A Gift for a Lion

A Gift for a Lion by Sara Craven

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Authors: Sara Craven
original
palazzo
was knocked to the ground during some invasion. This is the third or maybe even the fourth building, and it has survived longer than any. It even lived undamaged through the last war.'
    'Were all these pictures and treasures here then?'
    Nick shook his head. 'It was after the war that Leo's father decided to transfer the family's art collection to Saracina. Before then it had been scattered and hidden to avoid capture by the Germans. The
palazzo
had been neglected for many years before that, but Uncle Marco started restoration work. He put in the bathrooms and began the modernisation of the kitchen quarters. It was he who brought electricity to the island' too. My own father thought he was mad, but Uncle Marco said as he had bred another Lion of Saracina for the Vorghese family, it was up to him to restore his birthright.'
    'Another Lion?' Joanna raised her eyebrows questioningly.
    'Leo was the first in many generations to be born with the Lion's colouring,' Nick explained. 'Many thought that the tawny-haired strain in our family had died out altogether.'
    Joanna resisted the impulse to utter some childish expression of regret that it hadn't, and changed the subject instead.
    'Is there nothing left of the original building?' she asked.
    Nick shrugged. 'I believe the same foundations were used each time—oh, and the dungeons. They still exist, although they are used as wine cellars these days, of course.'
    'I'm surprised your cousin didn't lock me there,' she said coolly, and he laughed.
    'Hardly,
cara
. Leo probably thought you would have too disturbing an influence on his wine.'
    Their passage was suddenly blocked by a stout wooden door. Nick searched through his bunch of keys, muttering.
    'That's strange,' he said after a while. 'The key for this door does not seem to be here. We will have to go back.'
    'Oh.' Joanna was disappointed. 'Can't you see if one of the others will fit?'
    Nick fitted one key after another into the ornate lock without success. 'You see, Joanna. It is useless. We will have to go back.'
    'Yes, I see,' Joanna said slowly. 'Doesn't it strike you as strange, Nick? All the other keys were there, but this one is missing.'
    She was almost sure that something came and went in Nick's eyes, but his smiling reply was as easy as ever.
    'You must forgive us,
cara
. Even the best regulated households occasionally mislay things, you know. I will have to tell Leo the key is missing.'
    'Oh, I shouldn't bother,' Joanna told him coldly. 'I think he knows already, don't you?'
    She turned and stalked back up the corridor, her heart hammering. Whatever secret the
palazzo
contained, she was almost certain the answer lay behind that locked door.
    It was also evident that Nick was aware of what was going on, so it would be useless to rely on him for any kind of help. She could have groaned aloud. It would be much easier, she thought, to forget all about flight and locked doors and secrets, and merely relax and enjoy the sunshine in Nick's company. But that, no doubt, was what she was intended to think. The whole tour of the
palazzo
might have been planned by Leo Vargas to prove to her that she could only learn as much as he chose in his house.
    She bit her lip angrily. It was clear that she would get nowhere by open investigation, particularly with Nick in close attendance. Maybe the answer was to do as Leo Vargas hoped and appear to give up. Whether he would believe in her new docility was another matter, but it was worth trying at least.
    She turned smiling as Nick caught up with her.
    'What now,
cara
?' he inquired plaintively. 'More sightseeing?'
    She slipped her arm through his. 'Now show me the swimming pool,' she invited.
    The cool blue water felt glorious against her overheated body. She pushed herself away from the edge in a backward somersault that took her skimming down almost to the pool bottom before jack-knifing back to the surface again, to swim a length in her strong easy crawl. Nick,

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