The Grand Canal
Kendric stood on his tiny stone terrace and watched the Grand Canal decorously filling with the bustling business of its array of vessels, ferrying to and fro in a lively montage of atmosphere and ancient character.
It was a cascade of near misses as the barge-like vaporetti plied their ponderous way between the charmingly iconic gliding gondolas and the sleek motoscafi, zipping nimbly in and out of the busy traffic, receiving a cautionary klaxon blast from those much larger vessels.
Despite the large variety of crafts navigating the celebrated waterways of Venice, it seemed that some unofficial colour code ensured a dignified palette, designed to blend in, but never upstage the mellow tints of La Serenissima.
The vaporetti, conservatively painted white or beige, conveyed masses of tourists and locals alike in their guise as city buses, whereas the speedboats, acting as glamorous water taxis, sported an attractive combination of white or midnight-blue paintwork, contrasting with the tobacco shades of rich, exotic woods, gleaming under untold coats of marine varnish.
It was a display of cinematographic scope and splendour, but the faded colours of the ancient buildings combined to paint a scene ten times more atmospheric than any movie set could hope to emulate.
The parked gondolas sat bobbing from the waves sent out by passing boats of all sizes, and yet they looked serene nestled into their moorings between ancient and heavily weathered tie-poles which protruded up in uneven and decorative disarray from foundations deep in the water.
As Kendric looked down on the scene he was struck by the incongruousness of two kayaks paddled by their single occupants at a brisk pace down the Canal, whilst the regular vessels and gondolas seemed to hover and meander perilously close sometimes to becoming stationary, even in the face of approaching vaporetti loaded with tourists.
But Kendric smiled as he watched, because it seemed that some small accommodation would always be made, and these impending collisions would be somehow averted by only the smallest of concessions regarding direction, and so the seemingly inevitable never actually happened.
He took another sip of his cappuccino and leant back against the terracotta walls of the building. What would he do first today?
He frowned slightly at his own thoughts and argued with himself internally.
A writer should set about writing. Get to work, sit everyday in a regular spot at a desk, or such, and knuckle down to the work of writing, and writing, and re-writing. But his inner voice argued back that “material” was much more important than labour, and for “material” he had to go out and about, gathering and taking in all the inspiration the daily bustle of the buoyant city could offer.
Yes, indeed, that would be far more fastidious of him to dedicate himself to going about daily life and watching with “capture for content” his purpose and intent. And, if he happened to enjoy the exercise, well, his writing would be all the stronger and better for it.
He smiled imperceptibly to himself, realising he had just convinced his more work-ethic-oriented side that this was a perfectly reasoned excuse for him not to be getting down to work, but knowing inwardly all the time that it was just that: an excuse, a procrastination. However, looking again at the gloriously romantic and inviting scene before him, he thought, yes ... but guarda, what an excuse.
* * *
It was past ten o'clock when Kendric made his way down the palazzo's broad stone steps and out into the bright sunshine of late July, and today was a particularly sunny, warm day, and the light seemed to make all the colours of the buildings much more deeply saturated, like a distillation of all the romance from the Renaissance. Of course all these buildings were really monuments to the history of Venice, and their fading and ageing only made them that much more authentic.
“Only in Venice can crumbling be creative,” Kendric's old friend from college days had said to him, as he looked at the canal-fronting facades and handed him the keys to the guest apartment in his family's palazzo overlooking the world-famous Grand Canal.
Kendric had smiled a gratitude as he happily took the keys, knowing this would be the perfect spot from which to try to write something with the essence of Venice at its core; allowing him to exploit the opportunity of having all the vibrancy of this unique location with the Grand Canal right there, just outside the front door. All he had to do was observe and incorporate. Observe, digest and write.
“I will be all eyes and industry, Giacomo,” he had promised, and his assurance had drawn a wry smile from his friend. Now both in their late twenties, they knew each other's foibles only too well.
“Yeah, right! Remember, I know all about your attention span. I've seen you pretending to be studying for exams at college.”
Kendric acknowledged the precision of the quip, but tried to reassure his friend. “I will write Giacomo, I will … what have I got? Two months, I think you said.”
“Yes, just over two months.” Giacomo prepared to leave as a prearranged water taxi nestled into docking position, waiting for him to board. “The family will be back from Sardinia at the end of September. Are you sure you can't make time for a short visit, not even a fortnight? My parents were looking forward to your stay. We had fun last year, didn't we?”
