Two MORE sample chapters of Poggibonsi, now available on preorder!

poggi-cover-finalWho else does this? Nobody, that’s who.

You can read the first two chapters of my hilarious romantic comedy Poggibonsi, An Italian Misadventure  by clicking HERE, and then two more chapters on this page, for a total FOUR chapters BEFORE the book even comes out.

And you can pre-order Poggibonsi NOW for just 99 CENTS by clicking HERE. LIMITED TIME!

The eBook price goes to $2.99 on delivery date, April 20, 2017, and to $4.99 shortly thereafter (I have to take care of my fans, so they get a deal for a few days first – you know?)

PAPERBACKS are planned to be available on April 20, too!

 

“Humorous, often laugh-out-loud funny.”

Through pace and humour this story drew me in to find characters I could believe in . . . all characters memorable, even the fleeting ones. As for Sam, absolutely loved her, and Julietta, wow, a truly unforgettable character.

Eric, EDC Writing

 

“Had me laughing out loud”

“Very witty and it definitely had me laughing out loud a few times, especially (SORRY)’s scenes.”

Tristen

Okay, enjoy the chapters.

.

Chapter 3

“Please undress to your underwear and put on the gown. Doctor Fischbaum will be right in.”

I glanced at the blue piece of paper on the examining room table. “Doctor Cardenas, you mean.”

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The young nurse shook her head, smiling. “No, Doctor Cardenas broke his leg skiing in Aspen. Doctor Fischbaum is seeing all his appointments this week.”

“But—” I stopped myself. I’d been seeing Cardenas for years, but one doctor would be as good as another for a company-required physical. And since they were squeezing me in as a favor so I could leave for Italy as soon as possible, what the heck.

She stood there, grinning at me.

“Um, are you staying?”

“Oh!” She blushed, fumbling for the door knob, and made her exit.

I picked up the gown. I’d rather wait naked than wear a paper dress, but my trip now rested on good results from these folks. I stripped and put on the glorified lunch bag, waiting for the poking and prodding to begin.

The door flew open with a bang. “Surprise! Look who’s here!”

“Jan!” I jumped up. “What are you doing here? Where’s Doctor Fischbaum?”

She strode toward me, beaming. “I’m Doctor Fischbaum.”

I backed away. “No, you’re Doctor Waters.”

Jan waved a hand, walking to the counter. “I changed my name back after the divorce.”

“But . . . Fischbaum’s not your maiden name.”

“What, go back to Pratt? That’s so plain. Blah.” She studied the chart. “Don’t you think Dr. Fischbaum has a nice ring? It was my second husband’s name.” She glanced at me over her shoulder. “I think you missed that one.”

I stepped behind the examining room table, keeping it between us for safety. “I missed the wedding and the marriage, both. How long were you guys hitched, like three months?”

“Two, but it seemed like ten. For a guy who was so into golf, his putter never got near the right hole.” She set the file down and folded her arms. “Besides, as Jan Fischbaum, maybe I’ll meet somebody who wants a nice Jewish girl.”

“You’re not Jewish.”

“But he won’t know that, will he?” She placed her hands on her hips. “So why are you still wearing that thing? Aren’t we doing your physical today? Or did you want to get physical?”

I swallowed. “Now, Jan, you and I had an agreement that after I got engaged—you wouldn’t be my doctor anymore.”

“Oh, shush. Who else could’ve squeezed you in on such short notice? Now come on.”

“Don’t make me file a complaint with the AMA. Flirting with patients is against the rules.”

“Well, it shouldn’t be for cute ones. Anyway, we have a history so it’s different. Maybe I can go to a few board meetings and get that rule taken care of . . .”

I crept out from behind the examining table. “Just . . . no funny stuff. Seriously.”

“This will be strictly business.”

I sat down, holding shut the back of the hospital gown. “Let’s get this over with, shall we? I have a busy day and I’m not much in the mood for any antics.”

She stifled a laugh. “Have I ever told you how good you look in a blue paper dress?”

“Okay, I’m leaving.” I started to get up.

“Oh, stop. I’m kidding!” She put her hands on her hips. “Can’t a girl have a little fun? Boy, are you in a sour mood. If you had your sense of humor surgically removed, you should have at least consulted us first.”

