Everything That Was Us. By E.Graziani. Their pride tore them apart-a promise brought her back.

July 1976, a family trip to Italy is the last thing teenaged Sofia Romano wants to be part of. But as soon as she arrives in the picturesque town of Pescaglia, she is immediately enchanted by the beauty of the landscape and touched by the warm reception of waiting family and friends.

When Sofia is introduced to Massimo Damiani, the handsome, local bad-boy, their connection is instantaneous. Enamored, the young lovers steal as much time as they can together, but the sweet summer days slip away. As Sofie’s return to New Jersey draws near, Max admits that he cannot commit to a long-distance relationship and breaks it off. Devastated and heartbroken, Sofie returns home and throws herself into school, focusing on future career plans.

1983, a study component takes Sofie back to Italy. She is no longer a naïve teenager and certainly long over the Max infatuation. Returning for a quick, home-town visit poses no problem, until...contrite and full of heartrending regret, Max begs Sofie’s forgiveness. With wild abandon, her resolve melts and they revel in the joy of loving each other. But they soon realize their plans and commitments are worlds apart and neither of them is willing to compromise. This time, it is Sofie who decides it is over.

Year 2000; Sofie now a successful investment banker, is assigned to lead a corporate negotiation for a high-profile client: Massimo Damiani. Shocked at seeing him and antagonised by his smug self-assuredness, Sofie tries in vain to get out of the project. Tensions are thick but they remain professional and successfully close the deal. Both pleased with their teamwork, Sofie and Max soften towards each other. The pull between them is intense; like the lure of forbidden fruit. One last, sweet surrender.

Present day Sofia receives a phone call requesting her presence in Italy to fulfill a friend’s last wish. There was only one person she had ever made that promise to. With mixed, erratic emotions, Sofia arrives at the hospice, barely recognizing Max: frail, aged, ravaged by a merciless disease. She devotedly stays at his bedside, tenderly strokes his face, remembering. She gently whispers memories in his ear about everything that they were together. As they watch a glorious sunrise, Sofie and Max’s lifelong love is finally given its time.

Sofia and Max’s impasses are authentic, relatable, and their emotions raw and real. I felt for them, raged at them, wept for them. Magnificently written, Graziani immediately immerses the reader in rapt engagement with the characters and compelling storyline, while transporting you through decades seamlessly to beautifully depicted locations.

Riveting, passionate, poignant, Everything That Was Us is intensely emotive. A first-read, must-read for 2021.

Heartful thanks to author E. Graziani and Wild Rose Press for the read of Everything That Was Us.