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Грэхем Линн

Mediterranean Millionaires

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GWENNA threw a stick for Piglet to fetch as she walked along the beach. Four weeks of perfect relaxation and contentment in Sardinia had put a healthy glow in her cheeks and a spring into her step. She had got her peace of mind back and the silliest things made her smile, she reflected cheerfully.

Angelo had shamelessly bribed his way into Piglet’s affections with chocolate treats. It had amused her that Angelo, so hopelessly competitive in every way, would not settle for mere tolerance from her pet. Piglet now adored Angelo and one of his favourite spots to sleep was below Angelo’s desk. Unfortunately Angelo did not appreciate Piglet’s amazingly loud snores.

Gwenna thought about the fact that she adored Angelo just as much as her pet. She was very happy, but occasionally a cold chill would run over her when she considered the inevitable end of the affair. Nothing lasted for ever and she knew it. He was sure to get bored with her. She couldn’t believe that she had what it took to hold his attention much longer. But she was determined to live for the moment…

And the moments that every fresh day brought were wonderful. Sometimes they were very active and she had been sailing, windsurfing and scuba-diving, not to mention dancing all night at a couple of exclusive clubs and at a much less exclusive street carnival. She had cheered at a horse race and had got embarrassingly tipsy at a peach festival, an instant of mistaken judgement that Angelo was prone to mentioning more than she liked. They had eaten out in tiny restaurants in inland villages where tourists were still rare and she had fallen madly in love with cheese and honey pastries. Occasionally, however, they had gone no further than their bedroom or the beach, and she had fallen asleep in his arms and wakened still in them for Angelo no longer left her to sleep in a bed of his own.

Slowly but surely she had come to recognise that he was truly making an effort to please and entertain her. He seemed gloriously unaware of the reality that she found just being with him a joy. He gave her flowers. He bestowed a jewelled collar and toys on Piglet. He ordered the food she liked best when they stayed in. He had said, rather touchingly, that he hoped it would be all right to buy her diamonds for her birthday. As that was still two months away she had been secretly overjoyed by that evidence of forward planning and stability…

The newspapers had been delivered at nine and, from the instant that Angelo saw the first headline, he was flooded by negative uneasy feelings. Blanking them out, he finally threw the papers aside and went outside to take some much-needed fresh air. He used binoculars to locate Gwenna, checking the shrubberies first and smiling at the reflection that his gardeners had been very more active since her arrival.

On this occasion, however, she was on the beach larking about with Piglet like a kid. Dressed in blue polka-dot shorts and a lemon sun top, she looked delectable. His shapely mouth compressed. She was solid gold. Unspoilt, honest and kind, as well as being the first woman to value him more than his wealth. Of course there was that guy, Toby, but Angelo had noticed that references to him had become a rarity. In any case he resolutely avoided recalling that awkward angle because, in every way that mattered, Gwenna Massey Hamilton was his. Possession was nine-tenths of the law, he reminded himself staunchly.

But sometimes as now, when disquiet put him into a more contemplative mood, Angelo was seriously spooked by what he had done to Gwenna. Once or twice he had endeavoured to get himself to the point of discussing his attitude to her when they had first met, but he had not known what he could possibly say. He knew that what he had done was unpardonable and he was just as aware that she had a lot of heart and not a spiteful bone in her beautiful body. Unfortunately, he was equally conscious of her principles, her outlook on the world, her essential trusting innocence. How could she forgive betrayal? Or cruelty? How could she ever understand a desire for revenge that had got out of hand?

He couldn’t possibly tell her the truth. It wasn’t his fault that his family tree was full of gangsters. But it was his fault that he had acted like one. He did not feel it would be wise to admit that he was haunted by the fear that there was such a thing as bad blood and that he had inherited it in his genes. After all, he had treated her badly and, put in possession of those facts, might she not understandably decide that he was a total bastard? And even if he was a total bastard, he reasoned fiercely, there was no reason why she should ever have to know. A leopard could change his spots—at least into the stripes of a tiger.

Gwenna noticed that Angelo was unusually quiet over dinner. There was a distant aspect to his lustrous dark eyes. Although he rarely touched alcohol, he took a brandy out onto the veranda without inviting her to join him. So, he was having an off-day, acting human, maybe even keen to escape the incessant chatter she occasionally directed at him, she reasoned ruefully. She was annoyed that she was being so over-sensitive and when he went down to the beach she resisted the urge to follow him. To occupy herself she lifted the newspaper he had been studying. It was a lengthy article about the life of a Mafia don who had died in South America.

She took it to bed with her and ended up reading every word of the ghastly riveting stuff.

‘What are you reading?’

Startled, Gwenna looked up and focused on the tall dark male poised beyond the circle of the lamplight. ‘Angelo…where have you been?’

‘You sound like a wife.’ His dark voice was slightly slurred.

‘If I was your wife, I’d have phoned you and asked you where you were and exactly when you would be back,’ Gwenna admitted without hesitation.

Angelo flung back his cropped dark head and laughed with raw amusement. ‘I like your candour, cara mia.’

