It was an album filled with stunning photos of the castle.
Exterior shots and also interior.
And as she turned the pages it was like stepping into each room and seeing it as it had once been when she was a child.
The castle would be opened to the public today.
With Raul’s help, things had been turned around.
Valerie lived in a cottage on the grounds, and this afternoon would be taking the first visitors in a very long time through the glorious building.
But that wasn’t all of Lydia’s presents.
‘We fly at ten,’ Raul told her. ‘Then we are having afternoon tea in the garden. You’ll make a gentleman of me yet.’
He was one.
A thousand times over and Lydia still cringed a bit when she thought of the words she had said, right here in this bedroom, that awful day.
They had survived it.
Better than that, they had thrived.
Raul came into the bed and they lay there, listening to the bells and to the contented sounds of their baby.
‘When are we getting married?’ Raul asked.
It hadn’t yet happened.
‘Soon.’ Lydia smiled.
‘You keep saying that,’ Raul grumbled.
The last six months had been wonderful, but crazy. Their love had hit like lightning, and Lydia kept waiting to come down from the dizzy high and get organised.
She was starting to accept that there was no come-down when Raul was close.
Their kiss was slow, and he kept telling her he loved her, and then Raul rolled on top of her and told her that he was tired of waiting.
She felt him there and he smiled.
‘I didn’t mean for that.’
‘I know you didn’t,’ Lydia said.
But it had been four weeks and she was ready now.
He was very slow and tender, and that was a side of Raul that even he was only starting to find out existed.
It was the best birthday she could have known. They made slow Sunday love and afterwards he stayed leaning over her and told her that there was another thing she did not know.
‘We get married today,’ Raul said.
They both wanted a small wedding and had thought about having it here in Venice.
Or Rome, where they had first met, perhaps?
Even Sicily, for together they had been back there.
‘At the castle,’ Raul said.
That had been but a dream, for it had been falling down around them when they’d first met.
It was beautiful now.
‘Yes?’ he checked.
‘Yes!’ Lydia said.
‘Per favore?’ Raul said, and took her right back to the day they had met.
‘Yes, please!’ Lydia said, and together they smiled.
She had chosen wisely, for Raul was the love of her life.
And he would be King.
* * * * *
A Debt Paid in the Marriage Bed
by Jennifer Hayward
Lorenzo Ricci pocketed his phone and lengthened his stride, pretending he hadn’t witnessed the appearance of his portly, balding, middle-aged lawyer in the hallway behind him. Fifty minutes back on US soil, the last thing he needed was to discuss the fine print of the complex acquisition deal he had been negotiating, a subject bound to make his head ache even more than it already was.
Tomorrow, after a shot of his favorite whiskey, a steam shower and a face-plant into the Egyptian cotton sheets his housekeeper had procured for his very comfortable king-size bed, would be soon enough to endure that brain-throbbing task.
Dio. He pulled to a halt, turned and faced the man doing his best to catch up to him on short, stubby legs, his outward appearance the very antithesis of the pit bull he was in the boardroom.
“I’ve been traveling for sixteen hours, Cristopher, I’m tired, I’m in a vile mood and I need sleep. Trust me when I say tomorrow is better.”
“It can’t wait.” The edge to his lawyer’s voice commanded Lorenzo’s full attention. Not once in five years of completing difficult and sometimes downright antagonistic deals together had his legal counsel ever looked this rattled. “I need five minutes of your time.”
Expelling a long sigh, his stomach souring at the thought of attempting to interpret the finer points of legalese when what his brain officially needed was sleep, Lorenzo waved a hand toward his office. “Bene. Five minutes.”
Cristopher followed him into the sleek, black-and-chrome offices of the Ricci International executive team. Gillian, Lorenzo’s ultraefficient PA, gave him an apologetic I-tried look. He waved her off. “Go home. We can go through everything in the morning.”
She murmured her thanks, got to her feet and started gathering her things. Cristopher followed him into his office, hovering in front of his desk while he dropped his briefcase beside it and shrugged off his jacket. The apprehension skittering up his spine deepened. His lawyer didn’t hover. Ever.