I was so enchanted when I saw George Clooney on the news at the premiere of “Monuments Men” escorting a lovely lady and her daughter to the film. I believe it was a date for charity and he was as charming and gracious as ever. And handsome, too.
His good looks remind me of Captain Mack O’Casey, the hero in my romance novella, “A Soldier’s Italian Christmas.” My story is also about art stolen by the Nazis from the Monastery at Monte D’Oro Rose and forbidden love…a beautiful nun and an American soldier fall in love during the cold Italian winter of 1943.
Excerpt No. 2: Under the cover of night, Sister Angelina leads Mack to the monastery to spy on the Nazis in “A Soldier’s Italian Christmas.” She tells him about a priceless relic the Nazis would love to get their hands on…
Whoever thought Italy would be colder than hell?
Mack smacked his hands together to keep warm. Weeks of rain had turned the harsh terrain into deep muddy trails. That didn’t stop Sister Angelina. She fought her way up the sharp rocks as easily as a kid on a Sunday hike. Like she knew these hills as well as the Lord’s Prayer.
“Stay close behind me, Captain,” she whispered, her breath warm on his face. “The Nazis will see us if we use the road leading to the moon gate. For us, it could be deadly.”
“Moon gate?” he asked, curious.
“The monks used a rare white stone found only in the caves in the hills to make the cross mounted above the gate.” She carried a lantern, its golden glow turning her skin a warm honey. “Even in the blackest night, the cross shines with a silver-white glow like the moon to lead weary travelers to the monastery where they can rest for the night.”
“I’d like to thank the monks for leading me here.” Mack’s lips curved. “Otherwise I never would have met you.”
He swore she blushed, but she didn’t miss a beat. “That would be difficult, Captain,” she teased him. “The monastery was built in 1197.” When they reached the top of the hill, she turned down the wick on the lantern. They stood near a stone wall with a high tower with dark slits instead of windows. “According to the legend, in the thirteenth century, a pious noblewoman on her way to Rome to see the Pope stopped here for the night and then mysteriously disappeared. It was rumored she carried a priceless religious relic, a cross containing the piece of a robe belonging to a saint.” She smiled. “The Cross of St. Cecilia.”
“Was she as beautiful as you?” he asked. There was something different about this nun that puzzled him. If he thought she’d take the bait, he was mistaken.
“Are all Americans so handsome?” she quipped.
“No, they’re better looking,” Mack joked. “And they smell better, too.” His stubble beard was dark and bristly and he had no doubt the strong stench from sleeping in a trench with a platoon of soldiers clung to his clothes.
“God does not judge us by what we wear,” she said in a clear voice as if it were a prayer of contrition. Was she speaking about herself? “But by our deeds.”
Mack edged closer to her, drinking in her scent. She smelled like roses with a hint of holy water. “How will we get inside the monastery?”
“I have my ways, Captain,” she said, giggling. She wasn’t even shivering as she motioned for him to follow her. Darkness made them as invisible as ghosts. “Mind you, you’ll have to crawl on your belly like a caterpillar.”
“I’m no stranger to getting into tight places, Sister. Lead on.”
She smiled at him and he felt his heart tighten. She was everything a nun had no right to be. Wisps of wavy brown hair peeking out of her snug beret, her laughter a welcome relief from the agony he’d suffered these past months. She couldn’t have been more than nineteen. In his mind, he imagined her before she took her vows. Her silky tresses falling down to her waist, making him have sinful thoughts. He wanted to bury his face in her hair, smell her, touch her.
He pulled up his collar and kept moving. Damn, what was he thinking? He must be losing his mind for having such thoughts. The months of shelling, violence, and dead comrades had taken a gut-wrenching toll on his mind as well as his body. He was on a mission and only an angel as pure as the sister could have drawn him away from it. From now on, he would avert his eyes when she spoke, forget he was lonely and sick of this damn war. The pain and suffering. Still, he was always there for his men. Like he was for his brothers.
Funny, how life kicked him in the pants when he didn’t expect it. Finding himself in this holy place was the last thing he expected when he signed up for this war. He and his brothers were as American as apple pie, but they had strong ties to their mother’s homeland. A kind soul and elegant lady, Pia O’Casey named each of her boys after a favorite saint. Mack had been christened with the name from St. Maximus, his brother Lex from St. Alexander. Trace’s namesake was St. Trason, and his little brother Cort owed his name to St. Constantius.
His mom was so proud of her boys’ service. Mack prayed every night his brothers lived to see another sky filled with stars. Like the three white stars embroidered on the flag she hung in the window. When Cort left for basic training, there would be four.
Mack clenched his teeth when he felt a familiar ache ping his heart. If only his father were here to reach around his mother’s waist and hold her tight when she put up that fourth star.
He pushed aside thoughts of home with his mom’s hand-rolled ravioli and his father’s fiddle. It sat idle on the mantel. The old man had died rescuing two kids in a burning house. He was a firefighter and a hero and the O’Casey brothers vowed to follow in his footsteps. Pearl Harbor changed all that on a Sunday morning. A lot of lives changed that day and Mack found it hard to adjust. He’d always been the lone card sticking out of the deck. Watching over the family, working two jobs, trying to get his education and finally getting a probationary post with the New York Fire Department.
He put that on hold until the war was over.
Come back tomorrow for the next excerpt and find out more about the Cross of St. Cecilia and why the Nazis want it…A Soldier’s Italian Christmas