In a black designer shirt and jeans, with his masculine beauty enhanced by stubble, Angelo looked mean, moody and magnificent. Her heartbeat speeded up. He threw himself down on the bed beside her and tapped the paper she had cast down. ‘So, you’re reading about Carmelo Zanetti…’

‘He was so wicked and yet he never went to prison for his crimes—’

‘But he died in exile, alone and sick and despised.’

Gwenna blinked because she wasn’t accustomed to Angelo showing a more sensitive side unless he could make a joke of it. ‘There is that…’ Glancing back at the article, she pulled a face. ‘He was very good-looking when he was young, which is deeply creepy. Did you know he was originally from Sardinia?’

Angelo scrunched up the newspaper and thrust it clumsily off the bed.

‘What on earth—?’ Gwenna began.

He reached up and hauled her down to him, kissing her breathless with a hunger that could have burned out a bonfire. ‘I need you,’he confided hoarsely. ‘I really need you with me tonight, bellezza mia.’

Although he was far from sober, there was something in that appeal and the almost clumsy way he was holding her prisoner that melted Gwenna down deep inside. ‘I’m not going anywhere,’ she whispered, tracing one bronzed cheekbone with tender fingers.

He made love to her first with blazing power and potency, and then with a piercing sweetness that brought tears of gladness to her eyes in the aftermath.

‘Even when you’re drunk, you’re amazing,’ she muttered gently, wishing she knew what was wrong with him—because there was very definitely something wrong.

‘I’m not drunk,’ Angelo groaned, and even though it was a very warm night he kept hold of her until he slid into a restless sleep.

Before dawn, she wakened to see him emerging from the bathroom towelling dry his hair and she switched on the lights to study him with troubled blue eyes. ‘Can’t you sleep?’

His lean, darkly handsome face tightened. ‘I have something to tell you,’ he breathed abruptly. ‘I’ve done some stuff you know nothing about…’

Gwenna went rigid and suddenly she didn’t want to know what was wrong; she was afraid that any confession he made would haunt her for ever. She wanted to shove a brick in his mouth. Had he been with another woman? But, in the space of a month he had left her side for a total of just three nights and he had spent a lot of time on the phone to her those evenings.

Angelo had slammed the door shut on the secret room of sins concerning her inside his head. He was convinced there would be no profit and only loss if he risked walking the true confessions route. Instead he presented her with what he saw as good news, designed to alleviate her worries, protect her reputation and make her happy.

‘I’ve paid off your father’s debt to the garden restoration fund.’

Astounded by that announcement, Gwenna gazed at him with wide blue eyes. ‘That’s not possible. I thought he was being prosecuted—’

‘Prosecuting him wouldn’t be a good idea. Your father has made a full statement confessing to the forgery of your mother’s will. That’s to protect you and I from any future claim he might try to bring. I’ve also signed over ownership of the Massey estate to you. This way the dirty linen stays hidden and nobody need ever know. The garden committee is delighted—’

‘Obviously, but—’

Angelo sank down on the bed beside her. ‘If your father goes to prison now that you own the estate, some people will suspect that you were involved in his thefts. Mud sticks, cara.’

Gwenna winced. ‘I didn’t think of that…but I did think that he should be punished this time.’

‘Don’t worry. He’s an incorrigible thief. He’ll be caught stealing again and I won’t intervene,’ Angelo asserted with a confidence on that score that she found ever so slightly chilling. ‘This time around, however, I was thinking of you, and you don’t deserve to suffer any more for his crimes.

‘Okay,’ she muttered uncertainly, wishing he had waited until she woke up properly before tackling such a serious subject. ‘But it means that you’ve lost thousands and thousands of pounds.’

Angelo shifted a smooth brown shoulder in remarkably casual dismissal. ‘My choice.’

‘And what about Furnridge?’ she pressed.

‘The company won’t suffer.’

‘But it’s just not right that you should make a loss because you want to protect me.’ Gwenna raked anxious fingers through her sleep-tangled honey-blonde tresses.

‘It feels right, bellezza mia.’ Angelo curved her back firmly into his arms and she rested her drowsy head back against his shoulder. ‘Go back to sleep.’

‘Got a hangover?’ she quipped.

‘I wasn’t drunk so I couldn’t have one,’ Angelo asserted with level cool.

Gwenna turned her head round so that her cheek rested against him. He smelt of soap and the indefinable scent that was just him. With a drowsy smile she drifted back to sleep.

She wakened to the noise of a helicopter coming in to land and a phone ringing somewhere. It was almost lunchtime. She had slept in and was surprised that Angelo hadn’t roused her. From the veranda she could hear voices speaking in Italian on the level below. It sounded as though Angelo had flown in staff to work. After a shower she put on a light skirt and top and wandered downstairs in search of Angelo. The ground floor office suite was jumping with activity. People rushed past her, hurrying between one room and the next, while phones seemed to be ringing incessantly.

‘We need a massive piece of damage limitation,’ someone was saying urgently in English. ‘But it won’t do the boss any harm in the market-place.’

