Author's Note: THE LAIR deals with a very real, but sensitive subject, human trafficking. It may be disturbing to some readers.
The nerve of Gabriele. For the past fourteen months, ever since he’d joined the Marin County Investigation Division, Detective de la Torre had made it his life’s work to get under Dani’s skin. Well, perhaps that was a bit of an exaggeration, but still. First he’d tried to come on to her, using their shared heritage as a line. They were both from northern Italy; surely they could get together some evening and talk over their shared cultural roots?
Fortunately she’d put a stop to that pretty quickly. In no uncertain terms she’d told Mr. Dolce & Gabbana that although he seemed like a nice enough man, he held no physical attraction for her whatsoever. It was a lie, of course, but she wasn’t about to share why they couldn’t make a go of it.Her brush-off was a gamble. Gabe was single and didn’t like eating by himself, so he was a regular at her restaurant, part of the inn she owned in Little Eden. She didn’t want to lose his business, so she had tried to be firm but not rude. It appeared to be working. He still ate at her place without seeming to harbor any bad feelings.Oh, who was she kidding? Gabe had dropped any romantic interest in Dani in a flash—so quickly that she wondered if she’d imagined his interest all along. He still flirted with her, but there was a slightly mocking tone to it, as if he dared her to take him seriously. Of course, she didn’t. She couldn’t. Now he was simply a friend who liked to tease her—a good friend most of the time, and a meddling friend at times like these.Dani glanced at the businessman, who had asked the flight attendant if she had any Italian newspapers. She came back with a copy of Corriere della Sera. As Don Juan leafed through it, a photo on page three caught Dani’s eye; it was a stock shot of her father, Armando Forcelli. The headline read, drug use suspected in fatal joyride of hotel heir. Immediately, tears began to well up and Dani quickly fumbled in her bag for some tissue, hoping neither of her seat-mates would notice.Several days earlier she’d learned that her father, the son of one of Italy’s most famous hoteliers, had died in a boating accident. As his sole beneficiary, she was in fact headed to the Forcelli familycompound in Verona to attend her father’s funeral and sign some papers pertaining to his estate. She told herself there was no logical reason to feel so emotionally vulnerable. She’d seen her father only a handful of times over the past dozen years, ever since … ever since she left Italy. Yet it was as if her feelings had climbed aboard a roller coaster and wouldn’t get off the tracks. She’d be fine for a while and then a memory would skirt by of her babbo carrying her on his shoulders down the long picture gallery … or taking her to a special place in the old city he said had the best gelato in all of Italy.
She’d remember the scent of his cologne, just a hint of lemons and spice … and the feel of her small hand encased in his big warm one. Then the tears would start to flow and she’d wonder, panicked, if they would ever stop.