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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Book Spotlight: Semi-Coma: Evolution of My Intermittent Consciousness by Gulten Dye

Title: Semi-Coma: Evolution of My Intermittent Consciousness
Author: Gulten Dye
Publisher: Gulten Dye Publishing Company
Pages: 205
Language: English
Genre: Self-Help
Format: Paperback & eBook

Purchase at AMAZON

This book is about self-discovery and the journey that awakened me to the many facets of life. The road hasn’t always been easy with its tolls and junctions. It’s about my struggle to discover who I really am, what I believe in and how I’ve arrived at a place where I am able to appreciate myself and my surroundings.

Most of my life I lived in a state of arrested consciousness without being aware of it. Then one day out of nowhere my eyes opened just enough for me to question my way of living and my state of mind. That was the day questions started to arrive. They were nothing like the questions I had before. As if they weren’t even questions they were an unraveling string of realizations followed by overwhelming sorrow. How could I have lived my life as if I was in a semi coma and in turn induce my own suffering?

Of course in the beginning of seeing I didn’t realize that my eyes would open slightly from time to time to give me an illusion of happiness, but because I had no idea what true happiness was I would drift back to my state of familiarity. I lived my life mostly on an automatic life-sustaining machine by my body without my mind interfering with it.

It is my hope that the stories I share with you will somehow touch your heart, perhaps crack open a door and shine a light for you to embark on your own quest of self-discovery. I don’t presume to have all the answers; I don’t even know all the questions. At the very least, I am seeking to understand and allow life to happen; learning to take responsibility and ownership of myself and my actions, and appreciating all that is.

Read the chapters, each on its own. As you move through them, you will uncover my intermittent consciousness as I explore my thoughts or beliefs and might be able to even get a glimpse of my evolution along the way. 

I am blessed to have had so many people touch my life and, knowingly or unknowingly, helped me on my journey. I have come to realize that because we are all one, that anything I come to know and am willing to share with others affects all of us in a positive way. With great humility, I open up my imperfect, yet perfect, life for you to walk beside me. I am forever grateful and honored. 

First Chapter:

Clinical rotations started during the second year in nursing school. As you can imagine, after being in school for a year and not even seeing the inside of the hospital other than the morgue, was boring and seemed like a waste of time for a nursing student who chose her profession to be around the patients. Who needs microbiology when you can be in the middle of the action, in the hospital with patients?

Although we had a few boys in our lab technician division, our mostly female boarding school was kind of exciting, especially when we lined up in front of the school bus in our uniforms to go to the hospital. There were thirty-five girls, who were divided into groups of seven in my class. One of the criteria for graduation was that we all had to rotate to every clinic in the hospital over a three-year span.

Nursing student uniforms are definitely different than the all so exotic nurses’ uniforms. Our pale blue, cotton, short sleeved, tent-like dress buttoned all the way up to our chin. We always had to wear white stockings, white shoes and a white cap. We had to put our hair in a bun under our cap and were not allowed to have long nails, make-up or any jewelry.

In the winter, we wore a long, dark blue cape to stay warm. All in all, I think that our uniforms were designed on purpose to make even the most beautiful girl unattractive. But no matter what we were wearing, we all thought we were all that at the time.

First rotations consisted of behind-the-scene things like, diagnostic and research labs, allergy and immunization clinics, and home health. One of my personal favorites was home health. That was when one of our teachers would take us to visit families in mostly lower income neighborhoods. We would teach them about birth control, childcare and the importance of having regular check-ups.

Since they knew of our visit, it was customary in Turkey to “force feed” anyone who dared to pass by your home, and we were always fed delicious food. Our visits were always in the afternoon, and like the English, we love our hot tea, pastries, tea biscuits and cookies.  It was these that we were mostly served. At times, someone would really go out of their way and feed us traditional foods, which were heavenly.

Even with all the food I loved eating, I didn't want to teach home health. I grew up doing most of that with my mother. She was a midwife nurse, and besides delivering babies, one of her many job descriptions was to teach home health, and I often tagged along with her. My job as a child was to help Mom do all that.

I wanted to go to the hospital where the patients were, or so I thought at the time, anyway. But, then again, those rotations which lasted 3 months were still much more exciting than being stuck in a classroom all day long.

Besides being in the huge university hospital, no matter what clinic we had to go to was beyond anything I had known up to this point. Each clinic was like a small city unto itself, housing several buildings, each several stories high.

