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Wishing in Rome -- Jennifer Skully


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Wishing in Rome
Once Again, Book 2
©2021Jennifer Skully

“Jennifer Skully's writing keeps getting better and better. I love the smart dialogue and the even smarter characters that populate her books!”~ Amazon Reviewer

“I can't wait to read all Jennifer Skully’s books!” ~ Amazon Reviewer

It’s never too late for wishes to come true…

Dana and Carol, best friends their whole lives, planned the trip of a lifetime to Rome. They'd plotted every detail, from touring the Colosseum to throwing coins in the Trevi Fountain and making wishes. When Carol dies suddenly, Dana is bereft—even more than when her husband left her for another woman. Then a bequest from Carol arrives, telling her to take the trip to Rome they’d planned together. Dana sets out on the journey, determined to rediscover the woman she used to be and find the woman she wants to become. Carol’s final instruction is to make a wish in the Trevi Fountain. But how do you make an impossible wish for the only thing you truly want— to have your best friend back with you?

Marshall Garrison is all business, and so is this trip to Rome. But a chance meeting with Dana Shaw in the Colosseum changes everything. He doesn’t believe in forever-after love, but still, there’s something exceptional about this brave divorcée, gallantly traveling alone. He sets out to be her guide and her friend, but when he discovers her poignant story, he wants more— to help her believe in wishing for the impossible. And in the process, he might even remember that business is only a substitute for the things he used to wish for...

A later in life holiday romance that will take you away from it all...

More in the Once Again series…

Dreaming of Provence
Wishing in Rome
Dancing in Ireland
Under the Northern Lights
Stargazing on the Orient Express
Memories of Santorini

Read Excerpt

Wishing in Rome
© 2021Jennifer Skully

“What you need is an affair.” Carol’s pace slowed only slightly as they started up the last hill.

“I am not going to be like my husband. Ex-husband,” Dana emphasized, “and have an affair. Besides you have to be married to have an affair.”

Best friends, they were as different as vegan versus carnivore, not that either of them was vegan. Dana was taller while Carol was petite. Dana wore her red hair past her shoulders while Carol changed styles and colors like hair was a fashion accessory. This week she was a striking brunette. Next to her, Dana felt frumpy since she hadn’t dyed the gray out of her hair in at least three months.

They walked in the park three days a week, a five-mile round trip along the fire road to the ridge. At the top, you could see the Pacific Ocean. Carol also worked out at the gym two days and was in better shape. Dana was winded, mostly because Carol managed to ask enough questions that Dana did all the talking on the way up the hill.

Carol tsked. She wasn’t even out of breath. “You don’t have to be married. An affair just means casual and of short duration. Preferably it’s with someone you don’t know so you never have to see him again once it’s over.”

“How on earth am I going to find a man? I’m not in the PTA anymore. And all my clients are female.” When her two daughters were in middle school, Dana opened a bookkeeping service she ran out of the house. She hadn’t started it thinking she’d need the income if Anthony ever left her; she’d just needed to fill up the time between carpooling and soccer and swim meets.

“Operative phrase here is someone you don’t know and don’t have to see again,” Carol said in a singsong voice.

“So I should troll bars?”

Her best friend always had an answer. That’s what Dana loved about her. “What you need is a vacation. Preferably in a foreign country. You always wanted to go to Rome.” Carol poked Dana on the shoulder. “That’s it, you need a trip to Rome to find a gorgeous, sexy, virile Italian. Somebody younger than you so he’s got a lot of stamina.” She imitated a manly growl and punched the air. “You’ll stay at the best hotels, eat the most delectable food, and have an affair with a scrumptious Italian.” She held up her hands as if she were a genie who’d just granted Dana three wishes.

Dana looked around to make sure a jogger wasn’t sneaking up behind them, overhearing anything about scrumptious, sexy, virile Italians. But it was only eight o’clock in the morning, and in February, a little too cool and a little too early for most walkers. After climbing the hills, though, Dana had her jacket wrapped around her waist and her gloves in her pocket.

“I know you set me up comfortably in the divorce.” Which had been finalized six months ago. Carol had been Dana’s divorce attorney, and she was the best in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Dana should have known Anthony was cheating since he hadn’t made love to her in nine months, but she’d told herself that was only natural after almost three decades of marriage.

“But I can’t just fly off to Rome and stay in the lap of luxury.”

“Of course you can.” Carol flapped a hand at her. “You’re just afraid.”

“I’m not afraid.” Dana let her eyes go wide with amazement. “I have the most scathingly brilliant idea.” Just like Hayley Mills in The Trouble with Angels, one of her and Carol’s favorite movies when they were kids. They’d imagined themselves as those mischievous girls. “You have to come with me”

Carol scrunched up her face. “No way. If I go with you, we’ll do everything together. And you’ll never make the opportunity to find your gorgeous Italian. No.” Carol shook her head with determination. “You have to go by yourself.”

“But I don’t want to go alone.” Dana thought of all things she’d have to take care of. It really was too much effort to even think about it. And who wanted to tour amazing sites like the Colosseum and the Forum and the Vatican all by themselves?

“I can see your mind working. But we can plan this together, I promise. I’ll help you book everything. No pressure on you. Then all you have to do is get on the plane, check into your room, and have the best week of your life with a virile young Italian.”

“There’s no way I’m finding a sexy, virile young Italian.”

“You underestimate yourself. You’re gorgeous.”

Dana snorted. “I’m fifty.”

“If sixty is the new forty, that means you’re more like thirty.”

“Now that’s a stretch,” she scoffed.

