Kerry had betrayed his trust.
Four years ago, Alex Veranchetti, a strong-willed Italian tycoon, had abruptly ended their marriage – wounded by the dreadful wrong he thought Kerry had done to him. Now he was back in Kerry’s life, and intent on remarrying her for the sake of their son. Kerry had no choice. She had to marry Alex or risk tearing apart her proper English family with the exposure of her shameful secret. Yet this marriage could never work not with all the hurts driving a rift between the two, not with all the doubts….
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NICKY CAME hurtling through the crowd ahead of his escort and threw himself into his mother’s arms like a miniature whirlwind. “Missed you,” he confided, burying his dark head under her chin where unmanly tears could be decently concealed.
Kerry’s arms encircled him tightly. He had been staying with his father for an entire month. Kerry had watched the calendar through every day of his absence, resenting the unusual silence echoing round the cottage and the emptiness of her weekends. As she slowly lowered her three-year-old son to the ground, she noticed the two dark-suited men lodged several feet away. Nicky’s escorts.
One of them stepped forward coolly to say, “It really wasn’t necessary for you to come to the airport, signora. We would have brought Nicky home as we usually do.”
There was a studied insolence to the roaming sexual appraisal of his dark eyes. Involuntarily, Kerry’s magnolia skin heated. She knew that she shouldn’t allow Alex’s security staff to browbeat her. But she did. She was nobody of importance on their scale. The discarded ex-wife, who didn’t even enjoy a semicivilised post-divorce relationship with their employer. They could afford to be as rude and superior as they liked. They knew better than anybody that Alex wouldn’t even take a phone call from her. The chances of her complaining were negligible.
With a rather valiant effort she lifted her chin. “I wanted to come to the airport.”
“Mr Veranchetti prefers us to see his son safely to the door of your home, signora.”
“I’m perfectly capable of driving my own child home,” she muttered curtly, and turned deliberately away, seeking a fast escape from a confrontation in the center of Heathrow.
“Until the little boy reaches home he’s our responsibility.” A restraining hand actually fell on her tense shoulder.
She couldn’t believe this was happening to her. That she was being bullied by a hired security man, who treated her child like Little Lord Fauntleroy.
Nicky was her son. He might be Alex’s as well, but did she have to stand for such treatment? It was totally destroying Nicky’s homecoming. She was aware of her son’s brown lustrous gaze fixed anxiously to her strained face, and she strove to behave calmly.
“When I’m here, he’s my responsibility,” she stated with a forced smile. “Really, this is quite ridiculous. All this argument simply because I chose to meet him off the plane…”
The other man had stepped forward too. In one hand he carried Nicky’s case. A fast exchange of Italian took place over her slightly bowed head. Murderous feelings were struggling for utterance inside her. The past four years had been very tough for Kerry. What she could never accept was that they should continue getting tougher. Alex was zealously trying to wean Nicky from her for longer and longer periods, and she had an absolute wimp of a solicitor, who was always sympathetic but equally trenchant in his view that her ex-husband was not a man to antagonise.
“Mr Veranchetti wouldn’t be pleased.” It was the older man who spoke now for the first time.
He talked as if Alex was God. Or maybe the Devil, she conceded abstractedly. People always employed that impressed-to-death tone when they referred to her ex. It had got to the stage where Kerry’s blood chilled in her veins whenever he was mentioned. Alex had turned into a remote, untouchable figure of power and incalculable influence long before he had divorced her. It was humiliating to acknowledge that Alex’s treatment of her in recent years had left her frankly petrified of him.
But today she suddenly found herself deciding that enough was enough. Nicky was hers and they were—;believe it or not—;on British soil. She didn’t have to stand here being intimidated by Alex’s henchmen. There was an angry flash in her copper-lashed green eyes as she stared at both stalwart figures. “Unfortunately, Mr Veranchetti’s wishes don’t carry the same weight with me,” she murmured shortly, and stuck out her hand challengingly for her son’s case.
After a perceptible hesitation it was handed over. The weight of it almost dislocated her wrist. She was a small woman and slenderly built. But, distinctly uplifted by her minor victory, she released a determined smile.
“Thank you,” she said quietly.
“Why are Enzio and Marco cross?” Nicky hissed up at her in a loud stage-whisper.
“Oh, I’m sure they’re not really cross,” she replied cheerfully. “Give them a wave.”
Nicky turned his curly dark head. “They’re coming after us.”
Well, if they wanted to waste time trailing in her wake out to the car park, that was their affair. She should have been firmer before now, she told herself bracingly. She shouldn’t let strangers’ opinions matter to her. But it was her conscience afoot, wasn’t it? The fear that they knew why her marriage had broken up. That creepy, crawling and lowering fear that her sordid secret might be common knowledge among the higher echelons of Alex’s security staff. It was that which invariably kept her silent: shame. Shame and guilt, even after four long years. She no longer felt she was worthy of respect, so she wasn’t likely to be granted it by others.
“They’re gone,” Nicky said in some disappointment during their long trek to the van.
Kerry’s tense shoulders eased a little. She lowered the case and changed it to her other hand. It was a cold, frosty morning, and her ankle-booted feet skidded on the whitened tarmac. She hunched deeper into her electric-blue cord duffle coat and quickened her pace to the blue van parked close to the fence. By the time she had got the case stowed in the rear and had settled in behind the wheel, she was beginning to notice how quiet Nicky was. Normally he was bubbling over with disjointed stories of where he had been, who he had been with and what a fantastic time he had had. For some reason his usual buoyancy was missing.