Read The American Contessa Online

Authors: Noni Calbane

The American Contessa

BOOK: The American Contessa
7.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

The American Contessa

Noni Calbane

Clinton
Walker was a thief.
 
Nothing as blasé or
common as cash.
 
Jewels were his target.

When
he asks his Granddaughter Gaby to complete a job he didn’t finish, she finds
herself on her way to Italy and encountering the arrogant and volatile Count
Luca Manetti.
  
Her dislike for him is
intense and immediate –which is a good thing considering she plans to steal the
family jewels.
 
But her distaste for the
sexy and unlikable Count is nothing compared to her attraction.
 
 

Luca
Manetti has many problems.
 
The biggest
being the American woman who makes his blood heat and his senses reel.
 
The fact that she wants nothing to do with
him has him puzzled and all the more entranced.
 
Is Gaby the one woman who can pierce the hard shell around his heart and
make him change his mind about women?

Copyright
© 2013 by Noni Calbane

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or
used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the
publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

First Published, 2013

PROLOGUE

1952

He’d
gotten away. This time at least.
 
In the
distance he could hear the blare of sirens, heralding the arrival of the
Polizia
.
 
Within minutes the area would be crawling with Police, Interpol and every
law enforcement agency falling under the surrounding jurisdiction. He had to
get out of the country now, if not sooner.

They’d
be looking for him. And rightly so.
 
When
jewels went missing he was number one on everyone’s list.
 
An honour he would rather do without.
 
But they’d never caught him, or managed to
pin anything on him.
 
Whether due to
luck, chance, or his natural ability to get himself out of sticky
situations.
 

His
friends in the upper class laughed at the thought of him being suspected for
the rash of crimes being committed. Although he’d recently noticed the
increased security installed and watchful eyes of the very people he called
“friends” when he came to call.
 

Maybe
his luck was running out in Italy for the time being. Yes, a change of scenery
and friends was in order. Maybe France or Spain should be his next stop. After
all, the world was his oyster.

This
time he’d come away empty handed.
 
He’d
come back for the jewels when the heat was off.
 
But for now, they were safely stashed in a place that he was sure no-one
would look, awaiting his return.
 

CHAPTER ONE

Today

Gaby
used a tissue to wipe the beads of sweat from her forehead, removing not only
her perspiration but a good deal of her makeup as well.
 
Cranking the air-conditioning of her rental
car up another notch, she turned all the vents towards her in an attempt to
cool down her body and her burgeoning bad mood.

“How
can anyone stay cool and fresh when it’s over one hundred, even in
air-conditioning,” she said to her reflection in the rear-view mirror.
 
Palm Springs was always hot, but it was
completely unbearable in July.
 

After
arriving from Boston the previous evening, she’d gone directly to the hotel and
spent the evening in air-conditioned bliss.
 
Palm Springs was one her favourite towns, despite its heat. A desert
oasis that harked back to the days of Marilyn, Dean, Frank and the rest of
their Ratpack buddies.
 
The low-slung
houses of the fifties and all things mid-century modern reigned supreme
throughout the city, and she loved the retro vibe.
 

Appropriately
enough, last night she’d relaxed in her room watching Monroe
in the
Seven Year Itch
until sleep claimed her.
 
Gaby giggled at the comment Marilyn had made
about keeping her undies in the icebox to keep herself cool during a blistering
New York summer.
 
Frozen underwear
sounded like just the ticket right about now. “Maybe I should try that” she
said to herself, but then shook her head.
 

No.
Having the maid find your panties in the freezer while checking the minibar was
not a good idea.

Stopping
at a red light, she pulled her long, wavy chestnut hair into a pony tail with
an elastic band from the middle console and checked the GPS. She was almost
there.
 
Another two blocks, then take a
left.

Hearing
from her Grandfather a week ago had been a shock to put it mildly.
 
He never called asking to see her or her two
sisters, Frances and Grace.
 
The onus had
always been put on them to keep in contact.
 
They’d always known he’d been the black sheep of the family.
 
The relative no-one ever talked about; or if
they did, in hushed tones.
 
No-one knew
his whereabouts and if they did, they weren’t talking.
 
There had been a definite “don’t ask, don’t
tell” rule in place.
 
A rule she and her
sisters respected until their parents were killed ten years ago in an
automobile accident.
 

