Authors: Jacqueline Baird
‘Lorenzo was a genius at mathematics at a very young age—my husband used to worry he might think he was too clever to settle for the role tradition demanded of him. But his skill was invaluable to me when it came to the design. He was only nine but he worked out all the angles, the lengths of the terraces and the paths where
the fountains had to be placed for optimum effect, and made a complete plan for me. All the builder and gardeners had to do was the manual work.’
‘That is amazing!’ Lucy could not help exclaiming.
‘Not really.’ Lorenzo finally spoke. ‘My mother is prone to exaggeration,’ he said coolly, but tempered it with a smile.
The maid arrived and conversation ceased as the plates were cleared again. Dessert was brought in, and talk turned to the planned party.
Finally the butler suggested serving coffee, and Anna got to her feet and said, ‘I never drink coffee at night, but you go ahead. I know you will be glad of some time on your own,’ she prompted with a smile. ‘I have had the most marvellous day I can remember in years, and I’m going to bed now.’
Lorenzo got to his feet to help her, but she refused and patted his cheek, so he bent to kiss hers and she left.
The silence was deafening.
‘That went well,’ Lorenzo finally said. ‘My mother is happy and convinced we are close. Make sure you keep it that way until we leave on Thursday and everything you want is yours.’
Lucy looked up at him, her eyes tracing the hard bones of his face, the cool, steady eyes, the powerful jaw and mobile mouth. He had no idea what she really wanted, she thought sadly and, pushing back her chair, stood up.
‘I will,’ she said. ‘Unlike you, I don’t like deceiving your mother, and this can’t be over quickly enough for me.’ She turned towards the door, adding quietly, ‘if you don’t mind, I’ll forgo the coffee.’
He moved quickly, his hand catching hers, and kissed
her palm. ‘I don’t mind anything you want,
he husked, and her eyes widened in shock.
Her hand trembled in his grasp—and then she realised it was for the benefit of the butler, who had entered the room with the coffee tray. Pulling her hand free, she patted Lorenzo’s cheek with more force than necessary and saw his lips tighten. ‘You enjoy your coffee.’
Swiftly an arm closed around her waist, his dark head dipped, and he kissed her cheek, his warm breath caressing her ear. ‘Not an option,’ he murmured. ‘Remember our deal? Everyone has to be convinced.’ And, raising his head, he said, ‘Take the coffee to the lounge, please, Gianni.’
Then his head bent again and his mouth closed possessively over hers, parting her lips. The prolonged assault on her senses swept away all her resistance. His hand moved sensually over her back to press her closer and she arched into him, her eyes closing in abandon.
Suddenly he lifted his head. ‘Gianni has gone.’
Her eyes flew open as his comment registered. ‘What did you do that for?’
‘I saw the way Gianni looked at you, laughed with you when you entered the dining room with your body blatantly on display in that dress. He is a red-blooded man and he is not going to believe for a minute that holding your hand or a kiss on the cheek would satisfy me or any man. Now he will be convinced, and if he is the rest of the staff will be also.’
For a moment Lucy had the odd idea he was jealous of the butler. ‘Does your brain ever stop working and planning your next move?’
‘I’ve never really thought about it, but probably not—except perhaps in a moment of intense sexual relief,’ he drawled, and ushered her out of the dining room and
into the lounge, where the coffee was set on a low table in front of a sofa.
Lucy twisted out of his arm and sat down on the sofa, the colour in her face matching the pink satin, and leant forward to pour out a cup of coffee she did not want simply to hide her blush.
Lorenzo laughed and sat down beside her. ‘You know, Lucy, for an experienced woman it never ceases to amaze me how easily you blush—how do you do it?’
She was tempted to tell him then how little experience she really had, but bit her lip and drank the coffee. He would never believe her. He had formed his opinion of her, coloured by his distorted perception of her brother and the ease with which she had fallen into bed with him the first time. By accepting his deal she had reinforced that low opinion, and nothing she could do would ever make him change his mind.
‘Practice—just practice,’ she said, telling Lorenzo what he wanted to hear.
‘Did you practise with Antonio?’ he asked. ‘You have painted him with a happy smile on his face—did you sleep with him?’
Lucy’s eyes widened to their fullest extent on his unsmiling countenance. He couldn’t be serious, she thought. But he was, she realised—and suddenly she was furious.
