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Isabella Patricelli stood inside the entrance to Belle On The Bend and watched the couple emerge from a silver BMW. They were in their early- to mid-thirties and quite attractive. Their luxury car along with their designer clothes shouted that they were well-to-do if not wealthy.
She watched the man straighten the cuffs of his gray jacket. She guessed Armani. Why he would be wearing a suit on a vacation, she couldn't imagine.
She sighed. They didn't look happy. Even from fifty feet away, she could feel the sadness seeping from their souls.
She had her work cut out for her with this couple.
Summoning a bright smile, Belle stepped out on the wide veranda. "Good morning. Welcome to Belle On The Bend."
The couple climbed the five steps toward Belle. She couldn't help but notice the man didn't take the woman's hand or arm to help her up the steps. Simple common courtesy dictated that he at least offer to assist her.
"Good morning," he said, still unsmiling. "I'm Isaac Olvera. This is my wife Maggie."
Belle turned toward Maggie. Petite, short red hair, huge green eyes, ivory skin. She was the perfect companion to her husband's dark hair and olive coloring. "I'm so pleased to meet you. Please come in."
"Our bags?" Maggie asked.
"Dolan will get them for you," Belle said as she led the way inside the mansion. "He's officially my maintenance man, but he does a little of everything around here. Sometimes I wonder how I ever got along without him."
Belle stopped and faced her guests when she heard Maggie's soft gasp. Eyes wide and lipsparted, the lovely redhead turned in a slow circle. Belle smiled to herself. Visitors to the mansion often stared at the antique furnishings. Stepping into Belle On The Bend was like stepping back in time one hundred and fifty years.
"It's incredible," Maggie whispered. She clasped her husband's arm. "Oh, Isaac, isn't it beautiful?"
Belle's eyes narrowed at Isaac's bored tone. This one would definitely take a lot of work. She looked at Maggie in time to see the hurt in her guest's eyes before Maggie released her husband's arm and lowered her gaze.
A chirping sound from Isaac's pocket produced the most response Belle had seen from him since he arrived. He slipped his hand into his slacks pocket and drew out a thin wireless phone.
Maggie frowned. "Isaac, you promised no business."
"This won't take long." He turned and headed toward the entrance, opening the flip-phone as he walked. "Yeah . . . No problem. I wanted you to call . . . Did you get . . ."
The rest of his words were lost when he stepped outside. Sympathy welled up inside Belle. Maggie looked so lost and alone.
Isaac wasn't the first husband who'd brought his wife here, then put business first.
"Why don't we go into the parlor for something to drink while your husband finishes his call?"
Maggie gave her a weak smile. "Thank you."
Belle led the way through the foyer and into the parlor. "I have regular or raspberry iced tea, soft drinks, or I can serve you lemonade if you'd prefer it."
"The raspberry tea sounds wonderful."
"Please sit down and make yourself comfortable while I prepare your drink. Sugar or lemon?"
"I have to drink my tea sweetened. I'm definitely a sugarholic. I detest any artificial sweetener."
Her teasing earned Belle another small smile from her guest. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Maggie perch on the edge of a pale blue wingback chair in one of the sitting areas. The redhead continued to study her surroundings, as if trying to absorb the different colors, textures, and styles of the furniture and furnishings.
"The mansion is beautiful, Belle."
"Thank you." Belle added a plate of her cook Lottie's Snickerdoodles to the tray. "I enjoy living here very much. And I enjoy sharing it with others." She joined Maggie in the sitting area, placing the tray on the small round table between the two chairs.
"How long have you lived here?"
Taking the second chair, Belle crossed her legs before handing Maggie her tea. "Longer than I want to admit."
Maggie sipped her drink. "Mmm, very good. I don't think I've ever drunk raspberry tea."
"Try the Snickerdoodles. My cook is incredible. No one goes hungry around here."
Biting her bottom lip, Maggie eyed the cinnamon-topped cookies on the tray with longing. "I shouldn't. I've put on some weight and I'm trying to lose it."
Belle saw a lovely woman with shapely curves, not someone overweight. Maggie didn't say it, but Belle sensed it was Isaac who wanted his wife to lose weight.
"You're on vacation. You have to eat things you wouldn't normally eat. It's a law."
Maggie giggled. The sound made her appear much younger than thirty-something. "Well, I wouldn't want to break any laws." She chose a small cookie from the tray and bit into it. A look of bliss crossed her face. "Oh, my."
Belle smiled. "Lottie's desserts are legendary. Wait until you taste her peach cobbler."
"You're determined to make me gain back the seven pounds I've lost."
With a shrug, Belle picked up a cookie. "I have almost three hundred acres of gardens and walking trails if you want to exercise."
"I'd rather exercise another way," Maggie muttered, looking into her glass of tea.
Belle heard her, but pretended she didn't. "Excuse me?"
A lovely blush bloomed in Maggie's cheeks. "Nothing." She raised her gaze back to Belle's face. "Tell me more about the mansion. Is all the furniture Rococo Revival?"
Recognizing the obvious change of subject, Belle sat back in her chair. "You know antiques."
Maggie shrugged. "I work part-time in an antique store in Dallas."
"Do you enjoy it?"
An excited light filled her eyes. "Very much. I love antiques. All the incredible curves and carvings, the wood, the simple beauty of the pieces. Isaac . . ." The mention of her husband made the light disappear. "He doesn't care for antiques. He's more into modern things."Seduction's Spell. Copyright © by Lynn LaFleur. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.