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Chapter 74 Then Why Don't

  • “Then why don’t you sit down and pursue my acquaintance, Mr. Santiso?” Elizabeth replied, ignoring the absurd leap of her pulse. He had to be flattering her. Such a man could have his pick of any number of beautiful, clever and younger women.
He regarded her speculatively, still on his feet behind the chair at the opposite side of the table. “Why do you not believe me?”
“Because you’re here for a purpose and I am not that purpose.”
“Christabel must feel safe with your son.”
“I believe she does. But she does not feel safe with you, Mr. Santiso.”
“Rafael. My name is Rafael.”
“I know.”
“May I call you Elizabeth?”
“If you wish.”
“I was entrusted with the responsibility of keeping the child safe. On Alicia’s eighteenth birthday, she will inherit six hundred million dollars.” He paused, watching her reaction. “I see you are not surprised, Elizabeth.”
“Jared informed me of that fact two hours ago.”
“And he is still intent on keeping them…safe?”
“We are not without means,” she said with dry irony, knowing full well that six hundred million dollars dwarfed the wealth the King family could lay claim to. Yet there were resources that money couldn’t buy, and inadvertently Elizabeth’s eyes flashed that confidence as she added, “This is not your world, Rafael. It is ours.”
“The Kings of the Kimberley,” he mused softly. A whimsical little smile lingered on his mouth as he moved over to the balustrade between the veranda posts and turned his back to the view, dominating her vision as he faced her.
“I came to satisfy myself about your family. That is my purpose, Elizabeth,” he stated directly. “I have known about Christabel’s connection to your son since it started…months ago. I knew of her visit to King’s Eden for the wedding of your eldest son. And on Monday morning I received the report that suggested that an intimate relationship had developed.”
Was this true? He’d had Christabel watched all this time? Or had he gathered this information since his arrival today?
“Did you come to stop it?” she probed, wanting him to reveal more.
“Do you want it stopped?” he countered.
“I believe Jared wants Christabel more than he’s ever wanted any other woman, and none of the barriers she has raised have turned him away. Believe it or not, the child’s inheritance will be totally irrelevant to him. Some things can’t be stopped.”
“And you will stand behind your son.”
She nodded. “His brothers, as well.”
“Such a fortune draws more problems than prizes,” he warned.
She was well aware of the power and politics attached to the Kruger cartel, the control they exerted over the diamond and gold markets, plus virtually every precious stone in the jewellery business…except pearls. The pearl farms of Broome produced the best in the world and were owned by Australian families.
“You cannot threaten our business, Rafael,” she slid at him. “We would fight any attempt at interference and I have no doubt that supply and demand would come down on our side.”
He shook his head. “No threats. I simply state the reality of the situation. The inheritance is more a curse than a benefit. It’s not going to go away, Elizabeth. You will be loaded with the problems it brings.”
Somehow we’ll deal with them, Elizabeth thought, feeling more sympathy with Christabel than she’d ever felt before. Besides, this was not Europe. If Christabel wanted to stay with Jared, the outback had a way of protecting its own. Alicia would be insulated here from those who wanted a bite of her inheritance.
The question was…where did Rafael Santiso stand in this? What were his interests?
“If the inheritance is more a curse than a benefit, why do you stay in charge of it?”
His mouth tilted self-mockingly. “I’m addicted to problem-solving.”
“Yet you allowed Christabel to run in fear of you. Do you call that solving a problem?”
He cocked his head slightly to one side, deliberating over his reply, possibly assessing its believability. This was the crux of the conflict between them and both of them knew it. It had to be resolved.
“She had cause for fear…but not from me,” he stated, a harsh edge to his voice. “There were those whose interests were best served by poisoning her mind against me. As a result, she was resisting my efforts to keep her and the child safe, which made the situation more difficult.”
He shrugged, and his tone slid into irony. “One cannot enforce trust. I saw it would be an easier task to facilitate her escape from the Kruger network, which she viewed as a prison.”
“You planned it?”
“And directed it, every step of the way. The diamonds she has used for currency, the people who bought them from her, the bodyguards she never knew were watching over her. I can prove this, Elizabeth.”
“Whether you can or not, she has still lived in fear of you,” she tersely reminded him.
“I could not change that, and escape was her choice. It gave her the sense of freedom she wanted,” he sharply retorted. “If she had reason to fear me, do you think I would have allowed her any possible alliance with your family?”
“I don’t know. You’re here now.”
He visibly relaxed, leaning back against the balustrade, his eyes taking on a warm velvety glow. “I like the connection. I’m liking it more all the time, Elizabeth.”
“I think you have more explaining to do,” she said flatly, not allowing any softening towards him.
He made an elegant open-handed gesture. “The reality was…Christabel’s and Alicia’s very carefully orchestrated disappearance served two purposes. It removed them from very real danger and left me free to deal with those who were contesting Bernhard’s will.”
“Is the danger now over?”
“There will always be the danger of kidnappers, but I’m satisfied that the house of Kruger has now been cleared of…malcontents.” There was a ruthless glitter in his eyes as he curled his mouth around that last word. “Factions who want to shift the rules will undoubtedly form from time to time.” He smiled. “But I am a very good watchdog.”
And much more, Elizabeth thought, sensing the drive and commitment that took this man wherever he chose to be. There was almost a devil-may-care air in his smile, and she knew intuitively he thrived on danger, as well as problem-solving. Maybe it was that quality that made him so exciting.
“We would make good partners, Elizabeth,” he said softly.
She lifted her gaze to his and once again was hit by the sexual challenge he threw at her. “Partners in protecting Alicia?” she tossed back, struggling to contain her response to him.
“Partners in every sense. You know it. It’s in your eyes. How often in a lifetime does one look at a person and know this? It is rare, Elizabeth. It has never happened for me before today.”
“I find that hard to believe, Rafael.”
“I am a widower. I loved my wife with a young man’s love. Much passionate emotion. But you…you I feel are my true partner. I would have fought your husband for you if he was still alive.”
Lachlan…for a moment Elizabeth’s heart felt torn…but Lachlan was gone.
Vikki suddenly emerged onto the veranda with a tray of refreshments. Had only ten minutes passed?
“Why don’t you sit down, Rafael?” Elizabeth invited again, needing more time to think.
He looked at Vikki, accepted the inevitable delay in his purpose and moved to take the chair on the opposite side of the table.
Elizabeth thought of the long lonely years of her widowhood, thought of the years still ahead of her. Her sons didn’t need her any more. They’d found partners. There would be grandchildren, but would they fill the empty places in her life? Lachlan’s blood line would go on. There was really nothing left to achieve..
  • Rafael could be lying. A master manipulator, Jared had said. But what harm could one evening with this man do? She was not about to be seduced, not mentally nor emotionally nor physically. One evening alone with him committed her to nothing, except taking a chance she wanted to take.
“Thank you, Vikki,” she said as her old friend and housekeeper unloaded the tray. “Don’t prepare any dinner for me. Mr. Santiso has invited me to join him for the evening at the Cable Beach Resort. In the Nolan Suite.”
She smiled into the eyes watching her from across the table, eyes gleaming with brilliant satisfaction. It isn’t as easy as that, Rafael, she silently promised him.
“I daresay he’d like to show me the Sydney Nolan paintings that give the suite its name.”
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