“Announcing Signore Moretti and Signorina Riverso.” The footman spoke in a deep tone that cut through the lighter voices that filled the room. The party guests already seated at the table stopped their discussions and welcomed the late-comers with smiles.
Quickly, the servants leapt from their positions on the sidelines and produced two more place settings at the table. Niccolo walked towards the empty chairs with Signora Riverso on his arm.
Viola watched in silent horror as Signore Moretti pulled out Signorina Riverso’s chair and helped her into the chair. She’s betrothed! What is she doing on his arm? She glanced nervously at her brother but he didn’t catch her eye.
“So glad you could make it, Professore.” Beniamino said readily. He exhaled in relief and took a large gulp of wine. It was beginning to seem as if Niccolo wouldn’t make the dinner party after all, but now that he was here he could relax.
Viola smiled at Niccolo as he took his seat next to her. “Yes, we are quite glad you came.” “I must offer my sincerest apologies, Signore Buondelmonti. I admit that I lost track of the time this afternoon; I was attending an interesting lecture on medicine. Lucky for me, Signorina Riverso was late as well and I was able to escort her up.”
Viola beamed with pleasure. So they’re not together! “All is forgiven, Signore. Now,” she moved her chair closer, “So, tell me about the lecture you attended?” Niccolo dropped the piece of lobster he had been about to eat. “You are interested in medical lectures?”
“Of course I am!” not. Truth be told, she thought the study of medicine was intolerably boring, but her mother had insisted she do anything to get his attention and keep it. “Ah, in that case: it was given by a friend and colleague of mine…” Viola chewed listlessly on her dinner while she pretended to listen. A few nods here and there were enough to keep Niccolo talking and her brother from glaring over his goblet.
Niccolo’s long and involved tale of how to inject wax into cadavers’ arteries was beginning to nauseate Viola as she tried to force down the rest of her dinner. When a loud dinging interrupted their conversation, she turned gratefully to seek out who made the noise.
She spotted her mother sitting at the foot of the table, calling for silence so she could make a toast. “Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for your attendance. Today we have gathered to honor my son, Beniamino Buondelmonti, for his safe return from France where he proved successful in his business.” She raised her glass. “A Beniamino. Cin cin!”
The guests raised their glasses as well and toasted a hearty “Cin cin” towards their host.
The wine was downed and quickly refilled. Margherita signaled to the musicians in the corner to play music suitable for dancing.
Most of the diners who had finished eating abandoned their seats to find partners.
Viola rose from her chair and led Niccolo to an empty corner of the room. She pulled him close enough to whisper, “I’m so glad you came.”
“She is just all over him!” one of the guests spoke in a low voice to her friend. “Signore Moretti must be blind if he doesn’t notice her obvious flirtation…”
The two girls leaned in close and giggled. Viola’s chasing after Niccolo was a source of much amusement for the guests. Several were already making bets how long it would be before she flitted off to find another, more suitable, man. No one else knew about his petition for a title yet.
“Did you see that he’s been dancing with her since dinner ended?” Margherita asked her son eagerly once she had cornered him. “Yes, and he looks absolutely taken with her! I must commend Viola on a job well done.”
“And who would have guessed she had it in her? Certainly not I.” Beniamino struggled to not smile and motioned for his mother to quiet down. He wanted to keep things quiet as long as he could.
When the music lulled and changed tunes, Viola pulled Niccolo towards the sideboard. “What say you to another glass of wine? My brother went to such lengths to provide it tonight.” “That sounds fantastic, Signorina Buondelmonti.”
“Please,” she said with a smile as she picked up two goblets, “call me Viola. We are friends, no?” Niccolo took the glass she was offering and took a gulp, “Sì, amici*, Viola.” *Friends
Viola smiled to herself triumphantly. “So, how has your son been? I’ve heard through the grapevine that he excels in his studies. He takes after his father, no doubt.” “You are too kind, Viola. Giacomo is rather intelligent, but he does work hard under his tutors.”
“And…your daughter?” Viola kicked herself mentally for not being able to remember her name. “Ah, Alessandra.” A distant look came over Niccolo and he swirled his drink around. “From what I’ve heard she’s growing up quite nicely.” “She must be about two now?”
