Matteo Vanni washed up on a Tunisian beach six years ago with no clothes, identity documents, or memories, just a wedding ring to link him to his past. He’s reinvented himself as a wealthy entrepreneur, but now a knock on the head restores some of his memories, particularly that his wife Bella is waiting for him in Sicily. But returning to his native land and digging into his mysterious and sudden disappearance could cost this new millionaire everything.
Sheep farmer Bella Vanni has accepted that her presumed-dead husband is long gone, so it’s a huge shock when he knocks on her door and announces his desire to resume their marriage. She can’t trust his answers on where he’s been or why he left, and she certainly isn’t keen to walk away from the family farm she labored to save. But their mutual passion won’t be denied.
by Alexia Adams
Sensuality Level: Sensual
When not breaking up fights among her four children or dreaming of a world without housework, Alexia Adams writes contemporary romance stories that reflect her love of exotic destinations and diverse characters and cultures. Find Alexia Adams at www.alexia-adams.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter @AlexiaAdamsAuth.
An excerpt from Under the Sicilian Sky:
Mario bit back the angry words at the tip of his tongue. Venting might make him feel better, but it wouldn’t fix the problem. “This load isn’t secured properly,” he said to the driver in Arabic.
The driver tugged on one of the ropes as if to prove it was stable, and the load shifted farther to the left.
“Stop!” Mario yelled. This shipment of sunbaked clay vases was already two days late. If it didn’t get to the port in time to load on the boat to Rotterdam, all their diligent planning in ensuring his company’s perfect supply record would be ruined. More importantly, it would delay construction of the medical facility that would provide much-needed healthcare for the women who made the vases.
Before Mario could instruct the driver on how to tie down the crates properly, a bell sounded and the village’s newly built school let out. Within seconds, he was surrounded by children of all different sizes. Eighteen months ago, when he’d first come to this Libyan village, the specter of death had hung low over the mud and straw huts. Now the laughter of children competed with the women’s songs as they worked at something that earned them a decent living. If he accomplished nothing else in his life, he could say he’d helped save these precious humans from malnourishment.
“Super Mario, Super Mario,” the children chanted as he handed out colored pencils. It never ceased to amaze him that kids on the edge of the Sahara, who had little contact with the outside world, had heard of the game after which he was named. Or renamed, as the case was. His last name, Barilla, he’d taken off a package of pasta. He dreamed in Italian, so he figured that must be his native language and nationality. But no male matching his description had been reported missing in Italy. So, really, it was anyone’s guess where he’d come from.
A loud creak from the crates perched precariously on the truck brought his attention back to the load of precious cargo. He couldn’t allow three months’ worth of the women’s hard work to be destroyed because one man was too lazy or too stupid to do his job properly.
“Go now,” he told the children. “I’ll come say goodbye in a minute.”
With the colored pencils clutched in their little hands, they raced off to show their mothers what he’d brought this time. Farrah had a small girl on each of her hips, one barely old enough to walk. The smile on his business partner’s face as she watched the others race off was one of pure delight. She adored children.
They had the same goals and work ethic and enjoyed each other’s company. More than once he’d considered transitioning their working relationship to include a personal one. Given Farrah’s cultural background, however, he had to do it right. He cared for her too much to bring reproach on her. But the golden shackle on his ring finger told him he was in no position to offer her marriage.
The driver moved to the other side of the vehicle and tugged on the rope across the top of the cargo. The uppermost crate slid closer to the edge, barely supported now by the one below it. Mario’s heart froze as he calculated the trajectory should it fall—straight on top of Farrah and the baby girls.
“Farrah! Move!” Mario screamed. As though in slow motion, she looked up, her eyes widening and, mouth open, tried to hurry away. But her foot caught on her long skirt, pitching her forward. He raced to her side, his movements slowed by the loose sand under his feet. Heart in his throat, he managed to catch her and the two toddlers she held.
A loud snap. The top crate teetered then tumbled. He swiveled, placing himself between the falling cargo and Farrah and the two children. A scream. A sharp burst of intense brightness, like a star going supernova. Then everything went black.
“Mario, Mario!” A frantic voice came to him through the dark. Something touched his face and he went to move his head but stopped at the searing pain.
He tried to open his eyes, but a blinding light made him close them again.
“He’s coming around,” another voice added.
The sunshine penetrating his eyelids dimmed and he made another attempt to open them.
“Mario, are you okay?”
He turned toward the voice and darkness descended again for a second. When he managed to focus, the face of a beautiful woman with dark, kohl-rimmed eyes, wearing a white hijab, greeted him. His brain searched for a name. Bella? No. Farrah.
“I’m okay.” His lips were covered in sand, and as he spoke some fell in his mouth. He tried to spit it out, but he was too dry.
“Can he sit up?” Farrah asked the UN healthcare worker who knelt on his other side.
“Yes, I don’t think anything is broken,” the man replied. “But he should get to a city and have that head wound checked out. He probably has a concussion.”
Farrah handed him a bottle of water while she propped him up against her. He closed his eyes as the world spun.
“The top crate fell off the truck and hit you on the head,” she answered.
“Is Bella okay?” he asked.
“Bella?” Farrah’s brows drew together, and she exchanged a worried look with the doctor.
A flood of pictures swamped his mind. His wife. His father. Sicily. The farm. Smiling down at a dark-haired woman as they exchanged vows on the beach. Her gorgeous hazel eyes were lit with happiness, her small, delicate hand holding his, trusting him, loving him, as he slid a wedding ring on her finger.