Dante Claiming His Secret Love-Child(9)

By: Sandra Marton

“What is he talking about?”

She had heard him use that tone before, not long after they’d met. They’d been strolling along a street in Soho. It was late, after midnight, and they’d heard a thin cry down a dark alley, the thump of something hitting the ground.

“Stay here,” Dante had told her.

It had been a command, not a request, and she’d obeyed it instinctively, standing where he’d left her, hearing scuffling sounds and then thuds until she’d said to hell with obedience. She’d run toward the alley just as Dante had reappeared with an old man shuffling beside him. A street person, from the looks of him, saying “Thank you, sir,” over and over, and then she’d looked at Dante, saw that his suit coat was torn, his jaw was already swelling…saw the look in his eyes that said he had done what he’d had to do…

And had enjoyed it.

“Gabriella, what is he talking about? Answer me!”

She opened her mouth. Shut it again. What could she possibly tell him? Not the truth. Never that.

Never, ever that!

“Perhaps I can help, senhor.” It was the lawyer, looking from one man to the other and smiling nervously. “Obviously, you and the senhorita have met before. In the States, I assume.”

“Senhor de Souza,” Gabriella said, “I beg you—”

“You could say that,” Dante growled, his eyes never leaving the big man who still stood with his arm around Gabriella. Her face was as white as paper. She was trembling. Why didn’t she step away from the greasy son of a bitch? Why didn’t she call him a liar? No way would she have given herself to someone like this.

“In that case,” the lawyer said, “you probably knew her as Gabriella Reyes.”

Dante folded his arms over his chest. “Of course I know her as—”

“Her true name, her full name, is Gabriella Reyes Viera.” De Souza paused. “She is the daughter of Juan Viera.”

Dante looked at him. “I thought Viera had only one child. A son.”

“He had a son and a daughter.” De Souza paused, delicately cleared his throat. “Ah, perhaps—perhaps we should discuss this in private, Senhor Orsini, yes?”

“Indeed you should,” Ferrantes snarled. “There is an auction taking place here, advogado, or have you forgotten?”

“Let me get this straight,” Dante said, ignoring him, his attention only on the attorney. “The ranch, which should be Gabriella’s, will be sold to the highest bidder?”

“To me,” Ferrantes looked down at Gabriella. The meaty hand that rested at her waist rose slowly, deliberately, until it lay just beneath her breast. “Everything will be sold to me. So you see, American, you are wrong. There is no business here for you, whatsoever.”

Dante looked at him. Looked at Gabriella. Something was very wrong here. He had no idea what it was, no time to find out. He could only act on instinct, as he had done so many times in his life.

He took a deep breath, looked at the auctioneer. “What was the last bid?”

The auctioneer swallowed. “Senhor Ferrantes bid two hundred thousand United States dollars.”

Dante nodded. “Four hundred thousand.”

The crowd gasped. Ferrantes narrowed his eyes. “Six.”

Dante looked at Gabriella. What had happened to her? She was as beautiful as in the past, but she had lost weight. Her eyes were enormous in the weary planes of her face. And though she was tolerating Ferrantes’s touch, he could almost see her drawing into herself as if she could somehow stand within the man’s embrace and yet remain apart from it.

“Gabriella,” he said quietly. “I can buy this place for you.”

The crowd stirred. Ferrantes’s face darkened, but Dante had eyes only for the woman who had once been his lover.

“No strings,” he said. “I’ll buy it, sign it over to you and that’ll be the end of it.”

She stared at him. He could see her weighing her choices but, dammit, what was there to weigh?

“Gabriella,” he said, urgency in his tone, “tell me what you want.”

Ferrantes pushed Gabriella aside, took a menacing step forward. “You think you can walk in here and do anything you want, American?”

Dante ignored him. “Talk to me, Gabriella.”

She almost laughed. Talk? It was too late for that. They should have talked that terrible day when her life had changed forever. She had been so alone, so frightened, so in need of her lover’s strength and comfort. She’d phoned his office, found out he was away. He had not told her that.

She saw it as a bad sign, but when he called the next evening and said he was back and wanted to see her, her heart had lifted. And that night, when he said he had something to tell her, she’d been sure fate had answered her plea, that he was going to say that he had gone away not to put distance between them but to think about her and now he knew, knew what he felt…

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