Authors: Jennifer L. Jennings
A Death In Tuscany
Sarah Woods Mystery 13
Jennifer L. Jennings
All rights reserved
This is a work of fiction.
All Characters and events come from the authors imagination, which is pretty warped to begin with.
A special thank you to Lauren and Jamie Tolson, two friends I met while traveling in Tuscany, who are also the inspiration for two characters in this book.
And a big thanks to my editor Vicki Lorist, who is always available to lend her support and expertise.
Saturday, November 22
Ever since I was old enough to drink wine, I have dreamt of going to Tuscany. I never really thought that dream would come true, but over twenty years later, here I am, sipping a lovely Brunello di Montelcino wine and sitting across from a handsome gentleman with the most gorgeous blue eyes I’ve ever seen. That would be Carter and this trip was all his idea.
Now, before you get all envious, I should probably tell you that I usually have bad luck when it comes to vacations. I suppose it’s an occupational hazard because, as a private detective, I’ve come to accept the fact that I’m somewhat of a disaster magnet. I just hope Italy is going to be different. No work this time - just long walks in the vineyards, sipping wine, eating good food, and spending time with Carter. What could be more perfect than that?
Carter smiled at me from across the candlelit table. “You seem quiet, Sarah. You feeling okay?”
“Sure. I’m just a bit tired from the long flight.”
He nodded. “Me too. We’ll have a quick dinner and get to bed early tonight. We can sleep till noon if we want to. Sound good?”
I liked the idea of going back to our villa, slipping inside the warm covers, snuggling up to Carter’s chest and wrapping my arms around him but, truth be told, I was starving. Sleep could wait a few hours. Besides, the smells coming from the kitchen were marvelous.
I noticed Carter’s closed menu beside him on the table. “Have you looked at the menu, yet?” I asked.
“Yeah, I took a peek, but I have no idea what it says. It’s all in Italian.”
I chuckled. “Maybe we should just order the chef’s special. I’m sure it’ll be wonderful, whatever it is.”
The Tuscan Farmhouse we’d be staying at for a week boasted an award winning chef named Massimo, a seventy acre property with a working farm, winery and horse riding stables. Gazing out the window, I could see the rolling hills where the vineyards stretched for miles under the bright moon.
When a waitress appeared, she placed a bread basket on our table and told us her name was Chiara. In her twenties with curly black hair, her English wasn’t very good, but she made up for it by using hand gestures to explain the menu. A
pappardellie di bolognaise
, which is basically a wide fettuccini with meat sauce, was the only thing I could understand, so Carter and I each ordered that.
“Grazie,” I said, thanking her. It was one of the few words I’d learned during the plane ride over.
“Prego,” Chiara replied, which meant, you’re welcome. Before she had a chance to say anything else, a man sitting at the table nearby cleared his throa
to get her attention. Chiara hurried over to him, her expression filled with dread. When she approached the table, the man began pointing his finger in her face. I couldn’t quite make out what he was saying but I knew he wasn’t happy. The woman sitting at the table with him, presumably his wife, just sat there silently, staring at her plate. I turned in my seat to get a better look at this guy and wondered what his problem was. I couldn’t imagine that Chiara had done anything to provoke such hostility.
I caught Carter’s eye, and he seemed just as perplexed as me. “Can you believe this guy?” I whispered. “You’d have thought he found a severed finger in his soup.”
Carter shrugged. “He’s only embarrassing himself.”
In glancing around the room, I noticed the insolent man was beginning to draw the attention of the other guests as well.
After Chiara slinked away toward the kitchen, I had to bite my tongue and, instead, made a point to give him a dirty look. He pretended not to notice me as he dipped his bread in a pool of olive oil. His wife or girlfriend sipped from her wine glass as if nothing had happened, either.
If I had to guess, the guy was mid-forties, like me. He had dark, thin hair, graying at the temples. He had one of those smug expressions, like he received great pleasure from making others feel inferior. This was a man who was used to getting his way. His wife, on the other hand, was blonde, attractive and certainly didn’t need to wear all that make-up. I guessed she was at least a decade younger, early thirties at the most. It’s possible she could have been this guy’s daughter, but I was pretty certain they were a couple. How many guys would take their daughter on a romantic trip to Tuscany?
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Carter’s crooked smile and I knew exactly what he was thinking. I turned around to face him and said, “I know, I know. I’ll mind my own business now.”
“It’s killing you, isn’t it? You really want to say something to him.” Carter poured more wine into my glass. “Remember we made a promise before we left. We are not going to get involved in other people’s problems for the next seven days.”