Before she said something she knew she would regret, she got to her feet. ‘No,’ she said coldly. ‘Unlike you, he was a gentleman. Now, if you are satisfied I have played my part as required, I am going to bed. And before you get up—don’t bother. There is no one here to see you
And she turned away and walked to the door,
leaving him to follow her or not … amazed by his cruel insensitivity.
She looked around the bedroom; someone had laid her nightdress on the bed and turned down the covers. Service at its best, she thought with a wry smile twisting her lips as she entered the bathroom, stripped off her clothes and put them away. She washed her face, cleaned her teeth and, naked, returned to the bedroom. Picking the nightdress off the bed, she slipped it over her head and crawled into the big bed.
She didn’t expect to sleep, but surprisingly she did … She stirred once, at the tail-end of a dream of a shadowy figure of a man standing over her, but went straight back to sleep.
The next morning she awoke to the overpowering smell of strong coffee, and, easing herself up the bed, saw the maid approach with a tray which she placed on the bedside table.
say to bring coffee,’ she said in fractured English, ‘Breakfast in one hour.’
—’ She sprang out of bed and dashed to the bathroom. When she returned, after having been sick, the maid was still there.
‘Signorina? Come stai?’
Lucy saw the worried frown on her face and knew enough Italian to reassure her she was fine. The maid left.
It was probably the wine she’d drunk last night, Lucy thought. She was not accustomed to fine red wine—or any wine, for that matter. She poured out a cup of hot milk, with the merest dash of coffee, and standing looking out of the window sipped it slowly.
The view really was breathtaking … And then she
saw the yellow sports car shoot off down the drive. Good—Lorenzo had gone out. With no fear of him appearing, she relaxed a little.
She took a leisurely shower and wondered what to wear. It was a sunny day, and she wanted to have a look around the gardens. With that in mind she decided on a pair of soft denim jeans and bright flowing top. She tied her hair back in a ponytail and finally ventured out of the bedroom.
She did not need to look for the breakfast room. As soon as she reached the foot of the grand staircase Gianni appeared as if by magic and showed her to yet another room—not as large as the others she had seen, but just as elegant, and somehow more homely. Anna was already seated at the table, and looked up as she entered.
‘How are you, Lucy? Maria told me you were a little unwell.’ She frowned. ‘Please sit down, my dear. My doctor calls to see me most days at noon—if you like you could see him as well.’
Lucy smiled and took a seat. ‘No, that is not necessary. I am fine—just too much wine, I think,’ she said with a rueful smile. ‘But I wouldn’t mind a walk in the gardens after breakfast. The fresh air will do me good.’
‘Well, if you are sure, I will give you a guided tour,’ Anna offered. ‘Really it should be Lorenzo, but he has gone to the bank. I told him to take the day off, but he takes no notice of me. He works far too hard—always has. When my husband died—good man though he was—the bank was left in a poor condition. Lorenzo took over and soon put everything right, expanding all over the world, but sometimes I do wish he would slow
down a little. Which is why I am so pleased he has found
Lucy—you are just what he needs.’
‘Oh, I wouldn’t say that.’ Lucy finally got a word in. ‘We are close friends, but realistically we have very little in common.’ And with a quick change of subject she added, ‘Before I forget, I must call Elaine and tell her of the change of plan.’
Elaine was surprised but happy to agree to the new arrangement of taking Thursday off while the shop was looked after by a temp.
Lucy, on the other hand, was stressed to bits.
Oddly enough, once outside, with the scent of pine trees and perfumed flowers mingling in the warm morning air, Lucy felt better. Meandering with Anna along the paths and terraces of the glorious garden was relaxing. She learnt from Anna the names of dozens of plants, and when they got to the lake learnt the sailing boat had been Lorenzo’s when he was a teenager, and he still used it occasionally.
According to Anna he was still a keen sailor, and spent most of his leisure time at Santa Margherita, where he had a villa. He kept a larger racing yacht at the marina, and sailed it very successfully in quite a few races round the Mediterranean.
Lucy was surprised. When Lorenzo had told her he had a yacht she had assumed he meant some big luxury motorised ship. A smile quirked her lips. She did think he looked like a pirate sometimes, so she should not be surprised, she told herself as they walked back to the house.
