The Friday Night Book Club: Read an excerpt from The Spanish Promise by bestselling author Karen Swan
More about the book!
The Friday Night Book Club: Exclusive excerpts from Pan Macmillan every weekend!
Staying in this evening? Warm yourself up with a glass of wine and Karen Swan’s sizzling summer novel The Spanish Promise.
About the book
Set in the vibrant streets of Madrid, The Spanish Promise is perfect for fans of Victoria Hislop and Santa Montefiore.
One of Spain’s richest men is dying. But as he prepares his estate, his family is shocked to discover he is making plans to give away his wealth to a young woman they have never even heard of. Who is she and what hold does she have over him?
Charlotte Fairfax is asked to travel to the troubled family’s home in Spain to get to the bottom of the mysterious bequest. It’s the week before her wedding but she is confident she has time – there’s only one reason an older man leaves his money to a beautiful woman, isn’t there?
But in Madrid, things don’t go to plan when the woman denies knowing anything about the gift. Is she lying? Looking for clues, Charlotte digs into the prominent family’s history and unearths a dark and shocking past in which two people were torn apart by conflict. But now, their long-buried secrets are starting to reach into the present and Charlotte starts to wonder whether love does not need to forgive or forget in order to endure – but just needs two hearts to keep beating.
Read the excerpt:
Canary Wharf, London, 9 July 2018
‘Gentlemen. Ms Fairfax. We have a problem.’
Charlotte watched as the president of the bank bestrode the room, his footsteps silent on the plush rug. He took his seat at the head of the table and looked down the long expanse of burred walnut at his senior team. She imagined it must look like a fairground hall of mirrors to him: matching navy suits and ‘short back and sides’ rippling all the way down, thighs splayed and broad hands on the table. She alone broke the rhythm – long dark hair held back in a Chanel- beribboned low ponytail, discreetly polished fingernails, narrow shoulders, putty-coloured dress.
Even she knew the name. She didn’t need to be on the permanent payroll here to know he was one of the firm’s biggest clients, which was saying something for a private bank dealing only with ultra high-net-worth individuals. The family was Spanish aristocracy, with a dukedom or two and owning vast tracts of the Andalusian countryside. They had made their fortune many generations back breeding fighting bulls, diversifying over the years into large-scale fruit farming, property investment and, latterly, medical technology. Off the top of her head, having read a profile on them in the financial press a few months back, she recalled their worth as being somewhere around the £750 million mark.
‘I’ve just taken a call from his son, Mateo. I’m sorry to say the old boy’s on his way out. Stage- four pancreatic cancer.’ He tutted with what was supposed to indicate pity but she heard the subtext too: his dying was in some way inconvenient to them.
Hugh Farrer sank into his seat at the head of the table and stared back at them. At only fifty- four, he was the bank’s youngest ever president and its most ruthless. Profits were up by a third in the twenty-eight months since he had taken the helm but it had come at a cost: the labour force beneath him had been trimmed by 21 per cent and he had closed down four satellite offices throughout Europe, centralizing operations at their headquarters here in London.
‘The medics are saying he’s got a month, six weeks at most, which doesn’t give us much time.’ Us? Charlotte saw how the backs along the line stiffened slightly at the words as though they were reined together. She tilted her head to the side, watching, waiting.
Farrer took an exasperated breath. ‘On Friday evening, Carlos suffered a mini-stroke. He is currently being treated in hospital and is, I understand, still unconscious. They are cautiously optimistic that he will recover – or at least make some form of recovery – from this. However, during this crisis, when Mateo assumed power of attorney for his father, as has always been customary, he learnt his father had been midway through drawing up paperwork donating the entirety of his estate to one Marina Quincy.’
Farrer let the name soak into the walls, raking his scrutiny over each of them in turn, like a pianist dragging his hand over the ivories. Marina Quincy. Marina Quincy. But it wasn’t a name with any obvious material connections – not a Rockefeller or Rothschild, Spencer or Goldsmith. She wasn’t Someone, a name they should automatically know. No green lights were flashing to make immediate sense of the directive.
