The Vengeful Husband(2)

By: Lynne Graham



According to popular report within the Raffacani empire, some very strange things had happened the night of the annual masked ball at the Palazzo d'Oro. The host had van¬ished, for one thing. And if it was actually true that Gianluca Raffacani had vanished in order to romance the thief with something as deeply uncool for a native Venetian as a moonlit gondola tour of the city, Benito could perfectly understand why the police had been excluded from the dis¬tinctly embarrassing repercussions of that evening. No male would wish to confess to such a cardinal error of judge¬ment.
In spite of the substantial reward which had been dangled like bait in the relevant quarters, the ring had not been seen since. Most probably it had been disposed of in England— secretly acquired by some rich collector content not to question its provenance. Benito had been extremely disap¬pointed when the investigator failed to turn up the slightest evidence of Darcy Fielding having a previous criminal rec-ord.

'Tell me about her...' his employer invited without warning, shutting the file with a decisive snap and thrusting it aside.

Surprised by the instruction, Benito breathed in deep. 'Darcy Fielding lives in a huge old house which has been in her family for many generations. Her financial situation is dire. The house is heavily mortgaged and she is currently behind with the repayments—'

'Who holds the mortgage?' Luca incised 'softly.

Benito informed him that the mortgage had Been taken out a decade earlier with an insurance firm.
'Buy it,' Luca told him equally quietly. 'Continue...'
'Locally, the lady is well-respected. However, when the investigator went further afield, he found her late god¬mother's housekeeper more than willing to dish the dirt.'

Luca's brilliant eyes narrowed, his sensual mouth twist¬ing with distaste. In an abrupt movement, he reopened the file at the photograph again. He surveyed it with renewed fascination. What he could see of her hair suggested a bru¬tal shearing rather than the attentions of a salon. She looked a mess, a total mess, but the glow of that perfect skin and the bewitching clarity of those eyes were unmistakable.

Emerging from his uncharacteristic loss of attention, Luca discovered that he had also lost the thread of Benito's report...

'And if the lady pulls it off, she stands to inherit some¬thing in the region of one million pounds sterling,' Benito concluded impressively.

Luca studied his most trusted aide. 'Pull what off?'

'The late Signora Leeward had three god¬daughters... possibly the god-daughters from hell.' Benito labelled them with rueful amusement. 'When it came to the disposing of her worldly goods, what was there to choose between the three? One living with a married man, one an unmarried mother and the other going the same way—and not a wedding ring or even the prospect of one between the lot of them!'

'You've lost me,' Luca admitted with controlled impa¬tience.

'Darcy Fielding's rich godmother left everything to her three godchildren on condition that each of them find a husband within the year.'

'And Darcy is one of those women you described.' Luca finally grasped it, bronzed features freezing into charged stillness.

'Which?'

'She's the unmarried mother,' Benito volunteered.

Luca froze. 'When was the child born?'

'Seven months after her trip to Venice. The kid's just over two.'
Luca stared into space, rigidly schooling his dark face to impassivity, but it was a challenge to suppress his sheer outrage at the news. Cristo...she had even been pregnant with another man's child when she slept with him! Well, that was just one more nail in her coffin. Luca swore in disgust. Whatever was most important to her, he would take from her in punishment. He would teach her what it was like to be deceived and cheated and humiliated. As she, most unforgettably, had taught him...

'As to the identity of the kid's father...' Benito contin¬ued wryly. 'The jury's still out on that one. Apparently the locals believe that the child was fathered by the fiance, who ditched the lady at the altar. He figures as a rat of the lowest order in their eyes. But the godmother's housekeeper had a very different version of events. She contends that the fiance was abroad at the time the kid was conceived, and that he took to his heels because he realised that the baby on the way couldn't possibly be his!'

Luca absorbed that further information in even stonier silence.

'I shouldn't think the lady will remain a single parent for long,' Benito advanced with conviction. 'Not with a million pounds up for grabs. And on page six of the file you will see what I believe she is doing to acquire that money...'

Luca leafed through the file. 'What is this?' he de¬manded, studying the tiny print of the enclosed newspaper advertisement and its accompanying box number.

'I suspect that Darcy Fielding is discreetly advertising for a husband to fulfil the terms of that will.'

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