Authors: Nancy Barone Wythe
“Rea!” he called as he dashed up the stairs to find Margherita in tears.
“Oh, Signor Ford!”
Alex grabbed the young girl and shook her! “Where is she?”
“He came! He pulled her down the stairs by her hair! She was kicking and screaming!”
“Calogero the Girgentian bandit!”
Her previous man! Alex paled. “Where did he take her?”
The girl shook her head helplessly. “I don’t know!”
A hand on his shoulder made Alex whirl in fury. He almost knocked Don Raffaele over.
“Where is she?” he demanded.
“What does it matter? You should have never gotten embroiled with a woman of her ilk. You are a war hero.”
“Father, what are you talking about? He’s dragged her out of the palazzo! I have to find them!”
“They must have gone to the house on the hill. Or maybe he took her back to Girgenti.”
We have to stop them!
Call the Girgenti Carabinieri!”
They can’t stop him from taking her. He’s her husband.”
Alex staggered back, stunned.
Not in church, no, God forbid,” the priest said haughtily, “but he claimed her before all of us here, which is just as well because no one will have her. She should be thankful he still wants her. Where are you going? He’ll shoot you down! Mr. Ford! He has a
Alex tore up the hill to Rea’s home, his heart ready to explode. He pounded on her door, ready to take the bastard down.
“Rea! Open up! It’s Alex!”
The silence seemed to last forever and he pressed his ear against the door when he heard her feeble voice cry, “Go away, Alex.”
“Rea let me in!”
“I can’t, I’m locked inside.”
Alex grabbed the door and shook it fiercely. “Stand back! I’m going to kick it down!”
“No, Alex, please! He’ll kill you!”
Not if he didn’t kill him first! He whirled around and spotted the pile of logs Rea used for her fires. He grabbed one and rammed it like a cannon against the iron bolt again and again. It didn’t budge. From inside he could hear whimpering.
“He’ll be back soon!”
Alex shouldered the door several times without success, then pounded the hinges until the wood split and the door moved.
Sweat trickling down his face, he kicked the door open and it landed flat on the floor in a cloud of dust, momentarily blinding him.
The shack was dark but her pale figure glowed on the cot and he gasped. She was bound, hands and feet, trembling like an animal awaiting slaughter. His eyes burned as they swept over her and anger rose from his entrails as he gagged in anger.
He grabbed his knife and cut through the ropes, noticing how her creamy skin had turned purple, and his blood boiled. Her dress was torn to shreds and he scooped her up into his arms and into the sunlight.
“Don’t, don’t look at me,” she whimpered. Her left eye and jaw were swollen and bruised, and there were other ugly marks on her body that made him grind his teeth in fury.
“Fermo!” came the imperious voice, and Rea gasped.
Alex turned to see a tall, muscle-bound man. His skin was the color of burnt copper and his face would have been almost handsome had it not been that it not been a map of scars. But it was the eyes that made Alex stop. They were burning torches bathed in spirits, fierce and malevolent, and the way they roamed over Rea’s body made the hairs on Alex’ nape stand to attention.
“So this is the American,” he jeered. “Little wife, the moment I turn my back you find another bed mate.”
“Go back to your sheep, you take better care of them from what I’ve heard,” Alex replied, standing taller.
Put her down,” the shepherd commanded in Sicilian.
Alex snorted and turned to walk away, when a fire shot in the air.
“She is my wife. You will leave her to me. Put her down or I will shoot you.”
“You abandoned her years ago. You left her in total poverty. And now you’ve hurt her. You’ve lost the right to even look at her,” Alex hissed, feeling his own eyes burning.
The answer was a shot through his flesh. Alex staggered and fell, the dust creating small puffs around his face. He coughed. It hurt. It hurt so much. The blood started to seep through his shirt, spreading to his chest. Then his eyes followed on the man’s feet as he reached for Rea.
Alex clutched at a juniper bush and hauled himself up as his sight began to give, and he heard his own strangled voice as he tried to call her name.
He could barely stand, but he managed to throw a rock at Calogero’s back. The man stopped on the threshold and turned, so amused he retraced his steps.