‘Mateo had never heard of her. We’re awaiting a full report but all we know right now is that she’s forty-five and working in a cafe in Madrid,’ Farrer added.
Forty-five? Charlotte frowned. Carlos Mendoza was very elderly, late nineties if she remembered correctly.
‘Could she be an illegitimate daughter?’ someone behind her piped up.
Farrer gave a barely perceptible shake of his head. ‘According to Mateo, his father had a vasectomy in his late thirties which he understands to have been successful.’
‘So then she’s his mistress,’ Dan Milton stated beside her with characteristic frankness. It was the obvious assumption and Milton was nothing if not obvious. Thirty-one and already head of private banking for continental Europe , he wouldn’t know a euphemism from an embolism. Chicago-born, with a Harvard business degree and an MBA from INSEAD, he had joined the London team eight months earlier and the aftershocks of his blunt managerial style were still rippling through the office.
Farrer settled his gaze upon his protégé, which was always a disconcerting experience. Almost albino-blonde, his eyelashes and brows were so pale as to appear bleached, creating a piscatorial impression. Milton had told her once, during a shared lift ride, that it was like being eyeballed by a trout. ‘Mateo Mendoza is adamant he’d met all his father’s mistresses. He’s put a researcher on to it and they’re working up a profile as we speak, but there’s got to be something more to her than just that. Dying old men don’t just give away their fortunes to hot women, no matter how much they fancy them.’
‘Well if she is the lover, then the family has a very strong case for contesting it,’ Milton said, confidently clasping his hands together and beginning to assert his authority. He had had a brief stint running the team in Madrid before this. ‘Spanish inheritance law strongly protects the immediate family. His wife would automatically get fifty per cent, with the rest parcelled up in forced shares or legitimas‘ – he pronounced the word with a strong Spanish accent – ‘for both antecedents and descendants. There’s simply no way he can just dump the lot on his girlfriend and rob his legal family of their birthright.’
Farrer arched an almost-invisible eyebrow. ‘You’re quite right, Dan, he couldn’t do this – if it was a bequest.’
Milton’s mouth opened a little, as he realized too late he’d tripped up over semantics, his ego running away with him.
‘But as I said, it’s a donation. Or donación de bienes,’ Farrer said, matching Milton’s pretentious accent with one of his own.
He pulled his gaze off him in a dismissive manner and invited other suggestions but the room stayed quiet: no one else wanted to walk into one of his booby traps; mines were laid everywhere, beneath every word.
Farrer’s stare hardened. ‘It goes without saying what this potentially means for us. Mendoza is one of our biggest investors and with the shareholder meeting coming up in September and sterling weak against the euro right now, the timing could not be worse. Unfortunately, it is fully within Mendoza’s gift to part with whatever he likes, during his lifetime and if his money leaves the family—’ He stopped, giving everyone a sombre stare. ‘Then it may well leave this bank too.’ The tension in the room ratcheted up a notch.
‘Having said that, Carlos’s lack of time might swing to our advantage – merely delaying the transfer may be all that’s needed to make this problem go away.’
Charlotte felt a flicker of dislike twitch her eye. That he was actually suggesting Carlos Mendoza might oblige them all by conveniently dying whilst they placed just enough obstacles in his path to prevent him from fulfilling his dying wish …? It was just another Monday morning at the bank but she shifted in her seat, glad her meetings here were infrequent. She always came away feeling grubby.
Farrer looked at the guy sitting to Charlotte’s right, the head of legal. ‘Paul, get your team on to the small print now, they need to find something, anything, we can use to stall: agreements, tie- ins … We need to find a way to spin this out: if he dies before the donation can be signed off, then the wills will stand.’
‘Sure,’ Paul said brusquely but looking charged by the directive.
Farrer looked back at Milton again. ‘Milton, I want a full work-up on the Mendoza trusts and assets. In the event we can’t block, what can we lock down and safeguard? We need to see what we can move, diversify, bury – now.’
‘On it,’ Dan nodded.
She looked up to find Farrer’s gaze on her.
‘Thank you for coming in at such short notice.’
‘My pleasure,’ she murmured.
‘Mateo Mendoza is going to feed back to us on this woman’s identity by the end of the day – which means I need you in Madrid.’
