There was such a chill, such coldness. She clutched her arms around herself.
‘Has something happened?’ He looked so unhappy she suddenly felt pain. She reached for him. ‘What’s wrong? What is it? Can I help?’
‘Tonight hasn’t worked out the way I wanted. I’m sorry. Tomorrow…won’t be happening.’ He turned away, took a drink from the glass.
She stared at him. Her eyes absorbed the fabulous body that she’d made love to, but somehow now it seemed to belong to a stranger. His face was drawn, but the proud jut of his jaw told her he wasn’t suffering. Not the way she was, hearing those words.
‘Why won’t it be happening? I went for a sleep. That’s all. You told me it was fine. You led me through to your bed. You laid me there and said we would spend more time—’
‘I had you in the shower. I don’t need to have you in my bed.’
Her hand flew to his face and struck him. She had never, ever hit anyone or anything in her life before. He held his face to one side, not looking at her. Coral stood, shocked, as harsh heat flooded her hand. She looked at it. She looked at him.
‘What kind of man are you? Who does that? Who does what you did and then speaks like that?’
‘I’m not getting into anything with you. You can keep the dress and the jewellery. I have no need for them. Your other clothes are already packed. Your bag’s in the car.’
She looked around, trying to find something to hold on to, somewhere to sit. Something to anchor her in this madly spinning world.
‘I don’t understand. What are you saying? That you want me to leave? We had sex and now you want me to leave? I’ve lost the commission and I’ve to go? Is that it?’
‘You can take your time. The jet is ready—the pilot will wait another hour or so. I’m sorry,’ he added, finishing whatever was in his glass and walking to the doorway.
Coral stood in the huge unlit hallway. Above her, the chandelier’s crystal beads tittered in the chill breeze that wafted in. A shadow moved across the doorway. Raffaele stood aside as the driver from earlier entered.
‘Change of plan, Iannis. I will drive,’ Raffaele said suddenly to the young man.
He strode over to where Coral stood and reached for her hand, but she wrenched it out of his grip and turned to face him.
‘Don’t touch me!’ she bit out. ‘You bastard. You are a thousand times worse than what they say about you. I can’t believe I was so naïve—but I won’t fall for it again.’
She scrunched up her eyes, as if the very sight of him was painful. And in a way it was. The worst pain she had ever had to bear. Those lips, those eyes, every inch of his face. His smile. And inside the coldest, blackest heart.
She stalked off in the high-heeled shoes, past the pool, through the doors and down the steps to the car. The scarlet dress filled the window in her reflection, screaming out how stupid she was, how cheap.
She’d been used. All it had taken was a dress and a compliment and she’d forgotten every single thing she’d ever learned.
Well, no more.
She turned around to see him standing at the top of the steps. Then she yanked at the damned dress, gritting her teeth and letting go a scream of frustration at the zip that refused to budge. She’d rather wear second-hand clothes for the rest of her life than feel she owed him anything. She tugged and tugged until it came down past her hips. Then she stepped out of the shoes and threw them both with all her might on to the ground.
There, in her nakedness, she stood, prouder now that she was out of his house and out of his clothes. She shook back her hair as she turned and saw him outlined in the glare of the portico light.
‘Keep your stinking stuff. I’d rather go naked than touch anything of yours.’
‘Cosa fai? Cover yourself!’ he hissed.
He started down the steps towards her, and she saw fury and something much hotter emblazoned on his face.
‘Go to hell!’ she cried, facing him, unashamed.
Then she reached into the car for her bag, pulled out her own dress and heaved it on, glaring at him the whole time, daring him to say a word. Not bothering with the buttons, she slid into the car and slammed the door. She turned her face away.
Yes, she was proud. She could look after herself. Every time. And he would never, ever see the tears that flowed unstoppably from her eyes, or the hole in her heart from trusting too much and giving too easily.
The driver slid into the seat and started the car. In silence they drove. In uncomprehending misery she travelled all the way across Europe and back to London. The executive jet was at her disposal, but the cream leather interior was completely empty of any chatter or cheer. Or any sign of a fairy godmother.