‘The day after tomorrow it will have been two weeks,’ she said softly, because she couldn’t not say it. Underneath her hand she felt Cristiano tense.

‘So it will.’ An answer that gave nothing away, of course. He never did, especially in moments like these. She recalled that deceptively mild tone from their first days together and feared its return.

‘Shall I take a pregnancy test, then?’ she asked.

‘That was always the plan.’ Just in case she’d needed the reminder, which she didn’t. He paused, his body still tense next to hers. ‘Do you think there’s a possibility…?’

‘I don’t know.’ But she hoped. She’d taken to wondering if the slightest queasiness, the faint cramping, meant anything. Stupid, she knew, because even if she was pregnant it was too early for noticeable symptoms. Yet, just like with her mother, with everything in her life, she hoped for the best. She wanted to believe that she and Cristiano could be together—but did it really have to take a pregnancy to make it happen? It seemed her hope didn’t stretch to Cristiano himself, to him changing and learning to love her, being willing to make that jump and take that risk.

‘We’ll find out soon enough,’ he said, his tone repressed, and Laurel feeling she had no choice, let the matter drop.

* * *

The next morning Lorenzo summoned her to his bedroom, where he was resting. He spent a good part of each day in his bedroom, making Laurel wonder if he had as much time as the doctors had said.

‘Are you feeling all right?’ Laurel asked, trying not to let anxiety creep into her voice.

‘I’m fine.’ Lorenzo smiled. ‘Just a bit tired, which is nothing unusual in my condition. But I have a favour to ask of you. Quite a large favour, as it happens.’

‘Oh?’ Laurel came to sit on the edge of his bed, taking his papery hands between hers. ‘If it’s within my power, I’ll do it.’

‘I want to see your mother.’ Lorenzo held Laurel’s gaze as she tried to hide her surprise. ‘I never stopped loving her, and with so little time left, I’d like to spend what there is of it with someone I love.’ His questioning smile wavered a little. ‘If you think she’ll have me?’

‘I…’ Laurel had no doubt her mother would jump at the chance of finding a secure position, though she hoped Elizabeth would want—and feel—more than that. Was the love still there? Laurel hoped it was for Lorenzo’s sake…as well as her mother’s. This could be a much-needed reunion     and reconciliation for both of them.

‘I know you can’t really answer that question,’ Lorenzo assured her. ‘But could you talk to her? Prepare her, a little? And if you could give me her phone number, if you find she would welcome a call…’

‘Yes, of course.’ What other answer could she give? Yet with a heavy sensation in her stomach Laurel feared how Cristiano would react to her involvement in getting Elizabeth and Lorenzo back together. At best, he’d be coldly contemptuous of such doings. At the worst…completely furious.

Yet looking at Lorenzo’s tired, lined face, seeing his wan smile, Laurel knew she couldn’t refuse his request. Not for any reason at all.

She called her mother a few minutes later, sitting on a bench in the terraced garden, away from the house and anyone who could listen in.

‘Laurel.’ Her mother sounded genuinely glad to hear from her, which was unusual in itself. ‘How are you? Where are you? I’ve been so worried!’

‘I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch,’ Laurel said, although her mother was rarely in touch with her. Still, the apology came of its own accord, as it always had.

‘Well, where have you been?’

‘With Cristiano.’

Elizabeth drew her breath in sharply. ‘Still? He usually tires of women after a week at most.’

Laurel tried to suppress the flash of annoyance and even hurt she felt at her mother’s matter-of-fact tone. ‘He’ll tire of me soon, I suppose.’ Sooner even than she’d expected, no doubt, after he found out about this phone call.

‘I’m glad to know you’re all right.’ Elizabeth sniffed. ‘I was worried, you know, although I doubt you’ll believe me. I never meant things to happen that way with Rico.’

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