Angelo was in his study and he was doing something she had never seen him do in their entire acquaintance; he was doing nothing. In spite of the obvious crisis he was staring into space, pale as death beneath his olive skin, his striking bone structure clenched into hard, forbidding lines.

Gwenna closed the door behind her. ‘Please tell me what’s wrong,’ she pressed worriedly. ‘It was wrong last night as well, but you were determined to act like everything was okay. Where were you? Did something happen?’

Angelo rose lithely upright. ‘I had a couple of drinks and then went to the church and lit a candle for my mother. I got talking to the priest. That’s why I was out so late.’

Surprise and relief assailed her. ‘I could’ve come with you…’

‘I needed some time to think. But events have caught up with me. I have to tell you what happened because that information is now in the public domain. It’s in the papers, on the TV news, all over the internet.’

‘It sounds important, but I’m sure that whatever it is can’t be as bad as you seem to think. You seem…a little shocked,’ she said gently, striving to be tactful after his rejection of the suggestion that he might have imbibed too much alcohol the night before.

Grim dark eyes rested on her. ‘I’m angry and I’m bitter, but I am not shocked.’

Gwenna went the diplomatic route and nodded in agreement.

‘And to explain, I have to go back a few years. When I was eighteen I was called to a lawyer’s office and told who my parents really were. My mother had left instructions to that effect in her will,’ Angelo volunteered flatly. ‘Before she died she had already warned me that she came from a bad family, that my father was a dangerous man and that if they found out where we lived, they would try to take me away from her.’

Gwenna thought that such knowledge must have been a very frightening burden for a little boy to carry around with him. Introduced to that culture of secrecy and fear at a very young age, it was hardly surprising that he had matured into so reserved a character.

‘Riccardi is not the name I was born with,’ Angelo continued. ‘In fact my mother changed our surname a couple of times after she came to England because she was afraid of being traced. She was running away from her heritage and I’ve spent my life denying it,’ Angelo admitted harshly.

‘What heritage?’

‘My mother was Carmelo Zanetti’s daughter and my father was the son of another crime family.’

It took Gwenna thirty seconds to work out what he was telling her and if she was aghast, it was not for the reasons he had expected. ‘My word, that old man who died this week was your grandfather and yet you didn’t trust me enough to tell me that. No wonder you were upset last night!’

‘Per amor di Dio! I wasn’t upset!’ Angelo launched at her in an immediate denial. ‘He was an evil man and I didn’t know him—we met only once when he was already dying.’

Gwenna saw that being upset fell into the same category as being drunk and in shock in Angelo’s uncompromisingly tough expectations of himself. If he said it wasn’t happening, he could avoid having to acknowledge that he had emotions. She could only imagine how disturbing he must have found that meeting with his grandfather. She would have put her arms round him if she hadn’t known that such obvious sympathy would infuriate him.

‘You may have despised the person Carmelo Zanetti was, but he was still a close relative and you’ve been on your own virtually since your mother died,’ she reminded him gently. ‘Who your parents were doesn’t matter, though. What you are inside is more important.’

‘And where did you pick up that piece of worldly wisdom? Out of a Christmas cracker?’ Angelo derided.

Gwenna stood her ground. ‘What you do with your life matters more than your ancestry.’

Angelo vented a humourless laugh. ‘Believe it or not, I wanted to be a barrister when I was eighteen. Once I found out that my entire family on both sides of the tree were involved in organised crime, I knew there was no way I could pursue such a profession.’

Drawn by his bitterness, Gwenna moved closer to him. ‘That must have hurt.’

‘It’s immaterial. I had to know who I was to protect myself. I had to be careful who I trusted, who I did business with. I swore that everything I did would be legal and above board,’ he breathed in a savage undertone.

‘Of course you did,’ she murmured softly.

‘The same year the Zanetti family approached me through an intermediary with a job offer and a Ferrari car.’

Gwenna was appalled. ‘So your mother’s family knew who you were and where to find you in spite of the change of names?’

‘I rejected the offer and ensured that I kept my distance. I should never have agreed to that meeting with Carmelo. It was the worst mistake I ever made,’ he breathed grittily.

‘Naturally you were curious.’ Gwenna closed her hand over his in a helpless gesture of supportiveness. ‘Don’t be so hard on yourself. Obviously your mother tried to make a new life for both of you. But having to keep such a huge secret all these years must’ve put you under a lot of strain as well.’

Closing his arms round her, Angelo stared down at her with frank fascination. ‘Have you put all this together in your head yet? Or are you still too busy trying to make me feel better?’

‘Too busy trying to make you feel better. But I don’t quite understand yet. You’re annoyed because somehow your connection to Carmelo Zanetti has become public knowledge? How did that happen?’

‘Carmelo decided to have the last laugh and he’s blown my reputation sky-high,’ Angelo volunteered heavily. ‘The contents of his will have been leaked and I’ve been informed that he’s left me all his worldly goods. In death he has made our relationship impossible to deny.’

