Rachel Golding loves her uncomplicated life in Wales. Teaching art, a close-knit group of friends, and a strong and loving bond with her mother. But the trip to Italy to meet her Italian grandmother for the first time stirs unwelcome emotions — reluctance to forgive Nonna for a lifetime of rejection, and longing to know more about the father who died before her birth. Between her cousin’s accusation she sent a series of mysterious unsigned paintings to get revenge on the family, her mother’s wedding, and her realization she feels way more than she should for her best friend Jonathan, Rachel’s carefully planned life is spiraling out of control.
Always ready for adventure, especially with the woman he loves, Jonathan Davies gladly accompanies Rach on an impulsive return journey to Tuscany. Okay, so he also hopes the time together might give him the chance to tell her how he really feels. But now she needs his friendship and support more than ever, revealing his love is a risk he dare not take. Not without some sign she wants more. A sign she may never give.
In the haze of a sunflower summer, can Rachel learn to surrender her hurts and fears to God and so embrace the life He intends for her? La dolce vita, a sweeter life of love.
RACHEL GOLDING STIFFENED AS THE MASTER OF CEREMONIES straightened his red tailcoat and tapped his gavel against its sounding block to request silence. Easy to guess what came next.
Wedding breakfast and the toasts concluded, just one tradition remained before the bride and groom left on their honeymoon.
Too late now to run to the bathroom in hopes of escaping.
And closing her eyes and covering her face wouldn’t make the embarrassment headed her way disappear, either.
“It’s time for all the single women to assemble on the dance floor. Come on, ladies. Don’t be shy! Who knows which one of you will be lucky enough to catch the bouquet the lovely bride
will be throwing in a few minutes?”
Sinking lower into her chair, wishing she could slip right under the table, she cringed at the MC’s jovial tones. Only one reason for Mum to include the bouquet toss when so many brides
now chose to give it a miss. That reason kept her firmly fixed in her ornate and uncomfortable gilded chair.
Jonathan nudged her gently with his elbow. “Go on, enaid. Maggie will be disappointed if you don’t. It’s not every day you get to be bridesmaid for your own mother.”
Huffing her exasperation, she shook her head at him. “And I’m thankful for that. Once is enough.”
“Why not let her have her fun? It’s just a silly game. Does it matter that she’ll throw it straight
at you?” Puzzlement sounded in his soft Welsh voice as his steady regard creased his tanned forehead.
How could she explain the uneasiness quivering her tummy? Not when she couldn’t quite explain it to herself. “I’ll be teased about being still single at thirty-three. You know me. Always
the bridesmaid, never the bride. That suits me fine.”
Quite true. She’d been bridesmaid over and over as all her friends married, one after another.
She hadn’t dated for years and didn’t miss it one bit.
Jon raised an eyebrow as something indecipherable flashed across his face. “What makes you so sure you’ll never marry?”
“Some of us are meant to stay single.” She waved a hand, pretending an airiness she didn’t totally feel. “I have my job, our church, and friends. Good friends, like you. That’s enough.”
Again, an unreadable expression flickered behind curved lips and intelligent eyes. “Yes, we are good friends. Enaid.”
Returning his smile, she touched his hand for a fleeting moment. “That was one of the first Welsh words you taught me. Dear friend. And we are.” Glancing at the group of women
assembling in the sunshine streaming through the ballroom’s tall mullioned windows, she sighed. “I don’t want to spoil Mum’s special day, but I’d rather not catch her bouquet, either. Besides, my feet hurt.”
He snorted and rolled his eyes. “Sounds like an excuse to me.”
“If only it was.” She twisted in her seat and extended one leg, showing him the three-inch bright-yellow heels Mum insisted she wear. “Sure, they’re a perfect match with the sunflower
print on this dress, but I’d like to see you try to walk in them. You know I only ever wear flats.”
“I doubt my feet would fit such dainty shoes. Yn anffodus.” Jon kept a straight face, even turned his lips down as if he regretted the fact. The laughter never far from his warm blue eyes
contradicted his lips.
Even a Londoner like her with no gift for languages had picked up enough Welsh in fifteen years living there to know he meant unfortunately, what a pity.