There wasn't a day that went by that I personally didn't experience or live drama through the stories of other students. Each night after mandatory study sessions, we would gather on our beds and share mind-blowing stories until our mandated bedtime.
Although it did not become clear to me until years later, there was no emotional attachment to the labs, morgues or in teaching home health. Personally, as long as I didn’t come into contact with a patient in human form, it was easier for me to deal with anything that had to do with paperwork.

It felt somewhat unreal to find cancer cells with a microscope in someone’s blood in a lab and then be the one to document on a piece of paper their unfortunate fate.  It was as if it were a game, not reality. But it was quite different to hear the news of someone you only met once that he has cancer. No matter how interesting it was to be in the lab and to search for diseased cells, it still wasn’t my cup of tea.

As the rotations continued, I remember moments that had rendered me speechless.  One such moment was when I saw a dead body for the first time. It was shocking! It was even more shocking to cut with a blade on a dead body, all in the name of science.

When a patient I got to know passed away, I felt deep grief.  Early on, I somewhat understood that getting to know the patients wasn't a brilliant idea. I don’t think anyone intentionally wanted us to learn any life lessons; rather, overall, going to the clinics was designed to make us mechanical caretakers of the body, and its needs.

But you would have to be dead inside not to be affected by what goes on in human lives in and around the hospitals. I stared straight into the fearful eyes of people who were in intense pain...people who looked at me, deep into my eyes, with a need for compassion. Some even reached to grab my hand to ask for mercy to stop their pain and misery.  At the time of its happening, I didn't pay attention to my real emotions or the attached lessons since I was pretending to be very strong.  They surfaced years later.

But, let’s get real! Of course, we were all affected from such a dramatic work place! After those rotations, often a student would drop out of school since it was hard for most to handle such things on a daily basis. Unlike most work places, mine was full of saintly lessons if your heart was wide open. In hospitals, humans are most vulnerable. They willingly or unwillingly must let their guards down, and they have to trust and depend on total strangers. It is very humbling, to say the least. Usually in such a place, ego has to go into its dormant state and, in my opinion, where it should remain for eternity.

In a hospital, human drama in every stage is out in the open for all to witness. Often, after we or someone we know gets critically ill or is dying, we crumble. As students, we crumbled along with the patients and their families to almost the same small pieces under the heavy burden. Witnessing and being a part of human suffering on a daily basis has its difficulties, especially when you are very young. In such an environment, you don't get to take your time to grow up. You sort of grow up over night.

Not all things that make you grow up in a hospital are considered suffering. In the beginning, there are mostly times of hardship where you get to learn your lesson often under very rough circumstances. Though your fate is being tested on an hourly basis, if you allow it, this is a place you can become saintly after many tears, heartaches and lessons. Even if your heart is too small, you are sort of forced by nature to become more compassionate in your caring for others.

At the end of our required four-year education, which at the time felt like a long, dreaded winter, we completed our metamorphosis beyond any shadow of a doubt, but without the few students who had to drop out. We emerged as beautiful butterflies.

I know and acknowledge the need and the importance of a nurse in human existence. Beyond the ideal glory job, I don’t think there is much glory in nursing. Like anyone else who has had hands-on job training around the critically ill, no one can ever claim they didn't cry at one time or another.

I remember questioning the existence of God through tears after witnessing the death of a young child with leukemia in the Pediatric Oncology unit. I remember feeling overwhelming sorrow, while watching a person shrivel right before my eyes, after hearing the news of losing a loved one in the emergency room. I remember being crazy afraid to forget to give someone their pain pill and cause them further suffering.    

There were a few occasions when the fear I felt was not for someone else, but was for me. Like the time when my teacher locked the door behind me, right after I had entered the male lock-down psychiatric unit. For years, I couldn't shake off the feeling of being dragged through the long hallways.

In reality, what had happened as soon as she locked the door behind me, a chain-smoking, smelly, male patient grabbed me by my arm and made me walk with him what seemed like an eternity until one of the unit nurses came to my rescue. It’s not that she really cared to rescue me because it wasn't a secret among students those days in Turkey that while most nurses sat behind their desk and chain-smoked, we had to do all their chores. And believe it or not, in 1987, I even remember smoking in the lounge of a surgery center where I worked in Shreveport, Louisiana. Wow! Imagine that!  Thank God, times have changed!

