Authors: Nancy Barone Wythe
Rea was ecstatic about the improvements. The wheel had begun to turn for this poor woman. Rea was determined that Margherita should never suffer again. The young girl worked diligently and kept out of Alex’s way so he could write in peace. But all Alex could think of was Rea downstairs in the shop. Several times he had gone down quickly just to get a peek at how she was doing. She was a natural, selling her wares better than a consumed merchant. The women, the married men were still not allowed to go unless accompanied, who flocked daily to the shop listened wide-eyed to this woman that everyone had shunned but no one had known. She was honest when the dresses didn’t suit them, but always offered a becoming alternative, so that the women went away even more satisfied for having bought something they hadn’t even noticed.
She threw out the goods that were not fresh, or set bags aside for people’s rabbits and chickens.
People began to attend the Ford residence and were becoming attached to the mythical monster that turned out to be an affectionate and generous woman. Rea had become, in no time, the perfect hostess, and Alex was proud of her. Still, no one could understand what the relationship was between the American gentleman and the girl that had been found abandoned on the beach six years ago. Neither could Alex, but one thing he knew for sure, all the Beverly's in the world couldn’t compare to his Rea.
* * * *
The days always seemed sunny to Rea even when it rained. She and Alex worked very hard, but they always found the time to go for walks, hand in hand, like two innocent children.
As they came to a strange sight Alex stopped in his tracks. There before him, puddles of water and muddy sand boiled.
“Fumaroles,” she said with a laugh as they stepped into the steaming mist.
“Amazing phenomenon,” he marveled. “I’d read about it, but this, no words can describe this.”
Alex watched as she skipped through the warm bubbling puddles of water like a child. He took her hand and put it on his heart, and each drank in the other’s intense gaze. Alex almost spoke his heart, but stopped himself, and simply grinned at the feeling of having her so near and trusting.
During the day he wrote and when the shop closed in the evening he would help Rea unpack the merchandise that had arrived from the continent a take stock and discuss business with her. On the weekends they would go down to the sea and he would teach her how to swim, unheeding the islander’s looks of shock to see Rea in a swimsuit he had brought her back from the continent.
Holy God, her legs were bare! And her shoulders! Even her breasts were barely covered! The fishermen had to look away from her nudity as it reminded them of what they would never have again. Not as long as this foreigner remained.
Alex lowered her into the water and her hands clutched his biceps.
“Relax, I won’t let go of you,” he grinned, his hand possessively circling her waist, and she smiled. They had never ever seen her smile in the six years she had been on the island. She had never had anything to smile about.
But now Rea had Alex Ford in her life.
They splashed about for a while and between a squeal and sprays she gradually became accustomed to the gentle waves and began to enjoy just being refreshed and carefree for an afternoon.
“Stay here, don’t move,” he whispered as she watched him wade out of the water and return with his camera.
“Just continue looking at me, that’s right,” he urged as he snapped pictures, one after the other.
* * * *
One day Margherita’s mother appeared on Rea’s doorstep with a large bundle. She shooed everyone out and closed the shop door.
“For you,” she had said with a bright smile. Curious, Rea unwrapped it and gasped, shooting to her feet as if the white wedding dress were on fire. The harbinger of Alex’ death!
“I’m sorry, I can’t,” she managed through a dry throat.
“Oh, no, no, you must accept it, Rea. It’s a gift from my heart, to thank you for all that you’ve done for me and my family.”
“No, you don’t understand. I can’t. Please, take it away. Sell it to someone.”
“Take it away now!” she shrieked, and ran up the steps to the safety of Alex’s home.
* * * *
The locals had invited Alex and Rea to go fishing with them. Rea refused to go and remained holed up all day in Alex’s home; moody and anxious. She couldn’t bring herself to beg him to stay, but was terrified he wouldn’t come back.
The wedding dress had been a bad omen. She had dreamt it all night, over and over. In every dream she was wearing it, and in every dream he died.
* * * *
When Alex finally returned from his fishing expedition, he found Rea on the beach, huddled in a shawl, her face tear stained.
