‘I wish I’d been here when you were in hospital,’ I say, looking back at how busy the last few weeks have been at work.
The smell hits me before the plate arrives at the table. ‘Sfogliatelle!’ I exclaim! ‘My favourite!’
‘I can come into the restaurant and help out today,’ I say, as Nonna puts down a basket of bread, a dish of butter and a pot of homemade orange marmalade.
Lucia has worked hard as a lawyer in Wales, aiming for a big promotion she hopes will shortly come her way. Finally taking a well-earned break at her grandparents’ house in southern Italy, the sunshine, lemon trees and her nonna’s mouth-watering cooking make her instantly feel at home.
|Format: Ebook (8 April 2021) | Paperback (10 June 2021)|
|Page Count: 352|
‘Come sempre! Just like always!’
A summer escape she’ll never forget . . .
‘No boyfriends. Nothing serious anyway.’ Actually nothing at all, but I don’t say that. ‘There’s never time, really. Maybe once I get this promotion.’ I remember my phone upstairs. I’ll need to buy a charger. But after I’d messaged Mum last night to say I’d arrived, I’d promised her I’d switch it off and not look at it, at least until Monday, and have some proper time off. And that is what I intend to do. Have some proper time off.
Nonno never closes, and I know it must have hurt him to do so. ‘I just wish I could have run the place for you then.’
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I help myself to one of the shell-shaped flaky pastries. ‘You can stay here and rest if you like,’ I offer, sinking my teeth into the pastry and reaching the creamy ricotta filling. Oh, heaven! ‘I’ve missed these,’ I say, reaching for the thick, black coffee Nonna has poured for me. ‘It’s soooo good to be back!’
Jo Thomas worked for many years as a reporter and producer, first for BBC Radio 5, before moving on to Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and Radio 2’s The Steve Wright Show. In 2013 Jo won the RNA Katie Fforde Bursary. Her debut novel, The Oyster Catcher, was a runaway bestseller in ebook and was awarded the 2014 RNA Joan Hessayon Award and the 2014 Festival of Romance Best Ebook Award. Jo lives in the Vale of Glamorgan with her husband and three children.
Then bad news from home forces Lucia to re-evaluate what she wants from life. Is this her chance to carry on the family tradition and finally follow her dreams?
Nonno stands stiffly. ‘I’m going to the restaurant.’ I pick up my cup to finish my coffee and leave with him. ‘Sit, enjoy your breakfast and the sun. Take your time. We are not on city–lawyer timings here! Help your grandmother. Meet me at the restaurant when you’re ready. You can help me make the pizza dough for tomorrow.’
‘Buon giorno.’ Nonna is pegging washing to the line that hangs over the balcony.
The smell of coffee is winding its way up from the balcony below my window.
‘Just like always.’ He smiles.
‘It’s a kind offer. If you’d like to help me, and you’re sure there’s nothing you’d rather be doing, I’d like that very much.’
But she’s shocked to learn that her grandfather is retiring from the beloved family pizzeria and will need to sell. Lucia can’t bear the thought of the place changing hands – especially when she discovers her not-quite-ex-husband Giacomo wants to take it over!
My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the place on the tour and the publisher for providing the extract. This is one that I wish I had been able to read and review.
‘I’d like that.’ I hope with my promotion I’ll be able to plan my work a little more easily and not be picking up Anthony’s as well, maybe work from home some days . . . ‘Perhaps I should come out for longer next time. Work from here. People do. Remote working.’ As a teenager, I’d wanted to be a bilingual businesswoman, travelling between the two countries. Maybe, with the promotion, I could do that. With my laptop and my phone it might be possible. I feel excited all over again at the prospect of being promoted and how it could change my life.
Nonno nods thoughtfully as if he’s miles away. ‘He’ll be out here with the family soon, I’m sure,’ he says. ‘It would be nice for us all to be here together.’
‘And your brother. He’s well? I spoke to him this week,’ says Nonno, not catching my eye.
‘Come, sit, tell me more about life back in Wales,’ says Nonna, as I kiss her and Nonno, then sit down and let the sun do its job, massaging my tight shoulders. I can feel them loosening as I hold my face up to its warmth.
