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The Italian's Baby
By Lucy Gordon
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneShe was seventeen, as pretty as a doll, and as lifeless, sitting in the window, staring out, unseeing, over the Italian countryside.
She didn't turn when the door opened and a nurse came in, with a middle-aged man. He had an air of joviality that sat oddly with his cold eyes.
"How's my best girl?" he greeted the doll by the window.
She neither replied nor looked at him.
"I've got someone to see you, precious." He turned to a young man standing behind him and said curtly, "Make it quick."
He was twenty, little more than a boy. His hair was shaggy, he looked as though he hadn't shaved for days, and his eyes were wild with pain and anger. He went quickly to the girl and dropped on his knees beside her, speaking in an imploring voice.
"Becky, mia piccina - it is I, Luca. Look at me, I beg you. Forgive me for everything - they say our child is dead and that it is my fault - I never meant to hurt you - can you hear me?"
She turned her head and seemed to look at him, but there was no recognition in her eyes. They were lifeless.
"Listen to me," the boy implored. "I am sorry, piccina, I am so sorry. Becky, for pity's sake, say that you understand."
She was silent. He reached up a hand to brush her light brown hair aside. She did not move.
"I did not see our baby," he said huskily. "Was she pretty like you? Did you hold her? Speak to me. Tell me that you know me, that you love me still. I shall love you all my life. Only say that you forgive me for all the pain I have brought you. I meant only to make you happy. In God's name, speak to me."
But she said nothing, merely stared out of the window. He dropped his head into her lap, and the only sound in the room was his sobs.
* * *
The words stood out starkly, black against the white paper.
A boy. Born yesterday. 8lbs 6oz.
A simple message that might have been the bringer of joy. But to Luca Montese it meant that his wife had given a son to another man, and none to him. It meant that the world would know of his humiliation, and that made him curse until there was nobody left to curse, except himself, for being a blind fool. His face was not pleasant at that moment. It was cruel and frightening.
Fear of that face had made Drusilla leave him as soon as she knew she was pregnant, six months ago. He had arrived home to find her gone, leaving him a note. It had said that there was another man. She was pregnant. It was no use trying to find her. That was all.
She had taken everything he had ever given her, down to the last diamond, the last stitch of couture clothing. He'd pursued her like an avenging fury, not in person but through a battery of expensive lawyers, nailing her down to a divorce settlement that left her nothing beyond what she had already taken.
It galled him that the man was so poor and insignificant as to be virtually beyond the reach of his revenge. If he had been a rich entrepreneur, like himself, it would have been a pleasure to ruin him. But a hairdresser! That was the final insult.
Now they had a big, lusty son. And Luca Montese was childless. The world would know that it was his fault that his marriage had been barren, and the world would laugh. The thought almost drove him to madness.
Three floors below him was the heart of Rome's financial district, a world he had made his own by shrewdness, cunning and sheer brute muscle. His employees were in awe of him, his rivals were afraid of him. That was how he liked it. But now they would laugh.
He turned the paper between his fingers. His hands were heavy and strong, the hands of a workman, not an international financier.
His face was the same; blunt-featured, with a heaviness about it that had little to do with the shape of features, and more to do with a glowering intensity in his eyes. That, and his tall, broad-shouldered body, attracted the kind of woman - and there were plenty of them - who gravitated towards power. Physical power. Financial power. All kinds. Since the break-up of his marriage he hadn't lacked company.
He treated them well, according to his lights, was generous with gifts but not with words or feelings, and broke with them abruptly when he realised they did not have what he was seeking.
He could not have said what that was. He only knew that he'd found it once, long ago, with a girl who had shining eyes and a great heart.
He barely remembered the boy he'd been then, full of impractical ideas about love lasting forever. Not cynical, not grasping, believing that love and life were both good: a foolishness that had been cruelly cured.
He brought himself firmly back to the present. Dwelling on lost happiness was a weakness, and he always cut out weakness as ruthlessly as he did everything else. He strode out of the office and down to the underground parking lot, where his Rolls-Royce - this year's model - was waiting.
He had a chauffeur but he loved driving it himself. It was his personal trophy, the proof of how far he'd come since the days when he'd had to make do with an old jalopy that would have collapsed if he hadn't repaired it himself.
Even with his best efforts it was liable to break down at odd moments, and then she would laugh and chatter as she handed him spanners. Sometimes she would get under the car with him, and they would kiss and laugh like mad things.
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