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Authors: Lori Dillon

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BOOK: Out of the Ashes
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“Perhaps you are right. Serafina could use some help.”

The decision made,
Heberto
led David out of the villa and down the street. As they walked,
Heberto
pointed out various buildings, telling David their names and what the archeologists thought they were used for, but David only half listened. He was paying more attention to possible vantage points, trying to determine in which direction the German camp might lie. Soon, they came to a building were only the front room had been excavated, while the rest remained buried under tons of dirt. They climbed the mound of earth surrounding its exterior wall, and
Heberto
drew David’s attention to a small figure in a shallow pit at the top.

Roomy, tan trousers and a full white shirt did little to hide what was undoubtedly a very feminine figure beneath. David watched the woman digging as they approached. Each vicious jab of her shovel stabbed deep into the defenseless earth. She flung the dirt over her shoulder to fall nowhere near the bucket it was intended to land in.

The woman threw the shovel at the ground in an obvious fit of temper, then dropped to her knees and began digging with her bare hands.

“Serafina,”
Heberto
called as they drew near. “I have brought you someone to help with your digging.”

With her back to them and a large-brimmed straw hat on her head, he had yet to see her face. She stopped clawing at the ground and placed her dirt-caked hands on her equally filthy thighs, the rapid rise and fall of her shoulders evidence of her recent exertion.

“This is David Corbelli. The
professore
has assigned him to work with you.”

The woman’s knuckles turned white as her fingers squeezed her thighs. Long seconds trickled by like the sweat running down David’s temples without a movement from her. Finally, she stood and turned to them. David was shocked, to say the least.

Expecting to see the typical straight dark hair, brown eyes, and olive skin so common among the Southern Italians, instead he was met with large blue eyes and a light, tanned complexion with just a smattering of freckles. Wild tendrils of hair escaped the confines of the hat, but the shadow it created prevented him from telling what color it was. Serafina Pisano looked so wholesome and all-American, he could have plucked her straight off any one of a dozen farms in Virginia.

Then, she opened her mouth, and any illusions he had about her disappeared. A stream of colorful Italian curses flowed off her tongue, some aimed at him, but most directed at the male population in general.

Nope, American she was not. Serafina Pisano was all fire-breathing Italian.

Hands on her hips, she inspected him up and down.

“Great. That’s all I need—another hot-blooded male.” She turned and stalked off, leaving David and
Heberto
to stand in her dust.

Watching her storm away, David caught sight of Mount Vesuvius rising silently in the distance beyond the ruins. After witnessing Serafina’s explosive eruption, he wondered which was more volatile—the mountain or the woman?

* * *

 

Heberto
crept silently into Maria Angelico’s home and made his way down the hallway. The house was quiet, the only sound the clattering of dishes in the kitchen sink. Most of the tenants who rented rooms in the villa had not yet returned for the evening.

The old woman’s back was to him as he entered the kitchen, her attention focused on the dirty dishes. He tiptoed behind her and reached around to sneak a
zeppole
cooling on a tray on the counter. Without turning, Maria slapped at his hand with a soapy wooden spoon.

He jerked the offending appendage back and cradled it against his chest.

“What did you do that for?”

“You’ll spoil your dinner. Besides, we’re not in heaven, Hershel.” Marsha turned from the sink and shook her index finger at him. “You
can
get fat, your arteries
can
clog, and you
can
have a heart attack. Don’t you even think about dying on me and leaving me here alone to finish this job.”

“Darn it, Marsha.” Hershel pouted. “You’re taking all the fun out of being mortal again.”

“We’re not here to have fun. We’re here to see to it that David and Serafina get together.” Marsha handed him one of the warm fritters and motioned him to sit at the small linoleum table before taking the chair opposite him. “So, how are things progressing on your end?”

“Fine. I’ve managed to get David assigned as her assistant. That should give them plenty of time alone together.”

“That’s wonderful! And so fast.” She reached across the table and patted his hand. “I’m very proud of you.”

Hershel shrugged, but beamed all the same at his wife’s praise.

“It was nothing, really. Just a little suggestion in the
Professore
Moretti’s
ear was all it took.”

Marsha bounced in her chair, hardly able to contain her excitement. “Oh, I can’t wait to meet him. What’s he like?”

“Let me see, he’s—”

“Is he handsome?”

“Well, I guess he’s—”

“Is he tall or short?”

