A Meet Cute in Rome - Rome For The Summer - Lynne Shelby -ArmchairTravel #4
One of my favourite things to write is the 'meet cute' when the heroine and hero of a romantic novel set eyes on each other for the first time. In my new novel, Rome For The Summer, Kate, let down by her (now ex) boyfriend, escapes to Rome and a new job in The English House in the Piazza di Spagna. On her first day in Rome, she meets artist Jamie . . .
I was trying to decide whether it was too early for me to knock – a glance at my watch told me that it was only twenty past nine – when the small inset door swung open and a young woman, maybe a couple of years older than me, stepped out. With a mass of dark curls falling half-way down her back and a curvaceous figure, I’d have described her as beautiful if it wasn’t for the scowl marring her face. As I watched, she turned and shouted angrily in Italian through the doorway, swept past me – so close that I had to jump back or she’d have bowled me over – and stalked off across the piazza, vanishing into the crowds. An instant later, a guy, roughly the same age as the woman, appeared in the open doorway, his face glowering and unshaven, his very dark hair sticking up as if he’d just got out of bed. Both the black T-shirt and the denim shorts he was wearing were liberally splattered with paint.
‘Lucia –’ he shouted, his gaze rapidly scanning the piazza, until it came to rest on me. ‘Vuoi visitare la Casa Inglese? he said, with a frown. ‘Are you wanting to visit the English House?’
‘I’m –’ I began.
‘We don’t open until ten,’ he snapped, interrupting me. ‘You can book a guided tour on-line.’
‘Oh, no, I’m –’ Before I could explain that I wasn’t in fact a tourist but a new employee, he’d gone inside the house and slammed the door. If I hadn’t realised that I’d inadvertently managed to barge into the middle of someone else’s drama, likely a lovers’ tiff, I’d have been more than a little annoyed. As it was, I stood staring up at the house, unsure what to do next. Doubting that my knocking would bring the guy back until the appointed hour for opening the house to the public – and not wanting to irritate or get off on the wrong foot with someone who, it seemed, was one of my future co-workers, especially as he was obviously not in the best of moods – I retreated to the centre of the square. A brief consultation of my guide book reminded me that the Piazza di Spagna was the site of the famous Spanish Steps, which seemed as good a place as any to while away the next half hour.
Heading towards the point in the piazza where the crowds were thickest, I came to a broad, sweeping, white stone stairway that ascended up a steep slope in a series of terraces, with a fountain at its foot – La Barcaccia, according to my guide book, and designed to look like a sinking boat – and a church, gleaming white against the clear blue sky, at its top. Skirting past the cluster of tourists blocking my view of the fountain, and picking my way carefully through the people sprawled on the steps – couples taking photographs and chatting in a variety of languages, a group of back-packers – I climbed up as far as the first terrace and sat down on the sun-warmed stone. From here, I could see that the fountain was indeed shaped like a boat with water leaking from its sides, which made me smile.
I took a panoramic photo of the piazza on my phone, and then, because I still had half an hour or so before I could go back to the English House, pushed my sunglasses onto the top of my head, fished my sketchbook out of my bag and, resting it on my knees, started to draw the scene in front of me, surprised at how natural it felt to hold a pencil after such a long time – and relieved that the cut on my hand had left me with no lasting damage other than a vivid scar across my palm. I was quite pleased with the way the fountain turned out, although when I attempted to draw the people gathered around it, I soon remembered the limitations of my artistic ability.
A shadow fell across my sketchbook, and a male voice said, ‘Is your name, by any chance, Kate Harper?’
I looked up, shading my eyes with my hand, and saw a tall, broad-shouldered, dark-haired man standing next right to me – I’d been too absorbed in my drawing to notice him until he spoke. At first I didn’t recognize him, but then he took off his sunglasses, and I realised that he was the guy who’d so abruptly turned me away from the English House, although he’d replaced his paint-splattered clothes with a white T-shirt and jeans. He was, I thought, quite good-looking – now that he wasn’t glaring at me. I wondered if he was English or Italian.
‘Yes, I’m Kate,’ I said.
