Picture of Innocence(10)

By: Jacqueline Baird

‘I owe you an apology, Miss Steadman,’ he admitted curtly. ‘I am sorry; it seems you have every right to be here.’

‘Apology accepted—but I bet it nearly choked you,’ Lucy prompted with an irrepressible grin. There was something very satisfying in seeing the stiff-necked arrogant banker made to look a fool.

‘Not quite, but close,’ he said, his lips quirking at the corners in a self deprecating smile. ‘So how do you know the Countess della Scala? ‘ he asked.

His smile—the first she had seen from him—made her heart turn over. But, remembering their last meeting and what he was really like, she stiffened. ‘Mind your own business,’ she said bluntly. ‘As I recall you told me quite succinctly yesterday you wanted nothing to do with mine.’ And, brushing past him, she walked to the elevator and stepped inside.

The petite, elegant Countess was an absolute delight, Lucy thought ten minutes later, sitting in a comfortable chair and watching the elderly lady reclining on a sofa and examining the eighteen-by-twelve portrait of her husband that her manservant held a few feet away from her.

‘I love it—absolutely love it,’ she said, then instructed the manservant to place it on the table while she decided where to hang it. She turned back to Lucy. ‘You have captured my beloved husband perfectly. All my friends will be green with envy, and I can see a lot more commissions coming your way and a great future ahead of you.’

‘I hope so.’ Lucy grinned. ‘But thank you. I’m glad you like it, because it was a real pleasure to do—he was a very handsome man.’

‘Oh, he was—and so jolly. Nothing like Lorenzo Zanelli. The nerve of the man, trying to have you thrown out of the building. Are you sure you are all right.’

‘How on earth did you know about that?’ Lucy asked in surprise.

‘The concierge is a good friend of mine and keeps me informed of everything. Zanelli’s behaviour was disgraceful—I can’t imagine what he was thinking.’

‘I had a brief meeting with him yesterday over something his bank has an interest in, and he jumped to the conclusion I was following him,’ Lucy said with a grin. ‘He obviously has an overblown sense of his attraction to women, or he is just paranoid. I had no idea he lived here.’

‘Ah, my dear—Lorenzo Zanelli doesn’t live here, but friends of his, Fedrico and Olivia Paglia, have an apartment here. Unfortunately Federico was injured in a hunting accident in January and has been in a rehabilitation clinic ever since. There has been the occasional rumour circulating about Lorenzo Zanelli’s involvement with the poor man’s wife, because he has visited Olivia a few times, though I can’t see it myself. He is much more likely to be taking care of her husband’s business affairs than her.’ She chuckled. ‘Zanelli has the reputation of being a loner, a very private man and a workaholic. Olivia Paglia is a real social butterfly—which is why I can’t see the two of them together. They are like chalk and cheese.’

‘They say opposites attract,’ Lucy inserted, fascinated by the Contessa’s conversation.

‘Personally I don’t believe it. But enough gossip. When we first met I was struck by how bright you looked, wearing a brilliant blue top and white tailored trousers. Now, I hope you won’t take this the wrong way, my dear, but that black suit is ill fitting and absolutely dreadful.’

Lucy burst out laughing. ‘I know—it’s terrible. I borrowed it from a friend because turning up in jeans and a top or a colourful kaftan, which is pretty much all I own, didn’t seem very businesslike. Plus, even though I had the portrait packaged I did not want to put it in the cargo hold. It took up most of my hand luggage, and I just managed to squeeze in a spare blouse and underwear.’