‘Is he good-looking?’
Meg felt her teeth literally grind together as her travel companion, Jasmine, repeated the question for the hundredth time. Here they were docking in Niroli, which was undoubtedly the most beautiful island Meg had seen on her travels to date, and all Jasmine wanted to talk about was potential men.
Coming from Australia, where everything was comparatively new, Meg was in awe of the past that drenched each place she had visited on her travels through Europe, reeling at the ancient architecture and glorious tales of times gone by and, for Meg, Niroli had it all! To the South of Sicily, the island of Niroli, according to the travel guide Meg had devoured on the boat trip, was steeped in history, its colourful past filled with rivalries and wars dating back centuries and still playing out today. They’d just passed the tiny island of Mont Avellana, which, as recently as two decades ago, had been ruled by Niroli, and now they were coming into Niroli’s main port. Meg stared in wonder as they approached—sandy beaches rapidly giving way to a lush hillside, which was like a fabulous tapestry, with thick forests, and edged by vineyards that laced neatly around the sprawling town. But a grand castle set on a rocky promontory was for Meg the main focal point, standing tall and proud, looking out towards the ocean, as if somehow guarding it all.
‘That’s the palace,’ Meg pointed out to Jasmine excitedly, checking with the map to get her bearings, ‘and over to the right there’s a Roman amphitheatre….’
‘There’s a casino,’ Jasmine said, peering over Meg’s shoulder, ‘oh, and a luxury spa!’
‘We can’t afford luxury.’ Meg smiled. ‘We’re backpacking!’
‘Then we’ll just have to find someone who can!’ Jasmine countered, her mind flicking back to the inevitable. ‘So what sort of doctor is he?’
‘Who?’ Meg asked, then let out a pained sigh as Jasmine’s momentary interest in her surrounds rapidly waned. ‘Alex is a surgeon,’ Meg admitted, then wished she hadn’t, noting Jasmine’s eyes literally light up at the prospect of dating a rich surgeon—well, she could dream on. Alex was the least money-minded of persons and would see through Jasmine in a flash.
If only she had, Meg inwardly sighed. At first when Jasmine had befriended her, Meg had been only too glad of the company, only lately the very qualities that Meg had admired had started to repel. Jasmine’s impetuous nature, her carefree attitude and her obsession with men were starting to irritate, and Meg was actually looking forward to cooling off the friendship a touch—ready now to complete her journey alone.
Backpacking through Europe had seemed the most unlikely of adventures for Meg to embark on. Routine was the key in Meg’s life—routine was what saw her through.
Routine was the only way she could control her life and the emotions that had overwhelmed her as she’d struggled to come to terms with her difficult childhood.
But now here she was, twenty-five years of age and ready to start living; ready to let go of a difficult past and truly embrace a world that had at times been so very cruel. Backpacking through Europe was the final self-imposed step in her recovery. Casual work, casual clothes and casual meals had at first been a huge enigma for Meg, but gradually she was starting to relax—that knot of tension that had been present for as long as she could remember was slowly unravelling and, as she stepped off the boat and took a deep cleansing breath, closed her blue eyes and turned her face up to the warm sun Meg knew there and then that she had been so right to embark on this journey—could hardly wait to tell her brother just how far she’d come.