Here’s a short story starring Franki and Gianni. This takes place after the end of Bleeding Heart. (Part way through Mind Control, actually, although this won’t be found in that book.) I hope you enjoy it.
Fireworks Aren’t Always in the Sky
Franki stood on the travertine-tiled patio and rubbed her arms against the night chill. Weather in Florence, Italy reminded her of weather at home in Pennsylvania—nearly ninety degrees (Fahrenheit) during the day and low sixties at night, but for some reason, that evening’s breeze blew exceptionally brisk. Unprepared for the cool wind, she’d stepped outside in a tank and shorts. And regretted it immediately.
But the view captivated her, so she stayed and braced herself against the cool air.
The Brotherhood’s home in Pennsylvania was beautiful. Their compound in New York was gorgeous. But their complex in Florence? It simply stole her breath. And she and her sisters knew quality properties. They’d been raised in the construction and design industries, and since the death of her father, were the owners of one of the most prestigious building and design firms in Pittsburgh.
It didn’t take her construction knowledge to know she stood on private property overlooking one of Italy’s most beautiful—and non-touristy—creations. The house behind her rivaled any palace or basilica she’d toured in her first visit to the country. The grounds, however, captured her interest at the moment. The hedge mazes and topiary created shadow-play on the paths as marble statuary gleamed a luminescent hue of white and water in the grottos sparkled from moonlight, star shine, and discrete lighting fixtures. The burbling fountains composed an organic melody, harmonizing with the chirping crickets.
Gianni walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her. The warmth she felt from his arms over hers and his torso against her back spread through her body.
And caused her to shiver all over again.
“Cold?” he asked. “It’s a beautiful night.”
She smiled and leaned back against him, not revealing what caused her latest shiver. “The wind just gave me a chill. It is a beautiful night, though.”
“The glow flies are out. June’s nearly over.”
She tipped her head up and looked at him. “Glow flies?”
He nodded toward the hedge maze. “Glow flies. Those little floating blinking lights in the garden. You have them in the States.”
A chuckle escaped her. “Yes, we do. But we call them fireflies. Or lightning bugs.”
He kissed her neck and said, “Hmm.” The vibrations from his lips on her skin gave her another shiver. “I don’t like the sound of lightning bugs.” He nuzzled her neck. “Fireflies is kind of nice, though.”
“I think I like glow flies. And I love it when our cultures merge.”
He kissed her neck again. “Mmm. Me, too. I love it when we merge even more.”
Franki giggled. “I love it here. But I wish we were home for the festivities next week.”
His lips grazed against her shoulder. “Festivities?”
She sighed. “The Fourth of July.”
Gianni didn’t answer. He continued pressing his lips on her arms, her shoulder blades. The nape of her neck.
She shuddered again. “Independence Day?”
“I know what it is,” he murmured. “I just didn’t realize it was next week.”
“The food, the fireworks, the festival… music and dancing and seeing the whole town come out to celebrate.” She sighed. “I love that. I’m going to miss it.”
“Let me see if I can take your mind off it, then.”
He led her inside, and she saw fireworks that night.
* * *
They continued their work for the next week, and Franki tried not to fixate on missing yet another hometown comfort. She was pleasantly surprised when, on July 4, Gianni and Donni threw together a picnic that would rival any festival back home.
Platters of pasta salads, grilled vegetables, and antipastos sat on the table between pulled pork, sausages, burgers, and dogs… all with fresh-baked rolls to put them in. Trays of grilled chicken and barbecued ribs nearly overflowed. Two huge bowls held fresh cut fruit, and sugar-dusted mounds of fried dough sat ready to be topped with gelato, fruit compotes, chopped nuts, homemade hot fudge and salted-caramel sauces, and vanilla-flavored whipped cream.
Why those two idiots loved to work in the kitchen, Franki would never understand. And she’d never complain. Everything was delicious.
After dinner, everyone took drinks out to the patio and settled down to digest their food. Franki sipped on coffee laced with Frangelico. The twins had glasses of Galliano. Jo and Vinnie had beer. The other guys had wine. She’d be content to taste everyone’s drinks, and after feeling comfortably fuzzy from the liquor, slip off to bed.
“What’s the matter?” Gianni asked.
“Nothing,” she said.
“Franki, you’re a lousy liar. What’s wrong?”
“I don’t want to sound ungrateful.”
He waited, staring at her. The others had broken into pairs and talked quietly to each other. She turned toward Gianni, took his hand, and squeezed it. “You worked so hard today. Everything was wonderful. Delicious. I couldn’t ask for more.”
“But you want more?” he said.
“I just miss the fireworks. Despite the perfect picnic, it just doesn’t feel like the Fourth without fireworks.”
“I see.” He fumbled with something in his pocket.
“When I was little, I used to call them ‘a glittery extravaganza in the sky.’”
“Big words.” He sent a text and then looked at her. “How little?”
“I don’t know. Papa teased me about it for years, though.”
“I guess he thought so, anyway.” She looked away from him, out over the gardens. Talking about her recently-deceased father still made her sad.
“Would fireworks tonight make you happy?”
Why dwell on something she couldn’t have. “I’m happy now, Gianni. Really.”
“So, I should cancel tonight’s festivities?”
She so loved his ‘festivities.’ She’d never say no to that. He’d provide her with her own personal fireworks, and that would be an excellent cap to the evening.
“Do you want to go upstairs now?” she asked.
He laughed and shook his head. “You and your one-track mind.”
She looked at him and raised her eyebrow. They didn’t have a language barrier, but every now and then, he confused her. “What are you talking about?”
Gianni sent a final text, then he nodded toward the gardens. “Watch.”
She heard a faint whistle, then the sky exploded into sparkling embers of violet and gold. A loud boom echoed over the gardens, so loud she felt the air shake with the strength of it.
Spinning toward Gianni, she flung her arms around him and planted a firm kiss on his lips.
He laughed and pulled away. “Turn around, cara. I don’t want you to miss the show.”
She leaned against his chest and watched as the sky sparkled with explosion after explosion of colorful mortars. The finale rivaled any she’d ever seen before.
Franki turned and wrapped her arms around him, and this time he didn’t turn her away. “You did all this for me?”
“Well, I am a joint citizen…”
She kissed him.
“I just want to make you happy, Franki. Always.”
She held him tight, head pressed against his chest. She felt the heat of his body, heard his heartbeat through the thick silence the end of the show left behind.
She pulled away and looked at him. “How about one more show?”
He frowned. “I think they set everything off, cara. I could call and—”
Franki put her finger over his lips, stopping him from continuing. She shook her head and smiled. “I mean the kind of festivities I thought you meant earlier. A private show.”
He stood, pulled her to her feet, and addressed everyone sitting outside. “Donni and I cooked. The rest of you are on dishes. Goodnight.”
They didn’t wait for an answer. He swept Franki off her feet and carried her upstairs for the second finale of the night.