The accusation hovered above them like the sharp blade of a guillotine. Marco’s features was wild with it. His voice snarled with the edge of it.
“Tell me, tell me you had no hand in this.” He flapped the paper in front of her face.
“Of course she did. It’s right there in black and white.” Bianca placed hands on slim hips. Her pantsuit was casual in intense yellow.
But Leila refused to give credence to the woman beside Marco. She kept her unsteady gaze fixed on Marco’s face. He was all that mattered. And she could see that he had already made up his mind.
“Bianca, I need to speak to Leila. Alone.”
“This is no time for…”
“Leave, Bianca! I wish to speak with my wife.”
He called her his wife. A spear of hope shattered the thick tension.
Bianca glared long and hard, then whipped her head from Marco to Leila. Again, Leila refused to look at her. And after a long moment, Marco’s legal advisor sashayed out of the room. The heeled tips of her shoes clapping on the deck in a deliberate rhythm.
“I need you to tell me this… that this is all a mistake.” Marco came closer when Bianca had retreated into the large dining cabin. “That I can get on that phone and sue the pants of…” he brought the paper closer to his face and searched for the byline of the headline story. Leila glimpsed the page again. Vincenzi ruses Rous in oil rip-off was bold across the page. “Charles Marshanns.” He continued. “Tell me you have had no dealings with that man!”
She heard the plea in his voice and was oddly surprised by it.
“Marco… it was just coffee…” Marco threw his hands up in the air, the paper flying across the now hot deck, the sun beating down upon them like the fires of hell. Holding a hand to his forehead, he said, “You know him.” It was more a statement than a question. One that he didn’t want answered. But Leila persevered.
“I did not say those things. I would never. He was a friend of my father…”
It sounded suspicious, even to her ears.
“He knew everything. Information only three people knew. I gave you that envelope yesterday in confidence. To reassure you. Because for God only knows why, I wanted you to not think worse of me.”
Leila went to him. “I promise you, I had no knowledge of anything when I met him.”
He dragged his hand through his hair and turned away from her. His eyes, she briefly caught, held a million emotions. Only a little while ago, those eyes were filled with something different. “When, when did you meet with this Marshanns, Leila?” His voice faltered.
Leila felt like sinking to the hard wood beneath her feet.
“While I was shopping.”
“Planned?” She was quiet, stunned that he would ask her that. His feet were quick and his face hard when he grabbed her hand. “Did you plan to supply him with the information?” His fingers tightened around her wrist but she made no attempt to wriggle free.
“Of course not! — He recognised me in one of those boutiques Mira dragged me into.” She tried to reason with him and softened her tone. “I did not say anything about the deal or Rous.” He let go of her hand as if it were tainted.
“Mira can confirm this?”
It hurt that he did not trust her. Unsteady on her feet again, she grabbed the back of a chair when she felt she was slipping with the roll of the yacht. “Do you not believe me?”
He looked at her then. His eyes said all she needed to know.
“You have no idea what you’ve done, have you?”
Leila knew what the article had caused Marco. Knew the deal with Rous was now off and that the people of Nigeria would ultimately pay. Marco had been the buffer, the one part of the equation who would ensure that the bulk of the profits be distributed among those who deserved it. And yes, it was all true. Marco had in a way pulled one over the avaricious Remy Rous. He had ensured that Rous’s mercenary intentions would be curtailed in a convoluted contract, Marco had no doubt worked hard to waggle a way out of an all-out fleecing of the villagers of Demar. But she had nothing to do with it. Her conversation with Marshanns played over and over in her head. Nothing. She had not mentioned a word of any deal. They had skirted around the topic of the Marco, but nothing in depth. The look on Marco’s face told her that anything she had to say would not be believed. She sighed.
“You think I intentionally met with Marshanns and gave him the information.” Marco moved to the edge of the deck and grasped the railing.
“I don’t know what to think. You’re quoted in the bloody article, Leila.”
“Out of context, you can see that!”
He pushed himself off the railing. “It’s no use, I need to fix this.”
She was afraid to ask, but she did. “What does that mean?”
He headed toward the tinted glass partition. “You will continue to Italy, I’ll take the speedboat back to Monte Carlo. I’ll have to salvage face and hopefully the deal.”
“But, I thought we would… “
He turned just as he reached the threshold. “I don’t know how long this will take. But Villa Almanaccare will be ready for your arrival.”
Minutes later, he left with Bianca. She watched the boat rip across the water until her vision blurred with tears.