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Smitten with Ravioli - Smitten with Travel #1

Smitten with Ravioli - Smitten with Travel #1

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Love is on the menu in this sweet romantic comedy set in Italy.

Smitten with Travel Series - Book #1

Why You'll Love This Book!

  • Set in Italy
  • Enemies to Lovers
  • Fake Identity
  • Occasional Drooling Cat
  • Closed Door Romance - No Sex Scenes or Language
  • Happily Ever After


Love is on the menu in this sweet romantic comedy set in Italy.

Ginny's Italian cooking course was supposed to be a peaceful escape from her troubles. But when she meets Preston, an infuriating know-it-all history professor, she quickly realizes her past has come back to haunt her.

The last thing Ginny needs is for Preston to find out who she really is. Her plan seems foolproof—assume a fake identity and keep her distance from the pretentious jerk.

But when they’re forced to work together, Ginny starts to see a different side of Preston. She’s torn between her desire to reveal who she really is and her fear that she’ll lose everything in the process.

Will Ginny be able to trust Preston with her heart, or will love turn out to be the ultimate recipe for disaster?

If you like quirky characters, happily ever afters, and the occasional drooling cat, you’ll love Ginny and Preston’s story.

Chapter 1 Look Inside

Chapter 1 - Parkaphobia

Is it weird to be jealous of other people’s phobias?

One of my friends has omphalophobia—belly buttons freak her out. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an innie or an outie; she hyperventilates at the mere sight of one. Once, when I managed to drag her to the pool, she reached into her tote bag, pulled out a roll of duct tape, and slapped a large piece on my navel. Ripping that sucker off hurt worse than getting waxed. Note to self—be careful who you wear bikinis around.

My aunt has pogonophobia. Men with beards cause her to break out in a cold sweat. That’s probably one of the reasons why she became a nun. Not a lot of guys hanging around the convent. Although, the last time I saw her, she was sprouting a few of those chin hairs that older ladies sometimes get. I’m not sure who the saint of unwanted facial hair is, but I’d bet my bottom dollar that my aunt is offering up a lot of prayers to him.

Then there’s my neighbor. She has hylophobia. Wood makes her extremely uncomfortable. And we’re not just talking about the large trees you see when you go for a hike in the forest. No, she’s been known to faint at the mere sight of a toothpick. Show her some wooden chopsticks and she develops an unpleasant rash all over her body. Needless to say, whenever she comes over for dinner, we order pizza, not Chinese.

My phobia is utterly dull in comparison. I have aerophobia. Yep, I’m scared of airplanes. Boring, right? Whenever I tell people that I’m afraid to fly, they yawn and change the subject. But, I bet you if I told them I have anatidaephobia (the fear that ducks are watching me) or feretrophobia (the fear of coffins and being buried alive), they’d perk right up. Because those are interesting phobias. Phobias that are hard to spell. Phobias that make for scintillating cocktail party conversations. Phobias that get featured on daytime television.

Although, the more I think about this, maybe my phobia isn’t all that bad in the scheme of things. It doesn’t impact my daily life. I can go to the beach, look indifferently at the belly buttons on display, admire the surfer dudes sporting facial hair, all while eating ice cream with one of those little wooden spoons.

The only thing I have to worry about is avoiding flying. Piece of cake—there are cars, buses, trains, and even unicycles that can get you around.

Of course, a car, bus, train, or unicycle won’t really cut it if you’re trying to get from the States to Europe. For that you need a boat. A big boat. A boat so big it comes with fine dining, shopping, and Broadway shows. Yes, that’s right, we’re talking about a cruise ship. Just like the one I was about to embark on for my transatlantic crossing from Miami to Rome.

* * *

“Did you remember your passport, Ginny?” my mom asks as she makes a right turn into the parking lot at the cruise ship terminal.

“Of course I remembered,” I say as I unfasten my seatbelt.

“Hey, buckle back up, Ginny,” she says, gripping the steering wheel tightly. “I haven’t stopped the car yet.”

“Mom, relax. We’re almost there.”

She turns her head sharply and gives me her patented “listen-here-missy” look. “My car, my rules, young lady. Now fasten that seatbelt until I’ve found a spot and turned off the engine.”

I’m pretty sure my mom has some sort of parking phobia. She can pass people on the highway going ninety miles an hour without batting an eye, but she’s a nervous wreck when it comes to positioning her car between two other vehicles. There have been times when she’s made me get out of the car with a ruler to take measurements. I’ve never been able to find an official name for her particular brand of irrational fear, so I call it “parkophobia.” Not to be confused with parkaphobia—a fear of puffy jackets.

While we circle the lot for the fifth time in search of the perfect spot, I try to lighten the mood by changing the subject. “You know that I’m not a ‘young lady’ anymore.”

