Picture of Innocence(6)

By: Jacqueline Baird

Lucy raised her head, her green eyes clashing with his ‘You’ve put me off now,’ she declared, waving her hands out wide.

‘I’m a banker—I can do the maths. A word of advice—never go into business.’ And she could have sworn she saw a hint of amusement in his dark eyes before the shutters came down and his hard, expressionless gaze fixed on her.

‘Your time has run out, so I will put you out of your misery. Your brother—who was obviously quite keen on partners,’ he said, with a hint of sarcasm in his tone, ‘took on another partner eighteen months ago, selling fifteen percent of his share to Richard Johnson, who as it turns out is a property developer. Now your brother has died he wants to buy out the other two partners, demolish the factory and build a block of apartments on the land. You are six percent short of a majority on your own, and you want my bank, which now controls Antonio’s investment, to side with you to stop the development.’

In that moment Lorenzo, who had been ambivalent over what action to take—a rare occurrence for him—made up his mind. He had toyed with the idea of supporting Miss Steadman—the monetary aspect was next to nothing to the bank, and it also meant he could avoid discussing with his mother a subject that would reignite the pain of her losing Antonio.

He was intensely protective of his mother—had been since his father’s death, and even more so since the death of Antonio. She was a tender-hearted, compassionate woman, who had accepted the inquest result as gospel, and he had taken immense care to ensure she never found out about his confrontation outside the courthouse with Damien. He had paid off the reporter who had caught the declaration of his true view on the case.

But Lucy Steadman was not a good investment. She had been quite happy to let her father and brother keep her in comfort while spouting off about equality of the sexes, and frankly, after what he had learnt earlier today, any thought of assisting a Steadman in any way was anathema to him.

‘Yes, that is exactly right—otherwise the factory will close and a lot of people will lose their jobs. That would be a devastating blow to Dessington, the town I grew up in, and I can’t let that happen.’

‘You have little choice. The factory just about breaks even, but makes very little profit for its partners and consequently is of no interest to this bank. We will be selling to Mr Johnson, who is offering a good return on our original investment.’ He could not resist turning the screw a little. ‘Bottom line—unless you can come up with a higher figure than that currently on offer to buy out my bank’s interest in the next couple of weeks the sale will go through.’

‘But I can’t—I only have my shares.’

‘And two houses, apparently. You could possibly raise money on those with your bank.’

‘No—just one and a half. Damien mortgaged his,’ Lucy murmured to herself. That was something else she had not known.

‘Somehow that does not surprise me,’ he drawled cynically and, rising to his feet, walked around the desk to stop in front of her. ‘Take my advice, Miss Steadman, and sell out. As you said yourself, you have no interest in plastics, and neither does this bank.’

She glanced up the long, lithe length of him, her green eyes clashing with hard black.

‘How old are you? Twenty—twenty-one?’ he asked.

‘Twenty-four,’ she snapped. At five feet two and with youthful appearance, it had been the bane of her life at college, when she’d continually been asked for proof of her age. Even now she still had to carry identification if she wanted to enter licensed premises.

‘Twenty-four is still young. Do as your brother did and have fun. Allow me to show you out.’