Shit. ‘Okay.’ She kept her face impassive; this wasn’t going to go down well with her mother. ‘I need you to make contact with her, sound her out, bring her onside. It’s not yet clear what exactly she knows – no one knew what the old guy was up to. Although it seems unlikely, it may be she doesn’t know about the gift either, in which case make no mention of it while we spin things out this end and find out more. On the other hand, she probably knows exactly what she’s in line for and she’s sitting there with her hand out. Either way, we need you to be our eyes and ears on this.’
Charlotte nodded. This wasn’t her usual brief. The windfall usually came first, then the counselling, not the other way round.
‘If the worst case does come to pass and Carlos gifts the bulk of the estate out of the Mendoza family, we need to be in position to make sure that, regardless, the money stays banked with us. Get close to this woman – she needs to trust you, listen to you, be guided by you. She likely won’t know the first thing about finance at this level and I don’t want our counterparts getting wind there’s a new heiress on the block.’ He looked straight at her with his pale gaze. ‘I want you doing that thing you do.’
‘Connecting?’ she asked, the wry note showing in her eyes only.
‘Exactly that,’ he nodded. ‘Bring her in to the mothership, Charlotte. Losing three-quarters of a billion pounds doesn’t look good on anyone’s CV.’
‘Was that a threat?’ Milton asked her as they walked down the corridor together.
Milton missed a beat and she knew he was smiling. She also knew he found her intriguing, his braggadocio style in complete contrast to her quiet confidence and serene reserve.
‘You seem pretty calm, given that he’s putting it all on you to make sure she keeps the investment with us.’
‘You think it’s all on me?’ Her arms swung lightly as she walked, her back straight, chin up.
Various people nodded at him – them – as they passed. ‘Funny. My take was he’s got to go through you first. You and Paul are my …’ She looked at him quizzically. ‘What’s the terminology in American football, when you put the battering rams in front to protect the guy running with the ball?’
‘Right. It’s only going to come down to me if legal can’t find a way to block the donation, which I’m sure they can. And of course we all know you know exactly how to make his liquid assets infinitely more “fixed”, so that even if the donation actually did come to pass, I doubt there’d be much left for me to have to save.’
‘You’re flattering me again, Charlotte,’ he chuckled as they reached his office, the view of the oxbow meander of the Thames looking sluggish below the hazy sky. A tall, rangy man was already sitting on his velvet sofa and idly flicking through a copy of The Economist.
‘Oh, Lord Finch, apologies! My meeting overran.’ He strode across the room in four strides, looking important and dynamic, holding out a fleshy hand. ‘Good to see you. Good to see you.’ His eyes shone with the excitement that came from personally knowing a peer of the realm. ‘Hey, allow me to introduce you to Charlotte Fairfax. I’ve been wanting to put the two of you together, she’s our wealth counsellor. I think she could have some very timely advice for you in light of your recent … alimony woes.’
The tall man met her gaze and smiled, bending down to lightly kiss her on the cheeks. ‘Lotts, how are you, you exquisite creature? It’s been too long. You said you’d visit in Klosters.’
‘I know, but I didn’t get there at all in the end. An emergency at work.’
‘Sorry – you know each other?’ Milton asked, sounding incredulous.
‘Oh, we’re forever bumping into each other at this and that, aren’t we, Lotts?’ Lord Finch asked, just as her phone rang.
She glanced at the screen. ‘I’m afraid I need to take this. A call I’ve been expecting,’ she smiled apologetically, reaching up on tiptoe to kiss him goodbye again. ‘Let’s have lunch in August. Will you be in Positano?’
‘Darling, does the pope shit in the woods?’
Charlotte laughed. ‘You’re outrageous! I’ll call you.’ And she turned and left, catching sight of Milton’s dumbstruck expression on her way out.
‘I’ll keep you posted!’ Milton called after her as she headed down the corridor.
She raised an arm in acknowledgement as she connected the call. ‘Rosie?’
‘Hi, Charlotte,’ her PA’s voice replied. ‘Good time to speak?’
