‘I love your home.’
‘You haven’t really seen it.’
And she was about to throw him a line about how she could live in just his bedroom for ever, but it would come out wrong, she knew.
He watched the lips he had been about to kiss press together.
Raul saw that.
Then he thought of what he’d been about to say last night.
He should be congratulating himself for not making such a foolish mistake by uttering that word last night.
Yet the feeling was still there.
And so Raul, far safer than making love to her, as he wanted to, told her how he had come by his home.
‘There is a café nearby that I go to. I sometimes see Silvio there, and we chat. On one occasion he told me that this palazzo had come on the market. He was not interested in purchasing it but had been to view it as some of his early work was inside.’
I don’t care, Lydia wanted to say. I want to be kissed.
Yet she did care.
And she did want to know about his home and how he had come by it.
She wanted more information to add to the file marked ‘Raul Di Savo’ that her heart would soon have to close.
And his voice was as deep as that occasional bell and it resonated in every cell of her body.
She wanted to turn her mouth to feel his, but she lay listening instead.
‘Half a century ago it underwent major refurbishment. Silvio made all the internal door handles with his grandfather. But it was the chandelier in the master bedroom that he really wanted to see.’
And now they both lay bathed in the dancing sunbeams of the chandelier as he told its tale.
‘It was created by three generations of Silvio’s family, long before he was born. I knew that I had to see it, so I called Allegra to arrange a viewing, and then, when I saw it, I had to own it.’
‘I can see why.’ Lydia sighed. ‘I’m back in love with Venice.’
And then she said it.
‘I never want to leave.’
It was just what people said at the end of a good trip, Raul knew, but silence hung in the air now, the bells were quiet, and it felt as if even the sky awaited his response.
He needed to think—away from Lydia. For the temptation was still there to say it, to roll into her and make love to her and ask her to remain.
It was unfamiliar and confusing enough for Raul to deal with, let alone her. And so he tried to dismiss the thought in his head that refused to leave.
And Raul knew that Lydia needed her heart that was starting to soar to be reined in.
‘People love their holidays,’ Raul said. ‘I know that. I study it a lot in my line of work. But there is one thing I have consistently found—no matter how luxurious the surroundings, or how fine the cognac, no matter how much my staff do everything they can to ensure the very best stay...’ he could see tears sparkle in her eyes and he had never once seen her even close to crying before ‘...at the end of even the most perfect stay most are ready to go back to their lives.’
‘Not always.’ Lydia fought him just a little.
And they both fought to keep the conversation from getting too heavy, but they were not discussing holidays—they both knew that.
‘I know,’ Lydia persisted, ‘that when I’ve had a really good holiday I want more of it...even just a few more days...’ She lied, and they both knew it, because Lydia had never had a really good holiday, but he kept to the theme.
‘Then that means it was an exceptional trip—a once-in-a-lifetime experience. A guest should always leave wanting more.’
He saw her lips turn white at this relegation and tempered it just a little as he told her they could never be. ‘I’ll tell you something else I have found—if people do return to that treasured memory it is never quite the same.’
‘No.’ Lydia shook her head.
‘True,’ Raul insisted. ‘We have couples come back for their anniversary and they complain that the hotel has changed, or that the waterways are too busy, or that the restaurant they once loved is no longer any good... And I know they are wrong, that my hotel has got better since they were there and that the restaurant retains its standard. I know that the waterways of Venice are ever beautiful. It is the couple who have changed.’
‘How arrogant of you to assume your guests have no cause for complaint.’
And as she fought for her belief that all things might be possible, that their slice of time might lead to more, his words thwarted her.
‘Why risk spoiling something wonderful?’ Raul asked, but when Lydia didn’t answer he lay there asking himself the same thing.
Why would he even risk suggesting that she stay?
But didn’t guests extend their stays all the time?