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Gia San Valentino is the beloved baby in her large, loud, and loving Italian family. Family dramas, passion, and food rule the San Valentino clan, and Gia takes it all in stride, her family the touchstone of her life. But with Christmas fast approaching she longs for a life and home of her own with a husband and bambini she can love and spoil. The single scene doesn’t interest her and the men her well-meaning family introduce her to are all wise guy wanna-bes, with old world views on women – the pregnant and barefoot kind – just the type of man she’s trying to avoid.
When Gia lends a helping hand at her neighborhood parish’s Christmas Festival she meets a guy who has all her requirements for perfect-man status. Tall, sweet, good looking, and from a big Italian family of his own, it seems she might finally have found a man she can give her heart to. When a miscommunication has her believing he’s the new parish priest, her happily-ever-after hopes evaporate because he’s the proverbial forbidden fruit.
Or is he?
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He came toward me and I could see every ripple of muscle, every action and reaction of his gait, every blink of his eyes, as it happened. Detailed, distinct, delicious.
The bright sun shone low due to the hour, but it haloed around his form, bathing him in light.
He looked like an angel.
A dressed-all-in-black angel, but an angel, nonetheless.
“Need some help?” he asked when he was within a foot of me.
I still hadn’t moved, my fingers cemented around the ladder rungs. I couldn’t feel them anymore. Merda, I couldn’t feel anything I was so numb from just looking at him.
But I could hear. My blood, as it river-rafted crazily through my temples; my heart drumming like a heavy metal band in my chest.
And his voice. Mio Dio, his voice.
When I was six I had a terrible chest cold. Wheezing, choking on phlegm, unable to cough anything up. The doctor told mama to keep me warm and hydrated and the cold would ride itself out in time. Nonna Constanza, ancient even when I was a kid, scoffed and prescribed her own old world remedy. She sat me in her lap, cooing to me with her singsong voice and held a tiny shot glass up to my lips coaxing, “Tu bevi, Gia bambina. Tu Bevi.”
Drink, Gia baby. Drink.
She tilted the glass back into my mouth and I did. I drank every drop.
I don’t remember much after. Daddy told me later I slipped into a mini-coma for about sixty-two hours, bombed out of my head from the anisette nonna had dosed me with.
But this is what I do remember. The amber colored liquor slipped down the inside of my mouth to the back of my throat and onward into my belly, tasting of melted marshmallows and warming each place it touched like a million little hits of heat popping everywhere inside me. When it reached my tummy it settled and dug in, filling my senses with the sweet flavor of mama’s Sunday morning caramel rolls and sugar.
That’s what his voice sounded like: warm and sweet, thick, delicious, and soothing.
My entire body relaxed when I heard it. My paralysis flew and my frozen-in-place digits melted.
He’d held my stare the entire time, never wavering, never becoming distracted by something else. He looked straight at me; just me. Like a missile dead-eye-aimed for a target.
“Here,” he said, moving in closer, so close I could make out the actual color of his eyes now. I’d thought they were dark and from far away and they were. But seeing them now, face-to-face, I spotted little flecks of yellow and slivery shards of gold mixed into the center and surrounded by a ring of deep, rich, mink.
If his voice was warm and soothing, his eyes were hot enough to singe, and mama mia, I wanted to be burned.