She smiled sweetly. “Jonathan, you’re my closest friend. I owe it to you to make sure you won’t be deprived of the experience. The daffodil yellow would be perfect for Saint David’s Day. When I go thrifting, I’ll look for a pair in your size. I’m patient. I’ll find them.”
At his loud guffaw, more than a few heads turned. Far more attention than she wanted to attract. “You’re too kind. I — ”
The MC interrupted whatever Jon intended to say. “All
the single women. I can see one still sitting. Over here, please. Don’t keep the bride waiting. She won’t throw that bouquet unless everyone is there.” His avuncular tone didn’t slip, but he threw Rach a pointed glance and inclined his head toward the women waiting on the dance floor. No point arguing that the widowed mother of the groom remained in her seat, too. Mrs Pettett was eighty-something, after all. Though
Rach had noted the attention the courtly older man at
her side paid her. Could be, another wedding wasn’t too far off.
Rach glanced at her mother. Her tranquil smile was far too ingenuous. Mum only smiled like that when plotting mischief.
“Sore feet or not, Maggie looks like she’ll wait all day if you don’t go.” Jon’s merry grin widened. “No need to ask who you inherited your stubbornness from.”
“I am not stubborn. I persevere. I’m patient. Big difference.”
Rach eyed him, then shook her head at his quizzical gaze. “Okay, so I guess I need to prove it.”
Pushing back from the table, she stood, wincing as she did. Her sore feet weren’t just an excuse. Gingerly baby-stepping toward the other single women, she kept her distance from the
group but tried not to make it too obvious.
Just far enough away to be out of the firing range of those flowers, she hoped. Turning her back, Mum launched the bridal bouquet over one shoulder and into the air.
The giggling women surged forward, but Rachel stayed put. One of the singles jockeying to catch the flowers could have them.
She’d underestimated her determined mother. The bunch of roses and stephanotis sailed high over the other women’s heads in a perfect arc. Rachel instinctively leaned forward to catch the bouquet before it crashed at her feet.
Why hadn’t she let it fall? Jon would tease her about this, for sure.
“Sorry.” Grimacing her apology to the group, she lifted the flowers.
Maggie spun to face them and clapped in glee. “Rachel! Perfect! God willing, you’ll be next.”
The inexplicable discomfort in the pit of Rach’s stomach worsened.
As the other singles scattered back to their seats, and the string quartet resumed Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”, Maggie rushed across to her, calf-length creamy silk skirt billowing and
rainbow-toned hair dancing on her shoulders.
“I’m so glad you caught the bouquet.”
Wrapped in her mother’s warm hug, Rachel returned it with equal affection. With no other family but the two of them for almost all her life, they’d been closer than most mothers and
Now Mum was married, everything would change. It already had.
“So, I can’t help thinking you planned this.” Picking up the flowers, she waved them at her
An intense floral scent wafted in the air. Memories of the fragrant jasmine in the villa garden in Italy tugged at her heart. Memories of the grandmother she’d refused to forgive for old sins, too.
You need to go back. You need to forgive her.
Rach pushed the unwanted whisper away. God could be a terrible nag sometimes. Though if she’d unbent a little to
Nonna, maybe she could have learned more about her father.
Mum inhaled deeply. “I love stephanotis. I chose it because it reminds me of Italy. I know your father would be happy I’ve found love again.” Reminiscence glowed in her face. “It’s
funny, since I met Ed, I’ve been far more able to let myself remember your father and all the good things about my summer in Tuscany. Though we were young and foolish, we truly did love each other.”
Almost as if she’d read Rachel’s mind. Her mother rarely spoke of Albertino, the father she’d longed to know more about since her unexpected trip to Italy in April. But with Mum blissfully in love and planning her wedding, it hadn’t felt right to ask.
Letting her tight lips soften, she rested her hand on Mum’s arm. Bitterness and fear and those memories of being left alone after Albertino’s death nearly stopped Mum finding the love she
deserved with Ed.
“One day, when you feel ready to tell me, I’d like to know more about Dad.”
Mum nodded, a hint of tears sparkling in her gaze.
Time to lighten the mood. Today wasn’t the day for tears. “Or should I say mi Papà, and start calling you Mammà?” Chuckling, Rach waved the bouquet again. “But don’t think I’m lettingyou off the hook for setting me up with these flowers.”
With a shaky laugh, Mum spread her hands. “Who, me? But I had my back to you.”
