The Echoes of Love - Hannah Fielding - E-Book

The Echoes of Love E-Book

Hannah Fielding



Seduction, passion and the chance for new love. A terrible truth that will change two lives forever.

Venetia Aston-Montagu has escaped to Italy’s most captivating city to work in her godmother’s architectural practice, putting a lost love behind her. For the past ten years she has built a fortress around her heart, only to find the walls tumbling down one night of the carnival when she is rescued from masked assailants by an enigmatic stranger, Paolo Barone.

Drawn to the powerfully seductive Paolo, despite warnings of his Don Juan reputation and rumours that he keeps a mistress, Venetia can’t help being caught up in the smouldering passion that ignites between them.
When she finds herself assigned to a project at his magnificent home deep in the Tuscan countryside, Venetia must not only contend with a beautiful young rival, but also come face to face with the dark shadows of Paolo’s past that threaten to come between them.

Can Venetia trust that love will triumph, even over her own demons? Or will Paolo’s carefully guarded, devastating secret tear them apart forever?


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First published in hardback and paperback in the UK in 2013 by London Wall Publishing Ltd (LWP)

First published in eBook edition in the UK in 2013 by London Wall Publishing Ltd (LWP)

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a database or retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

Copyright © Hannah Fielding 2013

Excerpt from Thomas Mann, Death in Venice © S. Fischer Verlag, Berlin 1913

Excerpt from ‘Burnt Norton’ in FOUR QUARTETS by T.S. Eliot. Copyright © Estate of T.S. Eliot and 1936 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company; © renewed 1964 by T.S. Eliot. Reprinted by permission of Faber and Faber Ltd and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to any real person, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

PB ISBN 978-0-9926718-1-5

EB ISBN 978-0-9926718-2-2

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

London Wall Publishing Ltd (LWP) 24 Chiswell Street, London EC1Y 4YX

For my daughter, Alexandra, whose knowledge of Italian art inspired me and whose loving support is a constant motivation

Footfalls echo in the memory

Down the passage which we did not take

T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton – ‘Four Quartets’

Multitudinous echoes awoke and died in the distance. . .

And, when the echoes had ceased, like a sense of pain was the silence.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ‘Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie’

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Letter from Hannah

Chapter 1

Venice Carnival, 2000

The clock struck midnight just as Venetia went past the grand eighteenth-century mirror hanging over the mantelpiece in the hall. Instinctively she gazed into it and her heart skipped a beat. In the firelight she noticed he was there again, an almost illusory figure, leaning against the wall at the far end of the shadowy room, steady eyes intense, watching her from behind his black mask. An illusory figure indeed, because when Venetia turned around, he was gone.

She shivered. Nanny Horren’s voice resounded through her head, reminding her of the strange Celtic superstitions that the Scottish governess used to tell her. One in particular came to mind. ‘Turn off the light and look into the mirror by firelight at midnight on Shrove Tuesday,’ the old woman would whisper to the impressionable and imaginative teenage Venetia, ‘and if you see a face reflected behind your own, it’ll be the face of the love of your life, the man you will someday marry.’

Was this what had just happened to Venetia? Was this stranger the love of her life?

Rubbish, she remonstrated, laughing at her own reflection, you’re mad! Haven’t you learnt your lesson? Venetia had indulged in such fantasies several years ago and had only managed to get hurt. Now, she knew better. Still, she did not move away. Instead she leant closer to the mirror that reflected her pale, startled face in the flickering light, as tremors of the warm feelings of yester love suddenly flooded her being. For a few moments she seemed to lose all sense of where she was and felt as though she stood inside a globe, watching the wheel of time turning back ten years.

Gareth Jordan Carter. ‘Judd’. It was a diminutive of Jordan, chosen by Venetia who hated the name Gareth and didn’t much care for the name Jordan either. Judd had been her first love, and as far as Venetia was concerned, her last. She had been young and innocent then; only eighteen. Today, at twenty-eight, she liked to think she was a woman of the world, who would not allow herself to be trapped by the treacherous illusions of passion, however appealing they might seem. She had paid a high price for her naivety and impetuosity.

Venetia tried to shake herself clear of those haunting phantasms and her thoughts ambled back to the masked stranger – well, almost a stranger.

Their brief encounter had occurred the evening of the first night of il Carnevale di Venezia, ten days before Shrove Tuesday…

* * *

It was nearly seven-thirty and the shops were beginning to close for the night. The wind that had blown all day had dropped, and a slight haze veiled the trees, as if gauze had been hung in front of everything that was more than a few feet away. The damp air was soaked in silence.

Venetia tightened the belt of her coat around her slim waist and lifted the fur collar snugly about her neck. The sound of her footsteps echoed off the pavement as she hurried towards the Rialto Bridge from Piazza San Marco, a solitary figure in an almost deserted street. She was on her way to catch the vaporetto waterbus that would drop her off at Palazzo Mendicoli, where she had an apartment. A few huddled pedestrians could be seen on the opposite pavement, and there was not much traffic on the great inky stretch of water of the Grand Canal.

Suddenly Venetia saw two figures spring out in front of her from the surrounding darkness. They were enveloped in carnevale cloaks, with no visible faces, only a spooky blackness where they should have been. A hand materialised from under the all-encompassing wrap of one of the sinister creatures and grabbed at her bag. Chilled to the bone, Venetia tried to scream but the sound froze in her throat. Struggling, she hung onto the leather pouch that was looped over her shoulder and across her front as she tried to lift her knee to kick him in the groin, but her aggressors were prepared. An arm was thrown around her throat from the back and the second figure produced a knife.

Just as he was about to slash at the strap of her bag, an imposing silhouette emerged from nowhere and with startling speed its owner swung at Venetia’s attacker with his fist, knocking him off balance. With a grunt of pain the man fell backwards, tripping over his accomplice, who gave a curse, and they both tumbled to the ground. Then, picking themselves up in a flash, they took to their heels and fled into the hazy gloom.

‘Va tutto bene, are you all right?’ The stranger’s light baritone broke through Venetia’s disoriented awareness, and he looked down anxiously into her large amber eyes.

‘Yes, yes, I think so,’ she panted, her hands automatically going to her throat.

‘Are you hurt at all?’

‘No, no, just a little shaken, thank you.’

