Gianna Santi was still in a daze as she walked through the door of her Prati penthouse. The previous night's events seemed distant and surreal, and at the same time, resoundingly clear. It was almost like the memory was reality and this daylight-drenched world was the dream. She glanced down at her cell phone in her right hand and scrolled through the missed calls. Fourteen from her roommate, Daphne Martelli. Eight from that first guy she met at the club, and five from the second. Three from her agent. And one, one from the man she had spent most of the last twelve hours with, when he called her phone while they looked for it before they realized she'd left it on the driver's seat of her Bugatti. The man she never would have acknowledged if it hadn't been for the blip of concern for a nervous-looking citizen stranded in the wrong side of town. The man whose grace and innocence charmed her in a way she had never before experienced. The man who had no idea who she was, and thus, harbored no preconceptions about the kind of girl she was or what falling into her company would mean for him. Last night, for the first time in years, she was just Gianna.
Her wandering placed her in the dining room, where her roommate, Daphne, was sitting at the head of their large antique table with an assortment of photographs, pages, and magazines lay spread out before her. Gianna recognized herself in a few of the pictures. Daphne was a junior editor at Vogue Italia
, a position that had been secured by Gianna and her connections. The two had a mutually beneficial partnership that had since evolved into a real relationship. Though she knew Daphne wouldn't be happy with her, Gianna considered her roommate to be her only true friend: she knew Gianna better than anyone, and had a remarkable amount of tolerance for her antics. In light of last night, though, Gianna had a feeling she could add one more name to the friend list soon enough.
Daphne's gaze was predictably unsympathetic when she lifted it from her work. “Well, look who finally decided to make an appearance,” she said. “Do you have any idea what time it is?”
“One forty-four in the afternoon, I think,” Gianna answered, oblivious to Daphne's tone.
“One forty-six,” Daphne replied. “Which makes it exactly ten hours and thirty-nine minutes since you swore
up and down that you would call me when you left the club. You know
I worry about you, G. I spent hours on the phone trying to track you down! Are you trying
to give me wrinkles?”
“Sorry. I left my phone in the car. I thought I would only be gone a minute.”
Daphne arched an eyebrow. “So which one was it: the rugby player, or the wannabe rock star?”
“Neither. That idiot Benedetta tried to pick a fight with me about an hour after you left. I dumped my drink over her head and left. Paparazzi followed me, but I ditched them cutting through alleys in the Sorcio district.” She sighed wistfully. “That's where I found him
Daphne didn't know what she should be the most surprised about
: that Gianna left the club without a new boy-toy in tow, that she was all starry-eyed over someone she picked up off the streets in the Sorcio district, or that she was able to take her million-euro, custom-designed Bugatti into one of the worst areas of Rome and live to tell the tale. “Okay... what
Gianna snapped out of her dreamlike state long enough to realize she probably wasn't making much sense. She couldn't really blame Daphne for her reactions: the whole incident was very out-of-character, and she even had to ask herself if it was really happening while it was taking place. “I ditched the paparazzi, and I was turning around to come home when I saw this guy in a suit standing next to some cheap-looking import. He looked lost, and scared, and I felt like I had to stop. A guy dressed like that, and obviously naïve, wouldn't have lasted long in that neighborhood. What really got my attention, though, were his eyes.”
“His eyes,” Daphne repeated skeptically. Gianna never went for the eyes; she wasn't the sentimental type. She usually favored biceps.
“Oh, you should have seen
them, D,” Gianna gushed. “They were so strange... and so beautiful... anyway, so I stopped...”
Daphne listened patiently while Gianna recounted the series of events: how she let the man use her phone to call a cab, how she waited with him for a few minutes, and how she decided to give him a ride when the cab hadn't arrived yet and she noticed a group of men gathering at the end of the street. She took him to his apartment near Sapienza University, where he was teaching. An academic
, Daphne thought. That's new
. “Did he say what he teaches?”
“Applied mathematics,” Gianna answered. “Well... not teaching exactly. He's on loan from Oxford, doing research, and teaching one or two classes that are so advanced and highly obscure that no student would dare take them.” She giggled. “His words.”
Strange eyes... applied mathematics... Sapienza... Oxford... why does this sound familiar?
