the way you look tonight - Page 57

Now, and always.

When she felt stronger and calmer, they found a taxi to take them to her hometown. She’d been back to Italy many times during the past thirteen years, but she’d never been brave enough to go to Rosciano. Once, twice, she’d come close. But each time fear—and pride—had her turning back.

She wouldn’t turn back today.

Mary was holding Jack’s hand so tightly in the back of the airport taxi that he should have been complaining, or at least trying to pull free. He did neither; he simply held her right back, letting her know that he truly was there for her when she most needed him.

Trying to keep panic at bay, she looked at her watch and calculated the time difference. “The launch has just begun in San Francisco. Maybe we should stop at another pay phone and call Allen’s offices to check in with everyone.”

She could tell by the look in Jack’s eyes that he knew exactly what she was doing. “We don’t need to stop. We don’t need to call. I’m sure everything in San Francisco is going just fine without us.” He gently squeezed her hand. “Your hometown is beautiful, just like you described it. One day soon, I’d like my own mother to come and see this winter wonderland.”

Mary forced herself to look out the windows of the taxi, to stop and really see where she’d come from.

Christmas in Rosciano had always been the event of the year. From the strings of lights crisscrossing overhead to the beautifully built Nativity scene in the center of town, every inch was transformed with light and color. As a child, she’d spent eleven months of every year looking forward to the twelfth, and though she wasn’t a child anymore, she wasn’t at all immune to the wonder of the holiday season.

Everything, it seemed, was exactly as it had always been. The boys and girls out picking up a big tray of pastries at the pasticceria for the family lunches that would stretch on for hours. The young women, some of them barely out of their teens, cradling small babies in their arms as they met with friends by the fountain for a few precious moments before finishing the marketing and returning to their familial duties at their mother-in-law’s house. The men meeting in the bar first for an espresso and then a glass of grappa to talk of old sports dreams while making bets on teams they’d laid their new dreams of glory on. The stone buildings stood just as they had for hundreds of years. The grapevines just beyond the buildings were groomed back for winter, and the sky was a clear and crisp blue.

Mary felt as if she’d blinked at nineteen and woken up thirteen years later in the same exact place. How, she wondered, could it feel as if nothing had changed when she had changed so much in so many ways?

She’d left Italy as a naive girl full of a hunger to experience life. The beauty she’d seen, the thrills she’d experienced as she’d flitted from one spot on the globe to the next, had far exceeded her dreams. And yet, all that time, she’d still been searching, longing, for something she had never been able to find by getting on another airplane or seeing another amazing vista.

As if he could read her mind, Jack stroked his hand down over her hair and shoulders.

Love.

It was all she’d ever truly wanted, the only thing that could have made her feel whole again when she’d been broken for so long.

Jack’s love had filled so many empty places inside of her…but that hollowness right in the center that had begun to burrow into her soul as a little girl when she’d realized that she could never be what her mother wanted her to be was still there.

Finally, the taxi pulled up in front of her childhood home. And as Jack helped her out of the backseat and the driver took their bags out of the trunk, all she could think was, Oh God, this is such a bad idea. Why have I come back? Why don’t I know better?

She wanted to dive into the taxi and have it take her down the narrow cobblestone street and away from everything she was afraid of facing.

“I’m scared.” She reached for Jack’s hands and pulled them into her chest as if he could somehow get her heart to stop racing so fast. “What if my mother sees me and tells me to leave again? What if my coming here, being back in her house, makes everything worse instead of better?” They’d been in the country barely over an hour, and yet she couldn’t stop the Italian accent from quickly seeping into her words. “What if—” The fears crowding her mind piled on one another too fast for her to clearly put a voice to them. “I made so many mistakes, Jack. I can see that now. What if it’s too late to undo them?”

“Everybody makes mistakes. But that’s the magic of family—knowing that underneath whatever you’ve said and done, you are still loved. And that you always will be, no matter what.”

Jack had been right about everything else so far. She wanted desperately to believe that he was right about this, too.

Knowing she needed to be brave enough to find out, she lifted a hand she couldn’t stop from trembling to knock. Before she could make contact with the old wooden door, a gray-haired man opened it.

Her father’s face was just as she remembered it, with perhaps a few more lines, but his expression was one of a man who had just witnessed a miracle.

Oh, how she’d missed him, every single day since she’d left.

“Carissima, you’re finally home!”

On a joyful sob, Mary threw herself into her father’s open arms, still—always—his little girl.

Chapter Twenty-One

“Papa, this is Jack. Jack Sullivan. He’s the man I love. We’re going to be married.”