A/N I would like to thank hippogriff-tamer for all of her help with this story.
"Because the truth is, Sophie, I am madly, truly, deeply, passionately in love with you."
Sophie smiled as she thought of Charlie's poignant declaration of love. At seeing him, with Patricia, at Claire's wedding, her heart plummeted into her stomach. She had gone there to tell him of her feelings for him and he appeared to have moved on. Yet, as he climbed the wall and spoke those words she smiled, happier than she had been in a long time.
"Sophie," Charlie called from downstairs. She was sitting at her chestnut colored vanity table in the room Claire had given her while she and Charlie were staying with her and Lorenzo.
"I'll be down in a minute," she called back to him.
She ran the brush through her golden tresses once more before standing and leaving the room. As she descended the stairs, she saw Charlie waiting for her at the bottom, wearing tan pants and a white button up shirt with the sleeves pushed up to his elbow; his right hand resting on the darkly wooded baluster. He smiled and took her hand in his as she reached him, pulling her to him and giving her a chaste kiss.
"Hey," she said once they had parted before glancing around and adding, "Is something wrong?" It was unusual for Charlie to be waiting for her at the foot of the stairs and she thought that maybe something had happened with Claire.
"No, I just finished with the brief that's due as soon as we return, so I decided to see what you were doing."
Sophie sighed in relief. It had been a working holiday for Charlie. There was a case he was working on that involved a father of a ten year old boy who was being wrongly imprisoned. Knowing what it felt like to lose parents at a young age, he wanted to help the man so he could go back to his son.
Sophie grinned; glad that he could finally rest the last couple days they were in Italy. "I should've known," she told him, good naturedly. She admired how dedicated he was to his cases trying to protect human rights.
"You can't tell me that weren't busy writing all morning," he retorted, grinning at her.
She shook her head but they both knew that she had been writing. It had been a working holiday for her as well. Her boss at the New Yorker wanted a follow-up to the story about Claire and Lorenzo. She had left her tattered leather journal sitting upon her bed before she had gone to her vanity.
"I was actually talking to Lorenzo earlier. He was telling me some stories about his family."
"Research for your follow-up?" he asked; a questioning look in his eyes.
Sophie chuckled, knowing that Charlie's expression meant that didn't think that her boss would want to read about family stories. The story was supposed to chronicle Claire and Lorenzo after they had found each other again. "Well, his stories do help me understand him better," she answered.
Charlie opened his mouth to speak but closed it again.
She continued as if he had done nothing. "He didn't even get to finish all of his stories before he had to go out to meet with his son."
"Is he going to tell you more stories when he returns?"
"No," she answered. "Since the brief is finished would you like to accompany me to see Isabella, Francesca, Donatella and Maria? I was going to head out to Verona to visit them." Over time, Sophie had noticed that since she'd been with Charlie she'd began to speak more formally.
He frowned. "I'm afraid I can't Sophie."
"Oh, is there something else that needs to be done?" she inquired, wondering if he'd forgotten to mention anything else that needed to be finished for the case.
"No, with this brief the case should be wrapped up neatly," he answered, haughtily.
She smiled. Just as she was influenced by his manner of speaking, he had been influenced by hers, using more American phrases.
Charlie spoke again, answering Sophie's unspoken question. "Gran wants to speak with me."
"Oh, about what?"
He shrugged. "She didn't say."
"Okay. I'll leave you to Claire then and I'll pay Verona a visit," she replied.
He nodded. "I'll see you later."
She gave him a tender kiss. "Okay."
A warm breeze ruffled the skirt of Sophie's blue dress as knocked on the door to the office where Juliet's Secretaries responded to the letters people left on the wall.
"Ciao," she greeted when Isabella opened the door. She was dressed in a brown skirt and light green blouse.
"Sophie!" Isabella returned, happily. She moved away from the door as to allow Sophie to enter.
The room was just as it was when Sophie first saw it; spacious with a large window which afforded enough light for the secretaries to write their responses. The other women were seated in their usual places around a long table covered with pink paper and pens. Except for Isabella, who was younger, all the women were of the same age. Donatella had been married for fifty years to the same man. Francesca was a nurse and Maria had twelve children, twenty-nine grandchildren, and fifteen great-grandchildren. They all were similarly attired in blouses as they looked up on hearing Sophie, who greeted them in kind after they'd all welcomed her. Maria wore a red vest over a pink shirt while Francesca and Donatella wore white.
"It's so nice to see you," Maria stated, her bright red hair catching the light, making the color more vibrant.
"You too," Sophie told her.
"How are you?" Francesca asked.
Donatella spoke before Sophie could answer. "Never mind that. How's that handsome man of yours?"
Everyone laughed, including Sophie. "We are both doing well," she answered.
"Why didn't he escort you here like a gentleman?" Donatella said.
