Home means everything to Sienna Rossi.
Four years ago, Sienna defied her father by moving to Australia to obtain her teaching qualifications. Her grand plan is shaken by her father's unexpected death and a trip back to Tuscany for her grandmother's eightieth birthday where she renews her close bond with her sister, Alessa.
Teacher Dave Maxwell likes the freedom of his nomadic lifestyle. He works contract-to-contract, moving to different high schools around Australia. He's in Sydney for a season, caring for his grandma while his aunt is on an extended overseas vacation.
Back in Sydney, Sienna moves in with her Aussie cousins and starts her first teaching job, torn between her dream for a future in Australia and her longing for home. Sienna and Dave work at the same school, attend the same church, and quickly become friends. They are drawn together by circumstances and an undeniable attraction.
But their idyllic time together is temporary. Can the girl from Tuscany and the boy from Australia risk everything for love?
CHAPTER ONE EXCERPT
HER FIFTH AUTUMN IN AUSTRALIA wasn’t ending the way she’d planned.
Sienna Rossi jumped to the left, almost tumbling onto the soft Clontarf Beach sand. A soccer ball flew past and landed in the shallow water. A young family of five played ball together and a little girl giggled, clinging to her father’s shoulders.
Sienna regained her balance, a familiar yearning infusing her heart. She longed to be that little girl, delighting in her father’s attention. She longed to wind back the years and spend more time with her father and siblings. And she longed for a few more days, or even a few moments, with her Papà. But he was gone.
Sienna spun around, her heels digging into the sand.
Her cousin Billie stood twenty feet away with her husband, Zach. “We’re organizing the teams. Can you wait here?”
“Sure.” Beach cricket. The fun Aussie tradition Sienna had grown to love was next on her Saturday afternoon agenda.
A wind gust blew fine grains of golden sand over her bare arms and legs. Her ponytail anchored her baseball cap in place and sunglasses protected her eyes. In Sydney, it wasn’t unusual to wear shorts and t-shirts in late May.
Last week she’d worn summer clothing at the Italiano beach near the Amalfi Coast guest house where Mammà’s parents lived. Nonna Crisanti had given Sienna two birthday gifts to bring back to Australia. Handmade gifts Nonna Crisanti had chosen for her sisters who’d taken care of Sienna during her time in Australia.
Sienna had visited Nonna Rossi in Tuscany at the end of April. The whole family had returned to Villa Rossi for Nonna’s eightieth birthday party. Sienna had met Rachel, the cousin she’d never known existed. Family drama and intrigue were ongoing in the Rossi family. Sienna preferred to ignore it all. Her memories of growing up in Tuscany were bittersweet.
Billie walked hand-in-hand across the park with Zach. Family gatherings, including Sienna’s Aussie-Italian family on Mammà’s side, congregated in groups on the grass. Zach had planned a game of beach cricket with Dave, his friend from church, and Dave’s family.
Dave Maxwell. Billie had told her all about him. In detail. He’d fast gained eligible bachelor status in Billie’s eyes. How Billie knew so much when she’d only known him four months was beyond Sienna’s understanding.
Dave was a regular at Beachside Community Church, and a teacher at the local high school where Sienna had been hired as a languages teacher on a short-term contract. Billie had seen this as fate, that Sienna and Dave were destined to be a perfect match. Sienna had seen it as a logical coincidence. Over a thousand students attended the high school, and it had a large teaching staff.
Sienna untwisted the tangles in her ponytail then tossed it back over her shoulder. Her hair needed a trim before she started her new job on Tuesday. To save money she’d ask her hairdresser cousin, Jodie, to cut her hair.
Two trips back home to Tuscany this year had decimated her savings. She’d lost her retail job in January, after requesting leave to attend her father’s funeral. She couldn’t work full-time until her new visa came through, and she’d only picked up occasional days of casual teaching from February to April.
The picnic lunch, provided by her sweet elderly aunts who shared May birthdays, had turned her thoughts to home. Mortadella, salami, cheese, olives. Mouth-watering Italiano deli food and animated conversations in her native tongue with an Aussie twang had increased her yearning for Villa Rossi. At least her most recent trip home had been a celebration rather than a time of grief and mourning.
Billie returned with a tall man, his face shaded by a baseball cap. Sienna’s gaze was drawn to his muscular chest covered by a fitted red t-shirt and long legs beneath knee length running shorts. He must be Dave.
Billie made the introductions and offered an excuse to leave them. Alone.
Dave extended his hand, his eyes hidden by wrap-around sunglasses. “Sienna, good to meet you.”
She shook his hand, his palm soft and grip strong. Reassuring.
“Nice to meet you, Dave.” Her words sounded clipped and cautious to her discerning ear, as if she wasn’t a fluent speaker of English and three other languages.
He grinned. “I like your accent. Billie has told me a lot about you.”
Mamma mia! Sienna pushed her sunglasses further up the bridge of her nose, drawing attention to her least-favorite feature.
Dave appeared at ease, as if unaware of her discomfit. He removed his sunglasses and wiped the lens on a corner of his t-shirt, revealing a flat strip of toned stomach above his waistband.
She whipped up her head. Messa a fuoco. Think. Fast. “Do you play cricket?”
His hazel eyes held glints of yellow. “My favorite sport.”
“Are you any good?”
“You’ll soon find out.”
She nodded, guessing he was a brilliant player. Her limited cricket experience included a few indoor cricket competitions at university and social games with friends and family.
He adjusted the strap of his backpack, and slung it over his broad shoulder. “I’m glad we had a chance to meet before Tuesday.”
“Me too.” She dragged her teeth over her lower lip. “My first teaching gig for longer than a few days. No pressure, hey?”
“You’ll be fine. The girls in your staffroom can’t wait for you to start.”
