Hodder & Stoughton General; ISBN: 034082574X
The past is never forgotten - but can it ever be forgiven? When a terrible accusation ended her marriage five years ago Sophie Winter was determined she'd never be hurt again. With an exciting job at Scotland's new parliament and a fulfilling social life, she finally feels she has buried the bittersweet memories of her past. But some things aren't easily forgotten... A family wedding draws her back to Tuscany and Sophie encounters Raffaele de Nardis again. The world famous pianist is proud, passionate and devastatingly handsome. He is also her ex-husband. Sophie realises that she can only face the future if she confronts the past.
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‘Good old-fashioned storytelling, wonderfully satisfying
…This is a curl up and enjoy book, swinging from
Scotland to Tuscany in a truly absorbing read.’
'This wonderful panoramic novel sweeps you up and carries you along to the end. Lovely!'
Round The Campfire review of
A WAY OF FORGIVING (0 340 82574 X)
At 16 Sophie fell in love, nothing out of the ordinary about
that. She had finished her first year examinations at school and had
ceased to be a young girl. This summer in Italy would mark the beginning
of her adult life. And so it did, because Rafael fell in love with her.
Life was wonderful for a time but it didn't last. There were
those who would do anything to break up the pair and eventually they
After the divorce Sophie built a new life for herself working in Scotland's new Parliament
whilst Rafael, a famous pianist, travelled the
world. One man after another tried to win Sophie but she couldn't forget
the good times despite the raw hurt.
Sophie had sworn never to go back to Tuscany where everything
had been so wonderful and so painful, but when her younger sister
pleaded with her to be at her wedding, Sophie knew she had to bury her
feelings, put on a brave face and show the world that she had moved on
from all the nastiness. What she wasn't prepared for was her ex-husband
playing at the wedding.
And the nastiness was not over. The perpetrators followed her in
Tuscany and even when she returned to Scotland.
This is a story of enduring love and forgiveness of past wrongs.
The present is related to the past and what seems inexplicable is rooted
in what has gone before.
And, as always in her books, Eileen Ramsay paints such vivid
pictures, this time of Tuscany, that the reader is there, under the
brilliant sky, beside the deep blue sea, feeling the hot sun on her skin.
There’s something to be said about a book that captures the nuances of everyday life, the heartbreak and betrayal of human beings as a whole, and the redeeming power of love. Eileen Ramsay has crafted a story about a woman that could be any one of us, and shown us that life doesn’t have to end when your heart gets broken. Even more so, the miseries and deceptions that are the typical family dynamic show that all of us have the power to forgive almost anything, even when forgiving seems so hard to do.
For Sophie Winter, her well-paying job in the Scottish Parliament is something to take pride in. So is her active social life. Sophie never lacks for companionship, whether it be of the friendly or romantic variety. To many, she has almost the perfect life—except for the scandal of her divorce, five years ago, from famed pianist Raffaele de Nardis. The world watched in shock when Raffaele and Sophie divorced, and Sophie, although she won’t want to admit it, will be the first to tell you that she’s never been the same since.
When a family wedding forces Sophie’s return to Italy, memories inundate her regarding her marriage to Raffaele. When the pianist himself shows up to play at the wedding reception, Sophie attempts to show no feelings to her ex-husband, or the woman who hangs on his arm. Only Sophie and Raffaele know the true reasons behind their divorce, and as the story unfolds, we learn that even Raffaele was left in the dark about certain facts and situations.
A WAY OF FORGIVING isn’t just a story about a woman forgiving the man who broke her heart, or the telling of a man who has never forgotten the woman he hastily divorced. Instead, this book is about families, about the lengths that they go to love each other and, sometimes, the ways they go about hurting each other.
For Sophie, the summer in Tuscany isn’t only about the healing power of love, but about how she can learn to forgive those who have hurt her, and how she can forgive herself and get on with life.
A Way of Forgiving
Hodder & Stoughton General; ISBN: 034082574X
A Way of Forgiving
‘Brancaccio-Vallefreddas pay people to play the piano and to sing; they do not become entertainers.’
‘Papà, I love the sound, please, just for myself, for my pleasure.’
‘I will pay for you to go to a fine school in England. English, with an English accent, that is best for you, for your place in Society. You are so young, tesoro, but you must surely know that the world is changing. Who knows what the future holds. Go to concerts when you choose, but learn to speak English.’
But she had not gone to her fine English school because war had come and her home was destroyed and the factories and vineyards that had made her family wealth. More importantly, however, her father was gone, disappeared, and Ludovico dead. She could see his blood on the square every time she was in the town. No one else could see it; perhaps they saw the blood of their own dead.
