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The Flaw in His Diamond

By:Susan Stephens

The Flaw in His Diamond
Susan Stephens

       CHAPTER ONE

'SO. WHAT DO we know about him?' Leaning her hands, palms flat, on her  no-nonsense scrubbed pine table, Eva glared, first at her older, married  sister, Britt, and then at her younger sister, Leila.

Leila's cheeks flushed pink, though she was used to Eva ranting.  Leila's middle sister was strong. And that was a polite way of putting  it. Eva was also one hell of a pain in the neck when she was in one of  her campaigning moods as she was now. Leila adored both her sisters,  though she sometimes wished Eva could find a man and move out of the  family home, taking her emotional pyrotechnics with her. How tranquil  would life be then? Leila could only dream. But would anyone take Eva  on? Both Leila and Britt had tried to interest the available men in  Skavanga in Eva by extolling the many virtues of their firebrand sister,  but none of the men had been interested in taking Eva anywhere, unless  it was for a game of pool or darts. They had countered Leila and Britt's  glowing recommendations by reminding them about Eva's famous temper and  how loud she could shout, before turning their attention to quieter,  more amenable companions.

'Come on!' Eva rapped, standing straight and planting her hands on her  hips. 'I need answers here. It's all right for you, Britt-married to the  Black Sheikh, one of the leading lights in the consortium. I don't  expect you to compromise your loyalties by having an opinion. But you,  Leila? Shame. On. You. I'm surprised you can't see that, if we allow  them to, the consortium will happily rampage over our polar landscape  and then move on. And don't tell me I'm overreacting. That's what will  happen if one of us doesn't make a stand.'

That was the thing about Eva, Leila mused as she removed herself to a  quiet place in her head. Eva could have an argument all by herself  without anyone else even taking part.

'I won't let the consortium have everything its own way, even if you  will,' Eva continued heatedly, 'and before you say a word, Britt, let me  make this quite clear. I might have seen our family business stolen  from under our noses by three unscrupulous men but, unlike you, I have  no intention of sleeping with one of them to make me feel better-'

'That's enough,' Leila cut in with unusual fire. 'Have you forgotten your sister is married to Sheikh Sharif?'

Shaking her head, Leila smiled an apology on behalf of Eva to Britt,  who shrugged. Both sisters were accustomed to Eva's tirades. What Eva  needed was a curb on that temper. Her heart was in the right place, but  their sister rarely thought before she spoke-or acted. And that was far  more worrying, as far as Leila was concerned.

'Well, you two are utterly useless,' Eva exploded as her sisters  continued sipping their coffee and reading their newspapers, and  generally concentrating on other things as they waited for Eva's tirade  to burn itself out.

Tossing back her flame-red explosion of waist-length curls, Eva picked  up the newspaper, her frown deepening as she scanned the latest  developments at the mine, spearheaded by the man she had had her knife  into since her nemesis, Roman Quisvada, had first shocked her into  silence at Britt's wedding with his swarthy good looks and inflexible  manner.

'Count Roman Quisvada?' she intoned scathingly. 'Well, that's a ridiculous name to begin with.'

'He's Italian, Eva,' Britt murmured patiently as she carried on reading  her newspaper. 'And he's a bona fide count. It's an ancient title-'

'Count? My foot!' Eva scoffed. 'He can count how many pickets I'm going  to assemble at the mine. That should keep him busy counting!'

'And I believe he's quite strong-minded,' Britt observed mildly, flashing a glance at Leila.

'He's the same guy I slammed the door on at your wedding?' Eva peered  at Roman's image in the press. 'As I remember it, he didn't take much  scaring off on that occasion.'

'You can stop rubbing your hands with glee at the thought of taking him  on again,' Leila warned. 'When you met him at the wedding, it was the  door to the bridal suite you shut in his face, so you could hardly  expect him to stick his foot in and demand entry.'                       
       
           



       

'Anyone would think he'd made an impression on you, Eva,' Britt  remarked as she laid down her newspaper. 'We're certainly wasting a lot  of time and energy on him if he didn't.'

Eva gave a scornful huff. 'I just can't bear being pushed around, that's all.'