After
that life-changing event, a sense of family became all the more important, and
discovering the truth about him, good or bad, was an all-consuming mission for
Gaby and her sisters.
 
They’d heard he’d
been in prison, but as for the nature of his crimes, their remaining relatives
had kept their mouths firmly zipped.

The
advances in internet technology changed everything, and she and her sisters
found all they had wanted to know readily at their fingertips.
 
It was surprisingly easy to discover his
history and with a little more digging, his whereabouts.
 
The truth of her Grandfather’s life was the
stuff of movies. It was glamorous, dangerous, but ultimately grim with reality.

In
a nutshell, he was a thief.
 
She had to
admit it though, he was considered to be one of the great ones.
 
One that Interpol had chased for years without
luck.
 
His penchant was for art and
jewels, nothing so blasé or common as cash.

After
leaving the army at the end of World War II he’d remained in Europe, and armed with
a great deal of charm and a flair for deception had managed to enter a certain
circle of high society.
 
Mixing with the
upper class of Europe, his taste for expensive homes, cars and women, far
outdid his army pension.
 
And with no
desire to work and/or give up his lifestyle, he began using his connections to
gain access to the wealth he sought.
 

Of
course, it all caught up with him in 1961.
 
His hand was caught in the proverbial cookie-jar one night in the South
of France.
 
He was convicted and
sentenced to ten to fifteen years and with good behaviour, got out in 1968. By
the time he’d been released, his wife and son, Gaby’s father, were lost to
him.
 
  

Gaby
asked him once why it was he’d been caught that time, when he’d managed to
elude the authorities for so long.
 
Shrugging, he’d said something about losing his nerve, taking careless risks
and being incredibly greedy. He then finally admitted that his luck had just
plum run out.

Finding
him eight years ago had been a blessing and a curse as far as Gaby was
concerned.
 
All the fantasies and stories
she’d made up in her teenage mind regarding his exciting and dashing life were
shattered and she discovered him to be a frail, lonely old man living in an
apartment in Palm Springs.

Now
he was a frail, lonely and sick old man.

All
the wealth he had nefariously accumulated was gone through good living and
confiscation.
 
And, unable to take care
of himself, Gaby and her sisters had to make the painful decision to put him in
a senior’s care facility. He’d fought tooth and nail against it, as his mind
was as quick as a fox.
 
But in the end,
even he had to admit that everyday life was getting harder and harder to handle
on his own.
 
The financial burden had
been a huge one, and although she and her sisters had all chipped in; her share
of the ongoing costs were astronomical for someone who taught second grade in a
public school.

Pulling
into the parking lot of the facility, Gaby looked around the grounds.
 
The sprinklers fanned over the immaculate
garden and she had the childish urge to run through them and cool down.
 
All in all, the Sunset Care Facility was well
kept and neat, and she was glad that she could at least provide her Grandfather
with pleasant surroundings to end his days.

At
that thought, Gaby sighed.
 
She really
did love him.
 
She didn’t know him, but
she loved him, unconditionally. He was the last direct link to her parents and
although she only came to visit him a few times a year, she felt totally at
ease with him in a way that was kind of unnerving, but not a complete surprise.
 

She’d
always suspected that a sense of adventure and danger lurked somewhere beneath
her calm schoolteacher exterior.
 
If
she’d hazard a guess, she was positive it came from his genes and not her parents,
who were as straight as an arrow and utterly happy in their humdrum middleclass
life.
 
Not that she wished to follow in
his footsteps, but a little glamour and danger sounded like just the remedy for
what ailed her.
 

You’re
just in a rut, she’d lectured herself time and time again, nothing to worry
about.
 
Rut? Hell, it was more like an
abyss!

Quickly
getting out of her car, Gaby entered through the revolving door, grateful to be
back in air-conditioning once again.

*****

“Gabriella”

He
held out his withered hand to her, and she clasped it lovingly.
 
“Hi Gran-pop, how are you?”

“As
good as I can be at my age,” he replied. His green eyes twinkled at her.
 
“But all the better for seeing you.
 
I’m the envy of all my geriatric friends
having such a beautiful girl come see me.”

Gaby
smiled at him.
 
Clinton Walker, although
almost ninety, still possessed the charm of a man a third his age. His body may
be fading fast but his mind was as young and vibrant as she was.
 

“Enough
flattery old man, you’re lucky school’s out so I could come see you.
 
It’ll be hard to get away when September
comes.”
 
