A Tuscan Affair

Book excerpt: A Tuscan Affair

 

Anna froze and held her breath.

One glance at the two men Mackenzie led into her office unsettled her trademark cool composure. How many years had she fantasised that he’d walk through her door? But not after over thirty years! Her knees trembled, and then, like a deep-sea diver who’d been too long under water, she came up for air and took a deep, gasping breath.

Did he recognise her? That would not do. She ignored the flutter in her chest. This was not an occasion for fluttering. As one of Auckland’s leading lawyers, she had enough experience and self-control to deal with the appearance of a mistake from a long time ago. She schooled her face and closed the door behind them.

“Good morning. I’m Anna King. Please, take a seat.” Without a smile of recognition, she kept her voice cool and detached. Not by accident was she known as the Ice Queen, an image that took years to perfect. She motioned the two men to the group of chairs in front of a modern fireplace and picked a seat opposite them.

The older of the two said “Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Francesco Falcone and this is my son, Antonio. He came all the way from Tuscany to help me with my divorce.” She could relate to the pride and joy in the father’s voice. “Your colleague Mark Peterson handles my business affairs and said you would be the best lawyer to take on my divorce.” He smiled at Anna. “Your colleague is an ardent admirer of you.”

“That’s very kind of him.” So, Antonio was his name? Call me amore mio, he’d told her thirty-four years ago. That blissful night his soft whisperings were enough for her. She didn’t have a need for a name.

It was he, wasn’t it? Could she be mistaken? She, the lawyer who never made mistakes? Although no longer the sun-tanned young man with the body of a Roman God in red swim shorts, he looked the picture of sophistication in his expensive, tailored suit. His short, black hair showed a titillating dusting of grey at his temples.

There was no doubt. Back in nineteen-eighty-two he swept into her life like a force of nature, and, like the outgoing tide, vanished from her life the following day when she boarded the train to Rome. Now he stood in her office with no signs of recognition! She couldn’t very well ask whether he remembered their night at the beach around the bonfire. It wouldn’t be professional to bring up the past. She took a deep breath and looked up from the folder in her hand, calling herself to order.

“I’m having coffee; may I offer you each a cup as well?” The situation called for a coffee, an extra strong one. She rose and walked over to her desk. Both nodded and Antonio held up two fingers.

“Two espressos, black, each two sugars. Thank you.”

She switched on the intercom and relayed the order to Mackenzie, her assistant. Then it hit her.

Lucca.

It would be a disaster if Lucca came to work this morning. She shuddered and switched on the intercom again. “Please, call my son and tell him, he doesn’t have to come into the office this morning. I’ll meet him at court.”

On the way back to her chair, she caught her image in the antique mirror next to her bookshelves. Her reflection showed no signs of the young careless girl with a backpack and sandals, who danced around bonfires with her gypsy skirt and an infectious zest for life. Though the years have been kind to her, even with the lines around the eyes and her mouth. Not bad for fifty-six. She straightened her shoulders and joined the Falcones again.

Mackenzie entered the office. Balancing three cups on a tray, she passed the coffee to them and asked, “Is that all?”

“Thanks, Mackenzie. I’ll call you if we need anything else.”

They sipped their coffee until Antonio broke the silence. “Pardon me, have we met? I have a strong sense we know each other, but I can’t…” his voice trailed off and he squinted his eyes, scrutinising her.

Acting on impulse never served her well, so she dipped her head to the right and looked at him, as if trying to find a memory to fit him in.

“Not that I recall.”

He came much too close for comfort. Their situation was not like two acquaintances enjoying a reunion after many years. It was much more complex and required a well thought through strategy. She turned to Francesco.

“Would you mind telling me about the circumstances that led to the divorce proceedings? I’ll then be able to devise a strategy for us to go forward.”

Antonio Falcone glanced at her in disbelief. She would bet a month’s salary he usually had women laying at his feet instead of being dismissed with four simple words.

His father folded his hands on the table. “Angelica is a New Zealander. She came to our vineyard as part of an organised tour and bought a few boxes of our best wine. I delivered them to her hotel and the rest is history. We were happy, you know, even though she’s thirty-five years younger than I!” His voice softened, and he swallowed, recalling better times, no doubt.

Francesco’s struggle touched her. He told the story of their marriage like a rehearsed script he had gone over many times to find where things went astray between him and his much younger wife. He fought to control his emotions when his son barged in.

“Angelica is a gold digger. There is no doubt. She told my father she wanted a divorce with no prior indication she was unhappy in their marriage.” He huffed, and his voice turned bitter. “Why would she? She’s lived the life of a princess. I want you to set an investigator onto her and do a thorough background check. I bet there is more to the story. Why file for divorce now?”

His attitude showed all the signs of someone used to command and having people at his beck and call. He’d figured it all out and expected her to jump. She suppressed the urge to grin. He’d soon find out she’s walking to her own sweet drums and nobody else’s.

“You’re welcome to hire a private investigator. Ask him to send a copy of his report to my office.” She hoped she smiled without too much of a smirk.

Francesco cleared his throat. “You’ve to excuse my son. He’s used to commandeering people and doesn’t know when to stop. What he meant to say is, we would love if you would contract one of your trusted investigators to look into Angelica’s circumstances. Her request for a divorce came out of the blue. Nobody can make sense of it.”

“I’d be happy to do that for you. Please forward any correspondence you had so far with your wife or her lawyer regarding the divorce.” She then finished her coffee and collected the notes she made. “This is an excellent beginning and gives me lines of inquiry to pursue. Can you think of anything else we need to discuss?” She checked her calendar. “If not we can meet again Friday this week, at the same time. By then I’ll have a strategy ready for you.”

Anna closed the door behind the men and sank into her chair. Tears welled up. She wrapped her arms around herself. Thirty-four years. Fate had a cruel way of interfering with her life and reminding her of times she’d rather kept buried.

When the first tears pearled down her face, accompanied by little sobs, she bit her fist to stop the scream building inside her.

Mackenzie entered Anna’s office. “Lucca asked me to tell you…Anna! Oh dear!” She stood next to Anna’s chair and put her hand on Anna’s back. With a soft voice, Mackenzie said, “That…was the twin’s father, wasn’t it? They look so much like him.”

Anna pulled herself up, took a deep breath and gazed at her assistant. “Yes, but you can’t breathe a single word about it to anyone.”

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