'We need the money, Eva,' Britt calmly pointed out. 'We must keep the  consortium on board. We cannot afford to upset this man. The mine would  have gone down without the consortium's investment, throwing hundreds of  people out of work. Is that what you want?'

'Of course not,' Eva protested. 'But there has to be another way-a  slower way, a careful way. Do you have any idea how many times I've  asked this wretched man to meet with me so we can discuss my concerns  about the speed of his drilling programme?'

'Discuss? Or lay down the law?' Britt demanded, cocking her chin to  give her sister a look. Neither Britt nor Leila was frightened of Eva's  outbursts, though, like Leila, Britt did dream of the day when Eva found  a man who could provide an alternative channel for her passionate  nature.

'He has to hear the truth from someone,' Eva stormed. 'And I speak Italian. So he'd got no excuse not to meet with me.'

'I believe the count speaks six languages,' Britt murmured mildly, which resulted in a contemptuous huff from Eva.

'Well, if you two won't take a stand, I will.'

'I knew we could rely on you,' Britt murmured wryly.

'Fresh coffee, anyone?' Leila, who always played the peacemaker,  offered. She skirted round her middle sister as if Eva were a stick of  dynamite waiting to blow.

But Eva wasn't finished yet. 'Just look at this,' she said, spreading  out the local newspaper on the table. The centrefold featured a large  photograph of Count Roman Quisvada, while the banner headline shrieked:  COUNT RESCUES SKAVANGA in extra bold type. 'It makes it sound as if he  saved us from disaster single-handed.'

'That's pretty much what he did do,' Britt observed, lifting her chin  to shoot a stare that curbed her sister's flow. 'Quisvada, Sharif and  the third man, Raffa Leon, have saved Skavanga. And if you can't see  that-'

'You don't even get a mention, Britt,' Eva pointed out. 'And you're supposed to be running the mine.'

'I am running the mine,' Britt confirmed. 'And the only reason they're  making a fuss of the count is because they interviewed him when he  visited the mine to see for himself how his orders were being carried  out-'

'When he was too busy to see me, do you mean?' Eva demanded.

'He was obviously very busy seeing me,' Britt confirmed with a shrug and a wry glance at Leila.

'I'm sure the count was far too busy for distractions on that occasion,' Leila added gently.

'Oh, well, thanks a lot.' Eva chewed her lip as she stared at the  photograph of her nemesis in the newspaper. 'Nice to know I qualify as a  distraction. From what I can see in this article, the Skavanga family  has been written out of the story altogether. All this female journalist  wants to write about is Mr High and Mighty, Count Roman Quisvada.'

'Maybe because she was interviewing him?' Leila ventured.

'Maybe because she was in bed with him,' Eva countered sharply. 'I  really don't care. To a man like that any woman is just another notch on  his bedpost.'

'You wish,' Britt murmured.

'What was that?' Eva snapped, rounding on her older sister.

Shaking her head, Britt pressed her lips down, adopting an innocent  expression as she exchanged a look with Leila, who was careful to show  no emotion at all, in case it fuelled Eva's fire.

'He's a dangerous-looking individual, if you ask me,' Eva remarked, pushing the newspaper aside.

'Fortunately, we didn't ask you,' Britt said mildly.

'All hair grease and designer clothes, with a good helping of arrogance  and entitlement,' Eva muttered, sliding a disparaging look at the  count's photograph.

'Definitely no hair grease,' Britt argued. 'I would have noticed that.  And secondly, if Sharif trusts the count with his life, then so do I.'                       
       
           



       

Eva narrowed her eyes as she contemplated, the conflict ahead of her. 'Well, I, for one, can't wait to meet up with him again.'

'I'm sure he feels exactly the same way about you,' Britt commented, tongue in cheek.

'I'm sure Eva will see sense, and reason with him,' Leila put in, clearly eager to calm things down.

'Reason?' Britt pulled a wry face. 'That's an interesting way of  putting it. But just before you apply your version of reason to your  exchanges with Roman, Eva, may I remind you that without his money and  the money from the other two men in the consortium both our mine and the  town would have died by now?'

'I haven't forgotten anything,' Eva assured her older sister. 'I just  can't understand why he hasn't stayed here to see things through. Oh, I  forgot,' she added acidly. 'He prefers to swan around on his private  island.'

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