A Pawn in the Playboy's Game

By: Cathy Williams

CHAPTER ONE

‘DON’T KNOW WHAT you’re doing here.’ Roberto Falcone glared at his son. He had shuffled to the front door and now he remained standing in front of it like a bouncer blocking entry to a club. ‘Told you not to bother coming and meant it.’

Alessandro felt that familiar tension invade his body, the way it always did on those occasions when he was in his father’s company. Usually, though, they at least managed pleasantries before he felt like spinning on his heel and walking as fast as he could in the opposite direction. This time, there was no polite surface small talk and Alessandro braced himself for an impossibly difficult weekend.

Which they would both have to endure because there was no choice.

‘Are you going to let me in or are we going to have this conversation on the doorstep? Because if we are, I’ll get my coat from the car. I’d rather not die from frostbite just yet.’

‘You won’t die from frostbite,’ Roberto Falcone scoffed. ‘It’s practically tropical here.’

Alessandro didn’t bother to argue. He’d had a lot of experience when it came to disagreeing with his father. Roberto Falcone might be eighty years old but there was nothing he gave up without a fight, and arguing about whether eight degrees Celsius counted as cold or not was just one of those things. He was a hardy soul who lived in Scotland and thought that blizzard conditions were a bracing challenge. Real men cleared snowdrifts half-naked and barefoot! His son was a softie who lived in London and switched on the central heating the second the sun went behind a cloud.

And never the twain would meet.

Which was why duty visits were limited to three times a year and lasted as long as it took for the limited well of polite conversation to run dry.

Except this was more than a duty visit and he had known that his father wasn’t going to make things easy.

‘I’ll get my coat.’

‘Don’t bother. Now that you’ve landed here, I suppose I don’t have much choice but to let you in, but if you think that I’m going to be heading down to London with you, then you’ve got another think coming. I’m not budging.’

In the cold, gathering gloom, they stared at one another, Alessandro’s expression veiled, his father’s fiercely determined.

‘We’ll discuss this when I’m inside,’ Alessandro said. ‘Why have you answered the door? Where’s Fergus?’

‘It’s the weekend. Man deserves a break.’

‘You had a stroke six months ago and you’re still recovering from a fractured pelvis. The man’s paid enough to give up his breaks.’

Roberto scowled but Alessandro didn’t back down. Frankly, this wasn’t the time for pussyfooting round the issue. Like it or not, his father was going to return to London with him in three days’ time. The contents of the house could be packed up and shipped south once the place had been vacated.

His mind was made up and once Alessandro had made his mind up on anything, he was not open to discussion, far less persuasion. His father could no longer cope with the rolling Victorian mansion, even if he could afford an army of hired help if he chose. Neither could he cope with the acres of lawns and garden. He liked plants. Alessandro would introduce him to the marvels of Kew Gardens.

The brutal truth was that Roberto Falcone was now frail, whether he wanted to admit it or not, and he needed somewhere small, somewhere closer to Alessandro, somewhere in London.

‘I’ll get my bag,’ Alessandro said abruptly. ‘You go in and I’ll join you in the sitting room. I take it you haven’t dispatched all the help...because you felt they needed some time out from doing what they’re so handsomely paid to do?’

‘You might be lord of that manor of yours in London,’ Roberto retorted, ‘and I wouldn’t think of questioning you if you chose to give whoever works for you a weekend off, but this is my manor and I can do whatever I want.’

‘Let’s not kick off this weekend on an argument,’ Alessandro said heavily. He looked at the elderly man in front of him, still leonine in appearance with his thick head of steel-grey hair, his piercing dark eyes and his impressive height, at six foot one only a couple of inches shorter than him. The only hint of his frailty was the walking stick and, of course, a thick wad of medical notes residing in the hospital ten miles due west.

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