‘He must’ve had a soft spot for you…I mean, you’re very successful and you didn’t have to become a thug to achieve that. Making you his heir was probably his equivalent of boasting about you,’ Gwenna contended in a positive tone, leaning into the hard shelter of his big tense frame and wishing he would relax a little.

‘I also learned that it wasn’t my mother’s elderly former employer who financed my boarding-school education,’ Angelo said bitterly. ‘It was Carmelo. That makes me feel like an idiot!’

‘I don’t see why. You were only a child and people lied to you,’ Gwenna said sensibly. ‘Did Franco already know that you have dodgy relations?’

‘Not the details, but the reality that I had to take certain precautions about how I operate and who I employ close to me…yes.’

Gwenna recalled the older man’s concern that what he had called ‘other interests’ might try to take control when Angelo was unconscious and unable to make decisions for himself. It dawned on her that Carmelo Zanetti, as a blood relative, might have demanded a say in the proceedings and she suppressed a shiver.

‘Did your grandfather leave you much?’ she asked as an afterthought.

‘Millions…all clean and legitimate, according to his lawyer. I was the only close relative he had left. But I don’t want his filthy money,’ Angelo ground out with ferocious bite.

‘Then you make sure that all that cash gets spent on really deserving causes. Cancer research, famine relief, Third World projects,’ Gwenna suggested. ‘Good can be made to come out of bad and nobody can fault you for that.’

Gazing wonderingly down at her serene face, Angelo was more than ever determined to take the story of his own involvement in her father’s downfall to the grave with him. Not for one moment had she considered holding his ancestry against him. In addition, her inspired suggestion was the simple solution and the most appropriate to his predicament. His very highly paid PR consultants would not have dreamt of proposing that he give away that much money. But he didn’t want it and putting that massive legacy to humanitarian use was the only way of acknowledging his unfortunate connections, while at the same time detaching himself from that taint.

Long brown fingers framed her cheekbone and his glinting golden gaze was openly approving. ‘You’re a very special woman, bellezza mia.’

‘Sometimes you take stuff too seriously. Rise above it all,’ she urged. ‘Remember that your mother rejected her family so that she could bring you up to lead a law-abiding life. Be proud that you’ve honoured that.’

His lean, powerful face shadowed. ‘Law-abiding, sì,’ he conceded sombrely. ‘But I’ve still done things I’m not proud of.’

Someone knocked on the door and Angelo answered it. ‘There’s a phone call for you,’he interpreted as the maid spoke.

Less than pleased by the interruption at a point when Angelo seemed to be dropping the steel barrier of his reserve, Gwenna hurried past him. ‘I’ll be back in two minutes…don’t go away anywhere.’

Angelo smiled and then looked very surprised that he was smiling. Knowing that she had lifted his mood delighted her. It was a challenge for her to follow the maid into the next room when all she could think about was how much she loved him. Although she would never have dreamt of telling him the fact, she loved him all the more for betraying his vulnerability.

The sound of her father’s voice on the phone made her tense in dismay. She supposed it would be too much to hope that he had not seen or heard some report of Angelo’s origins. ‘What is it?’

‘Angelo Riccardi is Fiorella’s son,’ Donald Hamilton announced.

Gwenna was perplexed by that statement, for it came at her from an unexpected angle. ‘Sorry, what are you saying?’

‘Haven’t you seen today’s big story? Listened to the news? Don’t you realise that your boyfriend is Don Carmelo Zanetti’s grandson?’

‘Yes, but…this Fiorella lady you mentioned—’

‘She was Zanetti’s daughter, but she wasn’t calling herself Riccardi when I knew her. I only saw Angelo a couple of times when he was a toddler. Fiorella always left him with a babysitter,’ her father informed her. ‘Remember me saying thatAngelo put me in mind of someone that day he got hit by the car?’

‘Yes.’ Gwenna was finding it hard to catch her breath and her legs were feeling all wonky. She backed down into the nearest chair. A past connection that close between her family and Angelo’s? How could that be possible?

‘He’s got his mother’s eyes. Don’t you see what this means?’

Her brain felt as if it were drowning in sludge. ‘What a very small world we live in?’

‘You can’t be that naïve. Obviously we have both been set up to take a fall. I ditched Angelo’s mother and ran, and maybe life wasn’t too good for her after that without her money or me. But it wasn’t my fault!’

‘What are you talking about?’ she exclaimed. ‘Why on earth would I have been set up?’

‘You’re my daughter and that must have been the ultimate power-play for Riccardi. He’s been toying with us like a cat with mice before it goes in for the kill!’ Donald Hamilton condemned bitterly. ‘My recent bad luck is no coincidence. Riccardi buys Furnridge and suddenly I’m being accused of theft—’

‘You were guilty of theft—’

‘Use your brain. The minute I realised who he was I knew I had to warn you. He’s out to settle scores. What is he planning to do to you? I let his mother down badly…All right, I admit it. But I had no choice,’ he argued fervidly. ‘At least I now know that the reason I’m living a nightmare is that Angelo Riccardi came into my life!’

