Purchase Links MIRA | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
“If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own Village, she must seek them abroad.”
—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey
Our First Glimpse
Isle Isola, Italy
The prow of the boat powers through the stormy waters, the spindrift lacing the air. Misting water gathers on my cheeks and hair. I’m grateful for Jack’s bulk behind me. His hands are warm on my shoulders, his mouth almost touching the tender skin of my neck.
“That’s it, darling. There’s the island. What do you think?”
It’s a good thing he’s standing behind me—it gives me time to school my face into a somewhat neutral expression. My pulse betrays me, though, rioting blood through my body, singing through my veins, making me feel more alive than ever before.
What do I think?
Oh. My. God.
The island is stunning. It shoots straight up from the water, the sheer rock face stark and unforgiving. We’re approaching from the southwest, this I know from eavesdropping on Jack’s conversation with the captain. From this vantage point, Isola seems to drift on top of the water, though I know it is an illusion.
The cliff is adorned with tiny shoots of bougainvillea desperate for purchase and a steep stone edge that makes my heart go into my throat. I’m not afraid of heights, but the idea of standing up there, looking out over the water, and stepping wrongly, makes me suddenly terrified, even as I long to set the colors of the cliffside on a canvas.
The formula begins brewing in my head. Two parts ultramarine, two parts raw umber, a dab of titanium white to brighten up the edges, tone the middle with Payne’s—
“Incredible,” I manage, brought back to earth, voice breaking on the words.
Jack squeezes me closer. “I know. I love that cliff. We used to scare Mom and Dad, promising one day we’d try diving off the edge. There’s no way—it’s much too high, but it was so fun to watch them panic.”
“All children are cruel, aren’t they?” Jack says absently. “They don’t know any better. Look, there’s the Villa.”
I can’t see it, not yet, not until the boat rounds the promontory. The shoreline appears, a rocky beach with lines for a few small boats stretching into the channel. To the left, a smattering of pastel-colored houses built one atop the other stagger drunkenly up the cliffside. Gunmetal stone walls bisect the hills to the west, the terraced olive groves and vineyards that produce for the family’s bespoke line verdant with promise. And then the edges of the Villa appear, copper and rust and molded stone, and I fight back a gasp.
Truly, it is misnamed; not a villa, it is a castle. A modern fortress, down to its gated entry, state-of-the-art security system, and helicopter landing pad.
An island castle, beautiful and forbidding, and soon to be mine. No, ours. This vivid, lush, foreboding Italian paradise where I am going to marry the man of my dreams belongs to his family, to whom I am about to pledge my life.
I glance down at the teak deck of the boat carrying us to the island like Odysseus home from the wars. The Hebrides, it’s called, named for another set of isolated islands popular amongst the Compton clan.
A boat. Who am I kidding? This is a full-blown mega-yacht.
“It’s perfect,” I say. I turn in his arms and kiss him full on the mouth. Jack isn’t fooled.
“What’s the matter, darling?” He lifts my chin and searches my face, his cobalt eyes full of concern—they are the color of the sea, where the waves meet the rocks. “You look a little green. Is your head hurting?”
I fight the flashback as it happens—the searing pain, the confusion, the rough edge of the EMT’s blanket. My hand travels to the lump on the back of my skull. It is tender, and the stitches itch. I tap the scopolamine patch behind my ear, just to make sure it’s still there. Check.
Despite my precautions, I am feeling a little peaked. The waves have been surging on the trip over from the mainland, and the yacht moves in time.
“I’m fine. I just love you. For making all of this happen, for…everything.” I rest my forehead against his collarbone. He smells good, of cedar and sunshine and home.