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a mills and boon classic

a mills and boon classic

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Published by angiodivera
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Published by: angiodivera on Oct 30, 2012
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01/31/2013

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Damiano’s Return
By Lynne Graham
CHAPTER ONEEDEN was in the changing cubicle pinning up the hem on a customer's skirt when sheheard the shop door open.'You're always very busy,' the older woman com¬mented. 'I suppose people just don't havethe time to do their own alterations these days.''I'm not complaining.' With a rueful smile, Eden eased the last pin into place and roseupright. Five feet four inches tall and slightly built, she wore her thick golden hair twistedup into a clip. Her heart-shaped face was dominated by her clear green eyes.Emerging from the cubicle, she looked in some sur¬prise at the two men in business suits,who in company with a young woman were talking to her middle-aged assistant, Pam."These people are looking for you, Eden.' Pam could not hide her curiosity.'How can I help you?' Eden asked.'Eden James?' The older of the two men double-checked.Conscious of the keen appraisal she was receiving from the trio and also of the indefinabletension they exuded, Eden nodded slowly.'Is there somewhere we could talk in private, Miss James?'Eden's eyes widened.'Perhaps upstairs in your apartment,' the young woman suggested briskly. She both looked and sounded like a police officer, Eden reflected, her anxiety increasing.But usually the police identified themselves first. Aware that her two employees and singlecustomer were a captive audience, she flushed and hurriedly opened the door that led intothe short passage which gave entrance back out onto the street.'Could you tell me what this is about?' Eden prompted tautly then.'We were trying to be discreet.' The older man now extended an official identity card for her inspection. 'I'm Superintendent Marshall and this young woman is Constable Leslie.This gentleman with me is Mr Rodney Russell, a special advisor from the Foreign Office.May we go upstairs to talk?'Somehow, Eden found herself responding automati¬cally to that calm note of command.What did they want? The police? A senior policeman too. The Foreign Office? The ForeignOffice? Her mind blanked out with sudden horror and her hand started to shake as shestuck the key into the lock on her front door. Damiano! For so long, she had waited for such a visit but here it was catching her totally unprepared. When had she stopped fearing
 
every phone call, every ring of the doorbell? When? Guilt-stricken dismay at that discoveryabout herself froze her to the spot.'It's all right,' the female police officer asserted, con¬triving to gently urge Eden out of her  paralysis and over the threshold. 'We haven't come here to break bad news, Mrs Braganzi.'Mrs Braganzi? The name she had left behind when the cruel spotlight of press intrusionhad become more than she'd been able to handle. So many reporters had wanted to ask her what it was like to be the wife of an important man who had simply disappeared into thin air. Refused those interviews, tabloidinterest in Eden Braganzi had taken a nastier turn. Not bad news? Eden blinked, mind briefly focusing again. How could it not be bad newsafter five years? There was no good news possible! And then natural common senseexercised its sway and steadied Eden a little. Was this yet another official courtesy call;was that it? Just letting her know that the case was still open but unsolved? It had beensome time since anyone of¬ficial had requested actual face-to-face contact with her. Sheherself had gone long past the stage where she con¬tinually phoned them, pushing, pressuring, finally hys¬terically begging for some action that she had only grad¬uallycome to appreciate they could not offer her. And only at that point had she begun finally togive up hope...After all, Damiano's brother, Nuncio, and his sister, Cosetta, had given up hope of hissurvival within a month of his disappearance. Damiano had been in the South Americanrepublic of Montavia when a military coup had taken place. In the street violence whichhad followed in the capital city that day, Damiano had sim¬ply disappeared. He hadchecked out of his hotel and climbed into a limousine which should have taken him to theairport and his flight home. But that had been the last reliable sighting of him alive. The bodyguards in the car behind had been blown off the road by an ex¬plosion. Unhurt butwith their vehicle wrecked, they had lost the limousine. Damiano and the limo and thedriver had all vanished without trace.During the subsequent enquiries, the new dictatorship had not been particularly helpful, butthen by that time opposition to the coup had been spreading and a full- scale civil war had been threatening Montavia. The overstretched authorities had had littleinterest in the disappearance of a single foreign national and had pointed out that, duringthe fighting which had raged a full week in the city, many people had died or disap¬peared.There had been no trail to follow and no wit¬nesses had come forward. But neither hadthere been any evidence found to actually prove that Damiano had been killed. It had beenthat appalling lack of proof of any kind which had tormented Eden for more years than shecould bear.'Please sit down, Mrs Braganzi,' some one of the three prompted her.Didn't the police always ask a person to sit down when there was a nasty shock coming? Or was that only how actors portrayed the police in television produc¬tions? Still finding itimpossible to concentrate, but slightly irritated at being ordered around in her own home,Eden sat down in an armchair and watched the two men settle themselves on the smallcouch opposite. The frown-line on her brow deepened. Their faces were taut, flushed,almost eager.
 
'Constable Leslie was telling you the truth, Mrs Braganzi. We're not here to break bad news but to give you extremely good news. Your husband is alive,' the police superintendentinformed her with firm emphasis.Frozen within the armchair, Eden stared at him in shaken disbelief. She parted dry lips.'That's not pos¬sible...'The other man, Russell, from the Foreign Office started to speak. He reminded her that atthe outset of Damiano's disappearance a kidnapping had been sus¬pected. But only alongwith every other possible crime or reason under the sun, Eden recalled, her dazed mind momentarily straying back fiveagonising years.'After all, your husband was...is,' Russell corrected himself at speed and continued, 'a verywealthy, influ¬ential man in the international banking fraternity—''You said alive...' Eden broke in shakily, her face stricken as she surveyed the men ininstinctive condem¬nation that they should dare to try to raise hopes she did not believeshe could stand to have resurrected. 'How could Damiano still be alive after so many years?If he's alive, where has he been all this time? You've made a mistake...a dreadful, dreadfulmistake!''Your husband is alive, Mrs Braganzi,' the superin¬tendent spelt out with measured careand confidence. 'Naturally coming out of the blue as it has this is a considerable shock for you. But please believe what we are telling you. Your husband, Damiano Braganzi, is aliveand well.'Eden trembled, searching their faces and then sud¬denly shutting her eyes tight. She wasstruggling to overcome disbelief and simultaneously offering up a prayer of desperate hopeto God. Let it be true, let it be real, please don't let me wake up if it's a dream—for over theyears there had been many such dreams to torment her.'Your husband surfaced in Brazil almost two days go,' the Foreign Office advisor divulged.'Brazil...' Eden echoed shakily.'He has spent over four years in prison in Montavia and on his release he had the goodsense simply to slip quietly out of the country again.''P-prison?' Eyes shattered, Eden stared at the younger man with ever-mounting incredulity.'Damiano's been in prison? How...whyT On the day on which Damiano had disappeared, he had been kidnapped and taken to amilitary camp in the countryside. A military camp? She frowned at that un¬expectedinformation. A few days later, with civil war raging through the tiny republic, rebel forceshad at¬tacked the camp and in the ensuing battle Damiano had received serious headinjuries. Finding a wounded pris¬oner in the aftermath, the rebels had quite naturallyas¬sumed that he was one of their own.'Your husband is a fluent Spanish speaker. That and his quick thinking saved his life. Hereceived treatment at a field hospital in the jungle. He was only just be¬ginning to recover when he was picked up by the gov¬ernment soldiers, cleaning up the last pockets of resis¬tance. He was imprisoned for being a member of the guerrilla forces.'Damiano was alive...Damiano was alivel Eden was beginning to put faith in what she was being told al¬though still every sense screamed at her to be cautious. She was fighting so

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