"A man should always escort a lady," Maria added with a nod to Donatella.
Sophie smiled at them. "Claire needed him."
"Ah, how is dear Claire?" Isabella asked.
They had all known about the letter and her finding Lorenzo so Sophie wasn't surprised that she'd ask. She smiled as she answered. "She seems truly happy," she told her.
Donatella sighed, contentedly. "That's because she's found her true love."
"L'amore e meraviglioso," Maria said, with a sigh of her own. Donatella nodded her head in agreement.
"Love can also cause pain," Francesca told them.
The other women rolled their eyes. "Oh, Francesca," Isabella stated.
"It's true," Francesca said to her.
"So, Claire needed Charlie," Maria said, bringing the subject back to where it had been before Francesca started on the follies of love.
Sophie nodded glad that Maria had changed the subject.
"Maybe they have something important to discuss," Donatella guessed.
Maria's eyes lit up. "Maybe it has to do with a question?"
Isabella shot her a scathing look; a look that Sophie had never seen her give to anyone before and it baffled her. She was unsure if or how to respond since she didn't know what they were discussing so she allowed herself to glance around the room, letting her eyes fall upon the basketful of pink envelopes in front of the chair Isabella sat in.
Sophie looked up, seeing Isabella's eyes where hers had just been. "Those are from yesterday," Isabella told her. She glanced out the window before adding, "I still need to collect the letters for today, would you like to help me?"
"Yes," Sophie told her. As she watched Isabella get the wicker basket she used to place the letters, Sophie noticed Maria and Donatella smile at each other, like they were sharing a secret between one another. Isabella and Francesca didn't seem aware of it.
"Ready, Sophie?" Isabella inquired a moment later.
Sophie nodded and they left the room, Isabella in the lead.
As she rounded the corner to Juliet's house she saw that it was abandoned except for one lone wavy blonde haired man wearing a white shirt and tan pants. He was standing near the brick wall. As she neared the man, he turned. Sophie saw Charlie's blue eyes staring back at her.
"Charlie!" she exclaimed.
He smiled back at her. Sophie looked to Isabella for an explanation but she just grinned and gave her arm a gentle squeeze before turning to start back from where they had just come. Sophie watched her retreating form, wondering what Charlie was doing in Verona when he was supposed to be back at the vineyard. She returned her gaze to him, seeing his rigid form, hands folded behind his back. Upon taking a deep breath, as to calm himself, he looked back to her.
Sophie walked over to him, a confused expression across her face. "What's going on?" she asked.
Charlie's posture relaxed as he moved his hands, taking her left in his right. He silently guided her to the nearest marble bench, sitting down on it. Sophie followed his lead, sitting besides him.
A few minutes passed before Charlie spoke. "Sophie, I know that when we met it was far from love at first sight…"
She grinned as she remembered when he came to ask who'd written the letter to his grandmother and how he was displeased with her sending it.
His eyes softened as if he was recalling the same memories as he continued. "….but as we've come to know one another, I've found that I don't want to go a single day without seeing you, hearing what's on your mind."
Sophie tensed as she began to realize where this was heading. Charlie became silent as he saw her muscles tighten but she just smiled, urging him to go on. He moved off the bench and kneeled next to her, her left hand still in his. She slowly covered her mouth with her right hand.
He gazed up at her, producing a silver ring with an intricate blue twist design. "I guess what I'm trying to say is Sophie Hall, would do me the great honor of becoming my wife?"
Sophie's eyes glistened and her right hand shook as she took in the scene before her. "Yes," she said simply, after a moment.
Charlie beamed as he stood, drawing her with him and slipped the ring onto her left ring finger. Her left arm encircled his neck while her right came to rest on his back as he cupped her cheek with his left hand and placed his right on her back, pulling her closer to him as their lips met.
Once they parted, Sophie glanced down at the newly placed ring. "Is this…?"
"Gran's," Charlie answered before she could finish. "Yes, when I told her of my plans to ask for your hand, she handed it to me and told me to give you this," he said, rubbing his thumb over the ring.
"So that's what Claire wanted to talk to you about."
"And Isabella?" she asked.
"I knew that you wanted to visit them while we were here so I called her asking for her assistance one day when you thought I was working."
Sophie now understood Isabella's expression as Maria mentioned a question and the look that passed between Maria and Donatella as she left. They had known that Charlie was going to propose. She glanced around at the wall and the balcony, finally finding her way back to Charlie's still radiant face. This was the place where she had first discovered Claire's letter, and where their journey began to find Lorenzo. Now it had become the place where they'd start a new chapter together.
Charlie saw her turn her head looking at their surroundings. "I thought that this would be the perfect place."
"It is perfect," Sophie agreed, drawing his lips down to meet hers once more.
L'amore e meraviglioso-Love is Wonderful