‘You’re shivering. You’ve had a bad shock and you need a warm drink. Come, there’s a caffetteria that serves the best hot chocolate in Venice, just a few steps from here. It’ll do you good.’ Without waiting for a response, he took Venetia’s arm and led the way down the narrow street.

Venetia’s legs felt like jelly and her teeth were chattering. ‘Thanks,’ she murmured, still trying to catch her breath, her heart pounding, as she let herself be guided by her tall, broad-shouldered rescuer, who seemed to have taken the situation into his hands.

Thus does Fate cast her thunderbolts into our lives, letting them fall with a feather-like touch, dulling our senses to the storm they would cause should we realise their devastating powers.

They sat in silence at a table in a far-off corner of the crowded caffetteria. There was too much noise to talk and Venetia was exhausted, so she concentrated on appraising the man sitting opposite her as she listened to the music playing: Mina’s nostalgic 1960 love song, ‘Il Cielo in una Stanza’, the unashamedly romantic hit that was so Italian, and therefore still frequently played as a classic all over the country.

Venetia’s guardian angel looked more like Lucifer than a celestial being, with his tempestuous blue eyes, curiously bright against the warm tan of his skin, which slanted a fraction upwards under heavy, dark brows when he smiled. They were staring intently at her now with an emotion that puzzled her, and for a few seconds she found herself helplessly staring back into them. It was like gazing into shimmering water.

Strong, masculine features graced his nut-brown face beneath a thick crop of raven-black hair, sleek and shining, swept back from a wide forehead. He wasn’t good-looking in the classical sense, his face was too craggy for that immediate impact, but he was a striking man who emanated controlled power, someone used to making decisions who would not be swayed by any argument or sentiment; a hard man. Still, his steeliness was tempered by the enigmatic curve that lifted the corners of his generous mouth into a promise of laughter; this, coupled with the deep cleft in the centre of his chin, gave him a roguish expression that Venetia found appealing.

The waiter brought over a cup of hot chocolate, a double espresso and a plate of biscotti which, he said, were offered con i complimenti della casa. Her rescuer was obviously a regular customer.

Venetia took a few sips of the thick, warm brew. She felt herself revive as it trickled down her throat, becoming a warm glow in her stomach that reflected on her cheeks.

The stranger smiled at her. ‘Feeling better?’

She nodded. ‘Thank you, you’ve been so very kind.’

His smile broadened. ‘You are welcome, signorina. It is always a pleasure to come to the rescue of a beautiful lady. My name is Paolo Barone, at your service.’

Venetia had been working in Italy for over three years as an architect cum interior designer in her godmother’s architectural firm, and was used to the gallant ways and the charm of Italian men. She found their smooth repartee refreshing, and sometimes even amusing, but never took them too seriously. Paolo Barone was different. Maybe it was because she was in shock and felt vulnerable, but nevertheless her heart warmed to this man, who, although not that young, was still in his prime – middle to late thirties perhaps – and she relaxed. Still, even though the circumstances in this case were unusual, Venetia was unaccustomed to accepting invitations from strangers, so she deliberately made no conversation; and to her surprise neither did he.

As she raised the warm cup to her lips with both hands, she was aware of him looking at her directly with unabashed interest. Was he trying to decipher her, she wondered. Relieved that the hot drink’s effect on her cheeks was hiding the slight confusion she felt beneath, she sipped a little too quickly and cooled her lip with the tip of her tongue. Then realising what she had done, she glanced up to see his expression deepen into something else, which made her instantly lower her eyes.

When she had finished her chocolate, Paolo smiled at her. ‘Andiamo? Shall we go?’ he asked, cocking his head to one side and scrutinising Venetia.

Sparkling hazel eyes flecked with gold smiled back at him through long black lashes that somehow did not belong with her chestnut hair. ‘Yes. Thank you for the hot chocolate. It is really the best chocolate I’ve had in Venice.’

He helped her with her coat, lifting her glorious long locks over the fur collar. At five foot seven inches, Venetia was tall but as he faced her and began buttoning the garment himself, she noticed again how he towered over her. His hands were strong and masculine; she had a curious sensation of warm familiarity, as though he had performed this act with her several times before. Yet mingled with that feeling came one of embarrassment; his touch seemed a rather intimate gesture instead of the impersonal indifference of a stranger, and she drew away with a little nervous laugh.

‘Thank you, that won’t be necessary.’

He held her gaze intently for a moment, as if surprised at what she had said, and she looked down again, for some reason unable to meet those now midnight-blue eyes and their burning intensity. Then he smiled and held the door open.

‘By the way, I don’t know your name,’ Paolo said as they stepped out into the misty night and began walking towards the Grand Canal.

‘Venetia. Venetia Aston-Montagu.’

He quirked a black eyebrow. ‘A very romantic name, Venetia, like our beautiful city. But you’re not Italian? You speak Italian like a native.’

She laughed. ‘Thank you for the compliment! No, I’m actually English, but I was named by my godmother, who is Venetian – she was my mother’s best friend and she insisted I learn Italian.’

‘So you’re on holiday here?’

‘No, I live here.’


‘No, in the Dorsoduro district. I need to catch the vaporetto, as the entrance to the building where I live is on the Grand Canal.’

‘My launch is moored across the street. Dorsoduro is on my way. It would be a pleasure for me to drop you off.’

‘No, thank you. You’ve already been very kind.’

‘It’s late and snow has been forecast for tonight. The vaporetto is bound to be almost empty. I wouldn’t want you to come to any harm, signorina. I will give you a lift.’ He spoke quietly with an air of command, his hand coming up to her elbow, but she avoided it hastily.

It was very tempting to accept, but Venetia would not allow herself. This stranger was a little too attentive, she thought, and though she had been grateful for his kind invitation to a hot chocolate when she was in distress, and could still recall the feel of his hands buttoning up her coat, she was not in the habit of being picked up by men.

‘No, really, thank you very much. I’m used to travelling by vaporetto. It’s quite safe.’

Paolo did not insist, and for the rest of the way they walked in silence through the narrow, tortuous alleys, Venetia conscious of his nearness in every fibre of her being.