“I’d say —”

“What about his eyes? Are they blue or green?”

“I think they’re—”

“Oh, never mind.” Marsha waved her hand at him. “You wouldn’t describe him right anyway. I’ll just have to find out for myself.”

Hershel stared at her with a slack-jawed expression, not daring to say another word.

She put her elbow on the table and rested her chin in the palm of her hand. Her face took on a dreamy glow.

“I can’t believe he’s finally here. Serafina has been living with us so long, it’s like she’s our own granddaughter. I thought he would never come, and now he’s finally here. After so long, I can’t believe it’s all starting to happen.”

He popped the last morsel of the
zeppole
into his mouth.

“Now, maybe we can finally go home.”

 
“We can’t do that. We have to stay until they fall in love.”

 
“Might be a while, then. She wasn’t too pleased to have him around. Barely spoke a word to him all day except to tell him where to dig.” Hershel used the tip of his finger to pick the crumbs from the tabletop and licked them off, one at a time. “And he kept calling her Simon
Legree
under his breath.”

Marsha’s attention snapped back to Hershel.

“Oh, that’s not good. Not good at all. I wonder why she doesn’t like him? They’re soul mates. They should have been immediately drawn to each other. Were they attracted to each other at all?”

“I don’t know.”

“Of course you don’t know. You’re a man. Men never know about these things.” Marsha
tsked
in exasperation and wiped up the remaining crumbs with a napkin, effectively ending his miniature snacks.

He pouted, then leaned back in his chair.

“I don’t see what the problem is. The hard part’s over. We got them together. Why can’t we let nature take its course?”

Marsha shook her head.

“We did that the last four times, and look where that got us. No, we have to stay on top of things and make sure it goes smoothly from here on out. We have to make sure they fall in love.”

“How? I mean, we’re mortal now. We can’t be with them every minute.”

“I know.” Marsha stood and walked over to the stove. “You just make sure they don’t kill each other at the site, and I’ll try to soften up Serafina when she’s here.”

Hershel came up beside her and peered into the simmering pot of stew. She adjusted his collar, then pulled his head down by the ears and kissed him on his balding scalp before
shooing
him out of the kitchen.

“After all,” she called after him as he headed down the hallway, “how can we expect her to fall in love with him if she doesn’t even like him?”

Chapter 7
 

What in the world could be taking him so long?

Serafina might have to take on the new worker as an assistant, but she’d be damned if she was going to babysit him all day long. She’d given him the easier job of removing the sterile ash and volcanic debris. All he had to do was shovel the dirt. Any idiot could do that. She wasn’t about to trust him with possibly getting near actual artifacts and damaging them because he didn’t know what he was doing.

And now he was gone. Again.

Throwing her trowel in the screening bucket, she rose to her feet and arched her back to stretch her aching muscles. Sitting in one position for hours on end was hard work, not to mention that the dust and ash she inhaled every day were probably not doing her lungs any good.

She needed a break, and she needed to find out where her so-called assistant had gone. When she found him, David Corbelli was going to be fired, if she had anything to do with it.

She started toward the main excavation area, but she hadn’t gone far before her long-lost worker caught her eye. His wheelbarrow was empty, so he had obviously just dumped his latest load of dirt at the trucks. He should have been on his way back to her dig site to remove another load, but he wasn’t. Instead, he walked down the road pushing his empty wheelbarrow, going right past the turn he should have made.

Where on earth was he going?

Curiosity temporarily cooling her ire, Serafina decided to follow him. Sticking close to the buildings, she shadowed him. He turned down a small side street heading toward the east wall. Why was he going there?

As he walked further away, the stones gradually gave way to dirt and grass rising up an incline, evidence of where the excavations had yet to expand. Every now and then, he would glance behind himself. Did he know he was being followed?

She hurried after him, but by the time she jogged the three blocks to the end of the street, he was nowhere in sight. His wheelbarrow sat abandoned at the base of the inner stone wall that surrounded the city ruins. Glancing up, she spied him perched next to one of the crumbling guard towers built into the wall, staring out into the distance.

What was he looking at?

Determined to find out, Serafina walked to the base of the wall and began scaling the jagged stone steps up the side of the tower.

* * *

 

The late afternoon sun beat down on his shoulders. David pulled his hat lower to shadow his eyes and leaned against the rough stone of the tower.

Italy was damn hot, and it was only the beginning of summer.

