We are so excited to bring you this first look at Our Italian Summer by Jennifer Probst!
A note from Jennifer Probst:
Years ago, I was lucky enough to go on an epic adventure with my mother, godmother, and niece to celebrate my mom’s 70th birthday. Three generations of women left everything behind for 15 days to tour Italy. Along the way, my senses opened up to the sweet fragrances, breathtaking scenery, and delicious gourmet food that Italy is known for. But something bigger happened during that trip. I began to know my family members more deeply and heard their stories. Not as an aunt, niece, or daughter, but as a woman who struggles every day to make sense of her life and relationships. I learned more things about myself and who I was. And I knew, one day, I’d write a book about it.
Our Italian Summer was based on my personal experience, but has become so much more. I’m excited for you to dive into the lives of Francesca, a workaholic single mother; Allegra, her eighteen year old daughter struggling with her identity; and Sophia, who is witnessing the breaking apart of her family and insists a trip to Italy can heal them all. I invite you on this journey with me, full of emotion, laughter, romance, pain, humor, and eventually, forgiveness. For not only others, but for ourselves.
I truly hope you enjoy my first foray into women’s fiction with a story that has burned in my heart for many years to be told.
About Our Italian Summer:
From New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Probst comes a new women’s fiction novel featuring three generations of Ferrari women who need to heal the broken pieces of their lives…and one trip of a lifetime through Italy.
Workaholic, career-obsessed Francesca is fiercely independent and successful in all areas of life except one: family. She struggles to make time for her relationship with her teenage daughter, Allegra, and the two have become practically strangers to each other. When Allegra hangs out with a new crowd and is arrested for drug possession, Francesca gives in to her mother’s wish that they take one epic summer vacation to trace their family roots in Italy. What she never expected was to be faced with the choice of a lifetime. . . .
Allegra wants to make her grandmother happy, but she hates the idea of forced time with her mother and vows to fight every step of the ridiculous tour, until a young man on the verge of priesthood begins to show her the power of acceptance, healing, and the heartbreaking complications of love.
Sophia knows her girls are in trouble. A summer filled with the possibility for change is what they all desperately need. Among the ruins of ancient Rome, the small churches of Assisi, and the rolling hills of Tuscany, Sophia hopes to show her girls that the bonds of family are everything, and to remind them that they can always lean on one another, before it’s too late.
I remember taking an art history class back in college and studying the Sistine Chapel for weeks on end, until I became tired of Michelangelo and his endless work of religious figures and naked muscled men in loincloths.
I got a C and I blamed it on that segment. But staring up at the familiar panels, my neck already cramping from the position, I experienced a shudder of recognition that tingled through my nerve endings and settled into my bones. The feeling of seeing greatness up close.
The soaring, colorful images squeezed together created an unending row of visual treats—a feast for the senses. Angels were not only people with wings but held fierce expressions that reflected basic human struggles, from envy to pride, and agony to joy. Cloaks rippled and flowed with delicate wrinkles. Fingers stretched out to grasp at God, and God judged and found man lacking. No inch of space remained untouched, and I felt locked into a small space of artistic vastness.
Cell phones vibrated. Occasional coughs, exhalations, and quiet murmurs and shuffled steps were the only sounds in the chamber. I soaked it all in, letting the experience overtake the nonstop chattering in my head, and in that brief moment of time, I touched a tiny piece of nothingness.
It was beautiful.
The reprieve lasted fifteen minutes. Soon after, we were ushered back outside, stripped of our earbuds and mini speaker attachments. We boarded the bus to get back to our hotel and spend the afternoon on our own. I took a seat in the front, but Allegra stuck with Mom and sat behind me. I glanced at my watch to calculate the time difference back in New York and estimated I’d need at least a few hours to work. Kate and Layla had been holding back on sending emails, but I knew they were trying to respect my vacation time. They’d agreed to keep me informed of every move on the Lexi’s Lemonade account, even though they were both technically the leads.
The idea of all I was missing back at the office, especially after the panic attack, bothered me. I needed to be available to weigh in on decisions so I was still involved. I’d still have plenty of time for the tour and family time. A few hours per day was practically nothing.
Enzo stood in the front of the bus and raised his hands. Today he was dressed in a smart cream-colored suit in a light cotton material, with a bright blue T-shirt underneath. His shoes were a supple leather and his socks matched his shirt. A pair of dark sunglasses perched on top of his head amid thick brown curls. Italian men certainly knew how to dress.
“I hope everyone enjoyed the Vatican and Sistine chapel. Beautiful, si?”
Everyone shouted in agreement.
“We will get you back to the hotel so you can nap or go out to explore the city. I am here if you have questions on where to go or need recommendations. And tonight we will have dinner at a delicious local restaurant, so please be ready by six p.m. in the lobby.”
I slipped my phone out and opened up my email program.
Enzo dropped into the seat beside me. “Are you posting your pics to Facebook?” he asked in his usual teasing manner.
