Once a Ferrara Wife...

By: Sarah Morgan

CHAPTER ONE


‘LADIES and gentlemen welcome to Sicily. Please keep your seat belts fastened until the aircraft has come to a standstill.’

Laurel kept her eyes fixed on the book in her lap. She wasn’t ready to look out of the window. Not yet. Too many memories waited there—memories she’d spent two years trying to erase.

The toddler in the row behind her yelled a protest and squirmed, smacking both his legs into the back of her seat with a force that jolted her forwards, but Laurel was aware of nothing except the hot ball of stress that burned at the base of her ribs. Normally reading soothed her but her eyes were recognising letters that her brain wouldn’t compute. Even as part of her was wishing she’d packed a different book, another part of her knew it wouldn’t have made a difference.

‘You can let go of the seat now. We’ve landed.’ The woman seated next to her touched her hand gently. ‘My sister is a nervous flyer too.’

Laurel heard the quiet voice from somewhere in the distance and slowly turned her head. ‘Nervous flyer?’

‘It’s nothing to be ashamed of. My sister once had a panic attack en route to Chicago. They had to sedate her. You’ve been gripping that seat since we took off from Heathrow. I said to my Bill, “That girl doesn’t even know we’re sitting next to her. And she hasn’t once turned the page of that book.” But we’ve landed now. It’s over.’

Absorbing the startling truth that she hadn’t turned the page once during the flight, Laurel stared at the woman blankly. Kind brown eyes looked back at her. The woman’s expression was concerned and motherly.

Motherly?

Laurel was surprised she was even capable of recognising that expression, given that she’d never seen it before, especially not directed at her. She had no memory of being left wrapped in supermarket bags in a cold city park by a mother who didn’t want her, but the memories of the years that followed were embedded in her brain like shrapnel.

She had no idea why she would suddenly feel tempted to confess to a stranger that her fear had nothing to do with flying and everything to do with landing—in Sicily.

The other woman filled the silence. ‘We’re safely down now. You can stop worrying.’ She leaned over Laurel and craned her neck to see out of the window. ‘Just look at that blue sky and that view. It’s my first time in Sicily. And you?’

Small talk. Conversation that skimmed the surface but never dipped into the murky ocean of feelings beneath.

This, Laurel could do. ‘It’s not my first time.’ Because the woman’s kindness deserved some reward, she added a smile to the words. ‘I came here on business a few years ago.’ Mistake number one, she thought.

The woman eyed Laurel’s skinny jeans. ‘And this time?’

Laurel’s lips moved, the answers flowing automatically even though her brain was engaged elsewhere. ‘I’m here for my best friend’s wedding.’

‘A real Sicilian wedding? Oh, that’s so romantic. I saw that scene in The Godfather, all that dancing and family and friends—fabulous. And the Italians are so good with children, of course.’ The woman threw a disapproving look at the passenger behind them who had read her book throughout the flight and ignored her fractious toddler. ‘Family is everything to them.’

Laurel stuffed the book in her bag and undid her seat belt, suddenly desperate to escape from the conversation. ‘You’ve been so kind. Sorry I’ve been such boring company on this flight. If you’ll excuse me, I have to go.’

‘Oh, no, dear, you can’t leave your seat yet. Didn’t you hear the announcement? There’s someone important on the plane. Some VIP or other. Apparently they have to leave before the rest of us.’ Peering past Laurel out of the window, the woman gave an excited gasp. ‘Oh, just look at that. Three cars with blacked out windows have just pulled up. And those men look like bodyguards. And—oh, my, you have to look, dear, it’s like something out of a movie. I swear they have guns. And the most gorgeous man you’ve ever seen has just stepped onto the tarmac. He’s got to be at least six foot three and spectacular to look at!’

Man?

No, she wasn’t expecting a man. She wasn’t expecting anyone. To avoid an unwanted reception committee, she’d told no one which flight she would be on.

Her chest felt ominously tight and suddenly she wished she’d kept her asthma inhaler with her instead of putting it in her bag in the overhead locker.

An invisible force drew her head round and she found herself looking out of the window.

He stood on the tarmac, his eyes obscured by a pair of aviator sunglasses, his attention apparently fixed on the commercial aircraft that had just taxied to a halt. The fact that he was allowed such unprecedented access to the runway said a great deal for the influence he wielded. No other civilian would have been extended such a privilege, but this man wasn’t just anyone. He was a Ferrara. A member of one of the oldest and most powerful families in Sicily.

Typical, Laurel thought. When you want him, he’s nowhere to be seen. And when you don’t …

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