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Sophia put her hands on her hips. ‘The padrone was working
Pietro walked swiftly across the cool hall to the leather padded
Pietro knew that part of their respect was grounded in fear and
Santino possessed considerable influence because of this
Sophia brought in the tray of coffee and placed it on the desk
Pietro looked up from some papers he had been studying and
Lucia Ventura was a delightful child. At four years of age she
Santino’s staff. Santino was away a lot and it was difficult to keep
Lucia lifted her head from her father’s shoulder and her eyes
Lucia. Is that a new dress?’
Lucia glanced down at the printed nylon. ‘Maria made it for
Maria who had risen to her feet at their entrance stood with
Santino frowned at her crumpled face. ‘Is that true, Lucia?’
Pietro glanced at his brother-in-law. ‘Surely she is too young
Santino shrugged his broad shoulders. ‘They are not formal
Pietro shook his head. ‘And Maria is teaching her?’
You and I and Uncle Pietro! How is that?’
Pietro relaxed. ‘Of course. I can think of nothing more
It was not until late afternoon when the yacht lay idling out in
Pietro rolled on to his stomach and reached for his cigarettes
Santino regarded him almost compassionately. ‘There are
Pietro sighed. ‘I suppose you are right. But sometimes it
Santino was taken unawares and for a moment he did not
Pietro frowned now. ‘Why not? It’s over four years since
Lucia’s mother died. And she needs — someone - a woman—’
Santino’s expression hardened and Pietro knew he had said
I think my friend. But in this there is nothing more to say. I loved
Pietro coloured. Santino was always capable of reducing him
As Stephanie came down the stairs she could hear them
She sighed and crossed the panelled hall to the lounge
Afternoon sunlight filtered through Venetian blinds on to the
It was a room which had changed little over the years since her
Now Stephanie walked to the wide windows which
Allan Priestley was a pilot working for her father’s airline. He
She was only eighteen when all was said and done and she
The doorbell suddenly pealed and she started. She must have
The deliberate hesitation before the word outfit was not lost on
Stephanie looked mutinously at him. ‘Does he?’ She shook her
Allan, he’s been active all his life. You can’t throw a man like
Evelyn. When that man was here - that Signor Bastinado—’
She enjoys talking to any attractive man, but Aunt Evelyn ...’
Stephanie sighed. ‘You see - it means little to them who controls
Allan patted her hands as they lay in her lap. ‘You really will
Allan smiled tenderly. ‘Not at all. In fact I’m glad you feel you
They had a pleasant afternoon out together. They had arranged
Most of the young people there were known to both of them and
Allan’s encouragement finally agreed on the understanding that
It was about seven-thirty when Allan dropped her at her
She shed her gloves in the hall and hesitated as she heard
She moved compulsively towards the library door and then
With sudden determination she turned the handle and opened
Harold Mortimer, her father’s chief accountant. Robert
McMaster was leaning heavily on his desk and Stephanie’s heart
Her intrusion caused all eyes to turn in her direction and as she
Robert McMaster straightened from his stooping position and
Stephanie’s brows drew together disbelievingly and she
Stephanie’s brain refused to function. So that was who the
The brains behind the organization that wanted to merge with
W.A.A. No wonder his presence had caused her to feel
Santino Ventura moved now. He had been standing with his
Stephanie listened in silence and then looked down at her
McMaster looked up at Santino Ventura with defeated eyes
Stephanie gasped. ‘But - but - you’ve already - I mean—’
Stephanie shook her head incredulously. ‘But the firm is my
The accountant glanced down at the file he was holding
McMasters are the majority shareholders?’
Jennifer spoke now. ‘It’s a question of doing what is right for
Jennifer shrugged. ‘Why not?’
Stephanie compressed her lips ‘Even so—’
Robert McMaster heaved a sigh ‘Your aunt feels as Jennifer
Stephanie shook her head slowly from side to side. ‘I can’t
Stephanie burst out: ‘How could you? Jennifer, how can you do
Everything that has happened is the result of his own stupidity
My God! I agree with Ventura. Your father should have had more
She spread her hands. ‘Why couldn’t the merger go through as
Jennifer stepped forward and slapped Stephanie full on the
God’s sake, Jennifer!’ he muttered. ‘Let’s at least attempt to
Allan’s voice came through to her
Allan sounded annoyed. ‘Why ever not?’
Aunt Evelyn between them had placed into his hands. With a
She was bathed and dressed in velvet pants and a lounging
She secured her hair in a pleat at the back of her head and added
Allan and I have been invited to a party. ’
Stephanie bit her lip. ‘Er - no — I’m meeting him -there. ’
When he saw Stephanie he came hastening towards her and
Pietro glanced at her curiously. ‘You did not tell your parents you
Pietro drew on his cigarette. ‘With what motive?’ he queried
Stephanie bent her head. ‘Why did you ask me?’ she
Pietro smiled. ‘Because you are a beautiful young woman and
Stephanie ran her tongue over her dry lips. ‘Why do you think
I accepted your invitation?’
I call you that?’
