ROME AGAIN... ROME AGAIN...
The City of Love.
Wrapped in a towel, and damp from the shower, Lydia Hayward lay on the bed in her hotel suite and considered the irony.
Yes, she might be in Rome, and meeting tonight with a very eligible man, but it had nothing to do with love.
There were more practical matters that needed to be addressed.
Oh, it hadn’t been said outright, of course.
Her mother hadn’t sat her down one evening and explained that, without the vast and practically bottomless pit of money that this man could provide, they would lose everything. Everything being the castle they lived in, which was the family business too.
And Valerie had never said that Lydia had to sleep with the man she and her stepfather were meeting tonight.
Of course she hadn’t.
Valerie had, however, enquired whether Lydia was on the Pill.
‘You don’t want to ruin your holiday.’
Since when had her mother taken an interest in such things? Lydia had been to Italy once before, on a school trip at the age of seventeen, and her mother hadn’t been concerned enough to ask then.
Anyway, why would she be on the Pill?
Lydia had been told to ‘save’ herself.
And she had.
Though not because of her mother’s instruction—more because she did not know how to let her guard down.
People thought her aloof and cold.
Better they think that than she reveal her heart.
And so, by default, she had saved herself.
Lydia had secretly hoped for love.
It would seem not in this lifetime.
Tonight she would be left alone with him.
The towel fell away and, though she was alone, Lydia pulled it back and covered herself.
She was on the edge of a panic attack, and she hadn’t had one since...
Or was it Venice?
That awful school trip.
She had said yes to this trip to Rome, hoping to lay a ghost to rest. Lydia wanted to see Rome through adult eyes, yet she was as scared of the world now as she had been as a teenager.
Pull yourself together, Lydia.
And so she did.
Lydia got up from the bed and got dressed.
She was meeting Maurice, her stepfather, at eight for breakfast. Rather than be late she just quickly combed her long blonde hair, which had dried a little wild. She had bought a taupe linen dress to wear, which had buttons from neck to hem—though perhaps not the best choice for her shaking hands.
They are not expecting you to sleep with him!
Lydia told herself she was being utterly ridiculous even to entertain such a thought. She would stop by for a drink with this man tonight, with her stepfather, thank him for his hospitality and then explain that she was going out with friends. Arabella lived here now and had said they should catch up when Lydia got here.
Lydia took out her phone and fired off a quick text.
Not sure if you got my message.
Made it to Rome.
I’m free for dinner tonight if you would like to catch up.
And so to breakfast.
Lydia stepped out of her suite and took the elevator down to the dining room. As she walked through the lavish foyer she caught sight of herself in a mirror. Those deportment classes had been good for something at least—she was the picture of calm and had her head held high.
Yet she wanted to run away.
* * *
Raul Di Savo declined the waiter’s offer of a second espresso and continued to read through reports on the Hotel Grande Lucia, where he now sat, having just taken breakfast.
At Raul’s request his lawyer had attained some comprehensive information, but it had come through only this morning. In a couple of hours Raul was to meet with Sultan Alim, so there was a lot to go through.
The Grande Lucia was indeed a sumptuous hotel, and Raul took a moment to look up from his computer screen and take in the sumptuous dining room that was currently set up for breakfast.
There was the pleasant clink of fine china and a quiet murmur of conversation and, though formal, the room had a relaxed air that had made Raul’s stay so far pleasurable. There was a certain old-world feel to the place that spoke of Rome’s rich history and beauty.
And Raul wanted the hotel to be his.
Raul had been toying with the idea of adding it to his portfolio and had just spent the night in the Presidential Suite as a guest of Sultan Alim.
Raul hadn’t expected to be so impressed.
He had been, though.
Every detail was perfection personified—the décor was stunning, the staff were attentive yet discreet, and it appeared to be a rich haven for both the business traveller and the well-heeled tourist.
Raul was now seriously considering taking over this landmark hotel.
Which meant that so too was Bastiano.
Fifteen years on and their rivalry continued unabated.
Mutual hatred was a silent, yet daily motivator—a black cord that connected them.