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'Sorry to interrupt,' she rushed out breathlessly, 'but Lexi has just got to see this'
Her riot of blonde curls bouncing around a pretty face flushed with excitement, Suzy snatched up the television remote from where it lay next to the coffee machine and aimed it at the television. Everyone else gaped at her, wondering where she'd got the nerve to barge in here like this.
'A friend sent this news link to my Twitter,' she explained, hurriedly flicking through channels. 'I'm seriously not into mega crashes, so I almost stopped watching, but then your face flashed up on the screen, Lexi, and they mentioned your name!'
Crystal blue waters topped by deep azure skies suddenly filled the fifty-inch flat screen. A second later half a dozen long streaks of raw engine power suddenly shot across the water, flying like majestic arrows and kicking up huge plumes of foaming white spray in their wake. Before anyone else had even clicked on what was happening, an icy chill of recognition made Lexi jerk to her feet.
High-speed powerboat racing was for the super-rich and reckless onlythe whole sleek, surging, testosterone-packed spectacle was a breathtaking display of excess. Excess money, excess power, excess egoand an excessive flouting of the risks and the dangers that held most people awestruck. But for Lexi it was like watching her worst nightmare play out in front of her eyes, for she knew what was about to happen next.
'No,' she whispered tautly. 'Please switch it off.'
But no one was listening to her, and, anyway, it was already too late. Even as she spoke the nose of the leading craft hit turbulence and began to lift into the air. For a few broken heartbeats the glistening white craft stood on its end and hovered like a beautiful white swan rising up from sea.
'Keep watching.' Suzy was almost dancing on the spot in anticipation.
Lexi grabbed hold of the edge of the table as the mighty powerboat performed the most shockingly graceful pirouette, then began flipping over and over, as if it was performing some wildly exciting acrobatic trick.
But this was no trick, and two very human bodies were visible inside the boat's open cockpit. Two reckless males, revelling in sleek supercharged power that had now turned into a violent death trap as shards of debris were hurled out in all directions, spinning like lethal weapons through the air.
'This highly dangerous sport suffers at least one fatality each season,' some faceless narrator informed them. 'Due to choppy conditions off the coast of Livorno there had been disputes as to whether this race should begin. The leading boat had reached top speed when it hit turbulence. Francesco Tolle can be seen being thrown clear.'
'Oh, my God, that's a body!' somebody gasped out in horror.
'His co-driver Marco Clemente remained trapped underwater for several minutes before divers were able to release him. Both men have been airlifted to hospital. As yet unconfirmed reports say that one man is dead and the other is in a grave condition.'
'Catch her, someone.' Lexi heard Bruce's sharp command as her legs gave way beneath her.
'Here ' Someone leapt up and took hold of her arm to guide her back down onto her chair.
'Put her head between her knees,' another voice advised, while someone elseBruce againground out curses at Suzy for being such a stupid, insensitive idiot.
Lexi felt her head being thrust downwards but she knew even as she let them manhandle her that it wasn't going to help. So she just sat there, slumped forward, with her hair streaming down in front of her like a rippling river of burnished copper, and listened to the newsreader map out Francesco's twenty-eight years as if he was reading out his obituary.
'Born into one of Italy's wealthiest families, the only son of ship-building giant Salvatore Tolle, Francesco Tolle left his playboy ways behind him after his brief marriage to child star Lexi Hamilton broke down '
The ripple of murmurs in the room made Lexi shiver, because she knew a photograph of her with Franco must have flashed up on the screen. Younghe would look young, and carelessly happy, because that was how
'Tolle concentrates his energies on the family business these days, though he continues to race for the White Streak powerboat teama company he set up five years ago with his co-driver Marco Clemente, from one of Italy's major wine-making families. The two men are lifelong friends, who '
'Lexi, try and drink some of this.'
Bruce gently pushed her hair back from her face so he could press a glass of water to her lips. She wanted to tell him to leave her alone so she could just listen, but her lips felt too numb to move. Locked in a fight between herself, Bruce and the sickening horror she had just witnessed, suddenly she saw Franco.
