Challenging Dante(5)

By: Lynne Graham



Topsy extended a slim hand. ‘Topsy Marshall.’

‘Dante Leonetti,’ Dante told her as he grasped her small hand, barely aware of his stepfather still hovering in the background while his keen scrutiny remained welded to Topsy’s smiling face.

His brain kicked back into gear. Of course she was smiling at him, of course she was responding with charm! How else would she treat a very rich man? After all, if she was a gold-digger, he was a wealthier and much more rewarding target than Vittore could ever be. On the back of that thought the germ of an excellent idea flared through Dante. He was rich and single and consequently had to be a much more tempting prospect than his stepfather. Possibly, Vittore was still only flirting with the idea of adultery, for Dante was convinced that Vittore would not be going to the idiotic lengths of gathering roses if he had already got into the little brunette’s bed. Surmising that nothing very much had yet happened between the couple, Dante recognised that he had the power to nip the relationship in the bud and protect his mother in the short term. If he showed an interest in his mother’s employee, Vittore would have to master his weakness and back off.

‘Your mother will be eager to see you,’ Topsy remarked.

Her use of fluent Italian surprised Dante. ‘You speak our language?’

‘I speak several languages,’ Topsy admitted lightly. ‘But my best friend at school was Italian and we shared a room, so I picked up more colloquial phrases.’

‘You have a commendable grasp,’ Dante remarked, curious about her for the first time. ‘What other languages do you speak?’

‘French, Spanish and German. Rather old-fashioned choices,’ Topsy commented wryly. ‘I wish I’d had the foresight to study Russian and Chinese. Even a working knowledge of those might have been more useful.’

Dante shrugged a broad shoulder as he moved towards the entrance. ‘You can’t lose with those languages while you’re living in Europe.’

‘I’ll take you straight up to see your mother,’ Vittore volunteered, hurrying towards the stone staircase at the rear of the hall.

‘And I must deliver the roses before they start to wilt,’ Topsy added, her heart beating very fast as Dante momentarily paused to shoot a razor-edged glance at her that was anything but friendly. What on earth was wrong with the man? Had he disliked her on sight?

Dante ground his even white teeth together. He was in his own home and he had not seen his mother for weeks. He needed neither a guide to her rooms nor companions and was immediately suspicious. Vittore slung him an almost apprehensive look over his shoulder as he reached the top of the stairs, his attention shooting anxiously to Topsy. Witnessing that revealing byplay between them, Dante sensed a powerful hint of duplicity that put him even more on his guard.

The contessa smiled warmly as her husband entered her charming private sitting room.

‘I have a surprise for you,’ Vittore said tautly.

And then, a split second later, as Dante strode through the door the small slim brunette, who had been reclining on the comfortable chaise longue by the window flew to her feet and cried, ‘Dante! Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?’

‘I was scared I would be forced to cancel at the last moment.’ Dante kissed his mother’s cheek and then grasped her hands to stand back and look at her. ‘You look pale, tired—’

Recognising the flicker of dismay in the older woman’s eyes at that remark, Topsy spoke up before she could think better of it. ‘Your mother’s still recovering from the bout of flu she had a couple of weeks ago.’

‘Yes...it took a lot out of me,’ Sofia confirmed the lie while sending Topsy a warm glance for providing her with that easy excuse. ‘Come and sit down, Topsy—’

‘I think I should get on with some work,’ Topsy protested as Sofia settled back down onto the chaise longue and patted the space beside her. In her late forties, Sofia was still a very pretty woman with the same unusual clear green eyes that distinguished her son.

‘No, no,’ Vittore argued, reaching for the house phone with alacrity. ‘Take a break. I’ll order coffee for us.’

Dante watched in silence while Topsy took a seat beside his mother, his handsome mouth compressing with disapproval as he recognised that the older woman was treating the girl more like a favoured niece than an employee. Quite clearly she had no suspicions whatsoever about the younger woman’s character or, indeed, her behaviour with her husband. Vittore, meanwhile, hovered beside the chaise longue within reach of his wife, the very epitome of the devoted husband he wanted Dante to believe he was.

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