“I heard the baby arrived early.”
“By six weeks, but it’s all good. Mum and bub are doing well.”
He slipped his sunglasses back on. “Billie said you’re moving to Beachside Community Church.”
“Si.” A practical decision she’d made a few days ago. “Beachside is closer to home.”
“You’re living in Manly, right?”
“I’ve just moved into a brand-new apartment with my cousins.”
“Near Little Manly Beach.”
“The new high-rise tower with the café downstairs.”
“That’s the one. You know it?”
“I live up the road.”
She sucked in a shallow breath. Dave was her neighbor. An important detail Billie had neglected to mention.
Billie and Zach waved them over to a patch of grass further along the beach. A group had gathered around them, including a few kids.
Dave tipped his head in their direction. “It looks like it’s game on.”
“Yes.” She fell into step beside him. “Who’s playing from your family?”
“My older brother and uncle and a couple of cousins. It looks like we’ll have a few ring-ins to make up the numbers.”
She scrunched her nose. “Ring-ins?”
“Random people who join in. You haven’t heard that expression?”
“If I have, I don’t remember.”
“It must get confusing. You speak a few languages, right?”
“Only four.” A playful tone underpinned his words. “I know you’re teaching Italian and French.”
His grin revealed a cute dimple in his chin. “I’ll have to take you to Europe as my tour guide.”
Heat rushed up her neck, warming her face. The thought of being his personal tour guide . . .
Focus. Concentrate. Remember how to speak English. “That’s my sorellina’s job.”
“My little sister.”
“She’s a tour guide.”
“In Roma. Rome.” Alessa’s teasing would be relentless if she’d heard this conversation.
“Have you seen the Catacombs?” Dave asked.
“Si. I was there a few weeks ago.”
“I’ve been to Paris, but I want to see the Catacombs in Rome.”
“Definitely worth a visit. Do you speak many languages?”
“Very poor French. Embarrassingly poor. You don’t want to hear it.”
She chuckled, his honesty disarming. “You teach English, right?”
“English I can do, but I’m teaching only one English class this year. History and geography are my focus.”
He was down-to-earth and could laugh at himself. An appealing trait. She liked him. Probably too much.
1. Tell us your name and a little bit about yourself?
My name is Sienna Rossi. I’m 23, and I speak four languages. I recently completed my studies to become a high school teacher.
2. Tell us about where you live and why you choose to live there?
I’ve always been fascinated by Australia. I have great aunts and cousins on my mother’s side of the family who live in Sydney, Australia. When I completed my schooling in Tuscany, I moved to Sydney to attend university. I recently moved into an apartment in the Sydney beachside suburb of Manly with my Aussie cousins.
3. What is a quirk of your personality that most people wouldn't know?
I can’t stand being late, and I try to hide this from people who think my need to be early is weird. I feel happy if I’m at least ten minutes early and not keeping people waiting.
4. Name two things would you hate people to know about you?
I used to have heated verbal arguments, in private, with my father when I thought he was being unreasonable. I was raised to respect my elders and not argue with them.
My father wanted me to either stay at Villa Rossi or study in Italy. I defied him by going to Australia to study, and he withdrew his financial support. I ended up working long hours in retail jobs in Sydney to pay for my tuition. Nonna was stuck in the middle of my battle with my father. My siblings didn’t know about these problems. Only Nonna knew.
5. Tell us about your special man. What makes him special?
Dave is lots of fun to be around. He’s loyal and hardworking, plus he’s tall and handsome! He can be competitive. He knows what he wants and he likes to win. He’s also a real softie and takes good care of his grandma. But, the most important thing is he shares my faith.
6. The first time you saw him, what did you think? Did you like him immediately, or did he have to grow on you?
I was flustered because I was attracted to Dave from the moment we met. I was glad my sister, Alessa, was not there to laugh at me!
7. What would he hate people to know about him?
Dave is very protective of the people he loves, and would use his fists to defend them if pushed into a corner. He almost punched his brother-in-law when he learned that his brother-in-law had cheated on his sister. His brother-in-law now avoids Dave and makes excuses to avoid family events.
8. What is your favourite thing to eat and drink?
Where do I start? My first love is the homemade traditional Tuscan recipes that I grew up eating at Nonna’s table. Fresh pasta made by hand, and fresh ingredients. Nonna’s Tuscan Bolognese is the best! I also have a sweet tooth and enjoy a range of desserts, including pavlova.
I love coffee and in recent years I’ve discovered a love for hot black tea, English style, with a dash of milk. My brother Ric introduced me to the English style of tea, and my Aussie family also enjoy it.
9. If you had to fight, what would be your weapon of choice and why?
Verbal sparring is my weapon of choice, if I’m backed into a corner with no good options. My older brother, Rafaele, is a lawyer. I learned how words can be used as a weapon from my verbal sparring with him.
10. Pepsi or Coke
Definitely Coke No Sugar! My favourite Aussie cold drink if lightly sparkling water isn’t available.
11. Tea or coffee
Both, depending on the time of day! Espresso early in the morning and English hot tea in the afternoon.
12. Elephant or tiger
13. Roast dinner / burger and chips (fries for our US readers) or pizza roast beef, Yorkshire puds and roast spuds.
I’m not a fan of fast food. My great aunt’s Aussie roast dinner is awesome: roast lamb with roasted potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potato, and parsnip. Plus steamed carrots and peas and corn served with gravy and mint jelly.
14. Classical music or pop
15. Sunrise or sunset
Sunrise. The best time of day to pray and meditate on God’s word.
16. Walk or run
Long walks along the beach with Dave.
17. Chocolate or crisps (chips for our US readers)
Definitely chocolate, and preferably Swiss or Belgium chocolate.
18. What would you like on your epitaph?
2 Timothy 4:7