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Innocent's Secret Baby

By:Carol Marinelli

Innocent's Secret Baby (Billionaires & One-Night Heirs, Book - Carol Marinelli
PROLOGUE

SURELY NOT?

As Raul Di Savo thanked the mourners who had attended his mother’s funeral a figure standing in the distance caught his attention.

He wouldn’t dare to come here!

Not today of all days.

The tolling of the bell in the small Sicilian church had long since ceased, but it still seemed to ring in Raul’s ears.

‘Condoglianze.’

Raul forced himself to focus on the elderly gentleman in front of him rather than the young man who stood on the periphery of the cemetery.

‘Grazie,’ Raul said, and thanked the old man for his attendance.

Given the circumstances of Maria’s death, and fearing Raul’s father’s wrath, most had stayed away.

Gino had not attended his wife’s funeral.

‘She was a whore when I married her and she goes into the ground the same.’

That was how he had broken the news of her death to his son.

Raul, having been told of a car accident involving his mother, had travelled from Rome back to Casta—a town on the Sicilian wild west coast—but he had arrived only to be told that she had already gone.

He had been too late.

Slowly, painfully, he had pieced together the timeline of shocking events that had led to Maria’s death. Now Raul performed his familial duties and stood graveside as the line of mourners slowly moved past him.

Condolences were offered, but small talk was strained. The events of the last few days and the savage condemnations that were now coursing through the valley made even the simplest sentence a mockery.

‘She was a good...’ A lifetime family friend faltered in his choice of words. ‘She was...’ Again there was hesitation over what should be said. ‘Maria will be missed.’

‘She will be,’ Raul duly replied.

The scent of freshly dug soil filled his nostrils and lined the back of his throat, and Raul knew there was no comfort to be had.

None.

He had left it too late to save her.

And now she was gone.

Raul had studied hard at school and had done so well in his exams that he had received a scholarship and, as he had always intended, been able to get out of the Valley of Casta.

Or, as Raul and his friend Bastiano had called it, the Valley of Hell.

Raul had been determined to get his mother away from his father.

Maria Di Savo.

Unhinged, some had called her.

‘Fragile’ was perhaps a more appropriate word.

Deeply religious until she had met his father, Maria had hoped to join the local convent—an imposing stone residence that looked out on the Sicilian Strait. His mother had wept when it had closed down due to declining numbers, as if somehow her absence had contributed to its demise.

The building had long stood abandoned, but there was not a day Raul could remember when his mother hadn’t rued the day she had not followed her heart and become a novice nun.

If only she had.

Raul stood now, questioning his very existence, for her pregnancy had forced Maria into the unhappiest of marriages.

Raul had always loathed the valley, but never more so than now.

He would never return.

Raul knew his drunken father’s demise was already secured, for without Maria’s care his descent would be rapid.

But there was another person to be taken care of.

The man who had forced this tragic end.

Raul had made a vow as he’d thrown a final handful of soil into his mother’s open grave that he would do whatever it might take to bring him down.

‘I shall miss her.’

Raul looked up and saw Loretta, a long-time friend of his mother’s who worked in the family bar.

‘No trouble today, Raul.’

Raul found himself frowning at Loretta’s choice of words and then realised why she suddenly sounded concerned—he was looking beyond the mourners now, to the man who stood in the distance.

Bastiano Conti.

At seventeen, Bastiano was a full year younger than Raul.

Their families were rivals.

Bastiano’s uncle owned most of the properties and all of the vineyards on the west of the valley.

Raul’s father was king of the east.

The rivalry went back generations, and yet their black history had been ignored by the young boys and, growing up, the two of them had been friends. They had gone through school together and often spent time with each other during the long summer breaks. Before Raul had left the valley he and Bastiano had sat drinking wine from the opposing families’ vines.

Both wines were terrible, they had agreed.

Similar in looks, both were tall and dark and were opposed only in nature.

Bastiano, an orphan, had been raised by his extended family and got through life on charm.

Raul was serious and mistrusting and had been taught to be fickle.

He trusted no one but said what he had to to get by.

