But she knew Cristiano wasn’t the man who would convince her of that. So she’d take these two weeks and get out of them what she could. Because fighting Cristiano was a lost cause, especially when she was fighting herself as well, her own impossible desires and dreams. Far easier, and far, far more enjoyable, to give in.

And what a sweet surrender it had been.

Sighing, she stretched and then sat up in bed. She didn’t know what the day held, or what Cristiano would act like now she truly was his lover. His mistress.

The door to the bedroom opened and Laurel stilled, before drawing the sheet up to cover herself. Cristiano stood in the doorway freshly showered and dressed with two cups of coffee.

‘Good morning.’

‘Good morning.’ Laurel took the cup of coffee he handed her, cradling the warm mug between her palms.

‘We leave for Paris in a couple of hours.’

‘So soon?’

‘I need to meet with my manager before the gala tonight.’

Laurel nodded slowly and took a sip of coffee. ‘All right.’ She was excited to go to France, to escape the confines of Rome and its recently made memories. She wanted to be somewhere new with Cristiano.

He turned away, his eyes narrowed as he gazed out at the bright sunshine of a summer’s morning, at the light glinting off the windows and roofs of Rome; he looked so impossibly beautiful, the stark lines of his body and face gilded in sunlight.

‘Cristiano.’ Laurel’s voice wavered and he turned, dark eyebrows raised in query. ‘Thank you.’

A tiny smile quirked his mouth. ‘Now, that was unexpected.’

‘I know I haven’t been particularly grateful for your intervention,’ Laurel allowed with a small, answering smile. ‘But I am. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t stepped in.’

Something flashed across Cristiano’s face, an emotion Laurel couldn’t gauge, and then he gave a little nod. ‘You should get dressed,’ he said, and walked from the room.

An hour later Laurel stepped into the lift that would bring them to the lobby and the waiting limo to take them to the airport. She wore a shift dress in aquamarine linen and a pair of taupe open-heeled sandals, her hair caught back with a sapphire clip—and Laurel suspected the sapphires were real. It had come with a drawerful of jewellery that she was afraid to touch. Was this how Cristiano treated all his mistresses—with jewels, clothes and careless expense? She’d been telling herself all morning just to go with it, enjoy the over-the-top craziness, but she still found it hard.

She’d paid her own way since she was eighteen years old, working her way through her nursing degree with part-time jobs, insisting on paying rent—admittedly, a minimal one—to her grandfather. She didn’t like feeling bought.

And yet she couldn’t keep a warm glow from spreading through her when Cristiano saw her, a slow smile stealing over his features as his gaze swept over her. ‘You look lovely.’

‘Thank you,’ Laurel murmured.

They now had a relationship of sorts and, while it felt far better than the constant battling, it was still…odd. Considering she’d never even had a boyfriend, Laurel was not at all sure how to navigate a love affair, and a temporary one at that.

Cristiano helped her into the limo and Laurel slid into the sumptuous leather luxury, amazed all over again at the turn her life had taken. In Illinois she drove an old pick-up truck.

‘You look so surprised,’ Cristiano remarked as he sat next to her, sliding out his phone and thumbing a few buttons.

‘It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a limo.’

He looked up, arching an eyebrow. ‘How long?’

‘Since our parents were married,’ Laurel admitted. ‘Those three years were like a dream to both of us. I think we knew it couldn’t last.’

‘Because your mother got greedy.’

‘Let’s not rehash this, Cristiano,’ Laurel said on a sigh. ‘I know what she did was wrong, okay?’

She couldn’t help but wonder about the what ifs, though—what if he hadn’t said anything about that bank account; what if Lorenzo and Elizabeth had stayed married… It beggared belief how different her life might have been now.

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