She took another sip of wine and made an effort to mingle. The rooms were emptying…after-parties were being arranged. Those were not where she wanted to be. Much better to be fresh and full of energy for tomorrow.
And to sleep in a cold, lonely bed tonight.
She finished her drink and put it down. She grabbed her wrap, tugged it around her shoulders, stepped past the few remaining people and went out into the night.
Buggies were waiting to take the guests back to their villas, but she was too buzzed to fall straight to sleep. She started to walk along the path, but a minute alone in the moonlight and she was regretting her bold move. Her shoes pinched mercilessly and the wind whipped at her bare legs. And she could hear voices ahead—male voices.
As the path opened out onto the road she realised these weren’t some revellers having fun. The voices were angry. It was an argument. As she neared she realised it was Raffaele and Salvatore. And someone else—a woman.
‘Don’t be a fool, Salvatore. You’re getting married in a few days. Either you call it off or you learn to control yourself!’
Raffaele turned to the woman. ‘You—get to your villa and stay there. And remember what you signed. Because if this gets out I’ll know the source!’
Suddenly, Salvatore lurched forward and tried to take a swing at Raffaele.
Raffaele stepped aside and caught him by the wrist. ‘For God’s sake calm down,’ he said, shoving him away, but Salvatore swung again.
Coral watched open-mouthed as Raffaele grabbed Salvatore by the shoulder and threw him against the buggy. Salvatore bounced and stumbled back towards him.
‘You think you’re so perfect, Raffa? You might have the world fooled, but you don’t fool me. You’re no saint when it comes to women. You’re just better at covering your tracks than I am.’
‘I know I’m not perfect, but I’m not about to get married. And I’m not making a fool of myself in front of a bunch of strangers.’ Raffaele’s voice was low, controlled.
‘Oh, really? You think I don’t know what you’re up to?’ said Salvatore.
‘You don’t know what you’re talking about. Go back to the house. I’ll sweep up here.’
‘Admit it! That little tart you were with earlier! How convenient that she landed the job looking like that.’
Raffaele grabbed him by the collar. ‘I think you’re forgetting yourself now, Salvatore. Go back to Kyla.’
‘What else has she got going for her? You never work with amateurs, so what’s going on?’
‘Enough of your paranoia. You’re drunk.’
He threw him into the buggy and Coral sank back into the bushes. It was too personal, too painful to watch. She heard the screech of tyres on the gravel and a mouthful of abuse.
Then nothing but cold, moonlit silence.
She stood staring at her shoes and listening to her heartbeat ease. Then she stepped back out onto the road—and right into the path of Raffaele.
He looked grim. ‘You heard that?’
She looked up into his face—at the stern set of his jaw and the dark frown on his brow.
She nodded. ‘But you don’t need to worry that I’ll say anything.’
He looked around, ran his hand over his right fist, which she noticed was bleeding.
‘I know that. I trust you. And I apologise for the remarks he made.’
‘Don’t. He was just saying what other people are probably thinking.’
‘You’re still banging that drum, Coral? You really think that I would give you an opportunity because of how you look?’
He was angry. Even though he was speaking quietly she could tell he was holding it in. He’d spent the whole day trying to button down the whole Salvatore and Kyla thing, only to have it all thrown in his face, so she understood. But he had to respect her point of view.
‘I don’t know, Raffaele. Some people might claim you would.’
‘Well, those people are fools. I kissed you because I was attracted to you. I would have taken it further, but I respect you. Even if I don’t agree with you.’
‘I know that now.’
‘Do you? Really?’
‘But it’s what others think that’s the problem…’
‘No, Coral, the problem is you. Caring more about what gossips say than anything else.’
‘Don’t you think that’s a little hypocritical? What are you doing other than stage-managing Salvatore’s whole life? Papering over the cracks so the world can’t see the truth?’
He flashed his icy gaze on her. She’d really hit a nerve.
‘You’re very perceptive for someone so naïve.’
‘I say what I see.’