‘I think the people you’ve stolen from might have a different opinion on that. I’m sorry, I don’t want to continue this conversation.’ Gwenna replaced the phone handset on its base with a shaking hand.

She could not bear to think about what she had just been told. She was afraid that if she did she might lose control. But could Angelo have been using her, intending to hurt her all along? Before she could lose her nerve, she went back into his study.

‘Was your mother called Fiorella?’ she asked straight out.

Angelo froze as if she had drawn a gun on him. ‘Sì…’

Her tummy performed a nasty little somersault, because she had been so eager for him to tell her otherwise. Yet, somewhere in her heart of hearts, she already knew that, for once, her father had been telling the truth. ‘Did you know that she had an affair with my father?’

‘Santo Cielo—that was him on the phone, wasn’t it?’ Angelo could actually see the change in her. Her face had a tight, pained aspect and her normally clear eyes were dulled and wary. He had a horrible sick sense of inevitability and it paralysed him. He could not think of a single line of defence. He could still hear Carmelo’s voice saying, ‘Don’t do anything foolish.’ He knew that what he had done was much worse than foolish. He had hurt her, and he couldn’t take that hurt back.

Gwenna moistened her full lower lip with a nervous flicker of her tongue. ‘A month ago, Dad told me about Fiorella for the first time. I thought it was such a silly melodramatic story and I didn’t believe a word of it. I mean—gangsters threatening to kill him, taking your mother’s money and his—’

‘What story?’ Angelo broke in to demand.

She repeated it as well as she could remember. Angelo lost colour and stared at her with incredulous dark eyes. He swung away then and turned back just as quickly. ‘If they stripped her of her money, it would’ve been a deliberate ploy to force her home to her husband. If that is the real truth—’

‘Dad didn’t know who you were when he told me. He didn’t realise you were her son until the newspapers identified you. I think that for once he wasn’t lying but, hey…you go question him yourself!’ Gwenna slung in a low, shaking voice, the pain and the anger coming out of nowhere at her. ‘You were so careful never to go near him until things started getting too complicated—’

Angelo flung up his hands and brought them down again in a slow, holding movement. ‘Just calm down…’

‘Did you set out to destroy my father?’

‘That’s a hard question to answer.’

Her nails dug into her palms and the sting of discomfort spurred her on. ‘I deserve an honest answer.’

His eyes were very dark and stormy, and he threw up his hands and strode out onto the veranda.

Gwenna followed him. ‘Angelo…please don’t lie.’

‘Don’t do this…it’ll rip us apart,’ he breathed very low.

‘You’re ripping me apart right now!’ she fired back at him chokily.

Releasing his breath on a hiss, he swung back to her. ‘It was my belief that your father stole my mother’s money and left her destitute—’

‘No…that’s not what’s at issue here. You don’t try and muddy the water with excuses. Did you deliberately target him?’

‘Yes. I had him investigated and it was obvious that he was spending much more than he was earning. I took over Furnridge and sent in the auditors. That’s all it took to uncover his embezzlement.’

She swallowed thickly. ‘What about me?’

‘You…’ Angelo echoed hoarsely. ‘I can’t explain you. I saw you and it was like being hit with a sledgehammer. I would have done anything to make you mine. I swear that I didn’t know you were his daughter until you came to the office to plead for him—’

‘It gave you a kick, didn’t it?’ she condemned in disgust. ‘When did you realise that it wasn’t him you were hurting, it was me?’

‘Do you think I’m proud of it? Do you think I’m so stupid I didn’t realise that I was damaging you?’ Angelo shot at her fiercely. ‘But I was in too deep before I understood that and then I thought I could make it all right. I just didn’t want to let you go—’

‘I was your mistress,’ Gwenna flung back between gritted teeth of self-loathing. ‘That’s all I’ve ever been.’

‘No, we passed that point long ago. You put me through hell. You kept on trying to dump me—you came to Sardinia of your own free will.’

‘Blame that on your fatal charm. Or maybe you brainwashed me. I obviously wasn’t clever enough to see that I was just part of your revenge,’ she muttered shakily. ‘You weren’t going to confess either, were you?’

‘I didn’t want to lose you,’ he bit out thickly.

‘You never had me to lose,’ Gwenna lied, determined not to show her distress. ‘But I can see now that you set out to own me. Replacing the garden fund money, giving me back the estate. What else was that about?’

Angelo was studying her with raw intensity. ‘Not about owning you. You’ve had so little in your life…what it was about was putting you first, taking your worries away, making you happy, bellezza mia.’

Gwenna shook her head in vehement disagreement. She had booted all her soft, squishy feelings and optimistic hopes behind a mental locked door. She didn’t want to fool herself. She didn’t want be taken in by anything he might say. She knew that she loved him so much she had to be very strong to break free of his hold on her.

