Il Libro d'amorebyharding©
The book sat on the very top shelf in the tiny, dusty shop we had stumbled upon after getting hopelessly lost in the back alleys of Naples. We had been on our way to the Reggia di Capodimonte but had taken a wrong turn, made the mistake worse by trying to retrace our steps, probably turned right instead of left, or left instead of right, and found ourselves in alleys that became narrower and more shaded the further we went. The top of the tall buildings overhung the street. The sun, only moments before too hot, had gone, only the thinnest line of blue showing above us. The air smelled of damp stone, the washing that hung from lines between the buildings, and fried garlic.
"I'm cold," my girlfriend Samantha said, wrapping her arms around herself. We had dressed that morning expecting another hot day. Sam was in short cargo pants and a halter top, braless, her small breasts requiring no support, and I could see her nipples had stiffened in the cold. I was sure it was the cold, because I knew, to my cost, she rarely if ever experienced sexual arousal.
I put my arm around her shoulder, about all I could offer. I was dressed the same way - but had a thin tee shirt rather than a halter top, they didn't suit me - so had nothing to offer she could put around herself.
"We'll find a way out soon," I said, turning left. I had gone straight over every junction, on the theory that, eventually, as long as I kept going the same way, we would come out into sunlight, find other people, and rediscover civilization. Now I suspected that some of the alleys curved around on themselves, even though it wasn't obvious. We had climbed and descended long flights of steps. I had seen the sun catch on one side of the rooftops and then the other. I knew, eventually, we would get out. We had to.
Instead we entered the narrowest alley of all, and Sam slowed.
"I don't like this, Chris. Can't we just go back?"
"To where?" I said patiently. She had raised the idea before. But if we didn't know where the hell we were, how were we going to work out where "back" was? "Let's just keep going."
I went ahead, and reluctantly she followed. I knew she would. I had a good feeling now, as though we were almost out.
Down at street level the houses crowded close on either side offered little comfort. Flaking doors, filthy windows where they could be seen, but mostly it was closed shutters. The alley turned at a right angle and as we came around the corner the old bookshop was ahead of us. The alley was a dead end and my heart sank.
"We'll have to go back now, Chris," Sam said, satisfaction in her voice.
"I guess. Let's just take a look at the books first."
She sighed, but she knew how I felt about books, any books, even the no doubt old Italian ones that were all we would see.
We had arrived in Naples three days before and booked into a small, cheap hotel. This was week three of our trip around Italy, my parent's High School graduation present to me. Sam's parents had agreed, reluctantly, to let her come with me, but I had to promise to take great care of her, and to "be careful". This last said in that tone of voice that makes it clear if we came back and Sam had, somehow, gotten pregnant or caught some awful disease, my life would be worthless.
Both my parent's and Sam's knew we slept together. We had spent nights in each other's houses, and had never, in the last year, slept in separate rooms. So I guess they were OK and knew we were having sex, but jetting over to Italy for six weeks was something else.
Before we left both Sam and I knew this would be our last time together. I was due to fly to Berkeley, Sam was going to the opposite coast to study in New York. We had been going out since we were both thirteen, had never had any other boyfriend or girlfriend, and always assumed we would get married, settle down and have kids.
That changed when we turned seventeen and I managed to get Sam to take her top off for the first time. We had fooled around and spent a long time kissing and fondling, Sam slapping my hand away whenever is strayed.
Then, when we both turned eighteen I kind of assumed we would go all the way. And we did, eventually, and that was when I discovered Sam was not really into sex. After a couple of months of her lying back and letting me hump myself to an unsatisfactory climax on top of her I realized that I needed more than she wanted to, or was capable, of giving.
Sam said she still loved me, and I guess the fact she let me fuck her showed she believed that.
But I was young, my sex drive was on afterburner, and I needed more... a lot more.
I don't know if the Italy trip was an attempt to heal our relationship, or the final straw that would break it. Either way I didn't care, just so long as something changed.
We had stayed in small hotels, not knowing sometimes even which town we were going to end up in. Quite soon after arriving Sam made it clear that, if twin beds were available, that was her preference. If there was only a double, then she would put up with it, but that did not mean sex was on the agenda.
