H er last few days in paradise…so many sights, so little time left to see them. So, what was she doing here…in a bar…wasting her valuable time…lacking the will to hike or to tour one more cathedral or villa? Flirting with a dangerous stranger?
Oh, my God! I’m not flirting with him.
It was late July and warm in the open-air bar, although not nearly as warm as it would be back in Texas. Regina Tomei grabbed her glass of chardonnay and sipped too much, too hastily, spilling a few drops on her chin and neck. Quickly she dabbed at the dribbles with her napkin.
Her lengthy list of cathedrals and the notes she’d written about the Greek ruins fell to the floor. She didn’t bother to pick them up. Instead, she stole another quick glance at the tall, dark stranger leaning against the bar across the room.
Who had said, “I can resist anything but temptation?”
The man instantly stopped talking to his short, plump friend and lifted his bottle of beer in a mock salute to her.
Oh, my God! Not again!
He took a slow, long pull from the bottle. Then his gaze touched her throat and lips. She gasped. Involuntarily, her hand with the napkin went to her mouth and then to the hollow of her throat, where her pulse was racing.
The heat of her own fingertips made her imagine his big hands and his lips upon her flesh. She began to perspire, so she fanned herself with the damp napkin.
Then, realizing what she was doing, Regina seized the ornate golden cross around her neck and held on for dear life. She’d bought the necklace from Illusions, an opulent shop she’d discovered tucked away in an alley of charming Ravello near her hotel.
Sightseeing and shopping were her hobbies; not barhopping, not flirting with strange men in foreign lands.
The man took another pull on his bottle and then stared at the gardenia in her hair. Before she could stop herself, she grazed the velvet petals with a stray fingertip.
Do not touch, signorina, or the petals will turn brown.
Regina picked up her camera and set it on her little table. Agitated, her hands flew to her lap, where she clasped them and her napkin, but not for long.
She looked up again, straight at her Adonis. Was it only her imagination, or did his blue eyes blaze with the same intensity as the sapphire Gulf of Salerno behind him? Was she the cause of all that fire?
Heat washed over her and, at her blush, he smiled.
Mortified and yet thrilled, too, she picked up her camera and pretended she found her light meter fascinating.
His friend observed all with a raffish grin and then, as if bored, hugged Adonis goodbye.
Oh, my God! The short guy was leaving! He would have to pass by her table!
She buried her face in her hands to avoid conversation, and he chuckled as he passed.
Somehow, the friend’s departure seemed significant.
Not wanting to think about that, she concentrated on the glittering rings of condensation on the ceramic table from her wineglass.
Rule number one: smart women traveling alone in foreign countries do not pick up strange men, no matter how handsome or friendly or desirable they seem. In particular, women don’t pick them up in a bar, even one with whitewashed walls, cascading bougainvillea and lots of sunshine and tourists.
She told herself to grab her camera, get up and walk away! No! Run! She should run like she had last night. She had no idea what sort of person he was.
What if he was a gigolo or, worse, a serial killer?
Her mind returned to the G-word.
A gigolo? Was the blond fellow a pimp? Did gigolos even have pimps? She could write a brief on what she didn’t know about gigolos and their business plans.
Regina frowned as she remembered the older woman with the platinum hair, loud makeup and trailing orange veils with whom she’d seen him yesterday in the red Maserati convertible. The woman had caught Regina’s attention because she’d spotted the car in front of Illusions earlier.
The driver had been the same elderly shopkeeper who’d sold her the cross, the sentimental little painting of the black-haired boy playing in the sand, the scandalous pink-and-black lace underwear she was wearing now, her skimpy new dress and, of course, the darling white sandals to match.
Yesterday afternoon, when the older lady had dropped him off at the beach near the mooring of the immense white yacht called Simonetta, Regina hadn’t thought much about her kissing his dark cheeks so many times. Nor had she wondered why the older lady had been so reluctant to let him go. When the woman had spotted Regina watching them, she’d recognized her and had waved, beaming. When he’d looked at Regina, he’d acted startled and had broken off the embrace.
Suddenly, the little scene took on a darker, more lurid meaning. A gigolo?
And what about that diamond the size of an ice cube on the finger of the regal, middle-aged woman in the black Ferrari with him today? She, too, had driven him to the same beach and had kissed his cheeks almost as ardently as the other, older woman. Only the second woman had had a more commanding air, summoning him back to the Ferrari twice.