Daphne wondered. Maybe she'd been looking at the photo spreads for too long. That reminded her: she had a deadline to meet, and she was a long way from being done. She resumed her work, while funneling Gianna enough questions to maintain the illusion of interest. “So then what?”
“It was late when we got there – almost four,” Gianna continued. “He could see I was tired, so he invited me in for a cup of coffee.”
“And then you slept with him,” Daphne finished. She never thought Gianna would go for a math professor, but then again, she supposed her roommate had to find new ways to surprise her.
“No,” Gianna answered. “It wasn't like that, not at all. I fell asleep on his couch while he was making the coffee. I slept almost to noon. I woke up, we talked some more, and then I came home. We never even touched each other, not even a handshake.”
The story had her full attention again. Daphne knew what kind of late-night habits Gianna had. Because she was responsible, and, for the most part, discreet, Daphne accepted it and didn't meddle or judge. She'd never seen Gianna so content after nothing had happened with a man – indeed, she didn't think she'd seen Gianna this content, ever. “Gianna, nothing about this makes sense,” Daphne said. “You found some British math professor on the streets in Sorcio in the middle of the night, nothing even happened, and yet you've obviously fallen head over heels for him. Why?”
“Why, indeed,” said Gianna. “Actually, he's not British, he's Norwegian. He studied at Oxford and teaches there now.”
Daphne didn't care about the details. She just wanted to know how this mysterious man had bewitched the most sought-after woman in Europe, and how she was going to protect Gianna if she became involved with someone she actually cared about. “So what's so special about this guy? He... really doesn't seem like your type.”
Gianna closed her eyes and smiled. “Exactly,” she said. “He was so kind, so genuine
. He listened, he took care of me, he even cooked breakfast and made
me eat it.” She laughed. “It was good, too. Oh, Daphne, it was so wonderful. I just have to see him again. Anders is the first man who ever-”
“Anders,” Daphne interrupted, and then her eyes widened as it all came together. “Anders Lødemel
The shock of hearing his full name from Daphne snapped Gianna right out of her infatuated haze. “How could you have possibly
“Yesterday's paper. There's a picture and an article on the first page in the science and technology section.” Daphne picked up the newspaper in front of her and began flipping through it to find the area in question. “Normally I don't give it a second look, but his eyes were just so... interesting
. Strange, but the longer I looked, captivating. Ah! Here.”
Gianna stood up and walked over, needing to see it herself to believe it. “That's him,” she said at once, and touched the newsprint photograph. “That's my Anders.” His unmistakable eyes, nearly colorless except for the sbutle blue-gray tint and a dark ring around the outer edge of the iris, stared back at her with the same intensity and perception they had when she first encountered him in that dark alley. “You don't forget eyes like that.”
“No, you don't,” Daphne admitted. “That's why I remembered his name, too. I read the article. I forgot most of it, but it came back as you were talking – Norwegian, Oxford, mathematics, the eyes. The first name was the final trigger. Gianna, this guy is huge
. They say he's the most brilliant mathematician of the last hundred years. The university practically threw a parade when he decided to come here for his research. What was he doing in a Sorcio alley in the middle of the night?”
“He was on his way home from a dinner party his colleagues had thrown to welcome him to the university, and he got lost,” Gianna said. “He told me he was a mathematician, but he never made himself out to be a big deal. He had no idea who I was, either, and I saw no need to tell him.”
“If nothing else, I would think your car
would tip him off that you're filthy, stinking rich.”
Gianna shrugged. “Maybe he thinks all Italians drive Bugattis.” And wear Christian Lacroix originals when they're out for a leisurely drive in the middle of the night.
“We were getting along fine under the impression that we were both ordinary citizens.”
“Ordinary,” Daphne scoffed. “Nothing about either of you is ordinary. I hope you know what you're doing.”
She didn't. She rarely ever did. Gianna made life up as she went along, and for the most part, it worked: she was rich, famous, beautiful, and in demand. She was also frigid, lonely, and manipulative, and the change that something as simple as an act of kindness and a few hours in the company of someone who didn't recognize her was like nothing Daphne had ever seen before. For better, or for worse, this chance encounter would affect her forever.
Hours on the phone