Challenging Dante(2)

By: Lynne Graham

Dante stiffened, wondering if that was a hint of censure. ‘I assumed the newly-weds would prefer to be left in peace.’

‘Of course...of course,’ Marco hastened to reassure him in a tone of apology. ‘A natural assumption even at their age. me if I cause offence, although you have never said anything on the score of your mother’s remarriage, it must have come as a surprise to you.’

As he recognised that he might well still be waiting for his overly tactful friend to get to the point in another hour, Dante suppressed his innate desire to keep his every feeling and reaction private and decided to be blunt. ‘More than a surprise,’ he admitted flatly. ‘I was shocked and worried by it. Not only was my mother’s decision to remarry very sudden but I was also dismayed by her choice of husband.’

‘Yet you said nothing at the time,’ Marco groaned. ‘If only you could have been more plainspoken with me, Dante.’

‘My mother led a wretched life with my late father for more years than I care to recall. He was a bastard. That is not something I would acknowledge to anyone but you. Bearing that in mind, I am the last man alive likely to criticise her bridegroom or interfere in her attempt to, at long last, find a little happiness.’

Sympathy now etched in his kindly brown eyes, Marco visibly relaxed. ‘I can understand that.’

A brooding expression on his lean features, Dante was recalling his widowed mother’s sudden marriage to Vittore Ravallo. The wedding had taken place only two months earlier. Ravallo was a failed businessman and onetime womaniser, who was as poor as Sofia, Contessa di Martino, was rich. The marriage had been impulsive and improvident but Dante was a loyal and loving son and he had kept his reservations to himself. If need be he would intervene to protect his mother should the marriage prove to be the mistake he assumed it was, but in the short term he would mind his own business. Even so, that considerate restraint had proved a challenge, particularly when the happy couple was still occupying Dante’s castle in Tuscany while they waited for renovations to be completed on their new home several miles away. For that reason, Dante had not been back to Castello Leonetti for a visit since the small private wedding that had sealed his mother’s fate.

Marco compressed his mouth. ‘Perhaps you could consider going home soon. There’s something strange going on.’

Dante almost laughed out loud at that statement. ‘Strange?’

‘I’ve never been a man to listen to gossip but we’ve been friends all our lives and I felt I should give you a hint about what has been happening.’

‘So...’ Dante summed up rather drily, not interested in his friend’s penchant for drama, ‘what is happening at the castle, Marco?’

‘Well, you know what an energetic woman your mother has always been?’ Marco remarked. ‘Not any more. She’s no longer involved in her usual charitable pursuits either, never leaves the castle and no longer even gardens.’

Dante frowned, unable to even imagine his very active mother suddenly abandoning the busy life she had built as widow to that extent. ‘That does sound strange...’

‘And then there’s her new social secretary—’

‘Her...what?’ Dante cut in, taken aback. ‘She’s hired a secretary?’

‘A young English girl, very attractive and apparently perfectly pleasant,’ Marco recounted uncomfortably. ‘But now she’s standing in for the contessa at her charitable engagements and she’s often been seen getting lifts from Vittore—’

Dante was very still, an attitude that his employees knew as the calm before the storm, for the inclusion of a young and attractive girl in the set-up that Marco was describing had him seething with anger. Many older men were fools when it came to young girls and Dante’s stepfather might very well be one of them. His heart sank on his mother’s behalf. He had hoped that if the marriage failed it would do so on less wounding grounds for his parent than that of another woman. His own father’s infidelity had already caused Sofia Leonetti so much pain that Dante simply could not stand by and watch it happen again.

‘Is there an affair going on?’ Dante demanded, hands clenching into fists by his side as he sprang upright, unable to stay seated any longer.

‘I honestly don’t know. There’s no evidence of one, nothing more suspect than the look of things,’ Marco responded ruefully. ‘And we all know how misleading appearances can sometimes be. But there is one odd aspect to that girl that doesn’t quite add up—’

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