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The Banker's Convenient Wife
By Lynne Graham
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"NATURALLY you will not renew his contract. The Sabatino Bank has no place for inadequate fund managers." Lean, dark, handsome face stern, Roel Sabatino was frowning. An international banker and a very busy man, he considered this conversation a waste of his valuable time.
His HR director, Stefan, cleared his throat. "I thought ... perhaps a little chat might put Rawlinson back on track -"
"I don't believe in little chats and I don't give second chances," Roel incised with glacial effect. "Neither - you should note - do our clients. The bank's reputation rests on profit performance."
Stefan Weber reflected that Roel's own world-class renown as an expert in the global economy and the field of wealth preservation carried even greater impact. A Swiss billionaire, Roel Sabatino was the descendant of nine unbroken generations of private bankers and acknowledged by all as the most brilliant. Strikingly intelligent and hugely successful as he was, however, Roel was not known for his compassion towards employees with personal problems. In fact he was as much feared as he was admired for his ruthless lack of sentimentality.
Even so, Stefan made one last effort to intervene on the unfortunate member of staff's behalf. "Last month, Rawlinson's wife walked out on him ..."
"I am his employer, not his counsellor," Roel countered in brusque dismissal. "His private life is not my concern."
That point clarified for the benefit of his HR director, Roel left his palatial office by his private lift to travel down to the underground car park. As he swung into his Ferrari his shapely masculine mouth was still set in a grim line of disdain. What kind of a man allowed the loss of a woman to interfere with his work performance to the extent of destroying a once promising career? A weak character guilty of a shameful lack of self-discipline, Roel decided with a contemptuous shake of his proud dark head.
A male who whined about his personal problems and expected special treatment on that basis was complete anathema to Roel. After all, by its very nature life was challenging and, thanks to a childhood of austere joylessness, Roel knew that better than most. His mother had walked out on her son and her marriage when he was a toddler and any suspicion of tender loving care had vanished overnight from his upbringing. Placed in a boarding-school at the age of five, he had been allowed home visits only when his academic results had matched his father's high expectations. Raised to be tough and unemotional, Roel had learnt when he was very young neither to ask for nor hope for favours in any form.
His car phone rang while he was stuck in Geneva's lunchtime traffic jam and regretting his decision not to utilise his chauffeur-driven limo. The call was from his lawyer, Paul Correro. When it came to more confidential matters, he preferred to utilise Paul's discreet services rather than those of the family legal firm.
"I think it's my duty as your legal representative to point out that the time has arrived for a certain connection to be quietly terminated." Paul's tone was almost playful.
Roel had gone to university with Paul and he usually enjoyed the other man's lively sense of humour for nobody else would have dared that level of familiarity with him. However, he was not in the mood to engage in a guessing game.
"Cut to the chase, Paul," he urged.
"I've been thinking of mentioning this for a while ..." Unusually, Paul hesitated. "But I was waiting for you to raise the topic first. It's almost four years now. Isn't it time to have your marriage of convenience dissolved?"
Taken aback by that reminder, and just when the traffic flow was finally beginning to move again, Roel lifted his foot off the clutch of his car. The Ferrari lurched to a sudden choking halt as the engine cut out and provoked a hail of impatient car horns that outraged Roel's masculine pride. But he did not utter a single one of the vituperative curses on the tip of his tongue.
From the car speakers Paul's well-modulated speaking voice continued in happy ignorance of the effect he had induced. "I was hoping we could set up an appointment some time this week because I'll be on vacation from the following Monday."
"This week is impossible for me," Roel heard himself counter instantaneously.
"I hope I haven't overreached my remit in raising the issue," Paul remarked with a hint of discomfiture.
"Dio mio! I had forgotten about the matter. You took me by surprise!" Roel proclaimed with a dismissive laugh.
"I didn't think it was possible to do that," Paul commented.
"I'll have to call you back ... the traffic's unbelievable," Roel asserted and he concluded the dialogue without engaging in the usual chit-chat.
His handsome mouth was set in a taut line. Paul had been right to bring up the subject of the marriage, which Roel had felt he had little choice but to enter into almost four years earlier. How could he possibly have overlooked the necessity of breaking that slender link again with a divorce? He reminded himself that he led an incredibly busy life and thought back instead to the ridiculous situation that had persuaded him to circumvent the terms of his late grandfather's will with a fake wife.
His grandfather, Clemente, had been a rigid workaholic well into his sixties, in every way a chip off the rock like Sabatino banker block. But after his retirement Clemente had fallen in love with a woman less than half his age and had suffered a rebellious sea change in outlook. Throwing off all restraint, he had embraced New Age philosophies and had even briefly married the youthful gold-digger. His undignified behaviour had led to years of estrangement between Clemente and his son, Roel's conservative father. Roel himself, however, had retained his fondness for the older man and maintained contact with him.
Four years ago, Clemente had died and Roel had been incredulous when the terms of his grandfather's will had been spelt out to him. In that most eccentric document, Clemente had stated that in the event of his grandson failing to marry within a specified time frame, Castello Sabatino, the family's ancestral home, should devolve to the state rather than to his own flesh and blood. Certainly, Roel had lived to regret telling his grandfather that, as the chances of a happy marriage were in his own considered opinion slim to none, he would not be addressing the need to wed and father an heir until he was, at the very least, in late middle age.
Although Roel had been raised to scorn sentimentality, he had nonetheless still cherished dim childish memories of warm and happy visits to the Castello Sabatino. Although he was wealthy enough to buy a hundred ancient castles, he had learnt the hard way that the castello had an especially strong hold on his affections. Sabatinos had inhabited the castle, which stood high above a remote valley, for centuries and Roel had been appalled by the genuine threat of the property going out of the family, perhaps for ever.
A couple of months later, while he'd been in London on business, he had been using his mobile phone to discuss with Paul the almost insurmountable problems created by his grandfather's will. Even though he had been in a public place at the time, indeed he had been getting a haircut, he had assumed that the very fact that the conversation was taking place in Italian had meant that it was almost as private as it might have been in his office. He had learnt that he was mistaken when his little hair-stylist had leapt headlong into his private conversation to first commiserate with him over his grandfather's 'weirder than weird' will and, second, to offer up herself as a 'pretend' wife so that he could keep Castello Sabatino in the family.
Excerpted from The Banker's Convenient Wife by Lynne Graham Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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