She stretched a blue latex glove over her French manicured hands and let it go with a loud snap. “You know the best part about conducting a physical on you, Mike? I get to fondle your genitals and stick my finger up that cute little tushie of yours, and you have to pay me for the privilege.”

I tried to tuck a little more of the paper dress under my behind. “Let’s keep things professional, okay?”

“And I am! What’s a little joking around between friends? Geez, when did you become such a fuddy-duddy?”

“Probably after I got married and started a family.”

“Spoilsport. Okay, stand up and slide down your boxers. Or do you wear briefs now?”

“Aren’t we, um . . . gonna start with a stethoscope on the chest or something like that?”

“Who’s the medical expert here? There’s plenty of time for that later. Let’s go. Drop ‘em.” She sat down on a small stool and wheeled herself over as I slid off the table.

“Hold up the gown, please. Boxer briefs—how stylish. As always, Michael, thank you for manscaping.”

“Uh, my pleasure.”

“And there’s the little guy!”

“Hey! It’s not that little. And . . . it’s cold in here.”

“I was kidding!” She peered up at me. “Would I be fantasizing about you in Cabo if it wasn’t something to be proud of? Geez.” She resumed the exam. “Let’s see here. Well, Mike Junior looks clean and healthy. And there they are—hello boys.” She gazed up again, smiling. “Honestly, Mike, I’ve always said you have a wonderful penis but these balls of yours are simply amazing. You should be very proud of them.”

“Okay, see? You—that’s skating right past the safety zone again there, Jan.”

“I’m just going to say it. You have pretty balls.”

“Jan!”

“What? These are the Brad Pitt of balls. The Tom Cruise of testicles.”

“You—hey, how about somebody not fifty years old?”

“Like Bradley Cooper?”

“Yeah.”

“Only if you stop shaving them.” She looked down again. “What I wouldn’t give to see your guy at full attention like back in the old days. I could have used that mental picture when I was riding my ex—the few times we did it.”

“That’s a nice image for the next time he and I play golf. And feel free to let go of those at any time.”

“Hmmm? Not yet. It’s part of a new study I’m conducting with patients who are former boyfriends.”

“Sounds like it might be a pretty large study.”

“Are you sure you want to take that tone while I’m holding these?”

“Probably not. I remember your hot temper. That’s part of why we stopped dating.”

“It was?”

“Well, that and the fact that I caught you in bed with my roommate.”

“Oh. Yeah, that. Well, in my defense, I was trying to get you in a threesome but he came home first.” She peered up again. “Any pain or discomfort when I do this?”

“You mean besides the barrage of inappropriate conversation? How about wrapping it up down there?”

“Michael, I’m very thorough. If you get a lump and lose one of these to cancer, you’ll wish I’d have taken more time. How would I explain it to your wife if I let that happen?”

“Thanks. It makes everything much less awkward if we talk about my wife while you’re . . . rubbing those.”

Okay, spoilsport.” She stood up. “Turn around and bend over the examination table, please. Thaaaank you. Oh, somebody’s still jogging, I see.”

“A mile a day, rain or shine.”

“God, I wish my butt looked like that. Maybe I should start running. And wow, so firm.”

“Jan—”

“Take a deep breath and relax. Ready?”

“As ready as I’ll ever b-uhhhh.”

“Oh, don’t be such a big baby. Prostate exams are important. Besides, I’m being more gentle with your back door than you ever were with mine.”

“I’m pretty sure that wasn’t me, Jan.”

“No? Oh, right. That was just a drunken fantasy I had when I took a bunch of mescaline with a bottle of tequila. It should have been you.” She turned and pulled the latex gloves off in a quick motion, dropping them into the trash. “Your prostate feels normal. Let’s have a listen to your chest now.”

I pulled my underwear back up. Lifting her stethoscope to her ears, she motioned for me to raise the gown up over my chest.

“Jan, I think my heart rate may still be a little elevated at the moment.”

She smiled. “Liked that, huh? Take a deep breath, please.” She moved the stethoscope around on my chest and back. “You know, all the nurses in this office want to do their ‘ride along’ when you come in, Mike. The younger ones practically slide right off their chairs. Take another breath, please.”