It was bitterly cold. The wind was whistling and a bank of threatening cloud hung over Venice like a white cloak. As they arrived at the waterbus stop, a few snowflakes started to come down. A couple of gondolas, their great steel blades looming dangerously out of the soft velvety mist, glided by swiftly over the gently lapping waters.

‘Are you sure you don’t want to change your mind? It looks as though there’ll be a blizzard and the vaporetto may be delayed.’ He looked at her with a polite, but guarded smile and she felt a momentary pang of regret at her determination to escape him.

Paolo’s pride was spared a new refusal as they heard the croaky purr of the vaporetto announcing its lazy approach.

‘Here comes my bus,’ Venetia said cheerfully. ‘I’ll be home in no time.’

The boat appeared and presently drew up at the small station, bumping the landing stage as it did so.

‘Thanks again for all your help, signore,’ she went on, smiling as she held out her small, perfectly manicured hand to say goodbye. Paolo took it in his own, which was large and warm, and held it a trifle longer than would be usual. Venetia stood there with waves of heat passing over her, her senses suddenly heightened at this contact. She abruptly withdrew her hand.

His blue hawk eyes gazed down at her, intent though unfathomable, and he paused uncertainly. ‘Will you dine with me tomorrow night?’ he uttered in a low voice.

It would be exciting to dine with Paolo, she thought, but you must run from him, urged the echo of an insistent voice within her; this man has the power to hurt you.

‘I’m so sorry,’ she replied stiffly. ‘I’m afraid I’m busy.’

‘That’s a pity.’ He sounded as if he meant it, but did not insist, leaving her feeling curiously disappointed. Silently, he held out his hand again and she took it, also without a word. There was nothing lax or vague in his firm grasp. Like many people, Venetia was swift to gauge character by the quality of a handclasp and had known many apparently vigorous men whose fingers were like limp fish. Once more, she was aware that Paolo’s large, sensitive hands held a strength and vitality that stirred her deeply.

She hurried on to the vaporetto, suddenly eager to flee, but as the waterbus pulled away from the quay, she watched him go up the stairs and disappear into the snow-white night with a strange sinking of the heart, wondering if she would ever see him again.

* * *

As it turned out, in the weeks that followed they had bumped into each other often at Fritelli, a coffee shop on Piazza San Marco where Venetia stopped for a cappuccino and biscotti every morning on her way to work, and where she met friends at weekends for afternoon tea. Most days, Paolo arrived as she was leaving. Whenever their eyes met fleetingly he had smiled politely, but had never stopped to talk.

And then tonight, on Martedì Grasso, at the grand ball that il Conte Umberto Palermi di Orellana was giving to celebrate the inauguration of his new home near Piazza San Marco, and the first Carnival of Venice of the twenty-first century, Paolo had been there.

His tight Arlecchino outfit, with bright multi-coloured patches in diamond shapes and a short frilled collar, clung to his muscular body like a second skin, and he wore a white felt beret adorned with a rabbit tail. Almost stopping in her tracks as she entered the vast ballroom, Venetia had recognised him behind the devilish features of his half-face leather black mask, not only because his athletic body towered over most of the guests, but also because of the easy, almost imperious way he moved through the crowd; and then, of course, there was the deep cleft in the middle of his chin that would always give him away.

All evening, Venetia had been aware of the penetrating azure-blue eyes following her around the room, and when occasionally she met their enigmatic gaze she found it hard to tear away from their scrutiny. Neither approached the other; they had merely circled around their mutual awareness, which vibrated heavily in the air no matter how dense the crowd became. And now, as she stood before the mirror, he had once more been there in the dim shadows, the reflection of his powerful silhouette caught in the glass by the leaping light of the fire, devilment sparking from behind the black mask.

A couple of ladies in full carnival dress, their heads clouded in veils of black lace, walked out of the ballroom, interrupting Venetia’s reverie. She looked up at the clock. Firelight fell warm on the gold dial. Time had stopped for her. She was amazed at how long she had been standing there reminiscing about her lost life, feeling the echoes of a lost love. She should be returning to the party.

Venetia took off her Columbine mask. She still sensed she was half in the past and paused for a moment with her hand on the door handle, listening to the voices and the people laughing, before turning it and going in.

The long room, flooded with a golden glow from enormousMurano chandeliers, was filled with people mostly hidden behind carnival masks, their disguises rich and colourful, glittering with the splendour of diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds. Transformed by their costumes into stately drifting mountains of Burano lace, with bright trailing peacock skirts of old brocade, the ladies flicked fans before their false faces, their heads adorned with neat, small cockaded tricorne hats. The men too wore masks, but with noses protruding like beaks – the famous ‘bauta’: the Venetian disguise par excellence. For many, the costumes consisted of voluminous black cloaks wrapped high about the neck, and with white stockinged legs they looked much like crows and magpies. Their heads were covered in large black tricorne hats with sweeping lines, the edges trimmed with flickering white feathers. There were also costumes inspired by historic court attire, and other fantasy-style masquerade dress. The surreal majesty of the scene reminded Venetia of the dusky painting ‘Il Ridotto’ by Venetian artist Pietro Longhi that she had always found so spooky, with its macabre eighteenth-century figures disguised in masks and shrouded in shadows.

The heavy door shut softly behind her and she stood there unnoticed, looking at the guests in their fabulous attire, some masked and others not, all talking and laughing. She felt a little underdressed in her simple, frilled, low-bodice sobretta outfit, with its patchwork of red, green and blue diamonds and large white apron and mob cap trimmed with lace. It represented a woman of the people, Colombina, the perky maid in the Commedia dell’Arte, the counterpart ofArlecchino, and sometimes his wife. The costume had been given to her by her godmother for a New Year’s Eve masked ball in London, and it had won first prize; in fact it had been the fancy dress party at which she had met Judd; but that was years ago… so much had happened since… she must not think of all that now. She shook off her darkening mood and moved into the sea of revellers.

Unconsciously searching for him among this pandemonium of masks, Venetia did not see Paolo immediately. When she spotted him, she saw that he had bared his face and was standing at the far end of the room, a glass of champagne in one hand while the other rested on a Corinthian column. He gave an impression of fitness and steadiness, and the other men in the room appeared to Venetia washed out in contrast. Though his body was lithe, there was something almost frightening about his apparent strength and vigour, almost inhuman. She had to admit that Paolo, with his dark head and his deeply tanned face lit by those arresting cobalt eyes, was the most striking-looking man she had ever seen: like a fallen angel.

