He nodded, not trusting himself to say more. He still wasn’t comfortable with this kind of emotion, but he was trying to get used to it. For the last week he’d been living in a limbo of deep enjoyment and relentless discomfort, pain and pleasure mixed. Because being intimate with someone—physically, emotionally—was a whole new realm of experience, and one he wasn’t entirely sure about. The vulnerability, the intensity, the risk. And yet the more time he spent with Laurel, the more he wanted to.

He also wanted to make amends as best as he could. More and more over the last week he’d realised what a disservice he’d done Laurel when he’d told his father about her mother’s bank account. Yes, Elizabeth was a gold-digging schemer and a thief, but that hadn’t been Laurel’s fault, and she’d suffered as a result. If he’d handled the situation differently, if he hadn’t been determined to paint the grimmest picture to his father, maybe things would have worked out differently. At least perhaps Lorenzo would have stayed in touch with his stepdaughter.

‘I can’t believe it,’ Laurel said as she hugged her knees, her golden-brown curls tumbling about her shoulders. ‘To see him again… Are you sure he wants to see me?’ She glanced at him, eyes full of apprehension as she nibbled her lower lip.

Guilt pierced Cristiano with poison-tipped arrows. He hadn’t told Laurel the extent of his involvement in their parents’ divorce. At first it hadn’t seemed relevant and now he knew it would hurt her and, more alarmingly, jeopardise their fledgling relationship. Because he was already thinking about ways to keep her around after the two weeks were up…assuming she wasn’t pregnant. Sometimes he found himself half-hoping she was.

‘I’m sure,’ he said firmly. ‘He was thrilled to hear we’d been in contact.’

Laurel raised her eyebrows. ‘Does he…does he know how much contact we’ve been in?’

Cristiano smiled. ‘I didn’t give him details, but I think he guesses.’ He paused. ‘Is that a bad thing?’

‘No. I just…’ She hunched her shoulders, her gaze sliding away. ‘We’ve less than a week left,’ she said quietly, and Cristiano felt as if the breath had been punched from his lungs.

‘What does that matter?’ he asked when he trusted himself to speak normally. To sound unconcerned.

‘I don’t want your father to get his hopes up,’ Laurel explained. ‘To think something more might be going on.’ She gave him a direct look, her chin slightly lifted, showing courage and determination and a hint of vulnerability.

‘Don’t worry,’ he said, wondering how he was meant to reassure her. Should he tell her his father wouldn’t get his hopes up, or that perhaps he should? When, if ever, should he tell her he wanted more from this relationship than another week?

The question, of course, was how much more. Cristiano had tried to envision different scenarios in his head, and most of them involved Laurel being his permanent, full-time mistress. He wasn’t ready to countenance anything more, yet he knew instinctively she’d resist such a role. So he waited, saying nothing, hoping things would be clarified for both of them in time.

‘We should get going,’ he said as he turned from the room. ‘Our plane leaves in a few hours.’

A short while later they were leaving the suite for the airport. Laurel was dressed in a cheerful polka-dot sundress—after she’d thrown all the clothes Cristiano had given her onto the floor, he’d offered to buy her new ones. She’d happily gone out to far more modest shops and picked up a couple of casual outfits. She’d insisted on paying for them herself, but Cristiano had insisted more, and eventually she’d acquiesced.

As the limo took them to the airport she gazed at him speculatively. ‘When was the last time you saw your father?’

Cristiano shrugged. ‘A year or so.’

‘You don’t see him very often.’

Another shrug; her perception still possessed the power to rub him raw. ‘I’m very busy.’

‘But you’re not close,’ Laurel persisted quietly, and Cristiano sighed.

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