She pulled the stethoscope out of her ears and let it dangle around her neck. “Heart and lungs sound good.” She scribbled on the chart. “You know, maybe I should tag along the next time you and Frank hit the links at the club. He says you have a terrible hook in your swing. I could keep an eye on your balls for you. In case they want to wander into the rough.”

“I’m not sure Frank would understand your sudden interest in golf.”

“Speaking of dicks, are you experiencing any erection issues?”

“Jan, seriously—”

“Mike, seriously. I’m your physician. Over the past ten years you’ve only gained five pounds but you managed to get yourself on high cholesterol medication and high blood pressure meds. Usually that affects the lead in the pencil.”

“So . . .”

“So you’re heading to Europe for six weeks, silly. I don’t want you calling me two weeks into your trip saying you need something.”

“Why would I?”

“It’s something about that Tuscan air. Or all the wine. But the ladies get over there and suddenly love is in bloom. I have to think about Mattie, too.”

“I think I’m all set in that department. Are we done here?”

“No. I need a blood sample. Maryanne will come take it in a minute.” She walked to the door and stopped. “This morning she told me that if I kept you naked for the blood test I could count it as her annual bonus.”

“Gee, I hate to disappoint people, but I’d better pass.” I held up my hand and displayed my wedding ring. “Turns out I’m still just as married as when I came in here an hour ago.”

Jan nodded. “Okay. Well, keep on with the running, but try to slow down a little at work. Seriously, Mikey. I want little Sienna’s future babies to be able to meet their grandfather. And I’ll throw a few Viagra and other samples in a bag for you. Just in case.”

I started getting dressed. “Fine. Thanks. I don’t need them.”

“So says all of my middle-aged male patients. The Mrs. might say differently. Ciao!”

*  *  *  *  *  *

As I pulled the car into my driveway, my stomach sank. Jeannie, our recently divorced new neighbor, appeared to be taking a break from some yard work.

Oh, God. Now her.

Jeannie was nice enough, but she was lonely since the divorce and didn’t hide that fact—or anything else. She was stretched out on a lounge chair with a glass of iced tea and a pair of wood-handled hedge clippers sat on the ground next to her. She wore big bulky gardening gloves, but not much more. A cut-off tank top barely covered her top half, and her bikini bottoms barely covered anything else.

She waved as I stopped the car. On the exterior, I smiled; on the inside, I groaned.

“Hi, Jeannie. I saw you out jogging the other day. You getting into that now?”

She held up a foot clad in a pink running shoe. “Maybe we can run together some time. I heard you wrote a book, too. Was it a romance?”

“That was a long time ago. A business how-to book about doing deals. Like a manual—and it didn’t sell very well.” I shut the car door and leaned back against it. “Wow, check that out, huh?”

Jeannie smiled, glancing down at her tan, flat belly. “You like?”

“That’s some tree. You know, we have the same kind in our driveway and ours look like crap.”

She turned in the direction of my gaze. “That’s not a tree, it’s a bush. A crepe Myrtle.” She walked up to the short wood plank fence between our yards. “With that, it’s all in the pruning. You have to trim it a lot.”

“Huh. One day you’ll have to tell me how to do that.”

“Really?” She batted her eyes. “Would you like me to show you how I trim my bush, Mike?”

My brain stopped working for an instant. “Uh, it might be better if you showed my wife.”

Jeannie placed a gloved hand on her waist and stuck her hip out. “I can show both of you, if you want. My pleasure.”

I blinked a few times. “Uh, we are talking about yard work here, right?”

She winked. “Maybe.”

My cell phone rang in my pocket. “Okay, well, I’ll send Mattie over—you can show her your bush.” I dug for the phone. “I mean, you can show her how to trim. Because, hers is a wreck.” I swallowed. “I mean, you know. Big tree. Cutting . . . stuff.”

She nodded slowly. “Sure. Say the word.”

I finally got the phone out of my pocket as it rang again. It was Sam. “I gotta get this, Jeannie.”

She held up a hand and twirled her fingers. “Bye, Mike.”

