‘Really well, thanks. I woke with such an appetite.’
‘Well, you must make yourself at home. Have what you want.’
He poured a long coffee, never taking his eyes from her as she lifted cutlery and started to eat what seemed to be a full English breakfast with eggs and bacon.
‘Oh, I have already, thanks. Chef’s been great. We had a chat and he managed to produce this. He says he’s delighted to have something more to do of a morning than heat up your porridge.’
‘Is that right?’ he said, slowly pacing towards her with his cup. She was seated on his chair, so he pulled out another and sat.
‘Shall I tell him you’re ready for it now?’
‘No, I have a couple of these before I eat. But thank you.’
She smiled, then forked up a piece of egg and began to eat again. ‘No problem.’
For a few moments he watched her, mesmerised, trying to figure out what was going on. She looked utterly radiant, with no trace of the anxiety he’d seen last night. She was wearing a dressing gown—his dressing gown—and it looked like a mink coat around her shoulders. Her skin was perfect—she glowed with health.
He stared at her as if she was a work of art.
‘When do you want to talk about the wedding?’ she said, suddenly.
The coffee caught in his throat and he spluttered a startled response. ‘What?’
‘The wedding?’ she said, calmly continuing to eat her breakfast. ‘You wanted my answer today.’
She put down the cutlery and stared at him. Yellow flashed at him. She was wearing the ring.
‘Let’s not waste any more time, Raffaele. The wedding—I’ve decided it’s on. But the choices of venue are a bit limited, due to my condition, and time’s marching on. I think your house in Rome would be fine, and it’s not too far for my mother and my friends to travel there. I’m not so bothered about the rest of the guest list. I suppose there are people you’ll need to invite. You can sort that. But I won’t get married without my mother. As for the dress—off the peg is fine. I’ve shortlisted a few that I can check out when we get back to London.’
She placed her cup down with a sigh of contentment and pushed herself back from the table.
‘Then there’s you, of course. I know you’ll not want to lose your place on the Best Dressed List, so I’m quite happy to leave you to choose your own clothes. The menu is all sorted—Chef and I have already discussed it—and we’ll go with a very simple theme for the decorations. Probably unimaginative white. We don’t want to raise any expectations.’
‘Expectations?’ he heard himself say stupidly.
‘You know—that this is a big romantic moment. Though I suppose we’ll need some sort of party…’ she said, almost absentmindedly.
‘A party—’ he began, but instantly she interrupted.
‘Getting a photographer might be tricky. But Mariella says she’s sure she can get Markowitz. He’s your favourite, isn’t he?’
‘You’ve been in touch with Mariella? What did you say?’
She’d turned to stare out at the birds that had already started to arrive in the garden. Her fingers coiled around a lock of glossy auburn hair—round and round she twisted it, hypnotically.
Then she turned to stare at him with a slight look of condescension. He’d never been condescended to in his entire life.
‘What? We talked about the wedding, of course. Coverage will sell millions. “Wedding of the Year”, as Mariella’s already dubbed it. I’m thinking about selling the rights to the Hope Alliance, as they’ve helped Mum so much over the years with her mental health issues. I thought that was the right thing to do. Under the circumstances.’
‘Just stop right there.’
She narrowed her eyes and leaned towards him.
‘No, you stop right there! Before we go any further we’ll work out the ground rules. Like, you don’t ever talk to me like that. And stop assuming you can make decisions for me.’
A maid had come in. He heard her movements behind him. The coffee pot being replaced, lids on the serving dishes being opened and closed. Suddenly a bowl appeared in front of him.
‘What is that?’
‘Your porridge, of course. I thought you might like some fruit chopped up in it. Oatmeal alone is so dull.’
He pushed the bowl away.
‘What is it you think you are doing here, Coral? Trying to irritate your way out of this?’
‘On the contrary, Raffaele. My only interest now is securing the best possible terms and conditions for our contract. A businessman like you can surely understand that?’