Daring to Love Again
A passionate encounter leads to a heart-wrenching multicultural marriage-of-convenience.
Farrah Meddeb thought the worst that could happen was watching the man she loves marry another woman…until a positive pregnancy test proves her wrong. After one night of abandon with best-man Cristoforo, she faces ostracism. But a marriage of convenience will protect her and enable her to pursue her dreams. Except her new husband has different ideas about the convenience aspect of their arrangement. Has she replaced one problem with another?
Cristoforo Bernini will be central in his child’s life no matter what. But can he convince his Tunisian bride that their marriage is for more than respectability? Family drama and demanding careers almost pull them apart, but the real test comes when their baby receives a terminal diagnosis. With no child to hold them together, does their marriage have any chance of survival?
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Copyright © 2022 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 Unplanned Wife
The fronds of the nearby palm trees rustled in the warm breeze. Gentle waves caressed the sandy beach, whispering devotion to a shore they’d visited since time began. Lavender and citrus, the bride’s signature scents, lingered in the air, in no hurry to depart the bubble of happiness.
“I now pronounce you husband and wife.”
It was done.
Farrah smiled—the artificial expression she’d perfected over the past six months—and rested her hand lightly on the navy suit–clad arm of the best man. Focusing on putting one foot in front of the other, she followed the bride and groom down the makeshift aisle.
The Tunisian guests called out mabrouk as the happy couple passed. Those who had traveled over from Italy wished the newlyweds a long marriage with a greeting of evviva gli sposi!The ululation from the Tunisian resort’s female staff, who had stopped work for a few minutes to witness the ceremony, temporarily drowned out the call to prayer from the nearby mosque.
No one extended condolences to Farrah on having to witness the man she loved marry another woman.
Self-pity would only destroy her. She’d started her life over once before; she could do it again. At least this time it wouldn’t mean living on the streets.
Mario had made his choice: it wasn’t her. And, dammit, not even she could deny he was happier with Bella than she’d ever seen him.
She must have sighed out loud—Cristoforo, Mario’s best man, spared her a quick glance. They trailed the newlywed couple into the large tent where the reception was to be held. Fairy lights had been strung along the supports, and a large crystal chandelier hung from the apex, dancing the candlelight from the tables around the room.
“Please tell me this isn’t a dry wedding,” Cristoforo said. His voice was gruff, as though he too were battling some un-wedding-like emotion.
Had he also been kicked in the heart by the happily-ever-after playing out around them?
A rusty laugh escaped her. “There’s a full bar behind the potted palms at the back of the tent. Waiters are supposed to hand out glasses of prosecco.” As if her words conjured them from the ether, six men appeared, balancing on their fingertips silver trays bearing the sparkling wine.
“I’m after something a little stronger than wine. Do you drink? Can I get you anything?” His gaze caught hers, and she sucked in a breath. Emerald eyes searched her face, and for the first time today she didn’t have to fake a smile.
“I’ll have what you’re having. Unless you’re drinking Campari. I’m done with bitterness.”
The smile that lit his face stole the inhalation right from her lungs. “Me too. Whisky all right?”
She nodded. He moved toward the bar like a cat stalking its prey. Farrah took a step back so her green dress camouflaged with the foliage. Cristo was stopped several times by other guests wanting to chat. All of them women.
If she were in any other female’s shoes, she’d probably be trying to figure out a way to catch his attention as well. He was several centimeters taller than most men in the room. His broad shoulders, encased in the navy suit, reminded her of an American football player. Couple that with his killer smile, amazing eyes, and a jaw that she itched to replicate in clay, and he was the full package.
Her gaze slipped south, and she bit her bottom lip. Yup, chart-topping on the drool-worthy list.
Her assessment of her wedding counterpart’s fine form was interrupted by a laugh straight in front of her.
“Cristo’s not as full of himself as it seems. He’s genuinely a nice guy,” said a young woman in her early thirties. The dark hair touching her shoulders was artfully highlighted with caramel color; the light-blue sheath dress she wore whispered understated elegance. This was a woman who knew her place in the world and held it with confidence. She extended her hand. “I’m Sabrina, Cristo’s cousin and a friend of Matteo—I mean Mario. Damn name change, I’ll never get used to it. Anyway, we all went to school together.”
