The Italian's Rightful Bride - By Lucy Gordon Page 0,1

the joy drain out of her face as she heard the dead tone. And, as he’d feared, the face she then turned on him was full of accusation.

‘Why didn’t you let me talk to her?’ she cried.

‘Darling, she was in a rush—it was a bad time for her—’

‘No, it was your fault. I heard you shouting at her. You don’t want her to talk to me.’

‘That isn’t true—’

He tried to take his daughter into his arms but she resisted him, not by struggling but by standing stiff, her face blank and unrevealing.

Just like me, he thought sadly, remembering the times in his life when he had concealed his innermost self in the same way. There was no doubt that this was truly his child, unlike Crystal’s second offspring, whose birth had precipitated the divorce.

‘Darling…’ he tried again, but gave up in the face of her silent hostility.

She blamed him for her mother’s desertion and the fact that she’d been left behind, because she couldn’t bear to believe anything else. And was it kinder to force the truth on her, or go along with her fantasy of a mother who yearned for her and a cruel father who kept them apart? He only wished he knew.

Reluctantly he released her and she ran out at once. Gustavo sat down heavily at his desk and buried his head in his hands.

‘Have I come at a bad time?’

Gustavo looked up to see an elderly man in shabby, earth-stained clothes who stood in the tall window, mopping his brow.

‘No, come in,’ Gustavo said with relief, opening an ornate eighteenth-century cupboard and revealing a small fridge concealed inside.

‘How is it going?’ he asked, pouring two beers.

‘I’ve gone about as far as I can,’ Professor Carlo Francese said, puffing from his recent exertions. ‘But my expertise is limited.’

‘Not in my experience,’ Gustavo said loyally.

They had been friends for eight years, ever since Gustavo had allowed his palazzo to be used for an archaeological convention. Carlo was an archaeologist with a major reputation, and when ancient foundations had recently been discovered on Gustavo’s estate he had called Carlo first.

‘Gustavo, this is potentially the biggest find for a century, and you need serious professionals. Fentoni is the best. He’ll jump at it.’

He gave Gustavo a shrewd look. ‘You’re not listening.’

‘Of course I am, it was just—hell and damnation!’


‘Who else? It’s not so much that she betrayed me with another man, bore him a son and made a fool of me. I hate that, but I can bear it. What I can’t forgive is the way she left without a backward glance at Renata, and doesn’t bother to keep in touch. My little girl is breaking her heart, and I can’t help her.’

‘I never much liked Crystal,’ Carlo admitted slowly. ‘I remember meeting her a few years after your wedding. You were totally crazy about her but she always struck me as slightly detached.’

‘Totally crazy,’ he murmured with a wry, reminiscent grin. ‘That’s true. I went on believing in her far too long, but I had to. In order to marry her I behaved very badly to someone else that I should have married, and I suppose I needed to believe that the “prize” I’d won was worth it.’

‘Behaved badly?’ The professor’s eyes gleamed with interest. ‘You mean really badly?’

‘Sorry to disappoint you,’ Gustavo said with a reluctant grin, ‘but there was no grand drama. Neither the lady nor I were in love. It was to be a suitable marriage, virtually an arranged one.’

Carlo wasn’t shocked. Whatever the modern world might imagine, such things were still common among the great aristocratic families of Europe. Money gravitated to titles, and where vast estates and ancient houses were concerned it was a matter of family duty to protect them.

And if there was one thing Gustavo understood it was his duty.

‘So what happened about this arranged marriage?’ Carlo asked now.

‘My father was alive then, and he’d had some bad luck. A friend of my mother’s knew of an English girl who had a great fortune. I met her, and we got on well.’

‘What was she like?’

Gustavo considered for a moment.

‘She was a nice person,’ he said at last. ‘Gentle and understanding, someone I could talk to. We would have had a good marriage, in a sedate kind of way. But then Crystal appeared, and suddenly sedate wasn’t enough.

‘She was—’ he struggled for words ‘—like a comet flaming across the sky. She dazzled me. I couldn’t see the truth, which was that she was