You were already leaving, Lydia wanted to point out. Why have the family moved when you were about to leave?
Yes, he irritated her—like an itch she needed to scratch.
Her ears felt hot and her jaw clenched as the waiter came and apologised to him for the disruption.
The child had asked for chocolate milk, for goodness’ sake, and the baby had merely cried.
Of course she said nothing. Instead Lydia reached for her pot of tea as Maurice droned on about their plans for tonight—or rather, what he thought Lydia should wear.
‘Why don’t you speak to a stylist?’
‘I think I can manage. I’ve been dressing myself since I was three,’ Lydia calmly informed him, and as she watched the amber fluid pour into her cup she knew—she just knew—that the stranger beside her was listening.
It was her audience that gave her strength.
Oh, she couldn’t see him, but she knew his attention was on her.
There was an awareness between them that she could not define—a conversation taking place such as she had never experienced, for it was one without words.
‘Don’t be facetious, Lydia,’ Maurice snapped.
But with this man beside her Lydia felt just that.
The sun was shining, she was in Rome, and the day stretched before her—she simply did not want to waste a single moment of it with Maurice.
‘Have a lovely day...’ She took her napkin and placed it on the table, clearly about to leave. ‘Give Bastiano my regards.’
‘This isn’t up for debate, Lydia. You’re to keep tonight free. Bastiano has flown us to Rome for this meeting and housed us in two stunning suites. The very least you can do is come for a drink and thank him.’
‘Fine,’ Lydia retorted. ‘But know this, I’ll have a drink, but it’s not the “very least” I’ll do—it’s the most.’
‘You’ll do what’s right for the family.’
‘I’ve tried that for years,’ Lydia said, and stood up. ‘I think it’s about time I did what’s right by me!’
Lydia walked out of the restaurant with her head still high, but though she looked absolutely in control she was in turmoil, for her silent fears were starting to come true.
This wasn’t a holiday.
And it wasn’t just drinks.
She was being offered up, Lydia knew.
A hand on her elbow halted her, and as she spun around Lydia almost shot into orbit when she saw it was the man from the next table.
‘Can I help you?’ she snapped.
‘I saw you leaving suddenly.’
‘I wasn’t aware that I needed your permission.’
‘Of course you don’t,’ he responded.
His voice was deep, and his English, though excellent, was laced heavily with a rich accent. Her toes attempted to curl in her flat sandals at its sound.
Lydia was tall, but then so was he—she didn’t come close to his eye level.
It felt like a disadvantage.
‘I just wanted to check that you were okay.’
‘Why wouldn’t I be?’
‘I heard some of what was said in there.’
‘And do you always listen in on private conversations?’
‘Of course.’ He shrugged. ‘I rarely intervene, but you seemed upset.’
‘No,’ Lydia said. ‘I didn’t.’
She knew that as fact—she was very good at keeping her emotions in check.
She should have walked off then. Only she didn’t. She continued the conversation. ‘That baby, however, was upset—and I didn’t see you following him across the dining room.’
‘I don’t like tantrums with my breakfast, and the toddler is now throwing one,’ he said. ‘I thought I might go somewhere else to eat. Would you like to join me?’
He was forward and he lied, for she had seen the waiter removing his plates and knew he had already had breakfast.
‘No, thank you.’ Lydia shook her head.
‘But you haven’t eaten.’
‘Again,’ Lydia replied coolly, ‘that’s not your concern.’
* * *
Bastiano was his concern, though.
For years revenge had been his motivator, and yet still Bastiano flourished.
Something had to give, and Raul had waited a long time for that day to arrive.
Now it would seem that it had—in the delicate shape of an English rose.
Raul was no fool, and even from the snippets of conversation he’d heard, he had worked out a little of what was going on.
Bastiano wanted Lydia to be there tonight.
And Lydia didn’t want to go.
It was enough to go on—more than enough. For despite her calm demeanour he could see the pulse leaping in her throat. More than that, Raul knew women—and knew them well.