“She’ll be three soon.” Viola didn’t like the way the conversation was going; too much longer and Niccolo would be too downcast to enjoy the party.
“How wonderful for her; she’ll be a little lady in no time. Now,” she took both of the glasses and set them on the table, “let’s dance some more!”
Niccolo found his spirits rise as he followed his charming dancing partner.
The band transitioned into a love ballad as Niccolo took Viola’s hand and spun her around. Viola peered over his shoulder and was met with a pleasing scene. “It seems we are the center of attention tonight, Niccolo.”
“They’re all jealous that they aren’t in such delightful company.” He answered with a flourish.
As the last notes of the ballad echoed around the room, he stopped dancing and became serious. “In all honesty, though, I must thank you for such a lovely evening.” “Oh, it was nothing.”
“Au contraire, it meant a lot to me. I haven’t had such a nice time in…well, since my wife died.” Viola smiled in triumph. He’s hooked! “Well, I’m here for you, Niccolo. Always.” - -
“So it truly went well?” Beniamino pressed his sister for details as he walked her to her quarters after the party had ended in the wee hours of the morning. “Yes, yes. It went great. He now calls me by my Christian name and likened me to his first wife.” “Good, good. But now the real work begins; we have to get him thinking about marriage.”
Never fear, brother of mine. I think he is closer than we think.” Viola gave her brother a reassuring a hug. “What? Why? What do you know?” he asked frantically as Viola pulled away.
“Just wait and see,” she said with a smirk and disappeared into her chambers, leaving Beniamino to continue on to his own room and think back on the evening, searching for cues he may have missed. - -
“Get up, Viola!” Margherita bellowed bright and early the next morning. From behind her, Viola’s maid followed obediently and set about making preparations for Viola’s morning routine.
Viola cracked one eye open and, seeing her mother staring at her intently, closed it again and grumbled. “I said get up!” Margherita commanded again. “It’s too early, mother.” Viola mumbled and turned over.
“Bah!” Margherita threw her hands up in frustration. “It’s eight o’clock, not that that’s a particularly important fact right now. Get up!” “Your water is ready, signorina,” the maid offered timidly.
Viola sighed and flipped the blankets back. She pushed herself up and stifled a yawn; what could her mother want this early in the morning after they had gone to bed only a few hours ago?
“Dress quickly my dear.” Margherita had calmed her tone down quite a bit once her daughter was actually up and about. “We have not a moment to lose!” “What on earth are you talking about? I have no appointments today…”
“Of course not! But you will be shocked when I tell you who showed up bright and early this morning to- ahem- speak with your brother…” Viola’s face blanched and her heart quickened. She had expected it to happen soon, but not this soon. “You mean he’s in the office? Right now? Talking with Beniamino?”
“That’s exactly what I mean! You played your role well; Niccolo Moretti is asking for your hand at this very moment!” Viola squealed with joy. “I almost forgot!” Margherita pulled a small parcel wrapped in linen from her pocket. “He brought this for you.”
Viola took it and unfolded the cloth. Gently nestled between the white layers was a gold ring set with a single diamond. At the sight of the jewel, she squealed again.
“Clara!” Viola grasped the ring in her palm and looked around for her maid. “Yes, signorina?”
“Fetch a comb, my perfume, and my yellow dress. I want to look my best!” The maid curtseyed and left the room. Viola slipped the ring on her finger and went to search through her linen drawer for a clean chemise.
“As I mentioned briefly earlier, I have a few things being sorted out at the moment and, though I cannot mention the specifics, I know that I shall be coming into some good fortune in the near future; fortune grand enough to support a wife such as Viola.” Niccolo took a deep breath when he finished his monologue.
Beniamino nodded slowly as though he was going over the pros and cons of letting Niccolo marry his sister though his mind had been made up for a long time. “And you are sure that your business will decide in your favor?” “Quite.”
Beniamino smiled and leaned back. “Well then, I suppose there is only one thing left to do: draw up the official contract.”
“Stop scratching, Viola!” Viola brought her hand back to rest against her side, “Yes, mother.” “And stand up straighter.” Viola did as she was told.
