Sicilian Stranger – Excerpt

When Shannon's flight descended into the bowels of Sicily in search of her missing fiancé John, she had no idea she would meet the devil himself.

She had no precise address to look for. All she knew was that the estate he had inherited from his grandfather, the Prince of Ragusa Ibla, was on the outskirts of the town of Ragusa Ibla. She had pictures of the castle to go by and many stories of John's past amongst noblemen, maids, and murderers.

The old man had died a month ago and John was his sole grandson and heir. After mumbling something about divine justice, he packed his bags, promised to call, and left.

She had tried everything to reach him. Calling his cellphone, emailing him, texting him, and even a private message on Facebook. At the local Carabinieri police station, she was told that John had never arrived, according to their sources. After speaking with the Maresciallo of the local police force, she had decided to get hands-on in the search.

Shannon now stood outside Catania Fontanarossa Airport in the sweltering midday heat, breathing in the heady scent of orange blossoms and jasmine that she knew were typical of the island.

"No airport in the world smells as good as Catania," John used to say.

Used to say? Why was she thinking in the past tense? Because death was the only excuse she was going to accept for being treated like this.

Stretching her aching body, she felt the trickles of sweat between her breasts and down her back, her shirt clinging to her skin. A man walking by halted to stare at her, his lips curling with pleasure. She looked down and could clearly see her nipples straining through her top. She gasped and covered herself, glaring at him.

Hoisting her flight-bag onto her shoulder, Shannon marched across the road to the first rent-a-car, when she heard the sound of thunder. There was not a cloud in the intense cobalt blue sky—a color you just couldn't get in North America. And then she started in surprise.

Looming before her, in all its greatness, stood Mount Etna, which she knew to be the highest volcano in Europe. She knew it was near Catania, but she hadn't realized it was this close to the airport. Shannon hoped it wasn't going to act up while she was there. She had enough drama in her life as it was.

The people around her glanced up at the volcano cursorily, completely disinterested in the old grouch. Of course, they were used to it, but she was fascinated. It was like a giant beast rising from a long sleep ready to claim its next meal.

A little bit like John.

Mount Etna, on the other hand, was active, but its eruptions lazily spewed rivers of magma that were dangerous only to those who stood in their slow, relentless paths.

Not having much of a budget or any knowledge of Italian cars, she chose a cheap, emerald green Fiat Punto. When she got in she realized it was a stick shift. She had only driven a stick shift a couple of times before and very badly. She sighed and pulled out a map of Southern Sicily. Halting and breaking, Shannon made her way down what seemed to be a fairly new highway. Once she got into fifth gear she was okay. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad after all.

After a few kilometers the highway came to a stop and there were detour signs in Italian. She scanned the blue signs indicating towns she'd never heard of. She did know that Contrada Monteforte was in the province of Ragusa, right on the Mediterranean coast, so she headed south. After almost two hours she was rewarded with a blue sign indicating her exit was coming up.

What if John was hurt? She couldn't think of any other explanation for his silence. Yes, they had been going through a rough patch, but they were still a couple. John never made decisions lightly, and even if he wasn't the most passionate man she had ever met, she still loved him, although he was a workaholic. Knowing he would inherit one day never kept him from designing, building, and monitoring his own Environmental Chambers.

She had actually managed to get herself trapped in one of them once. It was like being locked in a giant freezer. She had screamed and pounded on the door, panic taking over as she envisioned someone opening the chamber the next day to find her as stiff as frozen cod fish. Then the door had opened to John's horrified face and she had collapsed in his arms.