Sometimes, though not nearly enough, there were divine moments where your faith was restored and reminded you of the other side of the coin. Like the times I, along with other students, breathed in and out for long periods and began puffing with the women who were in labor, bringing new life into this world; or when I was the one delivering the news after just learning that after a long, fierce battle that someone was cancer-free, and together through tears of joy, we shared a life-affirming moment.

Although I remember some of those feelings and recall them as my memories, they are now mostly faded like background noise, and only occasionally occupy my mind.

But there is one memory of a moment still as fresh as the day of its happening. In my third year of nursing school, we were given more and more responsibilities, such as working in places like the Burn Care Units, Intensive Care Units and the operating rooms. By this time, I was becoming a cockier, seasoned pro and I knew it.  However, it soon became apparent how little I knew. I never will forget the moment when I carelessly walked into one of the rooms in the step- down Intensive Care Unit. I literally felt all my blood draining, rushing out of my body. I froze at the sight of a patient who was in a semi-coma.

There was a young girl in a hospital bed, her body propped up with the help of several pillows. Her head had slipped to its side and was now tilted at an angle. It almost looked as if she were looking down, but had lifted her head halfway to look at you without straightening her body. Her eyes were unnaturally open. After my initial shock wore off, I noticed a large ventilator with a thick, white tube going from the machine to an opening in her neck.

I later learned that she was in her early twenties and had slipped into a coma seven years earlier due to a brutal car accident. She now was in a semi coma, her life being sustained with the help of the external ventilator.  For me, the most haunting thing was her eyes. Her eyelids had atrophied due to years of not using them, leaving her eyes exposed. Although her eyes were open, they were empty like someone had sucked the life right out of them, but forgot to do the same thing to her body. She was alive, but without the presence of emotions. There appeared to be no signs of life in her.

After the first day, I somehow got used to her just lying there. Each day, we would care for her with the help of her devoted family. It was like taking care of an infant, but because her body was much larger, it made it harder for us to handle her. It usually took two of us to care for her needs. Besides the usual need to change her diaper, give her a bed bath, comb her hair and brush her teeth, there were added things, like cleaning the tracheotomy site, suctioning her airway, and nourishing her with a feeding tube.

Since her circulation was diminished, we would have to reposition her to prevent bedsores, which were deadly for anyone in her condition. When we turned her and tried to exercise her limbs, she would moan an almost invisible moan. At times, while I massaged her frail body with talc powder, I would think to myself, “Why bother, as if after all these years later, she will wake up and have a life that is worth living?” In my mind, I was thinking since she was not conscious of what was going on around her and could not control her bodily functions, she would not experience feelings nor would she have the ability to interact, experience awareness or make the choice that her life was not worth living.

After I spent two days a week with this girl for several months, I went into her room one day and found the bed empty.

“She must have passed away,” I thought. As I inched my way to the usual hustle of the busy nurse’s station, I was surprised at my conflicting emotions. On one hand, I felt the same emptiness inside of me as I did after the passing of each patient I had come to know.  On the other hand, I was happy for her. Her suffering finally had come to an end. Afraid of looking weak, I didn’t want to ask if she had died.

But soon I could not overcome my curiosity as I heard myself asking in a small voice, “Did she die?”

“No,” said one of the nurses.  “She went home!”

“She went home?” I repeated back, without being able to hide my shock.

“Yes, she went home.” repeated the nurse before handing me a list of things that had to be done that morning.

Apparently, one day, out of nowhere, she had regained her consciousness. Did that mean that she could now breathe on her own, and have voluntary movements? Did that mean she could now see when she looked? Did that mean she is now like the rest of us in a semi-coma in consciousness only? Her brain might be back to do its job and to take care and help sustain her body, but her state of mind will remain in the state of Intermittent Consciousness.

To tell you the truth, at the time, I was not awake enough to have noticed such thoughts. Not until years later did I have enough clarity to question what it means to wake up after seven years of being in a coma.

From that shocking moment up until now, many years have passed. Along the way, I experienced rare moments of pure joy, as if I could zoom in and see myself and everything around me with such clarity, in great detail. In those rare moments, I felt intense aliveness. I often felt like I could fly! It was as if I were a butterfly, who landed on each and every flower petal to take a closer look. I could smell scents I didn’t even know existed. I not only saw the colors of things, but the depth of the colors themselves. In those fleeting moments, I felt utter contentment, peace and happiness. I didn’t know to question where these feelings of bliss came from or if I had the power to make it happen more often. In my innocent ignorance, I attributed those moments of random happiness to external conditions outside of me because they usually happened during long, intimate moments, while dancing, or after a super long walk in the wilderness.

