Ciara Moretti never thought of herself as a romantic person. Her family had been her focus all of her life and there was nothing romantic about cooking and cleaning.
It wasn’t that she didn’t notice boys when she was a young girl living in Gaeta, Italy. It was that she had been forbidden to acknowledge their existence.
Her parents had been strict with her while her brother Paolo could come and go as he pleased. It wasn’t fair, but there was little point in feeling sorry for herself since the other girls her age lived by the same rules in their homes.
“When you are ready to get married, we’ll find the right man. You don’t need to worry about it,” her father said.
It was bad enough that her father felt this way, but without her mother in her corner, she’d never have the life she’d always dreamed about. She wanted to wait to marry—to wait until she fell in love.
“Love? You’ll be lucky to find a good man, a good provider. Love will come later,” her mother insisted.
When an opportunity to come to America with friends presented, Ciara jumped at the chance to change her future. If she stayed in Gaeta, she’d never meet the man she would fall in love with. She knew all the boys in her part of the world, and no one had caught her eye. To her, they were all the same and she could expect them to adhere to the same rules and traditions that she had been groomed to accept without question.
It was a brave and risky move. Her parents disowned her the minute she told them what she intended to do.
“You are not our daughter anymore,” her mother and father yelled as Ciara walked away from the only home she’d ever known. Only Paolo, her brother, ran after her. He handed her several hundred euro that he had saved.
“No, Paolo. I cannot take this.”
“Don’t argue with me, Ciara. Take this money, and as soon as I can, I will come to join you in America.”
She took the money and hugged him tight. A car with two women inside pulled up next to her and she got in. As it pulled away, Ciara leaned out the window and waved to Paolo.
She learned to speak English, went out with her two friends from Italy and met a few new ones. She waitressed at a restaurant on Sanibel Island and found a tiny apartment near her work.
Paolo kept his promise and joined his sister in Sanibel, Florida. They built a thriving plant nursery and worked on the island of Captiva for an elderly woman who needed help inside and outside her property. Rose Johnson Lane had become a second mother to Ciara and Paolo, and they found a permanent home in the southwest part of Florida.
They travelled back to Gaeta a few times over the years. Her parents had softened their position. In their eyes, Paolo would not only look after her but would now become the head of the family even if the family was beyond the Atlantic. Ciara laughed at her parents’ old ways that would never change and chose to love them regardless.
Ciara loved living in Florida. Her life was full caring for others and working alongside her brother. But her dream of finding someone to love and build a life with was beyond her reach. She’d dated a few men over the years, but no one captured her heart. She’d resigned herself to never marry and had all but given up when an email popped up in her inbox from Maurizio Bianchi, the son of her family’s enemy.
Ciara knew she should ignore the email and never mention it to her brother, but it seemed innocent enough to read it and decide on her own what to do. She remembered Maurizio as the handsome young son of Gustavo Bianchi, but she didn’t know much about him and never made eye contact with him whenever she saw him.
His email surprised her, and she found it difficult to understand why Maurizio, of all people, would be the one to update her on her mother and father’s health. How he even knew such details didn’t confuse her since their town was small and news of anyone living there traveled quickly. It was that he went to so much trouble to get her email address. That action alone impressed Ciara and the moment she hit the send button on her response, she was giddy with anticipation.
It was the beginning of a months-long communication that started as a friendship and in time, a romance. She never said a word to Paolo about her correspondence with Maurizio, until her new love wanted to come to America and be with her. As much as she knew how her brother would respond, she had no choice but to go to him and explain. She was in love, finally. Nothing would stand in her way of happiness after all this time.
But she was wrong. Paolo forbid Maurizio’s coming to Captiva, and even worse, her correspondence with him. Ciara refused to accept her brother’s position. It was the twenty-first century after all. She didn’t leave Gaeta only to be left with little choice about how she would live her life in America.
Maggie Wheeler was now her sister-in-law, and someone who believed differently than her husband. She supported Ciara and Maurizio’s relationship and would help her find a way to bring Maurizio to America with Paolo’s support.
Ciara had lived her life without the warmth of a man’s arms around her. She’d given up on a future with children. Now, her dream of a family of her own and the security of having someone to grow old with was within reach. How Maggie would manage such a miracle, Ciara didn’t know. But she’d place her faith in the power of love, and the support of family. Two things that she believed in with all her heart.