It was actually rather spectacular to watch.

The reflection of the low, late-afternoon sun was captured by several thousand crystals, and for a moment it was as if it was raining sunbeams as light danced across the walls and the ceiling and the floor—even over their suits.


‘It’s a beautiful ballroom,’ Raul commented as he looked around, though he was unsure exactly why Alim had brought him here instead of to a meeting room, when it was figures that Raul wanted to discuss.

‘When I bought the hotel those had not been cleaned in years,’ Alim said, gesturing to the magnificent lights. ‘Now they are taken down and cared for properly. It is a huge undertaking. The room has to be closed, so no functions can be held, and it is all too easy to put it off.’

Raul could see that it would be, but he did not get involved in such details and told Alim so.

‘I leave all that to my managers to organise,’ Raul said.

Alim nodded. ‘Usually I do too, but when I took over the Grande Lucia there had been many cost-cutting measures. It was slowly turning into just another hotel. It is not just the lighting in the ballroom, of course. What I am trying to explain is that this hotel has become more than an investment to me. Once I return to my homeland I shall not be able to give it the attention it deserves.’

‘The next owner might not either,’ Raul pointed out.

‘That is his business. But while the hotel is mine I want no part in her demise.’

Raul knew he was now hearing the true reason for the sale. To keep this hotel to its current standard would be a huge undertaking, and one that Raul would play no major part in—he would delegate that. Perhaps he’d do so more carefully, given what he had been told. But at the end of the day managers managed, and Raul had neither the time nor the inclination to be that heavily involved.

‘Now you have given me pause for thought,’ Raul admitted.

‘Good.’ Alim smiled. ‘The Grande Lucia deserves the best caretaker. Please,’ Alim said, indicating that their long day of meetings had come to an end, ‘take all the time you need to look around and to enjoy the rest of your stay.’

Sultan Alim excused himself and Raul stood in the empty ballroom, watching the light dancing around the walls like a shower of stars.

He thought of home.

And he understood Alim’s concerns.


Last year Raul had purchased a stunning Venetian Gothic palazzo on the Grand Canal.

It required more than casual upkeep.

The house was run by Loretta—the woman who had warned his mother of Gino’s imminent return home all those years ago.

She ran the staff—and there were many.

Raul looked around the ballroom at the intricate cornices and arched windows.

Yes, he knew what Alim was talking about. But this was a hotel, not a home.

Raul would play no part in her demise.

He was going to pass.


So there was no need to linger.

His mind went back to that morning and he hoped very much that Lydia would be there to meet him tonight—not just to score a point over Bastiano and to rot up his plans.

Raul had enjoyed her company.

* * *

His company was not for keeps.

Lydia knew that.

She sat in her button-up dress in the hairdresser’s at four and asked for a French roll, but the hairdresser tutted, picked up a long coil of blonde and suggested—or rather, strongly suggested—curls. After some hesitation finally Lydia agreed.

Whatever had happened to her this morning, it was still occurring.

She felt as if she were shedding her skin, and at every turn she fought to retrieve it.

Her lashes were darkened, and then Lydia opened her eyes when the beautician spoke.

‘Porpora...’

Lydia did not know that word, but as the beautician pushed up a lipstick Lydia managed, without translation, to work out what it meant.

Crimson.

‘No.’ Lydia shook her head and insisted on a more neutral shade.

Oh, Lydia wanted to be back in her cocoon—she was a very unwilling butterfly indeed—but she did buy the lipstick, and on her way back to the hotel she stopped at the boutique and bought the red dress.

And then she entered the complex world of sexy shoes.

Lydia had bought a neutral pair to go with the caramel dress and thought she was done. But...

‘Red and red,’ the assistant insisted.

‘I think neutral would look better.’

‘You need these shoes.’

Oh, Lydia was starting to take advice from strangers for she tried them on. They were low-heeled and slender and a little bit strappy.

‘It’s too much,’ Lydia said, but both women knew she was not protesting at the price.

‘No, no,’ the assistant said. ‘Trust me—these are right.’

Oh, Lydia didn’t trust her.

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