Raul was about to close his laptop. His interest had waned the second he had realised she was with someone.
But then the man spoke on.
‘We’re meeting Bastiano at six, and you want to be looking your best.’
The sound of his nemesis’s name halted Raul and again the couple had his full attention—though not by a flicker did he betray his interest.
‘You’re meeting Bastiano at six,’ the blonde beauty responded. ‘I don’t see why I have to be there while you two discuss business.’
‘I’m not arguing about this. I expect you to be there at six.’
Raul drained his espresso but made no move to stand. He wanted to know what they had to do with Bastiano—any inside knowledge on the man he most loathed was valuable.
‘I can’t make it,’ she said. ‘I’m meeting a friend tonight.’
‘Come off it!’ The awful man snorted. ‘We both know that you don’t have any friends.’
It was a horrible statement to make, and Raul forgot to pretend to listen and actually turned his head to see her reaction. Most women Raul knew would crumble a little, but instead she gave a thin smile and a shrug.
‘Acquaintance, then. I really am busy tonight.’
‘Lydia, you will do what is right by the family.’
Her name was Lydia.
As Raul continued to look at her, perhaps sensing her conversation was being overheard, she glanced over and their eyes briefly met. He saw that they were china blue.
His question as to the colour of her eyes was answered, but now Raul had so many more.
She flicked her gaze away and the conversation was halted as the waiter brought their drinks.
Raul made no move to leave.
He wanted to know more.
A family had come into the restaurant and were being seated close to them. The activity drowned out the words from the table beside him, revealing only hints of the conversation.
‘Some old convent...’ she said, and the small cup in his hand clattered just a little as it hit the saucer.
Raul realised they were discussing the valley.
‘Well, that shows he’s used to old buildings,’ Maurice said. ‘Apparently it’s an inordinate success.’
A baby that was being squeezed into an antique high chair started to wail, and Raul frowned in impatience as an older child loudly declared that he was hungry and he wanted chocolate milk.
‘Scusi...’ he called to the waiter, and with a mere couple of words more and a slight gesture of his hand in the family’s direction his displeasure was noted.
* * *
Noted not just by the waiter—Lydia noted it too.
In fact she had noticed him the moment the maître d’ had gestured to where her stepfather, Maurice, was seated.
Even from a distance, even seated, the man’s beauty had been evident.
There was something about him that had forced her attention as she had crossed the dining room.
No one should look that good at eight in the morning.
His black hair gleamed, and as she had approached Lydia had realised it was damp and he must have been in the shower around the same time as her.
Such an odd thought.
That rapidly turned into a filthy one.
Her first with the recipient in the same room!
She had looked away quickly as soon as she had seen that he was watching her approach.
Her stomach had done a little somersault and her legs had requested of their owner that they might bypass Maurice and be seated with him.
Such a ridiculous thought, for she knew him not at all.
And he wasn’t nice.
That much she knew.
Lydia turned her head slightly and saw that on his command the family was being moved.
They were children, for goodness’ sake!
This man irritated her.
This stranger irritated her far more than a stranger should, and she frowned her disapproval at him and her neck felt hot and itchy as he gave a small shrug in return and then closed his computer.
You were already leaving, Lydia wanted to point out. Why have the family moved when you were about to leave?
Yes, he irritated her—like an itch she needed to scratch.
Her ears felt hot and her jaw clenched as the waiter came and apologised to him for the disruption.
The child had asked for chocolate milk, for goodness’ sake, and the baby had merely cried.
Of course she said nothing. Instead Lydia reached for her pot of tea as Maurice droned on about their plans for tonight—or rather, what he thought Lydia should wear.
‘Why don’t you speak to a stylist?’
‘I think I can manage. I’ve been dressing myself since I was three,’ Lydia calmly informed him, and as she watched the amber fluid pour into her cup she knew—she just knew—that the stranger beside her was listening.
It was her audience that gave her strength.
Oh, she couldn’t see him, but she knew his attention was on her.
There was an awareness between them that she could not define—a conversation taking place such as she had never experienced, for it was one without words.
‘Don’t be facetious, Lydia,’ Maurice snapped.
But with this man beside her Lydia felt just that.
The sun was shining, she was in Rome, and the day stretched before her—she simply did not want to waste a single moment of it with Maurice.
‘Have a lovely day...’ She took her napkin and placed it on the table, clearly about to leave. ‘Give Bastiano my regards.’
‘This isn’t up for debate, Lydia. You’re to keep tonight free. Bastiano has flown us to Rome for this meeting and housed us in two stunning suites. The very least you can do is come for a drink and thank him.’
‘Fine,’ Lydia retorted. ‘But know this, I’ll have a drink, but it’s not the “very least” I’ll do—it’s the most.’
‘You’ll do what’s right for the family.’
‘I’ve tried that for years,’ Lydia said, and stood up. ‘I think it’s about time I did what’s right by me!’
Lydia walked out of the restaurant with her head still high, but though she looked absolutely in control she was in turmoil, for her silent fears were starting to come true.
This wasn’t a holiday.
And it wasn’t just drinks.
She was being offered up, Lydia knew.
A hand on her elbow halted her, and as she spun around Lydia almost shot into orbit when she saw it was the man from the next table.