Ravelli's Defiant Bride(3)

By: Lynne Graham

With difficulty, Belle mastered her hot temper and studied her grandmother apologetically. Isa was a small supple woman with iron-grey hair and level green eyes the same shade as Belle’s. ‘That wretched lawyer hasn’t even replied to Mum’s letter about the school fees yet. I hate the whole lot of them for making us beg for what should be the children’s by right!’

‘It’s unpleasant,’ Isa Kelly conceded ruefully. ‘But what we have to remember is that the person responsible for this whole horrible situation is Gaetano Ravelli—’

‘I’m never going to forget that!’ her granddaughter swore vehemently, leaping upright in frustration to pace over to the window that overlooked the tiny back garden.

And that was certainly the truth. Belle had been remorselessly bullied at school because of her mother’s relationship with Gaetano Ravelli and the children she had had with him. A lot of people had taken exception to the spectacle of a woman carrying on a long-running, fertile affair with a married man. Her mother, Mary, had been labelled a slut and, as a sensitive adolescent, Belle had been forced to carry the shadow of that humiliating label alongside her parent.

‘He’s gone now,’ Isa reminded her unnecessarily. ‘And so, more sadly, is your mother.’

A familiar ache stirred below Belle’s breastbone for the loss of that warm, loving presence in her family home and her angry face softened in expression. It was only a month since her mother had died from a heart attack and Belle was still not over the shock of her sudden passing. Mary had been a smiling, laughing woman in her early forties, who had rarely been ill. Yet she’d had a weak heart, and had apparently been warned by the doctor not to risk another pregnancy after the twins’ difficult birth. But when had Mary Brophy ever listened to common sense? Belle asked herself painfully. Mary had gone her own sweet way regardless of the costs, choosing passion over commitment and the birth of a sixth child triumphing over what might have been years of quiet cautious living.

Whatever anyone had said about Mary Brophy—and there had been all too many local people with a moral axe to grind about her long-term affair with Gaetano—Mary had been a hardworking, kind person, who had never had a bad word to say about anyone and had always been the first to offer help when a neighbour was in trouble. Over the years some of her mother’s most vociferous critics had ended up becoming her friends when they finally appreciated her gentle nature. But Belle had never been like the mother she had seen as oppressed: she had loved her mother and hated Gaetano Ravelli for his lying, manipulative selfishness and tight-fisted ways.

As if sensing the tension in the air, Tag whined at her feet and she stretched down a hand to soothe the family dog, a small black and white Jack Russell whose big brown adoring eyes were pinned to her. Straightening again, her colourful hair spilling across her slim shoulders, Belle pushed a straying corkscrew curl from her Titian mane out of her strained eyes and wondered when she would find the time to get it trimmed and how on earth she would ever pay for it when money was required for far more basic necessities.

At least the Lodge at the foot of the drive winding up to Mayhill House was theirs, signed over by Gaetano years earlier to give her mother a false sense of security. But how much use was a roof over their heads when Belle still couldn’t pay the bills? Even so, homelessness would have been far worse, she acknowledged ruefully, her generous mouth softening. In any case, in all likelihood she would have to sell the Lodge and find them somewhere cheaper and smaller to live. Unfortunately she was going to have to fight and fight hard for the children to receive what was rightfully theirs. Illegitimate or not, her siblings had a legal claim to a share of their late father’s estate and it was her job to take on that battle for them.

‘You must let me take charge of the children now,’ Isa told her eldest granddaughter firmly. ‘Mary was my daughter and she made mistakes. I don’t want to stand by watching you pay the price for them—’

‘The kids would be too much for you,’ Belle protested, for her grandmother might be hale and hearty but she was seventy years old and Belle thought it would be very wrong to allow her to take on such a burden.

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