Author: Karina Halle
Publisher: Atria Books
Release Date: July 28, 2015
Genre: Contemporary Romance
More Info: Goodreads
Purchase: Amazon US
Purchase: Barnes & Noble
From the USA TODAY bestselling author of Where Sea Meets Sky comes a new adult novel about a young woman who becomes a nanny in Capri and falls for her charges’ bad-boy brother.
It’s time for twenty-four-year-old Amber MacLean to face the music. After a frivolous six months of backpacking through New Zealand, Australia, and Southeast Asia, she finds herself broke on the Mediterranean without enough money for a plane ticket home to California. There are worse places to be stuck than the gorgeous coastline of southern Italy, but the only job she manages to secure involves teaching English to two of the brattiest children she’s ever met.
It doesn’t help that the children are under the care of their brooding older brother, Italian ex-motorcycle racer Desiderio Larosa. Darkly handsome and oh-so-mysterious, Derio tests Amber’s patience and will at every turn—not to mention her hormones.
But when her position as teacher turns into one as full-time nanny at the crumbling old villa, Amber finds herself growing closer to the enigmatic recluse and soon has to choose between the safety of her life back in the States and the uncertainty of Derio’s closely guarded heart.
The book follows Amber, a young woman who, after months of backpacking and soul-searching, settles down (a tiny bit!) to become a nanny in Capri and unexpectedly falls for her charges’ bad-boy brother.
I think we’ve all thought about how we’re going to die. My friend Angela Kemp, whom I’ve known since we were playing in saggy diapers together, is convinced she’s going to choke to death on something. Every time we go out to eat, she searches the restaurant for the person most likely to know the Heimlich maneuver and tries to sit by them. It doesn’t seem to matter that I know the Heimlich maneuver; she just wants to know that she’ll be safe if it happens.
Personally, I’ve always thought I’d fall to my death. I think it all started when I was seven or eight years old and had dreams of my house turning over and me falling from the floor to the ceiling, dodging couches and tables. After that my dreams turned into me falling off of balconies, getting stuck in plummeting elevators, and finally, being in horrific plane crashes. Actually, it was never the crash that killed me, nor was it the scariest part of the dream; it was that I was always sucked out of the airplane before then and fell to my death in a horrible rush of cold air and mortality.
It shouldn’t surprise me then that I currently think I’m about to die, and by falling, no less.
In fact, I’m sure there’s no way I can possibly survive this. It’s not that I’m in a taxi that seems to be coughing black fumes out of its tail pipe every two seconds, or the fact that the driver—with a mustache so big he looks like a land walrus—is looking more at me and the two other backpackers in the backseat instead of on the road, but that as we round the corners of the “highway” toward the famously postcard-worthy town of Positano, we’re going full speed and there’s nothing but a sheer cliff face on my side of the vehicle.
“Shit,” I swear, trying to hold onto something—anything—that will keep me in the car and not fall to my death, as my sordid dreams have foretold. I look over at Ana and Hendrik, my Danish traveling compadres for this leg of southern Italy, and they don’t seem all that concerned. I’m especially not going to grab onto big, blonde Hendrik since Ana has a problem with random girls touching him.
Not that I’m random at this point. I met up with the couple in Rome and spent a few days with them there before we took the train down south. I know they have plans to keep going all the way to Sicily and hunker down on some beach hut with a bunch of goats (I don’t know, but whenever Hendrik talks about their plans, goats are involved somehow) but I’m starting to believe that Positano is the end of the line for me.
And it’s not just because I’m certain I’m going to die on the way there. It’s because I am flat fucking broke. We all knew this day would come (and by we, I mean my parents and I.) After all, I’ve been traveling for six months around the world, and even though I’ve been trying to spend as little as possible, the world isn’t as cheap as you’d think.
It probably doesn’t help that I went a little overboard in Europe and went on a mini shopping spree in every city I was in. But I like to think of my new shawls and sandals and jewelry as souvenirs, not just clothes. I mean, do you get to wear your postcards or ceramic doodads or tiny calendars with pictures of the Eiffel tower on them? No. But you can wear a scarf you picked up from a market in Berlin.
But of course, in hindsight, maybe I should have managed my money a bit better. I just thought that my savings were enough. And then when my parents started bailing me out, I thought I could coast by on that. Just for a little while. Until I found out they sold my shitty 1982 Mustang convertible to help pay for this trip. And then after that, they just stopped putting money in my account.
I’ve now eaten into the money that’s supposed to pay for my return ticket home, a ticket I didn’t think I’d have to buy until I got down to Morocco, or even Turkey.
So, Positano, Italy, on the Amalfi Coast, might just be the end for me.
Or this cab ride. As we round another bend, I can see crazy people parked on the road and selling flowers—not the side of the road, but parked on the actual road. So now people are swerving and going around them, but when Italians swerve they don’t slow down—they actually speed up.
I decide to close my eyes for the rest of the journey and hope I end up in one piece.
Even though the journey from Sorrento to Positano doesn’t translate into many miles, it still feels like it takes forever for us to finally get there.
