Authors: Jacqueline Baird
As soon as they were in the hall Lucy shrugged out of his hold. ‘No audience now,’ she sniped.
Lorenzo raised an eyebrow and said, ‘Follow me.’
She did—up the elegant staircase to where Lorenzo turned right around the galleried landing to the front of the house, then along a corridor. He opened the second door on the left.
‘My mother has the master suite next door, so you will be perfectly safe.’
Safe from what or who? Lucy wondered, and followed Lorenzo into the room. She gasped. The décor was all ivory and gold—the bed covered in the finest ivory satin and lace. Next to the fireplace was a
and a beautiful occasional table inlaid with hand-painted roses and humming birds. The whole effect was very feminine.
‘The bathroom and dressing room are through there.’ Lorenzo indicated a door at the opposite end. ‘I believe the maid has unpacked your clothes. If there is anything else you need you have only to ring.’
She actually felt like wringing his neck. He was standing there so cool, so remote, when only hours ago he’d been ripping off her briefs. No—best not to go there.
‘What I really need is a cup of tea and a sandwich.
Apart from that tiny cake I’ve had nothing to eat since I left home this morning, and I’m starving.’
‘Surely you were offered lunch on the flight? It was all arranged.’
offered lunch, but I refused because I got the impression the dashing young flight attendant was offering more.’
‘What?’ The polite mask had slipped to one of outrage. ‘You should have told me—I will dismiss him immediately.’
‘No—not on my account. His attitude is not surprising, really. He is probably used to flying loose women out to wherever you happen to be,’ she said scathingly, and saw his jaw tighten, a flash of anger in his dark eyes.
Quickly stepping past him, she headed for the bathroom. She heard the bedroom door slam behind her and wasn’t surprised.
bathroom, like the rest of the house, was perfect. All pale marble, with a big raised bath and a very modern double shower. The vanity unit contained every possible bathroom accessory known to a man—and, she noted, her own modest toilet bag.
Spying a shower cap, she could not resist. She pulled it over her hair and picked up a top designer shower gel. Stripping off her clothes, she stepped into the shower and turned the water on, relishing the soothing spray as she used the heavenly scented gel to wash her body.
Finally she stepped out of the shower and, picking a large white towel off the pile stacked on a shelf, dried herself. Taking another one, she wrapped it sarong-style around her body. Then she took her hairbrush from her toilet bag and brushed her hair.
Lucy walked back into the bedroom feeling refreshed, and saw a tray holding tea and sandwiches on the table by the
Lorenzo had done as she’d asked, but she had no doubt the maid had delivered them. She flopped down on the
and poured a cup of tea, then ate an Italian-style sandwich made with crusty bread and filled with cheese, tomato and something spicy Lucy didn’t recognise. It was delicious.
* * *
Lorenzo didn’t want to touch her—he was hard just looking at her. She was stretched out on the
asleep, her hair tumbled over her shoulders and with one arm above her head, the other across her stomach. A towel that was wrapped around her had slipped to reveal one rose-tipped creamy breast. She was enough to tempt a saint. Yet in sleep, with her long lashes curled against her cheek, she had a look of innocence about her that twisted something inside him.
Slowly Lucy opened her eyes and yawned. She saw the tray with the tea and sandwiches, and realised she must have dozed off.
‘Good—you are awake at last.’
At the sound of Lorenzo’s voice she glanced up. He had changed into another suit, she noted—then she saw where his eyes rested and blushed scarlet. Quickly she sat up, pulling the towel over her chest.
He looked down at her, his dark eyes mocking. ‘Nothing I have not seen before … But that is not what I came for. Dinner is at eight—you have half an hour to get ready. Before I go I should warn you my mother has arranged a party for Wednesday evening—she wants to introduce you to her friends. So you will not be able to leave until Thursday.’
‘Well, you can just unarrange it,’ Lucy said, knotting the towel firmly under her arm. She stood up, feeling vulnerable wearing just a towel when Lorenzo towered over her, his virile masculinity evident in every line of his long lean body, undisguised by the conventional dark suit he wore. With her temper and shamefully her pulse rising at the sight of him, she added, ‘You will have to—because I told Elaine I would be back by
Wednesday night at the latest and she is taking Thursday morning off.’