I rammed the phone to my ear. “Sam! Hi. How’s yours doing? I mean, how are you doing?”

“You sound a little flustered. Did I call at a bad time?”

I made my way to my front door. “No. You called at a perfect time.” I lowered my voice. “I am having the craziest day. My neighbor was hitting on me when you called.”

“Mrs. Conley? She’s eighty-five years old. Maybe she just forgot to take her pills.”

“No, the new neighbor on the other side. Jeannie Haskins. Some harmless flirting. I’m sure it doesn’t mean anything.”

“What’s she wearing?”

I glanced back over to where Jeannie had been. She was standing, holding the clippers. “Well, you know, she’s doing yard work.” I fumbled for my keys.

Jeannie let the clippers fall from her hands, then turned around and pointed her tiny bikini bottom at me while she picked them up.

Slowly . . .

“What’s she wearing, Mike?”

I turned back to the door. “Well, a bikini. And a tank top. She has a tank top shirt on. Kind of.” I finally got the blasted door open and entered the house, shutting the door behind me. I rested against it. “But, you know, it’s a nice day. She was getting some sun, doing some yard work.” I swallowed. “And then she offered to show me how to trim her bush.”

“I think when a woman in a bikini asks if you want to watch her trim her bush, it means something.”

I shook my head. “It’s wacko day today or something. And I’m channeling my inner Clark Griswold. I don’t get it.”

“Let me see . . . You’re tall, dark, handsome, square jaw—you’re right. What are they thinking?”

“That’s not helpful, Sam.”

“Hey, you’re a good-looking guy, you keep yourself in shape, you make great money, you love your wife and kids—you’re every woman’s dream.”

I sighed and shook my head. “Can’t they see the wedding ring and behave themselves?”

“Wedding rings become invisible to the hormonally driven. It’s like a competition. You think the Olympics are sports? They have nothing on the estrogen games.”

“Great.”

Sam chuckled. “Mike, you’re the pretty girl in high school who can’t understand why the boys keep falling all over themselves to help you with everything. Frankly, you being oblivious to it is adorable.”

“Maddie isn’t like that.”

“Please. I’ve been to your house. Hell, they practically had to hose you guys down at your wedding reception.”

“Well, sure, but—” The vacuum lines in the carpets indicated that the cleaners had come. I went over to my desk. All my papers for Italy had been moved to—somewhere. “Why can’t people just—it’s like the rules are always changing.” Through the window, Jeannie paraded around with her big clippers. A quick tug on the drawstring lowered the blinds to end the show.

“The rules haven’t changed in a thousand years, Mike. The men are horny and aren’t supposed to act on it, and the women are supposed to act like they’re not horny.”

“Those are the rules, huh?”

“Allegedly. That’s why you guys are always surprised to find out otherwise.”

I sighed. “Guess so.” The screen saver of my wife and daughter, smiling from our backyard swing set, greeted me from my computer. “Okay, let’s get back to the Italy project. What are the latest survey reports saying? And where’s my home port going to be for my visit?”

“Poggibonsi.”

“What? What the hell is that? I thought I was going to Tuscany.”

“Saying you’re going to Tuscany is like saying you’re going to central Georgia. You want to stay in an actual city. This is that. Poggibonsi.”

“Rome was all booked up, huh?” I rifled through the desk drawers. Damned cleaners. Where’s my stuff? “How do you say it again?”

“Poggy, like froggy. And bonsi like . . . bouncey. But it’s bon-see.”

“Fuck, I’ll never get that, Sam.” I leaned back into the chair, and rubbed my forehead.

“Try. You’re going to be there for a while.”

 

 

Chapter 4

“Polly bouncy?” My four-year-old scrunched up her face and took a bite of her waffle. “That’s a funny name.”

I smiled. “No, no, honey. That’s close, but that’s not it. Poggibonsi. Poggy-bon-see.”

She frowned at me. “I thought we were going to Idaly.”

“We are. Poggibonsi is a little city in Italy.”

My cell phone’s alarm went off. “Hey, finish up. We need to brush your teeth.” I stood up. “Get to it or we’ll be late for school.”

She shook her head. “I don’t want to brush my teeth. I want to taste like waffles.”