The walrus-mustached cab driver pulls to a sudden stop, abruptly enough that I fling forward, my curly blonde hair flying all over the place as my seatbelt barely restrains me.
“Amber,” Ana says in her deep accent. “We’re here.”
“I gathered that,” I say, and do the very awkward act of pretending to search through my messenger bag for euros. I don’t really have any euros to spare. Thankfully Ana thrusts some bills into the driver’s hand as we clamber out of the cab.
And so here is Positano. I’d been so busy closing my eyes and praying, I hadn’t really gotten a good look at the town on the way over.
It’s fucking charming. I mean, it’s beautiful and stunning and photogenic as all hell, but its charm is the first thing that comes to mind. The cab dropped us off at the top of the hill and you can see just how packed the town is. Building after colorful building crammed below cliffs, staggered down the hillsides, tucked into every nook and cranny. It makes you wonder what crazy person decided to put a town here, of all places.
The one-way road leading down to the beach is narrow, with cars and pedestrians and patio seating vying for space, and lined with stores that beckon you to come inside. Actually, knowing Italy, the minute you walk past, some shopkeeper will come out and literally beckon you to come inside because, like, you can’t say no (maybe that’s how I’ve ended up with so much stuff). In the distance, the Mediterranean Sea sparkles from the sunlight, glittering on the water, and hydrofoil ferries glide through the waves with ease.
“Wow,” I say softly, trying to take it all in. “This is like the movies.”
“Yes, it’s very nice,” Hendrik says blankly. He’s never really impressed with anything. When we saw the Coliseum, he said he thought it would be bigger. Well, I thought it would be bigger, too, but that didn’t stop me from being overwhelmed by the structure and history of it all. “Luckily the hostel is at the top of the hill.”
That is lucky, considering if it was at the bottom of the hill on this one-way road I’d have to lug my overflowing backpack and duffel bag up to catch a cab or bus when it’s time to leave. Then again…I have a feeling I’m going to be here a while. I have enough money to stay at this hostel for a week and then I’m officially fucked.
I try not to dwell on that as I follow the Danes down the road for a few minutes as cars and motorcycles—ubiquitous here—zoom past, narrowly missing me by an inch. Even being on foot and at your own pace, there is still something so dizzying about this place. All these houses, burnt orange and pastel yellow and faded rose, looking down on each other. When I turn around and look behind me, the steep, rocky hills rise up into the sky.
It feels like the whole entire town could topple over at any minute.
This could be a metaphor for my life at the moment.
After we’ve settled into a rather pleasant looking dorm room (pleasant compared to the fleabag we stayed at in Rome), Ana and Hendrik invite me to go with them down to the beach. I really do want to go and explore, but I have a feeling they’ll want to eat at some restaurant, and that would be more euros than I can afford. As much as I hate it, I have to stick to my weird Italian granola bars and fruit for as long as I can. Besides, I’m sure the lovebirds would rather stroll on the Positano beach with each other and not have some broke, frazzle-haired American girl tagging along.
So they leave and I take my time exploring the hostel. It’s small but even though it’s the only one in town, it’s not as packed as I thought it would be. It’s the beginning of June so I thought all college kids and post-college kids (like myself) would be flocking to this area but I guess not.
That’s fine with me. After living out of a backpack for months on end and never really getting any time for myself, strolling around a quaint but quiet hostel is a pleasure.
I end up back at the reception desk where a girl with shiny, poker-straight, chocolate brown hair is sipping some lemon drink. I get major hair envy over anyone with straight strands.
“Buongiorno,” the girl says with a smile—and an American accent—once she notices I’m there. Then she recognizes me from check-in earlier. “I mean, hello. Amber, right? From San Francisco?”
“San Jose,” I correct her, finding her easy to talk to already. I’ve always been a fairly quiet girl but that changed real quick once I started traveling by myself. “Listen, I was just wondering…well, I mean, I know you work here, right?”
She nods. “I hope so, otherwise I’ll be in a lot of trouble.”
“Right. I was just wondering, how did that happen?”
“Oh,” she says and leans back in her stool. I notice how sun-browned her skin is and gather she must have been in Italy, or at least some place warm, for a long time. She breaks into a wide smile. “It’s kind of a long story.”
I lean against the counter. “I’ve got time.”
And so the girl – Amanda – launches into the story of her current life. She only came here on a whim with a friend of hers but fell in love with Positano so badly that she didn’t want to leave. Her friend ended up going back home and she asked the owners of the hostel if there was any way she could work for them. They told her she could work the front desk full time in exchange for room, board, and little bit of extra money. She jumped at the chance, doing this all under the table, of course.
“So how long are you staying here for?” I ask her.
“I leave in a month. My three months is up.”
I make a frowny face. “That sucks.”
She shoots me an impish smile. “But I’ll be back. Alfonso is making sure of that?”
“Who is Alfonso?”
“The man I’m going to marry.”
