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A Tuscan Proposal

Written by Brenda Harlen

Chapter Eight

Gabe laid Francesca on top of sheets still tangled from his restless night. She linked her arms behind his neck and drew his mouth down for a long, slow kiss.

"These past few days, being with you but not being with you, have been driving me insane," she told him.

"Glad to know I wasn't suffering alone."

"I tried to keep you at a distance," she admitted. "My future is completely up in the air and I don't have a clue about what I want—except that I want you."

"Maybe that is a clue."

He unfastened the front clasp of her bra and peeled back the cups. Her nipples were tight buds and he lowered his head to taste one, then the other. She gasped and arched beneath him, and he continued to taste and tease her breasts as he worked her panties over her hips, down her legs.

His hands skimmed back up, his fingertips brushing the soft curls at the juncture of her thighs, making her gasp again. He parted the slick folds of skin, sliding one finger, then two, deep inside while he rubbed her nub with his thumb.

She bucked against his hand and cried out. Her response—the pure sensual pleasure of her release—made him ache and throb. He wanted to join his body with hers. Now. Desperately.

He tore open a condom and hastily covered himself before seeking and finding the warm, wet haven between her thighs. She wrapped her arms and legs around him, meeting him stroke for stroke as their bodies merged—and finally found completion together.

*

Afterward, while they were still tangled together, their hearts beating in tandem, Gabe felt a sense of rightness and completion he'd never known before.

There was still so much that remained unspoken between them, so many questions yet to be answered. But despite all of the uncertainty, there was one thing he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt.

He brushed her hair away from her face. Her eyelids flickered, and she offered him a sleepy smile.

"I love you, Francesca."

Her smile—and every muscle in her body—froze. "How can you say that? You hardly even know me."

"I thought that was true," he admitted. "During the flight from North Carolina, I had a lot of time to wonder what I was doing, why I was chasing halfway around the world for a woman I hardly knew.

"Except that after more than two years, I do know you. Maybe we didn't have many deep conversations, but those almost daily interactions showed me so much about who you are.

"I know that you always take a few extra minutes with Mr. Gunnerson, because you understand that he's a lonely man who wants someone to talk to more than he wants the decaf cappuccino he orders. I know that you always make sure the bowl beside the door is filled with fresh water for the dogs whose owners hang around outside sipping their lattes. And I know that your smile starts in your eyes before it moves to your lips.

"But mostly I know that everything feels right when I'm with you, and that's why I got on that plane—to follow my heart. Because I love you, Francesca."

*

Hours later, long after they'd returned from Siena and San Gimignano, Gabe's words continued to echo in Francesca's mind.

"I wish you weren't leaving on Saturday," Allegra said, as they prepared dinner.

"Me, too," she admitted. "But I need to get back."

"Back where? That's the real question."

"My ticket says Denver."

"What does your heart say?"

She sighed. "My heart is geographically challenged."

"You won't be happy in Denver," Nonna warned. "Not if you succumb to your parents' pressure to work at their firm."

"I know that, but they refuse to believe it."

"Maybe because you haven't been happy anywhere else, either—until now."

"If only I could stay in Florence forever."

"I didn't mean here," her grandmother chided. "Although you could, of course, stay if you wanted to. I meant with Gabe."

Francesca washed a handful of tomatoes, unable to come up with an appropriate response.

"Is he not a very good lawyer?"

She drew a knife from the wooden block on the counter, hiding a smile. "He's a partner in a successful practice in Charisma."

"And yet he's been out with you every day this week," her grandmother pointed out. "Who is taking care of his clients?"

She continued to slice the tomatoes. "I know what you're doing—you're trying to make me believe that, despite being a lawyer, Gabe isn't a workaholic like my parents." And her brother and sister-in-law, and her former almost fiancé. "But the fact that he's managed to take a week-long vacation doesn't really prove anything."

Nonna shook her head despairingly. "Maybe you're not so smart as I think."

Francesca scowled as she layered the tomato with slices of buffalo mozzarella for the insalata caprese.

"Cara, the man flew across the ocean to be with you, that should tell you a lot more than that he wanted a vacation. It should tell you that he is in love with you."

He'd said those very words to her the day before, when she was naked in his bed, but she was still afraid to hope they might be true, afraid to believe his feelings could be as real and deep as her own.

"So how do you feel about him? Not his career," Nonna clarified. "But the man."

"His career is part of who he is," she pointed out, because after two years of reminding herself that he was 'Lawyer Gabe' it was difficult to think of him without that descriptor. "But the man I've gotten to know—" the man who'd walked on the beach with her, made love with her, and flown to Italy to be with her "—I can't imagine my life without him."

"Then I guess you'd better do something about that ticket."

*

"I changed my flight this morning, while you were out with Luca," Francesca said when Gabe showed up at the farmhouse the following afternoon. "I'm going back to North Carolina instead of Colorado."

He smiled as he drew her into his arms. "Does your decision have anything to do with me?"

"You might have been a factor," she allowed.

"Not a declaration of eternal love and devotion, but I'll take it," he said, and lowered his mouth to hers.

As always when he kissed her, her heart fluttered and her knees trembled, and though she still had a lot of questions, her feelings for Gabe were not one of them.

"Speaking of plans," he said when he eased his lips from hers, "we should head out if we're going to Pisa today."

But they weren't on the road very long when he turned in the wrong direction. "Pisa is west."

"And the Torre Pendente will still be leaning in a few hours," he said. "There's somewhere else I want to go first."

When she realized they were going to Santa Maria del Fiore, her confusion grew. "We were just here a few days ago."

"I remember," he assured her. "And I remember you telling me that you used to dream about getting married here."

"A childhood fantasy," she said, though her heart was pounding hard and fast as they entered the building.

"And one I can't fulfill today," he acknowledged, turning to face her. "But how do you feel about getting engaged here?"

She pressed a hand to her chest, as if that might restrain her racing heart.

"I know you probably think it's too soon," he said. "But the past few days have convinced me that regardless of what the future may hold, I want you beside me for every day of it." "Luca helped me find a jewelry store," he told her, revealing the nature of his morning errand as he removed a stunning princess-cut diamond solitaire from his pocket. "And a ring he deemed worthy of you."

"He has excellent taste," she noted.

"He said the same thing about me—because I chose you." He dropped to one knee on the marble floor. "Will you marry me, Francesca?"

A small crowd had gathered around them, but she saw only Gabe. "I may never be anything more than a barista with a law degree," she warned.

"I fell in love with the barista before I even knew about the law degree," he reminded her. "I don't care what you do as long as you're happy."

"As long as I'm with you, I will be," she said.

"Is that a 'yes'?" he prompted.

"That is very definitely a 'yes.'"

He slid the ring on her finger.

And then, in the middle of Santa Maria del Fiore, surrounded by dozens of strangers, they sealed their promise with a kiss.

THE END

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About the author

I spent my former years as a successful attorney, but I gave up practi...

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Brenda Harlen

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