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“We brush our teeth every day, kiddo. Hop to it.” Waffles were the preferred breakfast this week – ever since cereal somehow became the most disgusting food ever. Last week, cereal ruled the roost.

Growing up, I guess. Making her own decisions already. How’d that happen?

I grabbed my keys and popped open a Coke from the fridge. While Sienna wrestled with her Dora toothbrush, I headed to my office for my laptop and reports. About 35 new emails had come in since I sat down to watch my kid eat breakfast. Most were congratulations on getting assigned to the Italy deal.

I snapped the computer shut. “Sienna, let’s go! The train’s leaving the station.” I headed for the garage.

Mattie stepped off the stairs and into my path.

“Hey, sleepyhead.”

Her eyes still weren’t completely open. “I overslept. I shouldn’t have taken that glass of wine to bed with me.”

“Can I get you anything?

“Aspirin. Coffee . . . eight more hours of sleep.”

I kissed her. “Come buckle Sienna into her car seat for me first.”

She nodded. In the hallway, Sienna scooted past on her way to the car. “Ladies first!”

I followed, glancing over my shoulder at Mattie. “What about Mommy?”

My wife shrugged. “Mommy goes last, I guess.”

Sienna ran back to her, pulling on her hand. “No, mommies go first, too!”

I reached over Sienna’s head to unlock the deadbolt to the garage. “Sorry. You can’t both be first.”

She looked up at me. “Yes, we can. We’ll hold hands.”

“Fair enough.” I held open the door and turned to my wife. “You wanna hold hands to the car?”

“Sure.”

As they walked to the side of the SUV, my daughter stopped with a jolt. “Dad! Backpack!”

“Oops. Be right back.” The pink canvas bag that contained my daughter’s most prized worldly possessions rested on top of the kitchen counter—right next to her lunch box, which she didn’t mention as also not being along. But, as current holder of the title The World’s Slowest Eater, I couldn’t expect her to care whether the lunch I’d packed for her actually went to school or not.

A cheese sandwich and three strawberries. Not much, but they were Sienna’s current favorites. We’d see how long they maintained their ranking on the Will Eat list—since she was the reigning World’s Pickiest Eater, too.

I had no idea what she’d eat during a two-week trek through Italy, but hopefully they sold Spaghettios somewhere over there. That’s how we got through a Caribbean cruise last year.

I trotted to the car and handed her the backpack. “Anything else?”

“Just some more kisses.” I slid behind the wheel as my wife gave our daughter a big exaggerated smooch. Sienna squealed in delight.

“Bye. Have fun at school.” Mattie shut the door and waved as we backed out of the garage.

The drive to preschool only took a few minutes, so we didn’t have to contend with a foray into the godforsaken bumper-to-bumper traffic on the interstate. We pulled into the parking lot, where parents unstrapped their various small children from car seats and let them proceed to bound like pinballs toward the gate—more or less. Girls took a relatively straight path to the gate; boys went everywhere else first.

I pointed. “There’s your buddy. Say hi to Angela.”

Sienna shouted through the window, grabbing at the seat belt.

“Wait until I stop the car, please.”

As soon as I shut off the engine, she unbuckled her straps and pounded on the glass. Angela’s mom turned and waved at us. “Good morning, Sienna! Hi, Mike.”

Some moms look like they just rolled out of bed for morning drop off—no makeup, flipflops and bedhead. Tammie was always well put-together. Her hair was styled, her clothes were the latest fashion – as far as I could tell. Today’s ensemble showed her off nicely: off-white leggings with leather riding boots up to the knee, and a loose but flattering blouse that accentuated her slender waist. I snuck a second glance at her legs. Maybe these were the fabled yoga pants.

I walked around to the side door. “Good morning, ladies.” Sienna ran over to hug this week’s best friend. I walked with Tammie as our daughters raced on ahead. “I sure don’t remember being that excited about school, do you?”

“Never.” She chuckled. “At least not until high school, when I had a boyfriend.”

Mrs. Norton watched as parents signed the drop off sheet and children filed into her classroom. “Good morning, Mike. And Tammie, I love that outfit!”

At that prompting, I took another look. Would these be yoga pants? Tammie’s pants were tight, but not quite of the “painted on” variety—but would a forty-something woman wear that anyway?