I thought that the other person or the condition was the cause of my happiness. So when I felt that way, I believed that I was in love with that person and wanted him to give me more of those moments. As for dancing, I went every weekend and danced for four or five hours nonstop. I didn’t understand that when I experienced those moments of joy, even if only for a split second, my overloaded brain stopped thinking and went into a meditative state where all mental chatter ceased. It was only then that I became aware of all the beauty around me. Since I had not heard about Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, or Eckhart Tolle at the time, I went on living my life on an automatic invisible life sustaining machine, wishing for more of those moments.

It took years of mental suffering before I learned the simple truth about living in the present moment. I seldom had moments of clarity. Conscious presence was a rare occurrence for me. Even when I had moments of clarity, I wasn't aware of them until years later. It would take me years to get to this point of feeling alive and being able to zoom into my inner self, as well as the inner self of all those other beings around me.

There is a real joy of knowing the way to true happiness that doesn’t depend on outer conditions.

Perhaps you will find the story of my Intermittent Consciousness and my search for enlightenment resonate with you, or better yet, start to awaken something within you.

Semi-Coma: Evolution of My Intermittent Consciousness Tour Page:

About the Author:

Gulten Dye was born and raised in a small town in Turkey and moved with her family to Istanbul as a small child.  It was there that she earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and worked as a nurse at a local hospital before moving to the Philippines with her boyfriend.

After being there a little over a year, they got married and a short while after that moved to ShreveportLouisiana where she immediately began her studies to be able to work as a Registered Nurse. While studying for her boards, she was allowed to work as a scrub technician in an operating room at a nearby surgery center. She passed her boards and worked in an operating room for many years before moving to Las VegasNevada there she worked at a busy University Medical Trauma Center as a staff nurse for several years until she earned the position of Charge Nurse.

By 2001, she was divorced and living with her two young sons.  Her desire to make more money became her impetus to start her own business, which soon became her sole source of income as her success grew.  She has never looked back.

Gulten found her talent and passion in creating one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces and sold them to well-known people, such as Celine Dion, Rachel Ray and Mary Higgins Clark.  She became an international success when her work showed on Entertainment Tonight and Insider and was for sale in the high-end casinos in Las Vegas and on high-end cruise liners. She then created a jewelry line called Metamorphosis, a line of interchangeable jewelry that brought her even greater success.

Gulten is also an author and self- published her first book Semi Coma - Evolution of my Intermittent Consciousness in 2011, currently selling on all digital media as well as in hard copy.  Her second book “The Missing Link” is awaiting publication in 2013.

In 2013, she opened her new concept store where she not only sells her own designs, but includes many local artists of different medium, including a local authors section.  In turn for being able to sell their artwork in her store, all artists have agreed to teach others their medium for the future generation free thinkers.

Gulten lives and creates in Las VegasNevada.

Visit her website at

Monday, May 26, 2014

Blog Tour: The Echoes of Love by Hannah Fielding

The Echoes of Love ‘Legendary’ Blog Tour: The romantic origins of jasmine

For the love of legends

For me, researching a book is just as enjoyable as writing it. I set each of my novels in a passionate, romantic country, and so that I can really transport my readers there, I immerse myself in the setting: its history, its scenery, its cuisine, its culture. Top of my research list are local legends – I love colourful, age-old stories; the more fantastical, the better!

Since I was a young girl, tucked up in bed and listening avidly to my governess weaving bedtime tales, I have loved legends. Fairytales too, of course – they sowed the seeds for my romantic nature – but legends fascinated me most: those that have stood the test of time, that offer intriguing explanations for the modern world, that are at once fantastical and yet, somehow, believable.

My novel The Echoes of Love, set in Venice, Tuscany and Sardinia, incorporates various Italian legends – told by the hero, Paolo, who is a raconteur extraordinaire, to my heroine, Venetia – and in my research files I collected many more. What better way to share some of these most romantic, magical and atmospheric tales but in this Echoes of Love ‘Legendary’ Blog Tour!

