Authors: Loren Teague
Writing a novel is a huge challenge and I couldn’t have completed this story without help from Kaye Kelly and Andrew Grant, my long time friends and writing partners. Also thanks to Eileen Street and Lisa Buonocore for reading through the manuscript and giving me valuable feedback on Nelson and the Italians.
I feel very fortunate to have my own personal adviser on police procedure, Senior Constable Dave Colville of the New Zealand Police. Thanks, Dave. The Club Italia does exist (established in 1931). Special thanks to them for letting me include the club in the story.
Once he had been part of
. The elite. The wealthy. The accepted.
He backed away from the hotel window and turned to the black canvas bag lying on the bed. Inside the bag was the rifle, a Remington Model 7. He unzipped it. Then, lifting the rifle out, ran his finger lightly over the barrel. The metal was cold, smooth to touch. It gave him a sense of power as he cradled the weapon in his arms. He loaded it.
Taking several steps back to the open window, the watcher concentrated on the scene below. The guests arriving for the wedding were from the upper echelons of society; a mix of lawyers, doctors and businessmen with a few well-known artists thrown in for good measure. Most were dressed in formal lightweight suits, their starched white shirts a startling contrast against their tanned skin. As for the women, their expensive silk and linen gowns added vibrant colour to the crowd of people. Money was no object. Diamond necklaces sparkled as emeralds flashed coldly in the afternoon sun.
His gaze wandered, eventually settling on the red roses climbing up a wooden trellis alongside the entrance to the hotel gardens. Their velvety petals were as red as the blood soon to be spilled.
The watcher waited. Five minutes passed. Then ten. Sweat started to pour down his temples. But still he did not move, nor take his
gaze off the scene below.
A white limousine pulled up at the black wrought-iron gates. An usher moved forward to meet the vehicle. The rear door opened.
Two women in their early thirties alighted, smiling brightly. Both women were dark-haired, of Italian descent, with high cheekbones and olive skin. They were identical twins. One wore bridal white, the shade of a winter’s moon, and the other wore lemon-yellow, fresh and tart-like.
His gaze lingered on one of the women. She was so beautiful. So beautiful that she made his heart ache. But what was beauty, he reminded himself bitterly? Her beauty had been poisoned, consumed by lies. Then she’d deserted him when he really needed her.
Betrayal, his mind screamed.
How dare she
Pushing the window further open, he rested the rifle on the window ledge. He took aim, counting slowly. One … two … three.
Marriage could be heaven or hell, thought Gina Rosselini. She ought to know, she’d been there. She smoothed her hand over the silky material of her gown and said, ‘What is it about weddings? They always seem to make people cry.’
Her twin sister, Maria, turned to face her. ‘I’m not crying and I’m the one who’s getting married.’
Gina gave a smile. ‘Hmm … don’t I know it? If only our mother and father could see you. They would have been so proud.’
‘Please … please … don’t talk about them. It makes me feel sad. And I don’t want to feel sad on today of all days.’
Gina gave her sister a quick hug. ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—’
‘I know you didn’t. But right now, all I can think of is walking up that aisle.’ Maria raised her eyebrows. ‘There are two hundred guests sitting there, waiting for me. I only hope I can get through it.’
‘You sound nervous,’ said Gina quickly. She didn’t blame her sister if she was. Who wouldn’t be on a day like today?
‘Actually, I’m terrified.’ Maria bit her lip. ‘Don’t tell me I look it. For God’s sake tell me I don’t.’
Gina shook her head, injecting a soothing note into her voice. ‘No, you don’t. And your dress is stunning. It’s worth every effort we put into it.’ Gina angled her chin. ‘You look like an angel.’
Gina meant every word. Maria had an ethereal quality about her, today of all days. It wasn’t just the wedding dress, made of French
lace and creamy silk, designed and sewn by the top designers in the country, it was the innocence in her sister’s green eyes.
Maria giggled. ‘Me? An angel? That’s the first time you’ve ever said anything like that to me.’
Gina fell silent. There was so much more she
to say to Maria on her wedding day, but somehow she couldn’t. The words were locked inside of her. Perhaps they always would be.
A lump swelled in Gina’s throat. She tried to swallow, hoping to stem the tears starting to prick at her eyes. She gazed downwards, smoothing her fingers over her gown again as if that would provide a distraction, but she should have known better. Even as children, Maria had always sensed any change of mood within her.
Maria lightly touched her arm. ‘Please … please …. don’t cry, Gina. If you start, that will definitely set me off. And then where will I be?’ She gave a smile. ‘I’ll have red eyes in the wedding photos. Not to mention what it will do to my mascara.’
Maria was right. Gina tried to get a grip on her emotions. But it was so hard. ‘I’m so sorry … forgive me,’ she said huskily. ‘Perhaps if we could wait a few more minutes?’ She just needed time to compose herself; to prepare for the ceremony that would mean she would lose Maria to a man she disliked intensely.
Maria shook her head firmly, surprizing Gina. ‘No, Sis, I don’t want to be late. You know how Anthony hates to be kept waiting.’