He was surrounded by other figures of the Commedia dell’Arte. There was il Dottore wearing a long black tunic with a jacket that reached all the way to the ankles, black shoes, a skullcap, and an unusual black mask that covered only the nose and the forehead; ilCapitano in his suit with bright multi-coloured stripes and gilt buttons, a feathered cap and a frightful sword; and Pulcinella in a loose linen blouse belted with a rope over thin tights and a huge warped belly, a hat and a half face-mask with a hooked nose giving him a bird-like look.

Paolo was watching Venetia intently, only half listening to the vivacious blonde cortigiana in a splendid golden outfit of the courtesan with plunging neckline and a tall conical hat. His head stood out distinctly against the ochre wall, his gold-bronze face beaming now as his host approached. They spoke for a few minutes before threading their way through the crowd towards Venetia.

Il Conte Umberto Palermi di Orellana was a tall, aristocratic, handsome man in his early thirties who was known to be a bon viveur and a philanderer. Tonight he was Lelio, the elegant innamorato, lover of the Commedia dell’Arte, in a sumptuous court dress of the eighteenth century. As was customary for that character, he did not wear a mask. He had met Giovanna Lombardi, Venetia’s godmother, at a drinks party. A few weeks later, he had approached Giovanna’s firm, Bianchi e Lombardi:Architetti, to take on the refurbishment of Palazzo Palermi, which he had just inherited from his father and which was in need of a total face-lift.

The renovation and redecoration of old historic buildings was Venetia’s speciality and the Palazzo Palermi had become her first big project while working in her godmother’s firm. After graduating from Cambridge, she had completed a Master’s degree in History of Art at The Courtauld Institute of Art in London, and had then spent some time at Istituto per l’Arte e il Restauro ‘Palazzo Spinelli’ in Florence. Even though she showed great promise in straightforward architecture, Venetia did not feel it was her calling. And so Giovanna had put her in charge ofMarmi Storici e Pietra, the department for the restoration of historic buildings, where she was able to develop her talent for restoring mosaics and murals. She had immediately excelled and was beginning to make a name for herself in Venice.

Still, as her first major venture, the job had taken almost a year to realise, during which time Umberto had tried every trick in his book to seduce the young woman. It had been to no avail: his Adonis good looks and his charm left her cold. By the end of the assignment, not only had Venetia managed to carry out the works to completion without falling out with the notorious womaniser, but she had also gained the Count’s admiration and respect. So much so, that he had asked her to marry him. She had been careful to turn him down gently. Umberto had taken the rebuff graciously but told her that he would not give up hope and she could be sure he would be asking her again.

‘Venetia, cara, you look amazing,’ Umberto Palermi oozed, taking her hand and bringing it up to his lips, his eyes brilliant with lust. ‘I have neglected you all evening. You must forgive me.’ Not waiting for her reply, he added: ‘Have you met my best friend, il Signor Paolo Barone?’ and, turning to Arlecchino, he introduced her. ‘LaSignorina Aston-Montagu, who waved her magic wand over this place and from a heap of ruins turned it into a magnificopalazzo.’

A twinkle lit Paolo’s eyes. ‘No, I don’t think I have had the pleasure of meeting the signorina,’ he declared, a deep and sexy cadence in his voice.

Venetia felt herself blushing. It was really annoying not to be able to control one’s colour. Looking up at Paolo, she was sure he must be aware of the effect he had on her. With luck he would conclude that it was actually Umberto’s proximity that was affecting her in this way. His powerfully masculine glance swept over her and she felt an involuntary heat unfurl deep down. Remembering her manners, she put out her hand.

‘How do you do?’

Suddenly, there was a violent blast of noise before their hands could make contact.

‘Ah, the fireworks have begun,’ exclaimed the Count, taking Venetia’s arm. ‘Come, let’s go outside.’

The heavy brocade curtains were drawn back by young pages in eighteenth-century court dress and elegant floor-to-ceiling windows pushed open, inviting guests on to the wide veranda. Venetia was grateful for the interruption that was taking her away from Paolo’s silent scrutiny. No man since those far-off days had stirred her as he did, almost from the moment they had met on that strange, dramatic evening. And while Umberto escorted her on to the terrace, although she could not see him, Venetia had no doubt that Paolo’s eyes were still dwelling on her with that curious expression she was beginning to know, and which puzzled her so.

Umberto’s palazzo, only a few streets away from San Marco, had an enviable view over the waterway, where the neck of the Grand Canal joined the broader stretch of water in front of the city’s famous square. The wide canal had filled with boats and barges gliding along the dark water like fireflies: each vessel was trimmed with arches of leaves, plume-like clusters of ferns, and festoons of laurels, lit up with hanging paper lanterns and slowly drifting through a swaying mass of gondolas.

From the far end of the Grand Canal, among the docks and shipping, the muffled darkness burst suddenly into a festival of dazzling light as the mysterious night sky became starred with jewels of fire.

The fireworks soared into the air; they broke into raying diamonds of brightness and then floated towards earth, expiring in their downward flight. Other little points of light appeared, followed by tongues of flame rushing up from different places and flowing out large luminous bubbles of silvery-blue and green and sapphire. One after another, the rushing rockets sprang hissing upwards and, towering far above the water, burst with a soft shock into a golden sheaf of fire. They hung uncertain for one moment in the sky, and then came showering down.

Clouds of pearly smoke billowed out from under the trees on the piazza, turning from ruby to rose, from yellow to opalescent green – curling mists that enriched everything around and transformed the crowds and buildings into a fabulous, surreal painting soaked in gold.

And then, from out of the obscurity, a crystal waterfall curved up like a wave and streamed down into the darkness, white, noiseless and shimmering; on and on the miraculous river of silver flowed over and melted away, and a great uproar surged from the masses watching from the boats and on the shore.

Venetia was aware of Umberto being called away at this point and relieved that his rather overt attentions next to her were now gone, but Paolo had remained. She could feel his eyes on her, close somewhere, and she shivered slightly though she was transfixed on the scene of great splendour and movement above her. She watched, fascinated, as huge plumes of golden spray tossed high in the sky, looking like dissolving feathers of fire, and wheels of green spun madly to extinction, hurling burning sparks from them and blooming fire flowers.