“Yes, it was terrific, as usual, and I would love to come, but this novel is pressing on me. I have commitments to meet, and my agent has made no allowance in my schedule for exotic holidays. Please convey my warmest regards to your mum and dad, and my grateful thanks for the use of the apartment. I know being here will make all the difference to the texture of my writing.” Kendric was sincere in his appreciation, and he did have very happy memories of his last stay at Giacomo's Sardinian villa. The place was glorious and the welcome warm and charming. Over the years he and Giacomo had become very close, almost like brothers.
But he had no desire to risk another encounter with Susan. She had been fun and easy on the eyes when she had began flirting with Kendric, at a trendy nightclub on the coast.
However, by the end of his stay she had become clingy and, one night, she put him on the spot and then made a very public and unforgivable scene, when Kendric was forced to inform her that he wasn't ready to slip an engagement ring on her finger.
What hurt the most was that her designs on him had escalated when she had found out about his parents' estate and social status among Highland landed gentry. It had made him even more cautious about divulging details of his personal history and connections.
Giacomo was looking at him with amused speculation through narrowed eyes. “Umm, call me suspicious but I can't help wondering if your inability to come over to Sardinia this year has anything to do with a certain lady. I'm sure even Susan would not be so gauche as to cause another scene after all these months. On second thoughts, strike that. She is gauche enough, but we can always try and avoid her favourite husband-hunting grounds.”
The whole episode had been a bit embarrassing, but also very funny for someone not directly involved.
“It's easy for you to say, try and avoid her. You always seem to oil out of your affairs with no strings attached and remaining good friends. I don't know how you do it. I think women always see you as a sex object to play with for the season. It's so unfair!”
“Yes, and women see you as the ideal long-term love interest and a great catch because of that sexy aura of the romantic Highlander. You've got the television and soppy novels to thank for that. You're doomed, my friend … doomed!”
Kendric shook his head and was about to say something further in his defence, but Giacomo remembered he had a flight to catch. “Well, have it your own way. You know where we are, if you change your mind. So, yes, two months or so to write that great novel, my friend.”
Giacomo stepped confidently onto the gently rocking speedboat. “Two months of solid work!” He laughed at his own faux admonition, and the two friends waved a warm, sun-drenched goodbye to each other.
But that had been ten days ago and, in that time, Kendric had written very little that he himself found of substance. Yes, he had sat at his desk and applied himself, but always the sounds of activity and traffic on the Grand Canal had hijacked his attention, and he would find his focus drifting from his creative thoughts into inquiry as to what was taking place in the colourful daily life around the Canal's comings and goings.
But now, as he stood observing that endlessly mesmerizing scene, the colours, the history steeped into every corner of every ancient arched window looking out onto the Canal, he felt the warmth of the sun encourage him to relax and take it all in. Perhaps, by some divine infusion of all the essence of that which surrounded him, he would be able to pour forth onto paper his distillation of the culture, atmosphere, and life of Venice, so that he might surround and cloak his narrative in that glorious light.
Yes, he would relax and take it all in, but he smiled inwardly as a little derisory thought crept into his deliberations: but how would he capture the essence of that light? A light so fleeting and ever-changing, but always alluring, beguiling, and convincing any observer that, at that particular moment, that was the best version of any light they had ever seen in Venice – only to have their opinion revised by a subtle change as the sun shifted or a cloud passed by.
It could change so quickly. Kendric had noticed that, when he looked out over the Grand Canal towards the end of the day as the glorious sparkle of the sun on the restless water diminished, the light showering down on the busy, fascinating Grand Canal would change from a shimmering glory of golden optimism to a soft, seductive mantle of evening blue.
It was almost magical, and it seemed to happen in an instant. One could look away for a moment and upon looking back, all was changed, all was new, and even more glorious. This ongoing theatrical performance was as much a splendid inspiration as a monumental distraction.
And so this morning Kendric made his way past the famous Basilica di San Marco, with its immense welcoming arches looking as if they were always leaning towards the surrounding waters. As he walked through the grandiose expanse of the Piazza San Marco, he was always amused by his own perception of those two marvellous columns, at the end of the Piazzetta, with the emblematic Venice lion atop the eastern one.
They stood with imperial pride at the very edge of the lagoon, seeming to be about to enter the waters. These columns always reminded him of rugby goalposts, and he found his own imagined association to be somewhat disrespectful, but also rather funny.
