Daring to Love Again
Amnesia obliterates a married couple’s shared past in this poignant second-chance-at-love story.
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.
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 life she's constructed for herself in his absence. But when Matteo’s freedom is threatened, Bella must decide which is most important to her: everything she’s painstakingly built or a second chance at a love that never died.
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Copyright © 2017 by Alexia Adams. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the author.
Excerpt From The Sicilian's Forgotten Wife
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 to ensure 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. 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.
“I remember.” He wanted to shout for joy but his head objected. Instead he grabbed Farrah’s hand and squeezed it tight. “My name is Matteo Vanni. I lived on a farm in Sicily with my father and wife Bella.” He tried to sit up but slumped back as a wave of pain overwhelmed him.
“Mario?” A tear glistened in the corner of her eye.
He softened his tone and attempted a reassuring smile. “Don’t you see, Farrah, this is the break I need. I remember who I am, where I’ve come from. Knowing my past, I can fix the things that have stopped me from claiming a future.”
A spark of optimism warmed her gaze as it roved over his features. “You mean, after four long years, we may finally be able to do more than make other people’s dreams come true?” She brushed a lock of his hair off his forehead, her fingers lingering in the touch.
“That’s my hope. I just need a few weeks to sort out whatever is left of my life in Sicily.”
He could find out why his wife hadn’t bothered to file a missing persons report when he disappeared. Then he could get rid of this band that bound him to a woman who obviously didn’t care enough to even look for him.
Dio, what if she’d been involved in the accident that claimed his memory and left him near dead, washed up on a Tunisian beach in only his underpants?