He was right. We needed this time to decompress from our jobs. Working as a private investigator team, we are constantly under pressure to meet the demands of our clients. Usually our jobs don’t involve much more than performing basic background checks or research but, once in a while, we find ourselves in compromising situations. Such was the case with our last job involving an underground pedophile ring. Carter happened to be chasing a suspect and got a bullet in the chest, puncturing a lung. During his recovery, Carter nearly went stir crazy, not able to work or do much of anything for himself. I moved into his house for two weeks and took care of him until he could move around well on his own. I cooked his meals, gave him baths, cleaned the house, did his laundry and drove him to all his doctor appointments. I was more than happy to do it. He’d do the same for me.
When Chiara returned to our table with our entrées, in her broken English she tried to ask if there was anything else we needed. I noticed she didn’t make direct eye contact this time. Her eyes seemed a little bloodshot and the skin surrounding them was puffy. Had she been crying? If so, was it because of the jerk at the next table? I wanted to ask her if she was okay but Carter’s words repeated in my head.
Let it go. Not our business.
“Grazie,” I said to Chiara with a big smile, hoping my praise would ease her sorrow. “
Thank you for the great service.”
Despite the language gap, she must have surmised that I was pleased with her because she nodded appreciatively. “Prego,” she said, then turned away and headed back toward the kitchen.
For the next twenty minutes, Carter and I took our time and enjoyed the meal. The meat sauce was like nothing I’d ever tasted before. The meat was so tender and the way it coated the fresh pasta was like heaven on a fork. I savored every last bite until my plate was empty. For dessert, a crème brulée. The most decadent, rich, smooth crème brulée I’ve ever had.
The food was so amazing that I even forgot all about the rude guest at the table beside us. We hadn’t heard a peep from him or his wife/girlfriend. When I glanced over, the couple was eating quietly, not speaking to one another. In fact, the guy’s head was leaning to the side and I realized he must be on his cell phone or a tablet. I’m sure his wife was just thrilled that they’d come all the way to Italy so he could ignore her during dinner. Not that she seemed to mind in the least as she twirled the pasta around her fork. Her placid expression surprised me. Maybe she was glad she didn’t have to converse with him.
After dinner, Carter suggested we take a stroll to walk off some of the calories we’d consumed. The night air felt wonderful as we meandered through a garden and passed through a charming courtyard with potted plants and cypress trees.
The property consisted of four large apartment buildings with four units in each. They resembled old farmhouses, each painted with a burnt orange stucco. Ours was the last building on the right and, fortunately, we had the whole building to ourselves, a perk of traveling in the off season.
Carter held my hand and guided us to a well-lit fountain in the middle of the courtyard. The sound of the water splashing into the pool below mesmerized me. With a belly full of rich food and wine, I could have drifted off to sleep.
“What do you think of Italy so far?” Carter asked, wrapping an arm around me. It was growing considerably chillier.
I slipped my hand under his leather jacket and pulled him closer. “I know it’s only our first night here but, so far, I’m in love with this place.”
Carter looked down at me with a sheepish grin. “Good, maybe I can make you fall in love with me, too.”
A little shocked by his words, I didn’t know what to say. It was the first time the word
had been uttered by either one of us. I had to think of a good comeback and one that didn’t make things too awkward. “If you want me to fall in love with you,” I teased. “Then you should learn how to make that crème brulée we just had.”
He laughed quietly. “I think I could bribe the chef to give me his recipe.”
“Good luck with that.”
We stood there for a few minutes, huddled together in the courtyard, when a voice caught our attention and we looked up. Walking towards us were two young, attractive women in their late twenties whom I recognized from dinner. They had been sitting at the table to our left. The red-head had a cane and walked with a serious limp. She wore a sweatshirt, jeans and sneakers. Her wavy hair was tied back in a ponytail. Not a stitch of makeup on her face. The other girl was brunette. She wore a flattering black jacket with a form fitting skirt and tall leather boots. She wore make-up and jewelry. Complete opposites and yet they had similar features.
“We’re not disturbing you, are we?” The brunette said to us. “It’s our first night here and we’re still trying to get the lay of the land.”
“You’re not disturbing us,” I replied. “We’re just getting some fresh air after that heavy meal.”
Both women nodded like they understood all too well. The redhead with the cane said, “Where are you two from?”
“The Boston area,” I said. “Bridgeport, New Hampshire to be exact. You?”
“We both live in the D.C. area.”
No wonder I couldn’t detect much of an accent. “Nice to meet, you,” I said. “I’m Sarah and this is Carter.”
We all exchanged handshakes.
“I’m Jamie,” the brunette said. “This is my sister Lauren,” and as if to answer the question we must be thinking, she added. “Lauren got injured right before the trip.”
“Bad timing,” I said, pointing to her braced ankle. “Sorry to hear about that. What happened?”
Lauren shrugged like it was no big deal. “I work for our father who owns a machine shop, we specialize in high performance engine building. I had a little accident with one of the engines and it landed on my foot.”
“Ouch,” Carter said, wincing. “I’m surprised you still have that foot.”
