A coveted teaching invitation gives Donovan Boudreaux the chance to leave his New Orleans comfort zone and meet his secret email pen pal—world-renowned author Gianna Martelli. But when he arrives at the Martelli wine chateau in Tuscany, he discovers he’s been deceived. His misgivings dwindle as Gianna introduces him to the hidden pleasures of Italy—and a passion that takes both Donovan and the reclusive writer by surprise.
Gianna loves her simple life on her family’s legendary vineyards. Until her matchmaking twin initiates a clandestine correspondence. Determined to make amends, Gianna soon realizes that she and the charming professor share a bond that can’t be found in books. A friendship soon flames into an intense affair they know can’t last forever. And now a vindictive rival could destroy Donovan’s reputation, career and any hope of a future with Gianna…
Get to know Deborah
Describe your writing style.
I’m what’s lovingly called a pantser. Until I actually start writing the story I don’t have a clue where it will go. I generally know the characters but not much else. It’s the characters that lead my writing and I often say I’m just the conduit for what they want us all to know about them. They whisper in my head and I put it down on paper.
She and her sister were identical twins, and most people were never able to tell the two women apart. But Gianna Martelli had taken a pair of scissors to her sibling Carina’s dark locks, cutting the young woman’s waist-length tresses to pixie short. Carina’s natural curls were suddenly less abundant as she stood in the center of the room, her head waving slowly from side to side to show off her new hairdo to their family.
“Wow!” Graham Porter exclaimed, his dark eyes shifting back and forth between the two women. “Wow!”
“What’s that mean?” Carina questioned, her eyebrows lifted as she tossed her husband a look. “Why do you keep saying wow like that?” A wave of panic flashed across her face. “You don’t like it!”
He met the look his wife was giving him, holding his hands up defensively. “No… I mean yes… I do! It’s just unexpected,” he said, turning to his father-in-law for assistance. “What do you think, Franco?”
Franco Martelli grinned. “It’s lovely, daughter. But it’s a definite change. And like Graham said, it’s unexpected! I think what your husband is trying to say is that you’ve surprised us, is all.”
“I told you to trust me,” Gianna said as Carina smiled, pulling her hands through the new short length of her hair. “It really does look great!”
“Are you going to cut yours, too?” Franco asked, turning in his seat to stare at Gianna.
The young woman shrugged. “I was thinking about it, but Carina doesn’t want me to.”
“I want us to look different,” Carina said. “Just for a little while. No one will mix us up now.”
Gianna rolled her eyes skyward, tossing the extensive length of her own dark waves over her shoulder. “It’s been forever since anyone last got us confused.”
“Last week at the market, Mrs. Falco thought I was you.”
“Mrs. Falco is half-blind,” Gianna said with an eye roll. “She gets papa and Graham mixed up!”
Graham chuckled as he rose to his feet, moving to his wife’s side. He leaned down to kiss her cheek. “It’s a very flattering style on you, sweetheart. I really like it,” he said softly. “You look beautiful!” He trailed a finger across Carina’s cheek, and she smiled brightly as he leaned in to kiss her lips.
Gianna threw the two a look, the faintest hint ofjealousy furrowing her brow. She blew a low sigh. “You two need to get a room,” she quipped. She rose from her seat and moved toward the door. “I’ll be in my office. Some of us have work to do.”
“Speaking of,” Carina said, “I sorted your mail and typed up your notes. And your agent called. She needs to speak with you about the changes in your next contract.”
“I don’t have a next contract. I told you to tell her I’m not interested in what they’re offering.”
“I did, which is why she wants to speak with you.”
Gianna nodded. “I’ll call her,” she said, trying to ignore the gentle caresses passing between her sister and brother-in-law. The couple’s very public displays of affection were often distracting and unsettling, the love the two shared enviable. Gianna couldn’t help but wish that she had what they had. With one last wave of her hand she turned and disappeared from the room.
Behind the closed door of her office, Gianna ran her fingers through her own thick tresses, pulling the wealth of her hair up into a high bun. She found herself wishing that she’d cut her own hair first, motivated by the effort it took to maintain the lengthy locks. That, and she found herself in want of a change. One that might bring a man into her life with a slow hand that glided like silk across her bare skin. She blew a low sigh as she turned to stare out the window to the landscape outside.
The sun was shining brightly, and she had full view of the family’s vineyards. Their family home was situated in the Ombrone Valley, one of the most beautiful stretches of countryside in Italy. She stared out to the Chianti vines, the cornfields and the lengthy rows of cypress trees. In the distance the expanse of chestnut forests reached up to kiss the bright blue sky. The view paid homage to unparalleled art, the land a masterpiece of blessings. For a brief moment Gianna sat staring at the beauty, lost in her thoughts as the morning’s bright rays peeked through the window to kiss the round of her high cheekbones.
