A Pawn in the Playboy's Game(2)

By: Cathy Williams

The brutal truth was that Roberto Falcone was now frail, whether he wanted to admit it or not, and he needed somewhere small, somewhere closer to Alessandro, somewhere in London.

‘I’ll get my bag,’ Alessandro said abruptly. ‘You go in and I’ll join you in the sitting room. I take it you haven’t dispatched all the help...because you felt they needed some time out from doing what they’re so handsomely paid to do?’

‘You might be lord of that manor of yours in London,’ Roberto retorted, ‘and I wouldn’t think of questioning you if you chose to give whoever works for you a weekend off, but this is my manor and I can do whatever I want.’

‘Let’s not kick off this weekend on an argument,’ Alessandro said heavily. He looked at the elderly man in front of him, still leonine in appearance with his thick head of steel-grey hair, his piercing dark eyes and his impressive height, at six foot one only a couple of inches shorter than him. The only hint of his frailty was the walking stick and, of course, a thick wad of medical notes residing in the hospital ten miles due west.

‘Freya is here. There’s food in the kitchen, which is where you will find me. Had I known you were going to descend on me, I might have asked her to prepare something a little less simple, but you’re here now and salmon and potatoes is going to have to do.’

‘You knew I was coming,’ Alessandro pointed out patiently. A sharp gust of wind, carrying the sort of bitter cold rarely experienced in London, blew his dark hair away from his face. ‘I emailed you.’

‘Must have slipped my mind.’

Clenching his jaw in pure frustration, Alessandro watched as his father shuffled away, leaving the front door wide open.

The move to London was going to be a big step, for both of them. They barely had anything to say to one another. Lord only knew how more frequent meetings were going to play out, but there was no way he could continue making laborious trips to the depths of Scotland every time his father had a mishap, and there were no siblings with whom he could share the burden.

Just him. An only child shunted off to boarding school at the age of seven, returning back to their vast, cold mansion every holiday, where nannies and cooks and cleaners had picked up the role of parent because his father had rarely been in evidence, appearing only at the end of the day when they had dined at opposite ends of the formal dining table, waited on by the very people with whom Alessandro had spent his day.

Until, of course, he had become old enough to begin spending the occasional holidays with friends. His father had not once objected. Alessandro suspected that he had probably been quietly relieved. There was only so much polite conversation to be made across the length of a twenty-seat table.

The polite conversation was still made but at least now Alessandro could take it in his stride, at least he had stopped trying to find reasons behind his father’s coldness, stopped wondering whether things might have been different had he remarried after the death of Muriel Falcone, stopped trying not to be a disappointment. That particular youthful sentiment had long disappeared.

Hitching his overnight bag over his shoulder and remotely locking his glossy black SUV, Alessandro decided that he would have to find some hobbies for his father the second he arrived in London.

Hobbies that would take him out of the luxurious three-bedroom ground-floor apartment in a small, portered Georgian block, which had been bought for him. A man with hobbies would be a happy man. Or at least a relatively invisible one. Too much visibility was not going to work for either of them.

Returning to Standeth House, for Alessandro, was like returning to a mausoleum. Same cold feel, although now that it would shortly be put on the market he found that he could better appreciate the impressive flagstoned hallway and all the period features that he would never have dreamed of having in anywhere he personally owned but which, he conceded, had a certain something.

And, with as much money as you could fling a stick at, it had been well maintained. His father had been born into wealth, had maintained and increased it in his lifetime and had not stinted when it came to spending it on his surroundings. He had always been generous financially if parsimonious when it came to everything else.

He found his father in the kitchen, where, despite what he had said, there was no housekeeper.

Alessandro frowned. ‘You said Freya would be here to take care of the food.’

Roberto looked at his son from under grey, bushy brows. ‘Left at four. Note on the cooker jogged my memory. Forgot to mention it.’ He ladled a generous portion of food onto his plate and went to the kitchen table, leaving Alessandro to help himself. ‘Sick dog. Had to take it to the vet. It happens. And before you launch into a conversation about how you’ve come here to tear me away from my house and my land, eat some food and talk about something else. Been months since you ventured up here. You must have something to talk about aside from rescuing me from my old age.’

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