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Innocent in the Italian's Possession

By:Janette Kenny

Innocent in the Italian's Possession
Janette Kenny

       CHAPTER ONE




GEMMA CARDONE hurried down the hall toward the executive suite of  Marinetti Shipyard, heart pounding and nerves snapping like a ship's  sails. Church bells chimed six times, the distant echo clear in the  quiet Tuscan morning.

Since the day she'd come to work in Viareggio nine months ago, she'd  relished her leisurely morning walk to her office. Even inside the old  building, the tall narrow windows reminded her of the arched portals of  the stone train tunnel along Cinque Terre, giving a teasing glimpse of  endless sky, the Ligurian Sea and the rugged cliffs that crashed into  the water.

In the ancient village of Manarolo where she had been born and raised,  the old-world buildings scrambled up the steep rocky cliffs as if  clinging to the stone face like colorful gems.

On the same rugged cliffs grew the most magnificent grapes used to make a wine found nowhere else.

It was small and remote and older than time. Everywhere there were steps  and narrow lanes. Yet she missed it dreadfully at times, for there was a  peace there she'd never found anywhere else.

It was just the opposite here in Viareggio. It was close to Cinque Terre  by sea, yet a world apart with a festive carnival and scores of ships  and industry and more tourists than she'd ever seen in a season.

This seaside coastal town stretched along the endless sandy beaches,  meeting the water in a gentle slope. The architecture was pure art  nouveau and the pulse of the town was upbeat.

Every day she looked forward to coming to work for Cesare Marinetti at his shipyard. But not today.

Just one week ago a tragic accident had taken the life of Cesare's wife  and landed him in the hospital. Marinetti Shipyard had been shut down  ever since, in mourning for Signora Marinetti and out of respect for the  family.

Gemma had been on pins and needles since the funeral, worried sick about  the heart attack that had kept Cesare hospitalized. It was no small  wonder that the employees wondered when Cesare would be able to resume  control of his shipyard. Until then, who would manage it in his stead?

The answer had come in the wee hours of the morning.

"I do not have long to talk," Cesare had rasped in a voice clearly laced  with pain. "The doctors say I need heart bypass surgery, and I believe  them." His sigh was long and weary, like one resigned to his fate. "The  shipyard will open today, but I will not return to work for weeks."

"Of course," she said, her heart heavy over what he'd be facing with  surgery and recuperation while still burdened with grief over losing his  wife. "Who are you placing in charge of Marinetti?"

A thick curse rumbled over the line. "My son is taking over the shipyard."

No! Cesare had called in the son who'd turned his back on him five years  ago? The one who never called, never visited because he was too busy  playing the part of consummate playboy?

"I confessed all, Gemma, now I live to regret it. You must go to the  office immediately and remove all the documents pertaining to my  daughter and you," he said. "Take them home with you and keep them  hidden. I cannot let the truth be known yet, not at this point and  especially not to Stefano."

Of course, Cesare was right. If his secret was made public now, it would  rock Marinetti Shipyard and cause his family more hurt. She didn't want  to guess what undue grief it would bring his daughter in her fragile  condition.

"Don't worry," she said. "I'll take care of things."

"Grazie! Be careful around Stefano and don't let him know when you intend to travel to Milan."

That warning played over and over in her mind as she hurried down the  Promenade toward the shipyard. The bars, shops and cafés still slept,  but it wouldn't be long and the town would come awake. What other  surprises would this day bring?

She hated to guess as she made her way toward the executive suite on the  upper floor of Marinetti Shipyard. The heels on her Italian sandals  tapped the wooden floor with an urgent beat that kept pace with her  heart.

She simply couldn't fail Cesare in this. Not now. Not after all they'd been through together.

The click of a door closing echoed up the stairwell just as she reached  the end of the hall. She whipped around and went still as death,  looking, listening.

Unease arched between her shoulder blades as a tense quiet hummed around  her. She saw no one about. But a door had closed in the stairwell  below. She was certain of it.

