Angelo had not experienced fear since childhood and the shame of it had been beaten out of him. He had known loathing, rage and bitterness, but fear no longer had the power to touch him. His relentless rise to power and influence had featured in hundreds of magazines and newspaper features, but his birth and parentage had always been shrouded in a haze of uncertainty. When he was eighteen he had been told the truth about his ancestry. Any idealistic notions he’d had had died that same day when his chosen career had become a complete impossibility. With every successive year that had passed since then he had grown tougher, colder and more ruthless. He had used his brilliant intellect and razor-sharp instincts to build a huge business empire. That he had not had to break the law to become a billionaire was a harsh source of pride to him.
‘There’s a colossal security presence here,’ his companion, Harding, muttered uneasily.
It was true, Angelo acknowledged. Armed guards were everywhere: on the rooftops of the ranch buildings, in every manicured clump of trees or bushes, their state of alert palpable. ‘It should make you feel safe,’ Angelo quipped.
‘I won’t feel safe until I’m back home again,’ Harding confided, mopping his round, perspiring face.
‘Perhaps this was not the job for you.’
He dealt Angelo a look of dismay. ‘Believe me, I meant no offence. I’m delighted to be of service.’
Angelo said nothing. He was surprised that such a man had been chosen to act as middleman in a secret meeting. But then, how many outwardly respectable men accepted the kind of undercover favours that forced them into uncomfortable repayments? He strode into the cool air-conditioned interior of the opulent ranch house where a lantern-jawed older man awaited him. Harding was dismissed like a lackey of no consequence, while Angelo was looked over and greeted with a level of respectful curiosity that bordered on awe.
‘It is a very great pleasure to meet you, Mr Riccardi,’ the older man declared in Italian. ‘I’m Salvatore Lenzi. Don Carmelo is eager to see you.’
‘How is he?’
The other man grimaced. ‘His condition is stable at present but it’s unlikely that he has more than a couple of months left.’
Lean, handsome features taut, Angelo nodded. He had thought long and hard before he had agreed to visit and the old man’s declining health had provided the spur. The infamous Carmelo Zanetti, head of one of the most notorious crime families in the world, was a stranger to him. Yet Angelo had never been able to forget that the same blood that ran in Carmelo Zanetti’s veins ran in his own.
The elderly man lay propped up in a hospital-style bed surrounded by medical equipment. His face was lined with ill health. Breathing stentorously, he feasted his clouded dark gaze on Angelo and sighed. ‘I can’t tell you that you look like your mother because you don’t. Fiorella was tiny…‘