Stephanie nodded rather indifferently. ‘If you like.’ ‘Thank
They dined at a small Italian restaurant on the fringes of Soho
It was not a place Stephanie had previously visited although it
Stephanie leaned forward. ‘Why did you invite me out this
Pietro brought out his cigarettes and lit one slowly. ‘What do
Stephanie compressed her lips. ‘It's very nice. ’
Pietro tapped ash into the ashtray. ‘You haven’t told me why
Stephanie moved back. ‘I - I find that hard to believe.’ ‘Why
Stephanie bent her head and her attitude was one of defeat
Santino Ventura stood beside their table looking darkly
Ventura’s blazing rage she stood no chance of a hearing. No more
Stephanie stood up. She felt that this was an opportune
Stephanie stared at him tremulously. ‘What do you mean?’
Santino Ventura’s lip curled. ‘I wonder what your father
Stephanie gasped. ‘My reasons for accepting Pietro’s
Santino Ventura shrugged indolently and released her wrist. ‘I
Stephanie saw no point in trying to deny it and she moved her
She was no match for this man and she knew it
Stephanie pressed the palms of her hands together. ‘My -my
- to put the company back on its feet. He knows that if he allows
Santino shook his head slowly. ‘And is that so terrible? Does
Retirement - in his circumstances - would kill him!’
Santino put his cigar between his teeth. ‘What are these special
Stephanie moved her shoulders helplessly. ‘My father has a
Stephanie’s eyes clouded. ‘I know that. She has already taunted
Santino sighed now. ‘It would seem that your father’s troubles
Stephanie clenched her fists. ‘I expected you to say that. ’
Santino’s eyes narrowed. ‘Then you were not disappointed, were
Santino studied the glowing tip of his cigar. ‘So now we return
Stephanie flushed. ‘I don’t have to sit here and listen to your
Santino’s cold eyes surveyed his assistant. ‘I have told you
No one is in any doubt as to your motives for
Pietro’s tanned cheeks turned red and Stephanie felt
Santino silenced her with a cold stare
Stephanie put her hand over her glass preventing him from
Pietro shrugged indifferently. ‘Oh yes?’
Then he gave a short mirthless laugh. ‘You can’t mean—’ he
Had he said he was married? She couldn’t honestly recall
Now Santino’s attention was focused on herself and she felt
Stephanie didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the
How dared he imagine that she would even consider such a
Stephanie pressed her lips together. ‘Obviously I have not
Santino inhaled on his cigar. ‘Your father needs money. You
W.A.A. should also be granted to Western International. I shall
Stephanie felt weak all over. An awful trembling sickness had
But at what cost to her?
Santino Ventura’s face arousing her more strongly than the wine
Pietro put one into her hand and flicked his lighter while
McMaster and myself. ’
Pietro. But he merely gave an involuntary gesture which could
Stephanie spread her hands. ‘But how could I come to Sicily?’
Stephanie heaved a sigh. ‘But what about my home — my
Pietro however found her final remark disturbing. ‘You did
Stephanie held up her head. ‘I didn’t think it was any of your
Santino seemed vaguely amused by Pietro’s annoyance and
Stephanie thought with a grim sense of foreboding what a cruel
Now she lifted her shoulders in an expressive gesture and said:
Santino considered her unsmilingly. ‘I do not have a lot of
Stephanie took a deep breath. ‘You can’t expect me to decide
Santino swung his leg across the chair and straightened
When Pietro came back she got immediately to her feet and
Pietro said nothing for a few minutes and then he went on:
Stephanie gave him a tremulous look. ‘Don’t ask me that
I just don’t know.’
The older woman was wearing a crimson velvet house-gown that
Stephanie dosed the front door. ‘Where have you been?’
Stephanie swung round dejectedly. ‘And what did Allan
Stephanie chewed bitterly at her' lip. ‘Damn!’ she exclaimed
Jennifer’s eyes glittered. ‘Charming!’ she murmured
Stephanie stared at her. ‘I doubt it.’
That’s it, isn’t it? Pietro Bastinado. Ventura’s assistant. He
Stephanie stopped again and turning looked down at her
Stephanie would not allow Jennifer to get away with it. She
Pietro Bastinado
Jennifer raised her eyebrows. ‘No?’ Her lips thinned. ‘Then
Jennifer’s face it was obvious she didn’t believe her. Jennifer
Ventura and you’ve said or done anything to jeopardize those
Stephanie pressed her lips together and went into the bathroom
She hardly slept at all. Tossing and turning in her comfortable
Stephanie took the receiver her father held out to her with
Even across the telephone wires she was aware of his
Stephanie stared at him incredulously. ‘You - you don’t have
Santino sounded bored by her emotionalism. ‘I gather you are
She pressed both palms of her hands against her cheeks. In an
Stephanie shook her head. Only Santino could have made such a
She trembled as she walked back to her dressing-table. It was
But by telling her half a story he had made the way clear for him
He had known she would be unable to go back on her word
She sat down on her dressing-table stool and rested her chin on
It was not the first time her father had asked her that question
Now she said: ‘You know it is. Father. I - I wouldn’t be
Allan down a little more lightly, that’s all. He’s in a pretty low
Her father frowned. ‘I thought you were serious.’ Stephanie
Stephanie managed a faint smile. ‘She is only four, Father. ’
The car will be here in half an hour.’
Robert McMaster raised his eyebrows. ‘I imagine because his
Mario Vecchi.’ He gave an impatient gesture. ‘Surely you don’t
Her father grimaced. ‘Indeed? Then why wouldn’t he agree to
Surely he could have waited another week-’ Stephanie fingered
Jennifer was in the lounge and they joined her. The only other
Jennifer gave Stephanie a critical stare as she entered the room
She was almost relieved when the car did arrive and Mario
The drive to the register office was accomplished without
Santino sat beside Stephanie in the car and now Mario sat in
Stephanie compressed her lips. ‘Am I supposed to be glad that
Stephanie stared at him. ‘For you, perhaps. But not for me.’
