Title: The Antique LoveAuthor: Helena Fairfax
A small bead of perspiration trickled down Penny’s back. The stone stairs that led up to the Piazzale Michelangelo were never-ending, and the early evening air was hot and dusty.
Why on earth am I doing this? she asked herself, allowing a giggling group of teenagers to overtake her. She’d had an odd call from Tehmeena that morning, asking her to take a photo of the sunset over Florence. And it had to be taken from the top of the longest climb in probably all of Italy. It would be romantic, Tehmeena had promised her, and wasn’t she looking for romance? Penny just snorted.
She’d just spent a week in Venice—the most romantic city in Europe—photographing everything she saw, only to realise that for her, romance must be dead. She’d stood in St Mark’s Square and felt nothing. She doubted Michelangelo’s square was going to make her feel any better.
There was a small crowd milling in the enormous, dusty Piazza when she finally reached the top. She pulled out her camera and made her way to the stone balustrade on the western side to where the sun was making its descent.
“Actually, this was worth the climb,” she admitted grudgingly. To the west flowed the River Arno, with its three ancient stone bridges arching gracefully across, and a little beyond was the magnificent red dome of the Duomo Cathedral. A row of tall ochre and red stone buildings lined the river. Penny put her elbows on the wall and leaned out. A faint breeze stirred the warm air. The sun was sinking lower over the horizon, the gathering dusk creeping in softly behind it. The reflections of the city lights were beginning to ripple in the waters of the river.
A footstep behind her caused her to stiffen. She hoped she wouldn’t have to fend off any male attention. Since she’d arrived in Italy, she’d noted with irony that just when she’d decided to devote her life to being a spinster and a mad cat lady, men seemed to pop up from all over the place intent on getting to know her. She was forever fending off advances.
She turned a cold shoulder and leaned further over the wall.
The steps came nearer, and she caught a familiar scent. Like the skin on fresh apples. Her breath caught in her throat.
She whirled round at the sound of his voice, dropping her camera to the ground. The leather case hit the stones with an expensive thud. It was no dream. He was standing there in front of her, a little leaner, the shadows a little deeper under his eyes. She stared, not speaking.
He took another step forward. “Tehmeena told me where you were. I had to see you before it was too late. I wanted to tell you…” He took a breath.
In the mad whirl of her thoughts, Penny noted he had a slim, rectangular box in one hand, and that the fingers holding it were clenched tight. His eyes were steady on hers.
“I wanted to tell you before it was too late that I love you. And when I saw the room you made for me, I thought…that gave me hope that I might not have ruined everything. I love you beyond distraction. I love you, Penny Rosas, and the thought I may have lost you has me half-crazed.” His words came in a trembling rush, so unlike his usual measured tones. His eyes stayed fixed on hers. She didn’t speak. He took another step forward.
“I brought you this,” he said, holding the box out slowly. “But if you tell me you don’t want it…”
He was near enough now for Penny to make out the pulse beating quickly under the warm skin of his throat. He extended his hand, and she reached out her own to take the box from him wordlessly.
“If you tell me you don’t want it, I’ll leave. But after that, I don’t know what the hell I’ll do.”
There was a whiteness to his lips and in the faint lines around his nostrils.
Penny lifted the lid of the box. Some crumpled tissue paper and then the dying rays of the sun caught a cluster of tiny rose diamonds. She lifted the jewels in a hand that was suddenly shaking. Two shimmering pearls caught in a silver heart. The love token.
She raised her eyes to Kurt’s, brimming with tears of wonder. “How…?” she asked. The words caught in her throat. She held the box away from her as though it were unreal.
“I wanted you to have your dream.” He turned his head to take in the sunset and the lights of the city below them. “I begged Tehmeena to get you to come here. I wanted to ask you to marry me, and I wanted it to be perfect.” His gaze roved her face and fastened on her wide eyes. “I wanted it to be romantic for you. I was scared I’d left it too late.”
Her eyes dropped to the love token in her hands. The silver chain played out through her fingers.
“I want you to know how much I love you,” he said again, taking a step forward.
Her head lifted quickly, her eyes brimming with unimaginable joy, and she almost leapt forward into his arms. His hands fastened around her, and his mouth was on hers, gently at first. Then his arms tightened, his hungry mouth devoured her, and she gasped with the most delicious burst of golden euphoria lifting and swirling her body.
A passing group whistled. He drew back, looking down at her.
“What an idiot I’ve been,” he said, a tremor in his voice. “I was frightened of losing you. So frightened of ending up half-crazed, I was out of my senses. I’m sorry I hurt you.”
She reached a hand up to his lips. “Is this a dream?” she asked softly. He shook his head. The well of happiness within filled to overflowing. “Then dreams can come true, after all,” she whispered. She reached up and met his lips with her own, closing her fingers around the love token and wrapping her arms around his neck in a long, long embrace, whilst the sun set behind them over the Arno.