She blew one last sigh as she spun around in her leather executive’s chair toward her computer. Powering up the device, she waited for the unit to engage then typed in her password. Minutes later she stared at a blank screen, unable to decide in what direction she planned to take her next story. Writer’s block had suddenly crept in with a vengeance. When nothing came, she swung her chair around to stare back outside.
Donovan Boudreaux found the pomp and circumstance of the Catholic ceremony somewhat sobering. He was standing at the altar of Saint Patrick’s Church in New Orleans holding his niece, Cecily Boudreaux, in his arms. The infant was being christened, she and her twin brother, Sydney, both receiving the sacrament of spiritual cleansing and rebirth. Light shimmered through the stained glass that enclosed the building’s front turret.
He fought the urge to yawn as Father Charles Dussouy made the sign of the cross in front of one baby and then the other. He stared down into the infant’s sweet face as the priest announced her Christian name, sprinkled holy water over the child’s head and welcomed her into the congregation. She never once opened her eyes, barely shifting her small body when the water saturated her curls. Her brother, on the other hand, screamed at the top of his small lungs.
Donovan grinned as he and his brother Kendrick exchanged a look. Kendrick was rocking young Sydney vigorously, trying his very best to calm the baby down. But Sydney wasn’t having any of it, no ounce of consolation from his uncle and godfather bringing him any comfort. It wasn’t until the matriarch of the family, Katherine Boudreaux, lifted her grandchild from her son’s arms did the little guy finally settle down as she snuggled him against her chest. There was something about their mother’s touch that put them all at ease, and as each of her children watched, it made them all smile.
The private ceremony was over almost as quickly as it had begun. After the priest wished them well and disappeared from the sanctuary, the family stood in a protective circle around the twins, who’d been returned to their parents’ arms.
Mason “Senior” Boudreaux, the family patriarch, cleared his throat, swiping at a tear that lingered in the corners of his dark eyes. “Your mama and I are glad that all you kids could make it home to celebrate these babies,” he said, his tone low. The man’s gaze swept around the circle.
The eldest Boudreaux child patted his namesake’s broad shoulder. “Where else would we be, Senior? You know once you and Mama give the command we follow orders!” Mason Boudreaux III said.
His siblings laughed, their heads nodding in agreement. Donovan leaned to kiss his mother’s cheek, his arms wrapped around her shoulders as he hugged her close. His own eyes roved from one face to the other. There was no escaping the Boudreaux lineage. Their distinctive features hinted of an African-Asian ancestry, with their slight angular eyes, thin noses, high cheek lines and full, pouty lips. Side by side they were a kaleidoscope of colorations that ranged from burnt umber to milk chocolate.
His brother Mason, who could have passed for his twin, stood at his side. The low lines of their closely cropped haircuts complemented their distinctive facial features. Mason’s wife, Phaedra, clutched his elbow on his other side. Then there was his very pregnant sister, Maitlyn, and her husband, Zakaria Sayed. Maitlyn was the second child and oldest girl in the Boudreaux family. Standing beside them was his sister Katrina, who was a year younger than Donovan, with her husband, Matthew Stallion, and their two sons, Collin and Jacoby, or Baby Jake, as he was affectionately called. On his right side stood his younger brother Darryl, and Darryl’s wife, Camryn, who held their newborn baby, Alexa Michelle, in her arms. The twins, Kendrick and Kamaya were next, Kamaya linked arm in arm with their baby sister, Tarah, and Kendrick’s wife, Vanessa. His brother Guy, and Guy’s wife, Dahlia, the twins’ parents, closed their family circle. In that moment, the love between them all billowed like the sweetest breeze all around.
“Can we please go eat now?” Tarah suddenly whined. “This lovefest has made me hungry.”
Katherine shook her head. “I declare, child! You are always hungry.”
“I would really like to know how you stay so thin!” Kamaya exclaimed, her head waving.
“Good genes,” Tarah said with a soft giggle.
Maitlyn rolled her eyes, slapping a hand against her hips. “We have those same genes, so I don’t think that’s it,” she said with a warm chuckle.
They all headed in the direction of the exit and home. Minutes later the joy and laughter continued at the Boudreaux family’s Broadway Street house. The food was abundant, plates overflowing as the family all caught up, conversation sweeping from one room to the other.
“I like the name Rose. Rose Lynne Sayed,” Maitlyn was saying, her hand gliding in a tight circle across her abdomen. “Although Zak is still insisting we’re having a boy!” she said, leaning in to whisper with her sisters. “He even told the technician that did the ultrasound that she didn’t know what she was talking about.”
Kamaya laughed. “At least it’s not twins!”
“I wouldn’t mind having twins,” Tarah said. “A boy and a girl. You get it all done in one shot. Dahlia never has to be pregnant again. How perfect is that? You, on the other hand, might have to do it again to get a boy. Maybe even twice.”