There was a pause before the spectacular finale. Soft stars of colour shot up, soaring into the night. One after another, bouquets of primrose, coral and lilac rose slowly into the sky, blossomed exotically there, flamed, floated, and then vaguely fell, as if faint with an excess of beauty, into the inky water below, which received them and folded them to itself with a kiss.

It was the first time Venetia had witnessed firework displays on such a magnificent scale from so close, and a strange excitement coursed through her like the blazing colours that had exploded across the dark sky above. ‘A dream being born in the night air,’ she murmured to herself, as the glimmering wonder ended.

‘Just that one moment of insane beauty before they consume themselves and die,’ answered Paolo’s voice out of the darkness.

Venetia was now even more aware of his disconcerting presence behind her, as Paolo’s low voice seemed to caress her provocatively, and she was not sure whether she wanted to welcome his company or flee it.

After a brief moment, she heard him whisper again. ‘Life ought to hold that once for everyone.’

‘And sometimes it does,’ she breathed, without turning round. The evening had taken on a vivid and surreal magic that she did not want to let go of. She did not need to speak to him to know that he was feeling it too, and this connection between them that needed no words intrigued and scared her in equal measure.

The guests were crowding back into the ballroom. Paolo silently took Venetia’s arm and guided her away from the crush towards the balustrade that overlooked the canal. Leaning his back against the stone, he took out of his pocket a packet of cigarettes and offered her one. She declined.

‘May I?’

‘Yes, of course, go ahead.’

He lit the cigarette, drew on it deeply and shook his head. ‘Quite a spectacle, don’t you think? The last moments of joy before the imminent penance of Lent!’ He gave a deep throaty laugh that somehow made her join in.

‘It really was a magnificent show. I’ve never seen anything like it!’

‘Only the Venetians know how to celebrate in such an extravagant way, and the dawning of a new millennium just adds to the wildness. It’s all part of a long history of revelry and decadence in this city, where prince and subject, rich and poor joined in the festivities, and could move around in complete safety and freedom in the secure knowledge that their identity remained incognito. Carnival fulfils a deep human need for subterfuge, don’t you think?’ He gazed at her again, his expression unreadable.

She glanced at him sideways. ‘I suppose it’s an occasion for people to hide beneath a mask and to change a role they have in ordinary life.’

Despite the cold, they remained outside for a while, silently savouring Venice in moonlight. All the lights of the great city were reflected and broken up into countless points of fire, like diamond dust, in the ripples of the Grand Canal; and a velvet canopy of sky, powdered with stars above, sparkled over the distant roofs.

Paolo had turned away to stare at the dazzling view that lay in front of them. ‘None of the works of art of man equal the sight of Venice by the Grand Canal when the moon is up,’ he murmured, as though to himself, his attention riveted on the endless line of palazzi, the ghostly whiteness of their marble fronts rejuvenated by night. ‘For a few hours the moon hides the city’s frightful rotting façades behind a transparent silver mask, giving her some fairylike quality, a sort of innocence. Looking like this, one would never guess at the decay which gnaws at her core.’ And then, facing her again, he added, ‘A rude awakening for the unsuspecting tourist when daylight comes, don’t you agree?’ His voice was passionate, a touch melancholy, and the deep timbre of it once again drew her to him in that curious way she found difficult to fathom.

His words echoed Venetia’s thoughts, but not quite. Ever since she could remember, Venice in moonlight had held a strange magical power over her. She didn’t see the decay, only the enchantment. The whiteness of Paolo’s collar threw the darkness of his tan into relief. She remained silent but was aware of him like never before. For once she held his smoky-blue gaze, fascinated by the changeable colour of his eyes butdisturbed by its sad expression and the bitterness in his voice. They stared at each other, a curious feeling quivering inside her, like the vibration of a violin string after it has been played. It was no more than a moment, but it seemed so much longer to Venetia and it left her uneasy.

She glanced at her watch. ‘I really must be going.’

‘There’ll be no vaporetti running at this hour,’ Paolo remarked, his gaze still intent on her face, ‘and even if there are a few, they would not be safe – too many drunken people out tonight looking for a good time. Let me give you a lift. My launch is not far off.’

‘I’m sure I’ll find a water-taxi without difficulty.’

And then abruptly, his eyes darkened. ‘What is a pretty woman like you doing out on the town on her own, on a night like this? I can’t believe you have no fidanzato, Venetia. Is the man away? Do you have no father? No mother? No brother to care for you?’ His outburst was almost angry as he threw down his cigarette, crushing it vigorously beneath his heel.

Venetia bridled with irritation, though it was mixed with an odd thrill at the sound of his using her name for the first time. The questions were rather forward, she thought, choosing to focus on her sense of outrage. The fact that he had rescued her from a robber’s assault did not give him the right to be personal. The added vehemence of his reaction was too territorial for her liking. Venetia abhorred a macho stance in men. After all, it was to get away from a domineering father that, when her mother died, she had decided to make her life in Venice.

She forced a stiff smile to her lips. ‘Really, I’ll be fine. Thank you for your concern.’

Paolo sighed. ‘As you wish, signorina, but at least let me walk with you until you find a taxi. I don’t think you realise what the town will be like on this Carnival Night. Don’t forget, it’s the first carnival of the new millennium. I dare say the people of Venice will be celebrating tonight with even more enthusiasm than in previous years. The Piazza San Marco, which you must inevitably cross, will be the scene of Babylonian events one can hardly imagine.’

Venetia hesitated. He was probably right; she had already found the journey a little hazardous on her way to the ball. Still, she was uncertain. Sometimes the power of his presence frightened her; she sensed a possessiveness she felt smothered by, even though he sounded really concerned and she knew perfectly well that his suggestions were sensible.

Paolo frowned and his mouth narrowed a little. ‘What are you afraid of? You risk much more going through the town on your own than if you ride alone with me in my launch.’ His face softened as he tried to suppress a smile. ‘I promise you I’m harmless.’

They laughed. He had a point. ‘All right, I agree that it would be rather risky for me to walk through the crowds on a night like this,’ she admitted meekly. ‘I will still insist that you only accompany me until I find a taxi, though, and then we’ll part company.’

