Caitlin received the news of first her grandmother’s death and very shortly afterwards that of her grandfather with sadness and regret. She had visited them only once since her mother had been killed so tragically not long after the lovely holiday they had all spent together in Sorrento. Not being able to face retracing her steps to Sorrento she had visited them in their beautiful Palazzo in Venice. The family home stood on the bank of the Grand Canal directly opposite the Ca’d Oro. You could enter the property either by boat or from the street up steep external stairs to the main door. Caitlin arrived by limo from the airport and had been greeted here by her grandfather’s equally ancient retainer.
She had been awed by the ancient splendour of the place and although her visit was short she had enjoyed seeing her grandparents again. She was sad for her grandfather that the family title would die with him; he was last of a long line of noble blood. She had not given much thought to the family inheritance and this was certainly not in her mind when she got a call from her lawyer.
The London branch of the New York law firm that her father had used for years was in Lincoln Inn Fields, the senior partner St John Maguire had put through the call to Caitlin himself. He had requested that she meet with him at his chambers and named a convenient time. Caitlin was too surprised to equivocate, and the call was disengaged before she had time to collect herself and seek clarification.
Caitlin dressed herself in what she considered to be a business like outfit to attend the meeting and tied her hair back to add gravitas to her appearance. She had met St John once before when she had signed some papers after her mother’s death. As she was shepherded into his office this memory flashed through Caitlin’s mind. St John stood to receive her and shook her hand briefly, indicating a chair on the other side of the huge desk that you could hardly see as it was groaning under the weight of piles and piles of papers tied in pink ribbon.
‘I expect you know what this is about’ he started, and not giving her time to respond proceeded, ‘you are the sole heir of your grandfather’s estate. He altered his will in your favour after your mother’s decease’ a faint smile of commiseration crossed his face, ‘a copy of his wishes was filed with me and I have recently spoken to the Italian law company that handled his affairs.’ Caitlin had guessed that her Grandparents would have left something for her to remember them but she was sure that her mother had cousins and that they would inherit the estate.
She willed herself to concentrate as St John went through the details with her. She was to inherit the Palazzo in Venice, the summer residence in Sorrento, and an apartment in Rome that she hadn’t even know that they owned. There was also innumerable paintings and antique furniture in each of the properties as well as family jewellery and investments in stocks and shares and bonds that they would have to have valued but would probably amount to something in the region of five million dollars. Caitlin could hardly believe what she was hearing and was struck dumb with shock.
‘The downside to your fortune’ continued St John with a wry half smile ‘is that the cost of maintenance to the Venetian Palazzo alone will probably set you back a pretty penny.’ He stood indicating that the meeting was over and saw Caitlin to the door. Shaking her hand he said that he would be in touch and he would need her to sign some papers in due course. Later that day she called her father in New York and told him about her meeting.
‘Did you know Papa?’
‘I thought that you were probably his only direct descendant’ he replied, ‘your mother was an only child and although she had cousins they were all from her mother’s side of the family. Well, well, little one’ he chuckled, ‘It looks like you’ll be wealthier than your father soon! I’ll know where to come to if we need a lone.’ He guffawed loudly at the thought. Caitlin rebuked him for his levity and said she needed his advice.
‘Why don’t you come out sweetheart? We’d love to see you and the baby’s due in the next week or so, you could meet your new sibling. I’ll be happy to advise you regarding your new inheritance as you know.’
‘Thanks’ she replied, heartfelt, ‘that’s exactly what I was hoping you would say. As for the new baby I can’t wait! I’ll book a flight and let you know when I get to JFK.’
‘I’ll send the car. Looking forward to your visit darling, bye.’
‘Bye Papa, see you soon.’ Caitlin smiled feeling much better now she’d talked to her father.
Five days later she arrived at the airport to be met as promised and driven to the Park Avenue house. Hughes greeted her in his customary manner and called for Juan to take her bags up.
‘You father apologises Miss Caitlin. He has just now been called to the hospital for’ he hesitated, searching for the correct expression, ‘the birth’. Caitlin smiled,
‘That’s great’ she replied, ‘Hi, Juan’ she greeted her father’s manservant. ‘Do you think I should get down to the maternity unit or…’ she hesitated not sure what she should do.
‘Your father said he would call as soon as there was any news’ interjected Hughes. At that moment the phone rang and he crossed the hall to answer.
The waiting Caitlin heard ‘Yes Sir, very good Sir, congratulations Sir!’ then lowering the phone Hughes called her over to speak to her father.
‘It’s a boy’ Frank announced, his voice choking with pride and joy, ‘mother and baby are both fine. I’m going to stay here until I’m thrown out which will be in about half an hour. So I’ll be with you soon after then and we’ll go out to celebrate. You’ll have to wait for visiting tomorrow I’m afraid.’