Being reduced to doing hard, manual labor didn’t help. Things might’ve been easier if he were a convict on a chain gang. He certainly felt like one. All day long, he shoveled load after backbreaking load of dirt into a wheelbarrow. Then he pushed it down the rutted cobblestone street to trucks waiting to haul away the useless volcanic ash and rock. He did this day after day, while Serafina Pisano sat on her trouser-covered ass in the shade of a canvas awning, scraping at the dirt with a pick no bigger than the one his dentist used to clean his teeth.

Unfortunately, a little reconnaissance had revealed that the German camp was located clear on the opposite side of the ruins. Every time he made the long detour to observe what he could from one of the old guard towers built into the city wall, it took him twice as long to return with the empty wheelbarrow.

He gazed out over the Italian landscape, past small stucco houses and fertile green farms to the modern seaside town of
Pompei
. He couldn’t see the Bay of Naples a mile away, but the Mediterranean breeze occasionally brought the smell of the sea to his lofty vantage point.

Returning his attention to the activity just below him, he laughed to himself. The informants had been right. The German encampment sat right under his nose, just on the other side of the crumbling walls of the ruins. In fact, if David had jumped from the wall, he would have landed in the middle of a group of soldiers taking a smoking break behind a large canvas tent.

From what he could tell so far, the place didn’t look like much, but looks could be deceiving. The Allies believed the Germans were using the ruins to hide munitions. His job was to find out if it was true.

The crunch of rock beneath stealthy feet instantly put him on guard. He spun and dove on the intruder, slamming the person to the packed earth that filled the space between the two stone walls surrounding the city. He pulled the knife hidden in his boot and instantly pressed it against the intruder’s jugular, biting into soft white skin before he registered who the person was.

“Jesus, Pisano. What are you doing sneaking up on someone like that? I could have killed you.”

“I noticed.” Startled blue eyes met his, and her small, soft body cushioned him from the hard, rocky soil. “Now get off of me.”

He shifted, but then experienced a sudden flash, a small speck of a memory—a time when he had seen her look this way before. She on the ground beneath him. And he on top, covering her body protectively. But he couldn’t place it, couldn’t quite remember it. Then, just as quickly, she looked away, breaking the connection, and the sensation was gone.

David stood and offered his hand to help her up.

Serafina slapped it away and stood by herself, dusting off the back of her dungarees with angry swipes of her hands.

“What are you doing over here? You’re supposed to be working for me.”

For a moment, he didn’t answer. What could he say that would make sense? What excuse could he make that would not jeopardize his mission?

“I thought this might be a good spot to dig?” It came out as a question, but apparently she took it differently.

“You thought…” She appeared to choke on the words. “
What?

David glanced around them while he considered the situation. If he could convince her to dig here, he could keep an eye on the enemy all day. It might make his life a little easier, at least where spying on the Germans was concerned. Serafina, on the other hand, was a different issue.

He grappled for an explanation to appease her.

“Well, you haven’t found anything so far where you’ve been digging.”

“Not found anything? I’ll have you know—” She stopped abruptly, biting off whatever she had been about to say. “Signore Corbelli, you have only been working here for three days. How can you possibly know what I have and haven’t found?”

He shrugged. “Okay, so you haven’t found anything while I’ve been here. Maybe you should try digging somewhere else.”

“Excavating a site takes time to do properly. Artifacts are not discovered every day. Sometimes it takes weeks, even months before a significant find turns up.” She walked up to him and jabbed her index finger into his chest. “All that is beside the point. I’m the archeologist here. You are the laborer. You dig where I tell you to dig.”

David crossed his arms over his chest, forcing her to step back. Now that he’d started down this road, he wasn’t about to abandon the idea.

“Just what’s so wrong with this spot?”

Serafina looked around, then turned her angry attention back on him.

“Nothing is wrong with this spot, but we do things systematically here. We don’t just dig wherever we feel like it. Right now excavations are taking place on the
Via
dell’Abbondanza
, and that’s where we should be working. Now.”

“Well, I think this would be a great spot to dig. It’s far away from all the noise of the other digging and…” He gestured over the wall. “We have a beautiful view to enjoy while we work.”

“I’m not interested in the view. And you shouldn’t be, either, if you want to keep your job.”

 
Her words caught his attention. Being fired would certainly throw a monkey wrench into his mission. Could she do that? Would she?

