Hugging herself, she glanced round at the magnificent art on the walls, at the exquisite furnishings that enhanced the room’s elegant Italianate beauty, and couldn’t help but feel confronted with the wealth and experience that made Luca’s everyday existence so distant from hers. Such a confrontation easily provoked old and unhelpful feelings of not being quite good enough. But Kate couldn’t let them sabotage the hope she’d started to nurture in her heart that she and Luca might have a real future together.
Squaring her shoulders, she determinedly willed away the discomfort. If Luca didn’t want to be with her, she silently contested, then he would hardly have brought her to Milan with him, would he?
‘Buongiorno, Signorina Richardson!’
A smiling, full-figured woman with threads of iron-grey in her black hair, wearing a white apron over a charcoal-grey dress, approached Kate as she reached the bottom of the elegant winding staircase. She extended her hand in greeting.
‘I am Orsetta Leoni—Signor De Rossi’s housekeeper. I have been with his family for a very long time, and since they are all sadly gone…now I just look after him! I am very pleased to meet you, Signorina Richardson.’
Her smile was engaging, and as Kate put her hand in hers she silently acknowledged that it was very pleasant to be greeted so warmly. But she was anxious too. She’d waited so long for Luca to return to their bedroom that she’d worried he must have forgotten she was there! As lovely as the beautiful room was, she had wanted to go out on the terrace and sample some of the surprisingly warm, blossom-scented afternoon air.
‘Buongiorno.’ Kate smiled back. ‘It’s very nice to meet you too. I was just wondering if you could tell me where I can find Signor De Rossi?’
‘Sì! Of course! Follow me, Signorina Richardson. I will take you to him.’
Reaching the opened French windows that led out from the drawing room onto the large, fragrantly scented stone terrace, with its bushes of pink and white camellia starting to bloom, Orsetta dropped her hands to her ample hips and tutted.
‘He works too hard! I am always telling him!’ she announced. ‘His mamma would turn in her grave that he does not look after himself better!’
Kate’s surprised gaze fell upon Luca’s sleeping form, stretched out on a rattan sofa. He had removed his jacket, she saw, but was still wearing the suit that he’d worn to travel in. His tie was pulled away from his open collar—as was his habit—and his dark hair flopped boyishly onto his tanned brow. Kate mused that he looked like a delectable male equivalent of the Sleeping Beauty. But Orsetta’s words about him not taking better care of himself had wrung at her heart, and she turned briefly to the older woman in acknowledgement.
‘You’re right. He does work too hard,’ she agreed.
‘Go and sit down, signorina. I will bring you something nice to drink. Some fruit juice, perhaps?’
‘That would be lovely…grazie.’
Gazing out over lush green gardens, with the rooftops of the city clearly visible in the distance, Kate sighed with pleasure at the warm kiss of the sun on her face. Luca might not have been able to guarantee constant sunshine at this time of year, but it was certainly far warmer than she had expected.
Rising to her feet, she removed the light pink cotton cardigan she wore over a navy linen dress, spreading it over the back of her chair. As she did so Luca stirred, murmuring something in his sleep, and once again Kate’s glance was riveted by him. Unable to help herself, she moved nearer to better appreciate the full wondrous sight that was Gianluca De Rossi. He was so handsome, with those beautiful carved features and sweeping dark lashes, that she was certain he must have driven all the girls crazy even as a young boy.
Suddenly something disturbed his outwardly relaxed sleep. He grimaced as though in pain, jerking his head to the side, and a film of sweat broke out on his brow. Alarmed, Kate dropped down onto the edge of the rattan sofa and reached for his hand to comfort him.
‘It’s all right…it’s all right,’ she soothed, keeping her voice low. ‘I’m here, Luca.’
‘Sophia!’ he shouted, and gripped on to Kate’s hand with what felt like every ounce of his impressive strength.
She sucked in her breath as dizzying pain seared through her arm, but she did not try to break free from his hold. In the back of her mind she thought waking him suddenly might be dangerous. But who was Sophia? With her heart pounding fit to burst, she stared in mute shock as a single tear slid out from beneath his luxurious lashes and rolled slowly down his cheek. His eyelids opened, and even the sky at its most bewitching had never looked so heavenly blue.