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Serial: Down the River – Chapter Seven

I’m finally revisiting the characters from The River City Chronicles nine years after their original timeline. I’ll be running the series weekly here on my blog, and then will release it in book form at the end of the run. Hope you enjoy catching up with all your faves and all their new secrets!

Today, Carmelina gets a bit of a surprise…

< Read Chapter Six | Read Chapter Eight >

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Down the River Header

Chapter Seven
Italian Surprise

Carmelina swept into Ragazzi like she owned the place, which was not far from the truth. She’d been dining there with Diego and Matteo for nine years, not to mention serving as a substitute chef and cooking her own baked treats in the training kitchen next door for years. She’d first met her granddaughter there—before she’d known that she and Marissa were related—and had celebrated not one but two weddings with some of her dearest friends under its roof.

Daniele was waiting for her at their usual table, in the corner by the window next to the shelves filled with boxes and cans of Italian goods.

“My, don’t you look handsome.” His sharp white Italian blazer was set off by an emerald green tie, his intense brown eyes fixed on hers.

“You’re early!” By which he meant she was only fifteen minutes late—a minor miracle by her standards.

She kissed him, running a hand through his silvering temple. “Sorry, got caught up in something at home. I’ll tell you later.” She’d done some googling after that strange letter from her purported uncle, and the results had left her no less mystified.

She sank down into the beautiful rosewood chair, grateful to finally be off her feet. Now that she was officially running the bakery, her days were longer than ever, and after dinner she’d be ready for a bath and a foot rubbing, if Daniele was so inclined.

How was it possible that she was almost eligible for Medicare and retirement? Not that she planned to go gently into that dark night any time soon. She still had a lot she wanted to accomplish. “What are the specials?”

“Yours is already on order. Diego’s sending over an Italian sandwich—something he whipped up in class today called La Spianata Romagnola. Oh and they have torta sbriciolata tonight, too.” He grinned. He knew the crumbly apple treat was one of her favorites.

Perfetto.” She set down her menu and gave him her full attention. “So, you have news?” She’d been wondering what it was all day. Between inflation and the orange menace and Gaza and Ukraine, all the other horrible things going on in the world, it had been nice to fixate on something positive, for once. “Dimmi.” While she was still far from fluent in Daniele’s native tongue, she could manage well enough.

He grinned. “Not until I get a little wine into you first.” He lifted a bottle, Chateau Varnelli, if she didn’t miss the mark. The lustrous, silky liquid flowed into her glass like red velvet.

“That bad, huh?” She sniffed it. It had a delightfully fruity scent, like raspberries, with just a hint of licorice.

“That good, actually. Drink up.”

She stuck her tongue out at him, and then took a sip. It was divine, washing away her troubles. “How much wasthis?” Like I really want to know.

“Less than it would be at another restaurant.” He winked at her, and she knew he was up to something.

“Okay, spill it. What’s your news?” The older she got, the less patience she had for little games. Even with Daniele.

He sighed dramatically. “You’re no fun at all.” With a sip from his own glass, he continued. “Remember my cousin Elena?”

Carmelina frowned. He had about a hundred cousins. “Is she the one who lives on a sailboat in Sicily?”

“No, that’s Filipa.”

“The one who lives in the Dolomites and gives tours of the Alps?”

“No, that’s Elia.”

“The one—”

Daniele laughed. “The lawyer in Rome, with the girlfriend who runs that boutique on Via dei Condotti.”

With the spiky blond hair. “Ah, of course.”

“You think I have a hundred cousins, don’t you?” He took another sip, staring at her over the glass.

“Don’t you?”

“Just thirty.”

She chuckled. “You know that’s a lot, right?” She had seven cousins, and that had always seemed like more than enough.

“Not for an Italian family, tesoro.” He set down his wine glass. “So… Ella’s getting married.”

“That’s wonderful! Wait, are lesbian weddings—”

“Still not legal in Italy, but they can have a civil union.” He shook his head. “The things Italians get hung up on.”

“Not just there.” America had its own special brand of idiocy and intolerance.

He shook his head, and then wiped away the gravity of the moment with a dazzling smile. “She invited us to come to the wedding.”

“Really?” A Roman vacation. She’d always wanted to go to Italy, but somehow she and Arthur had never gotten around to it, and then, with his declining health… “I’d love to see the Eternal City.”