‘OK Papa, I’m so pleased for you. Give my best to Ariel and the baby. See you later.’ She hung up beaming at Juan and Hughes, ‘A boy! Papa’s really excited. I expect he’s thinking of Yankees matches already.’ Referring to the New York baseball team of which her father was a fanatic supporter. Caitlin had been a real disappointment on this score.
Next day Caitlin accompanied her father downtown to the Sloane to meet the new arrival. The infant Sebastian James Frank looked much like any other new-born Caitlin had ever seen but she followed the accepted form by admiring every inch of him in minute and ecstatic detail which just about met with the parent’s expectations. He was a sweet little chap and looked angelic clamped to his mama’s bosom.
‘I expect Papa has ordered him a Yankees baby-grow by now’, she remarked mischievously to Ariel.
‘Wicked child’ responded Frank chuckling, ‘Actually it’s a good idea, do they make them?’
‘No idea. I’ll find out for you shall I? A good business opportunity if they don’t’ Caitlin added. The matron appeared at this juncture and visiting time was curtailed for mother and baby to rest. Ariel and baby would be allowed home the next day if all continued well. That evening Caitlin had a long conversation with her father about the Italian inheritance. She was worried about the upkeep of the Palazzo; having visited it she knew that it was vast and very old. Added to its age the building stood directly on the canal so damp must be a continuous problem; and of course there was always the threat that Venice might sink completely, although she reflected it had managed pretty well so far. The summer villa near Sorrento was different as she felt an emotional attachment to the place. The apartment in Rome she would need to visit before she made a decision.
‘I may have a possible solution for the Palazzo.’ Frank declared, pondering an idea. He had recently had a meeting with an investment banker turned property developer that he knew slightly, Mario Ferraro. Mario was looking for investors to set up a chain of ‘boutique’ hotels. Frank had been quite taken with the idea. He often stayed in hotels that were so unremarkable that he forgot where he was.
‘I know he’s looking for properties to develop. It may be worth while having a chat with him, though I expect he would drive a hard bargain.’
It was this conversation that led to a phone call that Caitlin received a week after she returned to London.
‘Mario Ferraro’ a deep voice announced, ‘Frank gave me your number. I’d like to see this Venetian Palazzo you have for sale. Can you arrange for me to view?’ Caitlin surmised that he was a man in a hurry from his brusque manner. Christmas was fast approaching and she hadn’t finalised any plans. Neither was she actively marketing the Palazzo, she had only just received the deeds.
‘It’s not for sale on the open market so there are no agents to do viewings.’ Her brain went into planning overdrive; ‘I could meet you there between Christmas and New Year.’ She supplied.
‘Right. I’ll re-arrange my schedule and call you back.’
In actuality it was a female who called on his behalf.
‘Mr Ferraro will meet you at the Danieli in the lobby at 11.00 on Thursday 29th. The addition of ‘Will this suit your requirements?’ was obviously an afterthought. Fortunately Caitlin knew her way around Venice and consequently the location of the Danieli hotel. The next task was to persuade Rebecca to accompany her out to Rome to visit the apartment. Caitlin was worried about her best friend, particularly as she had precipitated the relationship with Dylan that seemed not to be working out as she had planned. She wanted to get Rebecca away for a few days. Although Christmas wasn’t the ideal time for the retail business Rebecca had built up an excellent team and if she didn’t take a break now she would be completely taken up establishing the new shop. Caitlin’s plan was for them to fly out on Christmas Eve and arrive in time for lunch and last minute shopping. They could park their bags at the apartment on Corso d’Italia, only a few steps away from the main shopping street of Via Condotti.
Caitlin decided that presenting Rebecca with a fait accomplice was the best strategy. Taking a deep breath she called the shop and asked for Rebecca,
‘Hi darling’ she breezed, ‘surprise for you. I’ve booked flights for us to go to Rome for Christmas!’ She continued persuasively, ‘I really need your opinion on the Rome apartment Becca, and we’ll have such fun.’ Caitlin could hear the silence on the other end of the line while Rebecca processed the idea. She had been quite antisocial lately and Caitlin feared a point blank refusal, qualified by the need to work of course as Rebecca would not like to hurt her friend’s feelings.
‘Oh Caiti, that would be fun, but the shop and Christmas time is really busy. I don’t think I could manage…’ she hesitated because as she spoke the words she knew that the real reason for her reluctance was Dylan. He may turn up out of the blue, like he usually did and she wouldn’t be there for him. She straightened her back and squared her chin in a way that Caitlin would have recognised had she been there in person. She must get a grip of her life. ‘You know what I’d love to!’ She felt a rush of affection for her friend, ‘I have a good team now, and I can sort out rotas for a short while; its ages since we had any fun.’ She finished in a rush, ‘Thanks Caitlin, It’s really generous of you.’
By the end of the brief conversation Rebecca had all the details of the flights and where to meet with Caitlin for their Roman holiday.