I couldn’t exactly ask. Still, they didn’t leave a lot to the imagination. I didn’t see any panty lines, either.

I got a little jolt in my stomach, thinking she might not be wearing any.

“Are you coming?”

I blinked. “Hmmm?” Back to reality. My daughter’s preschool.

Tammie smiled. Was I busted?

“To the birthday party. Angela’s older sister.”

“Oh. Um . . .” I took a deep breath to re-acclimate my brain. “You know, Mattie keeps our social calendar, but we’re all headed to Italy in a few days.”

“Italy! Dang. Can I smuggle myself along in a suitcase? I love Italian wine.”

“It should be fun. How old is your daughter going to be?”

“Twenty-one.”

“Twenty-one? Angela just turned five. What, did you have your other daughter when you were ten?”

“Thanks. No, she’s from my first marriage.”

“Yeah. Wow.” We walked back to the parking lot. “Honest, though, you don’t look old enough to have a daughter twenty-one years old.”

“Yeah, I’m that old.”

“I’m sorry, is that insulting? I didn’t mean—”

“No, I know. Hey, I’ll see you tomorrow at drop off.” She climbed into her SUV. “When do you leave for Italy?”

“Day after tomorrow.”

“Wow, that’s fast. I’d need three weeks to prepare! Have fun on your trip.”

I nodded. “Yeah.”

The rows and rows of cars on I-75 were once again moving at record speeds even though they were all jammed next to one another. I managed to survive my drive to the Creative Capital offices yet again.

No wonder I liked telecommuting so much.

Working from home means always being at the office, though, unless you manage to strike a proper balance. I did pretty good with that while still slaving away for Mrs. Harriman et al.

And although I felt the scales might be tipped in my favor at home, leaving that and traveling with a child to Europe actually scared me a little. Stories of kidnappings and plane crashes and terrorism filled the newspapers. The thought of Sienna wandering off in a foreign country where she doesn’t speak the language and neither do we – all the silly things you think of before your trip, but after your trip it’s like they were never even a blip on your parental radar screen.

We’d be fine, I reassured myself. We always managed. When Mattie and I went to France and Germany for our five-year anniversary, we each chose a language to learn for the trip. Mattie selected French; I got German. In the weeks before our trip, she diligently greeted me each day with bonjour, and each night with bonsoir. She learned to count to ten, and even got a children’s book on basic French from the library to help her conversations. The main character was a little bear named Pierre. She listened to French audiocassettes in her car on her drive to work.

I didn’t study my German much at all. I planned on winging it. But when Mattie started to sound fluent, I got my butt in gear. Sort of. I downloaded a course that I never watched and ended up with a cheat sheet that I carried in my wallet—please, thank you, where is the bathroom, and check please. The essentials.

It didn’t matter, though, because the instant the wheels of our airplane touched down in Paris, stage fright overtook my wife. She forgot every French word she’d learned. She practically forgot her name. I spent twenty minutes flipping through the English-French dictionary to get us a rental car.

That night, we managed to get ourselves into a fancy French restaurant—where my mute wife requested that I order dinner for both of us. I did my best. I saw the word steak, so I got that for me (I pointed to the menu and said “Uno” to the waiter). Mattie said she wanted fish. They had something called “surprie di saint Vincent” which the waiter said meant “Saint Vincent’s Surprise” or some such thing, containing “porc oreille museau.” I remembered the actor Joe Pesce said once in an interview that his name meant fish, and I figured porc, pesce – how far off could it be?

Pretty fucking far off.

They brought a pig’s snout, tail, tongue and ear.

Some surprise, all right. Mattie nearly started crying.

I did, too, because when the waiter set down my plate, my steak was actually three miniscule veal medallions—each about the size of a fifty-cent piece.

But I could not let my wife suffer, especially with a pig snout staring at her, especially on the first night of our five-year anniversary trip. We set Saint Vincent’s Surprise aside, shared the veal, ate a ton of dinner rolls, and found a food cart with the French version of hot dogs on the walk back to our hotel.

Lesson learned, but we survived.