“I knew you were a brave soldier. But I didn’t know you were stupid.”
Alex’s hand shot out and slammed another rock into the Sicilians face. Calogero let out a muffled cry of agony and collapsed. Alex dragged him around behind the cabin and went to retrieve Rea who was ready to fall apart.
“Sweetheart,” he whispered, afraid to caress her swollen face.
“I’m so tired,” she whispered and her eyes fell shut. He caught her up in his arms and made his way down the steep hill and into the town. “Sleep, Sweetheart. When you wake up you’ll be in your bed.”
As Alex reached the piazza, his once white shirt now entirely seeped in his blood, the villagers congregated around him, as acolytes around their saint. Giuseppe stepped up to him, his eyes grave, his voice low,
“You can hardly stand, Give her to me, Alex.”
“No!” was the curt response. Nobody was touching her, not anymore!
He could barely make out the front of his palazzo. Only a few more feet and she would be safe. He registered the faces around him as a spinning blur. As sympathetic as they looked, he knew that none of these men would stand up to Calogero, none of them would risk their lives for her. For anyone else, yes, but for Rea, nobody’s wife, it wasn’t worth it. Because they wouldn’t have to answer to anyone if Rea died. As she had appeared from nowhere, she could quietly leave and never return. She was just the town whore. To Alex she meant the world.
A few steps separated them from the front door now. Rea was unconscious in his arms, her face a mask of blood. Her hair, caked with blood, no longer fanned about her once beautiful face, but stuck in clumps, falling rigidly down her shoulders.
On the first step of his home, Alex stumbled and Giuseppe caught them, the other men scurrying to help. The women, who in time had learned to respect the couple, circled them protectively, removing their head scarves to stem the lovers’ bleeding. Giuseppe and some other men helped to carry them upstairs into their home. It would only take a few days to heal the superficial wounds. The ones lying underneath were going to take much longer.
Rea sat by Alex’s bed and gently bathed his forehead with a cool, damp cloth. His temperature had risen again. She drew back the sheet and sponge-bathed his burning skin as tears trickled down her cheeks. She had almost lost him.
A week had passed, and she had recovered swiftly, driven by a burning desire to return to their life together. But because of Calogero, things would never be the same. Unless she did something about it, once and for all. She wanted her freedom back, but knew Calogero would have something to say about that.
At nightfall she left Alex with two of the women who had nursed her. Wrapping a dark shawl around her shoulders and over her head to protect herself from the autumn sea winds, Rea silently slipped out into the night.
* * * *
Calogero was in hiding, but she knew where to find him. She waded into the sea for a few yards, then turned left and back onto a sand bar. There was a crack at the bottom of the high wall of rock. Rea got to her hands and knees and slid into it.
A moment to catch her breath, and Calogero’s men were already on her, their hands like vices around her upper arms.
“Bring her here,” came his familiar voice, and she was thrust upon the ground before him. In the corner burned a small oil lamp, giving off a feeble orange light.
“Calogero, have mercy!” she cried.
The bandit moved closer to her. “Did anyone follow you here?”
She shook her head. “You are safe here. I will never tell anyone of your hiding place. On one condition.”
The man threw back his head and they all laughed.
“And what’s that, my little prickly pear?”
“That you let the American live.”
“Why did you come back after all these years?” she cried suddenly, unable to retain her frustration and pain.
“For you, of course. You are my woman.”
Rea squared her shoulders, and Calogero’s eyes registered the movement of her breasts beneath her thin dress. When she spoke, her voice was low and husky.
“Yes, I am, Calogero. And I’ve learned many tricks during these past years…”
Calogero eyes swung to his men briefly, then over her body. “Sì…?”
“Sì,” she whispered, shivering as he swallowed.
* * * *
“Rea. Where is she?” Alex demanded of Giuseppe that was sitting at his bedside.
“I don’t know. Donna Maria said she left at nightfall.”
With great effort, Alex swung his legs over the side of the bed, the sheets around him once again drenched in perspiration. As his head pounded and spun, he reached into the wardrobe for a clean shirt and threw it on his back, not bothering to button it.
