Authors: Jacqueline Baird
Lorenzo could not believe what he was hearing. ‘Why on earth would you want to do that?’ he asked, barely hiding his astonishment.
‘Why—to offer her my condolences on the loss of her brother and father, of course. I should have done it long ago. Besides which, if I met Lucy I could commission her to paint a portrait of Antonio. By all accounts the portrait she has done of the Contessa della Scala’s husband is wonderful. So you will ask her for me?’
It was more of a command than a request, but one he had no intention of fulfilling.
‘As I said, Mamma, I hardly know the girl. But what I do know is she is dedicated to her work and runs an art and craft gallery in Cornwall. The summer is her busiest period, so she could not get away even if she wanted. And I don’t know her well enough to ask.’
‘Lorenzo, I am not so old I can’t recognise a lover’s kiss—and if you don’t ask her I will. I’ll ring her. You must have her phone number.or the bank will.’
The hell of it was his mother would. She might be frail, but she had a stubborn streak. Suddenly Lorenzo realised his weekend affair was in danger of becoming a millstone around his neck, and he had no one to blame but himself … He had been so intent on getting Lucy into
bed all his thinking had been concentrated below the belt. His innate control and common sense had flown out of the window.
Silently he cursed. It had never entered his head that the Lanzas would take pictures of the wedding guests. There was one of him with his arm lodged firmly around Lucy’s waist while they talked, and the most damning of all had to be Aldo’s work—it was him kissing Lucy in the garden, just before the man had interrupted them …
‘We were not lovers. It was too much champagne and a friendly kiss—that is all. But all right … I’ll call Lucy,’ he conceded, and left shortly after.
Back in his apartment, Lorenzo stood by the window, looking out over the city without actually seeing it, a glass of whisky in his hand. Antonio, as the baby of the family, had been his mother’s favourite, though she had tried not to show it, and with hindsight Lorenzo recognised Antonio had been indulged by all of them. He knew his mother was not likely to give up on the idea of meeting Lucy and commissioning a portrait of Antonio any time soon … He crossed the room and flopped down on the sofa, draining his glass and putting it on the table. Whisky was not the answer.
The hell of it was Lorenzo could not see a way out of the situation without involving Lucy Steadman.
Basically he had two options. He could do as his mother asked and mention commissioning a portrait of Antonio to Lucy, invite her to visit his mother. The big flaw in that scenario was that Lucy knew of his run-in with Damien, which he wished to keep from his mother. She had been hurt enough, and didn’t need bitterness added to her memories. The whole idea was a non-starter as far as he was concerned.
He had cut Lucy out of his life and wanted it to stay that way—and after the brutal way he had left her he was sure she would refuse any invitation from him pointblank. But if by some fluke Lucy
accept, he had no doubt as a woman scorned she would take great delight in telling his mother of his run-in with Damien just to spite him. A ruthless gleam sparked in his dark eyes. That was never going to happen—because Lucy wasn’t going to get the chance.
The second option—the one that appealed to his cynical mind and which, with his experience of women, he knew would succeed—was the only option. He would offer Lucy a big fat bribe. He would give her the bank’s shares in Steadman’s in return for her refusing any overtures his mother might make and for her silence on the accident if she did contact her.
Lucy had disturbed his peace of mind long enough. He had taken an old girlfriend out to dinner in New York and given her only a goodnight kiss when she had been expecting a whole lot more—as had he until he’d realised he felt no inclination to take the stunning brunette back to his apartment or anywhere else.
Lucy had wanted him to vote with her on the Steadman’s deal. Well, this way she could have the shares outright and do what the hell she liked with them. The money was nothing to him, and he had wasted far too much of his time dwelling on Lucy Steadman as it was. Finally all connection with the despised family would be severed for good.
He flicked on his cell phone to dial Lucy’s number, having got it from the bank and entered it in his speed dial, and then stopped. She would certainly hang up on him. Better to catch her by surprise, even though it meant he would have to see her again. Definitely for the
last time, he told himself, and ignored the stirring in his body at the thought.
Instead he rang his lawyer, and told him what he needed by morning.
‘Lucy! ‘ Elaine cried, and dashed into the small kitchen at the back of the gallery, where Lucy was standing with the teapot in her hand, about to pour out a couple of much needed cups of tea, after a very successful day’s trading, to enjoy while they closed up.
‘What’s the panic? A late influx of customers?’ Lucy queried.
‘No—just one. A man asking for you. I can see now why you were so upset over the Lorenzo guy. Scumbag he may be, but he is here—and what a hunk. I bet he is great in bed. Not that I’m suggesting you should make the same mistake again.’