‘Very well then,’ he shrugged, but his eyes held amusement. ‘You’re an exasperatingly stubborn young woman.’

After gathering their cloaks, they went in search of their host to say goodbye and thank him for his hospitality. Venetia sensed that Umberto was slightly put out that they were leaving together; he gave them an acid look but refrained from comment.

The chilly breeze with its tang of salt was invigorating after the smoky atmosphere of Palazzo Palermi. Venice tonight was a city of rapture. It was late, but the carnival was still in full swing. The crowds were surging through the security barriers to sport with each other in mock battles, playfully throwing flowers, and dancing in the streets. The poliziotti were good-humouredly trying to keep them back, but it was a gesture doomed to failure as the scrum continued to hurl itself across the streets.

Like a diamond, this magnificent city, Queen of the Adriatic – dubbed La Serenissima – seemed to offer a thousand facets. There were stars in the sky and glitter everywhere else: the arcade in Piazza San Marco was brilliantly lit, the shops and rows of alcoves a shimmering crystal grotto, secular and ecclesiastical buildings transformed by lights into something still more glorious. But that was only the stage on which figures seemed to move. They were caricatures of life, on the verge of the unreal, amusing as well as sinister and disturbing. The music was loud and noisy, with blares of sound shooting out from every corner. Vivaldi poured forth through loudspeakers and pre-Lenten celebrants danced by the thousand through the floodlit piazze, their faces hidden by expressionless masks with slit eyeholes.

Paolo was right. Everywhere Venetia looked was crowded with masked people singing, embracing without restraint, in a vast, sprawling commedia. Hidden behind their disguise, it was as though they were indeed free to act as they wished, uninhibited by custom or convention. She was grateful to have accepted Paolo’s invitation to accompany her, at least until she found a taxi. Legions of revellers stood roaring with enjoyment on the quayside of the Punta della Dogana and the Punta della Salute; and in a mass of highly decorated boats, some more spectators waited for the ladies’ regatta on the Grand Canal, an unusual and clearly welcome spectacle for many of the male Venetians leaning over the sides and whooping out lusty encouragements.

Paolo walked briskly, holding Venetia’s arm protectively, subtly proprietorial, shielding her with his stalwart body against any possible chance contact with those revellers thronging the squares and the bridges. For just a moment she forgot her misgivings, thinking only that this man, who seemed so steady, so self-assured, was different from the usual men she had dated over the last ten years. An intriguing mixture of sophistication and macho maleness, she felt strongly attracted to him.

They had been walking through the crowds for almost half an hour. Venetia had to face facts: there were no taxis for hire; everybody was celebrating.

‘Allora, signorina, how do you feel? Will you now accept a lift in my launch, or would you prefer us to spend the rest of the night wandering aimlessly in Venice?’

They had reached a quay where a number of luxurious launches were moored. The smile he gave her as she met his piratical gaze lit up his face with a sudden boyishness, lifting from it the lines of bitterness that she had perceived earlier on the veranda.

‘To tell the truth, I feel rather irresponsible.’ She looked down a little sheepishly.

He placed a hand on her shoulder and gave it a brief squeeze. ‘Non ti preoccupare, don’t worry, no harm done. My launch is here.’ He signalled towards an elegant boat in beautiful polished mahogany, with her name, La Serenissima, written in dark-red letters on the side. ‘It’ll be no trouble to drop you off at your apartment in Dorsoduro. As I’ve told you before, it’s on my way.’

‘Thank you, I really don’t know what I would have done without you.’

‘We say in Italian, “la necessità è la madre dell’invenzione”,necessity is the mother of invention.’

‘As we do in England, as well as “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”!’ replied Venetia, laughing nervously.

He held out a hand to help her aboard and, as she prepared to step down into the launch, Venetia let go of the big black-and-white striped mooring pole. The boat rocked and she faltered, losing her balance. She would have been sent reeling down into the slimy water had not Paolo, with remarkable deftness, caught her, and she fell against his chest, the breath smashed from her breast.

The hands on her upper arms were iron-hard; the length of his body so close to hers that she was unable to stop her own body’s response as once again a heat darted down inside her. Paolo murmured something into her hair that she did not grasp, and she looked up, what seemed an infinite distance, into blue irises so bright that they appeared almost like sapphires. Her mind emptied.

For a long moment they stared at each other, oblivious of everything else. Paolo pulled Venetia a little tighter against him and her hand slipped down to his chest. She could feel the steady thump of his heart beneath her fingers and sensed the warmth of his skin radiating through his clothes. His muscular body was lean and hard, and the spicy fragrance of his aftershave tinged with tobacco went straight to her head. His face was so close now that she could see the deep creases at the side of his eyes and his mouth, and other faint lines, a little lighter, which stood out on his parchment-tanned skin. Up this close, he looked older, with a few stray threads of grey in his thick black hair. Despite the noise and the pandemonium surrounding them, they stood clasped as though alone in the world.

Flames ran through Venetia, and suddenly she wanted quite desperately to move even nearer to him, for his arms to hold her snugly in his embrace, to feel his mouth close over hers, to… She shut her eyes as she felt her need intensifying – the painful yearning for his caresses… This was not only madness, it was dangerous; but it had been a long time since she had felt this stirring inside her, since she had been aroused by the heat of a man’s body, since an emotion had possessed her with such violence. She knew what this was and she hated it, but still could not help herself.

‘You’re tired; you can hardly stand up. Come inside and sit down, you’re shivering.’ Paolo’s voice came to her through the reluctant fog of her desire, as he guided her to one of the soft leather seats inside the cabin. He sat her down, brought her a thimble-size glass of grappa and settled himself beside her, after having poured one for himself. ‘Here, drink this, it will warm you.’

‘Grazie. Ancora una volta sei venuto in mio soccorso, once more you’ve come to my rescue,’ she said, a new elation in her voice as she took the glass from Paolo’s hand and tried to calm herself. She was thankful that he had been ignorant of the insanity she had been prey to for a few moments, and hoped he had not noticed the deeper colour that throbbed in her cheeks.