None of the office staff should be here yet. In fact there was no reason  for any employee to come to work over an hour early. No good reason,  that is.

It must be the security guard making his rounds. Yes, it must be.

Still, Gemma all but ran the last few meters to the paneled door of her  office. She couldn't get caught by anyone. That would raise questions  she wasn't prepared to answer, and she never had been able to tell a  convincing lie.                       
       
           



       

She hurried into her small office painted cheery yellow and furnished  with an efficient desk and chair, a quartet of padded chairs along the  wall for guests, and a table arranged with a lamp and several magazines.  Sunlight streamed through the window in a burst of welcome, but pausing  to appreciate its beauty would have to wait.

She pushed into Cesare's office and flipped the wall switch with a  shaking finger. Before the soft light could chase the shadows to the  dark corners of the paneled room, she was heading across the maroon and  jade carpet toward the wall safe.

Despite the cool morning, sweat beaded her forehead and dampened her  spine and palms. Her silk coral blouse clung to her breasts and her navy  blue pencil skirt had ridden up her thighs from her uncharacteristic  sprint. But she couldn't take time to right her clothes, either.

An unsettling energy hummed in the air, as if a storm was moving in. Or trouble was brewing?

Please don't let it be from within Marinetti.

They'd all been through enough. But she feared that's just what would happen when Cesare's son took over.

From what she'd overheard, Stefano Marinetti was ruthless in business  and a lothario outside of it. Having seen him at the funeral, she didn't  doubt that rumor one bit!

Yes, he was praised for his rapier-quick decisions and ability to make millions. But he was an international playboy.

He hadn't taken time to visit his parents in five long years. In her opinion, he could just stay away now.

Just recalling the latest headline splashed across the tabloids had her  pursing her lips. Stefano's superyacht business had skyrocketed while  Marinetti Shipyard struggled from week to week to make payroll of late.

Cesare's business rivals called him washed up. She knew the truth, but she couldn't divulge where the fortune had gone.

She spun the dial on the safe with trembling fingers, the only sound in  the room her pounding heart and the metered tick of the wall clock. Then  she heard the heavy outside door snick open, but it was the masculine  exchange of, "ciao," echoing from the hall outside her office that  nearly stopped her heart.

She pawed through the contents of the safe and removed the portfolio she  needed with her heart in her throat, clinging to the tiny window of  time afforded her as the two men outside lapsed into a rapid staccato of  conversation. A quick look inside the dark safe proved the photos were  stowed there as well.

She stuffed the lot of them inside her carryall, closed the wall safe  and slipped from Cesare's office into her own. Footsteps pounded in the  hall, coming closer. Heavy, impatient strides.

Surely not a guard. She doubted he was a worker, either. No, in all  likelihood, the man moments from bursting through the door was Cesare's  son.

Her heart raced as she eased onto her chair and tucked her carryall  under her desk. She'd done it. Now all she had to do was don a  professional air and appear to be dutifully busy.

The door swung open and a tall man strode inside, wearing an Armani suit  that emphasized the width of his broad shoulders and fitted his long  lean body to perfection. He stopped cold and cut her a quick impatient  look, much the same expression he'd worn at his mother's funeral.

Stefano Marinetti was a younger, more leonine version of Cesare. His  wealth of coffee-brown hair had a sexy wave to it and his beautifully  sculpted lips curved just enough to keep him from appearing cross.

Just like he'd done at the funeral, his discerning mocha eyes took their  time caressing every inch of her until her skin tingled and her thighs  trembled. Men had openly stared at her before, but never like this.  Never with this open carnal hunger.

It was totally inappropriate behavior even for a flirtatious Italian. He  wasn't just undressing her with his hot gaze, he was getting under her  skin and stroking her libido.

With effort, she broke eye contact and struggled to draw air deeply into  her too tight lungs. Another mistake, for she inhaled his scent, an  erotic spice that sank into her and left her giddy with want.

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