Lauren chuckled. “Anyway, we’ve been planning this trip for almost a year. I wasn’t about to let a stupid injury ruin it.”
“Good for you,” I said. “You seem to be getting around just fine.”
Jamie rolled her eyes. “Sure, she gets around just fine because I have to carry all her luggage.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. I liked these girls right off. They weren’t afraid to crack jokes around total strangers. My kind of people. “So, Jamie, do you work at the machine shop, too?” I asked.
“No, I have no interest in cars or engines. I’m a paralegal. I’d go crazy if I had to walk around all day with engine oil stuck to my clothes. So, what do you guys do?”
Carter and I exchanged a knowing glance. We always get a kick out of telling people what we do for work.
Carter cleared his throat. “Sarah and I are private detectives.”
“Really?” Jamie’s eyebrow rose in interest. “I don’t think I’ve ever met a private detective before. Is it as exciting as they make it out to be in the movies?”
“Depends on the job,” I said, and left it at that. No point in mentioning the fact that Carter was shot on the job trying to save a client from a deranged and vengeful kidnapper.
“I don’t mean to gossip,” Lauren said with a rueful expression. “But can you believe that guy at dinner who was so mean to that waitress? What was
“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe Chiara made a mistake with his food, but it must be hard to communicate sometimes. People come here from all over the world.”
“Unfortunately, he and his wife are staying in the unit next to ours.” Jamie crossed her arms over her chest as if disgusted. “If I hear him yelling at his wife one more time, I’m calling the manager to complain.”
“So they are married?” I asked.
“Yep.” Lauren said. “I overheard them when they were checking in this afternoon. They were in line in front of us. Their last name is Thomas. I think her name is Brittany but I don’t remember his name. They’re from New York. And we also met the other couple staying here for the week. They’re from Canada. Apparently, she’s some famous journalist author. Her name is Hope Dillard. I forget her husband’s name.”
Lauren glanced at her watch as if she were a bit bored with her sister’s rambling. “Hey Jamie, we should head back to the room so I can take my meds. My foot is starting to ache like crazy.”
“Do you need help walking up the stairs?”
“Nah. If we take it slowly, I’ll be fine. I’m finally getting the hang of this walking stick.”
“Well,” I said, waving good-bye to them. “It was nice meeting you both. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of each other this week.”
As the girls began to walk away, Jamie stopped to say, “Do you guys know about the hot springs here on the property?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I read about them on the website. They are supposed to be amazing.”
“It’s a little bit of a hike down into the valley, so we’re not sure if Lauren can make it with her bum foot. You guys should check it out.”
“Thanks for the tip,” Carter said. “Maybe we’ll do that tomorrow. We don’t have anything planned yet.”
* * *
It was almost 9:00pm by the time we got back to our apartment. While I waited for the bath to fill, I helped Carter unpack our suitcases. I noticed he hadn’t brought very many clothes; just underwear, socks, two pairs of jeans, a few button down shirts and a fleece sweater. No pajamas. Which reminded me of how he likes to sleep in the nude.
One of the things I admire about Carter is how low maintenance he is. He’s not the kind of guy to spend more than a few minutes in front of the mirror unless he’s shaving. He doesn’t seem to care much about his attire, which usually consists of jeans, black t-shirt and black leather jacket. Only twice have I seen him wear a tie. He doesn’t need to fuss over his appearance because, in my opinion, he’s perfect the way he is; ruggedly handsome. Even when he neglects to go to the barber, I like the way the wavy strands of hair fall over his forehead. The silvery gray in his hair makes his blue eyes stand out even more.
Now, back to the part of how Carter sleeps in the nude. The day Carter was released from the hospital, I packed a small bag with toiletries, pajamas, a few articles of clothing and basically moved into his hous
with the intention of sleeping in the guest bedroom. That first night, however, he invited me into his bedroom. When I slipped under the covers, I was treated to … well, let me just say I was a bit shocked to find him bare-assed and smiling. It turned out to be one of the most erotic moments of my life. We didn’t have sex, at least not that first night, but I do remember the way our hands explored each other. The way he looked into my eyes with the promise of what would eventually happen when his body was well enough to perform.
As I soaked in the tub with eyes closed and head tilted back, I couldn’t help but reminisce about that first time Carter and I made love. Tender, earnest, all-consuming and, most of all, passionate. It was the first time I’d ever truly felt desirable - and not just in a physical sense. When you care about someone so deeply all you want to do is make them feel safe … that is
how Carter makes me feel. My attraction to him goes well beyond carnal desires.
After my soak, I wrapped a towel around me and padded out to the bedroom. Carter was already under the covers, his head resting on the pillow. Judging from the intense way his eyes scanned me and the grin on his face, I knew I was about to get lucky.
What a way to spend our first night in Tuscany.