“Please,” she says between clenched teeth. “You’re twenty-five. That’s young. And I raised you to be a lady, so that makes you a young lady.”

Having learned over the years not to question her particular brand of logic, I simply nod in response.
She leans forward and points at the far end of the lot. “Does it look like they’re leaving? That spot would be perfect. It’s right next to a loading zone so no one can park next to me.”

I check the time on my phone. We’re running late. Probably better not to mention that a truck might park in the loading zone. The thought of a large vehicle pulling in next to hers would freak her out and send her in search of another spot, which could take ages. There’s no way I’m going to miss boarding this ship. It’s my ticket out of here and, hopefully, the start of my brand new life. A new life guaranteed to make me forget all about what’s-his-name.

Oh, wow, I can’t believe I said “what’s-his-name.” That is huge progress. Just one look at the cruise ship and I can’t even remember the jerk’s name. I rub my hands together and smile. This selective amnesia feels awesome.

My mom finally parks the car, turns off the engine, and we walk toward the terminal entrance.
“Has Joel apologized yet?” my mom asks, totally spoiling my good mood.

I lift my suitcase over the curb and set it down. “Who?” I ask innocently.


“I don’t know who you’re talking about,” I say, furrowing my brow.

“Sweetheart, you can’t pretend the last two years of your life didn’t happen.” She squeezes my hand. “What he did to you was horrible, but you have to make peace with it so that you can move on with your life.”

I snatch my hand away. “Whose side are you on?”

“I’m on your side, of course,” she says as she hugs me. “But did you ever think that maybe what happened is for the best? I never was convinced that getting your PhD and becoming a professor was the right path for you.” I try to pull away, but she squeezes me tighter. “And it’s not because you’re not smart enough or talented enough.”

My eyes well up with tears as she releases me. “Of course it is. Why else did they side with him and not me?”

I bite my lip as I remember that fateful day when my thesis advisor called me into his office to tell me that I had been charged with plagiarism. The jerk—who I had wasted two years of my life dating—stole my research paper, presented it as his, then had the nerve to accuse me of being the cheater. The worst part of it was that everyone believed him, not me. Obviously no one thought I was smart enough or talented enough to have written it on my own.

My thesis advisor gave me a choice—drop out of graduate school or face the humiliation of going through a formal hearing. I chose the former. After moving back to my mom’s house in Florida, I spent the next couple of months eating ice cream and potato chips on her couch while watching Spanish-language soap operas. Those shows can really suck you in, even if you don’t understand a word they’re saying.

One day, as I was flicking through the channels, I stumbled across an Italian cooking show and that’s when it hit me. I knew how to get my life back on track—go to Italy, learn how to make pasta, then come back home and open a restaurant.

My mom wasn’t quite sure that it was a well thought through plan, but she agreed that a change of scenery would do me good, even offering to help me pay for the trip.

I give my mom another hug, then say, “Dad would be so disappointed if he could see me now. A grad school dropout who can’t even get a job teaching high school history. He always wanted me to go into academia and become a professor like him.”

“Young lady, that is simply not true. If your father were alive, he’d tell you the same thing.” She cups my face in her hands. “Virginia Morgan Maarschalkerweerd, you listen to me, you hear? All he ever wanted was for you to be happy. He didn’t care what kind of career path you took. You put that pressure on yourself, not him.”
I straighten my shoulders at the sound of my full name. She only wheels that out when she means business.

“See those girls over there?” My mom indicates two women about my age. The taller one pushes her long, dark-brown hair behind her ears and smiles as her petite, blonde friend points at a large, colorful sign festooned with balloons that says, “Welcome Aboard the Ocean Queen!”
“See how happy they look?”

I nod. “I bet that’s because they’re following their own paths, not doing what they think everyone else expects of them.”

I raise my eyebrows. “That’s kind of a stretch, mom. Who knows what their back stories are?”

She shakes her head. “Fine, but you get what I’m trying to say. Consider what happened with Joel and grad school to be a blessing in disguise. Take this time on the crossing over to Europe and then in Italy to figure out what will truly make you happy.”

After giving me one last squeeze, we say goodbye and I set off on my new adventure. An adventure full of lots of pasta and free of backstabbing, nerdy historians.

* * *

Later that night, after settling into my cabin, I get ready for dinner. It will take over a week to get to our first port of call, Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands, which lie off the coast of West Africa. We’ll be there for less than twenty-four hours before departing for Rome, where I’ll disembark and begin my new adventure.

Because we have so much time at sea and people are likely to get stir-crazy, the crew has organized all sorts of activities, including themed events to keep everyone occupied. Tonight is a 1950s-style barbecue on the lido deck.

