‘Don’t you think that’s a little hypocritical? The truth is more than words. It’s about actions, too. Or lack of, in your case. I think in the old days a girl like you was called a tease.’

‘Rejection hurts, does it, Raffa?’ she said, stifling the sting of his bitter words. She wasn’t a tease. She wanted him so badly. There was nothing she wanted to do more than give in to his magnetism.

‘I wouldn’t know,’ he said. ‘It’s never happened.’

His eyes glittered in the moonlight. They fell on her lips, her eyes. Angrily. Hungrily. She couldn’t look away.

‘Hmm, Coral? Are you so sure you say what you see?’

‘I try,’ she whispered. ‘I really do try.’

In the distance, the sea crashed home on the rocks. She shivered and pulled the stole around her shoulders.

Raffaele seemed to soften. ‘Come on. I’m going to take you back to your villa now,’ he said quietly. Then he took her hand firmly and started along the path. ‘Before I want to take you to mine.’

They reached the door of the villa and she fumbled for the key. He stood back while she opened it and stepped inside, and then in the darkness of the hallway her phone lit up and started singing its silly tune. She ran forward to answer it, but it stopped ringing.

‘Damn,’ she said. ‘Missed it again.’

‘Everything all right?’ he asked, stepping inside.

‘Yes, it’s my mother. I still haven’t spoken properly to her. Do you mind?’ She called back, but it went straight to voicemail. ‘I can’t believe we keep missing each other.’

He walked past her into the villa’s small kitchen.

‘Call her again. I’ll fix you a drink.’

She sighed and followed him into the kitchen, throwing her little handbag down on the table.

‘There’s no point. She’ll turn the phone off now. Blocking the world out. It’s what she does.’

‘Is there something wrong? Something serious?’ he asked, reaching for two brandy glasses.

‘You could say that,’ she said. ‘It’s depression. When it takes a hold it’s impossible to get through to her. She’s an artist, as I told you. She’s always had highs and lows.’

Lows that got so incredibly low nobody could reach her.

‘Can’t she take medication?’

‘She can and she does. But it’s not that simple. She won’t get help for the real reason—the underlying reason.’

‘Which is…?’

Coral hesitated. She never, ever divulged the reason for her mother’s depression. It hurt so much even to say the words aloud. But for some reason, as she stared at his profile, watched him pour brandy into glasses, his arm flexing with gentleness and strength, she heard the words slip from her mouth.

‘My father.’

She’d said it. Her voice cracked, as if the words were rusty, but she’d done it. The swirling grey mist, the anonymous man who was never discussed—there he was. The secret was out.

‘What about him?’

Raffa cocked an eyebrow as he twisted the lid back onto the bottle.

‘Well, that’s it. I don’t really know. She never speaks about him. We never speak about him. She finds it too upsetting, though God knows I’ve tried. In every way I know how.’

‘I take it they’re separated?’

He came towards her with the two brandies and passed one to her. The liquid burned her tongue but it felt good, warming and strengthening her.

‘They were never together, as far as I know. Not really. He was her boss and he dumped her when he found out she was pregnant. She’s never recovered.’

‘I see,’ he said, watching her closely. ‘I’m sorry—that must have been awful. For both of you.’

She could feel a thickening in the back of her throat that had nothing to do with the brandy. She swallowed, willing the emotion away. This really wasn’t the time.

‘He’s the last thing on my mind. I don’t know anything about him—and, anyway, what could I possibly find out that would make up for what he did? Mostly I don’t dig any more because I don’t want to cause her any more hurt.’

They sat in the kitchen, facing each other across the table. Her handbag lay discarded, the phone’s unlit screen like a beacon, reminding her of her mother’s neediness. Quickly she picked it up and turned it face-down. Then she loosened the stole, touched her hair and twisted her bracelet around. Anything other than think about home right now.

‘What about your hurt? Doesn’t she realise that you’ve got feelings too?’

The thickening in her throat got worse. She reached for the brandy.

Tags: Bella Frances Billionaire Romance
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