‘I was—I was getting over a break-up with someone before I came out to Italy,’ she said to Luca now.

The highly efficient air-conditioning in the room added to the chills already rippling through her body at having to recall the painful memories of that time.

‘So you slept with me on the rebound? Is that what you are saying?’ The bitter thread in Luca’s huskily rich voice was easy to detect.

‘No! That’s not what I’m saying at all! I didn’t sleep with you on the rebound!’

‘Then I was some kind of consolation prize, perhaps? Because your boyfriend had rejected you?’

‘Please just listen to me, will you?’ Unfolding her arms, Kate moved nearer to the huge desk separating her from the glowering handsome man behind it. ‘He didn’t reject me…at least not in the way that you think. We’d just got engaged to be married when I found him in bed with another woman…his lover, as it turned out.’

Some of the tension in Luca’s face seemed to depart, yet his arresting blue eyes were still full of suspicion, Kate noticed.

‘Was he a wealthy man, this ex-fiancé of yours?’ he asked.

‘He was a successful broker in the City.’

‘Many wealthy men have lovers. It is perhaps not as shocking as you think, Katherine.’

What was he telling her? That he too had a lover? Suddenly she could barely withstand the wave of misery that the possibility produced. Desperately trying to field her hurt and thinking that perhaps she really should get some therapy to help her stop making such poor choices in men, she let a heavy sigh escape her. Could events get any worse?

‘Well, I think it’s pretty shocking!’ she declared with heat. ‘If you can’t trust the person you’re intending to spend the rest of your life with, then who can you trust? He lied to me. Made me think he was a very different kind of man from the one he really turned out to be! I could not knowingly or willingly be in a relationship with a man who needed another woman on the side! The idea is abhorrent to me—and would be to most normal women, I’m sure!’

‘That is your prerogative. But why did you leave my bed the next morning without telling me you planned to leave? That I still do not comprehend.’

‘I was scared.’ Kate shrugged, and inside her chest her heartbeat picked up speed a little too rapidly, making her dizzy. She was nauseous too, and a sudden urgent need to locate the nearest bathroom became absolutely imperative.

‘Of what?’ Luca questioned.

‘Can’t you guess? Of making a fool of myself with a man all over again! I’m sorry—but I really need to get to the bathroom!’

Turning hurriedly away from Luca’s desk, Kate barely knew which direction her feet were taking her, and the sense of disorientation that washed over her made it hard for her to focus.

‘Katherine?’

The sharp concern in Luca’s voice surprised her, but Kate was too intent on getting to the bathroom before she disgraced herself more emphatically than she could bear to imagine to acknowledge it. Pushing open the sleek walnut twin doors of his office, she found herself in a thickly carpeted corridor. Without hesitation she headed straight for the women’s cloakroom right at the end.

Alarmed at how suddenly Katherine’s face had turned so ghostly white, Luca sprang up from the leather chair behind his desk and followed her to the ladies’ washroom. Pushing open the door to the scented interior, he heard with alarm the sound of retching coming from one of the cubicles.

‘Katherine!’ he called out, following the direction of the sound. ‘Are you ill? What is the matter? Tell me!’

‘Please,’ returned a wretched sounding voice, ‘just leave me alone. I’ll be all right in a minute.’

‘Do you need help? We have a resident medic in the building. I will go and fetch her.’

‘No! Please don’t do that! I told you. I’ll be okay in a minute. Just let me sort myself out, will you?’

Uncertain whether that was wise, nonetheless Luca realised he had no choice but to give her a few moments to recover from whatever had disturbed her and trust that it wasn’t something serious.

Returning reluctantly to his office, he paced the floor a little, his body thrumming with impatient restlessness at not knowing what was wrong with her. In the time that he waited for Katherine to return from the bathroom he reflected on what she’d told him about her ex-fiancé and the fact that she had discovered him in bed with his lover.

‘Innocent loveliness’—that was how his friend Hassan had described her at the hotel, and Luca silently agreed that that was certainly the impression her sweet face and quiet voice so beguilingly depicted. Yet Luca knew her to be a woman capable of the kind of passion that made a man’s heart beat so fast he barely knew his own name when he was in her arms! A heady, irresistible torrent of heat suffused him at the memory. Had she been telling him the truth when she’d told him the story of her ex and his mistress? If she had, and she had really loved this man, then he could see how she would have been badly hurt by such a betrayal. But Luca did not know Katherine well enough to judge if she was speaking the truth or not.

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