Title: Dante’s Gift
Author: Aubrey Wynne
Genre: Contemporary Romance and WWII romance
Kathleen James has put her practical side away for once and looks forward to the perfect romantic evening: an intimate dinner with the man of her dreams—and an engagement ring. She is not prepared to hear that he wants to bring his grandmother back from Italy to live with him.
Dominic Lawrence has planned this marriage proposal for six months. Nothing can go wrong—until his Nonna calls. Now he must interrupt the tenderest night of Katie’s life with the news that another woman will be under their roof.
When Antonia’s sister dies, she finds herself longing to be back in the states. An Italian wartime bride from the ‘40s, she knows how precious love can be. Can her own story of an American soldier and a very special collie once again bring two hearts together at Christmas?
Early November 1943
Though her English was good, some of the terms the foreigners used baffled her. But she understood most of the conversation as they approached. “Look, stop beating your gums about it. You’re grounded and that’s that.”
“But I’ve got more experience than most of those prunes you’ll send up in my place. I’m no penguin, I need to fly.” The Yank raised his voice in frustration.
“You might rather enjoy being a carrier pigeon, old chap,” said the Tommie. “Stop at places like this, pick up favors for the officers, and make a little extra cash.”
The Yank with dark hair said something she couldn’t understand, but she got the gist of it from his tone. “Look, pal. Your ears ain’t workin’ too good anymore because of all the eggs you dropped. Maybe the hearing will come back if you take some time off. But it’s not safe for you or your crew if you can’t hear commands.”
“Oh blow it out your barracks bag,” answered the sandy-haired soldier. “I’ll do it but not willingly.”
She pulled Dante behind the counter and gave him the quiet sign with her finger to her lips. He sat obediently, alert with ears perked. With a sigh, she faced the men at the counter. “How may I help you?”
“Darlin’, that’s a loaded question. Lookie here at this little dish,” said the Yank with black hair. His smile didn’t quite make his eyes, and turned into a sneer. “I want some of those sticky buns.” The way he said “sticky buns” and looked her up and down sent the hair up on her arms.
Dante let out a low growl. “Shhh!”
“Ditto, lass. Get me three,” added the thin, shorter Brit.
“You don’t eat ‘em, Eric. Whatcha doin’ with ‘em?”
“I trade them for favors, Bob. And to bribe growling dogs, don’t ya know?” He turned to Antonia and grinned. “How much?”
“Three hundred lire,” she said stone-faced.
“Blimey,” he said as he pulled some coins from his pocket. “I hope I don’t need it for any mongrels.”
The pilot with wheat-colored hair put his elbows on the counter and leaned toward her. “I could buy thirty loaves of bread at home for that much lettuce.”
“But you are not home, soldier. You are here, in Benevento, and a sticky bun is 100 lire.” She meant to be rude, but his soft brown gaze made her heart race as if she’d just chased Dante across the field. His smile went to his eyes, adding crinkles to the corners. Her own lips turned up. “The cost of supplies is very expensive these days, as you know.”
“So I’ve heard. Give me five,” he said with a wink. “Maybe I can sweet talk the captain into putting me back into a plane.”
“Save your money, Ken. Your ears obviously ain’t got any better in the last ten minutes,” he answered, rubber-necking over the counter at Antonia’s shapely calves. “Get a load of that landing gear.”
Dante growled again but this time showed sharp, white teeth. “I don’t think he likes you much, Bob.”
“Well I don’t care for him, neither. Give me two of those, and we’ll get out of your hair.”
The men paid for the rolls and walked outside. She headed into the kitchen when that quiet, deep voice stopped her. “I’d like to apologize for my friend. He’s not a bad Joe once you get to know him.”
“I don’t think I care to,” she said without turning around.
“It looks like I may be making regular trips through your town. Do you work here often?” His tone dripped like honey from a ladle and poured over her; she felt her body turn toward him even as her brain told her “no.”
“My family owns it. I am here every day.”
“So your father is Guido?” He had resumed his place at the counter, balanced on his elbows again, inviting her back without a word.
She found herself leaning on the counter from the other side. “How do you know my father?”
“The sign says Guido’s Café.”
She laughed. “Yes, it does. So you are no private eye, eh?”
He whistled then. “You’d make Betty Grable green with envy when you smile. It makes those blue eyes sparkle like a fresh-cut diamond. You should do that more often.”
Her eyes lowered, embarrassed at the compliment and the image of the American pinup girl in a bathing suit. “You should go catch up with your friends.”
“My name is Ken Lawrence,” he said and held out his hand.
“Antonia Capriotti,” she replied and took his hand. A tingle shot down her center and curled her toes. “It is nice to meet you.”
“You’re blushing. Mmm, beautiful and modest. That’s a rare find, you know.” He held firmly onto her hand. “And who is this?”
She looked down at the silent collie. He hadn’t made a noise when this man reached across the counter and touched her. Odd. “Dante, our protector.”
“You need one, with mugs like Bob around.” He made a kissing noise in the dog’s direction and slapped the counter. Dante jumped up, feet on the edge and barked. Ken reached over and scratched the dog behind his ears. “Good boy, you look like my old Schotzie.”