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By Ruth Langan
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDevil's Cove, Michigan - 2003
Retired judge Frank Brennan had just taken a turn around the gardens of his lovely old home known as The Willows. With a sigh of satisfaction he settled himself in his favorite leather chair in his office. His wife, Bert, had already retired for the night, and he'd promised to join her upstairs in a few minutes. When the phone rang he picked it up absently.
"Poppie?" At the strangled voice of his granddaughter on the other end of the line, the old man sat up straighter, cupping the phone in both hands.
"Oh, Poppie. I had to talk to you."
He knew by the way her voice trembled that she was fighting tears. That in itself was difficult to imagine, since he'd always seen Courtney, the third of his son Christopher's daughters, as the strongest of his grandchildren. Courtney, who had decided while still in high school that she wanted to study interior design, and had never veered from her charted course. Courtney, who had graduated from the prestigious New York School of Design before going on to Paris and then Rome, before settling in Milan, where she had opened a lovely studio and boutique with her partner, Pietro Amalfi.
"What's wrong, sweetheart?"
He heard her take a deep breath. "It's Pietro. He ..." She struggled to get the words out over the tears that had started up again. "I found out that he's been ... stealing. None of the bills have been paid. And now the bank is threatening to take our shop. And that's not all. He's run off with -" she paused before managing to say "- with one of the girls I'd hired in the boutique."
Frank Brennan listened in silence as the story poured out. It was a tale as old as time, but one that never got easier to hear, especially when it broke the heart of someone as dear as this beautiful young woman, who had been wildly in love for the first time in her life.
When the words had all been said, and the only sounds were an occasional hiccupping sob, Frank's tone gentled. "You asked me what I think, so I'll tell you. I think you need to come home, honey. To be with the people who love you."
"But I feel like such a fool. If I run home now, I'll look like a failure, as well, Poppie."
"When it comes to affairs of the heart, Courtney my love, we're all fools. But a failure? Never. If it would make matters simpler, I can recommend a good law firm in Milan to handle this sad affair. Once Pietro is apprehended, he will be ordered to make restitution or go to jail."
"I don't want to send him to jail, Poppie. I just want my credit cleared and a chance to start over."
"One thing at a time, Courtney. Pietro may have mishandled your heart and your business, but he can't be allowed to walk away without paying a price. After that, you can move ahead with your life."
After a strained silence she gave a long, deep sigh. "I know you're right, Poppie. Thank you. I'll contact the law firm. Maybe once I get things started, I'll be able to think more clearly."
"Good girl. And when this is behind you, you need to come home. I can't think of anything better for your heart and soul than to spend a summer here at The Willows while you plan your future."
There was a long pause before she said simply, "I knew I could count on you to say just the right thing. I'll be home as soon as I've dealt with this."
When he replaced the receiver, Frank reached across the desk and picked up a framed photograph taken more than fifteen years earlier. In it, four little girls stood with their arms around each other. Emily was clutching one of her many stray kittens. Hannah's knees were grass-stained from weeding the garden. Sidney was holding one of her drawings, and her nose and cheek were streaked with finger paint. Courtney's tennis shorts and shirt looked as crisp and white as when she'd put them on hours earlier. Her waist-length caramel hair was plaited in two perfect braids. Her dimpled smile was angelic.
Frank thought of the callous young man who had just broken her trust and her heart. Knowing his tough, perfectionist granddaughter, she would build a shield around that heart to keep it from being hurt again. It would take a long time, if ever, for her to trust another man.
He whispered a prayer that somewhere in this world there was not only one worthy of that fine heart but wise enough to break through the defenses she would surely build as strong, as high, as any fortress.
Excerpted from Vendetta by Ruth Langan Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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