Captive in His Castle - By Chantelle Shaw

CHAPTER ONE

‘WHO THE HELL is Jess?’

Drago Cassari raked his fingers through the swathe of dark hair that had fallen forward onto his brow, concern and frustration etched onto his hard features as he stared at the motionless figure of his cousin lying in the bed in the intensive care unit. Angelo’s face was grey against the white sheets. Only the almost imperceptible rise and fall of his chest indicated that he was still clinging to life, aided by the various tubes attached to his body, while the machine next to the bed recorded his vital signs.

At least he was now breathing unaided, and three days after he had been pulled from the wreckage of his car and rushed to the Venice-Mestre hospital there were indications that he was beginning to regain consciousness. He had even muttered something. Just one word. A name.

‘Do you know who Angelo is referring to?’ Drago turned his gaze on the two women who were standing at the end of the bed, clinging to each other and weeping. ‘Is Jess a friend of Angelo’s?’

His aunt Dorotea gave a sob. ‘I don’t know what his involvement with her is. You know how strangely he has been behaving lately. He hardly ever answered his phone when I called him. But I did manage to speak to him a few days before…’ her voice shook ‘…before the accident, and he told me that he had given up his college course and was living with a woman called Jess Harper.’

‘Then perhaps she is his mistress.’ Drago was not overly surprised to hear that his cousin had dropped out of the business course he had been studying at a private London college. Angelo had been overindulged by his mother since his father’s death when he had been a young boy, and he shied away from anything that approached hard work. Rather more surprising was the news that he had been living with a woman in England. Angelo was painfully lacking in self-confidence with the opposite sex, but it sounded as though he had overcome his shyness.

‘Did he give you the address of where he was staying? I need to contact this woman and arrange for her to visit him.’ Drago glanced across the bed to the expert neurologist who was in charge of his cousin’s care. ‘Do you think there is a chance that the sound of her voice might rouse Angelo?’

‘It is possible,’ the doctor replied cautiously. ‘If your cousin has a close relationship with this woman then he might respond if she talks to him.’

Aunt Dorotea gave another sob. ‘I’m not sure it would be a good idea to bring her here. I am afraid she is a bad influence on Angelo.’

Drago frowned. ‘What do you mean? Surely if this Jess Harper can help to rouse him then it is imperative that she comes to Italy as soon as possible? Why do you think she is a bad influence?’

He controlled his impatience as his aunt collapsed onto a chair and wept so hard that her shoulders shook. His jaw clenched. He understood her agony. When he had first seen Angelo after he had undergone surgery to stem the bleed in his brain Drago had felt the acid burn of tears at the back of his throat. His cousin was just twenty-two, in many ways still a boy—although when he had been that age he had already become chairman of Cassa di Cassari, with a great weight of responsibility and expectation on his shoulders, he remembered. The deaths of his father and uncle, who had been killed in an avalanche while they were skiing, had thrust Drago into the cut-throat world of big business. He had also had to take care of his devastated mother and aunt, and he had assumed the role of a father figure to his then seven-year-old cousin.

Seeing Angelo like this tore at his insides. The waiting, the wondering if the young man would be left with permanent brain damage, was torture. Drago was a man of action, a man used to being in control of every situation, but for the past three days he had felt helpless. His aunt and his mother were distraught, and he wished he could comfort them and assure them that Angelo would recover. For the past fifteen years he had done his best to look after his family, and he hated the feeling that in this situation he was powerless. He had no magic wand to bring Angelo back to consciousness,