So, all of a sudden, she was making herself look at their relationship as it really was. Why had she refused to see that she was still his mistress? He had even contrived to ensure that she cheerfully accepted that demeaning role. The only commitment she had asked for was fidelity and in return she had a guy who really appreciated her. That was how much in love she was. Like her misguided mother before her, she had settled for less because she was willing to take him on virtually any terms. Flailing herself with that humiliating belief, Gwenna stalked forward and crouched down to haul Piglet out from beneath Angelo’s desk.

‘As soon as it can be arranged, I want to leave and go home.’

‘The press will eat you alive if you’re linked with me now,’ Angelo warned her tautly.

Gwenna hugged Piglet tight. ‘If I can survive you, I can survive anything.’

Angelo watched her walk away and he did not know what to do. He felt like a man in a strait-jacket being tortured. The right words wouldn’t come, yet he was a master of manipulation! He didn’t know what was the matter with him. He knew he could handle anything but, for some reason, he could not handle what was happening with her.

Gwenna beat to death a weed, hammering it into the ground until it was obliterated. Straightening, she sucked in a quivering breath and pushed her hair off her damp brow. Piglet was seated on the path looking anxious a good twenty feet away. Shocked by the turbulent emotions that kept on overwhelming her, she blinked back tears and took in another steadying breath.

It was only a week since she had seen Angelo, seven days of unadulterated hell and misery. Over and over again she kept on reviewing everything that had happened and everything that Angelo had said. He had not said much. He had not denied his guilt, which was in his favour, and he was hopeless at talking about feelings. But he hadn’t fought to keep her either, had he?

Every time she thought about texting him like a lovesick teenager she made herself recall that Angelo, who thrived on aggressive challenge and argument and scorching passion, had done nothing to stop her leaving him. Yet he was absolutely ruthless when he wanted to be. But he still hadn’t tried to drag her off to bed to change her mind, or at least give her a proper chance to think over what she was doing. He hadn’t threatened to hold her hostage or claim custody of Piglet. She could think of a dozen things he could have done to hang onto her—none of which he had done.

Twenty-four hours and the space to think over what had happened would have made a difference to her attitude, she reflected unhappily. For once she had begun looking back she had seen how much their relationship had changed and strengthened. Most importantly she had appreciated that Angelo had abandoned all thought of revenge when he chose to repay her father’s depredations on the garden fund and sustained the loss of the value of the Massey estate without complaint. He hadn’t cared that the downside of his generosity was that, once more, Donald Hamilton had escaped retribution. No, Angelo had indeed put her first. He had showed that he cared more about her peace of mind and happiness. That had been a big step for him. Only what did that matter now, and why did she keep on rerunning it all in her mind? In refusing to accept that Angelo had decided to let her go, she was driving herself crazy!

Piglet’s tail began to wag and he charged off down the walled garden. When she called him, he ignored her. He had got very wilful since he had been spoilt rotten in Sardinia, she ruminated ruefully. He had also been very restless and excitable. The suspicion that he missed Angelo set her teeth on edge. She attacked another clump of weeds with her hoe.

Piglet’s wild barking finally made her look up. Her dog was leaping and dancing in frantic welcome round the feet of the very tall, dark male striding across the grass towards her. Angelo, all potent masculinity and sophistication in a designer raincoat and a sleek business suit. As always, he was the living, breathing definition of drop-dead gorgeous. Her heart started thumping. She let go of her hoe and stepped off the soil onto the gravel path.

Angelo came to a halt ten feet away. His brilliant dark eyes roved over her in a hungry, all-encompassing appraisal, but there was a combative edge to his stance. ‘I’m not leaving without you,’he intoned with cool resolve, ‘but first you have to listen to what I need to say.’

Her mood had taken wings at that first declaration; however, she had too much pride to show the fact. ‘You didn’t have much to say when I left Sardinia last week.’

‘I thought I deserved it. I was ashamed. I didn’t know what to say to you.’

Her worried eyes brightened.

Angelo looked unusually pensive. ‘Carmelo made a fool of me and who likes to admit that? I knew next to nothing about my mother. I only had a few memories. My enquiries met a brick wall and then I was invited to meet Carmelo and fill in the blanks.’

‘So, of course, you went.’

‘I took the bait. I was so arrogant, so sure I was incorruptible, but I was wrong,’ Angelo admitted stonily and quietly. ‘The old man reeled me in like a fish. He wound me up with the tale of how Donald Hamilton had seduced, robbed and dumped my mother when she was pregnant—’

‘Oh…was she? Pregnant, I mean?’ Gwenna questioned in consternation.

‘Your father says no, but I’m not sure he could be trusted to give an honest answer on that score.’

Her eyes widened. ‘You’ve been to see him…actually talked to him?’

‘This morning. It was the sane thing to do. It’s what I should’ve done when I first found out about him. Instead I tried to play God and I got burned.’

Gwenna was really impressed that he had been prepared to talk to her father but sort of cringing at the same time. ‘What did you think of him?’

‘He’s very slippery with the truth, but he does tell a rollicking good story.’ Angelo shrugged. ‘I can’t blame him for running like hell when he realised my mother was Carmelo’s daughter and the wife of a Sorello. He’s not hero material—’

‘No, he’s not.’