Though different in style, they were equally adored by women.

Bastiano seduced.

Raul simply returned the favour.

There had been no rivalry between the young men—both could have their pick of the valley and the fruits were plenty.

Yet Bastiano had used his dark charm on the weakest and had taken Maria as his lover.

Pillow talk had been gathered and secrets had been prised from loose lips.

Not only had Maria had an affair—she had taken it beyond precarious and slept with a member of the family that Gino considered his enemy.

When the affair had been discovered—when the rumours had reached Gino—Loretta had called her to warn her Gino was on his angry way home. Maria had taken out a car she didn’t know how to drive.

An unwise choice in the valley.

And Raul knew the accident would not have happened but for Bastiano.

‘Raul...’ Loretta spoke softly, for she felt the tension rip through him and could hear his ragged breathing. She held on to his hand, while knowing nothing could really stop him now. ‘You are Sicilian, and that means you have a lifetime to get your revenge—just don’t let it be today.’

‘No,’ Raul agreed.

Or did he refute?

Raul’s words were coming out all wrong, his voice was a touch hoarse, and as he looked down he could see the veins in his hand and feel the pulse in his temples. He was primed for action, and the only thing Raul knew for sure was that he hated Bastiano with all that he had.

He dropped Loretta’s hand and brushed past her, then shrugged off someone else who moved to try to stop him.

‘Raul!’ The priest shot him a warning. ‘Not here—not now.’

‘Then he should have stayed away!’ Raul responded as he strode through the cemetery towards the man who had sent his mother to an early grave.

Raul picked up speed—and God help Bastiano because hate and fury catapulted Raul those last few steps.

‘Pezzo di merda...’ Raul shouted out words that did not belong in such a setting.

Any sane man who saw murder approach would surely turn and run, but instead Bastiano walked towards Raul, hurling insults of his own. ‘Your mother wanted—’

Raul did not let him finish, for Bastiano had already sullied her enough, and to silence him Raul slammed his fist into Bastiano’s face. He felt the enamel of Bastiano’s tooth pierce his knuckle, but that was the last thing he felt.

It was bloody.

Two parts grief, several belts of rage and a hefty dose of shame proved a volatile concoction indeed.

Raul would kill him.

That was all he knew.

Yet Bastiano refused to go quietly and fought back.

There were shouts and the sounds of sirens in the distance as the two men battled it out. Raul felt nothing as he was slammed against a gravestone. The granite tore through the dark suit and white shirt on his back with the same ease that it gouged through muscle and flesh.

It didn’t matter.

His back was already a map of scars from his father’s beatings, and adrenaline was a great anaesthetic.

Only vaguely aware of the wound that ran from shoulder to flank, Raul hauled himself up to stand, took aim again and felled his rival.

Yet Bastiano refused to submit.

Raul pinned Bastiano and slammed his fist into his face, marring those perfect features with relish, and then he held him to the ground and told him he should have stayed the hell away from his mother.

‘Like you did!’

Those words were more painful than any physical blow, for Raul knew that he had done just that—stayed away.




CHAPTER ONE

ROME AGAIN... ROME AGAIN...

The City of Love.

Wrapped in a towel, and damp from the shower, Lydia Hayward lay on the bed in her hotel suite and considered the irony.

Yes, she might be in Rome, and meeting tonight with a very eligible man, but it had nothing to do with love.

There were more practical matters that needed to be addressed.

Oh, it hadn’t been said outright, of course.

Her mother hadn’t sat her down one evening and explained that, without the vast and practically bottomless pit of money that this man could provide, they would lose everything. Everything being the castle they lived in, which was the family business too.

And Valerie had never said that Lydia had to sleep with the man she and her stepfather were meeting tonight.

Of course she hadn’t.

Valerie had, however, enquired whether Lydia was on the Pill.

‘You don’t want to ruin your holiday.’

Since when had her mother taken an interest in such things? Lydia had been to Italy once before, on a school trip at the age of seventeen, and her mother hadn’t been concerned enough to ask then.

Anyway, why would she be on the Pill?

Lydia had been told to ‘save’ herself.

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