Never Underestimate a Caffarelli(3)

By: Melanie Milburne

Hadn’t Clarissa made that starkly clear?

He wanted his body back. He wanted his life back.

Who was to say this Archer woman was the miracle worker Rafe suggested? She could be the biggest charlatan out there. He didn’t want to be taken for a ride, to be given false hopes only to have them dashed in the end. He was slowly coming to terms with his situation. He needed this time at the château to get his head around how life was going to be from now on. He wasn’t ready to face the world just yet. The thought of the paparazzi tailing him to get the best pity shot made him sick to his stomach.

He just wanted to be left alone.

‘One month, Raoul,’ Rafe said into the silence. ‘Please. Just give it a try.’

Raoul knew both of his brothers were worried about him. Remy, his younger brother, had been there the day before, doing his best to jolly him along like a male version of Pollyanna. His grandfather, Vittorio, had been less supportive, but Raoul had come to expect that from him. Vittorio was not the sort of man to offer sympathy or support. His speciality was to blame and to castigate.

‘I’d like a week or two to think about it.’

There was a loaded silence.

Raoul turned his chair around again, suspicion crawling up his damaged spine like sticky spider’s legs as he met his brother’s sheepish dark brown gaze. ‘You haven’t.’

‘She’s waiting in the morning room,’ Rafe said.

Raoul let out a string of colourful obscenities in French, Italian and English. Rage raced through his body like a fast-acting poison. He had never felt so powerless, so damned impotent, in his life. What did his brother think he was, a little child who couldn’t make a sensible decision?

This was his sanctuary.

No one came here unless he invited them.

‘Cool it,’ Rafe said in an undertone. ‘She’ll hear you.’

‘I don’t care if she hears me! What the hell are you playing at?’

‘I’m trying to help you, since you don’t seem to want to help yourself,’ Rafe said. ‘I can’t stand seeing you like this. Sitting around brooding, snapping everyone’s head off if they so much as glance at you. You won’t even go outside, for pity’s sake. It’s as if you’ve given up. You can’t give up. You have to work through this.’

Raoul glared at his brother. ‘I’ll go outside when I can get out there under my own power. You had no right to bring that woman here without my permission. This is my house. Get her out of it.’

‘She’s staying,’ Rafe said. ‘I paid her up-front and I can’t get a refund. It was part of her stipulation in accepting the post.’

Raoul flicked his eyes upwards in derision. ‘Doesn’t that tell you what sort of woman she is? For God’s sake, Rafe, I thought you of all people would’ve had more sense. This is just a money grab. You wait and see—she’ll walk out after a couple of days over something I said or did and do a happy dance all the way to the bank.’

‘Miss Archer comes on very good recommendation,’ Rafe said. ‘She’s highly trained and very experienced.’

Raoul gave a scoffing grunt. ‘I just bet she is.’

‘I’m going to leave you to get acquainted with her. I need to get back to Poppy; we have a wedding to organise. I want you there, Raoul, chair or no chair. Do you understand?’

Raoul let out a hiss. ‘I’m not going to sit up there in front of everybody like some sort of freak show. Get Remy to be your best man.’

‘You know what Remy is like. He’ll fail to show up because something far more interesting has come across his radar. I want you to do it, and so does Poppy, and I don’t want her disappointed.’ Rafe moved to the door, holding it open as he added, ‘I’ll call you in a couple of weeks to see how you’re doing. Ciao.’

* * *

Lily gripped her handbag on her lap with fingers that were ice cold in spite of the summer temperature. She’d heard shouting, and although she wasn’t fluent in French or Italian she understood enough to know Raoul Caffarelli was not happy about her being here. Which was ironic, since she wasn’t all that happy about being here, either. But with the money safely in her mother’s mortgage account at least one worry had been shelved.

But her biggest worry lay ahead.

Being left alone in this huge old château with a man she had never met before was like something out of a horror movie. Her pulse was racing and her heart was hammering. She could feel the stickiness of perspiration between her shoulder blades and on her palms. The floor of her stomach was crawling with prickly feet of panic and she had to press her knees together to stop them from knocking against each other.