She could not go to Italy.
Sophie Winter stood at the bedroom window of her flat, looking out at Edinburgh’s famous skyline but she was not seeing the rain-washed front of the ancient building in the forefront, or the roofs of the historic New Town in the grey-blue distance because tears were streaming down her pale cheeks, and her mind was full of colours so intense that even the memory caused her to blink her eyes. She could feel the heat of the Italian summer sun on her back and arched into its embrace, ah, so strong, so hot. Sophie sighed and submitted herself to her memories.
She was sixteen and had just finished her first year at The Queen Margaret School for Girls. She was, she felt, a child no longer. With her first examinations safely passed she could give herself up to the pleasures of Italy: Bella Toscana, her favourite place in the whole world. In October she would be in the lower sixth, mature and serious, and ready to decide about the shape of the rest of her life. Until then, however, the summer months stretched invitingly before her. It would be a momentous summer. How could it not be? It would be the summer that marked that transition between the little girl she had been and the mature, sophisticated woman she would become. It would be her final farewell to childhood.
Every summer for several years now, ever since her father had gone to work as a government accountant at the naval base in La Spezia, her parents had rented a house high up in the hills above the town and today she had cycled all the way to the beach at Lerici; she was hot and dusty and sweating and dreaming only of ice-cold lemonade in a tall, misty glass. But instead of finding a table in the shade she stood transfixed for there, on the wall, sat a vision. He was tall and slender in pristine white slacks and a blue shirt and he sat, quite still, as he stared out at the flotilla of boats lying at ease in the sheltered waters of the bay. She noticed his face first, for he was beautiful, and then his hands, and as she looked at his hands a shiver that she did not understand went through her. He resembled, she thought, one of those statues that surround the square in Florence, except that he was wearing far more clothes, and his hair was longer, just touching the collar of the shirt. An angel, that was it; in all the paintings, angels had long hair.
He laughed when he became conscious of her staring and thus proved that he was neither statue nor angel but a man, and she was enough of a woman not to take offence or to cower in embarrassment like a child.
‘I know,’ she said, assuming that he was laughing at her hot and grubby exterior, ‘this is what vanity gets you. Can you believe I cycled down -on that road - to here.’ Her arm, pale and still plump with the chubbiness of girlhood, had gestured to the hills.
‘Vanity, Signorina?’ he had asked, his dark blue eyes looking at her dirty face with a slight smile that was not unkind.
‘I’ve had an absolutely ghastly year of stodgy Scottish food, and studying. Exams make you fat.’ She obeyed the slight gesture of his hand and sat down on the wall beside him, although her father’s voice in her head began to admonish her. Not for the first time she ignored that worried voice. ‘ I decided to work it off this summer by cycling everywhere I go in Tuscany.’
‘I commend your dedication,’ he had said and gestured to a hovering waiter. ‘Some lemonade, Signorina, or some of the excellent ice cream?’
She was furious; he thought she was a little girl. ‘I am not a child, Signore, and I can buy my own lemonade, or even beer if I want it,’ she finished with bravado.
He bowed his head and his hair fell over his face and a fleeting memory stirred. ‘Mi dispiace, Signorina. I had hoped that you would join me in some ice cream, but allow me to buy you a cool drink.’
For a moment she did not answer as her brain tried to find the recollection that was hovering just out of reach. No use. ‘I really shouldn’t do this,’ she said a few minutes later as she sat with her cold lemonade, and horrified, saw that her dusty shorts had deposited some of the red dust on his immaculate slacks. She prayed he would not notice. ‘It’s not done, you know, to accept hospitality from a stranger. My parents are always warning us: my sister Ann and me.’
‘But then we will become not strangers.’ He held out his hand. ‘I am… Raffaele. You..?’
‘Sophie. How do you do.’ He had taken her hand and raised it, dusty as it was, to his lips. His beautiful eyes, not black Italian but deep blue like the waters far out in the Bay, smiled at her over her hand, and she did not know it then but she fell head first into love.
He had been easy to talk to and she had felt completely safe with him. The time had slipped by but, at last, she had finished every drop of her lemonade and although she wanted to stay, listening to his slightly accented voice and watching the gestures of those beautiful hands, she had known that it was right to refuse the offer of a second glass. She stood up ready to go.
Her parents were apoplectically furious when later she confessed that a stranger had put her dusty bike in the back seat of his rather dashing sports car and driven her home.
‘I’m not sure, but I think it just might have been a Ferrari, one of those fab red ones.’
