Cinderella In The Sicilian's World(4)

By: Sharon Kendrick


Breathing in the salty air, she drove towards a beach famous for its natural beauty. It was the kind of place where people spent vast amounts of money to lie beneath fringed umbrellas and have iced drinks brought to them on trays. The kind of place she would usually have dismissed as being too grand and too fancy for someone like her. But today? Her heart pumped as she parked her bike close to the seafront bar. Today she felt different. She felt almost fatalistic.

Lina walked towards the open-air bar, acutely aware of how much she stood out from the rich tourists with their glitzy beach outfits and gold jewellery, but since she would never see any of these people again—did it really matter? She would perch on one of those tall bar stools and enjoy an icy sharp granita and afterwards drive off to her favourite secluded cove and have a swim. Pulling off her helmet and tucking it beneath her arm, she was shaking out her long hair as she picked her way along the sand-covered decking towards the beach bar.

And that was when she saw him.

Her knees went weak and something powerful unfurled low in her belly as she stared at the man who was sitting in the shade of the awning, effortlessly dominating the space around him, and Lina could feel the sudden racing of her heart as her gaze drank him in. Because it was him.

Him.

What were the chances?

Salvatore di Luca was perched on one of the tall bar stools, staring at his cell phone, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he was attracting the gaze of every person in the place, though surely he must have been used to it by now. Hadn’t the eyes of every villager been fixed on him from the moment he’d stepped from his chauffeur-driven car onto Caltarina’s dusty main street for his godfather’s funeral? Hadn’t women—of every age—surreptitiously patted their hair and pulled their shoulders back, as if unconsciously longing for him to gaze with admiration on their breasts?

And hadn’t Lina been one of them? Struck dumb by his potent presence. By his thick dark hair and bright blue eyes.

He was still wearing the required black funeral attire—an exquisitely cut suit, as her professional eye had noted earlier, which emphasised the innate strength rippling through his muscular frame. His only concession to the powerful heat had been to remove his jacket and tie and undo the top two buttons of his shirt, but he still stood out from the carelessly dressed holidaymakers like a forbidding dark cloud which had moved dangerously close to the glare of the sun.

Lina hesitated as she glanced down at the grains of sand which were clinging to her well-worn trainers, uncertain whether to introduce herself and say something, because surely that would be the right thing to do in the circumstances. To tell him she was very sorry about his godfather. Though what if he just looked through her blankly? He certainly wouldn’t have noticed her back in Caltarina—he had been too busy dealing with the attentions of the village elders who had surrounded him from the moment he’d arrived. And since he didn’t come from around here, he didn’t really know anyone by name. Yes, she had sometimes seen him from a distance when he had paid one of his unannounced visits, but she’d never actually spoken to him. Like her, most people in the village had simply gazed at him in wonder, as you might gaze on some bright star if it had tumbled down from the night sky.

Should she go up and offer him her condolences, or leave the poor man in peace? She almost smiled at the wildly inaccurate track of her thoughts because poor was the last word you’d ever use to describe a man like Salvatore di Luca. Even living in a village which sometimes felt like the land time had forgotten, none of Caltarina’s inhabitants could have failed to be aware of the fortune and wealth of the powerful tycoon.

She decided it was best to slip away unnoticed, but he chose just that moment to slide the cell phone into his jacket and to lift his head. His eyes narrowed and then refocussed and he appeared to be staring. At her. Lina blinked, half tempted to turn around to see if there was someone else he might have recognised standing behind her. Someone as rich and as beautiful as him. But no, his gaze was definitely on her. It was piercing through her like a bright sword and Lina felt momentarily disconcerted by his arresting beauty. Because...those eyes! Those incredible blue eyes, which were rumoured to be a throwback to the days when Greek warriors had conquered the jewelled island of Sicily. Hadn’t she overheard women whispering about their astonishing hue, not long after the coffin had been lowered deep into the hard, unforgiving soil? Talking about a man so avidly at such a time was perhaps a little disrespectful, but in a way Lina couldn’t blame them. Because wasn’t Salvatore di Luca the embodiment of everything it meant to be virile and masculine, and who wouldn’t be tempted to comment on something like that?