‘He also swears that my mother knew he was already married, and how are we ever going to know otherwise? The truth is, it doesn’t matter to me as much as it did. It’s over and done with. Neither of them were saints.’

Gwenna had not appreciated just how badly his mother had been betrayed, or how deeply attached Angelo must have been to the image of the mother he had lost when he was still very young. ‘But why did your grandfather wind you up about what my father had done?’

Angelo loosed a rueful laugh. ‘Because he could; because it amused him. He saw that I believed I was different. I thought I was better than the tainted stock I came from—’

‘Don’t talk like that…you are better!’

‘Carmelo still taught me a valuable lesson. Power and wealth corrupt.’ Lean, powerful face taut with discomfiture, Angelo murmured curtly, ‘I thought I was above the rules. I thought it was all right to use that power to expose your father—’

‘And then you thought it was all right to use your power over him to have me,’ she completed tightly.

‘Will you ever forgive me for that?’ Angelo asked gruffly.

‘I don’t know.’

Angelo paled and shifted from one foot onto the other. ‘I never wanted anything as much as I wanted you…no woman, no deal, no prize ever exerted that much of a hold on me. You’re in a class of your own, bellezza mia.’

‘I’m not denying that, for some weird reason, I found you very attractive too,’ Gwenna allowed, softening a little because he really did look miserable.

‘But I didn’t treat you properly. I was very stubborn. I couldn’t understand why you couldn’t be happy with what other women had accepted. But I didn’t want you to be like them—in fact I wanted you because you were different.’

Gwenna finally grasped why he had sought her out again and her heart sank like a stone. ‘You’re here to tell me that you’re sorry.’

Shimmering dark golden eyes collided with hers. ‘But not sorry to have met you or known you. I can never regret that. I’m sorry I screwed up. I’m sorry I kept the truth from you. I’m sorry I hurt you,’he told her urgently. ‘But right from the start I wanted you to love me and want me the way I believed you wanted Toby.’

Tears burned the backs of her eyes and she blinked fiercely. ‘I was lying when I said I thought about him when I was with you.’

Angelo loosed an uncertain laugh. ‘Now she tells me. You put me through hell.’

‘I couldn’t help it.’

‘You kept on dumping me, but if you give me the chance I’ll spend the rest of my life making you happy.’

Gwenna studied him fixedly. ‘Seriously?’ she enquired a tad shrilly, for she was very much afraid of misinterpreting what he was saying.

Without batting an eyelash, Angelo got down gracefully on one knee. ‘Will you marry me?’

Gwenna was so astonished that she couldn’t find her voice at first. He was asking her to marry him. He was asking her to marry him! Her Delft-blue eyes shone. She struggled to think of all the questions she should ask before coming to a decision and then decided not to bother, because there was absolutely no doubt in her mind about what her answer had to be. ‘Yes…’

Angelo sprang upright, surprised at the speed of her response but content not to question it. ‘Does that mean you forgive me?’

‘Not necessarily…but I will marry you.’ Gwenna discovered that her teeth were chattering with shock.

‘Okay,’ Angelo pronounced, wondering if that dazed look was positive or negative, and then remembering what he had not yet said. ‘I love you…I love you a lot, amata mia.’

Dazzled by the enormous sapphire and diamond ring he’d placed on her finger as he confessed his love, Gwenna lifted startled eyes to his lean, darkly handsome face. ‘You don’t have to say that if you don’t mean it.’

Angelo strode forward and caught both her hands in his. Intense tawny eyes claimed hers in a look as possessive and urgent as his hold. ‘I can’t sleep at night without you. When you left Sardinia I thought my life was over. I’ve been in love with you for weeks and weeks without realising it…I really need you to be with me…for ever. ‘

Overwhelmed, Gwenna nodded several times and squeezed his fingers and whispered fervently, ‘I love you too…’

‘What about Toby?’ Angelo enquired with forced lightness of tone.

‘I think I was just really scared of falling in love,’ she confessed with an embarrassed grimace. ‘It wrecked my mother’s life, and Dad has a dreadful track record. Perhaps believing that I still loved Toby when I couldn’t have him made me feel safe—’

‘So, you’re over him?’ Angelo checked, not quite sure what he was being told, but hauling her up against his hard, muscular length just the same. ‘Like, totally over him?’

‘I love him as a friend…You know, I never did fancy him the way I fancied you.’ Gwenna dropped that news in a self-conscious whisper. ‘There’s times when I can’t wait to rip your clothes off.’

‘I know the feeling, amata mia,’ Angelo agreed raggedly, long, tanned fingers skimming through the layers of her jacket and her T-shirt to find the smooth skin of her slender waist.

Gloriously happy and quivering with the hot pulse of excitement that he always aroused, Gwenna wrapped her arms round him. ‘I’m all muddy,’ she muttered apologetically.

‘I’m not fussy,’ Angelo confessed, covering her luscious pink mouth with his, and groaning with sensual satisfaction when she responded with the abandoned enthusiasm that had made him her biggest fan.