Stephanie’s nails bit into the palms of her hands. ‘I’m not
His eyes darkened. ‘No? Then perhaps you will be certain not
Stephanie realized what she had said. ‘I - I find it hard to use
Santino noticed and firmly steered her towards the buffet tables
Mrs. Lacey?’
Stephanie smiled. ‘Do you know my - my husband?’ She only
Stephanie almost laughed at the ridiculousness of the
Evelyn Lacey gave an impatient shrug of her shoulders
Evelyn looked at him intently and then she half smiled. ‘All
Stephanie hesitated for a moment and then realizing it was
Stephanie coloured and Santino gave a slight shrug of his
Surely a Sicilian can do better than that—’
Evelyn Lacey swallowed the remainder of her champagne and
Stephanie bent her head. ‘How do you think it feels?’
Stephanie shrugged. ‘I’m - delighted, naturally.’
Stephanie trembled a little. ‘You know what?’
STEPHANIE felt as though the room was beginning to
The callousness of her aunt’s statement was like a douche of
This is no love match!’
Stephanie calmed herself with difficulty. ‘How do you know?’
Stephanie bit her lip hard. ‘If you’d really wanted to help me
Her aunt gave her a derisive stare. ‘That may be true - for the
Stephanie would not look at him and he looked quizzically at
Why should I be the one to burst that bubble he’s riding on? I’ll
Stephanie wet her dry lips with her tongue. ‘This and that.’
Stephanie managed to suppress the hysteria that rose in her
The room that awaited her was part of a suite of rooms that
Her husband!
An imperative tap at the bedroom door startled her and she
Now she opened the bedroom door and stepped into the
Stephanie allowed him to take the case in which she had
Santino was pacing impatiently about the reception room and
Mario spread his hands expressively and responded in their
Stephanie had the most ridiculous desire to laugh. Ready! She
Father. Will - will you write?’
She found Pietro had come to join them and her father looked
Pietro looked at Stephanie. “We’re leaving now.’
Stephanie’s brows drew together and she stared at her
Outside the hotel there were more reporters and they had to run
Stephanie could have wished for a less public journey to the
She glanced surreptitiously at his bent head as he studied a
Their arrival at the airport was auspicious. Everything was
It was strange being able to move freely about the cabin after
At Palermo another chauffeur-driven limousine awaited them
Stephanie stepped out of the plane into the velvety dusk of
Both cars were black and Stephanie thought with grim
It took two hours to reach the castle and by this time Stephanie
Santino was uninterested in her company and she had remained
Stephanie. Sophia will be waiting for us.’ ‘Sophia?’ Stephanie
Stephanie shook her head. On the plane she had managed to
Santino glanced at his watch. ‘As it is already after ten
Stephanie swallowed hard and nodded. Now that they were
An elderly woman stood at the top of the steps in the arched
Santino walked past her at that moment and hailed the old
Santino was saying:
Stephanie managed a faint smile and returned the woman’s
Stephanie again encountered the critical gaze of Sophia Vascante
Here there was a soft Persian carpet underfoot and soft leather
Damask-covered walls were white and hung with several small
Santino unbuttoned the jacket of his suit and flexed his
Stephanie stared at the back of his head. His words were as
Italian restaurant when he had sprung his initial suggestion upon
She supposed other women might find his overwhelming
Relief came with the sound of Sophia’s footsteps as she
Sophia folded her hands. ‘Do you wish me to show the signora
Sophia. That will not be necessary. I will show the signora where
The housekeeper turned to the door. ‘Si, padrone.’
Signor Bastinado e Signor Franciscus have gone. Signor Vecchi
Sophia. ’
Santino poured her coffee and handed the cup to her. She took
Deciding it was useless to attempt to verbally fence with him
Stephanie managed to get to her feet and walked with as much
Stephanie scarcely noticed the delicate filigree of the ironwork
Santino went ahead of her as they penetrated the west wing of
Stephanie wondered faintly whether she was really expected to
Santino straightened. ‘Of course. This is the master bedroom
Stephanie swallowed hard. ‘Then - then surely - you—’
His eyes darkened and he made an impatient exclamation
Stephanie pressed her hands together. ‘Where - where are you
He loosened the knot of his tie and unbuttoned the top button
It was not the antiquated pile she had expected after consideration
English castle and its owner was no impoverished member of the
She was awakened quite early by the distinct impression that
Stephanie translated the words and felt the colour run up her
Lucia regarded her with some of the brooding concentration of
Suddenly there was a light tap at the door and Stephanie
Obviously he had expected Stephanie still to be asleep and he
Stephanie to fling herself into Santino’s arms Stephanie stepped
Lucia’s baby arms to twine themselves round his neck he still did
Sophia has gone into some detail as to what
Lucia was looking at her intently and Santino spoke to his
She will not trouble you any further this morning. I should go
Santino opened the door and stepped outside. ‘Then do as you
Stephanie swung round almost angrily as they left and tugged
It was an easy matter to find the gallery and from there the
Pietro looked up at the sound of her footsteps and he grinned
Stephanie ran down the remaining few stairs to his side and
Pietro why Lucia had gone into her room
Stephanie bent her head. ‘Of course.’