The cabin was large with seats upholstered in Napa, a soft Italian leather. It was surrounded by windows adorned with royal blue curtains held back with cords. All the fittings were in plated chrome brass. Venetia noted that it was luxurious without being ostentatious and garish, unlike many of the launches. Somehow, she wasn’t surprised; Paolo did not seem to be a show-off.

‘This grappa is quite different to the one I’ve normally been served,’ she told him, as she took a sip of the warm amber liquid. ‘Isn’t grappa supposed to be crystal-clear with a distinctive herbal aroma? This is almost golden in colour, and spicy with…’ Venetia hesitated and took another sip, ‘… hints of liquorice and vanilla, is that right?’

Paolo whistled with admiration. ‘You have a very sensitive palate, signorina. You’re right. This is a Reserve Grappa from a vineyard not far from my home in Tuscany. They only produce a thousand bottles a year, for the personal use of the family and local consumption. Do you like it, then?’

‘It’s got an interesting taste which I admit could become addictive, but I’m afraid it’s more potent than I’m used to.’

Paolo flashed her a charming smile. ‘I see you’re feeling better. Your cheeks have regained some colour. It was a long walk in the cold.’ He downed his grappa in one go. ‘Would you like a little more?’

Now that Venetia had actually accepted the invitation he had pressed on her to ride in his launch, he seemed oddly ill at ease, she thought. Was he perhaps embarrassed by their accidental collision earlier? Had she misread his apparent attentiveness as something more?

‘No, thank you – I think we can be on our way now,’ she said, her guard back up again. ‘I have taken up enough of your time.’

‘Non dirlo neanche per scherzo, don’t give it a thought.’ He poured himself another glass, which to Venetia’s surprise he drained with equal velocity. ‘Would you like to sit outside or stay in the warmth?’

‘I’m definitely an outdoor person, so I think I’ll sit alfresco.’

‘You said the other day that the way into your home is on the Canal in Dorsoduro. I know Dorsoduro well and there aren’t many buildings with their entrance on the waterfront.’

‘My apartment is in Palazzo Mendicoli, a couple of streets away from the church of San Nicolò Dei Mendicoli.’

‘Sì, sì, so bene dov’è il palazzo Mendicoli é,yes, I know well where that is. I spend a lot of time in Dorsoduro. It’s a place of artists, designers and writers, and is one of the most beautiful and charming of Venice’s sestieri,’ he said, his voice soft as he stood looking at her intently again, motioning for her to go up on deck ahead of him. For some inexplicable reason, she found herself blushing, and she hastily climbed the steps, keen to cool her flushed cheeks.

They went back into the open air and Venetia sat on the U-shaped bench, upholstered in blue and white canvas, in the stern of the boat. Silently she watched Paolo’s hard, firmly corded figure move around the boat untying the ropes, preparing to exit the mooring basin. Her eyes slid down to his narrow hips as he stood at the helm, tall and relaxed, every contour of his sculped, muscled thighs outlined in his tight Harlequin costume. Once more she was struck by the leanness and power of his body, by his shoulders that were imposing without being heavy. Paolo had a build very similar to that of Judd’s, she noticed, and she found herself wondering how it would feel to make love with him.

The waters were still alive with the laughter of masqueraders in gondolas, gliding to and fro, the ripples from their oars making dancing swirls of light as they went by. Still, Paolo was able to skilfully negotiate his launch through the narrow channel. As he came out into the Grand Canal he accelerated suddenly, bringing the beautiful craft to life. Lifting its nose out of the water, it surged forward with a roar.

The moonlight glistened down on the lagoon that surrounded the city, so bright and clear in the velvety blue night, and music came floating over the sea from every corner. The heart of Venice was still throbbing with merriment. The revelry promised to go on until dawn, which was still some time away.

There is magic in the air tonight, Venetia told herself as she watched the rows of stately marble palazzi pass by before her eyes, their almost Moorish façades bathed in floods of silver light. She had never found the scenery so enchanting, even though she had been taking this journey twice a day for the past three years. Her gaze fell again on the man at the wheel, his hands guiding the great bulk of teak and mahogany with controlled tension. Paolo stood legs apart to brace himself as they hurried along, creating white waves of foam on either side of the rocking motorboat. He had taken off his cap and his black hair, strewn with its occasional grey, appeared longer than she had at first thought, as it stirred about his face, ruffled by the breeze. His mouth in his well-defined, jagged profile looked severe and hard. He gave the impression of being totally self-sufficient, and yet he carried an aura of loneliness that intrigued her. Paolo was a mass of contradictions and Venetia was suddenly struck that this stranger, to whom she felt so curiously attracted, like Venice itself, might not be all he seemed. She shivered.

Afraid that if she went on staring at him he might turn round and think that she was anxious to make conversation, Venetia concentrated on the scenery. The motorboat had gathered speed and moved swiftly on the waves with a loud swishing sound. The cold light wind blew sea spray against the young woman’s skin and tugged gentle fingers at her hair, lifting stray tendrils from her forehead.

Soon the imposing Byzantine campanile and elegant fifteenth-century porch of the church of San Nicolò dei Mendicoli came into view. Venetia got up and came to stand next to Paolo. ‘There it is,’ she said, pointing at the dazzling building.

The engine slowed and the craft nosed its way smoothly towards the Baroque doorway of Palazzo Mendicoli. Its ornate marble façade was lit on either side by elegant electric lamps. The boat stopped within an inch of the tall wooden posts that stood out of the water like giant bulrushes next to the steps of the palace, and Paolo turned off the motor.

‘I hope you didn’t get wet,’ he said with an impish smile. ‘When I’m at the wheel I tend to forget myself, and I’ve been told that I drive rather recklessly.’

‘Not at all, I enjoyed the drive as much as I enjoyed the evening. Thank you, you have been very kind.’

Paolo’s blue irises gleamed with hidden laughter. Reaching out casually, he caught hold of her wrist and gently drew her towards him. ‘So you will have dinner with me tonight.’ The phrase was said as if a fait accompli, and there was an intensity beneath his playfulness that hit Venetia like a speeding train.

Again, she was aware of that curious pull of the senses that had transfixed her earlier that night when she had fallen against Paolo, a physical magnetism she had thought herself immune to. Her instinct for self-preservation – as well as her irritation at his boldness – made her stiffen. ‘It’s usual to ask, not command. Anyhow, I’m busy.’