Her smile fell with the sudden
realisation that time was passing by far too quickly.

His
eyes turned serious and she knew he was thinking the same thing. The years they’d
lost could never be recaptured and the remaining time he had left on this earth
was almost depleted.
 
“Have you given any
more thought to moving to Boston?
 
They
have places there that are just as well-run and comfortable as this.”

“And
give up all this sunshine?” he smirked.

“The
sun shines in Boston too,” she argued.

“No,”
he replied firmly, “This is my home now.
 
I never had roots until I came to this town –and now they run deep.
 
This place may not be the
Plaza
or the
Ritz
, but then I’m hardly the man I used to be.”

Although
Gaby could acknowledge his wish to remain in a familiar setting, it didn’t make
it any easier to accept.
 
“But you’re so
far away –and when school starts it’s so difficult to come see you.
 
I want to be here for you.
 
And so do Frances and Grace, but …,” Her
voice trailed off in sadness.
 
The
thought that he would end his days without them close by was unbearable.

He
spoke solemnly, “That’s why I called you to come see me now.
 
I knew that school had finished and you have
the time.
 
I need you to do something for
me.
 
Before time runs out.”

Gaby’s
eyebrows arched in surprise.
 
In all the
time she’d known him, he’d never once asked for anything, and her mind raced as
to what it could possibly be.

Pointing
to his bureau drawers across the room he ordered, “Bottom drawer, there’s a
lockbox. Get it.
 
The key is in my left,
brown leather shoe in the closet.”

All
very cloak and dagger, Gaby thought uneasily as she got the key and the lockbox
and returned to his bed.
 
But then, her
Grandfather’s life had been quite different to the normal person.
 
She looked warily at the small locked
container as though it was Pandora’s Box and opening it would unleash all the
evils of the world.

“Don’t
be afraid,” he comforted knowingly, “It’s only my personal papers.”

Gaby
visibly relaxed and opened the box.
 
Sure
enough, it only contained envelopes and plethora of photos.
 
She picked up one photo of a handsome young
man, whom she thought was her father, with a small child. But it couldn’t be.
On the back of the picture it said 1969.

She
looked at him curiously and held the photo out to him.
 
Perusing the photo, his eyes suddenly welled
with tears.
 
“Yes.
 
That’s me, with your father. I met his mother
before my arrest and we married in Italy in 1959.
 
Did you know that?” he asked sadly.

“No,
I didn’t.”
 
There was so much she didn’t
know about him, but she was hesitant to push him for all the facts as it was so
obviously painful for him to remember his misdoings, and his personal failings.

“I
left her pregnant with him to go to France for a job.”

The
way he said “job”, Gaby knew
which
job and exactly what it meant.
 
He’d been
caught and imprisoned.
 
The regret and
sorrow was etched deep in his face.
 
He’d
lost much by choosing the life he’d led.

“This
was the one and only time I saw my son,” he rasped, the tears spilling down his
cheek. “When I got out of prison, his mother refused to let him have anything
to do with me.
 
You see, when we married,
she didn’t know what I did … for a living.
 
I promised after seeing him I would leave his life forever.”

Gaby
stroked his face, trying to comfort him.
 
He was wrong to do what he did, but he was an old man now.
 
Who wouldn’t have some regrets after living
almost a century?

“Gran-pop,
you made mistakes.
 
You paid for
them.
 
I’m sure you loved my grandmother
and my dad very much.”

“I
did.
 
That job was going to be the last
one.
 
If only …,” he looked away
wistfully thinking about what might have been.

Blinking
the tears away, he looked Gaby in the eye and changed the subject sharply.
“This is what I wanted to show you,” he stated, pulling out another photo from
the pile.

He
handed her a photo of a beautiful dark haired woman lounging on a settee.
 
From the hairstyle, Gaby guessed mid-1940s,
possibly just after the war.

She
smiled at him. “Very pretty.
 
One of your
old flames Gran-pop?”

BOOK: The American Contessa
7.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Farmer Next Door by Patricia Davids
The Gate to Futures Past by Julie E. Czerneda
Water is Thicker than Blood by Julie Ann Dawson
Peekaboo Baby by Delores Fossen
D2D_Poison or Protect by Gail Carriger
What Was She Thinking? by Zoë Heller
A Deadly Judgment by Jessica Fletcher
The White Forest by Adam McOmber