‘Absolutely.’ She walked down to the lifts and pressed the button, staring out of the plate-glass windows that gave over London. ‘I’m just leaving Steed now. They need me to go to Madrid tomorrow. Can you reschedule my appointments and get me on the first flight out in the morning?’
‘Sure. Hey, Madrid, lucky you – you can top up your tan before the wedding.’
‘Oh yes, lucky me,’ Charlotte replied drolly.
‘You don’t sound too enthused.’
‘You aren’t the one who’s got to tell my mother I can’t make the final dress fitting tomorrow night.’
‘Ah.’ Rosie was very well acquainted with her mother. ‘Well, does that matter? They’ve got your measurements.’
Charlotte missed a beat. ‘Yeah. It’s just a couture dress, you’re right. They can wing it.’
Rosie chuckled, also very well acquainted with Charlotte’s dry sense of humour. ‘Well at least you can take your foot off the gas for a bit while you’re out there. A bit of distance from all the wedding prep might help you to relax.’
‘Are you saying I’m uptight, Rosie?’
‘I’m saying you’re getting married next week and you’ve not had a hen party, a lunch, not even a hair appointment. You’re only taking a few days for the honeymoon—’
‘Because we’re both frantic at the moment. We can take one later when things have calmed down a bit. Has he called, by the way?’
‘Not yet. Do you want me to try him?’ ‘No. No, it’s fine. I’ll catch him later.’ She and Stephen never spoke much in the day – one of them was invariably in a meeting – but she was looking forward to a quiet night in with him tonight. Even if she hadn’t had to go to Madrid tomorrow, they’d been on a carousel of parties lately, everyone urgently getting together for last hurrahs in the capital before they split for the coasts of Provence, Formentera and Esmeraldas, where they would reconvene to do it all again. She could think of nothing nicer than a rhubarb gin and tonic, a foot rub and an evening on the sofa wearing his pyjamas. ‘I’m on my way back now but can you ping me Lucy Santos’s file? You remember, Roberto Santos’s wife.’
‘The Chelsea footballer.’
The lift arrived and she stepped in. ‘Ex-Chelsea. Real Madrid now, remember?’
As if she could forget. Rosie was well-acquainted with her boss’s ambitions. Chelsea Football Club was already one of her top clients and it was how Charlotte had met Lucy initially, helping the Santos family to settle as they moved down to London from Manchester. Naturally, Real Madrid had their own variation on the services she offered, an in-house wealth management team, but Lucy liked the personal relationship she had built up with Charlotte and had been adamant that continued access to her was stipulated as one of the conditions of her husband’s transfer deal. Eager to secure their new star player, Madrid had happily agreed to his family’s demands and Charlotte had worked hard to help them settle quickly in the hope it might lead to the Spanish club becoming another of her clients too.
‘This’ll be a good chance to touch base with her seeing as I’ll be in the neighbourhood. Last time we spoke, she was still struggling: language barrier, the press, school issues . . . The FaceTime sessions aren’t enough; I think she needs more proactive support and this will be a good opportunity to try and get some time with her, before everything kicks off in earnest with this Mendoza problem.’
‘Mendoza?’ It was a name everyone knew. ‘Is there a problem?’
‘Could be,’ Charlotte nodded. It wasn’t every day a bank’s liquidity was thrown into question. ‘Listen, I’ve got to go, I’m in a lift. I’ll be back in ten.’
‘Oh – but what do you want to do about the dinner on Saturday? Will you be back for that?’ The doors closed.
‘Oh God, yes, good point. Saturday,’ she said, pulling a grimace. How could she have forgotten about that? Charlotte bit her lip. Stephen’s parents were throwing a pre-wedding dinner at the Savoy for the core guests. ‘No it’s fine, leave everything as it is. I’m sure I’ll be back by then, but if not, I can fly back for the night if necessary.’
‘Or they could come to you,’ Rosie quipped, her voice beginning to break up. ‘No biggie.’
Charlotte smiled at the prospect of one hundred of her closest friends all decamping to Madrid for the party. ‘Quite. We’ll charter a jumbo.’
The connection was lost as she heard Rosie laughing. As if she’d been joking.