And then she launches into another story, this one far more exciting than the last one. On her second week of working here, she ended up running into a local cop. He was hot. It was love at first sight. Now, with her having to leave the country (Americans can only be here for three months at a time), Alfonso is building a case to bring her back in seven months. If they can prove they are serious about each other and intend to marry one day, she can get a permit to work here for longer.
“Wow,” I tell her when she’s finished. “I was just saying this town was like a movie town and now this is like movie love.”
She blushes. “I know it’s rather fast. No one takes our relationship seriously, not even his mother. But I do love him, and he loves me, and I know this is the right thing to do. So why not take the chance, you know? If it doesn’t work out, at least I’ll have a hell of a story.”
“You already do have a hell of a story.” I’ll admit that even though I think it’s sweet and romantic, the jaded and cynical side of me thinks it’s a bit ridiculous that she’s doing all of this for a man, that you could even fall in love that fast. But that’s probably because I’ve been screwed over by men a few times already on my travels.
“See,” she says, pulling out her phone and showing me a picture. “This is Alfonso. You’d stay for him, wouldn’t you?”
I let out a low whistle. Alfonso is hot. Dark-skinned with piercing light-colored eyes. And he’s tall, too. Not that it’s too out of the ordinary—everyone warned me that Italian men are short and hairy, but so far that’s not the case at all.
“Nice,” I say to her. “Well, I wish you both the best and hope it all works out.”
She shrugs. “Life works out the way it wants to.”
“Uh-huh.” And then I remember the real reason why I came to talk to her. “Listen, I’m having some financial difficulties at the moment. You know, overdid it a bit in London and all that. Anyway, I was wondering if you knew if there was any work available for someone like me.”
Her eyes narrow slightly. “Well, there’s no work here.”
Relax, I think. I’m not after your job.
“Oh, I don’t mean here, per se. I just meant in town. Or in the area. Even Sorrento or Salerno.”
She purses her lips and thinks. “Well, there would be jobs in Salerno, but you don’t want to work there. Have you tried the English cafe down the street? Sometimes they need English speakers. There’s also a work-notice board they put up for foreigners. Usually the jobs posted are one-offs for guys, like a day spent painting a house or something like that. But sometimes you can get lucky.”
This sounds promising. “And it’s just down the street? It’s a long street…”
Amanda smiles and pulls out the hostel map and proceeds to draws on it. “Follow the road all the way to here and then take these stairs here. You’ll come to Bar Darkhouse. Beside it, kind of tucked in the back, is Panna Café. That’s the one.”
“Thank you,” I tell her, folding the map before shoving it into my bag.
I walk down the streets with an extra spring in my step. The air is fresh (when you’re not inhaling diesel fumes) and the sun is warm, baking my bare arms. I’m feeling a bit optimistic about the whole money problem now. If Amanda can find work here, I can too.
That should also go to say that if Amanda can find love here, I can too. But thankfully, that is the last thing I’m looking for. I’ve had enough fun and heartbreak during this trip, falling for boys who either have their hearts set on someone else (like Josh in New Zealand) or who love you and have to leave you (like the Icelandic boy, Kel, whom I spent a sex-filled week with in Prague). No, the next guy I was going to fall for would be a Nor Cal boy when I returned home to San Jose. No drama, no heartache, no tragic goodbyes.
No fun either, I think to myself, but I quickly push that thought away.
The café is easy enough to find but it takes me awhile to get there. The town is just so pretty and tightly packed that I want to linger in every single store. Eventually I find it and order an espresso at the bar. Unlike most cafes in Italy, this one actually has tables and chairs where you can sit down and sip your drink, obviously catering to tourists. But at this point I’ve gotten used to doing quick shots of coffee while standing up. It’s at least more efficient.
After I ask the British barista whether they are hiring and find out it’s a big fat no, she points me to the corner of the cafe where the notice board is. Though most of the postings are actual flyers for parties or advertisements for ceramic sales, there are a few work notices.
One of them looks fresh—none of the phone number/email strips on the notice have been taken.
Need help. Want English speaking woman. Two children. Must be good to young children and help with language. Fluency needed. Italian is helpful to have. Please email Felisa. Locate to Capri.
I quickly take the notice off of the board before anyone else notices. Like hell I’m going to compete for this job. Even though I’m not really sure what it entails, other than possibly teaching English to two kids, or what it pays or if it includes room and board, I’m not going to give the opportunity up. If it doesn’t work out, then I’ll just put the ad back.
I immediately connect to the cafe’s Wi-Fi on my cell phone and shoot an email off to Felisa. I make myself sound as good as possible: Graduated from college with an English degree. Worked as a receptionist for a prestigious company (before I was fired). Great with children (I think I baby sat once when I was fifteen). Willing to work in Capri, provided help with housing is included. Have spent a great deal of time building up life skills while traversing Southeast Asia. Knows how to bake a mean tiramisu.
That last part is a lie but I thought they might find it endearing.
I press send and then wait.
And when I realize I’m not going to get a response right away, I head to the bar next door, taking the work notice with me.