‘I knew nothing about the party until this evening. If I had I would have discouraged my mother. The whole point of this visit was to get you out of her life, not more involved.’ Even as he said it Lorenzo realised it had been a crazy idea in the first place. What had he been thinking of? One glance at Lucy wearing a towel and he had his answer. She addled his brain without even trying, and the solution was to keep out of her way.
Lucy knew the purpose of this trip was to remove her from his mother’s life, but it still stung to be reminded. Flashing him an angry glance, she saw the strong jaw clench as if to control some unwanted reaction, but a moment later she knew she had been mistaken.
‘Anyway, it has nothing to do with me now,’ he said with a negligent shrug of his broad shoulders. ‘But do feel free to tell my mother to cancel.’ A mocking smile curved his mouth. ‘Rather you than me.’
Silently fuming, ten minutes later Lucy finally found her underwear, neatly packed away in drawers in the dressing room. She picked out a black dress from the few clothes she had brought with her, hanging forlornly in an enormous bank of empty wardrobes.
She had no time to fix up her hair, and had to be content with brushing it back behind her ears and fastening it with a silver slide at the nape of her neck. She used moisturiser on her face, and after a touch of mascara to her long lashes and an application of lipstick to her lips she slipped her feet into a pair of high-heeled sandals and was ready.
Finally she fastened a diamond-studded platinum watch on her wrist. It had been her mother’s, and was
her most treasured possession. She only wore it on special occasions. Though this wasn’t a special occasion so much as a nightmare.
She had argued with Lorenzo that it was up to him to cancel the party, but he had shrugged her off. He had said it was up to her, as the party was basically for her benefit and if she insisted on going home on Wednesday, as planned, the party would not take place. He’d actually had the audacity to say that of course his mother would probably never speak to her again, which was a good result as far as he was concerned, and then walked out.
He knew damn fine, Lucy thought, walking down the grand staircase at a minute to eight, that it wasn’t in her nature to be so appallingly bad-mannered. But then again maybe he
know—he thought she was little better than a street walker anyway.
She hesitated in the hall and adjusted the thin straps of the classic short black fitted dress she wore—another of Lorenzo’s purchases. Her thinking was that she might as well wear them in his company, because once this charade was over they were going to a charity shop. She looked around. The walls were lined with what she guessed were family portraits, because the men all had a look of Lorenzo about them—though not quite as striking—and the women were all beautiful. Suddenly she didn’t know what she was doing here, and was tempted to run back up the stairs.
But Gianni the butler appeared, and offered to escort her to the dining room. Smiling, she thanked him, her moment of panic over. Then her high heels slipped on the marble floor and she grabbed his arm, laughing with him as they entered the room, where Lorenzo and his mother were chatting quietly.
Both heads turned, and the butler quietly withdrew as Anna smiled and stepped forward. ‘Lucy, I hope you are rested. I was so overcome by your gift I forgot you had been travelling all day and forgot my manners, I’m afraid,’ she said disarmingly.
Lucy smiled. Anna was a delightful lady—a pity about her son, she thought, glancing at Lorenzo. He was lounging against the fireplace, a glass of what looked like whisky in his hand.
‘Shall we sit down, ladies?’ he suggested, straightening up and crossing to the long dining table perfectly set with silver and crystal. He pulled out a chair for his mother and Anna sat down. Then, crossing to the other side of the table, his dark eyes resting on her, he drawled softly, ‘Lucy,
Be seated,’ and gave her a smile, acting the perfect gentleman.
But Lucy knew otherwise, and realised immediately the endearment was for his mother’s benefit. She returned his smile with a false one of her own and took the seat he offered.
After a rocky start, the dinner was not the ordeal Lucy had expected.
Anna insisted she try the red wine she’d had the butler open in her honour—an especially good one from a renowned Tuscan vineyard—and Lorenzo sat at the head of the table, with Lucy and his mother either side of him, which meant the two women could talk easily across the table.
