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Rinaldo's Inherited Bride
By Lucy Gordon
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"HE HATES me. He really hates me!"
Alex had expected some resentment, but not this bleak hostility. All the way out from England to Italy she had wondered about Rinaldo and Gino Farnese, the two men she had partly dispossessed.
Now, meeting Rinaldo's eyes across his father's grave, she thought she had never seen so much concentrated bitterness in one human being.
She blinked, thinking it might be an illusion of the brilliant Italian sun. Here there were sharp edges like sword blades, and dark shadows that swallowed light; hot colours, red, orange, deep yellow, black. Vibrant. Intense. Dangerous.
Now I'm getting fanciful, she thought.
But the danger was there, in the fury-filled eyes of Rinaldo Farnese, still watching her.
Isidoro, her elderly Italian lawyer, had pointed out the two Farnese brothers, but even without that she would have known them. The family likeness was clear. Both men were tall, with lean, fine-featured faces and dark, brilliant eyes.
Gino, clearly the younger, looked as though he had a softer side. There was a touch of curl in his hair, and a curve to his mouth that suggested humour, flirtation, delight.
But there was nothing soft about Rinaldo. His face might have been carved from granite. He seemed to be in his late thirties, with a high forehead and a nose that only just escaped being hooked. It was the most powerful feature in a powerful face.
Even at this distance Alex could detect a tension so fierce that it threatened to tear him apart. He was holding it back with a supreme effort. His grim, taut mouth revealed that, and the set of his chin.
There would be no yielding from him, Alex thought. No relenting. No forgiveness.
But why should she think she needed forgiveness from Rinaldo Farnese? She'd done him no wrong.
But he had been wronged, not by her, but by the father who had mortgaged a third of the family property, and left his sons to find out, brutally, after his death.
"Vincente Farnese was a delightful fellow," Isidoro had told her. "But he had this terrible habit of putting off awkward moments and hoping for a miracle. Rinaldo took charge as much as possible, but the old boy still left him a nasty surprise at the end. Can't blame him for being a bit put out."
But the man facing her over the grave wasn't 'a bit put out." He was ready to do murder.
"I guess I shouldn't have come to their father's funeral," she murmured to Isidoro.
"No, they probably think you're gloating."
"I just wanted to meet them, reassure them that I'll give them a fair chance to redeem the mortgage."
"Alex, haven't you understood? As far as these men are concerned they owe you nothing, and you're a usurper. Offering a "fair chance" to pay you is a recipe for bloodshed. Let's get out of here fast."
"You go. I'm not running away from them."
"You may wish you had," he said gloomily.
"Nonsense, what can they do to me?"
It had seemed so easy a week ago, sitting in the elegant London restaurant with David.
"This inheritance will probably pay for your partnership," he'd observed.
"And a lot of other things too," she said, smiling, and thinking of the dream home that they would share after their wedding.
David didn't answer this directly, but he raised his champagne glass in salute.
David Edwards was part of Alex's life plan. At forty, neatly handsome in a pin-striped kind of way, he was the head of a firm of very expensive, very prestigious London accountants.
Alex had started work for them eight years ago, after passing her accountancy exams with top honours. She had always known that one day she would be a partner, just as one day she would marry David.
Eight years had transformed her from a rather shy, awkward girl, more at home with figures than people, into a stunning, sophisticated woman.
It was David himself who had unknowingly started the transformation in her early days with the firm. Struck by his looks, she had longed to attract his attention.
After six months, without success, she had overheard him casually asking a colleague, "Who's the pudding in the red dress?"
He had passed on, unaware that the 'pudding' had heard him and was choking back misery and anger.
Two days later David announced his engagement to the daughter of the senior partner.
Alex had plunged into her work. For the next five years she allowed herself only the most passing relationships. At the end of that time her long hours and excellent results had made her a power in the firm.
By then the senior partner had retired and David had taken over the position. Now he no longer needed his father-in-law's influence, although it was only ill-natured people who openly made a connection between that and his divorce.
Alex had worked as hard on transforming herself as she had on her job. Her body represented the triumph of the workout. Her legs were long and slender enough to risk the shortest skirts. The tightest of dresses found no extra pounds on her.
Her fair hair was short, expertly cut and shaped, nestling close to her neat head on top of a long, elegant neck. She was a highly finished work of art, her mind as perfectly ordered as her appearance.
She and David became an item, and everyone knew that soon the firm's two stars would link up and run the place together.
Now it seemed that nothing could be better structured. Her inheritance would be followed by her partnership, and then by her marriage.
"Of course it might take a little time to arrange," David mused now. "You haven't actually inherited part of the property, have you?"
"No, just the money that was loaned against it. Enrico assigned the debt to me in his will. So the Farnese brothers owe me a large sum of money, and if they can't repay in a reasonable time, that's when I can claim some of the actual farm."
"Either that or sell your interest to someone else, which would make more sense. What would you want with one third of a farm?"
"Nothing, but I'd feel uneasy about doing that. I have to give the Farneses every chance to pay me first."
"Sure, and, as I said, it may take time. So don't rush back. Take as long as you need and do it properly."
Alex smiled, thinking fondly how understanding he was. It would make everything easier.
"You haven't seen much of your Italian relatives, have you?" David asked now.
"My mother was Enrico Mori's niece. He came to visit us a couple of times. He was an excitable man, very intense and emotional. Just like her."
"But not like you?"
She laughed. "Well, I couldn't afford to be intense and emotional. Mum filled the house with her melodrama. I adored her, but I suppose I developed my common sense as a reaction. One of us had to be cool, calm and collected.
Excerpted from Rinaldo's Inherited Bride by Lucy Gordon Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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