Stephanie made an expressive gesture. ‘Who knows?’ She
She tucked her thumbs into the waistband of her pants. ‘And
Stephanie moved restlessly. She hoped Pietro wasn’t going to
Santino asked you to come here as Lucia’s companion, I
Santino knows my feelings. ’ He indicated the sunshine outside
Stephanie’s hand
Sophia frowned. ‘Cosi! E voi?’
Sophia frowned. ‘And the padrone knows this?’
Stephanie sighed rather impatiently. ‘No. Why?’
Pietro moved from his reclining position and deliberately
Stephanie suppressed the ready smile that his words provoked
Stephanie looked anxiously at her companion. ‘Will she tell
Santino?’ she asked
Pietro’s brows drew together in astonishment. ‘You did what!’
Stephanie coloured as she realized what she had said and what
I did not want to stay in my room and he told me to do as I liked.’
Stephanie admired it as they went down. ‘I’ll get my towel and
Below the grey walls of the castello the land sloped away into
Mediterranean waters blue-green and inviting. It was a
Stephanie turned to him eagerly. ‘It’s so different from what I
Stephanie flushed. ‘Of course not. I was curious, that’s all.’
Stephanie pressed her lips together. ‘Did - did he love her?’
Pietro ran a hand round the back of his neck. ‘Who can say?
Stephanie’s cheeks burned and she turned away. ‘Shall we
They crossed the lawns at the side of the castello and passed
Pietro looked about them and then said: ‘Come along. We will
He led the way across a kind of causeway to where a shingly
Pietro looked at her slim body in the white bikini and then
Stephanie frowned and turned her head to look at him. ‘Do
Stephanie sighed. ‘You know why I came to Sicily. As to this
Pietro leaned over and extracted his watch from the pocket of
Lucia. She washes and dresses her and gives her her meals. She
Pietro pulled on his trousers. ‘There aren’t many. Sophia you
Santino is concerned. ’
Pietro grinned suddenly. ‘Try some out on me and I’ll tell you
How about - Good morning, how are you today!’ Stephanie
They made their way together across the rocks and up the
Santino rose from his negligent position and regarded them
After a while she got up and went into the bathroom. Stripping
Stephanie straightened her shoulders. ‘As it seems to matter
Santino raised his dark eyebrows. ‘Do I detect a note of
Stephanie stared at him helplessly. ‘Perhaps she should just
Stephanie hesitated. ‘It - it is such a permanent word—’ she
Santino’s eyes darkened. ‘Why not? Your presence here is a
Was there really to be no escape from this unnatural
Much to Stephanie’s relief Sophia came to announce that
Stephanie doubted that Lucia’s mother should have been that
Stephanie straightened and looked about her. She still wished she
Sancha? Had this been their bedroom? Was that why he had
Stephanie thrust such thoughts aside as being of little
It was Maria who first became aware of Stephanie’s presence
Stephanie hesitated for a moment and then stepped on to the
Maria understood what she was saying by her actions and
Stephanie’s shocked face
The unexpected sound of Lucia’s laughter caused Stephanie to
Maria took a cloth from the capacious pockets of her apron
Italian phrase. Finally she said: ‘Lei deve cercare di parlare
Lucia said something quickly in her own language and Maria
Stephanie heaved a sigh. Impatience urged her to ask the old
Stephanie watched this display dourly. It was all very well telling
She heard Santino dismiss Maria and then he and Lucia came
Stephanie controlled herself and turned to face him. ‘If I
Santino frowned. ‘Surely it is possible to begin by nursery
- that she will listen to everything I say and copy it?’
Santino’s frown deepened. ‘No doubt it will take many
Stephanie pressed her lips together mutinously. ‘A lifetime?’
Stephanie uttered a distressed sound and without another word
She did not see Santino any more before he left. She did not
The next morning she slept late and it was after nine o’clock
Stephanie shook her head frowningly. Colazione was familiar
Pietro shook his head, sobering. “Why should you think that?’
The girl turned and Pietro issued instructions which she raised
Stephanie pressed her lips together and then with a shrug did as
Stephanie shook her head. ‘However am I going to teach Lucia
English when I don’t even know rudimentary Italian?’ ‘You’ll
We can devise a scheme where whenever we have the chance you
A tap at the study door heralded Teresa’s return with the tray
Lucia had four rooms for her own use she discovered as Maria
Stephanie’s participation in looking at them
Stephanie was amazed at the feeling of pleasure it gave her to
After a while the novelty of showing off her toys seemed to
Although Stephanie had eaten lunch alone Pietro joined her
Stephanie wondered whether his conscience ever troubled him
Pietro believed. Stephanie wondered how her father’s company
Stephanie raised her eyebrows rather amusedly. ‘Can you
Stephanie smiled. ‘I have my methods.’ She finished her
Pietro nodded. ‘The garden was Sancha’s pride and joy. She it
Pietro coloured. ‘There’s not much to tell.’
The next morning Stephanie went again to the nursery after
Stephanie in her usual polite way before continuing with her task
Stephanie’s eye was caught by some of Lucia’s paintings
Can you say that?’
