Home > A Veil of Vines

A Veil of Vines
Author: Tillie Cole

Prologue

Upper East Side, New York

Fifteen Years Ago . . .

Caresa

“For me?” I asked.

He gave a small nod. “Why, thank you so much,” I said. His smile was so big. My prince was tall and handsome, with dark hair and tanned skin. He had the brightest blue eyes. He was Italian, just like my papa. Just like me.

I rushed across my playroom to the dress-up trunk and opened the lid. I threw all of my dresses over my shoulder, looking for the one I wanted. “Ah-ha!” I shouted, pulling the dress from the bottom of the trunk, along with the matching veil. My nonna gave these to me last Christmas. The dress was my favorite dress ever.

I pulled on the dress, slid the comb of the veil into my hair, then turned back to look at the mirror. I stared at my reflection and laughed. I loved this dress so much! I twirled around and around, feeling the bottom of the long lace dress swirl around my legs.

I grew dizzy, so I stopped and looked over to the stuffed bears and dolls sitting on either side of my pretend aisle. They were waiting for the ceremony to begin.

Straightening my shoulders, I moved to the top of the aisle and clutched my invisible flowers to my chest. I waited ten seconds, then began humming the Wedding March. My feet moved forward slowly, one after the other, in time with the beat.

Then I saw him. My prince stood at the end of the aisle, dressed in a tuxedo. His back was toward me, but when he heard our guests get to their feet, he turned. I held my breath as his blue eyes met mine. My heart beat so fast I almost couldn’t breathe. I was marrying him. I was about to become his wife.

He smiled. His eyes filled with tears as he saw me in my pretty dress . . . because he loved me.

My prince loved me so, so much.

My legs wobbled as I walked forward. I almost tripped over. But my prince held out his hand as I approached. He wouldn’t let me fall. He would never let me fall.

I squeezed his hand in mine, and my heart felt so full. The congregation stilled, and the priest stepped forward. I held my breath, waiting for the vows to begin . . .

“Caresa. I’m here.” I blinked and blinked again, staring at my reflection in the mirror. My papa suddenly appeared behind me.

“Papa!” I ran to where he stood. Papa kneeled down, and I wrapped my arms around his neck. “You’re back!” I exclaimed as he kissed me on my cheek and squeezed me so, so hard.

“Si, carina,” he replied and gently pushed me back so he could look at my face. His dark eyes swept over what I was wearing. “I’m back from Italia, and find you are getting married?”

“Yes!” I stepped back, picking up the hem of my dress. “You’re just in time to watch me marry my prince!”

Papa’s head tilted to the side. “Your prince?”

“Yes,” I said proudly. “He is tall and handsome with dark, dark hair and the bluest of blue eyes.” I put my hand over my heart. “He is the most handsome man in all of Italy.” I stepped forward and put my hand on my papa’s shoulder. “You will like him, Papa. He is so kind to me. He smiles so big, and he loves me so, so much.” I leaned in and whispered, “I think he maybe even loves me more than you.”

Papa raised a dark eyebrow. “Does he now?” He screwed up his face and shook his head. “No, impossible! No one will ever love you as much as me.”

I thought about what he said, then nodded. “Yeah, you’re probably right. I’m your little duchessa, right, Papa?”

He winked playfully. “Right, carina. No one will ever be good enough for my duchessa.”

We both sat down on the floor. I rested my head on my papa’s shoulder. My papa gazed at the wall, lost in thought. Then he said, “So, you dream of marrying a prince?”

“An Italian prince,” I corrected. “Who loves me and I love him. And you will walk me down the aisle of a huge duomo. My dress will be beautiful and white, and I will have a super-long veil decorated with pretty silk vines, just like Mamma had at your wedding. Everyone in Italy will watch and cry and be happy.”

“Good,” my papa said quietly.

He put his arm around my shoulders and pulled me close. He smelled of sky and sun and fresh air.

I closed my eyes, and I pictured the wedding dress I would one day wear. I pictured the cathedral, the flowers, the veil of vines . . .

. . . and my dark-haired, handsome prince by my side.

The one I loved with my whole heart. The one who loved me with his whole heart in return.

My happily ever after.

Chapter One

Manhattan, New York

Present Day

Caresa

I closed my eyes as the music pounded through my body. The air was sticky from the mass of bodies on the dance floor. My body swayed to the beat, my feet ached from the five-inch Louboutin heels I was wearing, and my skin was flushed from the copious amounts of 1990 Dom Pérignon I had consumed.

“Caresa!” My name split through the harsh sound of drums and synthesized piano notes. I rolled my eyes open and looked across our cornered-off section of the club at my best friend.

Marietta was sitting on an oversized plush couch, waving a new bottle of champagne in my direction. Laughing, I followed my throbbing feet to where she sat and slumped down beside her. In seconds, a champagne flute was in my hand and the bubbly was flowing once more.

Marietta sat forward, swishing her long blond hair over her shoulder. She raised her glass as though she was going to make a toast. But instead, her bottom lip jutted out into a pathetic pout.

I tipped my head to one side, silently asking her what was wrong.

“I was going to make a toast to the Duchessa di Parma, my very best friend,” she shouted over a new but similar-to-the-last song. “To my best friend leaving me here in dull old New York to go marry a real-life godforsaken prince in Italy.” Marietta sighed and her shoulders slumped. “But I don’t want to. Because that would mean this night is almost over, and tomorrow I lose my partner-in-crime.” A sudden sadness bloomed in my chest at her words. Then, when her eyes filled with tears, those words became a punch in the gut.

Placing my glass on the table before us, I moved forward and put my hand on her arm. “Marietta, don’t get upset.”

She put down her own drink and grabbed my hand. “I just don’t want to lose you.”

My stomach rolled. “I know,” I said. Then I didn’t say anything else, but I could see Marietta register my unspoken words. I don’t want to go either.

Keeping my hand in hers, I slumped back against the couch and let my eyes drift over the busy dance floor below. I watched the throng of Upper East Siders losing themselves in the music. A pang of fear swept through me.

This really would be my last night in New York. In the morning, I would fly to Italy, where I would live from that day on.

Marietta shuffled closer to me and cast me a watery smile. “How are you doing?” she asked as she squeezed my hand.

“I’m okay. Just nervous, I guess.”

Marietta nodded her head. “And your papa?”

I sighed. “Ecstatic. Overjoyed that his precious daughter will be marrying the prince he chose for me as a child.” I felt a pang of guilt for speaking about him so negatively. “That was uncalled for,” I said. “You know as well as I do, Baroness von Todesco” —Marietta scowled playfully at my use of her title— “that we don’t really get a choice in whom we marry.” I leaned forward and picked up my champagne. I took a long swig, enjoying the feel of the bubbles traveling down my throat. I handed Marietta her glass and raised mine in the air. “To arranged marriages and duty over love!”

Marietta laughed and clinked her glass with mine. “But seriously,” Marietta said, “are you okay? Truly okay?”

I shrugged. “I honestly don’t know how to answer that, Etta. Am I okay with the arranged marriage? I suppose so. Am I okay with moving to Italy permanently? Not really. I love Italy—it’s my home, I was born there—but it’s not New York. Everyone I know is here in America.” Marietta’s eyes softened with sympathy. “And am I okay with marrying Zeno Savona? The infamous Playboy Prince of Toscana?” I took a deep breath. “I have no idea. I guess that will become apparent in the next three months.”

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