Inherited by Ferranti

By: Kate Hewitt

‘Thank you,’ she whispered.

‘You don’t need to thank me, Sierra.’ He paused, and Sierra could tell he was searching for words. ‘So you wanted to escape. Why did you choose me?’

‘My father chose you,’ Sierra returned. ‘I was under no illusion about that, although I flattered myself to think I had a bit more discernment and control than I actually did.’ She let out a sad, soft laugh. ‘Do you know what convinced me, Marco? I saw you stroking a cat, the day I met you. You were in the courtyard, waiting to come in, and one of the street cats wound its way between your legs. You bent down and stroked it. My father would have kicked it away. In that moment I believed you were a gentle man.’

‘You sound,’ Marco said after a moment, ‘as if you now think you were wrong.’

‘No, I...’ She stopped, biting her lip. It was so difficult to separate what she’d felt then and what she felt now. ‘I was going to marry you for the wrong reasons, Marco, back then. I realised that the night before our wedding. No matter what is between us now—and I know it’s just a fling—it would have never worked back then. I needed to find my own way, become my own person.’

‘So what happened that night?’ Marco asked. ‘Really?’ He sounded as if he were struggling with some emotion, perhaps anger. Sierra could feel how tense his body was.

‘Just what I told you. I overheard you talking with my father. I realised just how close you were. I...I hadn’t quite realised it before. And then I heard my father give you that awful advice.’

‘“I know how to handle her”,’ Marco repeated flatly. ‘I see now why that would have alarmed you, but...couldn’t you have asked me, Sierra?’

‘And what would I ask, exactly?’ The first note of temper entered her voice. ‘“Will you ever hit me, Marco?” That’s not exactly a question someone will answer honestly.’

‘I would have.’

‘I wouldn’t have believed you. That’s what I realised that night, Marco. I was taking too great a risk. It was about me as much as it was about you.’

‘So you ran away, just as you could have done before we’d ever become engaged.’

‘Not exactly. My mother helped me. When I told her I didn’t love you...’ Sierra trailed off uncertainly. Of course Marco knew she hadn’t loved him then. He hadn’t loved her. And yet it sounded so cold now.

‘Yes? When you told her that, what did she do?’

‘She gave me some money,’ Sierra whispered. ‘And the name of a friend in England I could go to.’

‘And you just walked out into the night? Into Palermo?’

‘Yes. I was terrified.’ She swallowed hard, the memories swarming her. ‘Utterly terrified. I’d never been out alone in the city—any city—before. But I hailed a taxi and went to the docks. I waited the rest of the night in the ferry office, and then I took the first boat to the mainland.’

‘And then to England? That must have been quite a journey.’ Marco didn’t sound impressed so much as incredulous.

‘Yes, it was. I took endless trains, and then I was spat out in London with barely enough English to make myself understood. I got lost on the Tube and someone tried to pickpocket me. And when I went to find my mother’s friend, she’d moved house. I spent a night at a women’s shelter and then used a computer in a library to locate the new address of my mother’s friend, and she finally took me in.’

‘So much effort to get away from me,’ Marco remarked tonelessly and Sierra jerked away from him.

‘No, to get away from my father. It wasn’t about you, Marco. I keep telling you that.’

He gazed at her with eyes the colour of steel, his mouth a hard line. ‘How can you say that, Sierra? It most certainly was about me. Yes, it was about your father, as well, I understand that. But if you’d known me at all, if you’d trusted me at all, you would never have had to go to London.’

She recognised the truth of his words even if she didn’t want to. ‘Understandably,’ she answered stiffly, ‘I have had difficulties with trusting people, especially men.’

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