Wait seemed like the only option. Laurel washed her face, combed her hair and then slumped into a leather armchair by the window overlooking the Tiber, gleaming in the moonlight. It had to be at least three in the morning, and her body ached with exhaustion, yet she knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep. She tried to make her mind empty out, but it seethed with worries and memories. Bavasso’s leering face. Her desperate flight. Cristiano’s kiss.

She must have dozed off, because a knock on the door startled her awake. She’d been dreaming…dreaming of Cristiano. Hands…lips… Her body tingled as if he’d been touching her.

‘Yes?’ she called, her voice sounding hoarse and scratchy.

‘I checked on your mother,’ Cristiano called through the door, his voice gruff. ‘She’s all right.’

Laurel swallowed. ‘Where is she?’

‘She went back to the pensione where you were staying. Bavasso shouted at her, but that was all. It’s you he’s angry at, not her. Who knows? They might be able to patch things up.’

He spoke sardonically, and Laurel could hardly blame him. Bavasso wasn’t the first boyfriend of her mother’s to behave in a way that should have had Elizabeth sending him packing. Trouble was, if there was still something to be had, she never did.

‘So he’s still angry at me?’ she asked after a tense pause.

‘I’ll take care of you, Laurel.’

The throb of sincerity in his voice shouldn’t have affected her. Definitely shouldn’t have made her eyes sting. ‘I’m not sure I want to know what that means.’

‘I won’t let Bavasso bother or hurt you.’

But you’ll hurt me, in an entirely different way. She thought of his cold, clinical face in the mirror. He’d known exactly what he’d been doing. Laurel blinked hard and didn’t reply. ‘Get some sleep,’ Cristiano said roughly. ‘It’s nearly dawn. We’ll talk later.’

‘Okay.’ A moment passed, silent, endless. Somehow Laurel knew he was still there. ‘Cristiano?’ she asked softly.

‘Yes?’

‘Thank you.’

Laurel had left her clothes and toiletries in Cristiano’s bedroom, and so she stripped off her skirt and slept in her T-shirt and panties. The night was warm, and she opened the windows, breathing in the sultry air. Already the moon was waning, the horizon the pearly grey of early morning. Her body ached and her eyes felt as if they were full of grit. She needed to sleep.

She curled up on the bed, scrunching her eyes tight and wishing herself back home. Back in her single bed with the patchwork quilt her grandmother had made, the pure, golden light of an Illinois summer streaming through her window. She’d give just about anything to be able to rewind the last three days, go back to the moment where her mother had showed up at her grandfather’s farmhouse—Laurel should have closed the door in her face.

Instead she’d let her in. Let her speak. Because stupidly Laurel was always hoping her mother wanted her, not just something from her.

‘Darling, you’ll never guess,’ Elizabeth had announced in a flurry of air kisses and perfume. ‘I’ve met someone.’

Laurel had just stared. This was hardly news.

‘He wants to meet you. I want you to meet him.’ Elizabeth had smiled mischievously, but Laurel had detected a desperate glitter in her mother’s eyes. She was forty-six years old and her days reeling in wealthy businessmen and minor celebrities were surely numbered. ‘There might be a ring in my future.’

‘Really?’ Laurel had said, unsure how she’d felt about that, or anything to do with her mother. She hadn’t seen her in two years. Her mother had been in Monaco for her grandfather’s funeral three months earlier.

Elizabeth had strode into the living room with its rag rug and faded sofa, and a shudder had gone through her. ‘I always hated this place.’ She’d looked around, her lip curling. ‘Goodness knows why you keep staying.’

‘I love it here,’ Laurel had said quietly. She placed one hand on the warm, satiny wood of the newel post. ‘It’s the only home I’ve ever known.’


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