So we traveled through Italy, me with my cock in a state of almost permanent arousal with little in the way of relief. In retrospect maybe Italy was a mistake. There were too many beautiful women. On the beaches they wore the tiniest of bikinis, frequently just the bottoms.
Occasionally I locked myself in the bathroom and took care of myself, but always reluctantly, always in the belief that maybe, tonight, Sam would relent and I would not need to use my own hand.
It didn't help that Sam was gorgeous. She stood five feet four and was very slim. Her breasts were small, but she had great nipples that would grow extremely long when I sucked them - at least I think they could, but my memory was even failing me in that, so long had it been since I had done that with her.
Her legs were long and slim, her hips narrow and her butt small and tight.
Her pussy was completely untrimmed, just one more area of dispute between us. She couldn't see the point in shaving or even trimming. To her, it didn't matter. Even when we went to the beach, which was often, and her bikini bottoms showed a few stray curls peeking out the sides she was oblivious.
It didn't seem to bother the Italian men, because I saw the looks she got. Had to fight them off at times. It appears that the presence of husband or boyfriend just adds to the pleasure of the game in Italy. My language skills were OK, and I managed to get by when no one spoke English, but I had learned a lot of new words since I arrived they had never covered in school.
Despite the wild undergrowth, I still wanted to go down on Sam, but apart from a couple of times early in our sexual relationship, that was out of bounds as well.
As for her going down on me... well, I hadn't even dared raise that subject.
Despite my growing frustration, I was having a great time, and I think Sam was too. We started in the north and planned to work our way down the length of the country, finish up in Sicily and then a last week in Sardinia lazing on a beach before flying home. July was half way through, then in August we went to college and I knew that would be it.
We flew into Turin and took a train north. In the Alps we rode a cable car and walked on a glacier.
We visited the big northern lakes, went on to Venice where we were ripped off. American tourists, yay. They saw us coming, and loved it.
Then we drifted down the eastern seaboard, astounded by one picturesque town after another.
Cutting across, we were again ripped off in Rome.
We stayed in tiny hotels in Umbria and Tuscany, lazing around cobbled town squares where we ate the best pasta in the world and drank soft Italian red wine.
Sam wanted to visit Art Galleries because she was going to major in Renaissance painters, and I went with her and even enjoyed it.
I wanted to see hills and ancient monuments and swim in the sea, and we did that too.
One day we went skinny dipping in a secluded bay just south of Rome, cut off on our own private beach, and afterwards Sam had sunbathed without bothering to dress and as evening fell she let me fuck her for the first time in two weeks. She even tried to pretend she enjoyed herself, which I loved her for. In fact, that had been the last time we had sex. Now, ten days later, we were lost in Naples, standing outside a second hand bookshop. Sam took my hand nervously and we stared through the clean window at titles laid out on soft cloth.
"Can we go in, just for a minute?" I asked.
Sam loves art. I love books. Even old Italian books I can't understand.
She lifted her shoulders, tanned and smooth, and said, "I guess. We're here now."
I pushed the door and a bell dinged loudly above it. Inside the air was warmer than the alley, thick with the scent of old paper, leather bindings, ink made in ways modern man has forgotten. There was more light than I expected and I stood in the doorway for a moment until I felt Sam push me in the back.
"Go on then," she said, and I moved into the one large room.
Shelves lined all the walls, even the far one where a small table was set up. Behind the table was a single gap in the shelving and a recessed door. As I moved around looking at the enormous range of books on display, that door opened and a very old woman dressed in black emerged.
"Buongiorno," she said, nodding briefly. Her voice was much younger than her appearance.
I returned her greeting, believing my accent was improving, and she nodded and turned back through the door and I wondered what I had done wrong.
A couple of minutes passed and then the door opened again and a young woman appeared, probably twenty, also dressed in black but on her it looked good. Her hair was dark, falling over narrow shoulders.
"Buongiorno," she repeated the greeting, then said, in good English. "My grandmother speaks Italian only. She recognized your accent and sent me to help you. Are you looking for anything in particular?"
