‘If he’s willing to take the risk, then you should be as well.’

Cristiano just shook his head. His anger had started to dissipate, replaced by a weary acceptance. He knew Laurel was right; he couldn’t keep his father from inviting Elizabeth here, into his life, if he wanted to. He couldn’t even keep him from getting hurt. And blaming Laurel for helping a grown man make his own choice was, he knew, unfair.

So all that was left to feel was something close to despair, a deep and unwelcome understanding that Laurel was right. They were different. She held onto hope and he couldn’t find it anywhere. He didn’t even know how to try.

The last two weeks had been amazing, but they’d been just that. Weeks out of time, apart from reality. What happened if and when it turned out Laurel wasn’t pregnant? She’d go back to her life in Illinois and he’d go back to Rome.

He could ask her to stay with him as his mistress, but he knew instinctively that Laurel would reject such a possibility. Perhaps it was better to have a clean break, a swift separation. Perhaps then they could both move on as they needed to.

‘Fine,’ he said, his voice clipped. ‘She can come, and tomorrow you can take that pregnancy test. For both our sakes, I hope it’s negative.’

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

LAUREL STOOD ON the front terrace of Lorenzo’s house and watched her mother mount the steps. She’d taken the ferry from Naples, and then the funicular to the centre of Capri, then walked the rest of the way, insisting she didn’t need anyone to collect her.

It took Laurel a few moments to realise her mother looked nervous. Her lips, devoid of her usual scarlet lipstick, were pressed together; and, instead of one of her picture-perfect outfits, complete with jewellery, heels, and a face-full of make-up, she wore a simple, loose sundress and sandals. She looked lovely, and every one of her forty-six years.

Laurel started down the steps. ‘Mom.’ She didn’t use the endearment often, but it slipped out now naturally. Elizabeth looked up at her, her face creasing into a smile.

‘Laurel.’ They embraced, the hug unfamiliar in its rarity, yet still so welcome. The last twelve hours, since her confrontation with Cristiano, had been some of Laurel’s worst. After their argument he’d disappeared into the study, and he hadn’t come to their bedroom all night. This morning he’d closeted himself again, which Laurel supposed was just as well, as she doubted his presence would add to the happy reunion    .

And yet…everything in her ached. Her relationship with Cristiano was as good as over, and she couldn’t stand the thought.

‘Come on—let me bring you to Lorenzo,’ she said, taking her mother’s arm.

‘How is he?’ Elizabeth asked quietly. ‘He told me about his illness on the phone. And that…’ her voice wavered ‘…that he doesn’t have very long. A few months, maybe.’

‘He’s perked right up since you told him you were coming. He’s missed you.’

‘And I’ve missed him.’ Elizabeth shook her head. ‘He was the only man I ever really loved, you know. I know I’ve made a terrible mess of my life in so many ways, but Lorenzo…’ Her voice quavered, her eyes bright with tears. ‘If only I hadn’t squirreled away that stupid money.’

‘Don’t think about that now—’

‘I didn’t think of it as stealing. Just…security.’ She shook her head. ‘If I could go back in time…’

Laurel patted her arm in quiet comfort. ‘Let me take you to him.’

She led her mother through the villa to a small sitting room where Lorenzo had been resting and waiting. Now as Laurel opened the door he stood slowly, his face creased in expectation and anxiety.

‘Elizabeth.’ The single word had a world of meaning, a wealth of memory.

‘Lorenzo.’

Laurel didn’t need to see or hear any more. The way her mother looked at Lorenzo, and the way he looked at her, was more than enough to assure her she’d done the right thing.

She only wished Cristiano could see it, but then she doubted he would believe even then. He didn’t want to believe. She’d come to that realisation during the long, sleepless hours of last night. When it came right down to it, Cristiano was making a choice. He wasn’t enslaved to his emotions or lack of them any more than she was. He was making a choice—one he made every day. To live alone. To stay separate. To choose not to love. And somehow, although she couldn’t see how now, she was going to have to come to terms with that.

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