Just then,
Heberto
called from the base of the wall, drawing the attention of both of them.

David groaned. Spying on the Germans wasn’t going to be easy if everyone working at the ruins decided to stick their noses in his business.

Serafina climbed down the wall, and he followed her, surprised at her agility descending the jagged stones. Most of the women he knew would never have climbed that height in the first place.

When they reached the ground,
Heberto
was still wheezing due to the long walk from the main dig area and was hunched over with his hands planted on his knees. He gasped for breath, and David worried the old geezer might die from a heart attack right there in front of them.

Serafina went to help the elderly man to straighten up.

Heberto
regarded them with incredibly sharp eyes.

“What are you two doing here?”


We
aren’t doing anything.” She gestured in David’s direction. “Kindly tell him that archeologists don’t go around digging holes wherever we feel like.”

Heberto
looked puzzled.

“What? Why is he digging here?”

David decided to jump to his own defense before she tried burying him in one of those holes.

“I’m not digging here, but I was just telling
Signorina
Pisano that I thought it might be a nice place to try.”

“And I was just telling him that he was about to be fired.”

Heberto
looked a bit disconcerted.

“Oh, I don’t think we can fire him.”

“Why not? He’s not doing his work. He’s wandering off into areas he shouldn’t be. I certainly think that’s grounds for dismissal.”

“Why don’t you try shoveling more than a spoonful of dirt at a time?” David grumbled under his breath. “Then you might find out what real work is.”

“Real work? Why you—”

Damn, the woman had
keen
hearing.

“There now, children. There’s no need to argue.”
Heberto
stepped between them, apparently afraid they might actually come to blows. David found the idea tempting, if it would shut her mouth.

“I’m afraid I cannot fire Signore Corbelli. With the war, strong men are hard to come by, as well you know. We need him.”
Heberto
put his arm around her shoulders. “As it happens, I think it would be a good idea for you to try digging away from the others for a while, Serafina.”

David couldn’t help but notice a wave of hurt flash in her blue eyes. She shook off
Heberto’s
arm and stepped back.

“Why?”

He gave her a knowing look.

“After what happened the other day, perhaps some distance from Giovanni would do you good.”

“I can handle Giovanni.
Heberto
, I’ve been working on the
thermopolium
excavation for over a year now. You can’t take it away from me.”

“I’m not taking it away from you. I’m giving you a chance to start new. Trust me. Think of all the wonders that lie here waiting for you to find them.”

Serafina crossed her arms and chewed on her lower lip. David wondered if she might start crying. God, he hated it when women cried. Finally, she sighed and nodded.

Heberto
beamed.


Buon
,
buon
. I’ll go make the arrangements with
Moretti
. You can both start here in the morning.”

David watched as the old man stumbled back down the street, trying to navigate between patches of tall grass and wildflowers growing where
Pompeians
once walked centuries before.

Could it have really been that easy? Then he spied Serafina’s stiff back in front of him and something told him that he may have won a battle, but the war between them was far from over.

She turned to him, and the expression on her face could have frozen water in the hot Italian sun.

“Fine, Signore Archeologist. Since you are such an expert, where should we dig?” She flung her arms out, gesturing all around her. “Pick a spot. Any spot.” Then she bent down, scooped up a rock, and shoved it into his hand. “
Here.
Go ahead, throw it. I’m sure wherever it lands will be as good a place as any.”

She turned and stalked away, just as she had done the first time he saw her.

“Wait, Sera. Come back here. Let’s talk about this.”

“Don’t call me that. My name is Serafina.
Signorina
Pisano to you.” She turned and glared at him with her hands fisted on those trouser-covered hips. “And what is there to talk about? It seems to me that you’ve done plenty of talking for the both of us. I don’t know how you did it, but in less than one week you’ve managed to make your opinion more valuable to my superiors than my own, and I’ve worked here for over three years.” She looked off into the distance for a moment. “For some reason, that seems to be happening a lot lately.”

“I beg your pardon?” He didn’t have a clue what she was talking about.

“Never mind. Congratulations. You got your way.” She started to turn away, but swung back to face him, pointing her dainty little finger at the ground. “Just make sure you stay put. I don’t need you wondering off someplace else every day. You might not value my time, but I do. It takes me too long to track you down. Now, go home, Signore Corbelli. Quite frankly, I think I’ve had about enough of you for today.”

BOOK: Out of the Ashes
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