Ravelli's Defiant Bride(2)

By: Lynne Graham

‘Fifteen years old,’ Cristo mused, reflecting that Zarif’s mother had evidently been betrayed throughout her entire marriage to his father without even being aware of the fact. That was not a reality that Zarif would want put out on public parade. ‘I apologise for my reaction, Robert. This development comes as a considerable shock. The mother of the children—what do you know about her?’

Robert raised a greying brow. ‘I contacted Daniel Petrie, the land agent of the Irish estate, and made enquiries. He said that as far as the village is concerned the woman, Mary Brophy, has long been seen as something of a disgrace and an embarrassment,’ he framed almost apologetically.

‘But if she was the local whore she would’ve been right down Gaetano’s street,’ Cristo breathed before he could bite back that injudicious opinion, his lean, darkly handsome face grim, but it was no secret to Gaetano’s family that he had infinitely preferred bold and promiscuous women to clean-living ones. ‘What provision did my father make for this horde of children?’

‘That’s why I decided to finally bring this matter to your attention.’ Robert cleared his throat awkwardly. ‘As you will be aware, Gaetano made no mention of either the woman or the children in his will.’

‘Are you telling me that my father made no provision for these dependants?’ Cristo prompted incredulously. ‘He had five children with this...this woman over the course of many years and yet he settled no money on them?’

‘Not so much as a penny piece on any of them...ever,’ Robert confirmed uncomfortably. ‘I thought he might have made some private arrangement to take care of them but apparently not as I have received an enquiry concerning school fees from the woman. As you know, your father always thought in terms of the present, not the future, and I imagine he assumed that he would be alive well into his eighties.’

‘Instead of which he died at sixty-two years old, as foolish as ever, and tipped this mess into my lap,’ Cristo ground out, losing all patience the more he learned of the situation. ‘I’ll have to look into this matter personally. I don’t want the newspapers getting hold of the story—’

‘Naturally not,’ Robert agreed. ‘It’s a given that the media enjoy telling tales about men with multiple wives and mistresses.’

Well aware of that fact, Cristo clenched his even white teeth, dark eyes flaming pure gold with rage at the prospect. His father had been enough of an embarrassment while alive. He was infuriated by the idea that Gaetano might prove even more of an embarrassment after his death.

‘It will be my hope that the children can be put up for adoption and this whole distasteful business quietly buried,’ Cristo confided smooth as glass.

For some reason, he noted that Robert looked a little disconcerted by that idea and then the older man swiftly composed his face into blandness. ‘You think the mother will agree to that?’

‘If she’s the usual type of woman my father favoured, she’ll be glad to do as I ask for the right...compensation.’ Cristo selected the word with suggestive cool.

Robert understood his meaning and tried and failed to imagine a scenario in which for the right price a woman would be willing to surrender her children for adoption. He had no doubt that Cristo had cause to know exactly what he was talking about and he was suddenly grateful not to be living a life that had made him that cynical about human nature and greed. But then, having handled Gaetano’s financial dealings for years, he knew that Cristo came from a dysfunctional background and would be challenged to recognise the depth of love and loyalty that many adults cherished for their offspring.

Cristo, already stressed from his recent business trip to Switzerland, squared his broad shoulders and lifted his phone to tell his PA, Emily, to book him on a flight to Dublin. He would get this repugnant business sorted out straight away and then get straight back to work.

* * *

‘I hate them!’ Belle vented in a helpless outburst, her lovely face full of angry passion. ‘I hate every Ravelli alive!’

‘Then you would also have to hate your own brothers and sisters,’ her grandmother reminded her wryly. ‘And you know that’s not how you feel—’

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