I came prepared for the occasion, having packed a tea-length skirt complete with a petticoat to give it fullness. I pair it with an ecru scoop-necked cashmere sweater, white gloves, and a strand of pearls. After putting a wide-brimmed hat atop my auburn curls, I check out my appearance in the mirror. Sure, the fifties were a fashionable era, but if they’d had any idea that yoga pants awaited them in the future they would have worked harder at building a time travel machine, turned the dial to take them forward in time to the twenty-first century, and scooped up a bunch of the stretchy garments on sale at Walmart. If you’re going to chow down at a barbecue, clothes made of Lycra are the way to go.

My stomach grumbles, telling me it’s time to stop gazing at my reflection. I grab my phone, then frown. I’m going to a 1950s event. They didn’t have cell phones back then, so if I want to be true to the time I should leave it behind. Besides, that will keep me from re-reading the texts I sent to what’s-his-name.

The texts demanding an explanation.

The texts demanding an apology.

The unanswered texts.

The texts that bring tears to my eyes one minute then leave me clenching my fists in anger the next.

Yes, I know, I should delete them. But I can never bring myself to do it.

I take a deep breath, smooth down my skirt, and remind myself that what’s-his-name is firmly in the past. Then I chuck my phone into my dresser drawer and head to the barbecue.

Walking out onto the deck, I could swear I’ve been transported back in time. The tables are covered in red-and-white gingham tablecloths, people are playing croquet and horseshoes, kids are attempting to hula hoop, and there are a lot of poodle skirts, saddle shoes, and letterman sweaters on display.

As I stand in line at the buffet, I spot the two women my mom pointed out to me earlier. They’re both dressed similarly to me—full skirts, gloves, pearls, and hats.

The brunette smiles at me. “Looks like we shop at the same place.” She holds out her hand. “I’m Isabelle.”

“Ginny,” I say, shaking her hand.

“And this is my friend, Mia,” she says, pointing at the blonde.

“Nice to meet you,” Mia says as she grabs a plate from the stack at the end of the buffet table. Before she can pass it to Isabelle, it slips out of her hand. One of the waiters rushes over, says something in French to us, then cleans up the broken pieces from the floor. Was it my imagination or did he wink at Mia?

“It’s these stupid gloves. They’re slippery,” Mia says, yanking them off. “How did anyone manage to get anything done back in the fifties wearing these things?”

“They probably are a safety hazard,” I say, taking mine off as well. “Now what do I do with them? I don’t have any pockets, and I didn’t bring a purse.”

Mia grins, then sticks her gloves down the front of her sweater. “That’s what bras are for,” she says. “They’re great for holding your phone and money, along with gloves when you don’t have any other way to carry them.”

I giggle at the sight of the fingertips of Mia’s gloves peeking out from her neckline. It looks like Thing from The Addams Family has taken up residence. Then I tuck my own down my sweater. Who cares how stupid I look? It’s not like I’m trying to attract anyone. The last thing I need is another backstabber in my life.

Isabelle shrugs, then follows suit and joins the bra-stuffing brigade.

As we load up our plates with hamburgers, hot dogs, corn on the cob, coleslaw, and deviled eggs, Isabelle asks me if I’m traveling on my own. When I tell her I am, she insists that I join them at their table.

“Oh, yes, join us,” Mia says. “But only on one condition. No talking about guys.”

“Mia just had a bad break-up,” Isabelle says.

“Bad?” Mia scowls. “Bad is what you say when you’re describing the taste of beetroots. My mother would wash my mouth out with soap if I used a word that really describes what happened, so I won’t. You’ll just have to trust me, it was a lot worse than eating beetroots.”

I set my plate down. “You won’t get any argument from me. The last thing I want to talk about is guys. Besides, I hate beetroots too.”

“Cool,” Mia says as she scratches her leg. “Let’s talk about why these petticoats itch so much instead. What I wouldn’t give for a pair of yoga pants right now.”

“Me too. I could live in my yoga pants twenty-four seven,” Isabelle says. “But despite the gloves and the petticoats, you have to admit traveling to Europe on a cruise ship is heavenly. It sure beats flying.”

Mia shudders. “I hate flying.”

“That makes two of us,” I say.

“Make that three,” Isabelle adds.
I smile as I spread butter on my corn. I think I’ve found my tribe.

* * *

After polishing off our hamburgers and hot dogs, Mia, Isabelle, and I are enjoying angel food cake topped with strawberries. Mia informs us that because angel food cake isn’t made with butter or oil, it’s a healthy, guilt-free dessert option.
Isabelle raises her eyebrows and points at the chocolate milkshake her friend is slurping down. “How many calories does that have?”

Mia cocks her head to one side. “Does what have?”

“That shake, silly.”

After taking another sip, Mia waves her hand in front of Isabelle’s face as though she’s hypnotizing her. “This isn’t the shake you’re looking for.”

Isabelle snorts. “Your Jedi mind tricks aren’t going to work on me. Or on your hips. That shake is real, sweetie.” Then she turns to me and says, “Mia is obsessed with Star Wars. She even has a light saber. Fortunately, I was able to convince her to leave it at home.”

