Home > Death in Florence (A Year in Europe—Book 2)

Death in Florence (A Year in Europe—Book 2)
Author: Blake Pierce

 


CHAPTER ONE

 

 

Florence.

Even when Diana was a little girl, the name of the Italian town had inspired thoughts of lush landscapes, cobblestone streets, flowery breezes, and romance.

Lots of romance.

So it was ironic that Diana was here, in Italy, on her whirlwind European trip—completely alone.

Diana had always been a planner, detailing things almost down to the minute. But when she’d left Paris, she’d made a decision. She’d spent the ten-hour high-speed bullet train ride (with a transfer in Milan) transforming her itinerary, which was once full of sites and excursions every tourist wanted to see, to something else.

A bucket list, of sorts, personalized to her.

The first item on the list? Fall in love in Italy.

A tall order, considering she couldn’t speak the language, was newly divorced and had been hurt before, and wasn’t exactly a spring chicken.

But as she stepped off the train at Firenze Santa Maria Novella railway station early that morning, she dragged in a bracing breath of chilly air and smiled, excited by the challenge. She looked around at the many tourists scurrying about like mice, energized and thrilling over the possibilities.

I can do this. And it’s going to be great.

Smiling from ear to ear, she retrieved her luggage and walked along the concourse, listening to the musical sound of the Italian language wafting up from the intercom and from people around her. In the background, Andrea Bocelli crooned. The rich scent of roast coffee and vanilla coming from a tiny pasticceria tantalized her. The station was modern and nondescript, a boxy warehouse by American standards, but a little shiver went through her as she stepped outside into the warm light of morning and gazed up at the Italian flag flapping in the breeze, and the tile-roofed Florence buildings scattered about the hillside.

She stepped around a rack, brimming with bicycles, and stood in front of the McDonald’s (a reminder that she could never fully escape America, no matter how hard she tried), waiting for a taxi. She decided to wait to check her phone for messages, which she was sure would all be from Lily and Bea, her adult children in vastly different time zones, and all of them versions of Are you okay?

They hadn’t believed she could do this. Didn’t think she’d make it. Thought she’d come back after the first week.

But she’d muddled through. Paris had been an adventure, what with nearly being arrested and murdered. No, it hadn’t been everything she was hoping for. Far from it. But in a lot of ways, it’d been more.

And she already couldn’t wait to see what kind of adventure she’d find in Italy.

A taxi pulled up at the curb, and an old man popped out, smiling at her as he tipped his flat cap and took her luggage. “Buongiorno.”

“Buongiorno!” she replied, scrolling through the translation app on her phone. “Um . . . Per favore portami a questo indirizzo . . . Castello Di Gabbiano?” Could you please take me to this address?

“Ah. Si,” he said, opening the door for her and helping her in. Then he slipped into the driver’s seat, and they took off into the wondrous historic city nestled in the heart of Tuscany.

The city proper was full of small, winding streets that it seemed the small cab would barely fit through. Though much of it was like any ordinary city, with streets full of busy, fashionable people, tightly packed modern buildings, and traffic, everywhere around were signs of the rich history of this part of the world. She kept her eyes peeled for the unique sights that made Florence Florence, looking for things that had been on her old list, the Cathedral of Santa Maria, the Galleria, and more. She still planned to see them, but since all her plans in Paris had been thrown into the air and she’d still had an amazing time, she’d decided to be more flexible about it.

Not exactly an easy thing. After fifty-two years of rigid scheduling, this leopard wasn’t going to change its spots overnight. Still, she was determined, and as a former successful businesswoman who’d clawed her way up the corporate ladder, she was used to facing adversity head-on, and adapting, if necessary.

She gazed in awe as they swung around a corner and the brick-red dome of the massive Cathedral of Santa Maria appeared in the window, framed by a gorgeous pink sunrise. Slowly, the pink and green façade of the architectural marvel came into view, the sunlight gleaming off of its many intricate windows, its white, green, and red marble surface, and the bronze ball atop the cupola, which, she’d read, had been soldered by none other than Leonardo DaVinci himself. She shivered a bit at the thought, at the feeling of being in the presence of such a magnificent piece of history.

The taxi sailed on past the cathedral, past many other buildings, spaced farther and farther apart, most with stucco facades and burnt orange terracotta roofs. They came out to a valley, with rolling hills and a vineyard stretching below, with rows and rows of grapevines baking in the sun. The driver pointed at a large stone building in the distance with an impressive tower and a medieval turret, just like the kind a princess would gaze out from.

Her hotel. A castle.

She’d planned to play it by ear, but on the train ride, she’d stumbled upon this place on her phone and couldn’t resist. An old castle amidst a vineyard, full of rooms with canopy beds and stone floors and views of the rolling green countryside? Yes, please! After seeing it, she’d added it to her itinerary. Stay in a medieval castle.

Now, she was really glad she’d booked in for three nights. The place was even better than the pictures she’d seen on TripAdvisor.

The cab pulled up a brick drive and drove through stone arches climbing with vines before stopping under a rustic wooden portico. By then, it was far too warm for a jacket, so she slipped it off and tied it around her waist. As she stepped out, two handsome young valets rushed to her service, fussing to help her with her one bag. They spoke in rapid-fire Italian, ushering her on into the lobby. Though stone-walled, it was by no means a cold space. In fact, with the sun pouring in the open windows and a large ceiling made entirely of stained glass, it was warm and inviting. There were wine kegs stacked in a corner, and rustic bottles placed on almost every surface. The home of Chianti. That’s what the website had said.

As she stood there, fumbling with her wallet for her credit card, she heard someone giggle. She looked up to see a young blonde woman pulling her considerably older lover along with her, toward a light-filled patio. He had a stupid grin under his salt-and-pepper moustache.

Of course, Diana thought of Evan, her ex, who’d traded Diana in for his own younger, blonder model, whom Diana and her girls referred to, not-so-affectionately, as Vidal, since all of her substance was in her hair.

Shoving those thoughts away, she pulled out her MasterCard and was just about to approach the reception desk when the elevator doors opened, and out stepped a young, starry-eyed couple, arms wrapped tightly around each other. They kissed as they walked, nearly bumping into Diana as she stood there.

“Oh. Um, sorry,” the young, goateed guy said in an American accent, confused to find her there. Before she could respond, he was locking lips again with his companion and heading out the doors.

“No problem,” Diana murmured. As she turned to head to the desk, a couple jumped in line in front of her, speaking German and throwing their massive backpacks on the ground. They were scruffy, the man with an unkempt beard and the woman with bits of dried leaves in her hair, both in hiking boots and shorts. Diana wondered if they’d just hiked over the Alps to arrive here.

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