His Lost-and-Found Bride

By: Scarlet Wilson

 PROLOGUE

 ‘SIGNOR! SIGNOR, VENGA ORA!’

 Logan Cascini was on his feet in an instant. As an architect who specialised in restoring old Italian buildings, to get the call to help transform the Palazzo di Comparino’s chapel for a royal wedding was a dream come true.

 The property at the vineyard was sprawling and over the years areas had fallen into disrepair. His work was painstaking, but he only employed the most specialised of builders, those who could truly re-create the past beauty of the historic chapel in the grounds and the main palazzo. Most of the buildings he worked on were listed and only traditional building methods could be used to restore them to their former glory.

 Timescales were tight in order to try and get the chapel restored for the royal wedding of Prince Antonio of Halencia and his bride-to-be, Christina Rose. No expense was being spared—which was just as well considering he had twenty different master builders on-site.

 ‘Signor! Signor, venga ora!’

 He left his desk in the main palazzo and rushed outside to the site of the chapel. His stomach was twisting. Please don’t let them have found anything that would hold up the build. The last thing he needed was some unexpected hundred-year-old bones or a hoard of Roman crockery or coins.

 This was Italy. It wouldn’t be the first time something unexpected had turned up on a restoration project.

 He reached the entrance to the ancient chapel and the first thing that struck him was the fact there was no noise. For the last few weeks the sound of hammers on stone and the chatter of Italian voices had been constant. Now every builder stood silently, all looking towards one of the walls.

 The interior of the chapel had been redecorated over the years. Much of the original details and fa?ade had been hidden. The walls had been covered first in dark, inlaid wood and then—strangely—painted over with a variety of paints. Every time Logan came across such ‘improvements’ he cringed. Some were just trends of the time—others were individual owners’ ideas of what made the building better. In restoration terms that usually meant that original wood and stone had been ripped away and replaced with poorer, less durable materials. Sometimes the damage done was irreparable.

 His eyes widened as he strode forward into the chapel. Light was streaming through the side windows and main door behind him. The small stained-glass windows behind the altar were muted and in shadow. But that didn’t stop the explosion of riotous colour on the far wall.

 A few of the builders had been tasked with pulling down the painted wooden panelling to expose the original walls underneath.

 There had been no indication at all that this was what would be found.

 Now he understood the shouts. Now he understood the silence.

 Beneath the roughly pulled-back wood emerged a beautiful fresco. So vibrant, the colours so fresh it looked as if it had just been painted.

 Logan’s heart rate quickened as he reached the fresco. He started shaking his head as a smile became fixed on his face.

 This was amazing. It was one of the most traditional of frescoes, depicting the Madonna and Child. Through his historical work Logan had seen hundreds of frescoes, even attending a private viewing of the most famous of all at the Sistine Chapel.

 But the detail in this fresco was stunning and being able to see it so close was a gift. He could see every line, every brushstroke. The single hairs on Mary’s head, baby Jesus’s eyelashes, the downy hair on his skin, the tiny lines around Mary’s eyes.

 Both heads in the fresco were turned upwards to the heavens, where the clouds were parted, a beam of light illuminating their faces.

 Part of the fresco was still obscured. Logan grabbed the nearest tool and pulled back the final pieces of broken wood, being careful not to touch the wall. Finally the whole fresco was revealed to the viewers in the chapel.

 It was the colour that was most spectacular. It seemed that the years behind the wood had been kind to the fresco. Most that he’d seen before had been dulled with age, eroded by touch and a variety of other elements. There had even been scientific studies about the effects of carbon dioxide on frescoes. ‘Breathing out’ could cause harm.

 But this fresco hadn’t had any of that kind of exposure. It looked as fresh as the day it had been painted.

 His hand reached out to touch the wall and he immediately pulled it back. It was almost magnetic—the pull of the fresco, the desire to touch it. He’d never seen one so vibrant, from the colour of Mary’s dark blue robe to the white and yellow of the brilliant beam of light. The greens of the surrounding countryside, the pink tones of Jesus’s skin, the ochre of the small stool on which Mary sat and the bright orange and red flowers depicted around them. It took his breath away.

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