From the gallery above the classic Regency hall of the Massey Manor, Angelo watched with amusement as the assembled members of the press tried without success to catch a photo of Gwenna either standing still or even looking in their direction. Having posed earlier that day to mark the official opening of the gardens, she had had quite enough of the cameras.

A glittering charity benefit in aid of a children’s hospice was being staged in their exquisitely restored English country home. In fact, a whole busy calendar of such events had been organised by the Rialto Foundation, the charitable trust established with Carmelo Zanetti’s legacy. Angelo and Gwenna were giving as much time as possible to the foundation and it had been well supported by the media, who had been well impressed by Angelo’s surrender of that amount of money.

Angelo thought that Gwenna was looking ravishingly beautiful in her pale blue evening dress, with sapphires and diamonds flashing at her throat and ears. He was very proud of his wife. In two years of marriage she had overseen the restoration of both house and gardens, travelled all over the world with him and acquired the name of being a wonderfully laid-back hostess. She also wrote a regular gardening column in a Sunday newspaper. He was the envy of many men.

But the greatest gift that Gwenna had given him apart from herself and her love was the lively little bundle Angelo was cradling against his shoulder. She had been christened Alice Fiorella Massey Riccardi, a giant moniker for a tiny baby. Six months on, they called her Ella. Angelo had been totally unprepared for the instantaneous attachment he had experienced the first time his daughter was placed in his arms. Piglet trotting at his heels—for Piglet did not like large crowds—Angelo took Ella back to her nanny in the nursery and laid her down in her cot. It was time to go downstairs and escort Gwenna onto the floor in the ballroom for the first dance.

‘It’s been a long day. I can’t wait to have you all to myself, amata mia,’ Angelo confided as he closed his arms round her.

A delightful quiver of anticipation rippled through Gwenna’s slight frame. He was so demanding, she thought blissfully. She knew she was a very lucky woman. Whirled round the floor below the magnificent Venetian glass chandeliers, she nestled closer to her husband’s lean, powerful body. It was a wonderful evening.

After she had said goodbye to the last of their guests she shooed Piglet out of the dining room. ‘You’re getting fat,’ she scolded, lifting him away from the plate of cake he had discovered lying beneath a chair. The little animal was assuming an even more barrel-like shape.

She went upstairs and checked on Ella, beaming down at her darling rosy-cheeked daughter with her riot of black curls. She had to admit that her pregnancy had come as a surprise. In fact Angelo had been teasing her about her weight gain long before it had dawned on either of them that an impromptu bout of outdoor lovemaking during the previous summer had borne fruit. But they had found Ella so much fun that they were planning to have another baby quite soon so that their daughter would have a playmate.

Gwenna felt that life had been exceedingly kind to her. She was busy and fulfilled and not even her problem father had managed to put a check on the great joy of her marriage. Admittedly, Donald Hamilton had proved to be an ongoing source of concern. His second marriage had broken up in a welter of acrimony. Forced to live in reduced circumstances and shunned by former friends, the older man had drowned his sorrows in alcohol. Gwenna had tried her best to help but to no avail. She had been very pleasantly surprised when Angelo had taken the trouble to intervene and succeeded where she had failed. Within weeks, Donald Hamilton had been attending regular AA meetings in clean, smart clothes, and last month he had started his new job: advising on how to detect fraud within Rialto.

‘He’ll have no access to money and he’ll be watched like a fox in a hen coop. His boss is an ex-policeman,’ Angelo had assured her when she’d voiced the fear that the temptation might prove too much for her parent. ‘I believe your father has already come up with some useful ideas.’

Angelo strolled up behind her as she removed her last earring. He scanned her dreamy blue eyes in the bedroom mirror. ‘What are you thinking about?’

She went pink, for she had been thinking how touched she had been that he had sorted out her father’s problems purely for her sake. That, in her opinion, was the definition of real lasting love.

‘You were chatting to Toby for ages this evening. Any old vibes for me to worry about?’ Angelo enquired, utterly despising himself for voicing that question but unable to silence it. He got on great with Toby James, but he could never quite forget that Toby had once been a threat to his peace of mind.

‘Angelo…we were talking about the drainage problem in the kitchen garden,’ she proffered gently.

She spun round and he linked his arms round her.

‘I’m much more exciting, bellezza mia,’ Angelo murmured silkily.

‘I know…’ Her breath tripped in her throat as he cupped her hips and lifted her against him in a shamelessly erotic move that literally melted her from outside in.

‘Drainage,’ Angelo repeated in a genuinely pained tone of disbelief.

His kiss was sweet, honeyed intoxication and wonderfully sensual.

‘I may not be creative in the garden—’

‘You’re awfully creative in other ways,’ Gwenna pointed out breathlessly.

His slashing smile was her reward. ‘Because I love you…in bed, out of bed, any place, any time—’

Gwenna let her fingers delve adoringly into his luxuriant black hair. She was filled with a glorious swell of happiness and contentment. ‘I love you too.’


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