Her innocent expression didn’t wash.
Rach pointed to the large, heavily framed mirror on the
ballroom wall. “Facing that may have helped just a little.”
“Oops. You weren’t supposed to notice.” Her mother giggled, sounding no older than the fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds
For the umpteenth time, she wondered who was the grown-up in their relationship. Far too often, their roles felt reversed. Not surprising she’d grown up craving stability.
She did not do change well.
And that explained her niggling discomfort about the bouquet, why it annoyed her so much.
“Mum, sorry. I’m overreacting to this bouquet thing. It’s just…I don’t need any pressure to make more changes when too much has changed already. You and Ed. The surprise invitation to
Tuscany. Meeting my grandmother and all those cousins.”
Maggie nodded, concern furrowing her brow. “I know this year hasn’t been easy for you. But now I’m married to such a wonderful man, I’d love to see you blessed with the same happiness.”
Mum stared across the room at her new husband, so much emotion glowing in her eyes Rach had to look away. Too much like eavesdropping on a private conversation.
“I’m glad for you.” She meant it, despite losing their old just-you-and-me relationship. “But I’m already happy. My life is full. Besides, I’m sure God doesn’t intend marriage for me. Catching a pretty bunch of flowers won’t change His plans.”
“No, it won’t. But sometimes He surprises us. The way He did me, with Ed. I just wanted to give you a nudge.” Maggie grinned impishly. “Or give Jon a nudge.”
Rach huffed again. If her feet weren’t so sore, she would have stamped them. “Mum, pur-lese. How many times do I have to tell you? Jon and I are friends. Not a couple. Surely it should be possible for a man and a woman to be good friends without everyone hinting at marriage!”
She glanced back to their table. As if he felt her gaze on him, Jon turned from the older man he’d been speaking to, met her eyes, and smiled. His sweet gentle smile, familiar and
comfortable as a favourite pair of jeans, warm as a thick woollen coat.
God already blessed her richly, giving her a good friend like him. Between her work, her church, the group house, and her friends, she didn’t need more.
Certainly didn’t need marriage.
“It’s just...” Mum hesitated, bit her lip, and ducked her head.
Rach lifted her gaze to the ceiling — something she seemed to do a lot around Mum. Though most ceilings weren’t quite as ornately panelled as the ones in Mrs Pettett’s overdecorated
English manor house. “It’s okay. Go ahead and say it.”
Doubt shadowed Maggie’s eyes. “I know you don’t welcome change. Growing up, you had too much of it. And I was a bad example, especially after you moved away to start college. I took
risks, behaved recklessly.”
“You did your best to take care of me and give me a stable home, in difficult circumstances. It can’t have been easy.”
And it shouldn’t have been as hard as it was. Anger tightened Rachel’s throat. With her Italian grandmother for refusing to acknowledge she existed for thirty-three years, living in her huge villa while Mum struggled. And with Mum’s parents, who’d rejected their daughter for years. Though they’d unbent enough to attend the wedding, they’d left immediately after the church ceremony today and pointedly ignored her attempts to speak to them.
Maggie shook her head. “I’m sorry, Rachel. I did my best, but sometimes it wasn’t good enough.”
“It’s okay, Mum,” she repeated. She wasn’t angry with Mum. Not one bit.
Her mother drew in a long audible breath.
Rach braced herself. Here it came. Whatever Mum had hesitated over saying.
“Sometimes when I look at you, I see a beautiful butterfly still in its chrysalis. It’s safe inside that shell, but to fly, to be all God created You to be and live the life He intends for you, you
need to spread your wings.”
For once, she had no quick comeback. She was living the life God wanted her to live. Wasn’t she?
Her mother continued speaking. “I’m so blessed by Ed’s unexpected love, so much more than I deserved.”
Phew! This, she had an answer for. “That’s grace. God always gives us more than we deserve. But you do deserve to be loved. I’m so happy for you and Ed.”
Mum smiled, more than a hint of “Gotcha” gleaming in her eyes. “If I deserve love, then you do, too. I want you to believe that. I want you to know this same sweetness I knew for a short time with Albertino, and found again with Ed when I least expected it. Dolce vita, the contessa I worked for in Italy called it. The sweet life. I have it now, after all these years. It’s time youstarted living it, too.”