Home > Half Empty (First Wives #2)

Half Empty (First Wives #2)
Author: Catherine Bybee

Chapter One

Trina Petrov sat on the edge of one of the many canals in Venezia, Italy, drinking an Aperol spritz and listening to the conversations going on around her while not taking part in a single one. Eavesdropping had become part of the solo traveling experience, and the best part was when those around her didn’t think she understood a single word they said. With three languages fluently under her personal belt, and a fourth quickly becoming a part of her skill set, Trina had returned to this particular café because the locals had told her that the tourists didn’t frequent it. Admittedly, she was a tourist, but was on the quest to immerse herself in the Italian language in an effort to learn. When she sat in the larger cafés, she overheard many people speaking English, and if she wanted to eavesdrop on that language, she might as well go home.

Venezia wasn’t a location picked by accident. Venice, as much of the world called it, was a city of love. Complete with romantic gondola rides and lovers cuddling on a single seat while the gondoliers swept the small watercraft through the many canals of the famous sinking city. With couples dominating the landscape, Trina hadn’t found herself the target of unwanted male attention. It helped that she often played with the four-carat diamond wedding ring she usually wore when traveling.

Two Italian men, somewhere in their seventies, were sitting in the same place they had the day before, doing the exact same thing. With a bottle of wine on the table and a chess game sitting between them, they took painstaking time calculating each move while together they solved the world’s problems. The lower the volume of fluid the bottle held, the more convinced they became that they had all the answers to the troubles of today.

Trina kept her head ducked into an e-reader, pretending to have lost herself in a story.

“Bella, you’re here again.” Luciano, the owner of the small restaurant, spoke to her in English. His accent was pure Italian.

“I haven’t perfected your language,” she responded in Italian.

“It sounds good to me,” he said.

A group of giggling teenage girls sat huddled around an adjacent table making not-so-shy advances toward Luciano’s son, who waited tables. He had a Justin Bieber vibe about him, even though he was a tad bit older than The Bieb. But age didn’t stop this group of backpacking teens from flirting, giggling, and sending poor Marco handwritten notes.

Good sport that he was, Marco smiled, winked . . . and flirted, which probably earned him plenty of phone numbers.

“Shameless,” Luciano said under his breath in Italian.

“They’re just having fun.”

“He’s practically engaged.”

Trina took a second look. “Those girls are too young for him anyway. He’s just making sure they have something to grin about tonight when they give each other . . .” Trina struggled with the word for facials in Italian before finally giving up. “Doing each other’s makeup.”

Luciano, hair slightly gray around the parts that hadn’t paled altogether, placed a hand on his head before smiling into his thoughts. “I suppose.”

Trina looked between father and son. “I would bet money you were exactly like your son when you were his age.”

Luciano’s mirth turned to a light shade of wicked, and Trina knew she was right.

“See . . .”

Luciano didn’t try to deny her claim. “The boy takes after his father.”

“If he is half the cook you are, he will make the future Mrs. very happy.”

Luciano’s smile waned. “Adriana is perfect for my Marco.”

They both held silent as Marco smiled and walked by.

“So why the frown?” Trina knew the word frown wasn’t right, but it was the closest one she knew in Italian to voice the look of stress on Luciano’s face.

Trina’s lack of the right word didn’t stop her meaning from getting through. She made a mental note to look up the word distressed when she was back at her hotel.

“She has more than we do. It worries my Marco.”

Trina felt her heart hurt. “Money isn’t everything.” No one knew that more than she did.

“He loves her. Would do anything for her.”

“Then what’s stopping him?”

Luciano turned his attention away from where his son had disappeared into the back of the café. “He wants to give her the world. I told him that he could be her world if he just asked for her hand.”

Trina liked that.

“He is young and thinks fortune is easily gained.”

Trina squeezed her eyes shut.

“The youth of today . . .” Luciano said the words as if Trina and he shared a similar birth decade. They were a good twenty years off.

“But enough about my family . . . where is yours?”

Trina blinked her eyes open. “My parents live in California.”

Luciano’s smile fell completely. His gaze moved to the ring on her left hand.

The answer to his unasked question fell from her lips. “I’m widowed.”

His face went white, quite the feat for a man with an Italian complexion. He pulled up a chair beside her and sat. “I’m so sorry,” he said in English.

She tried to smile. “It’s okay.”

He wasn’t convinced.

“I am. It’s been nearly a year.” She knew how lame that sounded the second it left her lips.

Less than a year from I do to goodbye, she thought but didn’t say. The complication of her short marriage wasn’t something she wanted to discuss. The world didn’t need to know the truth, and she didn’t feel the need to spread gossip.

“I’m at a lack for words . . . in English or Italian,” Luciano said.

Marco walked by in that moment and glanced at the two of them. Trina watched him walk away and sighed. “We can only plan for the moment. Tomorrow isn’t promised. You’re old enough to know that.”

He placed a hand over hers. “You’re too young to say that with such conviction.”

Trina smiled. “Then I’m ahead of the game, right?”

Luciano tapped his chest and dipped his chin.

A few minutes later he left her side. Trina tossed enough euros on the table to pay for her drink and walked away.

Just the thought of her real life—the one she lived when she was pretending to be someone she wasn’t—made her want to flee.

She’d be back to see Luciano again, she knew that as she left the café. But for now, she needed to search out busy, touristy crowded streets where she could disappear.

Half a dozen switchbacks of tiny alleys framed by bridges and buildings that looked exactly like the others yet unique in their own way, and Trina found herself in Saint Mark’s Square.

The sun was starting to set, and the massive plaza had already started to fill with water. With a city destined to sink into the ocean sometime in the next hundred years, the Venetians were used to the sight, while tourists tossed off their shoes and made light of the water rising from the drains normally used to rid the square of seawater.

But for today, the city wasn’t sinking. It was simply enduring another day of lovers strolling the city and small vignettes of six-piece orchestras playing everything from classical music to modern pop while tourists drank their wine.

Trina paused in the moment.

She slipped off her sandals and walked through the ankle deep water in the center of the square.

A stranger in a wedding dress held the train of her gown and smiled into a camera.

Trina walked around until she stood at the space between the church and the sea.

I’m hiding, she thought while the world moved by. Here she was, a single woman walking the streets of a touristy Italian city where not one soul knew who—or what—she was. The anonymity of it all drove her here.

Learning the language had been an excuse.

Still, she walked through the crowd, purposely forgetting.

Here she was just Trina.

She accepted the occasional appreciative glance from the opposite sex, smiled, and moved along. Never once did she stop to try and see if that glance could turn into something else.

She wasn’t interested.

As the streets thinned out and the last of the scammers attempted to pawn their final trinkets to unknowing visitors, Trina made her way back to her nondescript hotel.

She pushed through the swinging doors of the hotel and made her way up the two flights of stairs to her corner room with a double window view of one of the canals below.

Locking the door, she tossed the key, which was still a key and not a card, onto the secretary. Moving to the windows, she opened them wide and pushed back the shutters.

The occasional pedestrian walked over the bridge closest to her room, their words muddled in her ears.

She flopped on the bed and glanced at the grandiose glass chandelier above. It was something Trina would expect to see in a hotel in Vegas.

She closed her eyes and ignored the loneliness that knocked on the back of her skull.

Everything was fine.

A loud voice had Trina shooting out of bed.

She blinked a few times, orienting herself to the room.

“I’m working here!”

“Make way!”

The voices came from outside her window. Trina glanced at the clock in the room and winced. Six thirty was too early for shouting.

While the men outside her window kept yelling at each other in Italian, she gave up and moved to see what they were arguing about.

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