He walked on, turning a few corners at random, and discovered a small caffè with a large outdoor seating area that did not seem to be overloaded with noisy and annoying tourists. He found a quiet spot and settled into one of the simple, polished wood and metal chairs. The seat was firm and hard, made to stand up to traffic and the elements, but the view was gorgeous – and was about to get even more gorgeous.
A few tables away, a girl sat down delicately with a fluid control and settled onto the chair like a bird perching on a railing. With exquisite poise and expert co-ordination, her amazingly lithe and slender legs curled beneath the chair in a decorous pose. The linen skirt of her short emerald dress flared out from the decorative embrace of an exquisite snakeskin belt. Everything about her spoke of effortless elegance.
Kendric was certain she would have noticed him noticing her, but he made a polite attempt to hide his obvious observation. Yes, she would have seen him watching her, but the only courteous thing to do was pretend that she might not, although he knew that she had.
The waiter arrived, all efficiency and pride. After all this was Italy and, when a lady looking like her sat down, masculine honour was obliged to pay due court to her beauty.
Her order taken, the waiter departed and, as she leaned back into her chair, she turned as if to casually observe her surroundings, but Kendric could not help noticing that she made the extra effort to turn far enough to catch his gaze.
The eye contact was unmistakable, there was no question, and her eyes were not hostile or disdainful. It was a subtle and calm look, but open to possibilities.
She turned back as her espresso was placed before her by the smooth, experienced waiter.
Kendric could watch her now without being observed, and he felt sure she must be a model or some such gorgeous creature, as her lines were definitely from Ferrari, and her face must have come directly from heaven. She was classic beauty all in one package, and the package was right there in front of him and no more than five metres away.
Could he find some excuse or ruse to go over and meet her? Would it be a little obvious and overt? Would she be offended, or would he appear to be discourteous and crude invading her privacy? One does not get introductions, out onthe terrazza of a caffè, but how should he grasp the occasion and opportunity? His mind struggled to reason his case and rationalize why he would be opening a conversation when both he and she would know all too obviously his motive.
And then, taking the matter out of his hands, the girl suddenly stood up, left some euro bills for the waiter, and smoothly walked away.
It was the most arresting of walks, and she swayed just enough to leave no doubt in his mind that she possessed the most fluid of gaits with a definite hint of sheer gliding. It was so in keeping with Venice. She had simply flowed out of her chair and away from his lingering gaze.
Damn! Kendric returned his attention to his own cappuccino and, as much as a man in his late twenties could, or should, he privately sulked. Damn! She's gone.
* * *
Kendric couldn't get the girl's image out of his mind for the rest of the day.
He ended his deliberations that evening leaning against the flaking but reassuring terracotta of his terrace doorway, watching the boats and gondolas do their incessant dance in the quickly changing light mellowing the palazzos on the opposite side of the Canal, a confection of stage set perfection. The yellows now golden and deeper, the apricot now a burnt sienna, and the blues a cloak of romance covering the idyllic thoroughfare with just a hint of mystery.
He sipped his coffee and resolved, Tomorrow, same place, same time, same café … maybe, just maybe she'll be there … worth a try. He felt better for having a plan and he drifted off into contemplation of storylines and ideas for the work he knew he should be getting down to, but he would … he would tomorrow.
Tomorrow, Same Place
Kendric burst down the stairs, out of the grand palazzo's entrance, along the length of, and through Piazza San Marco and almost panicked when he had a moment of doubt as to which way he had turned the day before. Was it this way, or that? God, it wasn't that far, I remember. Which damn way did I go?
As he searched down one route after the other, at the very end of one lane he caught a glimpse of a passing figure, a gait he could not mistake, and he knew which path to take.
He hurried, but slowed deliberately as he approached the point where his progress would lead him out onto the small piazza housing the café of yesterday.
And so it was a casual figure who emerged, by coincidence, and sat at the same table as the day before to observe his purpose in being there, directly in front of him, and in the same seat as yesterday.
Today her long legs were sheathed in slim-cut linen slacks, the colour of tobacco leaves. A crisp, creamy silk top with cap sleeves revealed slim, toned arms, and an arresting red belt with a large, ornate buckle highlighted her narrow waist. Kendric shook his head in disbelief. When had he ever taken so much notice of women's clothes? His mother would be astounded.