Lucia looked at her indifferently for a moment and then she
Stephanie hesitated. ‘That is a rose,’ she replied
Maria smiled at her agitation and Lucia came back to
Stephanie. ‘Piu!’ she demanded, and Stephanie crossed her
The morning passed swiftly and when Maria approached them
Pietro was not in for lunch and when she searched for him
Apart from Sophia there were three other people present. A
They were all regarding her with shocked expressions on their
Sophia grimaced. ‘I speak very little English,’ she demurred
Stephanie guessed that mention of Santino’s name would mean
It was no use. She would have to learn more of the language
Sophia moved forward. ‘I have been housekeeper at the
Sophia’s lips tightened. ‘Am I to understand now that you are
Stephanie heaved a sigh. Why was she the one to feel guilty
Pietro arrived back at the castello in the early evening as
Stephanie was dressing for dinner. She heard the roar of the
Stephanie paused to smile at the child before saying:
Pietro swung round to face her as she completed walking
Stephanie’s brows drew together and she looked blankly from
Pietro to Maria to Lucia and then back to Pietro again. ‘What do
Pietro thrust his face close to hers. ‘I’ll tell you what has
But Lucia did not want to go. This contretemps intrigued her
Stephanie was torn between the desire to have Lucia do as she
Maria to go. The old nanny looked back rather resentfully at
Pietro raked his hair again. ‘I see. I might have known it was
Pietro shrugged. ‘Why should you? I expect they just packed
Teresa live in the castello in the normal way. Carlo is the husband
Stephanie stared at him incredulously. ‘You can’t be serious!’
Pietro uttered an impatient curse. ‘And how do you propose to
Stephanie’s cheeks burned. ‘Then you will have to employ me
Have you any idea how angry Santino will be when he returns if
Pietro chewed at his lower lip. ‘I suppose I could go and see
Pietro laughed mirthlessly. ‘You! In a kitchen! Washing
Stephanie. ‘I know. Sophia told me. Your sister left the running
I have no particular artistic talent as she must have had. I can see
Stephanie glanced down at Lucia who was beginning to look
In the kitchen a scene of confusion awaited Stephanie
Obviously Dominica had departed while in the middle of
In the middle of scouring a saucepan the kitchen door opened
Stephanie brushed a loose hair back from her forehead. ‘Why
We’ll talk about it later when the kitchen is tidy and we’ve had
Pietro sighed. ‘But what do you propose to give us to eat?’
Maria and ask her whether she intends to join the revolution or if
Pietro couldn’t suppress the smile that tugged at the corner of
Santino comes home and finds out what has been going on in his
Stephanie turned back to the pans. She would not think about
Santino’s reactions. For the present there was plenty of other
Lucia herself seemed to think the whole affair was quite a
During the days that followed a lot of things happened
As was to be expected the castello did not run smoothly at all
Maria with the heavy work there was still a lot to be done
Stephanie tackled all the bedmaking and the dusting and the
The hardest task she found was making herself understood to
Stephanie’s progress as she stopped to show the child what to do
Stephanie discovered that there were three cars standing idle
Pietro’s approval she drove into Palermo one day to do some
As they drove back to the castello Stephanie tried not to
Santino’s business was concluded and he came home?
No, I saw her in the village. She’s presently staying with her
Stephanie felt a surge of impatience at his words. She half
Stephanie frowned. ‘You mean she would like to come back?’
Pietro pressed his lips together. ‘I didn’t say that exactly. I
Stephanie had to concede this was so. In spite of her efforts she
Pietro stubbed out the cigarette he had been smoking. ‘In my
Pietro gave her a wry glance. ‘You think that will appease
Stephanie rose abruptly to her feet. ‘And if you feel so strongly
Pietro shrugged. ‘You could have apologized to Sophia ... ’
In the stillness the sound of a car’s engine sounded loud and
She looked down at her hands. They were stained with the
Stephanie stared uncomprehendingly at him. ‘El - eleven
Sophia and the others had departed
Stephanie’s waning courage seemed to reassert itself at his
Santino took a threatening step towards her and then halted
Stephanie noticed how his accent thickened when he was
Immediately Stephanie sank down weakly on to a stool and
Let him find out the rest from whomever it was who had advised
An unexpected sound behind her caused her to swing round in
Stephanie was horrified. She had not dreamed that he might
tones. ‘You - you can’t intimidate me!’ ‘Can’t I? You think not?’
Santino studied her bent head for a long time and then he said
- is behaving like an unpaid domestica comes to my ears?’
And nor will you have so long as you persist in this ridiculous
Stephanie pressed her lips together. ‘He - he’s gone into Palermo,
Stephanie made a helpless gesture. ‘You - you won’t try to
Santino allowed his arms to fall to his sides. ‘What do you know
Stephanie had had just about enough and her impassioned
His lapse into his own language should have been sufficient
Sicily the man is the master! And whether you like it or not you
With a final effort to make him release her she brought her
Santino tipped her face back with his thumbs under her jawline
Whatever kind of existence Santino had led in the years since
Sancha’s death he had certainly lost none of the expertise to
Stephanie’s yielding body in his arms drove all sane thoughts
But the delight was only momentary
As though from a distance Stephanie heard Lucia’s shrill little
Stephanie looked at him as he rose and saw the twisted
She waited in the bathroom until there were no sounds in the
Remembrance of the scene with Santino was so vivid in her mind
But the sound of the car’s engine receded instead of increasing
That he should care so little about her feelings to drive off in the
Tears of self-pity stung her eyes and she dashed them away
In the kitchen the chicken was beginning to smell overcooked
Maria came right into the room. ‘Lucia - she go out with the
Stephanie sighed. ‘The signore! You sent for him?’
Signor Pietro? Is he back yet?’
Stephanie she had been thrown off balance by the unexpected
Maria departed and Stephanie clattered the dirty pans into the
Although Stephanie was glad of Maria’s company to begin with,
Eventually she took the tea cloth from her and said: ‘Go to
Maria stared at her with wide eyes. ‘Dov’e il padrone?’ she
Stephanie gave a resigned sigh. ‘Your guess is as good as
Maria clutched convulsively at her apron. ‘I should not have
Maria shook her head from side to side in an unhappy motion
Stephanie gave an exasperated exclamation. ‘Whatever are
Maria continued to sway from side to side. ‘I should have
Stephanie impatiently. ‘What else was there to do in the
Whether or not Maria understood what she was saying was
No one can harm you here. I’m here! Besides, the signore is not
Maria’s face crumpled. ‘Devo andare, signora!’
Maria shook her head. ‘You take me, signora?’
However, Maria’s fears were obviously real to her and Stephanie
Maria’s expression lightened at once and uttering profuse
Stephanie lifted her shoulders in a helpless gesture and then
Maria had apparently not stopped to get anything but an
The drive down the twisting road was hair-raising to
Stephanie nodded in return and then slammed the car into
The journey back up to the castello was something of an
Her mind ran riot with recollections of stories she had heard
A sound from the direction of the hall made her swing round
Surely there were no intruders in the castello. Her mind raced
Pietro’s handsome features
Stephanie shook her head blankly and then as the weakness
Stephanie heaved a sigh. ‘I - I took Maria down to the village
She wanted to go to her brother’s house. I - I didn’t see your
The cold sardonic tones which had haunted every waking
Pietro. ‘Why - why didn’t you tell me?’
Sophia is putting Lucia to bed.’
Stephanie felt an inner coldness spreading out from the core of
Stephanie. You should be glad that you will now have the time to
Santino’s voice. ‘Stephanie! One moment!’
Stephanie averted her eyes. ‘Is there?’
Santino was controlling his temper with difficulty and there
A choked sob escaped from her lips and she stared at him with
She turned on her heel and ran abruptly up the stairs and into
The following morning Stephanie awakened with the
It was a game they played where Lucia spoke in English and
Stephanie spoke in Italian. It had amused the child to think she
English. But her use of Stephanie’s name might cause something
Stephanie wished she could speak to the child and explain that
Stephanie explained that it was a present. With unaccustomed
The door opened and as once before Santino stood on the
- we usually spend this time of the morning together. ’
And with that he went out and closed the door. Stephanie
Stephanie had breakfast in the small dining-room served to her
Stephanie only just controlled the gasp of astonishment that
Stephanie shook her head helplessly. Obviously she had been
Stephanie shrugged. ‘Both, I suppose.’
Pietro sighed. ‘To say he was angry would be understating the
Stephanie was astonished. ‘But why then? Why not sooner?’
Stephanie made a helpless gesture. ‘So?’
Santino and informing him what was going on. Cola! That is the
Stephanie shook her head. ‘You mean to tell me that Sophia
Surely you realize you cannot make friends overnight! ’
Stephanie sighed. ‘Oh well, it’s done now.’ She bit her lip
Lucia proves all things are possible if they are tackled the right
Sophia was helping Dominica prepare some vegetables for the
Stephanie bit her lip. ‘I know that. But I thought I might
Stephanie sighed. Surely this small request was not going to
Anything!’ She sighed. ‘Surely it’s turned out occasionally. ’
Sophia glanced at the cook. ‘The signore does not allow
Stephanie took the keys almost reluctantly. As she looked at
The key Sophia had indicated did not fit the door which joined
At last it clicked back and the door gave inwards on creaking
Obviously no one had been into this room for years and there
Stephanie had ever seen. The room was stacked from floor to
There was a musty smell about the place and Stephanie thought it
Stephanie sighed. It was apparent that she could not clear this
Stephanie tried to prise his fingers from her arm. ‘Just because
I show a normal interest in my surroundings you try to turn it into
Stephanie secured the door and tossed the keys nervously in
Santino glared at her. ‘Don’t you speak to me like that! ’ he
Stephanie was horrified. ‘What do you mean?’
Stephanie fought like a wild thing. Whatever emotions he had
IT was dark when Stephanie opened her eyes and she lay for a
She slid off the bed and padded to the door where a switch
Her lips trembled. She had thought him incapable of
She rubbed her hands against her cheeks. It had been as though
But then he had been contemptuous of his behaviour at that time
A knock at her door sent the colour flooding to her cheeks and
Stephanie spread a hand. ‘I - er - I suppose I did. My -my
Stephanie handled them agitatedly. ‘Which - which key fits
Stephanie could not bear her sympathy. ‘No!’ she exclaimed
Sophia lifted her shoulders helplessly. ‘I don’t know, signora.’
Stephanie pressed her lips together. ‘Thank you, Sophia.’
There was complete silence for a moment and Stephanie half
Stephanie pressed her lips together almost cynically. ‘No one
Sophia bent her head. ‘Are you sure, signora? The signore—
Stephanie awoke to the sound of someone rattling at her door
Lucia stared at her for a long moment and then her face
I’m sorry! Mi spiace molto!’ For a few dreadful minutes it
Lucia fingered the collar of Stephanie’s dressing-gown
... ’ she pointed to Lucia, ‘and me ...’ she pointed to herself. ‘Shall
Stephanie nodded. ‘That’s right.’ She lifted her down from the
After she had gone Stephanie looked longingly at her bed. She
In actual fact it was several days before she saw her husband to
It seemed that in his absence a great deal of work had piled up
Sophia in fact had become very considerate towards her young
The weather was much cooler now and Stephanie felt no
Stephanie was confined to the castello
Pietro frowned. ‘The corporation are taking over a Japanese
Stephanie nodded. ‘I suppose that’s why - he wanted W.A.A.’
Stephanie cradled her glass in her fingers. ‘Have - have you
Pietro hesitated. ‘Yes.’
Pietro shrugged. ‘I guess so. Don’t you write to him?’
Pietro nodded. ‘I suppose so.’
Stephanie stared at him curiously. ‘Did - did Santino see him -
Stephanie heaved a sigh. Obviously Pietro had no intention of
Santino would care to antagonize her without good reason.’
Stephanie frowned. ‘But I don’t understand. How - how has
Sophia defended me?’
Pietro shrugged. ‘It was the morning after you had opened up
Stephanie’s cheeks burned. ‘I see.’
Stephanie sighed. ‘I shall miss you, Pietro.’
Rest! Doing all that housework was too much for you. ’
I should like to see you right away, Pietro. There is something I
In her room she seated herself in the chair by the balcony
She didn’t know how long she had been sitting there when
The door opened and in the light from the hall beyond the door
She recognized Santino’s voice and her heart rose into her
Stephanie put both her hands to her throat. ‘What have you come
Stephanie swallowed hard. ‘I don’t see what we have to say to
His expression darkened momentarily and a look of anguish
Santino uttered an exclamation and strode swiftly across the
Stephanie put a hand to her forehead weakly. Was this really
Santino Ventura apologizing to her? Was she going crazy and
Stephanie frowned. ‘What about the business? My father? Is
Stephanie’s throat was dry. ‘Go on.’
Stephanie took several moments to digest this and then she
- our marriage was to assure my father a chance to make W.A.A
He shook his head. ‘I am not altogether evil, Stephanie
Lucia was old enough to go to school.’
Stephanie’s lips trembled. ‘You mean - it was all a game?’
Santino’s eyes darkened. ‘It was. But then it didn’t quite work
I blame myself. After Sancha died I vowed I would never marry
He was telling her he had played a game with her that was now
Now Santino turned away again. ‘There is only one thing I ask
Santino looked at her broodingly. ‘You don’t sound
Stephanie shrugged. ‘I -I suppose I can go back to my job as a
Stephanie’s refusal was abrupt
Santino’s eyes turned back to her. ‘Why? Is the offer of my
Santino gave an impatient curse. ‘Why? Why should I not give
IT was amazing how quickly the days slipped away after
Santino’s departure
But what else was she to do? She could hardly get a flat when
About three weeks after Santino’s departure a cablegram
It was fortunate that Lucia was not around at the time or
Stephanie’s moment of unconsciousness might have disturbed
Her eyes flickered and she managed a faint smile to reassure
Sophia stepped forward. ‘It was the cable, signora.’
Stephanie smiled weakly. ‘I know. And I’m sure the signore
Sophia looked doubtful. ‘The signore would insist if he were
The prospect was at once exhilarating and yet terrifying
Exhilarating because she wanted it to be so so desperately. She
Santino’s child. But terrifying because of what he had told her
She got up and paced restlessly about the room. What could
This unexpected appendectomy of Santino’s had changed a lot
Another thought struck her more forcibly. What part might
Santino play in all this? If he ever discovered that she had had a
The letter from Pietro arrived three days later. It was short and
Santino had had his operation and was recovering satisfactorily
The rest of the letter concerned itself with general affairs
Pietro informed her that their business in New York had been
Stephanie was disturbed. She felt no longer in any doubt about
She did not reply to Pietro’s letter even though he had given
Stephanie was complete
Stephanie realized that her only chance lay in finding someone
England for a visit while Santino was away
Lucia to get used to someone new. She already knew and liked
Teresa and Stephanie herself felt more relieved to leave the child
Stephanie was gone
Stephanie found this last realization hard to bear. Lucia would
She left a letter for Santino stating blankly that she had
Carlo was driving her into Palermo to the airport there where she
Stephanie was almost in tears herself by the time Sophia had
All she had taken with her was a small suitcase. She would
The flight to London was uneventful. She had not advised
Gatwick was rather a lonely affair. She took a taxi from the
But when Miller opened the door to her she stared at her in
Stephanie frowned and stepped past her into the hall. ‘I’ve -
Miller closed the front door and stared at her in amazement
time. Didn’t you know? That Signor Ventura—’ She coloured. ‘I
Miller coloured and then said tentatively: ‘I - er - I’ve been
Stephanie pressed the palms of her hands to her cheeks. She
She frowned. There only was one other person - Aunt Evelyn
Surely she would not turn her away!
