‘The family castle is now a wedding venue.’
‘Do you work there?’
‘I deal with the bookings and organise the catering...’ She gave a tight smile, because what she did for a living was so far away from her dreams. When her father had been alive she had loved the visitors that came to the castle. He would take them through it and pass on its rich history and Lydia would learn something new every time.
‘And you still live at home?’
She didn’t add that there was no choice. The business was failing so badly that they couldn’t afford much outside help, and she didn’t get a wage as such.
‘Bastiano—this man we’re supposed to meet tonight—has had a lot of success converting old buildings... He has several luxury retreats and my mother and Maurice are hoping to go that route with the castle. Still, it would take a massive cash injection...’
‘Castles need more than an injection—they require a permanent infusion,’ Raul corrected.
All old buildings did.
It galled him that Bastiano had been able to turn the convent into a successful business venture. On paper it should never have worked, and yet somehow he had ensured that it had.
‘Quite,’ Lydia agreed. ‘But more than money we need his wisdom...’ She misinterpreted the slight narrowing of Raul’s eyes as confusion. ‘A lot of these types of venture fail—somehow Bastiano’s succeed.’
‘So why would this successful businessman be interested in your castle?’
Lydia found she was holding her breath. His question was just a little bit insulting. After all, the castle was splendid indeed, and Raul could have no idea what a disaster in business Maurice had turned out to be.
‘I’m sure Bastiano recognises its potential.’
‘And he wants you there tonight so he can hear your vision for the castle?’
Lydia gave a small shake of her head. The truth was that she was actually opposed to the idea of turning it into a retreat—not that her objections held much weight.
‘Then why do you need to go?’
‘I’ve been invited.’
‘Lydia, I have had more business meetings than I’ve had dinners.’ Raul spoke when she did not. ‘But I can’t ever remember asking anyone—ever—to bring along their daughter, or rather their stepdaughter.’
Those creamy cheeks turned an unflattering red.
Lydia knew it—she could feel the fire, not just on her skin but building inside her at the inappropriateness he was alluding to.
‘Excuse me?’ she snapped.
‘Why?’ Raul said. ‘What did you do?’
‘I mean you’re rude to insinuate that there might be something else going on!’
‘I know that’s what you meant.’
He remained annoyingly calm, and more annoyingly he didn’t back down.
‘And I’m not insinuating anything—I’m telling you that unless you hold the deeds to the castle, or are to be a major player in the renovations, or some such, there is no reason for this Bastiano to insist on your company tonight. ‘
‘He isn’t insisting.’
‘Good.’ Raul shrugged. ‘Then don’t go.’
‘I don’t have any excuse not to.’
‘You don’t need one.’
It was Lydia who gave a shrug now.
A tense one.
She was still cross at his insinuation.
Or rather she was cross that Raul might be right—that he could see what she had spent weeks frantically trying not to.
‘Lydia, can I tell you something?’
She didn’t answer.
‘Some free advice.’
‘Why would I take advice from a stranger?’
‘I’m no longer a stranger.’
He wasn’t. She had told him more than she had told many people who were in her day-to-day life.
‘Can I?’ Raul checked.
She liked it that he did not give advice unrequested, and when she met his eyes they were patient and awaiting her answer.
‘You can walk away from anyone you choose to, and you don’t have to come up with a reason.’
‘I know that.’
She had walked off from breakfast with Maurice, after all.
It wasn’t enough, though—Lydia knew that. And though Raul’s words made perfect sense, they just did not apply to her world.
‘So why don’t you tell your stepfather that you can’t make it tonight because you’re catching up with a friend?’
‘I already have.’
‘But you don’t like Arabella,’ Raul pointed out. ‘So why don’t you meet me instead?’
She laughed a black laugh. ‘You’re not a friend.’
‘No,’ he answered honestly. ‘I’m not.’
She was about to take a sip of her coffee when he added something else.
‘I could be for tonight, though.’
‘I don’t think so.’ Lydia gave a small laugh, not really getting what he had just said—or rather not really thinking he meant it.
‘Do you have many friends?’ she asked, replacing her cup. Perhaps her question was a little invasive, but she’d told him rather a lot and was curious to know about him.
‘Close friends?’ Lydia pushed.
‘No one whose birthday I need to remember.’
He shook his head.
‘I guess it saves shopping for presents.’
Raul decided to take things to another level and tell her how things could be. In sex, at least, he was up front.
‘I like to give a present the morning after.’
Lydia got what he meant this time.
She didn’t blush. If anything Lydia felt a shiver, as if the sun had slipped behind a cloud.
He was dark, he was dangerous, and he was as sexy as hell. Absolutely she was out of her depth.
‘I’m here to sightsee, Raul.’
‘Then you need an expert.’
Lydia stared coolly back at this man who was certainly that. She wondered at his reaction if she told him just how inexperienced she was—that in fact he would be her first.
Not that it was going to happen!