‘Spinach, kale, almond and banana smoothie,’ the woman said. ‘With flax seeds and Omega 3 oils. Does wonders for your skin.’

And actually tasted surprisingly delicious. Over the rim of her glass Laurel caught Cristiano’s eye again. This time he was smiling properly, and it made her realise she hadn’t actually seen him smile—a real smile, not that cold curving of his lips—since she’d first stumbled into his penthouse.

‘I’ll leave you to it,’ he said softly, and disappeared in the direction of his study while Laurel let herself be ushered back into her bedroom.

The next few hours were a whirl of treatments as beauticians slathered every inch of her body with some unguent, oil or scrub, and others worked on her fingers and toes, filing, buffing and polishing. A woman gave her a head massage while some kind of seaweed mask dried on her face and Laurel decided that this was a rabbit hole she would happily disappear down for a while. She’d never felt so pampered or relaxed, and she forced herself not to think about all the ‘what if?’s that still loomed, or what the next two weeks were going to look like.

She’d called the hospital, and with they’d been relaxed about her taking the time off, given all the vacation time she had saved up. So maybe, just maybe, she could enjoy some of this enforced holiday.

After her hair, face and body had all been dealt with she was swathed in an enormous robe of the softest terry cloth and shown gown after gown after gown. Not that she was actually given a say. One of the assistants whisked a gown away before she’d even had a chance to touch the satiny material.

‘Wrong colour,’ the woman said briskly, thrusting the dress back in the wardrobe.

Laurel ended up trying on several evening gowns, all haute couture, incredibly well made and even more expensive.

‘This one for tonight,’ one of the women declared when Laurel tried on an emerald-green gown with a diamanté halter top. The stylist was tall and thin, dressed all in black, her dark hair pulled back into a bun so tight her eyes were nearly watering.

‘Tonight…?’ Laurel stared at her blankly even as those what ifs started creeping into her consciousness, dread curdling her stomach.

‘Yes, tonight.’ The woman pursed her lips. ‘Signor Ferrero was very specific about what he wanted.’

‘Was he?’ The enjoyment Laurel had been feeling at being pampered, the relaxation that had seeped like honey into her very bones, drained away. ‘What did he want?’

The assistant didn’t hear, or pretended not to hear. ‘Now your make-up and hair,’ she said, and led Laurel to a chair, where a band of women armed with hairdryers and straighteners was waiting.

An hour later Laurel was ready—although, for what, she didn’t even know. Her hair had been straightened and then pulled back into an elegant chignon. Diamond teardrop earrings dangled from each ear, and as for her face…

When she finally got to examine her reflection, Laurel was amazed and more than a little disconcerted. She looked like a stranger. A very elegant, glamorous and, yes, even beautiful stranger. Discreet eye shadow and mascara made her eyes look huge. Bronzer and contouring made her cheekbones stand out like blades. Crimson lipstick made her mouth look plump, full and blood-red. She didn’t know whether to be pleased or horrified by what she saw. In any case, she just felt numb.

‘Signor Ferrero is waiting,’ the woman with the tight bun announced and, with her fingernails digging into Laurel’s elbow, she led her out of the bedroom and back into the living area of the penthouse.

Twilight was stealing over the city, lights beginning to twinkle far below, the sky the pale violet of a bruise. Laurel minced her way across the slick marble floor; the silver-heeled stilettos she wore were even higher than the ones she’d had on last night, and the dress puddled around her ankles, making her feel as if she were in some sort of elegant strait jacket.

‘Signor Ferrero is on the terrace,’ the woman murmured, then headed back to the bedroom. Laurel could hear the other assistants starting to pack up all their equipment. She took a deep breath and carefully made her way across the floor to the open doors on the far side of the living room. She hadn’t even realised the penthouse had a terrace, but now she could see Cristiano standing on a wide balcony framed with potted plants, gazing out at the city.

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