‘I’m Jamie,’ he said. ‘Jamie Taylor. I work at the English House.’
‘I guessed as much,’ I said. ‘Good to meet you, Jamie. Properly, I mean. I know we’ve already met…sort of.’ Definitely English, I thought, with that name.
‘Yeah, so we did,’ Jamie said. ‘Ah – this is awkward – but I owe you an apology. I was unpardonably rude to you just now. It was only when I spotted you sitting up here that it occurred to me that you just might possibly be the girl starting work with us today.’ He ran his hand through his unruly hair. ‘I am so sorry. You caught me at a bad time – not that it’s any excuse. I hope you’ll forgive me.’ His gaze caught mine, and held it, and I saw that his eyes were a warm brown flecked with gold, fringed with thick dark lashes, and with laughter lines in the corner. If I had been mad at him – which I wasn’t – I doubted very much that I’d have been able to stay mad with those beautiful brown eyes gazing at me so soulfully.
‘It’s fine,’ I said. ‘Please don’t worry about it. I could see you were in the middle of something.’
‘So I’m forgiven?’
‘Nothing to forgive,’ I said, with a smile. Jamie smiled back, and then sat down beside me on the step.
‘You’re an artist?’ he asked, nodding at my sketchbook.
‘No, I’m really not,’ I said. ‘This is the first time I’ve picked up a pencil in years.’
‘May I see what you’ve drawn?’ He held out his hand.
Oh – I don’t think so,’ I began. Then it occurred to me that the guy was trying very hard to make up for the way he’d behaved earlier, and refusing to show him my drawing was not exactly friendly. ‘OK,’ I said, passing him my sketchbook, ‘but I have to warn you that it’s not very good.’
Holding the sketchbook at arms’ length, Jamie regarded my drawing in a silence that lasted long enough for me to wondered if it was so bad that he was having trouble thinking of anything positive to say about it. Then he looked at me and smiled.
‘I like it,’ he said. ‘You should frame it, and then whenever you look at it, you’ll remember your first morning in Italy.’
I felt absurdly pleased, even though I knew he was only being polite. ‘Thanks,’ I said.
'May I borrow a pencil?'
Bemused, I handed him a pencil and he turned my sketchbook to a new page.
‘Can you turn your head – not your body – towards me?’ he said. I did as he asked. ‘Now don’t move. I won’t keep you long.’ He studied my face for a moment, and then started to draw, his hand moving rapidly over the paper, looking back at me once or twice, before passing the sketchbook and pencil back to me.
I looked at his drawing and gasped. With just a few strokes of the pencil, he’d captured my likeness, sitting there on the Spanish Steps in Rome.
‘Oh my goodness,’ I said. ‘That’s brilliant. Thank you so much.’
‘My pleasure,’ Jamie said. ‘And now, as it’s almost ten o’clock, I’d better let you get back to the English House.’ He rose to his feet. Having stowed my sketchbook safely in my bag, I stood up also, and together we walked down the steps.
‘I’m not actually working today,’ he said, when we reached the bottom, ‘but I’ve a class tomorrow, so I’ll see you then.’
I thought, a class? I’d assumed he was a guide like me. Then, slowly, realisation dawned. ‘Jamie,’ I said, ‘what work is it that you do at the English House?’
‘I’m the artist in residence,’ Jamie said. ‘Literally in residence. I live in the apartment on the ground floor.’
With a smile, he spun on his heel, and vanished into the crowd.
Rome For The Summer
Kate Harper has always loved the painting that has hung in her parents' dining room for years, never suspecting that it is worth a fortune. When her art dealer boyfriend cheats her family out of the proceeds of the painting's sale, she is left devastated and alone.
Kate discovers that two hundred years ago, the girl in the painting, Charlotte Browne, ran off to Rome with the artist who painted her portrait, but her eventual fate is unknown.
Hoping to uncover the mystery of what happened to Charlotte, Kate seizes the chance of a summer job in Rome, where she strikes up a friendship with Jamie Taylor, an English artist. As they explore the city and start to piece together the surprising secrets of Charlotte's life, Kate finds herself wondering if a summer in Rome can mend a broken heart...