“Where are you going to look?” Giuseppe asked.
“Everywhere,” Alex muttered as he yanked on the rope connected to the front door at the bottom of the stairs. It swung open with a soft creak, revealing the darkness of the night. Somewhere Rea was walking, a sitting duck for Calogero and his men.
* * * *
“Alfio, Luigi, go take a walk. A long walk.”
“I’ll be fine. My little lady here wants to show me some new tricks.”
Filthy smiles spread across the dirt-smeared faces of the two delinquents and Rea shuddered. In a way she was glad that Calogero was there. He would never let them touch her. It was a matter of power, and he was the leader of the pack.
“Come here,” he commanded, his voice husky, his eyes already hooded. It would be simpler than she thought.
Rea stood before him and, shivering with revulsion, wrapped her arms around his neck as all the lurid memories came back, threatening to choke her. With a sudden movement, his fist clenched around her wrists, blocking her arms as his other hand groped her body slowly, lasciviously.
“Just like I thought, no weapon,” he grinned, yanking her to him. Rea suppressed the urge to run as his hands cupped her behind, pulling her up against his erection.
* * * *
Alex raced through the empty town. Everyone was now safe in bed. Except for Rea. Alex ran up and down the dusty, powdery paths that scarred the island, but there was no sign of her presence nor passage. His head threatened to explode, and he had to stop and catch his breath. Then he became aware of footsteps behind him. He stooped and picked up a few rocks, ready to use them when he heard a familiar voice.
“Alex, it’s me, Giuseppe.”
Alex breathed a sigh of relief as the man reached out a supporting hand. “You look like shit, my friend. Go home. I promise I’ll find her.”
“I’m not abandoning her like you all did.”
Giuseppe held out his hands. “Understand Alex, Don Raffaele forbade us to talk to her.”
Alex was baffled by the power the little man had on his flock. “Why?”
“Because he said she would contaminate our souls.”
Alex rolled his eyes skyward. “Giuseppe, you need to get out more, see the world a bit. You all do. Sex is another expression of love, in most cases. It’s not a sin to actually enjoy it, you know? And when you find the right girl, you’ll understand.”
, are you saying the women in America…sleep with men before marrying them?”
Alex chuckled despite himself. “Giuseppe, you must be blind. They do it on the island here as well. Only they have to be more careful.”
His friends chest puffed in defiance as Alex added, “Haven’t you noticed Pietro, the way he sniffs around Carmela’s front door?”
“Pietro? No! He is the brother of Carmela’s dead husband!”
“How long has she been a widow?”
“Three years now.”
Alex nodded. “And you think that there’s nothing there?”
Giuseppe drew in a deep breath, his eyes wide, and Alex put a hand on his shoulder. “If you were waiting for her, I think you’re a little late, my friend. Now help me find Rea.”
* * * *
As Calogero licked her ear, she took in the contents of the cave behind them until she spotted something gleaming in the dark corner beside a heap of logs. An ax. She stepped forward, pushing him on the floor and straddled him, just a few inches away from the implement. His eyes lit up with excitement as she leaned forward to lift his sweater up his chest. He groaned and Rea closed her eyes, biting her lip to stop from crying. She reached up his chest, her hands traveling past his shoulders toward the ax.
With one determined swing, she closed her eyes and sliced it downward.
At the sound of his scream she opened her eyes and recoiled. His face was in two, and initially there was no blood. He tottered for an agonizingly long moment as she watched, and then fell over into a heap at her feet.
Alex crawled into the cave, stopped in shock, and instinctively yanked her away, his breath sawing in and out of him, his eyes wide in horror as Giuseppe joined them.
“Dear God, Rea- what have you done?” Alex whispered in awe as Giuseppe turned pale.
“We have to go!” Giuseppe cried. “Before the Carabinieri get here!”
“It was self-defense,” Alex cried. “I’ll say I did it.”
“No!” Rea stood her ground, the ax still tight in her hands, her eyes unreadable, her face impassive. “I did it. Gladly!” She was free. The monster was dead. Now if only she could slay her interior demons.