Rival Attractions & Innocent Secretary(110)

By: Penny Jordan


First North American Publication 2010.

Copyright © 2010 by Carol Marinelli.

All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher, Harlequin Enterprises Limited, 225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada M3B 3K9.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

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PROLOGUE


SURELY NOT?

As Raul Di Savo thanked the mourners who had attended his mother’s funeral a figure standing in the distance caught his attention.

He wouldn’t dare to come here!

Not today of all days.

The tolling of the bell in the small Sicilian church had long since ceased, but it still seemed to ring in Raul’s ears.

‘Condoglianze.’

Raul forced himself to focus on the elderly gentleman in front of him rather than the young man who stood on the periphery of the cemetery.

‘Grazie,’ Raul said, and thanked the old man for his attendance.

Given the circumstances of Maria’s death, and fearing Raul’s father’s wrath, most had stayed away.

Gino had not attended his wife’s funeral.

‘She was a whore when I married her and she goes into the ground the same.’

That was how he had broken the news of her death to his son.

Raul, having been told of a car accident involving his mother, had travelled from Rome back to Casta—a town on the Sicilian’s wild west coast—but he had arrived only to be told that she had already gone.

He had been too late.

Slowly, painfully, he had pieced together the timeline of shocking events that had led to Maria’s death. Now Raul performed his familial duties and stood graveside as the line of mourners slowly moved past him.

Condolences were offered, but small talk was strained. The events of the last few days and the savage condemnations that were now coursing through the valley made even the simplest sentence a mockery.

‘She was a good…’ A lifetime family friend faltered in his choice of words. ‘She was…’ Again there was hesitation over what should be said. ‘Maria will be missed.’

‘She will be,’ Raul duly replied.

The scent of freshly dug soil filled his nostrils and lined the back of his throat, and Raul knew there was no comfort to be had.

None.

He had left it too late to save her.

And now she was gone.

Raul had studied hard at school, and had done so well in his exams that he had received a scholarship and, as he had always intended, been able to get out of the Valley of Casta.

Or, as Raul and his friend Bastiano had called it, the Valley of Hell.

Raul had been determined to get his mother away from his father.

Maria Di Savo.

Unhinged, some had called her.

Fragile was perhaps a more appropriate word.

Deeply religious until she had met his father, Maria had hoped to join the local convent—an imposing stone residence that looked out on the Sicilian Strait. His mother had wept when it had closed down due to declining numbers, as if somehow her absence had contributed to its demise.

The building had long stood abandoned, but there was not a day Raul could remember when his mother hadn’t rued the day she had not followed her heart and become a novice nun.

If only she had.

Raul stood now, questioning his very existence, for her pregnancy had forced Maria into the unhappiest of marriages.

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