Today, I’m taking you to beautiful Tuscany, where Paolo has made his home…

The romantic origins of jasmine

In The Echoes of Love Venetia is persuaded to stay with Paolo in Tuscany to take up a mosaic restoration commission. Attempting to keep her distance from the enigmatic stranger who has employed her, she stays in a cottage in his grounds. I describe its garden as follows:

The cottage garden was a riot of colour, shimmering in the sun. Although on first sight it had seemed unkempt, Venetia had guessed at its luxuriance the night before in the dark and she had been right. The enclosure, rimmed by a stone parapet, was smothered in bougainvillea that fell in purple and yellow cascades to the cliffs below. The walls of the cottage were framed in jasmine and brilliant clusters of begonia. Polyanthus and tulips looked like sparkling gems in the beds scattered on the grass, and the apple tree in front of Venetia’s window was thick with white and rosy buds. Trickling splashes from the small brook running through the garden added a sort of tranquillity to the surroundings. The hovering breath and scent of spring was everywhere.

For me, the inclusion of jasmine in the description was essential, for associated with the flower are two wonderfully romantic legends.

The first Paolo relates to Venetia:

Once upon a time, there was a princess who was in love with the Sun, but failed to win his heart, so she committed suicide. From her ashes rose the Jasmine tree – the type that you see here. And because her love had been unrequited and she could no longer stand the sight of the Sun, she only bloomed at night and shed all her flowers before the Sun rose. That’s why this special strain of jasmine is called Night Jasmine.

‘That’s why,’ explains Paolo, ‘I think the rarest, most vital moments, are those lived at the highest pitch of being and are of greater worth than a drawn-out fulfillment of another kind.’

The second legend explains the proliferation of jasmine in Tuscany:

In the seventeenth century the Duke of Tuscany had a garden full of beautiful jasmine, which he had brought from the East. He was immensely proud of the flowers, but he guarded them jealously, and he banned anyone from taking a cutting and so sharing in his prize. But the gardener who tended the jasmine for the Duke defied him: he was poor and he was in love, and so he gave his love a jasmine flower as a token of his affection. The girl planted the cutting, and it flourished in the good Tuscan earth. As poor as her gardener beau, she took to selling cuttings at the market. Eventually, she and the gardener had enough money to marry and live happily together, and jasmine had become an established flower in Tuscany. To this day, in remembrance of the two sweethearts, many bridal bouquets incorporate jasmine.

So there you have it: next time you breathe in the sweet scent of jasmine, you can think of the passion of one unrequited love, and the strength and resilience of another, happy-ever-after love, all under the hot Tuscan sun.

Follow the tour

If you’d like to read more Italian legends like this, and keep up with the accompanying Very Venetian giveaway in which lots of romantic goodies are up for grabs, follow the Echoes of Love ‘Legendary’ Blog Tour this month:

1 May: Oh My Books!
7 May: Book Briefs
21 May: Simply Ali

WIN in the Very Venetian giveaway

At least one reader commenting on this post will WIN in the Very Venetian giveaway, with prizes totalling more than $600:

·         5 signed hardback copies of The Echoes of Love
·         10 signed paperback copies of The Echoes of Love
·         3 romantic Venetian masks

·         Lots of fabulously colourful Murano glass goodies: 16 pendants, 2 bracelets, 2 paperweights and a vase
Anyone who comments on a blog tour stop post will be entered in the giveaway. Simply comment below, including your email address so that Hannah can contact the winners. Good luck!

Book trailer

Book synopsis

Seduction, passion and the chance for new love. A terrible truth that will change two lives forever.
Venetia Aston-Montagu has escaped to Italy’s most captivating city to work in her godmother’s architectural practice, putting a lost love behind her. For the past ten years she has built a fortress around her heart, only to find the walls tumbling down one night of the carnival when she is rescued from masked assailants by an enigmatic stranger, Paolo Barone.

Drawn to the powerfully seductive Paolo, despite warnings of his Don Juan reputation and rumours that he keeps a mistress, Venetia can’t help being caught up in the smouldering passion that ignites between them.
When she finds herself assigned to a project at his magnificent home deep in the Tuscan countryside, Venetia must not only contend with a beautiful young rival, but also come face to face with the dark shadows of Paolo’s past that threaten to come between them.

Can Venetia trust that love will triumph, even over her own demons? Or will Paolo’s carefully guarded, devastating secret tear them apart forever?

Book excerpt 

The clock struck midnight just as Venetia went past the grand eighteenth-century mirror hanging over the mantelpiece in the hall. Instinctively she looked into it and her heart skipped a beat. In the firelight she noticed that he was there again, an almost illusory figure, leaning against the wall at the far end of the shadowy room, steady eyes intense, watching her from behind his black mask. An illusory figure indeed, because when Venetia turned around he was gone.