The first thing Anna said, after the wine glasses were filled and the wine tasted, was, ‘Lucy, dear, I know it was presumptuous of me to arrange a party for Wednesday evening, but I didn’t realise your time was so limited and you were going home that day until Lorenzo told me earlier. He suggested it might be difficult for
you to stay longer, as you have a business to run, but I do hope you can. All my friends are invited, and the Contessa della Scala is coming—she is really looking forward to seeing you again. Now, with the portrait, the party will be even better. You will make an old woman very happy, plus you and Lorenzo can spend more time together.’ She beamed.
Emotional blackmail at its finest. Maybe it ran in the family? Lucy thought cynically. Lifting her chin, she looked at Lorenzo and caught the taunting gleam in his black eyes. She forced a slow smile to her lips. ‘Your concern for my business is touching, Lorenzo, darling.’ She baited him with an endearment of her own, and turned back to Anna as the first course was presented.
‘Unfortunately my friend Elaine, who is taking care of the gallery, is expecting me back by Wednesday evening because she has a dental appointment on Thursday morning. But it is not an insurmountable problem. I can ring her tomorrow and tell her not to bother opening on Thursday. I can be back before Friday.’
‘No, I would not think of putting you out that way,’ Anna said immediately. ‘Why should you lose business? Lorenzo can find someone to take care of your gallery for you, no trouble at all. In fact you could stay for the rest of the week. After visiting the dentist your friend would probably appreciate having the whole day off and more.’
Lucy had to bite her lip to stop herself laughing at the expression on Lorenzo’s face as he looked at his mother in astonishment—horror quickly masked.
‘You can do that, can’t you, Lorenzo?’ his mother queried.
Briefly he flicked Lucy a threatening glance, and
she knew he saw the amusement in her eyes before he looked back at Anna.
‘Yes, of course I can, Mother—if Lucy agrees.’ His gaze was on her again. ‘I can probably arrange to get someone there by Wednesday afternoon, so Elaine can show them the ropes.’ An eyebrow rose as he asked innocently, ‘One day or two, Lucy?’
‘One will be fine,’ she said, knowing it was the answer he wanted. What was the point in defying him? She hadn’t wanted to stay longer in the first place, so why prolong the agony? ‘I must be home by Thursday night.’
‘Good, then that is settled,’ Anna said, and they finished their first course of risotto with red wine and porcini mushrooms.
The butler offered more wine and Lucy agreed, surprised to see she had finished the glass. But it was really nice, and very mellow.
Anna could certainly talk, Lucy thought as the plates were cleared by the maid. Mostly about Antonio—while Lorenzo sat looking on, his face a blank mask, adding very little to the conversation.
‘According to the doctor Antonio was a miracle child. He was very ill when he was born, and it was touch and go for a while, but he made a complete recovery and was soon running all over the place like any other child. I did sometimes wonder if it was because I was a lot older when he was born that he had problems—it was ten years after I had Lorenzo. But he grew up to be a wonderful young man. I only wish I had kept him longer … ‘
It occurred to Lucy that if Anna had always been so loquacious about her youngest son it might go some
way to explain why Lorenzo had grown into the hard, apparently emotionless man he was.
The conversation stopped as the main course was served—veal escalope Marsala—and Lucy tried to change the subject.
‘You have a beautiful home, Anna. My bedroom is delightful, and the view from the window is lovely. I could not help noticing when I arrived that the gardens are magnificent, and so cleverly designed—whichever way one looks everything flows together perfectly. Someone at some time must have been a keen landscape gardener.’
‘Gardening is my passion,’ Anna said, obviously delighted by Lucy’s interest. ‘When Lorenzo started school my husband gave me permission to have the whole grounds redesigned. It was a huge project, and I spent three years deciding on and finding the flowers, the shrubs, the trees, the fountains—everything. Sometimes Lorenzo would come with me on my search for all the specimens I wanted. Mind you … ‘ she looked lovingly at Lorenzo ‘.his taste ran to the most vibrant colours, which was odd given his serious nature.’
Lucy did not find it odd at all, having seen his apartment, but she could sense Lorenzo almost squirming in his chair, and cast him a sidelong glance. Not a muscle moved in his darkly attractive face, but when he noticed her looking he lifted a negligent brow and turned back to his mother.