“Yeah, I could never really get into those movies,” I say.

Mia gasps. “You don’t like Star Wars?”

“No, I’m more into documentaries. You know, stuff that’s real.”

Mia shakes her head, mutters something about the force being real, then tips the glass to her lips and drains its contents.

“Is anyone sitting here, girls?”

I turn and see an elegant older woman standing by an empty chair. She’s wearing a blue sheath dress paired with lavender gloves. Like us, she’s wearing a wide-brimmed hat, but hers is accented with a ribbon that matches her dress.

“It’s free,” I say. “Please have a seat, ma’am.”

She wags her finger at me. “We’ll have none of that ‘ma’am’ nonsense. That makes me feel positively ancient. The name’s Celeste.” After we introduce ourselves, she sits with a flourish, removes her high heels, and rubs her feet. “I’ll tell you, the ‘Boogie Woogie’ will really take it out of you. But it was worth it. He’s dreamy, don’t you think?”

“Who?” Isabelle asks.

Celeste nods at a man with salt-and-pepper hair twirling another woman around the dance floor.

“Is that your husband?” I ask.

The older woman’s smile fades. “No, my Ernie passed away.”

I lean forward and squeeze her hand. “I’m sorry. Did you lose him recently?”

“Yes,” she says. “He’s only been gone for five hundred and thirty-six days now.” She glances at her watch. “Or is that five hundred and thirty-seven days? I get all mixed up with the time changes when I’m traveling.”

“Do you travel a lot?” Mia asks.

“Oh, yes,” she says, her eyes brightening. “This is day four hundred and ninety-eight of my world travels. Or is that four hundred and ninety-nine days?” She shakes her head. “Anyway, I’m headed to Greece next. What about you girls? Where are you going?”

“I’m disembarking in Rome and taking a train from there to Ravenna,” I say.

“Where’s that?” Celeste asks.

“It’s in northern Italy near the Adriatic sea,” I say. “About an hour away from Bologna. It used to be the capitol city of the Western Roman Empire from…” I frown as my voice trails off. “Sorry, you don’t want to hear about all that.”

“You sound like a history buff,” Celeste says.

I chew on my lower lip. “I used to be. Now I’m a, um, a…”

“A what?” Celeste prompts.

“I’m not sure,” I say, wrinkling my brow. “But I do know that I’m not a historian anymore.” I take a deep breath. “But enough about me. Where are you two headed?” I ask Mia and Isabelle, realizing we haven’t discussed this.

Celeste points at the three of us. “You mean you girls aren’t traveling together?”

“No,” I say. “I’m on my own. I just met Isabelle and Mia tonight.”

She pats my hand. “Good for you. I wish I had had half the confidence you do when I was your age. But I’m making up for lost time now. Look at me, traveling solo and dancing with handsome strangers.” She looks wistfully at the dance floor, then turns back to us. “So where are you two going?” she asks my new friends.

“We’re getting off in Rome too,” Isabelle says. “After that, it’s all up in the air. The only thing I know is that I have to be in Cologne by the beginning of July. I’ve got a job working on one of those German river cruise boats lined up.”

Mia looks forlornly at her empty shake glass, then adds, “Once we get to Cologne, I’m going to head to Paris and try to get a job at an art gallery.”

“Mia is a really talented artist,” Isabelle says.

“Oh, I’d love to see your paintings,” Celeste says. “What do you work in? Oils? Acrylics? Watercolors?”

“Ink,” Mia says.

“That sounds fascinating. I have a friend who does these wonderful pen and ink drawings of her cats. What kind of paper do you use?”

“Uh, the kind made of human cells.”

Celeste looks alarmed. “Human cells?”

“She’s a tattoo artist,” Isabelle explains. “Emphasis on artist. She does replicas of the great masters’ work. You should see the tattoo she recently did of one of Van Gogh’s sunflower paintings on this guy’s back.”

Mia shrugs. “It would have worked better if he hadn’t kept squirming. One of the sunflowers turned out looking more like a turnip.”

“So what kind of tattoos do you have yourself?” I ask.

Mia laughs. “Me? Are you kidding? I would never get a tattoo. I’m scared of needles.”

“Ah, aichmophobia,” I say. “That’s more common than you’d think.”

“Ach-a-what?” Mia asks.

Before I can explain, the dapper man with salt-and-pepper hair walks to our table. “Would any of you ladies care to dance?”

Isabelle, Mia, and I all exchange glances, then point at Celeste and say in unison, “She would.”

“Are you sure, girls?” the older woman asks as she slips her shoes back on.

“Definitely,” I say.

As Celeste walks toward the dance floor, she says over her shoulder, “Don’t go anywhere. After this dance, I want to talk with Mia about getting a tattoo.”

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