Venetia shivered. Nanny Horren’s voice resounded through her head, reminding her of the strange Celtic superstitions that the Scottish governess used to tell her. One in particular came to mind. ‘Turn off the light and look into the mirror by firelight at midnight on Shrove Tuesday,’ the old woman would whisper to the impressionable and imaginative teenage Venetia, ‘and if you see a face reflected behind your own, it’ll be the face of the love of your life, the man you will marry someday.’

Was this what had just happened to Venetia? Was this stranger the love of her life?

Rubbish, she remonstrated, laughing uneasily into her own eyes, you’re mad! Haven’t you learnt your lesson? Venetia had indulged in such fantasies several years ago and had only managed to get hurt. Now, she knew better. Still, she did not move away. Venetia leant closer to the mirror that reflected her pale, startled face in the flickering light, as tremors of the warm feelings of yester love suddenly flooded her being. For a few moments she seemed to lose all sense of where she was and felt as though she stood inside a globe, watching the wheel of time turning back ten years.

Gareth Jordan Carter. ‘Judd’. It was a diminutive of Jordan, chosen by Venetia who hated the name Gareth and didn’t care much for the name Jordan either. Judd had been her first love, and as far as Venetia was concerned, her last. She had been young and innocent then; only eighteen. Today, at twenty-eight, she liked to think she was a woman of the world, who would not allow herself to be trapped by the treacherous illusions of passion, however appealing they might seem. She had paid a high price for her naivety and impetuosity.

Venetia tried to shake herself clear of those haunting phantasms and her thoughts ambled back to the masked stranger – well, almost a stranger.

Their brief encounter had occurred the evening of the first night of Il Carnevale di Venezia, ten days before Shrove Tuesday …
It was nearly seven-thirty and the shops were beginning to shut down for the night. The wind that had blown all day had dropped, and a slight haze veiled the trees, as if gauze had been hung in front of everything that was more than a few feet away. The damp air was soaked with silence.

Venetia tightened the belt of her coat around her slim waist and lifted the fur collar snugly about her neck. The sound of her footsteps echoed off the pavement as she hurried towards the Rialto Bridge from Piazza San Marco, a solitary figure in an almost deserted street. She was on her way to catch thevaporetto water bus, which would drop her off at Palazzo Mendicoli where she had an apartment. A few huddled pedestrians could be seen on the opposite pavement, and there was not much traffic on the great inky stretch of water of the Grand Canal.

Suddenly Venetia saw two figures spring out in front of her from the surrounding darkness. They were enveloped in carnevale cloaks, with no visible faces, only a spooky blackness where they should have been. A hand materialised from under the all-encompassing wrap of one of the sinister creatures and grabbed at her bag. Chilled to the bone, Venetia tried to scream but the sound froze in her throat. Struggling, she hung onto the leather pouch which was looped over her shoulder and across her front as she tried to lift her knee to kick him in the groin, but her aggressors were prepared. An arm was thrown around her throat from the back and the second figure produced a knife.

Just as he was going to slash at the strap of her bag, an imposing silhouette emerged from nowhere and with startling speed its owner swung at Venetia’s attacker with his fist, knocking him off balance. With a grunt of pain the man fell backwards, tripping over his accomplice who gave a curse, and they both tumbled to the ground. Then, picking themselves up in a flash, they took to their heels and fled into the hazy gloom.

Va tutto bene, are you alright?’ The stranger’s light baritone voice broke through Venetia’s disoriented awareness, and he looked down anxiously into her large amber eyes.

‘Yes, yes, I think so,’ she panted, her hands going to her throat.

‘Are you hurt at all?’

‘No, no just a little shaken, thank you.’

‘You’re shivering. You’ve had a bad shock and you need a warm drink. Come. There’s a caffeteria that serves the best hot chocolate in Venice, just a few steps from here. It’ll do you good.’ Without waiting for a response, he took Venetia’s arm and led the way down the narrow street.

Venetia’s knees felt like jelly and her teeth were chattering. ‘Thanks,’ she murmured, still trying to catch her breath, her heart pounding, and let herself be guided by her tall, broad-shouldered rescuer, who seemed to have taken the situation into his hands.

