Read an Excerpt
An Affair Novel
By Annie Seaton, Alethea Spiridon Hopson, Marie Loggia-Kee
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Annie Seaton
All rights reserved.
The waiting taxi driver tooted his horn and she waved at him to stay. "Five minutes," she called out, her voice shaking. He stepped out of the car and yelled out to her across the rows of headstones.
"Look, love, I don't want to be rude, but if you want to get to the airport in time, we'll have to go now. We're still in morning peak hour and the traffic will be heavy."
Brianna Ballantyne's whole life had turned upside down when she'd received the two-page letter from the Italian lawyer three days ago, and her plan to spend twelve months in Australia writing her psychology book flew out the window when she read the typed words she had waited so long to hear.
The letter had led her to her mother's graveside in a small cemetery in Sydney. The grave was unkempt and the long grass brushed against her bare knees. She'd run her fingers over the cold marble and traced the words. Her throat clogged and the backs of her eyes pricked with unshed tears.
"Rosa Caranto. b. September 15 1949, Lipari Island – d. March 11 2009, Sydney. A loving daughter."
Her birth mother had died before her sixtieth birthday. Brianna had never met her, despite working through an intermediary agency to locate her for more than two years. When they'd notified her that they had located her mother, all they would disclose was that she lived in Sydney, Australia. She knew when a person was located they had to give their consent for the applicant to be told their name and to make contact. Her mother had declined, so she had followed the paper trail from Scotland to Australia herself, determined not to give up.
But she had arrived too late. The letter had reached her three days after she'd arrived. It had been forwarded to her Sydney hotel from Scotland, and now she finally knew her mother's name. Instead of giving her the details to contact her mother, the lawyer informed her of her mother's death and the place she was buried. Closing her eyes, she tried to remember where she'd been in March when her mother had passed, but emotion overwhelmed her and she couldn't think straight.
Damn it all. If only she'd started looking earlier, she might have made it in time and met her. Why didn't she want me? When I was born and when I found her?
She brushed away the tears as they wet her cheeks and gripped the piece of paper that had led her to this small beachside cemetery thousands of miles away from her Scottish home. And not only did it tell her about Rosa's death, but about the inheritance of her mother's cottage in Italy and the bizarre conditions attached to it.
She had to be married to get the cottage.
Well, dammit, if that was what it took to find her birth family, she'd bloody well find someone to marry.
"Rosa." She whispered her mother's name as she traced the letters on the small headstone. "What happened to you? Why didn't you didn't want me? Why do you want me married?"
The horn of the taxi blared again and the driver revved the engine. Brianna pulled herself to her feet. Looking around, she spotted a clump of white daisies growing wild at the base of a nearby gum tree. She reached down, picked one, walked back to the grave, and placed it gently beneath the headstone.
"Good-bye, Rosa ... Mother," she whispered. "I'll be back, one day."
Climbing into the backseat of the taxi, she composed herself before leaning forward. "An extra twenty dollars if you get me there on time." She slipped the letter into the side of her rucksack and fell back in the seat when the driver hit the gas and they sped off toward Sydney Airport.
Thanks to the strategic, but wild, driving of her taxi driver, she made the airport in time. She unzipped her money belt and handed him a fifty-dollar note when he pulled her suitcase and laptop bag from the trunk and placed them on the curb.
"Thanks, love. Have a good trip." He nodded at her as a waiting passenger opened the front door of the taxi and climbed in. Brianna hitched the computer bag onto her shoulder and turned to pick up her suitcase.
"Oh, shit!" Her rucksack was still on the floor of the back of the taxi. She waved madly as the rear of the taxi disappeared around the corner, but it was too late. Thank God her passport and travel documents were in her money belt. She closed her eyes, trying to remember what was in her rucksack, and groaned when she thought of the letter from the lawyer. She had slipped it into the side pocket when she got back in the taxi.
Shit. She hadn't taken any notice of his details once she'd read the contents. All she knew was the office was on Lipari Island.
Wheeling her suitcase behind her, she decided there was nothing she could do about it now without missing her check-in. Squaring her shoulders, she moved to the end of the check-in queue and vowed to be more careful in future.
Ha! As if.
The queue was moving slowly and Brianna tapped her foot impatiently as she waited for her turn. No matter how hard she tried, things never came together for her. Her throat clogged. Maybe if she'd been more organized, she may have found her mother somewhere other than her grave? Never mind, she'd survive without the letter. All she had to do was buy a new toothbrush and some underwear, and remember the name of the lawyer once she arrived on Lipari.
Thank goodness she'd kept her computer out of the rucksack and hadn't lost her manuscript as well. Which reminded her, she'd forgotten to back it up. First job once she was settled on the plane. That was an easy problem to address. Then all she had to do was find someone who was willing to play the part of a loving fiancé.
