LAUREL FORRESTER BURST from the hotel room like a bullet from a gun, aiming for the lift down the hall. Her breath came in tearing gasps and she stumbled in the heels she wasn’t used to wearing—stupid, sky-high stilettos her mother had insisted on.
She heard the sound of the door to the executive suite being wrenched open behind her and then heavy footfalls.
‘Come back here, you stupid little—’
With a mewling gasp of terror, Laurel put on a burst of speed, racing around the corner. The gleaming black doors of the lift shimmered ahead of her, a promise of freedom.
‘Wait until I…’
She closed her mind to Rico Bavasso’s threats and stabbed the button for the lift with a shaking finger. Please, please open. Save me…
Bavasso came round the corner, moving swiftly for a man pushing sixty. Laurel risked a glance back and then wished she hadn’t. Three diagonal cuts slashed one of his lean cheeks, where she’d scratched him, blood oozing down his face in crimson, pearly droplets.
Please, please open. If the lift doors didn’t open, she didn’t know what she’d do. Fight for her safety, for her life. Go down kicking and screaming, because go down she would. Bavasso might be older but he was big, strong and angry, and she was five-foot-four and just a little over a hundred pounds soaking wet.
With a glorious ping the doors opened and Laurel threw herself inside, bruising her shoulder against the far wall before she scrambled upright. She pushed just about every button she could, anything to get her away from the hell that had erupted with Bavasso’s demands and grabs, his insistence that he would get what he’d paid for. What her mother had promised him.
Bile rose in Laurel’s throat at that memory and she choked it down. She didn’t have the luxury of memories or even thoughts in this moment. This was about basic survival. She pushed the ‘door close’ button repeatedly as Bavasso stumbled towards the lift, a smile of triumph curving his cold mouth, his glowering face thrust forward. His bow tie was askew, his tuxedo shirt straining against the buttons as he reached one hand forward to keep the doors from closing. Laurel shrank back against the lift wall, her heart beating in her chest like some wild, winged thing.
‘I’ve got you, you little slut.’
Laurel kicked off one of her wretched stilettos and swung it at Bavasso’s grasping hand. He let out a howl of outrage and yanked it back, his palm impaled by the dagger-sharp heel. The doors closed and then the lift was soaring upwards and Laurel was safe, safe.
She let out a sob of both terror and relief, her senses overwhelmed by what had happened—and what had almost happened, but thankfully hadn’t. Her trembling legs felt weak and watery and she sank onto the floor, drawing her knees up to her chest as shudders wracked her body. That had been so close.
But she wasn’t out of danger yet. She still had to get out of this hotel, out of Rome. Bavasso had her handbag in his hotel room, as well as his security detail waiting down in the foyer. Laurel had seen them when he’d been playing baccarat, standing around like stony-faced gorillas, eyes darting around the casino floor, looking for threats. And now she was one.
What would he do? Over the last two days’ acquaintance he’d been sleek and charming, although admittedly paying her more attention than she’d have liked, considering he was her mother’s latest love interest. He also seemed arrogant and entitled, and she feared he might not let this lie. And what about her mother? Was Elizabeth safe? Would Bavasso turn on her—or had she really been part of it all along, as he’d implied? I’m only taking what your mother promised me.
Surely not? Surely her mother wouldn’t have sold her off like a cow at auction? With another cry Laurel covered her face, the tumult of the evening too much to bear. She should never have agreed to come to Rome, to play a part so she could get what she wanted. And yet she had. She’d weighed it up in her mind and she’d decided it was worth it. One last favour and then she’d finally be free. Except she wasn’t free now. She didn’t feel remotely free.
The doors opened and Laurel lifted her head, shrinking back, half-expecting Bavasso to be there, waiting. But, no; the lift opened directly into what looked like a private suite, twice as elegant and spacious as the one Laurel had just fled.