Thus does Fate cast her thunderbolts into our lives, letting them fall with a feather-like touch, dulling our senses to the storm they would cause should we realise their devastating powers.

They sat in silence at a table in a far-off corner of the crowded caffeteria. There was too much noise to talk and Venetia was exhausted, so she concentrated on appraising the man sitting opposite her as she listened to the music playing: Mina’s nostalgic 1960 love song, ‘Il Cielo in una Stanza’, the unashamedly romantic hit that was so Italian, and which was therefore still frequently played as a classic all over the country.

Venetia’s guardian angel looked more like Lucifer than a celestial being, with his tempestuous blue eyes, curiously bright against the warm tan of his skin, which slanted a fraction upwards under heavy, dark brows when he smiled. They were staring intently at her now with an emotion which puzzled her, and for a few seconds she found herself helplessly staring back into them. It was like gazing into shimmering water.

Strong, masculine features graced his nut-brown face beneath a thick crop of raven-black hair, sleek and shining, swept back from a wide forehead. He wasn’t good-looking in the classical sense, his face was too craggy for that immediate impact, but he was a striking man who emanated controlled power, someone used to making decisions who would not be swayed by any argument or sentiment; a hard man. Still, his steeliness was tempered by the enigmatic curve that lifted the corners of his generous mouth into a promise of laughter; this, coupled with the deep cleft in the centre of his chin, gave him a roguish expression that Venetia found appealing.

The waiter brought over a cup of hot chocolate, a double espresso and a plate of biscotti which he said were offered con i complimenti della casa. Her rescuer was obviously a regular customer.

Venetia took a few sips of the thick, warm brew. She felt herself revive as it trickled down her throat, becoming a warm glow in her stomach which reflected on her cheeks.

The stranger smiled at her. ‘Feeling better?’

She nodded. ‘Thank you, you’ve been so very kind.’

His smile broadened. ‘You are welcome, signorina. It is always a pleasure to come to the rescue of a beautiful lady. My name is Paolo Barone, at your service.’

Venetia had been working in Italy for over three years as an architect cum interior designer in her godmother’s architect firm, and was used to the gallant ways and the charm of Italian men. She found their smooth repartee refreshing, and sometimes even amusing, but never took them too seriously. Paolo Barone was different. Maybe it was because she was in shock and felt vulnerable, but nevertheless her heart warmed to this man, who, although not that young, was still in his prime – middle to late thirties perhaps – and she relaxed. Still, even though the circumstances in this case were unusual, Venetia was not used to accepting invitations from strangers, so she deliberately made no conversation; and to her surprise neither did he.
As she raised the warm cup to her lips with both hands, she was aware of him looking at her directly with unabashed interest. Was he trying to decipher her, she wondered? Relieved that the hot drink’s effect on her cheeks was hiding the slight confusion she felt beneath, she sipped a little too quickly and cooled her lip with the tip of her tongue. Then realising what she had done, she glanced up to see his expression deepen into something else, which made her instantly lower her eyes.

When she had finished her chocolate, Paolo smiled at her. ‘Andiamo? Shall we go?’ he asked, cocking his head to one side and looking at Venetia with curiosity.

Sparkling hazel eyes flecked with gold smiled back at him through long black lashes that somehow did not belong with her chestnut hair. ‘Yes. Thank you for the hot chocolate. It is really the best chocolate I’ve had in Venice.’

He helped her with her coat, lifting her glorious long locks over the fur collar. At five foot seven inches, Venetia was tall but as he faced her and began buttoning the garment himself, she noticed again how he towered over her. His hands were strong and masculine; she had a curious sensation of warm familiarity, as though he had performed this act with her several times before. Yet mingled with that feeling came one of embarrassment; his touch seemed a rather intimate gesture instead of the impersonal indifference of a stranger, and she drew away with a little nervous laugh.

‘Thank you, that won’t be necessary.’

He held her gaze intently for a moment, as if surprised at what she had said, and she looked down again, for some reason unable to meet those midnight-blue eyes and their burning intensity. Then he smiled and held the door open.

‘By the way, I don’t know your name,’ Paolo said as they stepped out into the misty night and began walking towards the Grand Canal.

‘Venetia. Venetia Aston-Montagu.’

He quirked a black eyebrow. ‘A very romantic name, Venetia, like our beautiful city. But you’re not Italian? You speak Italian like a native.’

She laughed. ‘Thank you for the compliment. No, I’m actually English, but I was named by my godmother, who is Venetian. She was my mother’s best friend and she insisted I learn Italian.’