Lucy paled, then blushed, then paled again, her stomach churning at the thought of seeing Lorenzo again.
‘Go,’ Elaine said, taking the teapot from her hand and pushing her towards the hall. ‘Get rid of him—and if you need help call me.’
She didn’t need help—not any more, not on any level. She was over him. But that didn’t stop the painful details of the last time they’d been together flashing through her mind. Why he was back she didn’t know—and didn’t want to know. He could not have made it plainer: he’d used her, paid her, and despised her simply for who she was.
Straightening her shoulders and flicking her hair back from her face, Lucy walked down the hall, determination in every step she took. She would not allow any man to use her and walk over her ever again.
Lorenzo appeared in the open doorway of the gallery
and her heart lurched at the sight of him. She hesitated. He was casually dressed, in a white linen shirt open at the throat and washed denim jeans that hung low on his hips and clung to his muscular thighs like a second skin—designer, no doubt, she thought, and glanced up. Her green eyes clashed with deep brown, and it took every ounce of will-power she possessed to hold his gaze as her traitorous heart pounded like a drum in her chest.
‘Lucy.’ He said her name, and smiled the same slightly rueful but sensual smile that had seduced her before. But she was wiser now, and wasn’t fooled.
‘Mr Zanelli,’ she responded, walking forward. He was so confident she would fall into his arms—she could see it in his eyes, in the arrogant tilt of his head, and felt anger stir deep within her … along with a more basic emotion which she battled to ignore. ‘This is a surprise. I never expected to see you again. Come to buy a painting? ‘ she suggested facetiously.
‘No, I’ve come to see you. We need to talk.’
‘No, we don’t. I have no interest in anything you say.’
‘Not even if it means saving Steadman’s?’ Lorenzo prompted, sure that would tempt her. But he was sorely tempted himself, and the sudden tightening in his groin was a reminder of how much.
He had flown into Newquay Airport, barely an hour’s drive away, and he had every intention of returning to Italy tonight. The sooner the better. He hadn’t slept with a woman since Lucy, and the strain was getting to him.
Every time he saw her she was different—from bag lady to gowned elegance to young and sexy in a skimpy summer dress. Today she was an exotic vision
in a plunging necked shimmering turquoise silk eastern thing, with a beaded band beneath her high firm breasts and a skirt that swirled around her feet. Some of her glorious hair was swept back in a clip on top of her head, and the rest fell in a silken mass down over her shoulders. In one ear she was wearing the most amazing huge silver spiderweb earring, with long white feathers attached that floated down against the curve of a breast. As for her mouth—her lips were painted a vibrant pink, and so full and sensually promising he ached to taste them and a whole lot more. Never, even as a teenager with rampant hormones, had he ever felt such a need to kiss a woman.
‘No, thank you.’ Lucy said bluntly.
Dragging his gaze from her lips, Lorenzo saw the anger in her eyes and realised what she had said. ‘A polite refusal, but not a very sensible one—or businesslike,’ he prompted, and moved closer. He could see the pulse beating in her slender neck. She was not as cool as she would have him believe.
‘You once told me I should stay out of business and you were right. The way you do business is despicable and the cost far too high for any self-respecting person. Now, I must ask you to leave—we are about to close.’ Lucy walked to the front door and flipping the sign to ‘Closed', held the door open. ‘This is the way out.’
She glanced back at Lorenzo. He stood where she had left him, his dark eyes narrowed angrily on her face, then in two lithe strides he was beside her. His hand reached out to circle her throat and he tipped her head back. Shocked, she grasped his wrist with her free hand to pull his hand away.
‘You didn’t find me despicable when you were naked beneath me on the bed, moaning my name.’ He brushed
his lips lightly against hers and laid his other hand over her breast. To her shame, her lips stung and her nipple tightened beneath his palm. ‘And it wouldn’t take me five minutes to get you that way again, Lucy,’ he taunted her softly.
Lorenzo was so damned arrogant—and yet possessed of a vibrant sexuality that could heat up a room and every woman in it, Lucy thought helplessly. He was almost irresistible, but resist him she did, her pulse-rate rising with her anger at the insult. She dug her nails hard into his wrist and he let go of her throat. She let go of the door and did what she should have done weeks ago. Bringing her hand up, she struck him as hard as she could across the face, catching him unawares. Her hand cracked against his cheek and rocked him back on his heels. The heavy door caught his shoulder.
Lucy, chest heaving in outrage, stepped back into the hall and spun round to face him. ‘You have a mind like a sewer. Sex and money is all you think about! ‘ she yelled, her green eyes spitting with rage. ