A love that overcomes hatred, greed, evil... and even the forces of nature.
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Wild and amoral, Rea is an outcast, object of the fury of the women of Panarea, a tiny rock in the Mediterranean sea, because she is ‘killing’ their husbands and sons, one by one. The men, however, are obsessed by her beauty, but no one, not even the head of the village Don Antonio, dares make a claim on her for fear of calling her wrath upon them.
A newcomer, American Alex Ford, photographer and decorated pilot is enraged by the injustices committed against her, but never did he expect this little rebel to set his own heart afire.
But Rea has foreseen his imminent death as well, and does all she can to avoid him, despite the attraction that threatens to tear her apart, for she knows that falling in love with her will mean his own death.
Excerpt from The Obsession and the Fury:
Island of Panarea, Sicily, 1951.
The sway of her hips was enough to make any man lose his head.
Every day at noon she would cross the sun-bleached piazza. Like clockwork, all the men on the island of Panarea would be there to witness the apparition. To them she was a God-sent, Satan-driven beauty.
Whenever she stopped to toss her black glossy mane down her back, her thin dress outlining her exquisite curves, no man was safe from the sinful thoughts she triggered. Not the old men sitting in the piazza playing with their dog-eared cards, nor the young parish priest hiding away and praying for his tempted soul in the cool depths of his church. The church that was more and more deserted each day.
No one could resist the wild, feral look in her eyes. On the small Sicilian island sin was afoot, and at the age of eighteen, Rea was the embodiment of temptation. She had no origin, no family, no surname, but it didn’t matter. She was named after the island of Panarea because that was where she was found one misty morning six years earlier. At siesta time the men would lie back onto their makeshift beds and dream of her beauty.
The women hated her and shunned her, lest her lewd savagery rub off on their own virtuous daughters. Or worse, lest the gypsy, as she was also called, rub herself up against their innocent husbands. Either way, Rea was an outcast in a close-knit society that believed in work, honoring their Lord Jesus Christ, and respect towards their fellow townsmen. But most of all, they believed that ‘skin’ equaled ‘sin.’
To them, Rea was the dirt on the last rung, at the very bottom of society, if you didn’t consider bandits, but those only arrived occasionally by sea and left in a flurry as Panarea was too small to offer a permanent hiding place.
Her man had been a middle-aged outlaw who had briefly wooed her. He had publicly claimed her by dragging her into his shack up in the hills and later, as was custom on the first night of proper marriages, emerged proudly exposing for all to see the bloody sheets that vouched for her innocence.
The return of a rival bandit from Agrigento sent him into hiding soon after, and he hadn’t returned since.
That had been three years ago, and still she feared his return to their shack on her own. Rumor had it she survived by selling her body, but strangely no woman’s husband nor, God forbid, son was ever indicated as one of her patrons.
Rea was also infamous for another gift. During the hot afternoons she would sit in her home with her Tarot cards splayed before her on her makeshift table and read out the future to those- men- that had mustered the courage to climb up the steep path to her abode.
If only they had known that the fortune-telling didn’t come from the cards, but from her dreams.
Her nights were filled with images of the future, and while the happy events such as births and christenings comforted her, she was terrified of dreaming someone’s death, for, as sure as the sun always rises, that person would be dead within the week.
To the people she was a witch, a whore and everything in between. Every death on the island was ascribed to her. She had foreseen them all, in her sleep, and she would watch from afar every accident, every death, every funeral parade.
But the dream that head left Rea distraught was of the death of a handsome foreigner. He was kind and passionate, genuinely in love with her and together they were happy- until a kind woman showed up with a wedding dress. In that moment he would fall to his death down the cliff, into the sea, lost forever.
Rea always woke up screaming, praying she would never meet him.
This morning she entered the cool deserted shop during siesta time when no one was around. The shopkeeper, Don Antonio, was waiting for her with a bag of groceries and a filthy toothless smile. When she offered him her money, he grabbed her by the hips.
“Bella…sei bellissima,” he rasped, burying his sweaty face into her cleavage. She eyed him briefly, and then pushed him away, nonplussed, and held out her money. He shook his head and reached for her again, but Rea stamped her foot. Don Antonio grunted and pushed the groceries in her direction, waving away the money. Rea glared at him and slapped the bills onto the counter and headed for the door, but he pulled her back, covering her mouth with his hand.
When she got home she peeled off her dress and washed every inch of her body.
As the boat rounded the glistening bay, Alex Ford stood in awe. With less than two hundred inhabitants, Panarea was a tiny speck in the Aeolian Islands off the Northeastern coast of Sicily, lost in the Mediterranean Sea.
His Sicilian-American friend from back home wasn’t joking when he said it was a cluster of old houses on the side of a dormant volcano with more sheep than people. But Alex wasn’t interested in people. Ahead of him stretched a long summer, a war to forget, and a book to write. Nothing else mattered.
Everywhere he looked the landscape was breath-takingly wild and primitive. At the top, oddly askew, was the crater of the volcano. It was dormant, he had read, but it bore the promise of awakening one day. He hoped he, or anybody else for that matter, wouldn’t be around when it did.
The few houses seemed to drift apart further and further as they sloped down to the sea where tiny colorful wooden dinghies bobbed. He planned to spend time fishing with the islanders and sailing up the coast with his camera. He grinned. No telephones, no radios. Just him, the sea, and his typewriter. It was going to be a sensational book.
“Signore,” the weather-beaten fisherman beckoned as he pulled the boat onto the sand, taking the large suitcase. Normally Alex was a light traveler, but he had brought as many books as he could find on Sicily. His next travel novel was long overdue and his agent was getting panicky.
Alex offered to carry his own load but the fisherman insisted. “Casa Fiorilla is up there,” he explained, jerking his head up the hill, as if intimating Alex wasn’t in good enough shape for the trek. But at thirty-two Alex was more than fit. He had served in the War as a pilot. He remembered the first time he flew over these islands, and vowed to land on them one day.
Like a nimble mountain goat, the older man picked his way up the steep path. Alex looked up after him and winced. What a time to stop smoking!
The sun was high and the stones on the narrow goat path came loose at every step. Alex made a mental note to come down only when strictly necessary if he wanted to live a long life. As he was thinking about it, he lost his footing and clutched at a dark green bush, surprised by the pleasant fragrance it released under his grip. Juniper. Must be a wild variety. Mental note for book.
As they passed a derelict hut on their way up, the fisherman slowed down and craned his neck, trying to catch a glimpse through the screen of wooden slats. Alex stopped politely, waiting for him to resume his climb, when the man turned around as if to catch him off guard.
“What’s in there?” Alex asked.
“Nothing but trouble,” the fisherman grunted and quickened his step.
Alex followed him, now gasping for air and casting another glance at the hut. Many people had huts like these where they stored their agricultural equipment. Was he planning to help himself to the goods inside on the way down?
After a few minutes they stopped and the man plunked his suitcase onto the dusty earth of a small clearing. Alex looked up and wiped the sweat from his forehead.
This house wasn’t much bigger than the hut. He took out the large iron key and twisted it into the front door. Clouds of dust emerged from the interior that seemed to swallow the very daylight.
“Luxury hotel, huh?” he said, grinning at the fisherman.
“Niente,” nothing, Alex said hastily in Italian. He doubted very much that the little man had understood him half the time as he only spoke Sicilian. Italian was the language of the well-read; doctors, lawyers and pharmacists, and he doubted whether this man with sea- weathered skin could even read. Alex handed him a few Lira and watched him disappear down the steep hill among the luscious bushes and turned back to the house.
He sighed. The place was like a bomb-site. He took off his clothes and changed into a pair of over-alls.
The first thing he looked for was a writing table. The only available surface was the dining table which he dragged into the front room by the window for some light. The bed surprisingly had drop sheets, but also droppings of every other kind. It would take him ages to make this house a home.
Alex spent the next few hours sweeping with a straw broom and cleaning with some old rags he found. It was useless. Whatever he did the dirt would not come out. He needed detergent of some kind and a mop. Wiping the sweat from his neck, he picked up two large buckets and trudged down the goat path towards the well Mark had told him about. On his way he passed the hut where the fisherman had lingered and he turned, curious. It was quiet and the door behind the screen was now closed.
He dragged the water back uphill, careful not to spill it. Alex washed the floors as thoroughly as he could. Then he changed into clean clothes and clambered down into the center of the town.
There, he stopped, somewhat overwhelmed by the size of the square. It sloped seaward as did the hill, and was surrounded by palm trees on every side. It looked like a village from A Thousand and One Nights. A small church stood off to the side, dwarfed by the enormous piazza and slightly askew. It was magnificent in its simple, rugged beauty. The opposite side of the piazza was lined with low, closely built houses. From up here he could see the shoreline, and noticed the waves were starting to get choppy. Of course. The tide.
He stepped into what seemed to be the only shop around and was instantly engulfed by its cool, deep interior.
A large counter stood across from the entrance, and as his eyes adjusted to what seemed like pitch black darkness, he realized the place was a café, a bazaar, a grocery shop and a haberdasher’s. All the goods that made it to the island were sold here and here only, and the old man behind the counter was running the place like a despot, ordering the helper boys to and fro, waving his arms in a constant dance and yelling as if the place was on fire. In the corner sat an elderly woman, presumably his wife, knitting. She seemed to be satisfied with his behavior, her eyes bright but also fierce, as if ready to catch any fault in his behavior. He instantly knew who wore the pants in the family. As Alex walked in they all looked up and silence fell immediately.
“Buongiorno,” he greeted politely.
All eyes swung to the owner who scrutinized Alex at length before nodding slowly, and soft murmurs of greeting were uttered. Not one smile. Just a diffident look of scrutiny. He moved to the side, patiently waiting for his turn.
Without warning, a tall attractive brunette floated in and it was as if the sea had flooded the shop. People gasped and turned away, their eyes darting to her nervously. She greeted no one and no one spoke to her as she selected a few items and stepped up to the counter and stopped.
“After you, Miss,” Alex beckoned.
That’s when she turned to look at him, and Alex felt a shiver down his spine, and he knew his life would never be the same. But in her deep, dark eyes there was an animosity that made him flinch and he instinctively stepped back.
Without a word of thanks, she turned away and plunked her items onto the counter, looking defiantly at the old man who in turn watched her at length, his own eyes glistening with what could only be satisfaction. Then he shook his head.
“No!” he uttered.
The young woman slipped a slender hand in between her breasts and produced a wad of bills.
“I said no! We don’t want your money here! Now go, you slut!”
She stared him down, her shotgun eyes now loaded with hatred, ready to fire. The old man momentarily faltered, his eyes darting to his wife’s furrowed face.
The young woman stared at the man, then at his wife and with a swift movement, spun on her heels and stalked out of the shop. On the threshold she stopped and picked up a large jar of sundried tomatoes and flung it across the shop. Alex started and turned to see Don Antonio duck just in time as the mirror behind him cracked right in the center as if hit by a single bullet.
“Puttana! Puttana!” slut, his wife yelled, her bony hand shooing her out. Her husband slowly resurfaced from under the counter, his few white hairs standing stark against his tanned scalp, his dark eyes huge.
“You saw that! E’ pazza!” the elderly woman screamed at the others who watched open-mouthed, crossing themselves.
The last thing Alex saw was the swirl of her flowered dress disappear out the door.