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Sarah watched the passing parade of young men from her seat at a little café in the hill town of Taormina. Sarah’s sole objective was to find romance — and fast. She was 36, lonely, and all too soon would be going back to Toronto. Back to an empty apartment, a tedious job, and an overbearing mother. She had arrived here in Sicily a few days before and spent the hot, hazy days at the beach near Isola Bella and had not elicited even a single glance from a man. Despite losing that extra ten pounds and flaunting that bright red bikini, not a single glance. She was informed by her girlfriends that Italian men were all on the make, but clearly she had been misinformed. She paid the handsome young waiter at the café, adding a very generous tip, which he barely acknowledged. Am I invisible? Am I so unattractive? Her insecurity ratcheted up a notch. She got up unsteadily after her two glasses of prosecco and decided that a walk before dinner was in order. She slowly sauntered on her high heels down the enchanting cobblestoned streets leading to the main square.
Bright colours caught her eye in a window and Sarah turned into a ceramics shop bursting with dishes, platters and (she especially noticed) life-sized hand-painted heads.
“Buonasera, Signorina, can I be of assistance?” a man’s deep voice gently prompted.
“I’m just looking, thank you.” Sarah spun around and her purse jostled the colourful display shelf. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” she stammered.
“Non e niente,” said the gentleman, “No harm done.” He straightened the goods on the shelf. “Perhaps a souvenir of Sicily for the lovely lady?” he suggested.
Upon hearing the compliment, Sarah gave the man her complete attention. He was slightly taller than her, trim, with dark curly hair flecked with grey. He wasn’t particularly handsome but rather pleasant looking and he did have a lovely smile.
“I would like something to take home, I guess. The colours are fantastic but everything is so large, I’d never be able to get it into my case.”
“That is no problem,” he said confidently. “We ship all over the world. Are you on a cruise, perhaps?”
“I’m staying at a hotel here in town.”
“May I ask which one?”
“I have a desire to send flowers to you this evening — unless, of course, you are married or with someone?”
“No! I’m by myself, and it’s the Hotel Astoria, and I love flowers!” Sarah blushed coquettishly.
“May I introduce myself? My name is Antonio Marino and this is my shop.” He made a sweeping gesture around the room with his arm to indicate all the lovely contents. “What is your name?”
“Sarah, Sarah Collins. Your store is beautiful. I love these porcelain heads.”