Relief cut through me. Since last night, I’d been worried he’d be cold and businesslike after I accused him of hitting on me. But it seemed he was back to normal, and I was grateful. “No, I’ll leave that to my daughter. I’m actually checking in at work.”
“What do you do?”
“Advertising. I run my own company back in New York.”
He nodded. “Ah, big responsibilities. Do you create commercials or print ads?”
“Both.” I tried to concentrate, because his scent was all around me again. Why did he smell like fresh-baked cookies and rich chocolate? “We just scored a major account, so I’m trying to make sure everything is going smoothly.”
“Then you must love it. It is good to love what you do.”
“It is. Do you love being a tour guide?”
His face lit up. His features shifted and changed with each of his expressions, his dark brown eyes alive. “Si. My father was a tour guide, and I learned from the best. I love teaching people about Italia.”
“Is it hard to travel all the time? I imagine everyone misses you back home.”
I hoped my question seemed low-key. I was kind of dying to know if he had a partner or kids back home, even though he wore no ring. “A bit hard for a serious relationship,” he said thoughtfully, “but it is part of who I am. I’m gone for a month, then return for two, then back out again. So far, I haven’t found the true love of my life who is meant for me, so there is no one to get back to except my dog.”
His statements on true love threw me. Men didn’t talk like that, so I wondered if he was being a bit mocking. “What breed?”
“An old-fashioned mutt. Her name is Sophia, for Sophia Loren—our most famous movie star.”
I laughed. “I have to tell my mother she has a namesake. I’m sure your dog misses you when you’re away. Who takes care of her?”
“My neighbor, who spoils her rotten. We share custody, so this makes Sophia happy. You must take care of your woman, no?”
His gaze met mine in that intense way again, but this time I didn’t jump to conclusions. He was just a passionate guy who acted different than I was used to. “Yes. Or she craps all over you.”
His hearty laugh made me smile. Most men I encountered were so serious, I rarely felt comfortable being silly. It was fun to be lighthearted. “This is true. Now, tell me what you want to see this afternoon. Can I be of any help?”
“My mother mentioned the Spanish Steps. Is there a nice place for lunch and some light shopping?”
“Ah, si, I can text you a few suggestions. I advise you to avoid any restaurants where you cannot see the kitchen—this means the food is not fresh but frozen. And a few shop owners will give you good price if you pop in. May I text you?”
“Oh, that’d be great.” I recited my number and he plugged it into his phone and began typing a short list. “Will we have time if we go a bit later? I wanted to work a few hours.”
A frown furrowed his brow. “I’d say wait no more than an hour or you shall miss your afternoon. Free time is precious on such a busy tour. Many people tell me that is their favorite part of Rome.”
“Getting lost. You must get lost in each city to experience the true flavor. You agree?”
“No, I like to know where I’m going. That’s why GPS was invented.”
He sighed and gave a shake of his head. “Then there are no side-road adventures. I know your job is important, but take at least one detour today and let me know how it went tonight.”
I hesitated. My first instinct fell to defensiveness. To explain as a business owner I had responsibilities, and that detours usually ended up being a waste of precious time. But I bit back the words, not wanting to ruin the easy camaraderie, and nodded. “Maybe.”
“Good.” He stood up and walked up the aisle, chatting with the various groups about their upcoming afternoon. By the time we got back to the hotel, Mom and Allegra were in an upbeat mood. “Mom, I found a cool café on Yelp we can go to for lunch, and then Nonni wants to do the Spanish Steps and gelato. We’ll have enough time, right?”
I thought my mother would be tired, but she looked animated. “I just need to change my shoes and I’m ready. We can shower before dinner.”
I bit my lip just as my phone buzzed. I knew it was Layla or Kate, needing some input on a few items. “Umm, listen, I have to do a few quick things for work. I’m really sorry—I promise it won’t take long. How about I meet you?”
Allegra’s face fell. My mother’s expression pleaded with me to change my mind. “Honey, it’s only our first full day here! Can’t you get back to them tonight after dinner?”
“We’re on a deadline and I really need to check in. It won’t take long . . . Listen, I’ll take an Uber right to the Spanish Steps in an hour.”
“But I’m starving,” Allegra whined.
“Go eat without me. I’ll grab a granola bar and make up for it with gelato at the plaza. Enzo said the cabs outside are trustworthy and most drivers speak English. Text me when you get there, okay?”
Regret and guilt twisted inside me, but I had to check in so I could relax for the rest of the day. There were too many balls flying in the air that I had to catch.
About the Author:
Jennifer Probst is the New York Times bestselling author of the Billionaire Builders series, the Searching For . . . series, the Marriage to a Billionaire series, the Steele Brothers series, the Stay series, and the Sunshine Sisters series. Like some of her characters, Probst, along with her husband and two sons, calls New York’s Hudson Valley home. When she isn’t traveling to meet readers, she enjoys reading, watching “shameful reality television,” and visiting a local Hudson Valley animal shelter. Follow her at JenniferProbst.com.
Connect with Jennifer: