Ravelli's Defiant Bride(10)

By: Lynne Graham


‘I live in the lodge at the gates,’ Belle admitted grudgingly, straightening to set out lettuce and eggs on the granite work counter.

Cristo gritted his teeth at the news because she and her children would have to vacate the lodge house before he could put Mayhill on the market. Of course he would have to pay her for the inconvenience of finding another home. Her hair shone bright as a beacon below the lights, displaying varying shades of gold, auburn and copper, tiny curls of hair adorning the nape of her long, elegant neck. She had very curly hair, the sort of hair he had once seen on a rag doll, he mused absently, irritated by the random nature of the thought. He studied the smooth line of her jaw and the full lush softness of her bold red-painted mouth with a persistent sense of incredulity. She had to be a lot older than she looked to be the parent of a teenager, although perhaps he was being naïve. It was perfectly possible that Mary Brophy looked so amazingly youthful because his father had paid for her to have plastic surgery.

Belle unwrapped the garlic bread and shoved it on an oven tray to cook. She wished he would go away. Standing there, all looming six feet four inches or so of him, he made her feel nervous and clumsy. She had to search through cupboards to find the utensils she wanted because she had rarely visited Mayhill since childhood. Indeed she had avoided it on principle whenever Gaetano was in residence. Her green eyes darkened as she recalled the way she and her ever-growing band of siblings would go and stay with her grandmother in the village even before Gaetano arrived, leaving her mother free to make her preparations for his arrival. Mary had always, always put Gaetano Ravelli first.

Belle remembered her mother’s excitement when Gaetano was due to arrive, the frantic exercising, hair appointments and shopping trips to ensure that Mary could look her very best for her lover. Belle had long since decided that she would rather die than want to please any man to that extent. Certainly Mary’s rather pathetic loyalty and devotion had not won her any prizes.

Belle prepared the salad quickly, heaping it into a bowl and then making up her mother’s favourite salad dressing as best she could because she couldn’t quite recall the proportions of the different ingredients. That achieved, she embarked on the omelette. Cristo had vanished by then and she heaved a sigh of relief as she walked through to set the table in the spacious dining room across the hall.

He had accepted that she was Mary Brophy without protest and why shouldn’t he? It meant nothing to him that her poor mother was gone. Mark’s father, the land agent Daniel Petrie, would eventually catch up on the local gossip and learn that the woman he had long despised was dead and buried. But Belle thought it was unlikely that Daniel would bother making an announcement of that fact to Cristo Ravelli as, not only would he feel foolish about having misinformed his employer, but he would also most likely assume that Cristo had already found out the truth. Soothing herself with such reflections, Belle returned to her cooking and struggled to control the gas burners because she was accustomed to cooking with electric.

* * *

Cristo surveyed his meal with an appetite that very quickly vanished. He prodded the omelette with a fork. It had the solid consistency of a rubber mattress but lacked the bounce. The salad had been drowned in a vat of oil. Even the garlic bread was charred although valiant attempts had been made to cut away the most burnt bits. He swallowed hard and pushed the plate away. She couldn’t cook, but presumably she and his father had dined out. Distaste suddenly filled Cristo and he stood up in a lithe movement, his lean strong face hard and taut. He didn’t want to be in Ireland. He didn’t want to deal with the wretched woman and the consequences of her sordid long-term affair with his father. But he knew that he didn’t have a choice. Mary Brophy and her children were not a problem he could afford to ignore. In any case, there was no one else to deal with the situation.

Belle was digging into the linen cupboard on the upper landing when she heard a noise behind her and whirled round to stare in dismay at the tall square-featured young man leaning back against the bannister. He was built like a solid brick wall.

‘So this is where the bedding is hidden,’ he remarked.

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