Julia couldn't suppress feeling smug as she walked across the piazza and settled at a table set for one under a big canvas umbrella. Depositing her shopping bag on the cobblestones and securing her handbag to the chair, she summoned a waiter, ordered lunch and leaned back to drink in the view over the low terrace wall. The restaurant was perched on a high piazza on the edge of the ancient town, which was itself perched on top of a hill. From here, the view swept across a deep green valley to houses and gardens on the other side, the brick and terracotta of the houses and old garden walls interspersed with bamboo stakes, rows of vegetables, and vines. So much terracotta, she thought, and so many trees — so unlike home ...
Julia did not often stop for lunch when she was in Sienna. Her visits were usually far more perfunctory — but this time, as well as a tidy parcel of art supplies, her box at the post office had contained a letter from Rome, and the news this letter contained was worth at least an icy glass of wine in this beautiful corner of the city, if not a whole indulgent lunch for one.
Once lunch had arrived, she allowed herself to re-read the letter, taking in once more, as if for the first time, the heavy notepaper subtly embossed with the gallery's name and logo in one top corner, the polite greeting and, at the bottom of the single page, the single word scrawled boldly in blue-black ink (so much more tasteful than blue or black on its own!): Massimo. And above and beyond the thrill of realising — all over again — that the gallery owner, whom she had met only once, had signed this very important letter to her with his Christian name, was the ultimate thrill of the letter's content: The directors were so very happy to have met La Signora when she was in Rome last week, and to admire her work, and they would very much like to talk again to La Signora about — Julia took a big gulp of wine as she re-read this bit — the possibility of an exhibition next spring, and could La Signora kindly telephone Massimo — not Signor Martinelli, but Massimo — to arrange another meeting at her convenience?
With a celebratory "Woo hoo!" and a raised glass to dear old Massimo that drew curious glances from other diners, Julia smiled widely but unapologetically, stuffed the letter back into its envelope and her bag and tucked in to her veal.
After lunch, having checked the letter was safe in her bag (she did not want to admit to herself that really she was confirming its existence), Julia picked up her shopping and headed through the town towards her car, wishing she had worn more sensible shoes for walking over cobbles, but knowing there must have been a good reason she had decided to wear heels for this trip into town today.
She approached the big square at the centre of the old town, but her way into it was barred by temporary barricades. A small army of workers had blocked off all access into the square and everywhere people were running about carting equipment from small trucks: hundreds of straw bales, flags, bunting, PA systems, electrical boards, lights and tools. Early evidence of the imminent Paleo, Julia realised — the world-famous bareback horse race that has been held in the square every summer for centuries. She turned away from the noise and frenetic activity and headed down a side street, hoping it would wind its way back in the direction she wanted. This was a very beautiful part of the town, with tiny and narrow streets lined with medieval houses all pressed close together, their large wooden doors pulled shut and giving no indication of the buildings' splendid interiors. Just ahead, a smart awning indicated the entrance to a tiny hotel and Julia slowed as she approached, unaware whether it was her keenness to inspect the hotel's bijou lobby or the noise of the row that was clearly going on inside that caused her eventually to stop and stare.
* What's happening in the hotel lobby?
* Is Julia already just a teensy bit in love with Massimo?
* Is Massimo married?
* Can vampires speak Italian?
Read the next instalment to find out ...