Her parents ignored this. ‘Who is he?’
But she had not known. She knew only that his name was Raffaele, and that she would remember forever his face and the heat and the dazzling light on the sea.
Raffaele. Raffaele, the archangel.
In cold, rainy Edinburgh Sophie brushed the tears from her eyes banishing the memory. Not once but twice today she had been reminded and not all the memories were sweet. Simon had been first. She had spent most of the afternoon in the debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament, shepherding a party of constituents whom Hamish Sterling MSP, her boss, had invited to listen to First Minister’s Questions. As always she had returned to her office to find several messages, and far too many emails that all required answers that afternoon. One of the emails had been from Simon Beith.
‘A drink at The Atrium- sevenish.’
Simon was a curator at the Museum of Scotland and he was a good friend, although he wanted, he said, to be much more. Sophie liked him very much but, since she landed the job with Hamish, other men had taken second place. She smiled ruefully; working for an MSP meant that everything took second place. She rushed through her messages and managed to get to the trendy restaurant at a few minutes after seven.
Simon was already seated at a small table in the middle of the floor, almost under the peak of the cream coloured tented fabric ceiling. The flame from the candle in the wrought iron candlestick shone on his round face and lit up his scrupulously neat fair hair. Was Simon ever disorganised? Was his tie ever undone, his pants unpressed? ‘I’ve ordered you a large glass of white wine,’ he said.
Sophie looked at her friend and smiled. He was trying so hard to be calm and yet his thin frame almost quivered with suppressed excitement. ‘Perfect. Come on, out with it.’
‘You know me too well, Sophie, and not well enough,’ he finished with a grin.
He leaned towards her, his pleasant frank face full of enthusiasm, his pale blue eyes sparkling in the candlelight. ‘I’ve got it, Sophie, three months at the Metropolitan in New York.’
‘Wonderful; what a glorious opportunity for you.’
‘Yes, three whole months in one of the world’s finest museums. Sophie, you said you hadn’t decided about a summer holiday. Why not come out with me for a few weeks? Galleries, museums, concert halls.’
She did not meet his eyes. ‘Sounds like Edinburgh.’
He frowned. ‘It’s New York.’
‘I’m so happy for you, Simon. The Met is probably my favourite museum.’ In her mind was a picture of porcelain angels suspended in the air around an enormous Christmas tree; trumpet-carrying angels of light lined Rockefeller Plaza and the air was full of music.
‘I’ve taken you by surprise. Say you’ll think about it. You have visited New York, haven’t you?’
‘Yes,’ she said shortly. The Avery Fisher Hall. The Carnegie Hall. Music everywhere, and angels. ‘Which is why I don’t want to spend my precious two weeks there, Simon. You’ll love it and the museum is, of course, air-conditioned but New York is hot, hot and muggy, not a place for a summer holiday. Different for you; you’ll be working and New Yorkers are the world’s friendliest people. You’ll make friends in no time. I may still have some guide books.’ She stood up. ‘I’ll look them out for you.’
Even though it had started to rain she decided to walk home because, at this time, that would be marginally quicker than going by bus, and because it was always a delight to walk in this beautiful city. She set off along Cambridge Street and onto Castle Terrace which hurried along crossing King’s Stables Road that lay down there in the valley. There were no stables these days but the name had stuck for centuries. The clip clop of horses’ hooves would be more musical than the steady hum of Edinburgh traffic. Above her in the soft cool drizzle loomed the enormous bulk of Edinburgh’s ancient castle, a sight, for some reason, she always found comforting. She followed the skirt of the castle, Johnson Terrace, all the way round to the Lawnmarket, that ancient area at the top of the Royal Mile. The street was busy as always although not nearly so frenetic or colourful as it would be in a few months’ time during the International Arts Festival. Careful of her heels Sophie hurried across the cobblestones and up onto the pavement. She laughed. She was exactly where she had been an hour or so ago, just outside the parliamentarians’ entrance to the new Scottish parliament.
Her steps quickened as she reached her building, a renovated tenement in one of the most ancient and historic parts of the city. As always she looked up at her window to see the little pennants on the window blinds. She disappeared from sight into the Close but did not continue to the Writers’ Museum or the paving stones in the courtyard with their quotes from Scottish writers through the centuries. She turned right and there was the tower with its heavy oak door. It should have looked formidable, impregnable, but its bright red paint made it look cheery. She inserted the first key, opened the door, and closed the world and all its problems outside behind her. She took a deep breath, for ahead of her lay five flights of spiralling stone stairs. There were two flats on each floor and most of them were rented by people prepared to pay a little extra to live in such an historic part of the city.
