Dante Claiming His Secret Love-Child(8)

By: Sandra Marton


“Okay. What’s the bid up to?”

The lawyer listened. “Twenty thousand reals. Half what the bank wants.”

Dante nodded. This wasn’t his money, it was his old man’s. Spend what you must, Cesare had ended up telling him, up to half a million bucks. That gave him significant leeway—and the sooner this was over, the sooner he could leave.

“Bid one hundred thousand.”

The lawyer cleared his throat. Called out the amount in reals. The room fell silent. Everyone looked first at Dante, then at the big guy in black who slowly turned and looked at him, too.

Dante held the man’s gaze until he shifted the cigar from one side of his mouth to the other and showed all his teeth in what no one in his right mind would ever call a smile.

“Two hundred thousand dollars, U.S.,” the man said, in lightly accented English.

There were audible gasps from the others.

What was this? A contest over what looked like a place that would suck in tens, maybe hundreds of thousands to put right? Maybe Cesare was nuts, Dante thought, but he wasn’t, and hadn’t his father said he was handing this off to him because of his business expertise?

Dante shrugged. “You want it that bad,” he started to say…

And then a voice as soft as the petal of a rose said his name and he knew, God, he knew who it was even before he turned to the stairs and saw her.

Gabriella’s heart was pounding.

It was Dante. But it couldn’t be. He was a bitter memory from another time, another place…

“Gabriella?”

Deus, he was real!

Almost a year and a half had gone by and yet everything about him was familiar. His broad shoulders and long, leanly muscled body. The hard planes and angles of his face. His eyes, the palest shade of blue.

And his mouth. Firm and sensual, and even now she remembered the feel of it against hers.

He was moving toward her. She shook her head, stepped back. She knew she could not let him touch her. If he did, she might crumple. All the nights she’d thought of him. Willed herself not to think of him. Told herself she hated him, that she hoped and prayed she would never see him again…

True, all of it.

And yet, standing in the shadows of the second-floor landing, listening as her fate was decided by a group of faceless men, she’d heard his voice and reacted with the predictability of Pavlov’s dog, her heart racing, her lips readying to curve in a smile.

She drew a deep, unsteady breath.

Those days were gone. She had no reason to smile at this man. She felt nothing for him. Not even hatred. The sight of him had stunned her, that was all…

Unless…unless he had come for her. In the darkest hours of the darkest nights, even despising him, she had wept for him. For his touch. And sometimes…sometimes, she had dared to dream that he had discovered her secret, that he was coming to her, coming for her…

“What are you doing here?” he said.

His bewildered question shattered the last of those ridiculous dreams. Reality rushed in and with it, the cold knowledge that she had to get rid of him as quickly as possible. Her heart was racing again, this time with trepidation, but the recent changes in her life had brought back the ingrained habits of childhood, and she drew herself up and met his confusion with calm resolution.

“I think a far better question is, what are you doing here?”

He looked surprised. Well, why wouldn’t he? He was a man who never had to answer to anyone.

“I’m here on business.”

“What kind of business would bring you to the end of the earth?”

“I came to buy this ranch.”

She felt the color leave her face.

“Viera y Filho,” he said impatiently, “and you still haven’t answered my question.”

A sigh swept through the room, followed by the sound of a man’s unpleasant laughter. She saw Dante turn toward Andre Ferrantes and she felt a rush of panic. Who knew what he would say?

“Something about this amuses you?” Dante said coldly.

Ferrantes smiled. “Everything about this amuses me, senhor, including this touching scene of reunion    .” Ferrantes cocked his head. “I only wonder…how well do you know the senhorita?”

“Dante,” Gabriella said quickly, “listen to me…”

Ferrantes stepped forward, elbowing another man aside. “I ask,” he said softly, “because I know her well.” Gabriella gasped as he wrapped a thick arm around her waist and tugged her to his side. “Intimately, one might say. Isn’t that correct, Gabriella?”

Dante’s eyes went cold and flat. They locked on Ferrantes’s face even as he directed his question to her.

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