We did no better on other trips to foreign countries. A guided tour of Barbados almost resulted in a fist fight between Mattie and an eighty-year-old woman over the seat on the bus closest to the air conditioner.

That was on our honeymoon cruise.

I had to call a cab to get us back to the boat. After that, no more group tours for us.

Somehow we managed to get through it all. If we could do that, we could do this.

When I got back to the house that night, Mattie had suitcases strewn across the bedroom. Eight of them.

Just for herself.

They were still empty, because she can’t pack properly unless she’s doing it at the last minute, even for a two-week trip to Europe. But they were in the bedroom near her clothes, so there was hope.

She paced back and forth in front of her dresser. “What do you think about taking a stroller?”

I hung my suit coat in the closet and started undressing. “I think no, we don’t need it. But if we take one, we take the one with the bike wheels. Those cobblestone streets are gonna wreak havoc on anything with small wheels.”

“That one’s so big. It takes up half the space in your car.”

“Yeah. And it would be a bitch to get on and off planes and trains.” I pulled a t-shirt on over my head. “But she’s not a baby. She can walk.”

Mattie stared at the suitcases. “What about when she gets tired?”

“She’ll manage. If it’s ninety degrees and humid out, we’ll want to stop and take a rest as often as she does.” I assembled my running gear: shorts, socks, shoes.

Sienna didn’t nap much anymore, but long hot walks on cobblestones might add up to a lot of “Dad, carry me.” I didn’t want that. I wasn’t looking forward to cobblestones, anyway. I had an old football injury that still bothered my knee.

I didn’t actually get hurt playing the sport. While getting up from my desk, my foot snagged on the stupid chair base. I somehow strained my knee. Later that day I stepped on one of Sienna’s old toys—a little football—so who knows which one actually caused the injury. But I can refer to it as my old football injury and not be stretching things too much.

Besides, I hated thinking I was old enough to get hurt standing up from a damned desk chair.

Mattie continued through her list of concerns. “Some of the places we’re staying won’t have internet, or it’ll be spotty.”

I leaned on the door frame of the closet to stretch my calves. “That’s a problem. I need to communicate with work.”

“The travel forums all say there’s access in most of the bars and restaurants.”

“So as long as I can squeeze in progress reports between cocktails, I’ll be good to go.”

She folded her arms. “Get a European data plan for your phone.”

“Okay, good idea.”

She rolled her eyes. “I’ll set it up for you.”

Never hurts having a techie for a wife. When it came to computers, Mattie referred to me as a dinosaur. She knew I’d never figure out how to add a European data plan to my phone. On the other hand, armed with her laptop, she could hack NORAD and launch missiles. “Anything else?”

“Not really. We need to think about sweaters and jackets if it’s cold, t-shirts if it’s warm . . .”

“Can’t we just buy everything when we get there?”

A smile crept across her face. “Shopping for everything in Milan? Good idea.”

“I’m sorry. You were saying? Socks, I think? And underwear?”

She nodded. “And enough of your medicines for six weeks, plus some additional just in case, and—”

A sneeze came from the doorway. Sienna walked in with a small string of snot on her cheek. “I need a tissue.”

She sneezed again. Followed by another sneeze. And another.

Mattie glanced at me. “I hope she’s not getting sick.”

I reached across the bed for some Kleenex. “Come here, sweetie.” I held a tissue to her nose. “I’m sure it’s only allergies.”

“What if it’s not?”

I knew her concern. Sienna’s last round of sneezes resulted in a week-long hospital stay. A head cold became a sinus infection that overwhelmed her system, to the point where she had a hard time breathing. We spent fifteen hundred dollars on nebulizer treatments we could have done at our house, but when your kid can’t breathe at two in the morning, you don’t roll the dice. You go to the emergency room.

And I sure didn’t want to be doing that in Italy, where I couldn’t even speak the language.

Mattie bit at a fingernail. “Should we cancel?”

“What?” I looked up at her from the bed. “Don’t be crazy. She sneezed, that’s all. And I can’t cancel.”

We can.”