Farrah shook the woman’s hand. “I’m Farrah, Mario’s business partner at Independent African Artisans.”
“Ah, yes, Bella mentioned your company. It sounds amazing. You must be incredibly talented to teach women to make pottery and then market it in Europe and North America.”
Farrah shrugged. “Many of the women are naturally artistic. I am just a conduit that allows them to get a product to market.”
“She’s being modest,” Mario’s deep voice cut in. “Farrah’s the brains and the talent behind IAA. She can turn a hunk of clay into an objet d’art faster than I can blink.”
Farrah lowered her gaze to the ground. The last thing she wanted today was more eyes on her. Her glaze of happiness was so thin she was sure the world could see through it to the heartache beneath. Before she could reply, Cristoforo thrust a glass of amber liquid into her line of sight.
“I wasn’t sure how you took it,” he said, then tilted his head toward a waiter who stood a pace behind him. “Do you want ice? Water? Soda?”
“A couple cubes of ice will do,” she replied. The waiter placed the ice in her drink, and she thanked him in Arabic. The contrast between the cold liquid and the burn it left in her throat eased some of the tightness in her chest. “Is this your first visit to Tunisia?” she asked Sabrina. Any topic but the wedding.
“Yes. But now that I have friends here, it probably won’t be my last. I’m looking forward to exploring tomorrow.”
“Mario has organized a couple of tours for the guests,” Bella said, joining the group. “When we go to the souk, you’ll want to partner with Farrah. She’s a professional haggler. The merchants are almost in tears when she finally settles on a price.” Bella wrapped an arm around her new husband’s waist and leaned her head on his shoulder for a moment. The love in the air wafted over and smacked Farrah straight in the face.
Her fake smile came out again. “I know what the real price should be and don’t stand for any nonsense.” She took a long sip of her whisky. “If you’ll excuse me for a moment, I have maid-of-honor duties to attend to.”
A small lie, but necessary. It was too soon. The alcohol hadn’t yet made it bearable to be next to the happy couple. What kind of idiot was she to agree to be a part of the wedding party? If Bella had been anything less than wonderful, Farrah would have refused.
In twenty minutes, she’d have to sit next to them at the table. And at some point, she’d stand up and give a speech about how fabulous they both were and how happy she was that they’d found each other again after six years apart.
Yeah, good times.
Farrah made her way over to Eva, the event coordinator who stood like a sentry at the back of the tent. She was there to oversee the staff and make sure everything ran like clockwork. Nothing else would be acceptable at Mario’s resort, especially on his most important day.
“Everything in order?” Farrah asked, glad she could slip back into her native Arabic.
“Of course,” Eva replied with a raise of one eyebrow. Nothing would dare go wrong on her watch. “How are you coping?”
Farrah plastered on her fake smile. “What do you think?”
“Good enough to fool most.” Four years of friendship between them didn’t leave a lot of room for secrets. “You are a brave woman, Farrah Meddeb. God will reward you for being so kind.”
Farrah and God were not on speaking terms at the moment, so she highly doubted that. “I’ll be happy to make it through the day with my dignity intact and my pinkie toes forgiving me for the torture they’re currently enduring.”
“I’d go barefoot over broken glass just to stand next to Mario’s best man.” The dreamy cadence in Eva’s tone drew Farrah’s eyes back across the space to Cristo, still standing with the bride, groom, and his cousin. As if knowing they were speaking of him, his emerald eyes met hers and he raised his now-empty whisky glass in a salute.
Cristoforo Bernini intrigued her. And that was never a good thing. Whenever he touched her, even with just a hand on the arm, her body came alive in a way it hadn’t before. Her cautious side warned her to keep her distance. The reckless side wanted to know what his hands would feel like on other parts of her body.
That inclination set off alarm bells.
Any relationship, even just a one-off physical one with her business partner’s best friend, had disaster written all over it.
In large capital letters.
In three languages.
