Laurel knew it to be true, by Cristiano’s own admission, but she was interested in Lorenzo’s perspective. ‘What do you mean, the way he is?’
Lorenzo shrugged. ‘What I said before. His deep suspicion of emotion, of love. His determination to be an island, which no man is.’ He gave her a small, wistful smile. ‘While I am quite the opposite, always searching for something more. The one person who will make me feel connected and whole. I thought I’d found it with your mother.’
Emotion clogged in Laurel’s throat. ‘She thought she’d found it with you.’
Laurel forced the words past the lump in her throat. ‘I know she stole from you, Lorenzo, but it wasn’t… She didn’t…’
‘In the years since,’ Lorenzo said slowly, ‘I’ve thought often about the money your mother took. Money I would have given her freely, but I wonder if she knew that.’
‘She lived in fear of being poor,’ Laurel said quietly. ‘Poor and abandoned. She always has.’
‘In any case, I regret sending you both away so precipitously, without so much as a discussion.’ Lorenzo shook his head sorrowfully. ‘I have regretted it for a long time, especially how you, one so young, must have felt.’
Laurel blinked hard. ‘It was…difficult,’ she admitted, and Lorenzo’s face crumpled a bit.
‘I’m so sorry, my dear. I felt so betrayed, you see, because of the experience with my second wife. Did Cristiano tell you about that?’
‘Yes, a little.’
‘He convinced me that Elizabeth would leave, and in my weakness and self-doubt I believed him. She was so lovely and vibrant and young. I often wondered how she could possibly love me—me, and not just my money.’ He shook his head, sadness creasing the already deep lines of his face.
‘I suppose it’s a problem any rich man faces,’ Laurel said carefully. ‘And I am not blind to my mother’s faults, Lorenzo. She had a hard childhood and money is important to her. She’s become used to a certain standard, and she’d lived her life to make sure she has it.’
Lorenzo smiled. ‘I am well aware of Elizabeth’s faults as well, my dear. But we all have them, don’t we? No one is perfect.’
‘No.’ And her mother was far from it. Even now Laurel wondered why she defended her. Her mother had used her to win favour with Rico Bavasso, whether she’d meant things to go as far as they had or not. That was kind of hard to forgive, yet Laurel still wanted to forgive her. But that, she realised, was the stark difference between her and Cristiano—despite the mistakes and sorrows of the past, she strove to find forgiveness, redemption, hope. She wanted to believe in love, craved to know it was possible. Cristiano didn’t.
Sighing, she settled back against the lounger, her heart twisting inside her. She was falling in love with Cristiano, with his kindness, honesty and sudden, surprising tenderness. The sensitive soul that hid beneath his hardened exterior. She was falling in love with him, but she knew it wasn’t a good idea. It would only end in tears. Hers.
Lorenzo reached over and touched her hand. ‘Give it time,’ he said quietly. ‘Give him time. He does love you, you know. He just has to stop fighting it.’
Laurel gazed down at Lorenzo’s veined, arthritic hand and blinked back tears. ‘Thank you,’ she whispered. ‘I hope you’re right.’ It was the closest she’d come to admitting she loved Cristiano.
Lorenzo smiled and removed his hand. ‘Living without love is such a waste. Cristiano will realise that in time. And time is something both of you have.’
Laurel couldn’t ignore the wistful note of sorrow in Lorenzo’s voice. ‘Lorenzo,’ she said carefully. ‘Do you know I work as a nurse? In palliative care?’
He didn’t pretend to misunderstand what she was getting at. ‘Ah.’ He leaned his head back against the lounger and closed his eyes. ‘I see.’
‘How long have you been ill?’ Laurel asked softly.
Lorenzo didn’t speak for a long moment. Laurel waited, hoping even now that he might dismiss her concern, tell her he was just an old man who became tired. But, no. He opened his eyes and gazed out at the horizon, lemon-yellow sun and bright blue sky. ‘I was diagnosed with cancer of the kidney three months ago. It had spread to my stomach and lungs. There’s no stopping it.’