“I read, in a very interesting book, a story about a man approaching a young lady at a table such as this, in a café such as this, and asking her in a transparently obvious ploy, 'Do you need directions?'” He stood apprehensively in front of her table, watching her beautiful face, but he could discern no evaluation of his prepared speech.
And so he continued as he had steeled himself to see it through, “And so, in the absence of any valid excuse, and having no truly worthy reason to interrupt your morning, I have resorted to this as my best attempt to say that, which is really what I wanted to say after all is said and done, and that is, 'Hello!'” He drew breath feigning exhaustion from his efforts, as though he had just climbed a mountain or completed some onerous physical challenge.
She laughed, and her eyes said that she understood him and his dilemma fully. She was flattered and, to some extent, charmed by his inventiveness. She lifted her purse from the chair next to her, inviting him to sit, and in a very encouraging voice played along with his ploy. “I'm looking for Piazza San Marco … do you know where it is?” The smile in her eyes was as sparkling as the waters of the Grand Canal when the sun is at its highest. Her whole face shone with inviting softness.
The door was open, and so Kendric, keeping to the humour of the moment, countered with, “I'm not sure, but I think it's around here somewhere. Perhaps we could get a map.”
She gave Kendric a smile of concession as if to assure him he could drop the game-playing, and by way of bringing them back to normality, now that the ice was broken, she offered her hand. “Laurentina di Moscatoni, but you can call me Laura.”
“I'm Kendric MacArthur.” Kendric shook her cool hand and felt a telltale tingle. “You can call me anytime,” he added humorously.
“Are you visiting?” She spoke impeccable English and obviously had assumed he was a tourist.
“No, I'm here trying to write a novel. I'm using a friend's house as my base.”
“Oh, so you're not just here for a week or such?” Kendric could see her placing him in her assessment.
“No, no, I'll probably be here for a couple of months.” He watched her eyes and expression, but could not read them. He continued by way of fuller explanation, “And after that I'll probably go back to Rome. I have a very small apartment there, on and off. It's a long story, but no, I'm in Italy for some time.”
There was a slightly stilted pause as Kendric considered he might be gushing out too much information, and Laura considered and stored the information he had given.
As he sat there enjoying a closer view, Kendric was mesmerized by the girl's classic features. He felt sure he had seen a stylized version of her face in some of the prettier paintings of the Renaissance. He was no expert, but Botticelli and Tiziano came to mind. She looked young, early twenties perhaps, but had a serene air of self-possession that sat well on the smooth oval of her face.
Laura also took advantage of the short lull to study the handsome stranger sitting beside her. The dark blonde hair, cropped but not too short, and his tall, tanned, athletic build all suggested a sportsman of some sort. However, there was something cultured, almost studious about the open face, and a heavy hint of humour crinkling the intensely blue eyes.
There was a certain calculation in her attitude. It was as if she, in an instant, had analysed and decided. It was almost imperceptible, but it was there like a second persona just underneath her soft allure.
She had finished her shot of espresso, and Kendric could see her glance around to pay the waiter. He desperately wanted to delay the conclusion of their time together.
“Would you like another coffee?” he tried, but she turned a little cooler and became somewhat businesslike.
“No ... thank you.” She gathered her purse and made ready to leave, adding, “I have to go, I'm expected.” She smiled at him, but she was all purpose now, and the warmth had been overtaken by some kind of duty.
“Okay, maybe tomorrow? Will you come here again tomorrow?” Kendric was struggling to keep it alive.
Laura stopped in her tracks, fixed him again with an appraising look, deliberated, and then coolly replied, “Yes, okay … tomorrow.” Then her features softened again, and the warmth came back into her eyes as she teased, “And you bring the map.” She threw her long brunette hair back with a little show and then was gone.
* * *
That night, again alone on his tiny terrace vantage point, Kendric watched the globe-like yellow lamps from the restaurant opposite reflect their charm onto the watery expanse of the Canal, adding to the fantasy of the scene.
The light was turning to that special indigo blue one could only find in night-time Venice, and the traffic on the Canal had now dwindled down to the romantic sojourns of the iconic gondolas. Long and slim with their Arabian slipper turn-up at both ends, they slid silently through the elongated fingers of golden light now decorating the Canal. They added a Moorish flavour to the scene as they glided, like props from some extravaganza period piece set in the Renaissance.