Lunch was served, and Anna’s doctor, who was a widower, joined them at the table. He was a distinguished-looking, charming man, and Lucy warmed to
him immediately. She had a sneaky suspicion his interest in Anna was more than medical.
Then the butler appeared, and Lucy was surprised when he informed her Lorenzo was on the private line and wishing to speak to her. He escorted her to the rear of the house, into what was obviously a study, and handed her the telephone.
‘Hello?’ she said. She could hear voices in the background, one a woman’s—probably his secretary.
‘Ah, at last.’ Lorenzo’s deep dark voice echoed in her ear. ‘Are you getting along all right on your own, Lucy? No slip-ups?’
‘Yes. And if by that you mean have I told your mother that her brilliant saintly son is really a rat? No, I have not.’
‘Sarcasm does not become you. Do I detect a bit of frustration there? Missing me already?’ he drawled throatily.
‘Like a hole in the head,’ she snapped, and heard him chuckle.
‘No chance I would be given an opportunity to miss your smart mouth—you really know how to dent a man’s ego.’
‘Not yours, that’s for sure.’ Her pounding heart was telling her she was more disturbed by his flirtatious tone than she dared admit, but knowing it must be for his secretary’s benefit she said, ‘Cut the pretence and just tell me what you want. I am in the middle of lunch.’
‘Right.’ His voice was brusque. ‘I have arranged with an English agency for a Miss Carr who lives in Cornwall to help at the gallery. She will call in tomorrow afternoon at three to arrange the details with Elaine. Tell my mother I have back-to-back meetings all day and
I’m staying in Verona tonight. I will be back tomorrow evening for the party. Can you do that?’
‘Yes. If that is all, I am going back to finish my lunch.’
Lorenzo was deliberately staying away—or he might even have another woman lined up for tonight, Lucy thought. As if she needed any more proof it was over between them!
‘Enjoy your meal,’ he said, and hung up.
Lucy relayed the conversation when she got back to the table. Anna did not look happy, but accepted the news with grace.
some reason Lucy hadn’t been able to enjoy her lunch—in fact she’d hardly eaten anything. The doctor, noticing, had mentioned that Anna had told him Lucy had been sick that morning and enquired if she still felt unwell.
Unthinkingly Lucy had told him she thought it was the red wine, because she didn’t usually drink, and then added that she was not used to eating such rich food so late.
The doctor had agreed that might be true, but then mentioned the possibilities of gastro enteritis or food poisoning. Anna had looked mortified, and that was why Lucy was now lying on her bed, having submitted to numerous tests.
Lucy liked the elderly man, and at his enquiries had told the doctor about her medical history—including an operation she had undergone a few years earlier, which was one of the reasons she was careful what she ate and rarely drank, and probably why wine affected her so quickly. He had nodded his head and agreed with her.
Her lips twitched and parted in a grin, and she chuckled—then laughed out loud. She was the guest from hell … who had unwittingly implied her hostess had poisoned her. At least Lorenzo would be happy, because
when Lucy left there was not the slightest fear of Anna wanting her to visit again.
On the contrary, Anna appeared to be quite happy when Lucy went back downstairs. Dinner was arranged for seven in Anna’s favourite garden room at the side of the house, where a small table was set for the two of them. The meal was light and delicious, and Anna confessed she usually ate there, only using the formal dining room when Lorenzo was home—which Lucy gathered was not very often.
Wednesday was chaotic. The huge house was a hive of activity as caterers, florists and extra staff bustled around the place.
The doctor came early—he was staying the night—and after lunch, when Anna had retired to her room to rest, told Lucy her blood tests were clear. It was probably, as she’d thought, the wine—or maybe the stress of visiting Lorenzo’s home and mother. He remembered when he’d met his late wife’s parents for the first time he’d been sick with nerves before he even got to their house.
Lucy tried to laugh, thanked him, and followed Anna upstairs.
She had a leisurely soak in the huge bath before washing her hair, and then, not feeling in the least tired, decided to go out into the garden and let her hair dry naturally in the fresh air, as she did at home. She pulled on jeans and a light blue sweater and, slipping her feet into soft ballet shoes, she stuck a comb in her pocket and left the house. There were so many people running around she would not be missed.