She pressed the buzzer and stepped inside.
RAFFAELE STOOD IN the boardroom of this tiny but very precious jewel in his publishing crown and waited. It was almost eleven o’clock. Almost time for this gnawing mystery to reach its conclusion. Either she was Giancarlo’s daughter or she wasn’t. Either she was going to sue for her share of the estate or she wasn’t. But, no matter what, he was taking the fight to her. He was tired of waiting for her to make a move. Because if he was sure of anything in this world it was the fact that he hadn’t heard the last of Coral Dahl.
He poured another coffee and walked over to the glass walls. He’d had a busy, productive morning with the senior staff, talking about his plans for the business, reassuring them that there would be very few changes to the old titles, that his buy-out was not a wipe-out. All he wanted was to preserve what had brought him to the company in the first place: the weekly comic he’d read as a boy—the one constant in his life, devoured in secret while his world fell apart around him.
He sipped the coffee and looked down on the floor below. Cold November light flooded in through the stained glass onto the staff, scattering coloured light like confetti on the desks below.
At the back of what had once been the altar, above two empty sofas, hung huge illustrations from that comic—the ten-year-old super-sleuth Stefano and Petra, his faithful German Shepherd—pictures that he could draw himself from memory. Just staring at the inked lines took him all the way back to those hours under his bed, with his books and his comics, hidden away from a world he didn’t understand, craving comfort in all that pain.
If even one boy got the same comfort he’d got, it would be worth it. Not everything in life was about making money. Eight-year-old orphans didn’t care about that. All they wanted was to feel again the love, the warm body, the safety that had been ripped from their life. And when that wasn’t there they’d look for it in other things—in dogs, books and in weekly comics that would transport them to other worlds.
That was why it meant so much to him that MacIver Press should be kept alive. The staff here understood. Fiercely loyal to the old characters and their art, they were more than happy to keep it going. But their business couldn’t survive on the comic alone. He’d told them the price was a new celebrity weekly. None of the current staff had any experience or interest in this market, but they understood that it would balance the books. No one would lose their jobs and the brand would be intact.
All he needed was some competent staff to launch the new publication.
And, right on time, here came the woman who thought she might be one of them.
He stared down as she followed the receptionist through what had been the nave of the church to the rear offices. His eyes were drawn to her striding walk, her beautiful rich auburn hair, lying thick and long down her back. He felt his heart beat faster.
He looked closer. Something jarred. She looked like Coral, but this woman was bigger. Had none of her style. This woman was pregnant…
He stared as the picture editor came towards her, smiling. The woman turned and then he saw the side of her face. The smile. Then she twisted round and he saw the leather bag, held close to her large stomach. It was Coral, all right.
In a trance, he crossed the room, pulled open the heavy glass door and took the stairs, his mind slowly coming to terms with what he had just seen. He’d known she wouldn’t be a nun after their night together. So she was pregnant with another man’s child? It was of no interest to him.
He strode across the floor between the desks. People glanced round from their screens, paused on phone calls. Ahead were the steps, the twin sofas, the pictures and her rapidly retreating back as she went into a glass-walled meeting room. Two more steps and he laid his hand on the steel handle, turning it.
As she looked over her shoulder, the picture editor’s eyes drew into a frown and then opened in surprise.
Coral turned her head. Under dark lashes, her eyes lifted to his.
In that moment recognition was replaced by shock, then anger. And then, if he wasn’t mistaken, fight.
‘I’ll take this from here,’ he said.
Her hand moved to the strap of her bag, tugging it to her side protectively. A tiny move. He looked at the bulge of her belly, the jut of her jaw as she raised it. The picture editor dropped her eyes and slipped past him. He heard the door close.
‘What’s going on? Is this your idea of a joke?’
He shook his head as he took in all the signs of her pregnancy. Even in shabby clothes she looked radiant. Her skin glowed with health, softening her features, adding to her allure.