The spectacle before him was truly perfect, and even the broad, flat vaporetti made a much more leisurely progress now, allowing their many passengers the opportunity to take in Venice at this magical hour, at a more appropriately sedate pace.
Kendric nodded to himself in admission, There is no night-time blue like Venice's night-time blue. He laughed a little to himself at his own prose, finishing with a trite rhyme, It's true. And being alone, and night-time, he indulged his rhyming silliness and ended with, But tomorrow Laura ... yes, he brightened, tomorrow Laura.
Third Time's a Charm
The next day, Kendric was slightly surprised to find Laurentinaalready at the cafébefore him, especially since he had made a point of getting there early. In truth, he had struggled to overcome his impatience. All throughout the morning he kept wishing the minutes and hours to speed by till it would be time for him to make tracks for his much-anticipated rendez-vous.
Damn, he murmured to himself under his breath, although he was not really upset, but rather excited to see Laura there, waiting for him.
There was a hint of a blossoming connection suggested by her being there early, and he felt encouraged by the sight of her. Although he would be the first to admit that encouragement was not the first impulse that shot through his veins as he took in her elegant, slender form casually arranged on the café chair, like one of those photographs in glossy women's high-end fashion magazines.
She was wearing a tailored navy dress with a short, bolero-style white jacket, gold-plated buttons anchoring navy cuffs at the elbows of the three-quarter sleeves.
She did look every inch the model with her smooth, golden-tanned skin and her tall, slender physique highlighting the charm of demure-sized breasts, narrow waist and the delightful, classy curving out to sensually devastating hips. There was nothing that did not seem exactly correct in her proportions, and his mind kept rolling the same encapsulation round and round in his head, although he questioned its appropriateness for fear that it might be a bit cliché. But then again, he argued back to himself, how could this be cliché? She is absolutely “classic”.
As Kendric approached, Laura turned, drawing her oversized sunglasses to the tip of her nose the better to see him, having heard his footsteps. She smiled in welcome and, before she could reach to lift her handbag from the chair next to her, he beat her to it and lifted the bag, setting in down on the table before them as he sat down.
“Wow,” he smiled to her in greeting, “what have you got in there? It's like a lump of lead.”
He laughed to underscore his teasing and noticed a momentary wrinkling of her forehead as if she was displeased at his joke. It was very subtle, but Kendric thought he had better not get ahead of himself in his familiarity and cautioned himself to just keep it simple.
And then her face cleared in an instant, and she smiled. “We girls do carry some pretty heavy make-up help, you know, we have to.” Her face was back to open and inviting.
“I don't think you need too much help in that department, if you ask me,” Kendric said and was rewarded by a beautifully innocent, flattered smile that just laid waste to his reserve.
“Really?” She leaned her chin on her hand, placing an elbow on her knee, and leant forward towards him in mild enquiry.
Kendric saw the waiter approaching, and added quickly, “Really, you look great! Do you want a cappuccino or something?”
The waiter was all smiles and attention, and spoke in a polite all-inclusive mixture of English and Italian, “Buongiorno, Signorina … Signore. Prego? What would you like?”
They both gave their orders, ice cream today, and Kendric noticed that there was a complicity in their actions that seemed to imply a definite association, a connection, an inclusion. They were quickly becoming a unit, or as his friends might tease, “an item”.
The weather that day was glorious, and the sun was so encouraging and, Venice being as it was, Kendric was just floating as he chatted small talk with quite a bit of nonsense thrown in. His mood was light and positive for he felt sure this was going somewhere, and he was just debating with himself how to take it to the next level, when Laura asked him out of the blue, “What are you doing this afternoon?”
Her question slightly surprised him, and he couldn't believe what he hoped this might mean. He recovered sufficiently to reply, “Er, nothing. I'm not really doing anything this afternoon … why?”
She looked not exactly embarrassed, but almost shy as she said, “Well ... I thought you might like to come with me to visit the Museum of the 18th Century. It's actually Baldassarre Longhena's Grand Canal palace, the Ca' Rezzonico. They have a wonderful space there that might interest you.”
As she spoke, she smiled a knowing smile to herself. There was something she was not telling him, but he was certainly all for finding out.
Kendric enjoyed walking beside this stunning girl as they made their way towards the museum through ancient canal-side walkways and paths and, as they crested the last small wooden bridge that would take them to the palazzo's entrance, he realized that he was showing a certain amount of obvious male pride in being her escort.