“I was hoping you’d say that.” He put his hands on hers. “Imagine it. You and me wandering the streets of Rome together. All that history and beauty….”

“When is it?” She was hoping for October. Fewer crowds, and the weather was still good. They’d visit the Coliseum, explore the halls of the Vatican, wander through the Spanish Steps…

“Next weekend.”

“What?” Her heart started to race. Next weekend? She couldn’t possibly. She had the new café to run. A thousand thoughts ran through her head. Why so soonWhy didn’t you tell me earlier? Is something wrong? Who will bake the muffins? But all that came out was “Why?”

Daniele, as always, knew her as well as he knew the contours of a Madame Butterfly snapdragon. “I just found out. Apparently she had a cancellation—Elia can’t make it. Otherwise everything’s fine. And we can have Bethany substitute for you. She’s already agreed. Sweet Nothings will be closed for the summer anyhow.”

Bethany had interned with her a couple years earlier, before going on to open her own bakery on the Sac State Campus.

Rome’s close to Strangolagalli. “I don’t know.”

“Just say yes.” He took her hand and kissed it in that charming and irresistible way of his. “It will be molto romantico, mia principessa.”

She shivered the way she always did when he called her princess. She was helpless before his Italian charms.

“Amici!” Diego appeared at their tableside, dragging a surprised Marissa with him. “What comes you to Ragazzi?”

“Diego!” Carmelina jumped up and hugged him, unconcerned about the flour on his apron. “Date night. Daniele had a little surprise for me.” She still wasn’t sure about what he proposed—it was such a short notice. “And I see you brought my dearest granddaughter.” She brushed the white powder off her red blouse and embraced Marissa. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen you here.”

Marissa shrugged. “It was time. Plus I missed Diego’s cooking!”

Carmelina just stared at her for a moment. She’d grown into a beautiful, capable young woman.

Daniele shook Diego’s hand. “Piacere.”

“Mine’s the pleasure.” Diego grinned. At fifty-six, he was still handsome, if a little… rounder than before.

Hazards of being a chef. “Daniele was just inviting me to go to Rome. Next weekend.” That last part came out a little sharper than she intended.

Che fantastico.” Diego squeezed his hands together. “Roma is beautiful in the spring.”

“I haven’t said yes…”

Nonna, you have to go. When a beautiful man asks you to come to Rome with him…” Marissa’s eyes sparkled. “I can even help out a little with the shop.”

Gio popped out of the kitchen at the back of the restaurant, took one look at Marissa, and disappeared again.

What was that about? We’ll talk about that later. Carmelina sighed. It would be romantic. And didn’t romantichave the word Rome in it? Almost? Her eyes met Daniele’s. “Looks like we’re going to Rome.”

Evviva!” Daniele leaned over and kissed her cheek. “You won’t be sorry.”

Their dinners arrived. The Spianata Romagnola smelled heavenly, essentially a foccacia sandwich filled with prosciutto and fresh mozzarella, a festival of rosemary and olive oil and yeasty goodness.

Buon appetito.” Diego kissed her cheeks and let them be.

Marissa waved her goodbyes. “I’ll see you soon, nonna.”

“Come by the house Saturday? We can talk about the café.” And about that other thing with Gio.

“Sure. Late afternoon okay?”

“Perfect. We’ll make dinner out of it.”

Marissa slipped out the door. There was more going on than the girl—young woman—was letting on.

She set her concerns aside, and picked up half of the Italian sandwich to take a bite. It was delicious, as always, filled with notes of rosemary and garlic and olive oil.

“So what did you want to tell me?” Daniele asked between bites of ravioli in an arrabbiata sauce.

“What?”

“You said you had news for me, too.”

Her supposed uncle. Now that she was faced with the possibility of actually meeting him, the whole thing seemed a bit… preposterous. She needed time to think it over first. To contact this man and find out more. “Nothing. Just that I’m thrilled with how well things went at the café today.”

Anch’io. Me too. This thing just might work.” He seemed happy. And that made her want to feel happy.

We’re going to Rome. It would be the trip of a lifetime.

So why was her stomach tied in knots?

< Read Chapter Six | Read Chapter Eight >


Like what you read? if you haven’t tried it yet, check out book one, The River City Chronicles, here.

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