She had four days to figure that one out.
If only she had more time, she was sure one of her mates from Scotland would have played the part for a holiday in Italy.
Of course ... that was it! She would pay someone. Surely she would be able find someone to play a role for a couple of days while she checked out the lawyer and Lipari. And found out about this inheritance and the conditions attached. All she wanted was to find out about her mother and why she'd left her thirty years ago. It wouldn't hurt to playact for a few days.
Four days ... for someone who usually did things at the last minute, that would be plenty of time.
Her phone beeped in her pocket and she pulled it out.
"Oh my God." Heads turned and Brianna grinned back as curious looks were directed her way. For once things were going her way. Phil was flying back into Sydney from Bali and his flight was on time. He was through customs and she'd get to see him before she turned around and flew back to Europe. Now all she had to do was find the coffee shop he was waiting in after she checked in.CHAPTER 2
Long, bare legs flashed past the edge of Tomas Richards's vision and he swiveled around as a high-pitched squeal from their owner interrupted his reading of the Financial Review. The tall, dark-haired girl slid to a stop on the polished floor of the concourse next to the coffee shop before flinging herself into the waiting arms of a hippie-looking guy with red dreadlocks hanging over his shoulders. His tattooed arms encircled her and she rained kisses on his cheeks, as she wrapped her legs around the hips of the young man.
Tomas was sitting in one of the coffee shops at Sydney Airport waiting for his flight to Italy to be called. He watched with amusement as the young man disentangled himself and led his girlfriend across to the coffee shop, one arm slung around her shoulder. They stopped in the queue next to Tom's table, and he turned back to the newspaper. The girl's excited chatter drifted across to him.
"I can't believe you got here in time. Oh, Phil, how lucky was it that our flights were on the same day?" Then she clapped her hand over her mouth. "Oh, shit, wait here." She threw her handbag onto the empty table behind Tom's chair, narrowly missing his head, and ran back across to the lounge area. He watched as she retrieved a laptop case from a vacant chair. He shook his head. She was lucky security hadn't removed it. Hadn't she seen the signs everywhere asking passengers not to leave bags unattended? And now she'd left her handbag on the table next to him.
What a scatterbrain.
She placed the laptop case on the table next to her handbag and her hippie boyfriend looped his arm back around her shoulders as they waited to be served.
"What do you mean 'had' a letter?"
Snatches of their conversation rose and fell in the general noise of the café, and Tom tried to concentrate on his newspaper, until the sound of coins hitting the floor interrupted his reading. He lifted his head. Those long tanned legs filled his vision again, and he appreciated the view of a shapely derriere molded by close-fitting cargo shorts when the girl bent to retrieve the scattered coins. As she twisted around, a sapphire blue stone hanging from a ring in her belly button glinted in the light. Her face was level with Tom's and a pair of chocolate-brown eyes stared at him from beneath raised brows. He grinned at her. Okay, so he'd been caught checking out her ass. As he returned her bemused look, he realized she was not as young as he'd first thought, so she should doubly appreciate him checking her out.
Closer to his age. She should know better than to leave her bags lying around the whole airport. But a nice ass.
He shrugged and turned back to the newspaper as they crossed to the table behind him and their conversation could be heard over the hiss of the coffee machine.
"Well, I sort of left it in the taxi," she said.
"Sort of?" Her boyfriend sounded exasperated and Tom marveled at his patience. "Brianna, what aren't you telling me?"
"Well, it was in my rucksack and that's still in the taxi, too. But look, it's all good. Now that you're here, you can contact the company and chase it up for me. Much easier than me trying to do it from Italy. Besides, I'm going to be busy. I've got four days to find a husband."
Bloody hell, talk about a soap opera. He'd heard enough. Tom folded his newspaper and tucked it under his arm, picked up his laptop, and headed for the boarding gate where he might find more peace and quiet.
The lounge at gate forty-five was deserted and he smiled to himself. Alex, his younger brother, had teased him at the country airport this morning because he'd left for Sydney so early. His siblings all liked to rib him about his attention to detail and ticking all the boxes, but it had paid off — little did they know how well, and he wasn't ready to share that news just yet. Excitement filled him at the thought of life on Lipari Island. He had every intention of relaxing and living life to the full. His days of working in an office were over — careful planning and wise investments had enabled him to do that. He'd only bought the marina to help Aunt Carmen out.
