Innocent in the Italian's Possession

By: Janette Kenny

CHAPTER ONE




GEMMA CARDONE hurried down the hall toward the executive suite of Marinetti Shipyard, heart pounding and nerves snapping like a ship’s sails. Church bells chimed six times, the distant echo clear in the quiet Tuscan morning.

Since the day she’d come to work in Viareggio nine months ago, she’d relished her leisurely morning walk to her office. Even inside the old building, the tall narrow windows reminded her of the arched portals of the stone train tunnel along Cinque Terre, giving a teasing glimpse of endless sky, the Ligurian Sea and the rugged cliffs that crashed into the water.

In the ancient village of Manarolo where she had been born and raised, the old-world buildings scrambled up the steep rocky cliffs as if clinging to the stone face like colorful gems.

On the same rugged cliffs grew the most magnificent grapes used to make a wine found nowhere else.

It was small and remote and older than time. Everywhere there were steps and narrow lanes. Yet she missed it dreadfully at times, for there was a peace there she’d never found anywhere else.

It was just the opposite here in Viareggio. It was close to Cinque Terre by sea, yet a world apart with a festive carnival and scores of ships and industry and more tourists than she’d ever seen in a season.

This seaside coastal town stretched along the endless sandy beaches, meeting the water in a gentle slope. The architecture was pure art nouveau and the pulse of the town was upbeat.

Every day she looked forward to coming to work for Cesare Marinetti at his shipyard. But not today.

Just one week ago a tragic accident had taken the life of Cesare’s wife and landed him in the hospital. Marinetti Shipyard had been shut down ever since, in mourning for Signora Marinetti and out of respect for the family.

Gemma had been on pins and needles since the funeral, worried sick about the heart attack that had kept Cesare hospitalized. It was no small wonder that the employees wondered when Cesare would be able to resume control of his shipyard. Until then, who would manage it in his stead?

The answer had come in the wee hours of the morning.

“I do not have long to talk,” Cesare had rasped in a voice clearly laced with pain. “The doctors say I need heart bypass surgery, and I believe them.” His sigh was long and weary, like one resigned to his fate. “The shipyard will open today, but I will not return to work for weeks.”

“Of course,” she said, her heart heavy over what he’d be facing with surgery and recuperation while still burdened with grief over losing his wife. “Who are you placing in charge of Marinetti?”

A thick curse rumbled over the line. “My son is taking over the shipyard.”

No! Cesare had called in the son who’d turned his back on him five years ago? The one who never called, never visited because he was too busy playing the part of consummate playboy?

“I confessed all, Gemma, now I live to regret it. You must go to the office immediately and remove all the documents pertaining to my daughter and you,” he said. “Take them home with you and keep them hidden. I cannot let the truth be known yet, not at this point and especially not to Stefano.”

Of course, Cesare was right. If his secret was made public now, it would rock Marinetti Shipyard and cause his family more hurt. She didn’t want to guess what undue grief it would bring his daughter in her fragile condition.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “I’ll take care of things.”

“Grazie! Be careful around Stefano and don’t let him know when you intend to travel to Milan.”

That warning played over and over in her mind as she hurried down the Promenade toward the shipyard. The bars, shops and cafés still slept, but it wouldn’t be long and the town would come awake. What other surprises would this day bring?

She hated to guess as she made her way toward the executive suite on the upper floor of Marinetti Shipyard. The heels on her Italian sandals tapped the wooden floor with an urgent beat that kept pace with her heart.

She simply couldn’t fail Cesare in this. Not now. Not after all they’d been through together.

The click of a door closing echoed up the stairwell just as she reached the end of the hall. She whipped around and went still as death, looking, listening.

Unease arched between her shoulder blades as a tense quiet hummed around her. She saw no one about. But a door had closed in the stairwell below. She was certain of it.

None of the office staff should be here yet. In fact there was no reason for any employee to come to work over an hour early. No good reason, that is.

It must be the security guard making his rounds. Yes, it must be.

Still, Gemma all but ran the last few meters to the paneled door of her office. She couldn’t get caught by anyone. That would raise questions she wasn’t prepared to answer, and she never had been able to tell a convincing lie.

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