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‘We’re not talking about me.’ And they never would be because she would never invite this man into her head. ‘I have no abandonment issues.’

She bit her lip. She was getting familiar with his expressive shrugs; he was able to convey a range of emotions with the slightest movement of his broad shoulders.

‘What?’ she snapped querulously, because he was staring at her in that unnerving way again.

‘You have...’ Samuele half lifted a hand and then shoved it safely back into a pocket. The last time he had touched her mouth—No, he wasn’t going there again. ‘Blood on your lip.’

A man who made a mistake could be forgiven, but if he knowingly repeated that mistake, he was a fool who didn’t deserve forgiveness.

Samuele had never had any time for fools. Did it count as foolish, with the very recent memory of the heat that had stung through his body when he’d touched her mouth still fresh in his head, for his eyes to follow the tip of her tongue as it licked the pinprick drop of blood from the plump, pink outline of her bottom lip?

Probably not, but he hadn’t followed through with the impulse to replace his finger with his mouth and continue the exploration. He knew his reasoning bore all the classic hallmarks of rationalisation, but there was such a thing as overthinking something.

He accepted that looking at her mouth, or any other part of Maya Monk, wasn’t ever going to lead him down a path to inner peace. Luckily, he wasn’t looking to take away inner peace from this encounter—just his nephew.

There was a tension in the room that Maya chose to ignore as she nodded pointedly towards the phone he held.

After a moment he punched in a number and laid the phone on the coffee table between them. It was picked up almost immediately and a man replied, sounding distracted, possibly by the owner of the husky female laugh Maya could hear in the background.

‘This is Samuele Agosti. Put Violetta on, will you, Charlie?’

There was a silence before the man on the other end began to babble. ‘Samuele, it’s great to hear your voice, but actually I can’t help you—she’s not with me...’

‘Oh, for God’s sake, give me that thing and get out.’ There was the sound of rustling and banging and then what sounded like a door closing.

‘He’s gone. How did you know where I was?’

There was no betraying quiver in the voice; it was hard and cold and annoyed, but Maya knew without doubt that she was listening to her half-sister.

‘Well, you’re not with your child so where else would you be?’

‘You found him! Damn, that was quick,’ she snapped petulantly. ‘Clever old you. I really wanted you to sweat.’

The most shocking thing for Maya was that Samuele didn’t look even slightly surprised by this vicious, vindictive statement. Instead, he looked...she searched the angles and hollows of his face and the worddangerousfloated into her head. The ruthless, relentless quality she had been aware of in him was in sharp focus as he allowed the moment to stretch before responding.

‘You succeeded.’ His glance shifted across to where Maya stood like a frozen statue, her hand pressed to her mouth, horror shining in her eyes.

Breaking eye contact, he shifted his weight from one foot to the other to move her into the periphery of his vision, ignoring the weight of uneasy guilt in his chest.

He had no time to be gentle; sheneededto hear this. The truth was brutal—everyone learnt that lesson sooner or later. Yes, sometimes having your eyes opened hurt, but walking around with them tightly shut was dangerous, and a woman who’d reached her age should have stopped believing that every person was good and honest.

‘I was hoping you’d have to suffer for much longer than this.’ The petulance was now laced with viciousness. Maya felt almost numb now as she heard her half-sister hiss, ‘Because you deserve it after you turned my own husband against me and stole what’s mine. I deserve that money!’

‘Would that I could have turned him against you, but he was loyal to you to the end.’

The bone-deep weariness and despair in Samuele’s voice finally penetrated Maya’s own personal misery. It had all been an act and she had fallen for it.

‘You wanted to see me suffer, I get that, but isn’t this all a little bizarrely complicated, even for you?’

‘If I’d tried to vanish in Italy your contacts would have found me in thirty seconds and I needed to be in London to get my hair done—my colourist here is simply the best.’ Her laugh that made Maya think of glass breaking rang out before Violetta added, ‘And anyhow London definitely solved the babysitting problem. It was a toss-up, I thought, between that and having someone burn down your bloody castle, but this was more of a “two birds with one stone” thing. I told you that you’d regret cutting me out of the money. Next time I’ll get even more inventive, so don’t relax just yet, will you, darling?’

‘Cristiano left you very well provided for.’ Samuele struggled to keep his voice free of the disgust churning in his belly. ‘You don’t need Mattio’s half of the Agosti estate as well.’

‘Your brother always did what you told him, but at least your investment advice paid off. I do have a very nice sum, you’re right, but half the estate is worth a fortune.’

‘It’s Mattio’s.’

‘And Mattio is mine, but maybe now that you’ve found him I might let you keep him.’

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