Her Franco, dressed in low riding cut-offs and a white T-shirt that moulded to every toned muscle in his long, bronzed frame. He was standing at the controls of a slightly less insane kind of speedboat, his darkly attractive face turned towards her and laughing, because he was scaring the life out of her as he skimmed them across the water at breakneck speed.
'Don't be such a wimp, Lexi. Come over here to me and just feel the power.'
'I'm going to be sick,' Lexi whispered.
Squatting down in front of her, the oh-so-elegant and super-cool Bruce Dayton almost tumbled onto his backside in an effort to get out of the way of the threat. Stumbling to her feet, Lexi stepped around him and moved like a drunk across the room, a trembling hand clamped across her mouth. Someone opened the door for her and she staggered through it, making it into the cloakroom only just in time.
Franco was dead. Her dizzy head kept on chanting it over and over. His beautiful body all battered and broken, his insatiable lust for danger brutally snuffed out.
'No ' she groaned, closing her eyes and slumping back against the cold tiled wall of the toilet cubicle.
'Not I, bella mia. I am invincible '
Almost choking on a startled gaspbecause she felt as if Franco had whispered those words directly into her earLexi opened her eyes, their rich blue-green depths turned black with shock. He was not there, of course. She was alone in her white-walled prison of agony.
A strangled laugh broke free from her throat. No one was invincible! Hadn't he already proved that to himself once before?
A tentative knock sounded on the cubicle door. 'You OK, Lexi?'
It was Suzy, sounding anxious. Making an effort to pull herself together, Lexi ran icy cold trembling fingers down the sides of her turquoise skirt. Turquoise like the ocean, she thought hazily. Franco liked her to wear turquoise. He said it did unforgivably sexy things to her eyes.
'Lexi ?' Suzy knocked on the cubicle door again.
'Y-yes,' she managed to push out. 'I'm all right.'
But she wasn't all right. She was never going to be all right again. For the last three and a half years she had fought to keep Franco pushed into the darkest place inside her head, but now a door had opened and he was right here, confronting her when it was too late for her to
Oh, dear God, what are you thinking? You don't know he's dead! It might be Marco
It might be Marco.
Was that any better?
Yes, a weak, cruel, wicked voice inside her head whispered, and she hated herself for letting it.
Suzy was waiting for her when Lexi stepped out of the toilet cubicle, her pretty face clouded by discomfort and guilt. 'I'm so sorry, Lexi,' she burst out. 'I just saw your face and'
'It doesn't matter,' Lexi cut in quickly, because the other girl looked so upset and young.
The same age Lexi had been when she'd first met Franco, she realised. Why was it that, at only twenty-three now, she suddenly felt so old?
'Bruce is threatening to sack me,' Suzy groaned, while Lexi stood at a basin washing her hands without being aware that she was doing it. 'He said he doesn't need a stupid person working here because we have enough of those, what with the wannabe starlets we.'
Lexi stopped listening. She was staring in the mirror at the small triangle of her face framed by her rippling mane of copper-brown hair.
'It catches fire in the sunset,' Franco had whispered once as he ran his long fingers through its silken length. 'Hair the colour of finely spun toffee, skin like whipped cream, and lips mmm lips like delicious crushed strawberries.'
'That's so corny, Francesco Tolle. I thought you had more style that that.'
'I do where it counts, bella mia. SeeI will show you '
No crushed strawberries colouring her lips now, Lexi noticed. They looked colourless and faded.
'And you haven't been with him for years, so it never entered my head that you might still care about him.'
Lexi watched her eyelids fold down over her eyes then lift up again. 'He's a human being, Suzy, not an inanimate object.'
'Yes ' The younger girl sounded guilty again. 'Oh, but he's so gorgeous, Lexi.' She sighed dreamily. 'All that dark, brooding sexiness He could be one of the actors we have on our.'
Lexi tuned the younger girl out again. She knew Suzy had no idea what she was talking about. She didn't mean to hurt, prattling on like that; she was just doing a really bad job of making amends for the huge gaffe she had made, but
She turned and walked out of the cloakroom, leaving Suzy chatting to an empty space. Her legs felt weak and seriously unwilling to do what she wanted them to do. After she'd shut herself into her ow...