Dark Angel. Lynne Graham
the court? We watched it on the lunchtime news and although getting a translation out of Paola here was like yanking out her little pearly teeth one by one, we’re all clued up now,’ Rochelle declared, tossing back her rumpled blonde mane in unashamed challenge of the PA’s contention. ‘He wants a woman…and here we are.’
Lesley Jennings simply laughed out loud in reluctant appreciation.
It was beneath Paola’s dignity to look anything other than supremely bored.
But not a single one of them showed any sign of making a move to leave and Luciano recognised that he had a problem…unhappily for his conscience-free libido, Rochelle, who had a seriously liberal attitude to loose living, was totally out of the question. Lesley? Not when he still had current dealings with her legal firm, for, even if she was willing to risk her reputation by consorting with a male still shadowed by criminal charges, he was not willing to help her to make that mistake. And Paola? As exquisite, perfect and downright practical a proposition as she was, it was far too soon for him to contemplate that level of commitment.
Every muscle straining at the effort required, Kerry heaved the log into the wheelbarrow.
When the barrow immediately tipped over beneath the weight and the log rolled out again, she could have sat down and howled like a baby. Snatching in a steadying breath, she blinked back tears of frustration, set the wheelbarrow straight and made herself start again. The spring days and nights were cold. She had two fires to keep going for her grandparents’ benefit and only the largest, heaviest logs burned for any appreciable length of time in the massive hearths at Ballybawn Castle.
Unfortunately, her sleepless night had drained her of energy. Was it any wonder that she was still in shock about Luciano’s successful appeal against his conviction? For hours she had tossed and turned while her mind ran round in tortured circles, continually throwing her back in time to Luciano’s arrest on charges of false accounting and theft, and her own initial disbelief. But brick by brick the evidence against Luciano had mounted. When a single fingerprint had been identified as his on a damning document, she had accepted that he was guilty. Then she had also believed that fingerprinting was an exact science and irrefutable proof. How could she ever have foreseen that, five years on, respected forensic experts would enter a court of law on Luciano’s behalf and discredit the reliability of the fingerprint which had played such a heavy part in the original prosecution case?
Yet that was what had happened only yesterday, Kerry acknowledged, shaking her head in lingering bewilderment as she finally got the log into the barrow and trudged back along the wooded lane to the castle. Luciano was free…and a tension headache was pounding behind her brow. Why could she think of nothing but Luciano? What did his freedom have to do with her? But was he innocent? That was what the newspapers were saying. Could she have misjudged him on that score at least?
Yet the male being deified by the Press was the same male whom she had loved more than she had ever dreamt she could love anyone and he had hurt her more than any soul alive. He had slept with Rochelle and in her heart of hearts had she really been surprised by that? After all, her stepsister was everything she herself was not: gorgeous, sexy and irresistible to men. Even her own father preferred Rochelle, Kerry reminded herself painfully. Possibly only a woman with the looks and personality of Helen of Troy could have kept Luciano faithful.
Just as she was comforting herself with that reflection, a car slowed up behind her, drew level and then stopped. It was Elphie Hewitt, whom Kerry had been friendly with since childhood. Now an artist, Elphie rented the Georgian wing of the castle as a trompe l’oeil showroom to display the decorative special paint effects at which she excelled.
‘What are you doing with that wheelbarrow?’ Elphie questioned with a frown. ‘Didn’t Dad offer to bring you over a load of logs?’
Although embarrassed by that reminder, Kerry was reluctant to accept a favour which she could not return and, even worse, the kind of favour that the older man might well have felt obliged to repeat. ‘Your father has enough to do on the farm—’
‘He would still be glad to help out. Only the other day he was saying how sorry he felt for you,’ Elphie confided. ‘You’ve such a battle to keep the estate going. And your grandparents…bless them, they’re lovely people…but they’re a big responsibility for a woman your age!’
Kerry was mortified when she pictured the Hewitts, both of whom were her grandfather’s tenants, discussing her in such pitying terms. Not for nothing was Elphie renowned for her excessive lack of tact.
‘How’s business?’ Kerry asked in the hope of changing the subject.
Elphie groaned. ‘All right…just. The interior designers are hiring my services but I need to be working for clients direct to make a decent profit. Heck, is that the time? I’ve got an appointment!’
As soon as Elphie had driven off Kerry forgot that the conversation had even taken place, for her own restive thoughts had zoomed straight back to centre on Luciano again. In fact, only twenty minutes later, having finally carted a fresh supply of firewood into her grandmother’s sitting room, Kerry could no longer keep the lid on her own emotional turmoil.
‘How do you feel about all this stuff about Luciano in the newspapers?’ Kerry asked the older woman tautly. ‘I don’t know what to think or how I’m supposed to feel about it but I can’t get it or him out of my mind.’
‘I do so worry that you don’t sew,’ Viola O’Brien remarked in startling disregard of the subject which Kerry had opened, her gaze resting on her granddaughter with vague concern. ‘A talent with a needle and thread is so essential these days. How else can you hope to repair the torn sheets in the linen cupboard and re-cover the dining-room chairs?’
‘Grandma…’ Kerry frowned and then said gently, ‘Didn’t you read the newspapers that I gave you this morning?’
‘Yes, darling. Luciano has been set free. Of course he’s innocent. I wasn’t surprised to hear that news,’ Viola O’Brien declared in the same even tone as if the events that had shattered Kerry over the previous twenty-four hours were no more worthy of surprise than a mild change in the weather.
As she received that discomfiting response, Kerry’s slender figure tensed even more. It was not a moment to easily bear the reminder that her grandmother had refused to contemplate the possibility that Luciano might be guilty as charged five years earlier. If Kerry had not been impressed by that partisanship at the time, it had been because she was well aware that the older woman had always been reluctant to deal with anything unpleasant in life. A burglar caught red-handed in the castle would also have received the benefit of the doubt. In much the same way, her grandmother preferred to ignore the reality that those dining chairs which she had just mentioned as requiring recovering had long since gone to the saleroom.
‘It would have been very romantic had you been waiting outside the court when Luciano emerged a free man,’ her grandmother contended in misty-eyed addition. ‘I do wish that you’d paid heed to my little hints. There are times when it would be quite improper for a young woman to be that forward but there are also special occasions when too much reticence might even appear ungracious.’
At that assurance, Kerry just closed her eyes in despair, gritted her teeth and flopped down into the worn armchair opposite. ‘I expect there are but that wasn’t one of them.’
When she opened her eyes again, Viola O’Brien was still sitting in perfect tranquillity, stitching at her embroidery. A slight woman of eighty years of age, she wore her hair in the same plaited coronet she had favoured since her girlhood and dressed in layers of fluttering draperies as though the clock had stopped ticking at some grand dinner party in the 1930s and never moved on again.
‘Well, there has to be some reason why I heard Florrie crying every night last week…Florrie usually only wails when there’s a wedding in the offing,’ Viola reminded her granddaughter of the O’Brien legend. ‘One would think that after four hundred and fifty years, Florrie could learn to be more cheerful. Still, I suppose there’s no such thing as a happy ghost.’