Gina forced a smile. ‘It’s the bride’s privilege, don’t forget? This is one time he won’t mind you being late.’
‘No,’ repeated Maria, sharply. ‘It’s now or never.’
Now or never, repeated Gina in her mind. Finally, she replied softly, ‘OK. I’m with you all the way.’ Today and forever, she added silently. Through good times and bad times.
Lifting her gown so as not to trip, Maria descended the stone steps leading to the hotel gardens. Gina followed. The usher, hovering nearby, gave the signal for the violinist to begin playing. Gina recognized the tune immediately as ‘Summer’s Day’. It was a haunting tune somehow reaching deep inside her, churning out
memories she had hoped to forget, especially on today, of all days. She gave a small sigh. Why had she made such a mess of her own life while Maria had done everything right and was marrying a respectable wealthy lawyer?
Sucking in a deep breath, Gina took the bouquet of fragrant white roses handed to her, and stretched out her hand to guide her sister along the paved flagstones. Gina could see their grandfather, Luigi, waiting nearby. Somehow he seemed so solid and comforting with his broad shoulders and large build. He was a man used to being in charge. After all, he had built an empire in the New Zealand fishing industry. Rosselini Fisheries.
He fell into step beside Maria. Neither of them spoke, but he gave them both an encouraging smile. To Gina, the warmth in his eyes showed how much he loved them.
Gina heard gasps of delight from the seated guests rippling along the rows as the bride passed. Everyone knew this was no ordinary wedding. One of the Rosselini sisters was getting married and being Italian New Zealanders, they did it in style.
Cameras flashed. How was Maria going to cope with the attention, Gina wondered? But she needn’t have worried. All the hours of practice they’d put in beforehand had paid off. Maria smiled warmly, not a trace of nervousness to be seen as she glided towards the altar and her waiting bridegroom, her arm firmly tucked into her grandfather’s.
Just like a lamb to the slaughter, Gina thought silently. Immediately, she chided herself. She
to stop thinking that way.
The priest stood in a white flowing robe. He looked at them all benignly, his words sombre as he spoke into the microphone. ‘We are gathered here today …’
As Gina listened, honeysuckle, the fragrance sweet and sickly, drifted around her, along with the drone of bees. A tui, its ebony wings fluttering wildly amongst the nearby palms, burst into song like an invisible blessing from above. The moment was poignant and
Gina felt it strongly.
Her glance settled on the best man, Rick Caruso. Taller than average, he was lean looking, wiry even, with olive skin. His black hair was tied back in a pony-tail. She’d met him a couple of times but only briefly. Last night he had called around to see Maria and Anthony to discuss last minute wedding details. He’d been polite to her, though something about him made her wary. Whether it was because he was a private investigator, Gina wasn’t sure. She had a feeling he was an expert at ferreting things out of people. Secrets, confidences, mysteries.
Then, as if he knew what she was thinking, he turned and looked straight at her. His eyes were a deep striking blue reflecting the intensity of the ocean nearby. She stared mesmerized for a moment, unable to look away. Then he winked at her. It was so subtle, for one moment she thought she had imagined it. But she hadn’t.
Of all the nerve, she thought furiously. And in front of all these people too. Someone might have even have caught them on camera. She saw his mouth lift slightly at the corners. Gina averted her gaze, pretending to ignore him.
She heard the priest say, ‘Do you take this man to be your lawful husband?’
Gina felt her shoulders tense, her eyes close briefly. This was it. The part where the bride vows to love the man for eternity. The part where Maria would sign her life away.
Don’t do it, Gina screamed inside.
Her breath caught in her throat as she waited for Maria’s answer. Gina found herself clutching the roses tighter and tighter. So tight, a thorn pricked her finger.
The bride’s words in response to the priest were uttered softly and with complete sincerity. ‘Yes, I do … for ever … and ever. Until death do us part …’
Gina watched Anthony slip the gold ring delicately onto Maria’s slim finger.
Letting her breath out slowly, Gina tried to steady the emotions
rushing through her. The ceremony was almost finished. Her sister was now bound to Anthony Monopoli by a simple band of gold and her wedding vows.
She wasn’t jealous. But she was worried about her sister. If only Anthony would treat her well. That he will always love her as she deserved to be loved.
Gina said a silent prayer. For both of them.
Maria turned slightly and gave Gina a reassuring smile as if to say, ‘Didn’t I tell you? Everything will work out just fine.’
Gina almost believed that smile … and the strength of the message in her sister’s eyes. Her heart rose with joy.
A sharp crack rang out like a small explosion. Gina started, nearly dropping her bouquet of roses. She looked at Maria, seeing her stiffen.
‘Maria …’ murmured Gina, uncertainly. Something was wrong.
Gina watched as Maria’s body suddenly went limp and she fell sideways against Anthony. He caught her in his arms and staggered a couple of steps, before crashing into the marble pedestal standing in front of them.
A scream tore through the air.
Gina dropped her bouquet and rushed forward, screaming. ‘
….’ Her heart slammed into her throat as she knelt down beside her sister. A red stain flowered unevenly across the front of her sister’s wedding gown.
‘Oh my God … she’s bleeding. She’s hurt,’ uttered Gina.
