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He should have spotted the mean streak in that woman back in Barcelona. It had been there clear as day, residing in the corners of her mouth but, entranced by her eyes, her face went overlooked.
They’d met near the fountain in Plaça de Catalunya and walked together beneath La Rambla’s shady trees, past artists, buskers and outdoor cafés. Approaching the waterfront, she took his hand and steered him through the Gothic Quarter’s maze-like streets. Shops were closed for the afternoon siesta and the pair walked down a narrow, deserted alley where she pushed open a heavy wooden door leading to a charming, though dilapidated, courtyard. She went first up two flights of an open, concrete staircase and stopped near a faded yellow door with potted palms on each side. “My roommate is in Madrid,” she said. Taking him inside, she stepped out of her little red shorts.
Afterward, she plunged the knife in.
“You love like...Americano,” she said.
Mark’s first impulse was to correct her — people mistook him for an American all the time — but he was unsure it mattered, unsure whether he’d been complimented or insulted. He figured it out when she put her hand on his bare shoulder in a sympathetic gesture. She was sorry for him, sorry he hadn’t measured up. He dressed and left the room, never to see her again.
Bitterness still raged. Like an Americano, he seethed. Was there any other way to do it? Did Spaniards know some special trick he didn’t?
Goaded by desire, hoping to regain his confidence, Mark stared, without discretion, at the full, round breasts of the woman with the beagle. He felt her eyes on him, he looked up then looked away. “I bet this place used to be beautiful.”
“This place?” She surveyed the park.
“Venezia,” he corrected. “The whole city is falling apart. It’s a ruin, long past its prime. Let’s get out of here.”
She ignored the invitation. “Piazza San Marco is not beautiful?”
“Beautiful? It’s under renovation. There’s nothing but scaffolding.” Mark wondered why he sounded so angry. He was exaggerating. Forcing a weak laugh, he tried to soften his last statement.
“But beneath, is not still beautiful?” Without allowing him to answer, she posed another question: “When work is done, will it not be more beautiful?”
It was the most Mark had heard her say. He’d been scolded. Shrugging it off, he admitted: “Well...yeah, but every photo I’ve taken looks like crap.” He instantly regretted his words. Selfish, he sounded, as though one tourist’s photos were all that mattered.
Mark stared again at her slim body. Her throat and knees were dark as her forearms. Desire burned in his brain. She smiled. Feeling buoyed and inspired, he edged closer. “Can I take you to dinner tonight?”
Mark watched with delight as her smile slowly expanded. Still smiling, she...she...shook her head. It didn’t nod, it definitely shook. The gesture didn’t fit the expression. He had no idea what to make of it. Maybe Italians have nodding and head-shaking reversed, he thought. Then, quite clearly, she said: “No.”
“No?” He grappled with his pride. “I see. You’re busy. Maybe tomorrow night? I won’t be leaving until the next morning and there’s this wonderful restaurant on the Grand Canal, right beside the Rialto.”
“Canals are sewers, no?”
Mark felt the impact of his words hurled back at him. Her smile faded and she jiggled the dog’s leash. This time, the beast rose to its feet. She did the same.
After brushing her skirt back and front, she made a tiny adjustment to her blouse, with both hands, then prepared to leave. “And you,” she resolutely added, “are ree-tard.”
Stunned, Mark wondered where she’d been hiding that mean streak. His eyes followed her perfect body as she walked to the far end of the park and exited through the gate. She never looked back. Her dog paid no attention to a stray cat rolling in the dusty grass next to the pathway.