Visconti's Forgotten Heir Online - Elizabeth Power

CHAPTER ONE

AS SOON AS she laid eyes on the broad-shouldered man who had just stepped through the door of the crowded wine bar Magenta knew that he was the father of her child.

She didn’t suspect, or wonder, or even hope. She simply knew.

The stem of the glass she had been wiping suddenly snapped from the tension gripping her fingers, and as she put a steadying hand to her forehead she heard Thomas, her work colleague, enquire, ‘Are you all right?’

The laid-back, long-haired college graduate who, like her, was helping out part-time behind the bar until something better came along, was frowning as he came away from the cash register.

She shook her head. Not in answer, but in an attempt to make some sense of the jumble of distant memories that were leaping chaotically through her brain.

Anger. Hostility. Passion. Over all a hungry, all-consuming passion...

Someone spoke to her, trying to give her an order, and she looked up at them with her velvety-brown eyes dazed and her fine features ashen against the darker sheen of her thick swept-up hair.

‘Would you mind serving my customer for me?’ she appealed croakily to her colleague and, dumping the two pieces of glass and the tea towel down behind the counter, made a hasty bid for the merciful seclusion of the Ladies’.

Grabbing the cracked and solitary basin, she struggled to regain her composure, her lungs dragging in air.

Andreas Visconti. Of course. How could she ever have let anyone persuade her into believing that her child might have been fathered by anyone else when she’d known in her heart that she wasn’t the type of woman to sleep around, even during those lost and irretrievable months of her life?

She felt sick and stayed where she was, leaning over the basin, until the nausea subsided, trying to sort out the tangle of erratic thoughts and images in her mind.

The doctors had told her not to try and force things, and as the years had passed they had said that the memories she had lost might never come back. But they were going to. Even if they were appearing like the distorted shapes of a jigsaw puzzle she was going to have to piece together. Either way, right now, she thought, hearing the outer door open and one of the regular bar staff urgently calling to her, she had to go back out there and face the music. Even if she didn’t know—or like—the tune that might be playing.

* * *

As the countless people in front of him were gradually served, and a spindly young man finally took his order, at first Andreas Visconti thought he was imagining things when his gaze drifted to the young woman who was filling glasses further along the bar.

She was slim, beautiful and flawlessly photogenic, with her magnificent hair pinned up to emphasise high cheekbones, stunning dark eyes and a lovely mouth above that long, elegant neck. The vision of her held Andreas in thrall. As if he was seeing a ghost. Or hallucinating. Both of which were pretty unlikely, he thought wryly, for a hardened cynic like himself.

Then someone called her name and he realised that he wasn’t imagining things. It really was her. Magenta James. The girl to whom he had once almost sacrificed his heart—and the whole of his life.

She was looking over her shoulder, listening to something a much older man, whom he guessed was the landlord, was saying, and cruel memory made a hard slash of Andreas’s mouth as he caught her tight and rather strained-sounding little laugh.

The last time he had heard that sound was when she had ridiculed his lack of prospects, flaying him with accusations of trying to hold her back from the glittering career she intended to pursue. And now here was Miss High-and-Mighty James pouring drinks in a West Country wine bar! He was, he decided grimly, going to enjoy the next few minutes!

Abandoning the position he had virtually fought to secure, he allowed his curiosity to pull him through the sea of Friday-night revellers which, sensing an unspoken authority, parted effortlessly for him as he shouldered his way along the crowded bar to where she was working.

‘Hello, Magenta.’

* * *

Beneath her simple black dress—her only concession to colour was the red and black choker she wore around her neck—Magenta’s whole body stiffened.

It was inevitable, she thought, her heart racing uncontrollably, that he would notice her. Speak to her. She was unprepared, however, for what his deep, chocolate-rich voice would do to her—or