‘She’s been shot …’ added Rick Caruso grimacing.
Gina gasped, horrified. ‘Shot? But I don’t understand …’
Rick took off his jacket and placed it gently over her sister. ‘Keep her still. If there’s a bullet in her, we don’t want it moving.’
Gina glanced at Anthony. He hadn’t said a word though she could see his eyes wide with shock.
‘An ambulance is on its way,’ someone shouted from within the crowd.
‘Thank God,’ murmured Gina, her whole body starting to shake.
She bent closer, smoothed her hand over her sister’s forehead, noticing how pale she was. ‘Just hang on, Maria. Please … hang on. Help will be here soon,’ she said softly. She touched her sister’s cheek tenderly. She didn’t know what else to do.
The guests circled. A man with grey hair appeared, pushing his way through. ‘I’m a doctor … please … let me see if I can help.’
Gina moved back to let the doctor in.
‘Her pulse is weak … very weak,’ he said, shaking his head.
The flash of a camera went off. Before Gina could say anything, Rick had already chased the photographer away. When he returned, she felt his hand on her shoulder squeezing reassuringly.
‘Just keep calm. The ambulance will be here soon,’ he said.
Her voice came out like a whisper. ‘Thank you.’
Within minutes, flashing lights and sirens sounded. A white ambulance drew up close, scattering guests widely across the expanse of lawn.
Rick shouted, ‘Come on, everyone, step back, please. Let the medics through.’
The soft sound of weeping drifted around them as if it had turned into a funeral. Gina heard a voice whisper behind her saying, ‘It’s a vendetta. I’m telling you, it has to be.’ Bewildered, Gina looked up but she couldn’t see who had spoken.
Her gaze returned to Maria. Her wedding veil had fallen off. It was torn, soaked with blood. Gina lifted the veil aside. A fragrant smell of perfume drifted around Gina, reminding her that the woman who had worn it was still living and breathing … but only just.
The medics worked fast. Within minutes, Maria was in the ambulance. Gina intended to follow but she couldn’t put one foot in front of another. Her head started to spin. She couldn’t seem to get her breath. She was sure she was going to faint. She leaned up against the arch to steady herself, then, before she knew it, the ambulance doors had closed.
‘Wait,’ murmured Gina, trying to take a step forward. But she was
too late. The ambulance had already started moving away. Her heart sank.
Rick Caruso came up to her. ‘Come on, I’ll take you to the hospital,’ he offered gently.
‘But my grandparents …’ she trailed off, looking around for them.
‘They’ve gone on ahead.’
‘Oh….’ What was she to do? Feeling numb, she followed him to a station wagon. To her surprise a surf board was tied onto a rack on the roof. The car had obviously seen better days and it looked like it needed a good clean. He held the door open for her while she climbed in, then slammed it shut. Her gown caught. She wrenched it, ripping the material but she didn’t care. All she could think about was her sister lying injured in the ambulance. She tried to fasten her seatbelt but her hands were shaking so badly.
‘Here … let me do that for you,’ Rick offered, taking the seatbelt from her and clipping it in sharply. Then, he revved the engine hard and put it into gear, backing quickly out of the parking lot.
‘I can’t believe this is happening,’ she said. ‘I mean … one minute Maria is getting married, the next she …’ Gina shook her head. ‘Why on earth would anyone want to hurt Maria? It has to be an accident.’
Caruso frowned. ‘It seems to me a strange type of accident. She was shot right in the middle of the hotel gardens on her wedding day.’ He paused slightly. ‘Think about it. There aren’t any forests around. We’re in a built up area in town. So it’s not as if a hunter could have let off a shot if he was chasing a deer.’ He accelerated. ‘Any idea who might be responsible?’
She shook her head. ‘No.’ Her hand moved to her temple where a headache was beginning. ‘I keep seeing her lying in front of me. All that blood. Dear God … it was terrible.’ Gina’s stomach lurched. Nausea swept over her. ‘I feel sick,’ she gasped, turning to face him.
He gave her a sympathetic glance. ‘It’s delayed reaction. You’re in
shock. I can stop if you want.’
‘No, no … please don’t. We mustn’t waste any time.’
‘Open your window. That should help.’
Her fingers pressed the button to wind down the window. She gulped in the fresh air, her hair whipping around her face. ‘I have to reach the hospital quickly. I need to be there. Just in case …’ Her voice trailed off. She wasn’t going to say, just in case Maria died because she couldn’t even bear to think that way.
Understanding crossed his face. ‘Just hold on tight. We’ll be there in a few minutes.’ He accelerated. There were no cops on the highway and minutes later he began to weave expertly through the traffic. Before she knew it, they pulled up outside the emergency department of the hospital.
‘You go in. I’ll park the car and be with you as soon as I can,’ said Rick.
Gina nodded and climbed out of the car and walked steadily toward the double glass doors. The doors hissed open and she passed through. A nurse was standing there, near reception. Gina made her way forward. She glanced at the nurse’s name tag. Yvonne. She had a warm smile. ‘Can I help you?’ the nurse asked.
‘Yes, my sister, Maria …’