She jumped up at the sight of him and threw herself at him, her legs flying around his waist, her arms around his neck. Alex’s confusion was total, and the feel of her supple body against his was not helping.
“You’re alive!” she cried and began covering him with kisses as the fishermen looked on wryly.
“I’ve only been gone a few hours,” he said, confused as he wiped her tears away. “What’s wrong? Why are you crying?” When Rea was sad, the skies cried along with her. When she was angry the clouds would clash high up above, and loud claps of thunder would echo across the island, so loud you had to cover your ears. Now she was full of fear.
Rea didn’t answer, but threw her arms around him and before she could stop herself, she took his mouth with such passion that it scared her.
Surprised, Alex lifted her chin and looked into her eyes, his own smoldering with want.
“You’re shaking. What’s happened? Did someone offend you?”
“Take me,” she breathed. “Now, before it’s too late.”
Alex looked into her eyes and saw a desire so strong it mirrored his own. They plodded up the beach under the pelting rain. Her shawl didn’t provide much shelter and her dress clung to her curves, leaving little to the imagination.
He was more than aware of her as her adoring eyes caressed him with a fire he had never seen before.
* * * *
Alex stopped abruptly as the rain came down in sheets, and he reached out to take her face in his hands. She pulled him closer, her mouth opening to his fiery kiss, returning it with all her soul and the feelings that had been pent up inside her for so long. She held him tight to her, never wanting to relinquish him again now that she had found him.
Alex’s breath was sawing in and out of his lungs; his entire being needed her. Not just his loins that were already pulsating fiercely, but his heart that had yearned for her for the longest time. They kissed under the low, rumbling sky, heedless of the cold rain and the wind lashing their bodies. She hoisted herself up and wrapped her legs around his thighs and Alex moaned, making an effort to not take her there on the sand dune.
He caught her head in his hands, and she closed her eyes as his lips and the rain ran over her skin. Without speaking, she dragged him further up to a cave, and then turned to look at him. His dark hooded eyes sent Rea’s heart into a spin within her chest, leaving her breathless, desperate for him.
They paused just inside the cave, where his mouth sought hers again, but she pulled him further inside until they were no longer visible.
His hand caught hers and he guided it down to his sea-soaked trousers, and she gasped in pleasure. “Feel how much I need you, Rea…” he whispered as he rained kisses onto her throat, his large hands reaching for the hem of her dress. Rea moaned as his hands stroked her thighs, slowly sliding her dress off until she stood in her bra and panties. As he watched, she undressed completely.
“Mother of God,” he whispered as he took in her beauty. She was an angel.
He sucked in his breath again and knelt down before her, his mouth kissing her thighs, his hands stroking her buttocks.
Rea felt flooded with desire and she slightly parted her legs, watching the top of his head as his hands traced her skin, his mouth already drinking her, tasting her, his tongue playing deep within her. She groaned and braced her hands against his broad shoulders and her knees collapsed so she sank to his lap, straddling him.
He took her mouth again, his arms supporting her body as he leaned her backwards, kissing her nipples, suckling her, licking her until she could take no more. No man had ever done this to her before. No man had ever made her feel pleasure, but Alex took his time, torturing her with his lips and hands.
, she wanted to say.
‘I don’t know how to feel pleasure, I never have,’
but he pushed her back against an enormous slab of rock where she stretched out luxuriously for him, an expression of bliss and urgency on her beautiful face. She sought his thighs, her fingers lingering over his turgid penis.
“Lord Almighty,” he groaned and leaned forward to kiss her mouth, taste her lips, sometimes delicately, sometimes roughly, as if he would devour her whole.
His mouth blazed a trail down her throat and she shivered in delight when he reached her inner folds again, and she opened her legs wide for him.
“Rea,” he whispered, licking her. “I love you, sweetheart.”
She pulled him toward her, her breath short as he lifted himself onto his arms, and she caressed his head and back. He turned his face to kiss the palm of her hand, murmuring her name.