Today, because of the rain, the stairs were wet but not dangerous. Whatever her mother said, the stairs were perfectly safe to climb. It was just that on rainy days they got wet. Two pigeons who had sneaked in when some tenant had left a stair door open cooed at her from a window and Sophie tried to banish her annoyance that they had left her their usual offering. She would not deal with it tonight.
By the time she reached the top floor she was holding onto the iron railing. Key number two opened the blue door with its funny little iron gargoyles grinning evilly down, and she was on her landing. From here she could gaze on a clear day across the city all the way to the great Firth of Forth and beyond to the Kingdom of Fife. On a drizzly night like this she could still stop to catch her breath before key number three opened the green door and she was in the little private landing shared by her flat and the mysterious occupants of the one next door.
The door to her flat was a warm dark brown.
Each and every time Sophie opened it she felt happy; she was home, safe and sound in a flat she was buying with her own hard-earned money. She was humming as she kicked off her shoes and began looking through the letters that were lying on the tiled floor of the little entrance hall, and still humming as she looked in the refrigerator for inspiration. Half a packet of Roquefort cheese, three or four sadly limp mange tout, and a carton of orange juice told her that a visit to a late opening supermarket was needed but she was tired and she wanted a shower - or a bath; a bath, that was it, hot and deep and full of lovely smelling bubbles. She would have a bath and then eat oatcakes and cheese and fruit, a perfectly reasonable meal for the working girl who had had an adequate lunch. The food in the cafeteria at work was very good and because she had lunched with Hamish and his party of constituents, she had eaten more than she usually did at midday.
She was in the process of trying to decide whether or not to slide down under the bubbles which would mean that she would have to wash her hair when she heard her telephone ringing. She debated with herself over whether or not to answer it. She was too comfy and relaxed and decided to let the answer phone get it. She slipped under the bubbles, surfaced, and heard, ‘So do ring me just as soon as you get in.’
She erupted from the water like Krakatoa from the waters of the Pacific and, sans towel, dashed across the floor. Too late. Zoë had hung up. Sophie pressed the button that dialled her young sister’s Italian number and waited while long distance connected her. ‘Hello, Zoë, I was having a bath, pleasantly poaching. Hold on a sec while I get my dressing gown.’ She put the receiver on the bed and hurried to wrap up. ‘ Sorry, here I am. Why did you call? Anything special?’
Zoë’s voice was deliberately casual, so casual that Sophie could sense her excitement. ‘Nothing much- just want you to come to my wedding.’
‘Wedding! Zoë, how wonderful. Tell me everything.’
There was nothing flippant in the young voice now. ‘Jim, do you remember hearing me speak of Jim, Jim who’s at university with me? We find we just can’t face the thought of parting so we’re getting married right after graduation. Not much point in asking you to the graduation; I’m allowed only two guests to the ceremony, but you will come to my wedding, won’t you?’
Zoë’s wedding; a lovely little church in Surrey, of course she would be there.
‘Of course I’ll come to your wedding but what does Dad say, and Mum? Are they happy, surprised, furious?’
‘All of the above. I think they thought we might be ready to discuss an engagement but we’ve been unofficially engaged for years; there’s never been anyone else for me, Sophie, not since we first met. You understand.’
Sophie was crying softly now but tried to hide the tears. ‘Of course I do. Point is, do Mum and Dad?’
Zoë sighed. ‘You know them, rules laid out like driving instructions. You will meet a nice man at the proper time. You will fall in love and before you do anything hasty you will bring him home to meet us. At least he’s English.’ She stopped and then, since Sophie said nothing, she went on hurriedly. ‘I didn’t mean that; you know what I mean.’
‘Of course.’ She tried to laugh lightly but she was too cold, despite the thick robe, to laugh. ‘Since that’s good about him, what are all the bad things?’
‘For a start he wants to marry me and then having a job in Australia isn’t exactly endearing him to Mum. It’s a two-year contract; Australia will be our honeymoon.’
‘How fabulous.’ Clever Jim: Zoë and Jim would be thousands of miles away from the help of their families but away from their influence too ‘I believe Australia is very exciting. What about Jim’s family?’
‘There’s only his mother who is so sweet even though my darling Jim is the light of her life and his sister, Penny, who’s seventeen and is so angelically pretty that she’ll outshine the bride. Maude, that’s Jim’s mother, says it’s probably a good idea to start married life well away from family. Mum, as you can imagine, is already making lists of all the things that can possibly go wrong. She was at S, scorpions and snakes, when I told her I just had to ring you.’
