the meeting notes and so decides a trip to Venice is just what she needs while her office junior sorts out the mess and her insurance sorts out Jake's car...

I've stopped here, wondering if any of this is of use to you, as I've got the impression from your posts that you had rather given up on this mss. As it stands I don't think it works, but Amy's 'vocie' is good, and it could work as a chick-lit novel.
Let me know if you'd like me to continue.

- NaomiM


I had assumed Amy had gone back to her desk to take the call, oops, my fault. I came back to it this morning and missed the earlier bit about the call being transferred to the boardroom.

Flamenca at 14:02 on 10 September 2009  Report this post
Hi Naomi,
Thank you so much for so many valuable points. I knew that the beginning wasn't quite working and now I can see why. I'll have a rewrite and attack it with renewed interest. You're right - I had more or less given up on it and have moved on to a different type of writing. But I still like the story, so maybe I'll give it one last shot! I know it's a long passage and I couldn't ask you to plough through the rest in such detail but 'The First Three Chapters' is a bit vague when it comes to word length.
Thank you once again.

Deborah at 15:28 on 10 September 2009  Report this post
I have a couple of M&B flimsies because I wondered if I could write for this market too. |And I do think that starting with dialogue is pretty much the norm - straight in there with the speeching. Something I don't mind, so long as I'm given adequate background fairly immediatley thereafter.

You're right, Naomi, this would work brilliantly as chicklit - just the sort of fluffy funny stuff that Sophie Kinsella has made her trademark -
Amy is sort of lying about the accident; Jake discovers it's really his car she's backed into and bellows at an empty room while Amy cowers under the conference table spilling armfuls of folders and mixing up the meeting notes and so decides a trip to Venice is just what she needs while her office junior sorts out the mess and her insurance sorts out Jake's car...
and the way you've described it, I can see it all like it's on screen.

Sorry, Suzanne, I have been having a read and I did get a little further on than this but I'll have to come back to it - agree with all points Naomi's just made. The premise sounds great - a lot of fun - just needs a bit of fine tuning - rather like the poor red Jag!

NMott at 18:33 on 10 September 2009  Report this post
and I couldn't ask you to plough through the rest in such detail but 'The First Three Chapters' is a bit vague when it comes to word length.

I don't mind, Flamenca, it's how I'm used to doing it, while others are great at giving a summary after a read through. I think our different ways of critting work well in this group.
If you think it might inspire you to return to it then I'm happy to carry on. I started thinking how it could be turned into Chick-lit and, if that's ok with you, I'll carry on with that in mind.

and the way you've described it, I can see it all like it's on screen.

Funny you should say that, Deborah, but I was imagining the movie version of Shopaholic as I wrote that bit.

- NaomiM

Deborah at 20:44 on 10 September 2009  Report this post
Although I didn't *heart* the movie as much as I did the book, it has to be said. It came across as predictable pap - imho.

Flamenca at 23:17 on 12 September 2009  Report this post
I'm really feeling quite excited about re-vamping this now. Thank you so much for for so much help and encouragement!

Account Closed at 20:53 on 16 September 2009  Report this post
Hi Suzanne

Coming late to this I can't really add anything to what the others have said. I agree that it could be transformed into chick-lit.

I enjoyed it very much, particularly the kiss and the last couple of paragraphs! I find it really difficult to write intimacy and you have done it really well here.

Best of luck with this


Trina at 17:39 on 30 September 2009  Report this post
I really like how this flows and you’ve a lovely turn of phrase.

Your MC is hugely likable and I immediately sympathised with her and wanted to know more.

I thought maybe the mother broke the news of Maria dying a little too abruptly and if you were going to market this as a chick-lit I’d maybe pull back a little on having so much dialogue and give more of a glimpse into her inner thoughts. But they’re only small things, I really liked the story, how it moved along so quickly and definitely think you should resubmit it as chick-lit.


Arian at 12:22 on 05 October 2009  Report this post
Hi Suzanne.

Not only am I coming late to this , but I’m afraid I’ve never read a novel from M&B, and I don’t know what their house rules are. So my remarks may not be useful. But I’ll jot a few down anyway.

I like the Amy voice, I think it’s sympathetic and engaging. I also thought your pacing is pretty good for (as I imagine it) a M&B type plot. I did think, though – on the subject of plot – that it was heavily dependent on coincidence (di Benedetto turning up at her office, Maria’s investments through his company etc). This isn’t necessarily a problem – it doesn’t seem to have struck others, but – for me – it stretched credence just a teensy bit. On the other hand, I’m not your target market, and – besides – coincidences do happen in life.

I think my main crits would be on the technical side. Many of the points I’d intended to make have already been made, so I won’t repeat them – except one: the Maria-is-dying phone call. As I was reading the piece, I was jotting notes – one of them reads: “Reaction to M’s dying. Realistic?” I...well, enough said.

Although much of your descriptive stuff is good, I couldn’t help feeling that you do quite frequently tend towards very familiar, even overused, images (hoarse whisper/ashen-faced/oozing from every pore/ tall, rangy figure/ jewel in the Adriatic etc). Of course, some level of cliche is hard to avoid (we all do it) and perhaps even desirable, but it might be worth watching out for these, to avoid overdoing it and to keep your work fresh.

Dialogue, I thought, you handle pretty well: mostly realistic and you haven’t overused speech tags (so often done!). There’s a few places which, I think, you confuse the reader (or this reader, anyway), such as:

Tell me about him.’ Gabriel said and she turned to him and pulled a face.

The pronoun “she” relates to Gabriel here. But it’s an easy fix.

There's a few more I spotted, but I won’t go on with nit-picky stuff which would be picked up at final edit.

In short, I thought it had some real strengths – particularly an interesting plotline and strong MC. Just needs a bit of cleaning up.

Thanks for the read

penpusher at 12:06 on 23 March 2010  Report this post
Hi Flamenca

I have only just joined so this may be too late to be of much use to you.
But I, too, am writing for Mills and Boon and have done a lot of research into what they are looking for etc.
Have you looked at their web site?

Also try Harlequin and listen to some of the podcasts which are really helpful.

Hope this helps.


For some reason my links haven't worked but hopefully you'll be able to get there.

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