I shook my head. "Just browsing. Is that alright?"
"Of course," she said, smiling, her teeth very white against her Mediterranean skin. "Take as long as you like. If you need me I am only through the back. Just ring the bell," and she gave a small brass bell on the table a ding. With another smile she turned and went through the door, leaving it open behind her. I watched her go, watched the way her thin hips moved, then drew my attention back to the bookshelves.
Sam was leafing through some old fashion magazines in a wooden rack. I turned around, pulling out titles, reading front pieces, struggling through the Italian and wondering did I really want to buy a book written in a different language to my own?
But I knew the answer. Yes, of course I did. In August I was going to Berkeley to major in French and Italian. My French was already good, almost fluent, but my Italian less so. This trip was meant to give me practice and prepare me for the first semester in California. So yes, I would buy a book and I would read the entire text until I understood every single word.
I browsed, chose, judged and returned.
Then I saw it. A small volume in a pale cover, high up on a shelf. I stretched to reach it, could barely touch my fingertips to it, but as they brushed the spine the book toppled forward and simply fell into my hand. It felt comfortable there, light, thin, and without opening it I thought: Yes, I could cope with this, it's not too long.
I blew on the cover to remove dust and opened it. It was old, I could tell that much, and the title page was produced in an ornate script, and long dead hands had inscribed their names inside. As I turned the pages I could see other notes in the margins, and the book gave me a warm feeling. It had been read, loved and cherished. I wanted it. No, more than that. I needed it. Had to have it.
I turned back to the table to ring the bell, but the proprietor was already there, both the old woman and her granddaughter.
I smiled, a little surprised, and held the book up.
"Quanto costa?" I asked.
"One hundred and fifty euro," the young woman replied.
Ouch. Two hundred dollars. For a musty old book.
She waited, watching me.
I went to replace the book, but found I couldn't. It called to me. Again, I knew, I had to own this small book. Nothing on earth could make me walk from the shop without it in my possession.
"I don't suppose you take Amex?" I asked.
The young woman lifted her shoulders apologetically.
I pulled my wallet out of my canvas shoulder bag, opened it and leafed through the notes inside. I could just about make it. We would need to visit an ATM on the way back to the hotel, but if I wanted I could purchase the book.
"One fifty?" I repeated.
The young woman nodded, and her grandmother watched me with dark eyes, and she nodded as well, once.
I looked at the granddaughter. A faint smile played on her lips, her eyes caught the light from the window but her pupils were still large. She stood relaxed, breathing gently, and I found myself growing aroused in her presence and mentally shook myself. What the hell was happening here?
"I'll take it," I said, counting out the notes.
"Would you like me to wrap the book for you?" The young woman asked.
I pulled it back from her hand. "No. I'll... I'll put it in my bag, thanks."
She nodded slowly, took my money and handed it to her grandmother, who smiled and nodded once more. She spoke in Italian, very quickly, and I struggled to keep up, pulling only the odd word from her sentences. Guardian. Good - repeated several times, that one was easy. Something I translated as passion, but which I may have gotten wrong. Much else that went past me.
The younger woman listened, then said, "My grandmother says you have made a good choice, signore. She trusts you will be very happy with the book."
"I hope so," I said, and slipped it inside my bag.
Suddenly, I realized I was not alone. For a while I had completely forgotten Sam. Now I turned to see her with arms crossed, tapping her foot impatiently.
I turned back and said, "I'm afraid we are also a little lost. Would it be possible to direct us back to Via Medina?"
"Of course." The young woman came around from the table and brushed past me, trailing an unfamiliar perfume that lodged in my head. For a moment dizziness washed through me, then faded as I breathed deeply.
The bell on the door sounded as she opened it. Sam went through and I followed, slowing as I passed her to draw in another head full of that scent.
Outside, she pointed back the way we came, instructed us to turn left, left, right and left again and we would find ourselves at our destination. It sounded far, far too simple and I don't think I believed her, but we followed her instructions and within five minutes were back on familiar streets.
