‘I hate weddings,’ Raul said, taking the stopper off the bottle and pouring her a drink. ‘Imagine having to deal with one every week.’
‘They’re not every week—unfortunately. Sometimes in the summer...’ Her voice trailed off mid-sentence and Raul knew why. He was minus his shirt, and with his back to her, therefore Lydia must have seen his scar.
It was the sort of scar that at first glance could stop a conversation.
A jagged fault line on a perfect landscape, for he was muscled and defined, but then she frowned as she focused on the thinner lines.
A not so perfect landscape.
Oh, so badly she wanted to know more about this man.
But Lydia remembered her manners and cleared her throat and resumed talking.
‘In the summer they used to be weekly, but the numbers have been dwindling.’
‘Why?’ Raul asked, and handed her the drink. He was grateful that she had said nothing about the scars. He loathed it when women asked about them, as if one night with him meant access to his past.
And it was always just one night.
Lydia took a sip. In truth it had tasted better on his tongue, but it was warming and pleasant and she focused on that for a moment. But then Raul asked the question again.
‘Why are the numbers dwindling?’
‘Because when people book a luxury venue they expect luxury at every turn, but Maurice cuts corners.’
He had heard that so many times.
In fact Raul had made his fortune from just that. He generally bought hotels on their last legs and turned them into palaces.
The Grande Lucia was a different venture—this hotel was a palace already, and that was why he was no longer considering making the purchase.
‘Maurice is always after the quick fix,’ Lydia said, and then stilled when she heard the buzzing of her phone.
‘It’s him,’ Lydia said.
‘I’ll speak to him for you,’ Raul said, and went to pick it up.
‘Please don’t.’ Her voice was very clear. ‘You would only make things worse.’
‘You won’t be the one dealing with the fallout.’
And, yes, he could deal with Maurice tonight, but who would that really help? Oh, it might make Raul feel better, and Maurice certainly deserved it, but Lydia was right—it wouldn’t actually help things in the long run, given he wouldn’t be around.
‘Turn your phone off,’ Raul suggested, but she shook her head.
‘I can’t—he’ll call my mother and she’ll be worried.’
Raul wasn’t so sure about that. He rather guessed that Lydia’s mother would more likely be annoyed that Lydia hadn’t meekly gone along with their plans.
He watched as her phone rang again, but when she looked at it this time, instead of being angry she screwed her eyes closed.
‘No, it’s my mother.’
‘I can’t,’ Lydia said. ‘He must have told her I’ve run off.’ Her phone fell silent, but Lydia knew it wouldn’t stay like that for very long. ‘I’ll ring her and tell her I’m safe. I shan’t tell her where I am—just that I’m fine. Can I...?’ She gestured to the double doors and it was clear that Lydia wanted some privacy to make the call.
It was a bedroom.
Her first time in a man’s bedroom, and it was so far from the circumstances she had hoped for that it was almost laughable.
It had been an almost perfect night, yet it was ruined now. Lydia sat on the bed and cringed as she recalled her entrance into his suite.
Lydia was very used to hiding her true feelings, yet Raul seemed to bring them bubbling up to the surface.
Right now, though, she needed somehow to snap back to efficient mode—though it was hard when she heard her mother’s accusatory voice.
‘What the hell are you playing at, Lydia?’
‘I’m not playing at anything.’
‘You know damn well how important this trip is!’
A part of Lydia had hoped for her mother to take her side. To agree that Maurice’s behaviour tonight had been preposterous and tell her that of course Lydia didn’t have to agree to anything she didn’t want to do.
It had been foolish to hope.
Instead Lydia sat there as her mother told her how charming Bastiano was, how he’d been nothing but a gentleman to date, and asked how she dared embarrass the family like this.
And then, finally, her mother was honest.
‘It’s time you stepped up...’
‘Bastiano doesn’t even know me,’ Lydia pointed out. ‘We’ve spoken, at best, a couple of times.’
‘Lydia, it’s time to get your head out of the clouds. I’ve done everything I can to keep us from going under. For whatever reason, Bastiano has taken an interest in you...’