His dark features assumed a wolfish grin. ‘Would it help if I got down on my knees?’

Venetia felt unusually nettled. ‘No,’ she replied coolly, edging away from him.

His mouth twitched with barely concealed amusement. ‘And so it will be tomorrow.’

He was pressing her, and she was having none of it. ‘No, not today, not tomorrow, nor the day after,’ she retorted, allowing herself to be piqued.

‘So you are attached, you do have a boyfriend in your life, or maybe he is already your fidanzato,’ he chided.

Now he was giving her every reason to get angry. How dare he be so personal? He seemed up until now far more restrained and collected. What had happened? The man must be drunk. Come to think of it, she had seen him all evening with a glass in his hand, and then of course there were those shots of grappa he’d downed as if drinking water. What if he suddenly decided to drive off with her? And though he gave no sign of the thoughts she ascribed to him, Venetia was quite willingly working herself up. She had the feeling that something was happening to her over which she had no control, and a shiver of apprehension slid down her spine.

Her eyes sparked with anger. ‘That’s actually none of your business.’

Her indignation seemed to sober Paolo up. He drew in his lower lip, catching it between his teeth, and visibly tensed. ‘I apologise, signorina, if I have appeared forward. I think I must have been carried away by the exuberance of the Carnival spirit. Please forgive me.’

Extending her hand she forced herself to smile. ‘Addio,signore, and thank you again for all your kindness.’

The planes of his face seemed to harden, the armour so exactly like her own slipping back into place. His voice was clipped. ‘So it will be addio for us rather than arrivederci.’

‘I’m afraid so,’ Venetia whispered, turning away and heading over to the platform. The boat rocked, and Paolo was immediately beside her, his ardent eyes mutely questioning, as if trying to read her mind while he helped her regain her balance and then on to the quay.

Curiously enough, she was less eager to leave now, but she had burned her bridges and it was probably all for the best. As Venetia walked into the palazzo without turning, and heard the sound of the motorboat’s engine starting up again, she couldn’t resist a glance over her shoulder. She felt a moment’s regret as she saw La Serenissima and her captain move off in a cloud of white foam, but then she regained her senses. Love had already made a painful fool of her. I have no intention of going through that again, she repeated to herself as she took the lift up to the third floor.

* * *

Palazzo Mendicoli was situated in the western half of the Dorsoduro sestiere, the southern peninsula of Venice, on the curve of a small canal. It was a sixteenth-century, three-storey marble façade palace that had been restored in the early nineties and turned into flats, Venetia’s being on the top floor. As Dorsoduro was on higher ground than the rest of Venice, one side of the building had the fortune of overlooking the lagoon to the south, and the other faced north-east, with a view over the rest of Venice towards the Grand Canal. Most of the interior’s architecture, as well as the paintings and frescos in the rooms, was still intact. Only the part-end of the building, destroyed by fire over the three floors in the nineteenth century, had been totally restructured to create an elegant, old-fashioned lift.

Venetia’s apartment was large, with high ceilings carved with lecherous little cherubs pursuing strange-looking winged animals, and plaster borders embellished within borders. It had been her godmother’s home for the five years that followed Giovanna’s widowhood, until her marriage to Ugo Lombardi. After this, Giovanna had moved to her new husband’s penthouse at the top of the Bella Vista building in the centre of Venice. It had been the site of an old decaying palazzo that Ugo had bought, on which he had erected a very modern block of luxury flats where the couple lived during the week. At weekends, they escaped to the Lido, the long sandbar south of Venice, where Ugo Lombardi had bought his bride the most fabulous old palace with beautiful views across the lagoon to the city’s medieval towers and ochre rooftops.

The walls of Venetia’s apartment were covered in pastel silks, and the heavy brocade curtains that hung from the tall windows were in deeper but matching tones, held back by thick cords of the same colour. Each room had a marble fireplace that was elegantly decorated with scenes of mythological fauna and flora. The massive pieces of furniture were a mixture of Baroque and Rococo styles, comfortable and curvy, and also embellished with motifs such as shells, flowers, and the stars of the firmament.

Venetia lay back on her cloud of pillows in the sumptuous four-poster baldachin bed and watched the dance of lights reflected from the canal below as they chased each other on the stucco-decorated expanse of white ceiling. The centre of the plafond was graced with an amber Murano glass lampadario, which hung from a chain of plump, clear glass globules. Lilies and daisies, their flimsy petals blown in tones of honey-coloured opaque glass, peered through their delicate green leaves near the top of the chandelier; and friezes depicting chromatic birds and butterflies adorned each corner of the room, enlivening the pale walls.

The bedposts were draped in vanilla-coloured brocade curtains that matched the bedspread. At the foot of it stood a magnificent cassone, an opulent gilded and painted chest dating from the sixteenth century, which had been in Giovanna’s family since then, and on which were represented winged amorini, the infant cupids pulled in chariots by mythical animals representing the Roman gods. It was customary in those days to place these ornate trunks in the bridal suite as a trophy furnishing of Italian aristocrats. A Carrara fireplace jutted forward into the room from between the two tall, narrow windows, topped by an imposing, gilded Rococo mirror. Immediately opposite was a painting by Francesco Zuccarelli of a river landscape with travellers; and underneath it stood a sofa and two gondola-shaped mahogany bergère armchairs, upholstered in gold silk fabric with laurel and bee motifs. Facing the bed, beautiful panelling, decorated with ton-sur-ton garlands, created a whole wall of built-in cupboards with a secret door into the bathroom, which gave a modern touch to the sumptuous room.

Venetia was unable to sleep. For the first time since she had come to Venice, she found the loneliness and the silence of her room oppressive. Ghosts of the past were crowding in on her. Memories that she thought she had finally banished from her mind, which she had spent years trying to erase, began to drift back. Judd’s handsome, smoothly chiselled face swam before her eyes… Judd Carter, the man who had abandoned her just when she had needed him most.

She had been only eighteen when he swept into her life. They had met at a Christmas Snow Ball in London over ten years ago. Venetia was just starting her architecture degree course at Cambridge. Judd was twenty-eight, and though he came from a modest background, he had managed to make his way through scholarships into The Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, and had become an officer in the Parachute Regiment. Theirs was a case of love at first sight, and a year later Judd had proposed.