Miller, I’d better go. I -I shall go to Mrs. Lacey’s. Do you have
Miller was obviously relieved that Stephanie was demanding
Aunt Evelyn’s house stood in its own grounds in a quiet
Stephanie knew that her aunt had had central heating installed to
There were welcoming lights in the lounge windows and
Stephanie paid and dismissed the taxi driver before ringing the
The door opened a few more inches and the old woman stared
Evelyn Lacey’s strident tones could be heard coming down the
Betsy’s lined old face crinkled into a smile and she hobbled off
Evelyn took one look at Stephanie’s strained expression and
Stephanie allowed her aunt to take her coat and drop it into a
Stephanie lay back against the soft cushions and allowed
Stephanie sighed. ‘In Tokyo,’ she said wearily
Stephanie sighed shakily. ‘And don’t you mind?’
Evelyn patted her hand now. ‘Let’s not talk about that right
What’s been happening to you? You’re not pregnant already, are
Stephanie gasped. No one but Aunt Evelyn could make such
It was amazing how everything looked so much better in
So for the present Stephanie had acquiesced. She had been
And in the weeks that followed she did relax. Aunt Evelyn was
Stephanie herself did not go out She had not bothered to let her
Stephanie managed a faint smile. ‘Thank you, doctor.’
The doctor shook his head. ‘Don’t thank me. I shall be pleased
Stephanie’s aunt was delighted that Doctor Rogers had found
Do you think I haven’t heard you pacing about your room in the
You’ve admitted as much. For God’s sake, why don’t you tell
Stephanie shook her head vigorously. ‘No. And - and you
December was a bitterly cold month. Snow arrived early that
Stephanie made no mention of her condition. She let him think
But it didn’t matter now what she had said. Her father
Christmas was only a couple of weeks away now and Evelyn
She had been reading for over an hour and was engrossed in a
A shiver of apprehension slid over her as she contemplated
Anyone could be waiting outside. She had heard so many
book she had just been reading did not aid her confidence
She swung her legs to the ground and looked regretfully at the
The bell rang again and she trembled slightly. Ought she to
Her heart fluttered in a nervous way and then subsided. If the
Santino for his part slammed the front door and came striding
Stephanie stepped back jerkily. ‘Of course -come - come in. ’
She stood aside to allow him to walk into the lounge. ‘I - I’m
Stephanie stiffened. ‘Of course I care. I -I was very sorry to
His gaze flickered appraisingly over her and she was glad she was
Stephanie sighed. ‘How - how is everyone? Lucia?’
Stephanie lifted her shoulders weakly. ‘I’m sorry. I thought
I offered to let you go.’
Stephanie’s expression was desperate. ‘It’s the same
It was so unusual to hear a tremor of uncertainty in Santino’s
Santino chewed bitterly at his lower lip. ‘I - I’ve changed my
Santino took a step towards her and then halted. ‘We need to
Stephanie stared at him in bewilderment. “What do you
Santino turned and paced restlessly to the window and back
He uttered a fierce exclamation and she heard him move as he
Stephanie’s lips trembled. ‘You love me?’ she echoed
Santino’s fingers slid over her hips in a possessive movement
Stephanie pressed her lips together. ‘Women are unpredictable
Santino gathered her close against him. ‘When I hold you
Santino’s fingers strayed in her hair. ‘I told you once before
I left for Japan.’ He bit his lip. ‘At that time, I did not know what
I was going to do. I told you I was letting you go because I wanted
I got back.’ He shrugged. ‘But no matter, things did not turn out
Stephanie lifted her head from his shoulder
Stephanie felt a twinge of apprehension. ‘Was that all she
Stephanie sighed luxuriously. She would let him finish what
Now Santino seemed to be having difficulty in finding the
Sancha as I did was a terrible thing, but I got over it. I do not think
I could bear to live if anything happened to you. ’
Stephanie felt the familiar twinges of apprehension again
Stephanie’s cheeks paled. ‘You mean - you’re trying to tell me
Santino held her face between his two hands. ‘Will it be so
There was agony now in his voice as he admitted this to her
He uttered an oath. ‘You would destroy both our lives for a
Santino’s eyes surveyed her with disturbing intensity. ‘You
Do you not think I want to place the seed of my child inside you
Santino continued to stare at her incredulously. ‘You mean -
His eyes dropped disturbingly down the length of her slender
Stephanie smiled. ‘Apart from Aunt Evelyn, nobody knows. ’
Santino shook his head. ‘And were you not going to tell me? If
Stephanie shivered. ‘How could I tell you? I thought you hated
Stephanie huskily
Stephanie tilted her head to one side. ‘I should think she
Although Santino had wanted her to have the baby in the
Santino had eventually given in to her appeals
Stephanie received all the care and consideration she could have
Santino himself put the baby into Stephanie’s arms for the first
Santino shook his head. ‘You ask me that! How do you feel?’
Santino shook his head. ‘At least having you here I could be
He bent and touched her lips with his. ‘Are you sure you’re all
They both felt they owed a debt of gratitude to the woman who
Stephanie frowned. ‘Yes. Perhaps she could be godmother.’
She sighed reminiscently. ‘At least your parish priest won’t find
Santino’s dark face relaxed. ‘I think he disapproved of our
Stephanie lay back against her pillows. ‘Of course. And she’ll
Santino bent towards her urgently. ‘Did I tell you I adore
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Anne Mather - Autumn of the Witch

Anne Mather - Autumn of the Witch

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Published by: Elaina66 on Jun 03, 2012
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