Suddenly the maids stopped chattering. The house seemed to pause. Doors sounded and voices rose.
They were here.
She felt her heart pound and all her muscles tense. The maid let go of her hand gently, and when she opened her eyes they were both scuttling off down the hallway.
Slowly her breathing settled. She scraped back the chair and focused once more on the room around her.
There was the bed she’d slept in just before she’d been asked to leave the island. There was the simple, beech chair where the red dress had been draped and the painful shoes had been dropped. On the bedside table was the lamp, now unlit, and the photograph of people she now knew to be Raffa’s mother and father. Along the hallway she could hear the rumble of male voices—just like that night.
She stood up, dropped her shoulders and smoothed her dress. She touched a hand to her hair, then her bump and fleetingly twisted her diamond ring around her finger. This time she wasn’t going to run into an ambush.
Along the passageway she went, her clicking heels announcing her arrival. They were both standing—Raffa close to Aphrodite’s Pool and Salvatore leaning moodily against the wall.
‘Hello, Salvatore,’ she said, walking right up to him, hand outstretched, with a smile as broad as she could muster on her face. ‘It’s lovely to meet you properly at last.’
He turned. His face formed something that she assumed he thought was a smile.
‘Coral. Welcome back to Hydros.’
‘Lovely to be here, thank you. Did you have a good flight from Sydney?’
He narrowed his eyes and then he swung round.
‘I can’t do this, Raffa. I’m not going to pretend that this is right. This isn’t what Papa would have wanted.’
Raffa stepped up. ‘None of us know what Giancarlo really wanted. We don’t know what it was like for him to know he had another child and not be able to do the right thing by everybody. But we are going to put right what we can, Salvatore. In the only way possible.’
He walked forward as he spoke, one step at a time, and each word was fearsome and forceful.
Coral’s mouthful of retort was held in check for a moment.
‘You’re not being true to his memory, Raffa! You’re just being blinded by this because she’s dangling the carrot of your own little family right in front of your eyes. It’s all a trap—to make me look bad and her look good. Don’t you see?’
‘You’ve done a wonderful job of looking bad without anyone’s help,’ Coral sliced in. ‘I thought you would have the good grace to apologise for what you did, but I can see that I was hoping for too much.’
‘Salvatore, I warned you not to cross the line—’ said Raffa.
‘Raffa, I can handle this. He has to hear it from me!’ Coral interrupted.
But Salvatore ignored her, rounding on Raffa as if he was the only one in the room.
‘She’s the one to blame. We were fine before she lied her way onto the island. I know I’ve been difficult, but do you blame me? You know how hard it’s been for me, Raffa!’
‘We’ve never been “fine”. I warned you, Salvatore. I told you where my loyalties lie. Now, give me a DNA sample and get out of here!’
Coral’s hand flew to her mouth as Raffa lifted Salvatore by the collar and hauled him, ankles dragging on the ground, past the pool and out towards the terrace. Salvatore’s limbs flailed as he tried to score punches. They reached the glass doors and she gasped as his body was flung against them. The chandelier’s beads jittered. The dogs stood on alert by Raffa’s feet, poised to attack.
Coral turned away as a sob rose in her throat. It was too hideous to watch. Her own flesh and blood and he hated her so much.
She began to retrace her steps, but in a heartbeat Raffa was at her side. She was in his arms, and he was holding her close. She clutched at his shirt and he smoothed his hand over her head.
‘Shh…shh… It’s OK. He’s gone. He won’t be back. I’m so sorry. I really thought he would be ready to meet you at least.’
‘I don’t understand—he wouldn’t even give me a moment.’
‘Don’t criticise yourself. We tried. We did our best. And I’ve got the sample.’
He held out the phial and tucked it in his pocket.
‘Why does he hate me so much? What did I ever do to him?’
‘You did nothing. You have nothing to be ashamed of. It’s always been this way. He hates me, too. Don’t take it personally!’ He let a tiny laugh lace his words and it eased her, just for a moment.
‘If he hates me now, how is he going to feel when I file papers over the will?’