They laughed with exasperated affection as daughters do.
‘She’s happy making lists, Zoë, but tell me the date. July if it’s just after graduation, and the whole family gathered together. Right?’
‘Yes,’ said Zoë quickly and Sophie felt a twinge of pain at the anxiety in the young voice.
‘Brave girl. Even the dreaded David,’ she added and was relieved to hear Zoë laugh.
‘Of course. He is my godfather and he’s very nice- deep down.’
‘Deep, deep down.’ said Sophie naughtily. ‘ Bridesmaids?’
‘Lots. All my girlfriends who can make the trip – I don’t want to leave anyone out, and maybe the twins. Ann wants them to be pageboys.’
Ann. So Ann had been told first. Well, why not. Zoë had no quarrel with her eldest sister. ‘They’re a little old for white satin.’
Zoë started to laugh. ‘How did you know she’d say “white satin”?’
‘Years of experience, my dear. Tell me the date and I’ll make absolutely sure I have a day or two off.’
Zoe did not answer immediately and when she did her voice was shaky as if she was not far from tears. ‘Sophie, Sophie don’t be angry, and don’t say you won’t come. You promised. You said, “Of course I’ll come” ’
Oh, Zoë, beloved little sister. She was now ice cold. ‘Where’s the wedding, Zoë?’
‘Tuscany,’ said Zoë, and went on quickly. ‘We have residence permits, Sophie, both of us, and so they say we can be married here and it’s my favourite place in the world: all our holidays, our house, meeting Jim. You do understand?’
Yes, she understood, only too well. Tuscany; hills afire with red poppies, distant blue mountains capped with dazzling white snow, church bells that never rang the hours in synchronisation, one always a few minutes behind the other, wood smoke from the olive groves and the piercing tang of sun-warmed lemons.
‘I understand, Zoë, but you know I can’t come back to Tuscany, even for your wedding.’
‘Please, Sophie.’ Zoë was crying now and Sophie’s heart was bleeding for the wound she had dealt her little sister. ‘All the nastiness is over; no one remembers any more.’
‘I love you dearly, but I can’t come to your wedding. There was too much ugliness there.’ And so much beauty but that was over, for Rafael had not believed in her: he had not, in the end, loved her enough.
‘The people who count miss you, Sophie: Stella and Giovanni. They ask about you every time I see them.’
‘Forgive me, Zoë,’ she whispered. ‘If it were anywhere else in the world but I cannot go to Tuscany.’
Later she sat in the big chair at the window looking out and seeing nothing. It was just beginning to get dark and the streetlights were on. In a few weeks it would be light enough to read at the window. Was that her favourite time of the year, those long soft evenings of spring or did she love it more later when Scottish evenings went on into the morning of the next day? It did not matter when the heart was heavy. Twice today she had been reminded of what she wanted to forget: first by Simon and now by Zoë of all people. Sophie determined to pull herself together. New York reminded her of Rafael and Italy reminded her too. It was a common, rather dreary story. People met, loved, married, stopped loving, divorced. But why should she be so anxious to forget all those years? She was divorced but she was happy in her new life. How silly to try to cut five years out of her life as if they had never been. Rafael?
Sophie lay back in her chair and deliberately faced her demons, such small insignificant demons. What else, she asked herself, reminds you of Rafael?
Music: basil growing on a windowsill, snow falling in moonlight, angels flying on a great tree, white-hot sun and the smell of sun-warmed apricots, walking in the rain. Everything reminds me.
It was late, time to sleep if she was to be any use at all at her job tomorrow. She went into her bedroom, a postage stamp of a room. The bed had been specially built to stand higher than modern beds and was placed so that its occupant could sit in bed and look out of the windows, across the courtyard, across busy Princes Street and onto the roofs of the New Town and even farther to the river and, on a fine day, the soft green landscape of Fife. Sophie pulled out her nightgown from the deep drawers beneath the bed, and when she was ready she climbed up the little painted steps and lay in the fairy tale bed that she had never shared with Rafael and remembered the unbelievable joy of loving and being loved.
Zoë loved Jim and Jim loved Zoë, and Zoë wanted her sister there to share this happiest day of her life.
She heard four o’clock chime on the near-by St. Giles Cathedral. She smiled. What, after all, is important? It was important that nothing should be allowed to spoil her sister’s wedding day. Perhaps going to Tuscany where she had loved and been loved so much would hurt too much if she still loved Rafael; the memories would be more vivid, more painful.
‘I have moved on,’ said Sophie into the stillness of her room. ‘I shall contact Zoë first thing in the morning.’