“If I had thought that way after Kendrick and Kamaya were born, you wouldn’t be here,” their mother interjected as she joined in the conversation. She took the seat beside Tarah, giving her daughter’s ponytail a playful tug.
Kamaya laughed. “I know!”
Katherine turned her attention to Donovan, who was leaning against the home’s brick fireplace, a glass of red wine in his hand. “So, Donovan, what’s going on with you? What’s the big news you wanted to share?”
“Yeah, Don Juan! Are you engaged? Pregnant? What?” Tarah said teasingly.
“You have to date first,” Kamaya said with a deep chuckle. “Are you finally dating, big brother?”
Donovan shook his head, amused by his sisters’ teasing. “Don’t call me Don Juan,” he said, cutting an eye at Tarah.
“What’s going on?” Kendrick asked, moving into the room. “Who’s calling who names?”
“Tarah,” Mason said, sauntering in on his brother’s heels. “You don’t even need to ask.”
Tarah threw her brother a look. “Why do you assume I did something? How come it can’t be Maitlyn or Kamaya who’s doing something?”
“Because it’s always you,” her brothers all answered in unison.
The women laughed, Maitlyn and Kamaya nodding their heads in agreement.
Tarah rolled her eyes skyward, her arms crossing over her chest. Her lips were pushed out in a full pout as she tossed her body back against the sofa cushions.
Katherine smiled. “Y’all stop now. Donovan was just about to tell us his news.”
The family all turned in Donovan’s direction, eyeing him curiously. He shook his head, the attention suddenly unnerving. His brow furrowed.
“Well?” Katherine prodded. “What is it, baby?”
“I’m moving to Italy,” he pronounced, his gaze sweeping around the room. “I leave at the end of the semester. I’ve been invited by the University of Siena in Tuscany, Italy, to come teach there. I’ll be a visiting professor for one year teaching the structure of associative algebras relative to their radicals.”
Tarah jumped up excitedly. “Hot dog! I get to visit Italy! Yes, yes, yes!” she exclaimed as she rushed to Donovan’s side. She threw her arms around her big brother’s shoulders.
“I didn’t hear anyone in the room say anything about you going to Italy,” their mother noted. “Sit your tail down, Tarah, and give your brother some space.”
Tarah tossed her hands up as she moved back to her seat, plopping her body back down against the sofa.
Everyone in the room laughed.
Donovan laughed with them. “I hope that once I get settled, you’ll all come visit me at some point,” he said.
“You couldn’t find a college in Texas or Florida or someplace closer? You’re a mathematician, after all. Everyone needs a good numbers man,” Katherine said, her bright smile dropping into a deep frown.
He shook his head, meeting his mother’s gaze. His smile was consoling. “This is a great opportunity that I can’t pass up. It’s a definite résumé builder.”
Congratulations rang warmly through the room as his siblings moved to shake his hand and give him hugs.
His mother moved to his side, her hands clasping his shoulders. There were tears in her eyes. “Why must all of you move so far away? Italy is halfway around the world, for heaven’s sake!”
Senior joined them, wrapping his own arms around his wife’s shoulders. “Leave that boy be. Your son’s almost forty years old! Cut them apron strings already, woman!” The man’s smile filled his dark face as he kissed her cheek.
She rolled her eyes, fighting the smile that pulled at her own lips and the tears that burned hot behind her eyelids. “He’s only thirty-seven. He’s nowhere near close to forty yet. And I’ll cut the apron strings when I darn well please, Senior Boudreaux!”
Donovan smiled, the pad of his thumb swiping at a tear that had rolled down his mother’s cheek. “It’s not like I won’t come back, Mama. I’m not planning to be there forever. And I hope you’ll definitely come visit me.”
Tarah suddenly waved her hands for attention. “Can I live in your apartment while you’re gone?”
For Deborah Fletcher Mello, writing is as necessary as breathing and she firmly believes that if she could not write she would cease to exist.
Her first novel, TAKE ME TO HEART, earned her a 2004 Romance Slam Jam nomination for Best New Author. In 2005 she received Book of the Year and Favorite Heroine nominations for her novel THE RIGHT SIDE OF LOVE. In 2008, Deborah won the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice award for Best Series Romance for her ninth novel, TAME A WILD STALLION. With the release of her second literary work, GRAYE in 2012 and her fifteenth romance novel, PASSIONATE PREMIERE in 2013, Deborah knows that there are no limits to her writing career.
A true renaissance woman, Deborah’s many career paths have included working as a retail buyer and size model for a national women’s clothing chain, a finance manager for a well-known beverage organization, a sales manager for an infamous candy company, a telecommunications administrator and corporate trainer for a hotel-owning company, an art gallery director for a world-renowned artist, and an administrative consultant for multiple organizations throughout the United States. Deborah is also a licensed real estate broker and general building contractor.
Born and raised in Fairfield Country, Connecticut, Deborah maintains base camp in North Carolina but considers home to be wherever the moment moves her.