"Your trouble is that you never take risks," Dulcie said.
"Who? Me?" Justine queried, her face full of innocent indignation.
Below them was a flash of sun on water as the plane from England circled Venice Airport before coming in to land.
"I'm always taking risks," Justine said firmly. "I nearly broke my neck last month, hanging over that cliff to get a picture of a gorilla."
"Oh, gorillas! Cliffs!" Dulcie dismissed all such trivial dangers. "You're a professional photographer. I know you take that sort of risk. I'm talking about people."
"You mean men," Justine said frankly. "Fine, let's talk about men. They're great fun — in their way."
"When you've got time for them, you mean," Dulcie teased.
"I'm always dashing off on assignments. I have to fit male distractions into my schedule. It's just common sense."
"You have too much common sense," Dulcie reproved her. "It's getting in the way of your life. When are you going to let your hair down and throw caution to the wind?"
"Like you, you mean? One wink from a gorgeous Italian and you were a goner."
"Guido isn't Italian. He's Venetian," Dulcie corrected.
"Does it matter?"
"Yes," Dulcie said, considering this seriously. "They wink differently. It's more intense somehow. You'll find out for yourself."
"Not me," Justine said firmly. "I won't keel over just because an Italian — sorry, Venetian — gives me the eye. If he winks at me, I'll wink at him. If he looks me over, I'll look him over. Then I'll decide if he's up to standard. What I won't do is simply go weak at the knees."
Dulcie laughed. "Just wait until you meet a Venetian."
When they left the plane Dulcie cleared Customs fast, racing straight into the arms of her fiancé.
Justine took her time, checking that her photographic equipment was undamaged. She was in Venice to take pictures of Dulcie's wedding. As she emerged from Customs she could see the other two locked in a passionate embrace.
Justine grinned. Since Guido lived in Venice and Dulcie in England they hadn't seen each other for weeks, and she guessed this bit was going to take a while.
To pass the time, she took out a mirror and checked her appearance, which had survived the flight in good condition. Her hair was red, not auburn or sandy, but a true, blazing red. She grew it long, but wore it swept up. It made a striking effect with her green eyes.
The lovers finally drew apart, laughing and happy, and Dulcie introduced Justine. Guido greeted his fiancée's friend warmly and led them out of the airport, which was built on the edge of a large expanse of water.
"This is the lagoon," he explained. "Venice is out there in the center, so we reach it by motorboat. The barges you see there are collecting goods to supply the shops and hotels."
One barge was being loaded just next to them. On the quay stood a pile of boxes filled with bottles of wine. Getting them down should have been a job for two men, but one man was tackling it alone.
One foot on the barge, one on the narrow stone steps, he swung up to lift a heavy box, then down to lay it in the boat. He looked to be in his early thirties, was tall and lithe, with an easy grace and a strength that treated the heavy weights as nothing.
Justine noted his very short black denim shorts, which revealed long, powerful thighs. He wore nothing else. His feet were bare, and so, she noted with interest, was his broad chest, which glistened in the sunlight as he dipped and stretched to reach the boxes.
His black hair was a little too long, and was shaggy and damp from his efforts, clinging to the heavy muscles of his neck. It made her smile just to look at such intense, masculine beauty.
Then he looked up and caught her gazing at him. It was too late now to pretend that she wasn't studying him. He didn't seem fazed, though. Perhaps he was used to women's admiring glances.
His grin seemed to confirm it. He had a wide mouth, which gave the biggest smile she had ever seen. It was blazing, glorious, lusty with life. And he aimed it straight at her.
Then he winked. And Justine gasped.
Dulcie was right. They did wink more intensely, a blatant invitation that said, "Come on in."
And suddenly she didn't know what to do.