CESARE SABATINO FLIPPED open the file sent by special delivery and groaned out loud, his darkly handsome features betraying his disbelief.
There were two photos included in the file, one of a nubile blonde teenager called Cristina and the other of her older sister Elisabetta. Was this familial insanity to visit yet another generation? Cesare raked long brown fingers through his luxuriant black hair, frustration pumping through every long lean line of his powerful body. He really didn’t have time for such nonsense in the middle of his working day. What was his father, Goffredo, playing at?
‘What’s up?’ Jonathan, his friend and a director of the Sabatino pharmaceutical empire, asked.
In answer, Cesare tossed the file to the other man. ‘Look at it and weep at the madness that can afflict even one’s seemingly sane relatives,’ he urged.
Frowning, Jonathan glanced through the sparse file and studied the photos. ‘The blonde’s not bad but a bit on the young side. The other one with the woolly hat on looks like a scarecrow. What on earth is the connection between you and some Yorkshire farming family?’
‘It’s a long story,’ Cesare warned him.
Jonathan hitched his well-cut trousers and took a seat. ‘Interesting?’
Cesare grimaced. ‘Only moderately. In the nineteen thirties my family owned a small island called Lionos in the Aegean Sea. Most of my ancestors on my father’s side are buried there. My grandmother, Athene, was born and raised there. But when her father went bust, Lionos was sold to an Italian called Geraldo Luccini.’
Jonathan shrugged. ‘Fortunes rise and fall.’
‘Matters, however, took a turn for the worse when Athene’s brother decided to get the island back into
family hands by marrying Luccini’s daughter and then chose to jilt her at the altar.’
The other man raised his brows. ‘Nice...’
‘Her father was so enraged by the slight to his daughter and his family that Lionos was eternally tied up in Geraldo’s exceedingly complex will.’
‘In what way?’
‘The island cannot be sold and the two young women in that file are the current owners of Lionos by inheritance through their mother. The island can only be regained by my family through marriage between a Zirondi and a Luccini descendant and the birth of a child.’
‘You’re not serious?’ Jonathan was amazed.
‘A generation back, my father was serious enough to propose marriage to the mother of those two girls, Francesca, although I would point out that he genuinely fell in love with her. Luckily for us all, however, when he proposed she turned him down and married her farmer instead.’
‘Why luckily?’ Jonathan queried.
‘Francesca didn’t settle for long with the farmer or with any of the men that followed him. Goffredo had a narrow escape,’ Cesare opined, lean, strong face grim, well aware that his laid-back and rather naive father could never have coped with so fickle a wife.
‘So, why has your father sent you that file?’
‘He’s trying to get me interested in the ongoing, “Lionos reclamation project”,’ Cesare said very drily, the slant of his wide, sensual mouth expressing sardonic amusement as he sketched mocking quotations marks in the air.
‘He actually thinks he has a chance of persuading you to consider marriage with one of those two women?’ Jonathan slowly shook his head for neither female appeared to be a show-stopper and Cesare enjoyed the
reputation of being a connoisseur of the female sex. ‘Is he crazy?’
‘Always an optimist.’ Cesare sighed. ‘In the same way he never listens when I tell him I haven’t the smallest desire to ever get married.’
‘As a happily married man and father, I have to tell you that you’re missing out.’
Cesare resisted a rude urge to roll his eyes in mockery. He knew that, in spite of the odds, good marriages did exist. His father had one, after all, and evidently Jonathan did too. But Cesare had no faith in true love and happy-ever-after stories, particularly not when his own first love had ditched him to waltz down the aisle with an extremely wealthy man, who referred to himself as being seventy-five years young. Serafina had dutifully proclaimed her love of older men all the way to the graveyard gates and was now a very rich widow, who had been chasing Cesare in the hope of a rematch ever since.
Cesare’s recollections were tinged with supreme scorn. He would never make a mistake like Serafina again. It had been a boy’s mistake, he reminded himself wryly. He was now far less ignorant about the nature of the female sex. He had never yet lavished his wealth on a woman who wasn’t more excited by his money than by anything else he offered. A satisfied smile softened the hard line of his wide, expressive mouth when he thought of his current lover, a gorgeous French fashion model who went to great lengths to please him in bed and out of it. And all without the fatal suffocating commitment of rings or nagging or noisy kids attached. What was not to like? It was true that he was an extremely generous lover but what was money for but enjoyment when you had as much as Cesare now had?