‘It’s Santo Domenico.’
Chiara bit out the name. ‘Signor Santo Domenico. I insist you tell me what on earth this is all about or I will call the police.’
Now she was beginning to panic. He must be from the bank. But were they allowed to show up like this? Why had the solicitor not warned her this might happen so soon?
Chiara’s head was starting to hurt again.
He looked around. ‘Where are the staff?’
Chiara felt defensive and wasn’t sure why. ‘There are no staff—not that it’s any business of yours.’
He looked at her, incredulous again. ‘How have you kept this place?’
Chiara knew that was also none of his business, but this whole meeting had taken a surreal turn and she found herself saying, ‘We closed up the rooms we weren’t using and just maintained the few we needed.’
‘You and your parents?’
‘Yes. They were buried in a double funeral two days ago, in case you weren’t aware.’ She was hoping to shock him into some kind of realisation that he was here at a very inappropriate time.
He nodded his head. ‘I am aware, and I’m sorry for your loss.’
He couldn’t have sounded less sorry.
Before Chiara could formulate another word he said, ‘You had a meeting with your solicitor the other day?’
‘Yes,’ Chiara said faintly. ‘How did you know?’
‘It’s customary to have the reading of the will and such after the funeral.’
She cursed herself for feeling paranoid. She had no reason to feel paranoid. If he wasn’t from the bank then he had to be the businessman her solicitor had mentioned. She forced herself to calm down. There would have to be due process before anyone evicted her from her own home.
‘So you will now be aware that this castello is in danger of being possessed by the bank unless you can drum up the necessary funds.’ Here he stopped, and looked around again before saying, ‘Forgive me if I’m speaking out of turn, but I don’t think that’s likely.’
Chiara wanted to point out that he’d been speaking out of turn since the moment he’d materialised on the doorstep, but that wasn’t the issue here. ‘Are you from the bank?’
He shook his head and a small smile played around that disturbing mouth, as if her question was amusing for some unknown reason. It made her want to slap him when she’d never before felt violent towards anyone in her life.
‘So how do you know that information, then?’
He shrugged minutely and looked back at her. ‘I have my sources and I’ve had a...a keen interest in the castello for some time now.’
‘A keen interest...?’ Chiara struggled to make sense of his cryptic response.
He faced her squarely then, and she had the uncomfortable sensation that he was about to be a lot less cryptic.
‘Yes, a keen interest. For my whole life, in fact. Because, you see, the truth of the matter is that this castello actually belongs to me. To my family, specifically—the Santo Domenicos.’
* * *
Nico looked at the woman standing just a few feet away. She couldn’t be more nondescript, in a black shapeless dress, with long light brown hair and not a scrap of make-up. His first impression of her had been that she had to be the housekeeper, but now he noticed the proud bearing of her form. Spine straight, shoulders back...
His conscience pricked—her parents had just died. But he quashed the spark of compassion. This day had been coming for decades and now it was finally here.
His father had died a bitterly disappointed man, and countless other members of his family had suffered as a result of this woman’s family’s actions. He’d suffered too, enduring jeers and taunts his whole life.
‘You’re not one of the powerful now, Santo Domenico—you’re nothing...’