Challenging Dante(8)

By: Lynne Graham

‘Nice wheels,’ she said, reckoning it was another nail in the coffin of her attraction to him, another reminder that they would be a poor match in every way. The gilded extras of life did not impress her although she would have been the first to admit that since Kat had assumed charge of her as a child she had never known what it was to want for anything she needed. In so many ways she had been spoiled as the baby of the family and perhaps that was why she had had to run away to grow up.

‘I gather Vittore drives you around quite a lot,’ Dante commented as she slid in beside him.

‘I need lifts anywhere I can’t walk or ride a bike,’ Topsy admitted. ‘I can’t drive.’

Dante frowned, his surprise unconcealed. ‘That must make doing the job a challenge.’

‘Yes,’ Topsy conceded, since it was the truth, watching a lean brown hand glide smoothly round the steering wheel, angling the powerful car through the castle gates and down through the village beyond the ancient estate walls. ‘But neither your mother nor I thought of the need for me to drive during our interview.’

‘You could learn. I’ll fix the paperwork,’ Dante informed her.

‘I’ve failed the driving test a few times at home...I don’t really want to try again,’ Topsy said truthfully.

‘How many times?’ Dante asked.

Topsy stiffened. ‘Six times. That was enough for me. I’ve got poor co-ordination and lousy spatial awareness. Everyone’s got a weakness—that’s mine and I can live with it.’

‘Any idiot can drive,’ Dante retorted, unimpressed, seeing how she could be detached from Vittore in one way at least. ‘I’ll teach you while I’m here.’

Topsy winced at the prospect. ‘Thanks but no, thanks.’

‘It wasn’t a suggestion, it was an order,’ Dante told her lethally. ‘To fully perform your duties, you should be able to drive.’

Topsy stared straight out of the windscreen at the magnificent scenery as the car descended the hill into the rolling valley studded with shapely cypresses and the serrated green lines of the vineyards, her expressive mouth silently forming a rude word of disagreement. ‘I work for your mother, not for you. I don’t have to do what you tell me to do.’

His long fingers flexed expressively round the steering wheel and she stole a reluctant glance at him, noting the taut set of his bold bronzed profile while she doubted that he met in-your-face rebellion very often from subordinates. Momentarily, his shimmering green gaze flared in her direction and a crackling energy filled the atmosphere with tension. Topsy breathed in deep and slow, smoothed her skirt down over her slim thighs and tactfully said nothing.

‘So, tell me what qualified you for the job,’ Dante invited without skipping a beat.

Topsy was more intimidated by his self-discipline than she would have been had he snapped angrily back at her. ‘I have a lot of experience with charity committee work, volunteers and functions,’ she confided, recalling the long educational summer stays in Maraban while her sister Saffy concentrated her time on benevolent good works as befitted the wife of a ruler, not to mention her sister Kat’s ventures in the same line. ‘I also speak the language and I’m very versatile and not too proud to do whatever needs to be done. Basically I’m your mother’s gopher. I deal with all the decorating hassles at the new house as well. Your mother has a very clear picture of how she wants every room to look. I’m also handling the arrangements for the fancy-dress ball.’

His jaw line set granite hard. ‘Try to understand my surprise at your employment. My mother has never required assistance before.’

‘But then she had made her charities and your very extensive gardens into a full-time job,’ Topsy pointed out a shade drily. ‘And now the contessa wants the time to relax and be with her husband. She’s also hired another full-time gardener to help out on the estate.’

If possible, Dante’s stubborn chin and firm mouth took on an even more hostile set. ‘I know my mother.’

No, you don’t, Topsy thought silently. He was out of the inner circle now and evidently not yet to be trusted with the news that had torn Sofia’s neat and tidy life apart. Really, that aspect was none of her business either but she had no intention of betraying the contessa’s trust. Sofia had been very kind to Topsy and she was determined to be loyal and supportive in return.

The Casa di Fortuna sat on top of a hill, a square, solid stone structure surrounded by garden. It had once been the estate manager’s home but the current manager had built his own house and Sofia had decided to make the old house her new marital home. A variety of pickup trucks and vans sat in the driveway announcing the presence of builders and tradesmen.

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