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‘I am an investment banker, so raising capital is what I specialise in, and the finance industry pays extremely well.’ He had not drifted into finance, he had deliberately plotted a course, and the rewards, not the job satisfaction, had been his motivation for doing so.

He inhaled, drawing in the sweet clean air as he scanned the horizon. To Maya, it seemed as though he was letting the peace, the sense of continuity over the ages, visibly seep into him.

‘So the estate is a hobby?’

He continued to look into the distance. ‘No, finance is my hobby. The estate is my life.’ He turned to face her. ‘So, are you ready?’

Caught staring at him, she shifted guiltily and began to move towards the four-wheel-drive. ‘I’m sorry I fell asleep...’ she said again, skipping to fall into step beside him.

It was a subject he did not particularly want to think about. He closed it down with a light teasing reply. ‘Relax, you don’t drool.’ But he couldn’t close down the images that stubbornly remained inside his head or the memory of the scent of her hair as it tickled his neck.

After the second time of nudging her head back onto the headrest, he had finally let it stay where it kept falling against his shoulder.

‘Sorry, I wasn’t much company.’

‘A woman who doesn’t talk while I’m driving is my kind of perfect.’

Maya huffed a little as she tried to keep pace with his long-legged stride. ‘Did you take classes in sexist chauvinism?’

He flashed her a look, all white teeth and testosterone.

‘No, I am totally self-taught.’

The exchange had brought them level with the luxury off-roader that stood in the sculpted shade of a cypress tree. ‘Your mother must be so proud of you,’ she muttered, raising herself on tiptoe to look through the back window she had cracked open before she’d left the car. Mattio had not moved an inch.

‘She’s dead, remember.’

She shot him a contrite look. ‘That was a stupid thing for me to say!’

‘Oh, I don’t know, it was quite funny. Relax,’ he said matter-of-factly, opening the passenger door for her. ‘I barely remember her.’ Sometimes a memory would surface, triggered by a scent or a familiar object. ‘And my life did not lack female influence for long,’ he added in a tone hard enough to cut through diamond. ‘She was barely cold in her grave before I had a stepmother and, four months later, a half-brother.’

Her eyes, widened in comprehension, flew to his face. ‘Four months?’

His fingers curved around her elbow to give her a steadying boost into the seat of the high-level vehicle, which brought her face level with his.

‘A married man having an affair...’ he mocked. ‘Who’d have thought?’ Not Maya, clearly, and her naivety made him perversely want to shock her more. ‘When I was going through my father’s papers I found some of my mother’s things.’ Untouched and gathering metaphorical dust, since they’d been consigned to a filing cabinet with the otherunimportantitems.

‘There were some legal documents dated the day before her death. It turns out he had served her with divorce papers, something that was not revealed in the inquest, I would imagine, seeing as I think they might have had a bearing on their verdict of accidental overdose. Maybe if there had been a suicide note...?’

The way he relayed the details, with a total absence of any emotion, was somehow almostmoreshocking than the story itself.

It made her wonder just how deep he’d buried the trauma. She never doubted therewastrauma because Maya knew from experience that it never, ever went away, not until you faced it.

‘I suppose there are some things you can never know.’ Given the story, his attitude to marriage and women was hardly surprising.

He met her sympathetic gaze with a look that was dark, hard and unforgiving. ‘Oh, I know, I know full well that my mother killed herself because she was being traded in, because she didn’t give a damn about what or who she left behind—namely me.’

He’d thought the words plenty of times, but he’d never actually said them out loud before. The pity he could see shining in her luminous eyes was the reason why.

Samuele looked away from those eyes, asking himself yet again what it was about Maya Monk that made him open himself up this way. He had revealed more about himself in the space of the last few hours than he had told anyone—ever.

‘I don’t need your pity.’

‘Good, because you haven’t got it. There’s a difference between pity and compassion, you know! You’re angry with a parent for leaving you—believe you me, that doesn’t make you unique around here, Samuele. Your mother found it impossible to carry on living but that doesn’t mean she stopped loving you.’

He climbed into the vehicle after her, staring stonily ahead as he reversed out of the clearing at speed.

‘Sorry,’ he said as they hit a particularly bad pothole that almost jolted Maya out of her seat. ‘Resurfacing this road is due to start next month. If we were approaching from the other way, the road is almost civilised.’ He was watching her as he turned the corner; he liked to see people’s reactions as they got their first glimpse of the castello.

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