Ravelli's Defiant Bride(4)

By: Lynne Graham


‘You attended a university miles from here to escape the situation your mother had created and you planned to go to London to work as soon as you graduated,’ Isa reminded her stubbornly.

‘That’s the thing about life...it changes without warning you,’ Belle fielded wryly. ‘The children have lost both parents in the space of two months and they’re very insecure. The last thing they need right now is for me to vanish as well.’

‘Bruno and Donetta both go to boarding school, so they’re out of the equation aside of holiday time,’ the older woman reasoned, reluctant to cede the argument. ‘The twins are at primary school. Only Franco is at home and he’s two so he’ll soon be off to school as well—’

Shortly after her mother’s death, Belle had thought much along the same lines and had felt horribly guilty to admit, even to herself, that she felt trapped by the existence of her little brothers and sisters and their need for constant loving care. Her grandmother, Isa, had made her generous offer and Belle had kept it in reserve in the back of her mind, believing that it could be a real possibility. But that was before she got into the daily grind of seeing to her siblings’ needs and finally appreciated the amount of sheer hard graft required and that any prospect of her grandmother taking charge was a selfish fantasy. It would be too big a burden for Isa to take on when some days it was even too much for Belle at the age of twenty-three.

Someone rapped loudly on the back door, making both women jump in surprise. Frowning, Belle opened the door and then relaxed when she saw an old friend waiting on the step. Mark Petrie and Belle had gone to school together where Mark had been one of her few true friends.

‘Come in,’ she invited the slimly built dark-haired man clad in casual jeans. ‘Have a seat. Coffee?’

‘Thanks.’

‘How are you doing, Mark?’ Isa asked with a welcoming smile.

‘I’m doing great. It’s Belle I’m worried about,’ Mark admitted heavily, throwing Isa’s granddaughter a look of unvarnished male admiration. ‘Look, I’ll just spit it right out. I heard my father talking on the phone this morning and he must’ve been talking to someone from Gaetano Ravelli’s family. I think it was the eldest one, Cristo—’

Tensing at the sound of that familiar name, Belle settled a mug of coffee down on the table for Mark. ‘Why do you think that?’

‘Cristo is the executor of Gaetano’s estate and my father was being asked about your mother and, of course, he doesn’t even know Mary’s dead yet. Nobody’s bothered to tell him that she passed while he and Mum were staying with my uncle in Australia—’

‘Well, your father and my mother weren’t exactly bosom pals,’ Belle reminded Mark bluntly. There had been a lot of bad blood over the years between the land agent, Daniel Petrie, and Mayhill’s housekeeper, Mary Brophy. ‘So why would anyone mention it to him?’

Cristo Ravelli, Belle was thinking resentfully. The stuffed-shirt banker and outrageously good-looking eldest son, who never ever smiled. Over the years she had often researched Gaetano’s tangled love life on the Internet, initially out of curiosity but then more often to learn the answers to the questions that her poor trusting mother had never dared to ask. She knew about the wives, the sons and the scandalous affairs and had soon recognised that Gaetano was a deceitful, destructive Svengali with the female sex, who left nothing but wreckage and regrets in his wake. Furthermore, as Gaetano had only ever married rich women, her poor misguided mother had never had a prayer of getting him to the altar.

‘The point is, evidently Ravelli’s family have decided they want Gaetano’s children with Mary to be adopted—’

‘Adopted?’ Belle interrupted, openly astonished by that suggestion coming at her out of nowhere.

‘Obviously the man’s family want the whole affair hushed up,’ Mark opined with a grimace. ‘And what better way to stage a cover-up? It would keep the story out of the papers and tidy up all the loose ends—’

‘But they’re not loose ends—they’re children with a family and a home!’ Belle argued in dismay. ‘For goodness’ sake, they belong together!’

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