Beyond all that, experiencing such pleasure made her want to know it again. To feel Cristiano’s hands on her, his body…

Yet she knew she wouldn’t. For her own health and sanity. And in any case she doubted Cristiano would ask. He’d got what he wanted. She was undoubtedly out of his system now, and he would be on to the next woman, another conquest. She’d fallen so easily.

With a sigh Laurel curled up on the bed, fatigue crashing over her. She’d barely slept all night, her one attempt tormented by nightmares. She’d sleep now, if she could, and then she’d deal with Cristiano. No matter what had happened between them, she needed to find a way forward. A way back home.

When Laurel awoke bright, lemony sunlight was spilling through the windows and the room was warm. It was midday, and she’d been asleep for hours. Feeling muddle-headed, Laurel took another shower, and when she came out she saw Cristiano had moved all the clothes to this bedroom. They lay on the end of her freshly made bed in neat piles, making her feel vaguely uneasy. If he was sending a message, she didn’t know what it was.

She dressed in a simple sheath dress of lavender linen, which felt too fancy, but there wasn’t anything more casual. Then she put her damp hair up in a twist, took a deep breath and headed out.

Cristiano wasn’t in the living area as she expected, and she wandered through the sprawling space before she found him in a glassed-in alcove on the far side, clearly a study area. He was seated at a desk, his laptop open in front of him, wearing a black button-down shirt and charcoal-grey trousers. He turned as she approached, and Laurel had to suppress a stab of desire at the sight of him freshly showered and shaven, his hair still damp, his silvery eyes as piercing as twin blades.

‘Good morning.’

‘Good afternoon, actually,’ she returned with an attempt at a laugh. ‘I didn’t expect to sleep so long.’

‘I’m glad you did.’ He turned back to his laptop, pressed a few buttons and then shut it with a decisive snap. ‘So.’ He swivelled back to face her, his gaze coolly appraising.

‘So.’ Laurel took a deep breath and buoyed her courage. ‘I think I can brave Bavasso.’ She kept her voice light but firm. ‘I’ll risk it, anyway. I want—I need—to go home.’ Her voice wobbled a little at the last, but she kept her gaze steady on Cristiano’s inscrutable face. Why did he have to be so beautiful? He was all sharp angles and clear, hard lines, the purity of his silver eyes a perfect foil to his olive skin and inky dark hair. It made it hard to keep his gaze. Hard too to keep her nerve.

‘Where is home, incidentally?’ He’d reverted to that mild voice that hid so much. Made her wary.

‘I told you, a small town in Illinois.’

‘Canton Heights?’

So he’d done an Internet search on her. ‘Yes.’

Something flickered across his face like a ripple in water and then was gone. ‘You work as a nurse.’

‘You’ve done some homework.’ She lifted her chin. ‘Yes. Does it matter?’

‘Not particularly.’ Now she heard disinterest, and for some stupid reason it stung. ‘But you can’t go home just yet.’

‘I think you’re overreacting about Bavasso.’

Cristiano arched an eyebrow. ‘And how could you possibly make such a judgement?’

‘It’s just…’ She couldn’t make such a judgement, but she had to try. Had to get out of here, for her own sake, and she didn’t have any other options besides the obvious one: leave. ‘He’ll get over it, surely? He barely knew me. And he cares about my mother…’ she trailed off, afraid that wasn’t true.

‘Cares about your mother? Where on earth did you get that idea?’

Of course, Laurel would rather her mother broke things off with Bavasso, but she questioned whether she would, even now.

‘He attacked you last night, Laurel, and he would have done far worse if you hadn’t escaped. Surely you haven’t forgotten that already?’

Anger leaped inside her at his admonishing tone. ‘Of course not.’

‘Or the ensuing nightmare you had?’

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