It was still too close to be called a memory.
Yet it would be soon.
Unless she changed her flight times.
What if she told him she couldn’t get a flight out of Venice until tomorrow?
Lydia got out of bed and pulled on a robe and found her phone. Even as she plugged it in to charge it Lydia knew she was breaking the deal they had made—simply to walk away.
Only it wasn’t that simple.
This felt like love.
It was infatuation, Lydia scolded herself.
He was the first person who had shown an interest...
Only that wasn’t so.
There had been others, but she had chosen to let no one in.
There was a knock at the door and Lydia opened it and smiled at the friendly face of a maid, who said her name was Loretta.
‘You have a delivery.’
‘Me?’ Lydia checked. ‘But no one knows that...’ And then her voice trailed off, because the name on the box was indeed hers, and as she took it Lydia felt its weight.
There were stickers saying ‘Fragile’ all over the box and Lydia was trying to reel herself in.
The word was the same in both Italian and English, and she wanted to peel the stickers off and place them on herself.
She was too fragile for this much hope.
Lydia took the box out to the balcony to open it.
It didn’t matter that it had started to rain. She needed air, she truly did, because as she peeled back layers of tape and padding, the hopes she had been trying not to get up soared, for there, nestled in velvet, was the art they had seen made.
It was exquisite.
Dark gold it was shot through with colour, red and crimson, and she ran her fingers along the cool glass and recalled the way Raul had held her last night.
It was more than a gift, and far more than the once-promised morning-after present, surely—it felt like a diary of them.
The kisses and caresses...the oblivion they had found...the melding of two bodies. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen, let alone been given.
How could she even hope to hold on to her heart? Lydia thought, and then she looked out on the canal and there he was, steering the boat with ease, the man she loved.
Her own admission scared her.
Raul didn’t want her love.
She felt that if he so much as looked up he might read her, so Lydia gathered the box and the statue and went back into the room and attempted to reel herself in.
It was a gift.
An exceptionally generous gift.
It didn’t necessarily mean that he felt the same and she had to remember that.
She was trying to hold on to that thought so hard that when her phone rang, unthinkingly Lydia took the call.
That was how Maurice greeted her, and Lydia pulled the phone back from her ear, about to turn it off, because she refused to let him ruin this day.
But, having called her a fool, Maurice then asked her a question.
‘What the hell are you doing with Raul Di Savo?’ Maurice asked.
‘That’s not your concern.’
He’d never told her his surname, though she had seen it on the business card he had given her.
More concerning was how Maurice had known. But, unasked, he told her. ‘There are pictures of the two of you all over the Net.’
‘Have you any idea of the fire you’re playing with? He’s using you, Lydia.’
That much she knew wasn’t true.
Lydia looked at the statue he had bought her, the most beautiful gift ever given, and she recalled not just Raul’s touch but how even without words he made her feel good about herself.
Even if their time was to be fleeting, for once in her life someone had truly liked her.
That was the real gift.
‘He isn’t using me,’ Lydia sneered, utterly confident in that statement.
She had gone willingly, after all.
And then everything changed.
‘He just wants to get at Bastiano.’
She was so sick of hearing that man’s name. ‘What the hell does Bastiano—’ And she stopped, for in that second Lydia answered her own question.
Even before Maurice told her outright, Lydia already knew.
‘They were friends until Bastiano had an affair with his mother. Raul has sworn to make him pay slowly... Screwing you was mere revenge.’
Hope died silently, Lydia found out as she stood there.
For Maurice’s filthy term matched her thoughts.
She had been screwed.
It made sense.
Well, better sense than that she might ever be loved for herself.
She ended the call and looked for the photos Maurice had alluded to. Her heart was thumping...she knew that soon Raul would be back.
There was only one photo she could find—they were in that Rome café, drenched in the morning sun, and he was holding her hand.
She had been innocent then.