Coercion to Love

By: Michelle Reid


'Are we nearly there, Cass?'

Cassandra Marlow sent an encouraging smile to the hot little girl who was dragging heavily on her hand. 'Not far now, poppet,' she said. ‘Just to the top of this hill and around the corner.'

Eyes so dark that they looked black behind their thick sooty lashes stared dolefully up the dusty street baked glaringly white by the hot Italian sun, and a long sigh shook her little body. 'That seems an awful long way to me,' she complained, conveniently forgetting how happily she had skipped down the steep hill that same morning, too eager to get to the beach to think about the long walk back from it. 'I wish we were back home. It isn't so hot in Fulham.'

No, thought Cass. But danger lurked in Fulham. The kind of danger a five-year-old couldn't begin to understand. A danger which had dogged their footsteps for a whole year now. Carlo Valenti was back on the prowl there.

Which was why, on what Cass honestly acknowledged had been a burst of bitter defiance against the dratted man, she had decided that they would spend the next few weeks in his home town! Working on the theory that, with him in London, San Remo must be about the safest place on earth for them to be at the moment!

She only hoped that he remained true to form and stayed put in London for the two weeks he usually put aside when believing himself to be hot on their trail.

'Why couldn't we stay in one of those nice big hotels down by the beach?' Terri wanted to know. "Then we wouldn't have to walk so far every day to play in the sea.'

'Because it needs money to stay in one of those posh places down there, Terri,' Cassandra explained, adding rather drily, 'And money is something we are rather short of, I'm afraid.'

Coming here at all had put a rather nasty hole in the precious nest-egg she had stashed away. To have paid the prices those big hotels down in the bay were asking would probably have seen it off completely!

'We never do have enough, do we?' The child sighed. 'Not since my mummy went away...'

Cass's heart twisted at the simple yearning in the child's voice, her green eyes clouding over on thoughts of her sister. Yes, Liz had earned enough for them all to live on. But she'd had to work like a dog to get it.

God, Liz, she thought sadly, I miss you.

And she did, all the time. Until Tern's arrival on the scene, she and her sister had only had each other. Orphaned at an age not much greater than Terri's now, the five-years-older Liz had been the closest thing Cass had ever known to a mother. But being fostered into different homes had made it difficult for them to see each other, and it wasn't until Cass began her two-year course training to be a nanny that she was able to live permanently with her sister. Liz was already a top photographic model by then, living the kind of glamorous life which was totally alien to her quieter, much younger sister. But she'd taken Cass in without hesitation when she'd learned she was going to train in London, allowing her to share her plush Kensington flat while Cass finished her course.

Not that they had seen much of each other, Cass ruefully recalled, with Liz always seeming to be flying off to some glamorous location or other. And, on qualifying, Cass herself had landed a fantastic job taking care of a film star's two small children, which took her off to Los Angeles for twelve months while he filmed his latest block-buster.

Coming back to England had heralded drastic changes in both their lives. It meant she was suddenly the nanny to her own niece while Liz went back to work. The car crash last year had ended that successful arrangement. And all of a sudden it wasn't Liz, Cass and Terri, but just Cass and Terri, hunted, by a man who hadn't even acknowledged the existence of his own child while Liz had been alive!

God, she despised Carlo Valenti.

'We're here.'

'Oh! Cass blinked, surprised that they had finished the final part of their uphill trek without her being aware of it.

Just across the road stood the peeling white walls of Giuseppe's Garage, where the modern petrol-pumps looked out of place against the aged and crumbling building, in which was the accommodation their two-week holiday had afforded them. The small garage lay just off the busy autostrada that ran right around the Riviera Di Pontente from Genoa to the border with France, and collected a steady amount of customers from those who left the motorway here in San Remo. But it was siesta time now so the road was quiet, and as usual Giuseppe was lazing in his chair beneath the shade of a battered old awning, and he waved and smiled as he noticed their approach. 'You have a nice day?' he enquired genially.

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