“Nice, eh?” She slipped her arm casually into his, and he could feel her press ever so slightly against him. It was a small gesture, quite unremarkable for any outsider to observe, but to him it was intimate and suggestive of possibilities, and again he cautioned himself against reading more into this unstudied pleasantry than he should.
“Wow, it is fabulous!” Kendric turned his back on the museum and admired the view it enjoyed, directly overlooking the Grand Canal. It was history come alive, and he imagined who in ancient times might have come out of those gloriously ornate doors and taken in the scene of Venice about its commerce as the centre of exotic trade with the East.
“Shall we go in?” He turned to see Laura observing him and, if he was not mistaken, looking a little bit pleased with herself, in that she had introduced him to a piece of Venice that he may not yet have known.
Kendric smiled, conceding that he had been taken by the vista and impressed by the scope. “Yes,” he said happily. “Yes, I'm with you. Let's go in.”
With endearing familiarity, she gathered up his arm again as they entered, and Kendric again swelled with pride.
“I thought maybe you might be interested, because it has a history with the Browning family, Robert Barrett Browning, the painter and his father Robert, the writer, who sadly died here.” She watched his face as she mounted the last steps of the magnificent marble staircase and turned to lead him into the Pietro Longhi Salon with all the magnificence of its sweeping views out over the Canal, and its whimsical, satirical portraiture depicting the social mores of Venice in its heady heyday.
She leaned just a little closer to him and whispered, “Giandomenico Tiepolo. He was a bit cheeky, no?” And she smiled a secretive implication that surprised him in its forwardness.
And then she grew serious and, drawing back from him a little, she confided, “I have to go to Rome soon, and I know you so little, but … I think, maybe ...” She was watching his face closely for an indication, but pressed on regardless with some thought that she must have given some consideration to, before they ever met that lunchtime. “You know, I am not usually as approachable as this, after such a short time ...” she mused, and her face turned thoughtful and just a little sad. “But we are having quite a nice time, I think … so don't get the wrong impression of me,” she warned, brightening again. “That's all.”
Kendric felt somewhat stopped in his tracks and a little surprised and, to a fair degree, wondering what it all meant. Not knowing quite what to say, he made a try for humour with a simple, dry, “Oh, okay.”
“Do you like these paintings?” She was back with her arm companionably wrapped into his.
“Yes, of course … who wouldn't? I mean, you've got a couple of early Canalettos over there that I'd love to have on my walls. Yes, it's glorious, these guys must have had cash to burn in those days … must have been great!”
“Great … yes, indeed.” Laura reached down to take his hand and, looking a little mischievous, she added, “But if we go back down to the first floor, I have something that might impress you even more.” And, with endearing confidentiality, she confessed, “And there is something there I have always wanted to do.”
She led him into the golden magnificence of the immense, high-vaulted Grand Ballroom with its gleaming apricot marble, the grey-white walls studded with gilded scrolls, the soaring trompe l’œil ceiling and statues ... tricking, but bewitching the eye with the sheer, majestic presence of the space.
“They removed the floor above, you know,” she explained. She was enjoying watching his face take in the rich spectacle of all this art and decoration, and concluded, “It wasn't easy, but they did it to give it more height and make it more like a real palace.”
Still holding his hand, she led him to the centre of the room beneath one of the immense, ornately gilded chandeliers. “And now we shall do what I always said one day I would do.” She looked at him with a serious expression and a certain ceremony about her. “We are going to dance here in the Palazzo, just like they did all those years ago.”
Kendric turned to face her and, as he took her into his arms, he felt drawn to her in a way he never had before with a girl. He held her close, and he could feel every ounce of her appeal. Soft, tender and in his arms.
As she brushed her forehead closer against his cheek, he knew his whole body was betraying his vulnerability, knew he couldn't help it, and that she must feel it, too.
Laura gave no sign of offence and started swaying dreamily with him as she hummed softly to herself. It was as though they were in a separate world, and only the two of them inhabited the almost-empty ballroom.
As they glided together in surreal harmony, the rich Baroque ornamentation of the salon swept by in a blur of colour, and Kendric wondered if these Italian girls did this on purpose. Was this a spell they wove, using the rich tapestry of historical settings as an added enchantment? Because he had never felt so transported, so helplessly lost in the magic of the moment. He suddenly understood the meaning of romance and felt the pull of a perilous compulsion.