I shook my head. “No way.” I stood and went into the bathroom, tossing the used tissue in the trash. “Let’s get her nebulizer out of the pantry and the medicines that go with it. Get everything out of her medicine cabinet that we might need for a cold or anything else. Let’s hope it goes away in twenty-four hours, or that it’s allergies, but before we leave we’ll know what we’re dealing with—and we’ll be equipped to handle it, wherever we are.”

“Because we can’t ruin your big business trip.”

“I’m not trying to land my kid in an Italian hospital. I don’t know what sort of healthcare they have there. But I don’t want to overreact to a few sneezes.”

She put her hands on her hips. “I didn’t overreact last time. You said we should take her to the ER.”

“I didn’t say you overreacted.”

“I think we should cancel until we know if she’s sick.”

“Oh, for—” I put my hand to my forehead. “Then fucking cancel. But I can’t. I still have to go.”

“I don’t know why you’re yelling.”

“I’m not yelling. I know what it sounds like when I’m yelling, and this isn’t yelling. THIS IS YELLING!”

“You’re such an asshole.” She turned away.

“Daddy, why are you yelling at Mommy?”

Shit. We did all that right in front of our daughter. “I’m . . . going down stairs.”

I went down to my office and stared at my computer. What the fuck just happened?

Thirty-four new emails. Some were congratulatory, most were contacts in Italy for meetings. Sam was going at it pretty hard to make sure I saw plenty of the right people while I was there.

I took a deep breath to cool down, and scrolled through the list.

Alberto Romano had a star next to it. I glanced at the summary Sam had put together. Bankers have all the contacts – plus they know who has money. Alberto appeared very interested and so did a lot of his clients. Good.

Meanwhile, Sam had arranged a place for me in Tuscany—a villa.

God, it was beautiful.

A big stone and stucco villa the color of a terra cotta pot, set high up on top of a Tuscan hill. Olive groves and vineyards lay to either side of a tree-lined gravel drive. The countryside appeared lush and elegant, with clear blue skies and sun baked beauty, just like in the movies.

Damn, that stuff actually exists. Nice work, Sam.

I wrote her a quick email reply.

How expensive is this place and can we get it for the whole six weeks? I can use it as a home port with Mattie and Sienna and then hop around to Venice etc. on day trips.

The response was almost instant.

$950 a week but Mattie won’t like that plan. She’ll love Tuscany but she wants to vacation in Rome and Venice, too.

Damn, that’s cheap. She was right about Mattie, though. Cancelling may not have actually been in the plans, but I didn’t want to play with fire. Still . . .

Just check it out for availability. Whose side are you on anyway?

I hit send.

Yours, boss. But happy wife happy life.

I sighed.

Okay, I know when I’m outnumbered.

For the most part, the other messages could wait. I sat back in my chair, still steaming from the stupid nonissue that escalated into a fight.

The fight blew up because we were stressed from planning, that’s all. Mattie was ramped up. She and Sienna would be tagging along with me for the first two weeks in Italy, but then she’d be roughing it for the following four weeks back home . . . that was probably it.

I left my office and grabbed a Coke from the fridge. SpongeBob emanated from the upstairs TV. Better to let things cool off than go up and accidentally fan the embers.

Besides, the final survey results needed to be reviewed. What do American men and women want from a Tuscan vacation?

Let’s find out.

I opened the attachment and scanned through the data. Pretty much as I expected: the women wanted the romance of nice dinners with dancing, walking among the grape vines, drinking great wine and enjoying the scenery.

Sam hadn’t attached the men’s results, only a list of questions to be asked.

I scrolled through my inbox to see if I could find the men’s results somewhere else. No luck.

I banged out an email to Sam.

Why do we only have the men’s survey questionnaire and not the final result tallies at this late date? I’m supposed to be pitching deals in a day and a half. We should have this.

Her reply was quick.

Marketing needed to interpret them.

That was CC code for errors—or an indication that the respondents had told us what we wanted to hear. You can’t spend truckloads of cash with lies as a basis. Not if you want to make partner.

I stared at my computer screen as the clock on the wall ticked away, reminding me of my looming departure date. I still didn’t know what half of our target market wanted from us. I knew that men and women would want different things from their Tuscan experience, but why would the guys lie about it?

What were the men’s survey results hiding?

Your humble host.
bestselling author Dan Alatorre

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