After what seemed like ages, the door to the study creaked open and the ladies jumped to attention. “Buon giorno, signore Moretti.” Margherita and her daughter curtseyed. “Good morning to you too, ladies!” Margherita nodded to Viola in encouragement and left to find Beniamino.
“I thank you for the gift you sent me, Niccolo. It is quite lovely.” Viola said as she drew attention to the ring that now sat on her middle finger. “I’m glad it pleases you- the diamond reminded me of your sparkling personality.” Viola smiled. It was a nice sentiment, whether or not it was merely talk. “I heard you came to talk with my brother…about me?"
Niccolo smiled and took her hand, “You are quite right, Signora Moretti.” Viola beamed with pleasure. “You are too kind, my lord.”
With a kiss and a bow, Niccolo took his leave and Viola hurried to find her mother. It was time to celebrate!
“Congratulations, Viola!” Margherita bombarded her daughter with a hug as soon as the door had closed.
“So we are betrothed?” she asked her brother once she was free of her mother’s arms. “The final details are still being ironed out and I want to have the contract reviewed by a lawyer, but yes: you are betrothed!”
Beniamino let loose three cheers and was quickly joined by Viola. As she cheered she couldn’t stop smiling. Baronessa Viola Moretti. It had a nice ring to it, she had to admit.
* * * “Was that a horse? Did you hear a horse, Viola?” Niccolo tugged on his tunic in anticipation.
“No, I did not hear a horse. For the hundredth time, husband, they will be here in due course.” From her position on the bench, Viola rolled her eyes. “Come, sit next to me.”
Niccolo crossed the room in quick strides and sat down. Viola tried to engage him in conversation, but he was too agitated to sit still.
“Come here, Niccolo.” Viola tried to pull him close, but he resisted.
“You know, I think I’ll go wait in the foyer.” He sprang from his seat, leaving Viola to stare out the window all by herself.
Giac could barely contain his elation as he exited his cousin’s carriage and walked up the path to his home as a guest for the last time. He was finally coming home.
He stood patiently behind Heather as they waited to be greeted. He watched his sister as she looked around from her position in the nanny’s arms. “You are going to finally meet father, Alessandra!”
She looked at her brother with a confused expression. “Père? Qui est le père?” * “Oh, you’ll see in a minute.” *Father? Who is father?
The door flung open and Niccolo ushered his family inside. “Thank you very much, Heather. I cannot begin to explain how much your care and devotion towards my children have meant to me.” Heather smiled and waved him off, “There’s someone who has been longing to see you, uncle.”
“Father!” Giacomo ran into Niccolo’s arms and wrapped his arms around his neck tightly. “I’ve missed you so much!” Niccolo held his son tightly, never wanting to let him go. “Not half as much as I’ve missed you, son.”
“Father?” Giac whispered in his ear. “Hmm?” “Can I stay with you this time?” “Of course you can! Of course.”
Giac was the first one to pull away. “Papa, you’ve got to see Alessandra!”
Niccolo turned his attention to the blonde little girl waiting patiently for her turn in the strange man’s embrace.
He took her from the nanny and held her close. Looking at her small features, he felt his heart swell. She had his eyes and his complexion, but definitely her mother’s hair. Yes, he thought as he twirled her delicate waves in his fingers, definitely Renee’s hair.
“You look so much like your mother,” he told her quietly. A few tears formed at the corners of his eyes, but he blinked them back before they fell.
“Speaking of mothers, there’s someone new I want you two to meet.” Niccolo put Alessandra down onto the floor and took her hand. “I think I best be going.” Heather said, giving Giac and Niccolo each a quick hug goodbye. She kissed Alessandra before heading out the door.
Niccolo kept hold of his daughter as he motioned for Giac to walk at his other side. Giac peered up at his father and wondered who was in the parlor as they walked.
“Giac, Alessandra, say hello to Viola.” Niccolo said as he picked up Alessandra.
Giac saw an unfamiliar woman standing expectantly in front of him. Viola? Who was she? He supposed she looked vaguely familiar. Still, he greeted her politely and looked to his father for an explanation.
“Viola, I present to you Giac and Alessandra. Children, this is your new stepmother.”
Giac stared at the woman, dumbfounded. Stepmother?!