Sam was quiet, and I wondered if she thought me a fool for paying so much money for the book. But it was my money, I was bankrolling our holiday so she could hardly complain. OK, correction, my Dad was bankrolling the trip, but he had more money than he knew what to do with and wouldn't miss it.
I stopped at an ATM and withdrew four hundred euro.
Somewhere, the day had almost gone and the sky was turning dark blue. Cafes were re-opening, tables and chairs appearing on sidewalks. Now we had emerged from the alleys the day was warm, the breeze mild.
"Do you want to eat first, or go back to the hotel and come back out later?" I asked Sam.
"Hotel," she said. "I feel really gross. I need a long shower before I even think about eating."
We walked side by side, and half way back to the hotel Sam reached over and took my hand. I smiled, holding her smaller hand inside mine.
Our room in the hotel was small, and we shared a bathroom with another on the same top floor. At the moment the other room was unoccupied, so the bathroom was as good as ours. It was six paces along the corridor from our door, and Sam left the door open as she went to shower.
I sat in the single chair by the open window, the view out over tiled roofs, beyond them domes and spires of churches, in the very far distance, a faint blue shimmer that might have been the Mediterranean.
I pulled the book from my bag and opened it again, peered at the front piece, finding details I had missed before.
I was amazed at the antiquity. The Italian was old and the phrasing unusual, but that would be good, make it more of a challenge.
I read: "This book was produced in the year of our lord 1497 in the town of Padova."
"All future guardians of this book must bear the full weight of responsibility carried within these pages. Only those of extreme sensuality may make use of the knowledge contained within. Use these spells wisely, and always do no harm."
I shook my head, lowering the book and gazing out over the view.
I had just spent two hundred bucks on a wind-up!
I wondered if I would be able to find the shop again tomorrow and return it.
I could faintly hear the shower running, the sound carried along the corridor and in through the open door, water splashing as Sam soaped herself. I pictured her in the spray of water, her slim body covered in soap, water running down over her skin. We were both exercise freaks. Sam loved running and swimming. I ran but my main pleasure was to swim long distances.
It had made us both toned. Sam had a pretty face, short brown hair and small breasts. Her hips were almost non-existent, but her ass was tight and firm. I considered it a criminal waste of a gorgeous body that she didn't enjoy sex. We could have had so much fun together.
I lifted the book and turned the page, struggling through the first page of text.
Each page seemed self contained, the entire book organized in the same way.
At the top of each page was a short section, almost verse, which consisted of between five and seven lines. Never an even number. I flicked through, scanning, found one page with three lines of verse, one with eleven, but seven seemed the most common, followed by five.
Underneath the verse was one long paragraph of dense text. I started working through the first page, referring to my small dictionary to translate the parts I didn't know, guessing some of the more archaic phrases.
I glanced up, listening. Sam was taking her time, the shower still running.
I translated the first few lines, struggling, but thought they read:
"In certain times some women may lose interest in matters of the flesh and no longer wish to (partake of? enjoy?) congress. In these instances, this first simple spell will loosen their ties, (unfetter?) their (corsets? underwear?) and lay their pure beauty at the disposal of the knowledgeable magi..."
I grinned. It was a good fake, and interesting, I had to admit.
I went back to the verse and read it through, not bothering to translate it fully.
I read the lines once, easily, my Italian rolling through the room and out the open window into the evening air.
I sat back in the chair, read them again. Looked out into the gathering night and read them a third time, no longer needing to look at the page. They had embedded themselves in my memory; if I closed my eyes I could almost see them as a glowing script.
For some reason I felt my cock stir and stiffen in my pants. It snaked down my leg, extending slowly, until it was fully hard.
The shower stopped.
I sat, watching the air grow thick, watching lights flicker on among the houses. I was sure I could hear the sea crashing against the distant shoreline, but that was impossible.
The bathroom door opened and I heard Sam's bare feet pad back along the wooden floor of the corridor.
I turned to see her enter the room. She had not dressed, instead wrapping a large white towel around herself, tucking the top in over her breasts. She pushed the door closed with her hip and walked to the bed, sat leaning against the headboard, her long slim legs stretched out. The towel did not extend far, and lying as she was I had a clear view up between her legs to her naked pussy.