But for the next few hours, there’d be no avoiding him. So she could fantasize. As long as it all stayed strictly in her brain. At least it took her mind off the loss of the future she thought she’d have with Mario.
“I’d better get back to the party,” she said. With a sympathetic smile from Eva, Farrah waded into the crowd, greeting the few she knew and introducing herself to those she didn’t. The whisky had worked its way into her bloodstream, and she managed to acknowledge other guests’ comments on the bride and groom’s happiness and the loveliness of the ceremony with good grace—and nothing worse than permanent fingernail prints in her palms.
One of the guests held a six-month-old baby, and Farrah made her way toward the beaming new mother. She could never resist the chance to be near children. That was the very best part of her job: all the children she got to hold, play with, as she taught their mothers a marketable skill.
She’d often wished for a family of her own, but today that fantasy seemed further away than ever. A relationship with Mario might have worked because they traveled together. She couldn’t expect any other man to be as understanding of her weeks away, often in dangerous, or at least unhygienic, conditions.
Could she continue working with a married man she’d once envisaged spending the rest of her life with? Would the constant display of their marital bliss drive her slowly insane? She glanced once more at the newlyweds. They stood so close they threw only one shadow.
It was time Farah took full control of Independent African Artisans. After all, it was her dream, her passion. Mario had his other investments, including his resorts. Bella had her farm and businesses. And both had already voted against her expansion plans. They’d undoubtedly be content to let her take over so they could focus more on each other.
That was the future she needed to concentrate on. In the meantime, she just needed to get through the next few hours.
A loud giggle pulled her attention back to the happy family. Lured by the sweetness of the child, she was almost there before she noticed that Cristo had arrived before her. He held out his hands for the baby, who waved chubby arms and legs eagerly in response.
“Ciao, Rico and Teresa,” Cristo greeted the family. “And how is my favorite lady?” he asked after taking hold of the baby.
Farrah was about to divert her path to avoid intruding, but he called to her. “Farrah, come meet Rico, Teresa, and their gorgeous baby, Lydia.” He blew a kiss against Lydia’s chubby cheeks, eliciting a delighted squeal.
Farrah tried to keep her attention on the couple as she asked them about their lives in Italy and if they’d been to Tunisia before, but her gaze kept being drawn to the tall man entertaining the little girl and the delightful baby giggles that tugged at her heart.
Staying positive was damn hard when today was a continual parade of everything she’d wanted but couldn’t have.
Eva approached and subtly tapped her watch. Reluctantly, Cristo handed the baby back to the parents. With a light touch on Farrah’s back, he steered her through the chattering guests to the podium and microphone set up in the corner. He was to invite all to sit down to dinner in Italian and English, and she was to do the same in Arabic.
As the bride was American and the groom Italian, the wedding followed a Western format rather than the traditional Tunisian style. Instead of sitting on a raised dais, Bella and Mario circulated among the guests, and there was enough food to feed a small army.
A couple of glasses of prosecco on top of the whisky helped the rest of the reception pass, if not in a blur, at least in a dreamy haze. Farrah managed to relax and enjoy Cristo’s dry, witty remarks and his toast to the happy couple. His comment that, despite having a triple murder charge hanging over his head and being exiled from his homeland, Mario still managed to be the luckiest man on earth, was met with loud applause.
Farrah kept her own well wishes simple and succinct, using the excuse of having to say her words in three languages. It had nothing to do with the lump in her throat that not even the strongest whisky could dissolve.
By the time the newlywed couple left the reception, Farah was determined to grab some of the lingering happiness for herself. Even if only for one night.
Her gaze snagged on Cristo, who had discarded his suit jacket hours earlier and rolled up his shirt sleeves. They’d danced together twice, and each time she’d had to wrench her body from his at the end because it longed to stay in his arms. Once again, their eyes met, and an unaccustomed warmth spread through her. Forget alcohol—he was more intoxicating.
He sauntered over, two glasses in his hand. He passed one to her, his emerald gaze never wavering. “Here’s to new beginnings,” he said, his voice low and husky.
Cristo was right.
It was time to start over.