Tom waited for his flight to be called as the early-afternoon queue of departing international flights started on the runway. His other brother, Nick, had been the only fly in the ointment when he'd questioned his decision to take off for Italy. Nick had called the shots for too many years. He had married life and Lissy to focus on now. His years of wandering the Pacific were over, and if Tom wanted to head to Italy and become the brother with the wanderlust, it was none of Nick's damn business. It had taken him a few months to wrap up his contract at the university and sell his apartment. He didn't want to leave any loose ends behind him. Now Nick and Lissy had been married for eight months, and Alex and Emily were engaged, even though Alex was barely out of university and way too young to think about getting married. Despite both his brothers having partners, he was content sitting here alone. Women were trouble. He hoped they had chosen wisely. As for him, he'd pulled his office door shut for the last time on Friday afternoon and closed a chapter in his life without a backward glance. For the first time in a long while, he was looking forward to the coming weeks.
Tom folded his newspaper and waited for his flight to be called.
* * *
The now boarding sign flashed next to the Sydney-to-Rome flight on the departure board, and Brianna hugged Phil. It had taken ages to calm him down after she had dropped the bit about finding a husband.
"It was great to catch up. I'm sorry I have to go so soon." She blinked back the tears that seemed to be ever present since she'd received the letter from the lawyer.
Phil pushed her back, placed his hands on her shoulders, and bent down to look into her face. "I'm worried about you. Forget this stupid idea, no matter what the letter says. Take some time to find out what it's all about."
"That's what I haven't got. I've only to the end of the week to turn up or the cottage goes to someone else. The blasted letter has followed me around the world." She took a deep breath and tried to make him understand. "This is my last opportunity to find out about my birth mother, Rosa. I have the chance to live where she lived, to talk to people who knew her. I'll do anything it takes to grab that chance with both hands."
Phil shook his head. "Did you tell Mum and Dad why you were going?"
"No, they wouldn't care. I haven't even told them I found her or about the inheritance, so please keep it to yourself." She sighed and pulled her braid across her shoulder. "You know what Mum can be like."
"You're too hard on her, Brianna." Phil pulled her close for a brotherly hug and she rested her head on his shoulder. "Even though she doesn't show it, she loves you. She's just a very private person. Anyway, at least you're on leave from work. You can live anywhere and write your book. Promise me you won't do anything stupid."
Brianna smiled back at him. Phil had looked out for her since his parents had adopted her as a baby, and she'd always respected him as a sensible, older brother. She'd never fit in with the family. Her adoptive parents were staid and elderly now, and couldn't understand her desire to travel the world when she had a secure job at home in Scotland. Reaching over, she tugged Phil's long dreadlocks. He had the complexion and hair coloring of a true Scotsman, even though he looked more like a hippie with his wild hair and patterned pants. Their parents accepted Phil traveling the world, so why did she always feel like the outsider in the family?
"I think Dad would be more upset about your hair than me taking off to the wilds of some Italian island. It's okay, chill. Once I see the lawyer, I'll get all the details and I'll e-mail you."
The robotic voice of the announcer came across the system. "Final call for Qantas flight QF46 to Rome. Calling passenger Brianna Ballantyne. The gate is about to close. Please make your way to the boarding gate immediately."
"Oh, damn ... how embarrassing." She grabbed her bags and leaned over and kissed Phil's cheek before she headed toward the security corridor. "If you're talking to Mum and Dad, you can tell them you saw me and I'm fine."
Phil gave her a wave and she strode along the corridor. Luckily, the checkpoint queue had cleared.
Jeez, I can't believe I've only been in Australia for five days and now I've got that godawful twenty-hour flight back to Europe again.
It would have been a shorter flight if she'd gone through Dubai, but she'd picked up a good deal online through Qantas. Two international flights in over a week had severely dented the advance payment she'd received for her book.
She quickly cleared security through to the duty-free area and then realized gate forty-five was at the far end of the terminal. "Oh, shit, that's all I need, to miss the flight. Get your skates on, girl," she said to herself, running for the gate. Grateful for her flat boots, she sprinted along the concourse and ignored the accelerated walking bays. Arriving at the gate with seconds to spare, she pulled out her boarding pass and hurried down the jet bridge. The cabin services officer smiled and he directed her to the row at the back of the plane, before he turned and shut the door. Most of the passengers were already settled into their allocated seats and belted in.
"Excuse me. Oh, sorry." She pushed past the few passengers who remained standing and were loading their luggage into the overhead compartments. Her laptop bumped the seats all the way up the aisle and she apologized, hitching it higher on her shoulder. She cursed softly when she reached her seat at the very back of the plane and opened the hatch above her seat row to find it was already crammed full with bags.
Excerpted from Italian Affair by Annie Seaton, Alethea Spiridon Hopson, Marie Loggia-Kee. Copyright © 2013 Annie Seaton. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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