Gone were the fear, the shame and the sense of displacement. But the bliss only lasted a few moments. Anxiety gripped her chest. She couldn’t let this happen! She couldn’t fall in love with Alex, the stranger she had dreamed. For his own sake. For his own safety.
* * * *
“Margherita’s mother tells me she gave you a gift and you won’t accept it,” Alex said the next morning during a rare moment of quiet in the shop. “Is that true?”
Rea looked up from the conserves she was sorting out, then back down.
Rea plunked the jars down and ran for the private room at the back of the shop. Here, she burst into tears. It was the beginning of the end. When she told him about her dreams, he’d think she was crazy, and leave her. But wasn’t it what she wanted, for him to leave her and live, rather than stay and die?
“Rea? Are you okay? Talk to me.”
But it was a long time until she could speak, and so Alex comforted her as she sobbed into his shirt.
“I can see the future,” she said under her breath.
“Yes, someone told me about your Tarot Cards. They say you’re very good.”
“They say that now,” she interjected. “Before you arrived, they used to say I was a witch.”
Alex chuckled. “You are,
“No, Alex, you don’t understand! I saw them die in my dreams! All of them! And they died shortly after, every time!”
“Honey, that’s just a coincidence. They must have been ill and didn’t know it.”
“What, all of them? Some died in accidents, or drowned at sea! They used to say I caused their deaths! That’s why everybody hates me!”
“Sweetie, no one hates you. If anything they have a great deal of respect for you and the things you do. Look at Margherita. She is grateful to you. Accept her gift.”
“I can’t! It’ll only make it worse!”
“How can a gift harm you?”
“I can’t tell you!”
“Why, what was it?”
“A dress that I dreamed.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Please, Alex, I have to leave you!”
He blanched. “Why?”
“Because if I don’t there will be trouble and you will die!”
His eyes softened. “Did you dream that?”
She nodded, unable to speak.
“What was the gift, Rea?”
She looked up at him squarely. “A wedding dress.”
Alex’ eyes widened. Then he took her hands and kissed them. “A wedding dress is a symbol of happiness and prosperity.”
“Not for us! You have to go, Alex! Sell the shop and leave! It’s for your own good.”
“For the love of God, Rea, isn’t this difficult enough?”
“I know what I saw!” she cried in desperation. “The wedding dress is the confirmation!”
He studied her at length. He recalled Don Raffaele’s words,
‘She’ll trap you with her wiles.’
How wrong the priest had been. They had all misjudged her. If anything she was discouraging him from any development in their relationship. Alex hadn’t sat down with himself yet, but he knew he couldn’t let a day go by without her.
Yes, they were different, on all levels. He was well-respected, and she was as unpopular as the plague.
Alex spent the entire morning up in the hills taking pictures for his travel novel. It was almost ready and he was proud. This was his best ever. And it was because of Rea. She had shown him the real Sicily, and unveiled to him the mysteries of her people. He was at peace here, and he knew he didn’t want to leave. Not without Rea anyway.
He chuckled to himself at the thought of Rea’s superstitions. It would take time to show her the absurdity of her fears. But he was going to help her get over them. He hated the thought of her being trapped by something so unreal.
As he climbed down just before noon, he was seized by a strange feeling. The streets were quiet, the shutters closed, and no one was in sight. Where had the children playing in the streets gone? Where was the laundry that normally cluttered the tiny streets?
Only a few stragglers remained, eying him piously, and then his heart leapt into his mouth as his legs began to quicken their pace, his breath short as if he had run miles and miles.
He reached the piazza in one breath, but it seemed to take him forever to cross the wide expanse of burning white stone. He came to a skid against the shutters of the shop that were closed, though the door was ajar. Alex held his breath, and stepped inside, his heart beating erratically.
It was total chaos. There was not one item in its place and several stalls had been turned over, jars and fruit splattered onto the floor. Rea had laid a selection of pretty ceramic baubles on a table in the corner that afternoon. They were smashed to pieces.