And my whole world rocks on its axis.
‘Always!’ He breaks into song again.
I grab a T-shirt and shorts, and rummage for my phone charger. I can’t see it in my case or my handbag. I slap my forehead. Must have left it on my desk in my hurry to leave the office. I’ll deal with it later. I know I won’t hear anything about the promotion until Monday at the earliest. Right now, I want to be sitting in the sun with my coffee. I hurry downstairs, leaving my phone by my bed. My tired brain and body are craving Nonna’s coffee. Two weeks here was exactly what I needed. I’m so glad I came. I can see for myself that Nonno is doing well and I’m glad I didn’t put off coming just because the promotion will be announced next week. It’ll make no difference that I’m away, Anthony said, and insisted I take my annual two weeks’ leave.
I glance round for Nonna. ‘Ha!’ I try to laugh. ‘As long as you’re not going to tell me you’re planning to do something crazy like retiring!’ I laugh loudly and wait for Nonno to join in. He doesn’t. ‘Nonno?’ Again, I look for Nonna, who’s standing by the door now. She’s not laughing either.
I laugh too. It’s one of their first questions every time I speak to them, and no matter how they try to wrap it up or hold off asking, it’s never far behind.
‘Buon giorno!’ I say. ‘Caffè! Pour me a cup! I’m coming down.’
He shakes his head.
‘He’s fine. We barely see each other, to be honest. You know how busy things are. He has his business and the family now.’ I really must make an effort to see them, I think, when I get back. When I have the new apartment, I’ll invite them over. They can be the first people I cook for.
‘Lucia! Great to see you back!’ Angelo looks up from serving coffee in the ground-floor café.
Nonno nods. ‘It’s time, Lucia. It’s time to retire.’
‘Of course I’d like to help. What else would I be doing?’ I smile. ‘If you’re certain you don’t want me to open up for you.’
‘How is your work?’ asks Nonno.
‘Nonno, I can do that. I’ve been helping you in the kitchen and watching you cook pizza for as long as I can remember. Why not let me take over today? You could play bocce with your friends.’ I take another glorious bite of pastry. The crumbs tumble over my front, my plate and the table.
‘Ciao, Angelo. How’s things? Still singing?’
He smiles again. ‘Meet me at the restaurant, Lucia. There is something I want to discuss with you,’ he says, and I suddenly feel it’s something serious.
He looks exactly the same, but the stiffness and tiredness were never there before. I must make sure I help as much as I can while I’m here so that when I leave he’ll be back to his sprightly self. ‘Don’t worry, Nonno. I’m here to help. You’ll be back to your old self in no time. The restaurant won’t know what’s hit it. Everything will be just the way it was.’
The scent of tomato sauce drifts to me from the kitchen, and I know Nonna has been up early, too early, cooking for our family meal later.
My bed seems moulded to my body shape but I toss back the thin duvet, walk over the cool tiled floor towards the window and push open the shutters, enjoying the warm morning sun on my skin. I reach for my phone, but stop and smile at the singing, the sun on the yellow-painted walls opposite and the sounds of the town waking up.
‘It’s fine. I closed for a while.’ He shrugs.
Nonna heads back to the kitchen.
‘It’s a lovely idea, but I need to be in the kitchen to serve my customers.’
‘That’s why I sent Nonno out early to get them. Now, eat,’ Nonna commands.
‘I’d like that.’ Nonno smiles. I can’t help but notice he looks tired again today. ‘But only if you want. You’re on holiday, remember!’
‘But you’re here now, and that’s what counts.’ He pats my arm.
I wake to the sound of singing, loud and joyous. I smile. It’s not birdsong. It’s opera from the café below. Angelo the waiter trained in opera but runs his parents’ café now. He sings every morning. It lets me know I’m back.
‘What he really means is, have you found a young man yet?’ Nonna laughs.
‘So, you can stay here and I can work the restaurant this evening, if you like,’ I suggest to Nonno, who’s watching me with a smile.