‘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.’

She blushed.

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.

‘Yes.’

‘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.’

He wasn’t.

‘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.

‘Some.’

‘Close friends?’ Lydia pushed.

‘No one whose birthday I need to remember.’

‘No one?’

He shook his head.

‘I guess it saves shopping for presents.’

‘Not really.’

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.

It hadn’t.

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!

But what a first, Lydia thought.

She went to reach for water but decided against it, unsure she could manage the simple feat when the air thrummed with an energy that was foreign to her.

He was potent, and Lydia was tempted in a way she had never been.

She glanced down to his hand, and that was beautiful too—olive-skinned and long-fingered with very neat nails. And it was happening again, because now she imagined them inside her.

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