“And while you’re there, you have to a make a wish in the Trevi Fountain. Just like in Three Coins in the Fountain.” Which was another of their favorite movies when they were kids. They’d had so many slumber parties, staying up to watch all the old movies on late night TV.

“I wouldn’t know what to wish for.”

“Why not wish to be Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, riding around on the back of a Vespa with Gregory Peck?” They had definitely loved their old movies.

“Honestly, I don’t have any wishes.”

Carol rolled her eyes. “Everyone has wishes. Seriously, what do you want the rest of your life to look like?”

They’d had this discussion several times since the divorce. “I just want my girls to get married and give me grandbabies.” The girls were both in college now.

“That’s what you wish for their lives. What about yours?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t had time to think about it yet.” Dana was still sorting out the house, getting rid of things Anthony hadn’t taken with him when he left her for a prettier, skinnier, younger woman.

“Wish for what you want most in the world. If you’re traveling all the way to Rome and the Trevi Fountain—” Carol spread her hands wide. “—it absolutely has to come true.”

Dana didn’t know what she wanted most in the world. A husband who didn’t cheat? Her life to go back to normal? Though she could say anything to Carol, she didn’t want to sound self-pitying. So she laughed and said, “You’re crazy.”

“I’m not crazy. I just know what my bestie needs. An affair with a sexy young Italian who will worship at your feet and make you feel like a desirable woman in your prime. Which is exactly you are. I tell you, you’ll come back a new woman.”

Dana didn’t want to be a new woman. She just wanted the security she’d had before the divorce.

Carol stumbled then, grabbed her head, her voice suddenly strained. “Oh my God.”

Dana’s heart almost stopped. “What’s the matter?”

“My head. Oh my God, my head. It hurts so bad. Feels like something popped right here.” Carol pointed just behind her right ear. “Oh my God.” She held her head in her hands, gasping. “This is bad, really bad.”

The pain had come on so quickly, and absolute terror gripped Dana. Was it a stroke? God help her. They were two miles inside the park. How was she supposed to get Carol back down? She didn’t have a single bar on her phone. She always lost cell reception on the hill. “Can you make it back down?”

But Carol sank to the ground, still holding her head. “Oh my God. I don’t think I can even walk.”

“Okay, okay,” she soothed, sitting beside Carol, pulling her close. Until finally Carol laid her head in Dana’s lap, tears pooling in her eyes, sliding down the side of her nose as she mewled softly like an injured kitten. Dana stroked her arm, up and down, up and down, helpless and useless.

There was no one in either direction who could help, and Dana couldn’t just sit there. But if she could get to the flats at the top of this last hill, her phone would work again. It wasn’t that far, just around the next corner. “Okay, I’ll run up the hill where I can call an ambulance. Then I’ll run right back to you, I promise. Okay?”

“Please don’t leave me,” Carol whispered.

“I have to. I don’t know what’s wrong, but we need help.” They needed it right now. If she didn’t move, Carol could die. Or be paralyzed. Or any of the other horrible things that happened if this was a stroke.

As if the heavens opened up and rained a miracle on them, a biker flew around the corner at the top of the hill above them, breaking hard when he saw them slumped in the middle of the road. “Are you all right?”

“My friend needs an ambulance. Right away. Do you have your cell phone with you?” Her voice was pathetic and pleading and she didn’t care. When he nodded, she begged, “Can you get somewhere with reception and call an ambulance?”

“Yeah, sure. I’ll blow downhill, faster than going back up.”

They saw the guy every day on their walk. He was older, in amazing shape, and the quickest choice. He took off, flying away down the hill.

“Everything will be okay. It’ll be okay,” she kept repeating to Carol. And herself. “It’s just a headache.” Dana was terrified it was something far worse. A brain tumor? She tried to tamp down the panic, continuing the soothing caress along Carol’s arm.

A middle-aged park ranger arrived first, tall, lanky, glasses a little dirty, his hair a frizzy mass beneath his hat. Dana wanted to throw herself at him, hug him, thank him, beg him to do something.

“I don’t know what’s wrong.” Looking up at him, Carol’s head still pillowed in her lap, Dana’s heart pounded so loudly she could barely hear her own words. “She just suddenly got this terrible headache.”

“And you are?” he asked.

“Dana Shaw. She’s my best friend.”

Dana was an only child, and Carol had been her best friend since they were eight years old. They’d double-dated through high school, shared every heartache, gone to the same university, shared a dorm room, fallen truly, madly, deeply in love at the same time. They’d worn the same wedding dress because money was tight and they were the same size back then, except for their height. Carol had coached her through the births of her two daughters. She’d held Dana’s hand when her mom was dying of cancer ten years ago, and when her dad orphaned her by heart attack only months later. Carol understood her, loved her, always supported her no matter what.

She was going to throw up or pass out.

Dear God, please let everything be okay.

The ranger hunkered down beside Carol, his voice low and deep and oddly comforting. “Can you tell me your name, ma’am?”

“Carol Hunt,” she murmured without opening her eyes.

He took out a small spiral pad. “Can you tell me your age?”

“Fifty.” Her words were barely audible.

“I can answer all those questions for her,” Dana said.

The ranger waved her off. “I know. But we need to see how much she can answer on her own.”

Oh God, it was a stroke. He asked Carol what day of the week it was, what year, where she was. She knew all the answers.

Dana rubbed Carol’s back, even as her panic reached new heights and she was afraid she’d scream. “Can’t we just drive her down, get her to a hospital?”

“The ambulance will be here in a minute,” the ranger assured her.

Meanwhile, more tears leaked from Carol’s eyes. She never cried. Not at weddings or baby christenings, not even at funerals.

Finally Dana heard the shriek of sirens.

She’d never felt such terror and relief in her life.