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‘Is there a problem?’ Samuele sounded impatient. She noticed he had got changed on the flight and the black jeans that greedily clung to his muscular thighs seemed a very valid reason not to sit beside him. God knew when he’d found the time to swap clothes, but then it seemed to Maya that he did everything at a million miles an hour. He was not, she decided, the sort of person to take time out to appreciate a sunset or a view. Did he ever actually relax?

‘I was wondering if we’d see much of Florence. I’ve never been there but I understand it’s very beautiful.’

‘Another day I’ll give you a guided tour.’

‘Oh, I didn’t mean—’

‘Get in, Maya.’

She got in rather than make a fuss and any concerns she had about making stilted conversation were unnecessary because they were barely outside the city limits when she fell asleep.

When she woke, confused, her head propped against the padded headrest, a blanket from the back seat thrown over her, she was too muzzy-headed to think about how it had got there. Samuele wasn’t in the car.

She rubbed her eyes, knowing that it was a given that her hair would look as though there were small animals living somewhere in the wild mass of curls. She took in her surroundings. The car was stationary and they were parked at the side of a narrow empty road where the trees lining the road ahead and behind had thinned to reveal what was the most incredible panoramic view she had ever seen in her life. She’d clearly been wrong: Samuele did stop to look at the view.

She gave the peacefully dozing baby in the back seat a quick glance before she unfastened her belt and exited the car. Her nostrils flaring at the pungent scent of pine and the wild thyme that released its sweet scent into the air, she picked a path across to where Samuele stood, his tall figure dark against the backdrop of a deep cerulean-blue sky.

‘Sorry I fell asleep...oh, my, it’s so beautiful.’ She sighed, her eyes drawn to the view that stretched out before them. Against the distant backdrop of the purple hills the undulating fields were a patchwork of colours, gold with wheat and green grazed by animals impossible to identify at this distance. The separate areas were defined by rows of statuesque pine and dotted with sculptural cypresses, and ribbons of water gleamed as they wound their way down the sloping hills that, to her uneducated eyes, seemed to be covered with the regimented neatness of vineyards.

For a long time she said nothing. ‘It’s almost...spiritual.’ The words emerged without any conscious thought and a moment later she gave an embarrassed little laugh and angled a look up at him. Samuele was no longer staring at the landscape, but looking at her, the expression on his face making her insides quiver.

‘That probably sounds stupid.’

‘Not at all. It’s taken some people a lifetime to see that, and some,’ he added heavily, ‘never do.’

He redirected his stare to the vista but there was a brooding quality to his stare now that hadn’t been there before.

‘When do we reach...your home?’

‘We have.’ He opened his hands wide to encompass the land that stretched out before them. ‘We have actually been on the estate for the past twenty minutes, and the village is about five minutes back there. You’ll be able to see the house once we come out on the other side of that copse.’

‘I had no idea that it was so...vast,’ she admitted, making some serious adjustments to her preconceptions of the Agosti heritage. ‘You own an entire village?’

‘My family has cared for this land for years and it has cared for us...and many others in return. Until recently.’

‘Recently?’ she probed warily, wondering if he was alluding to his brother’s death.

‘My father stripped everything of value he could and sold off the rest to keep hiswifein private jets and fuel her main hobby which was—and presumably still is—gambling,’ Samuele said heavily. ‘She went into rehab after my father’s death, where she met her new husband; in a twist of irony, he owns a string of hotel casinos.’

‘When you said his wife, was she not your mother?’

‘My mother is dead. My father’s second wife was Cristiano’s mother. I remember that she adored him as a baby but as soon as he passed the cute baby stage she treated him pretty much like an out-of-date handbag.’

The calming effect of the beauty of the land he loved so much, the land that would never hurt him, evaporated as he dwelt on the destructive emotion his father had called love. Even at the end, when he’d known that the woman he’d worshipped was having affair after affair, he’d still defended her to his eldest son. And then, to Samuele’s despair, exactly the same fate had befallen Cristiano.

‘She didn’t consider she had an addiction problem so my father didn’t either. His duty to the land, his tenants, his family...he sacrificed them all for this insanity of selfishness, which went disguised as love.’

The delivery was flat and even but despite, or maybe because of, his measured neutrality Maya could feel the emotions throbbing in every syllable.

‘But the land—you said this is yours now...?’

‘I started buying it back anonymously as soon as I could afford to, and now it is almost back to what it once was.’ He still had hopes of tracking down the last few elusive classical sculptures that would complete the art collection that had rivalled many museums.

‘Wow, that couldn’t have been cheap...’ She flushed as his eyes swivelled her way. ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound nosy.’

‘Yes, it wasn’,cara.’

To her relief he seemed amused, not offended.

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