The Flaw in His Diamond

By: Susan Stephens

CHAPTER ONE

‘SO. WHAT DO we know about him?’ Leaning her hands, palms flat, on her no-nonsense scrubbed pine table, Eva glared, first at her older, married sister, Britt, and then at her younger sister, Leila.

Leila’s cheeks flushed pink, though she was used to Eva ranting. Leila’s middle sister was strong. And that was a polite way of putting it. Eva was also one hell of a pain in the neck when she was in one of her campaigning moods as she was now. Leila adored both her sisters, though she sometimes wished Eva could find a man and move out of the family home, taking her emotional pyrotechnics with her. How tranquil would life be then? Leila could only dream. But would anyone take Eva on? Both Leila and Britt had tried to interest the available men in Skavanga in Eva by extolling the many virtues of their firebrand sister, but none of the men had been interested in taking Eva anywhere, unless it was for a game of pool or darts. They had countered Leila and Britt’s glowing recommendations by reminding them about Eva’s famous temper and how loud she could shout, before turning their attention to quieter, more amenable companions.

‘Come on!’ Eva rapped, standing straight and planting her hands on her hips. ‘I need answers here. It’s all right for you, Britt—married to the Black Sheikh, one of the leading lights in the consortium. I don’t expect you to compromise your loyalties by having an opinion. But you, Leila? Shame. On. You. I’m surprised you can’t see that, if we allow them to, the consortium will happily rampage over our polar landscape and then move on. And don’t tell me I’m overreacting. That’s what will happen if one of us doesn’t make a stand.’

That was the thing about Eva, Leila mused as she removed herself to a quiet place in her head. Eva could have an argument all by herself without anyone else even taking part.

‘I won’t let the consortium have everything its own way, even if you will,’ Eva continued heatedly, ‘and before you say a word, Britt, let me make this quite clear. I might have seen our family business stolen from under our noses by three unscrupulous men but, unlike you, I have no intention of sleeping with one of them to make me feel better—’

‘That’s enough,’ Leila cut in with unusual fire. ‘Have you forgotten your sister is married to Sheikh Sharif?’

Shaking her head, Leila smiled an apology on behalf of Eva to Britt, who shrugged. Both sisters were accustomed to Eva’s tirades. What Eva needed was a curb on that temper. Her heart was in the right place, but their sister rarely thought before she spoke—or acted. And that was far more worrying, as far as Leila was concerned.

‘Well, you two are utterly useless,’ Eva exploded as her sisters continued sipping their coffee and reading their newspapers, and generally concentrating on other things as they waited for Eva’s tirade to burn itself out.

Tossing back her flame-red explosion of waist-length curls, Eva picked up the newspaper, her frown deepening as she scanned the latest developments at the mine, spearheaded by the man she had had her knife into since her nemesis, Roman Quisvada, had first shocked her into silence at Britt’s wedding with his swarthy good looks and inflexible manner.

‘Count Roman Quisvada?’ she intoned scathingly. ‘Well, that’s a ridiculous name to begin with.’

‘He’s Italian, Eva,’ Britt murmured patiently as she carried on reading her newspaper. ‘And he’s a bona fide count. It’s an ancient title—’

‘Count? My foot!’ Eva scoffed. ‘He can count how many pickets I’m going to assemble at the mine. That should keep him busy counting!’

‘And I believe he’s quite strong-minded,’ Britt observed mildly, flashing a glance at Leila.

‘He’s the same guy I slammed the door on at your wedding?’ Eva peered at Roman’s image in the press. ‘As I remember it, he didn’t take much scaring off on that occasion.’

‘You can stop rubbing your hands with glee at the thought of taking him on again,’ Leila warned. ‘When you met him at the wedding, it was the door to the bridal suite you shut in his face, so you could hardly expect him to stick his foot in and demand entry.’

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