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A Royal Murder
By Lyn Stone
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRyan McDonough gave the woman the once-over, noting the thinly concealed frustration in her sin-dark eyes and her subtly defensive stance. "I'm sorry for your loss, Ms. Caruso," he said automatically, words repeated countless times to families of countless victims. "I understand your offer to help, but what you want is not possible."
He was sorry to see anyone grieve. God knows he knew what it was like. Grief in this instance must already have passed beyond tears to the second phase. Anger. She was gritting her teeth.
The Caruso woman inclined her head and said, "Thank you for your condolences, but I must insist." Very proper. But still not acceptable.
Ryan turned to Vincente Pavelli, the royal messenger, or crown gofer, or whatever the hell the man's title was. "Tell His Majesty I said thank you, but no dice. Phrase it however you want to, just get the message across."
"But Mr. McDonough ..." Pavelli's swarthy face fell and he started to hyperventilate. Sweat popped out in little beads on the forehead that extended to the back of his head as he slid a shaking finger beneath his collar to loosen it.
"Hey, it's not like he shoots the bearer of bad tidings, man. Lighten up." Ryan came around his desk to usher them out. He clapped the man on his skinny,expensively padded shoulder. "Tell him I make it a policy never to include civilians while conducting an investigation. Hard and fast rule. Capisce?"
The gofer took several jerky steps toward the door, still looking as if he wanted to argue about it.
"Wait just a minute," Ryan said, his voice a warning growl. "You forgot something." He turned and gestured at the woman, who seemed determined to hold her ground.
She ignored him. "Go ahead and wait in the car, Mr. Pavelli. I need to speak with Mr. McDonough alone."
Pavelli left hurriedly, closing the door, leaving them alone.
Ryan kept a cool head. It usually gave him the advantage. Neither the Montebellans nor the Italians passed on many even-tempered genes to their progeny. Nina Caruso was descended from both. Being raised in America obviously hadn't altered her temperament much. While all that fire just beneath her surface intrigued him, he didn't need to deal with it right now.
"We have nothing to discuss, ma'am," he told her calmly. "The king will have my preliminary report on your brother's death first thing in the morning and any further information as soon as I discover it. His Majesty's advisors will keep you up to date."
She sighed, walked around his desk and sat down in his chair, bold as you please. His chair. Propping her elbows on the arms of it, she steepled her fingers under her chin. She had great hands. Long, supple fingers tipped with fairly short nails, painted wine red to match her lips. He tried not to look at the lips, but they kept drawing his attention even when she wasn't speaking.
Ryan shook off his fascination, disgruntled with himself for noticing her looks and with her for provoking him to notice.
"I didn't come halfway around the world to sit somewhere and wait," she declared, her voice clipped and precise, totally devoid of an accent. "My brother's been killed and I'm sticking to you like Super Glue until we find out who did it. Get used to it."
Ryan fought hard for patience. She might be rude, but he hated to be sharp with her. That wasn't his way, especially when she was probably just upset about her half brother's violent death.
Probably being the key word here. Now that he looked at her more objectively, she didn't appear to be all that grief stricken. And she was dangerously close to pushing the wrong button on his control panel, barging in here demanding to know what he'd been doing on the case.
Hell, he was tired. Clearing out all his most urgent cases had eaten up most of yesterday and last night. Since the prime suspect had been cleared, Ryan had yet to decide where he'd go first with the investigation he'd just been assigned. There were forensics reports to go over. He'd only thumbed through the prelims, knowing they weren't yet complete.
Also, he needed to plan interviews, conduct them, talk with the coroner and also do an additional forensics sweep. The police had done the initial investigation of the scene, but he wanted to be thorough now that he was in charge.
First things first. He needed to unload the little baggage who had just arrived.
He sat on the corner of his desk and assumed a relaxed pose, wishing he felt relaxed. "Look, Ms. Caruso -"
"Nina," she said curtly. "We might as well use first names since we'll be spending a great deal of time together. Why don't you begin by listing what you've found out so far. You've had two full days and part of this one." She paused for a second, then added, "Ryan."
Ryan bit his tongue and unclenched his fist, deliberately projecting benevolence and goodwill. She didn't react as expected to outright dismissal. He'd try manners. Not usually his last resort and shouldn't be now, but they had gotten off on the wrong foot the minute she'd walked in.
Empathize first, he thought. "Of course you want to know what's going on and I understand that completely. You may read copies of the reports tomorrow if His Majesty sees fit to share them with you. Until then, I must ask you to excuse me so that I can continue to do my job." There. Polite and to the point. Get lost, cookie.
"Exactly what is your job?" she asked, not moving a hair.
"I'm a private investigator frequently employed by the Crown," he answered. "Surely you knew that already."
She nodded. "Not chief of criminal investigations." So she was capable of a neatly placed low blow.
"There is no one with that particular title in Montebello. But I assure you, I am qualified to undertake the investigation. I was a homicide detective in a former life." He offered her another smile. "Savannah."
"You were fired?" she guessed.
"No, I resigned." He looked around his well-appointed office as if that was explanation enough for changing jobs. The light gray walls and expensive carpet, sturdy black furniture and maroon leather chairs beat the hell out of his corner of the precinct where he'd spent his first twelve years in law enforcement. And the job here had literally saved his life and sanity.
Lorenzo Sebastiani, chief of royal intelligence, whom Ryan knew well, often called on him to dabble a little in the political intrigue so prevalent in this area of the world. In fact, Lorenzo had recommended him to the king for this particular investigation. Lorenzo had a personal interest in it. He was also half brother to Desmond Caruso, the victim in this case. Both were sons of the king's brother, Duke Antonio Sebastiani, who had died some years ago.
Desmond's mother had been one of the palace maids. She had married an Italian businessman, Guiseppe Caruso, and had moved to the States. Ryan studied the young woman sitting in his chair, a product of that marriage.
"King Marcus assured me you would welcome my help," she said.
"I regret to say he was wrong."
The door opened. Duke Lorenzo entered without preamble. "Good morning," he said formally. Nina rose from the chair.
Ryan eyed him with suspicion. "In case you two haven't met, Nina Caruso, this is His Grace, Duke Lorenzo Sebastiani."
Lorenzo reached for her hand and bowed over it. "Little sister. I regret we must meet for the first time in such terrible circumstances. I share in your grief for the loss of our brother."
"Thank you, Your Grace," she mumbled, obviously a little taken aback and unsure what else she should say.
She made a perfect curtsy, however. Her mother must have taught her court manners, Ryan decided.
Ryan managed a nod, his version of a bow, in Lorenzo's direction.
Americans generally had problems kowtowing, and Ryan admitted he was the rule rather than the exception. Also, he knew the duke well enough to know when Lorenzo was putting on airs. Ryan had seen him in his shirtsleeves, smoking cigars and dealing cards across the table.
Not that Lorenzo even noticed Ryan's nod. He was too busy taking Nina Caruso's measure.
Excerpted from A Royal Murder by Lyn Stone Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.