‘So you’re on holiday here?’

‘No, I live here.’


‘No, in the Dorsoduro district. I need to catch the vaporetto, as the entrance to the building where I live is on the Grand Canal.’

‘My launch is moored across the street. Dorsoduro is on my way. It would be a pleasure for me to drop you off.’

‘No, thank you. You’ve already been very kind.’

‘It’s late and snow has been forecast for tonight. The vaporetto is bound to be almost empty. I wouldn’t want you to come to any harm, signorina. I will give you a lift.’ He spoke quietly with an air of command, his hand coming up to her elbow, but she avoided it hastily.

It was very tempting to accept, but Venetia would not let herself. This stranger was a little too attentive, she thought, and though she had been grateful for his kind invitation to a hot chocolate when she was in distress, and could still recall the feel of his hands buttoning up her coat, she was not in the habit of being picked up by men.

‘No really, thank you very much. I’m used to travelling by vaporetto. It’s quite safe.’

Paolo did not insist, and for the rest of the way they walked in silence through the narrow, tortuous alleys, Venetia conscious of his nearness in every fibre of her being.

It was bitterly cold. The wind was whistling and a bank of threatening cloud hung over Venice like a white cloak. As they arrived at the waterbus stop, a few snowflakes started to come down. A couple of gondolas, their great steel blades looming dangerously out of the soft velvety mist, glided by swiftly over the gently lapping waters.

‘Are you sure you don’t want to change your mind? It looks as though there’ll be a blizzard and the vaporetto may be delayed.’ He looked at her with a polite, but guarded smile and she felt a momentary pang of regret at her determination to escape him.

Paolo’s pride was spared a new refusal as they heard the croaky purr of thevaporetto announcing its lazy approach.

‘Here comes my bus,’ Venetia said cheerfully. ‘I’ll be home in no time.’

The boat appeared and presently drew up at the small station, bumping the landing stage as it did so.
‘Thanks again for all your help, signore,’ she went on, smiling as she held out her small, perfectly manicured hand to say goodbye. The young man took it in his own, which was large and warm, and held it a trifle longer than would be usual. Venetia stood there with waves of heat passing over her, her senses suddenly heightened at this contact. She abruptly withdrew her hand.

His blue hawk eyes gazed down at her, intent though unfathomable, and he paused uncertainly. ‘Will you dine with me tomorrow night?’ he uttered in a low voice.

It would be exciting to dine with Paolo, she thought, but you must run from him, urged the echo of an insistent voice within her; this man has the power to hurt you.

‘I’m so sorry,’ she replied stiffly. ‘I’m afraid I’m busy.’

‘That’s a pity.’ He sounded as if he meant it, but did not insist, leaving her feeling curiously disappointed. He held out his hand again, silently, and she took it, also without a word. There was nothing lax or vague in his firm grasp. Like many people, Venetia was swift to gauge character by the quality of a handclasp and had known many apparently vigorous men whose fingers were like limp fish. Once more, she was aware that Paolo’s large, sensitive hands held a strength and vitality that stirred her deeply.

She hurried onto the vaporetto, suddenly eager to flee, but as the waterbus pulled away from the quay, she watched him go up the stairs and disappear into the snow-white night with a strange sinking of the heart, wondering if she would ever see him again.

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 Hannah Fielding bio

Hannah Fielding is a novelist, a dreamer, a traveller, a mother, a wife and an incurable romantic. The seeds for her writing career were sown in early childhood, spent in Egypt, when she came to an agreement with her governess Zula: for each fairy story Zula told, Hannah would invent and relate one of her own. Years later – following a degree in French literature, several years of travelling in Europe, falling in love with an Englishman, the arrival of two beautiful children and a career in property development – Hannah decided after so many years of yearning to write that the time was now. Today, she lives the dream: she writes full time, splitting her time between her homes in Kent, England, and the South of France, where she dreams up romances overlooking breathtaking views of the Mediterranean.
Her first novel, Burning Embers, is a vivid, evocative love story set against the backdrop of tempestuous and wild Kenya of the 1970s, reviewed by one newspaper as ‘romance like Hollywood used to make’. Her new novel, The Echoes of Love, is a story of passion, betrayal and intrigue set in the romantic and mysterious city of Venice and the beautiful landscape of Tuscany. It was picked by The Sun newspaper as one of the most romantic books ever written.

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