And then she knew she wasn’t jealous any more, or suspicious of Allegra, because he answered a question she wasn’t even thinking.
‘It’s not mine.’
‘I would really hope not.’
And he smiled, and when he did, for Lydia it was easy to smile too, but he could see the little sparkle of tears in her eyes on what should be their happiest night.
‘Marry me?’ he said again.
Oh, she knew he cared—and deeply. And she knew how she felt. But there was still a tiny part of her that was scared that he’d asked in haste.
That without a baby there wouldn’t be any ‘them’.
She would just have to deal with it, Lydia knew. She would just have to accept never quite fully knowing if they were only together for the sake of their child. Because in every other way it felt perfect.
Stiff upper lip and all that.
‘I hated being without you,’ Raul said.
‘No,’ Raul said, ‘I mean it. I felt as if there was something wrong. The sky seemed hung too low.’
He had been trying to work out what was wrong for months, and now suddenly, just like that, he knew exactly what had been wrong.
Raul had never felt it before.
Lydia lay looking at the chandelier struck by moonlight. The shutters were open and there was the sound of a gondolier singing beneath them on the canal.
And then she heard something.
Not a bell.
But something as clear as one.
And it struck right at her soul and she turned her face to the sound.
‘I love you,’ Raul told her.
It can be said many ways, but when it is said right it strikes so clear and so pure. And the sound and the feeling vibrates and lingers and lasts even when it must surely be gone.
It’s never gone.
She had heard his truth.
This really was love.
THERE HAD BEEN one more lie that Raul had told her.
Raul did get up at night for his baby.
And he fed and changed her.
Serena had come into their lives four weeks ago, and so far it had proved the perfect name.
Yes, she was from Venice—or La Serenissima—but it was more for her nature that the name had been chosen.
They had been rewarded with such a calm baby.
Of course she cried—but she calmed easily when held.
And they loved her so much.
From her one blonde tufty curl to her ten perfect toes.
It was seven on a Sunday—Lydia knew that without opening her eyes because her favourite bell rang its occasional deep note and the others would join in soon.
Raul was speaking to Serena as they stood on the balcony, telling her she should go back to sleep.
It made Lydia’s heart melt to watch the gentle way he held his daughter.
He was naked from the waist up and she could see his scars. She was grateful for them.
Sometimes she needed their reminder, because life felt perfect and the scars told her how far they had come.
Lydia closed her eyes as he turned around, pretending to be asleep.
‘Shh...’ Raul said as Serena let out a protest when he returned her to her crib.
Serena hushed, and after a moment of watching her sleep Raul got dressed.
Lydia wanted to protest and insist that he come back to bed.
Sunday was her favourite day.
Raul would go out from their room and return with the breakfast Loretta had prepared. They loved Sunday breakfast in bed.
Where was he going?
Lydia heard the elevator taking him down and then the engine of his speedboat.
Perhaps he had gone for coffee?
Raul did that now and then.
She had hoped he would not this morning.
She lay there listening to the bells and then rolled on her back and looked at the lights. Wherever he had gone she was happy.
So happy that she fell back to sleep and then awoke to his voice.
He had remembered.
Lydia had dropped no clues and given no reminders.
She hadn’t met a stranger that morning. Lydia knew she had met the love of her life. A man who had told her that there was no one in his life whose birthday he remembered.
Now he had two.
Raul held out a cardboard box tied with a red velvet ribbon which was vaguely familiar.
And then he told her where he had been.
‘Baci in gondola,’ Raul told her. ‘Had you not chosen to walk out that morning you would have had these.’
He handed her the box and she opened it up.
‘I was coming back to ask you to stay.’
‘I know that now.’
And then she asked him something that she had not before.
‘Would you have told me about Bastiano then?’
‘No,’ he said. ‘Maybe later that night, but that morning I was definitely coming home to go back to bed with you.’
‘Here.’ He handed her the other box he was carrying. ‘Your present.’
Lydia opened it up and she was reminded of just how much she was loved.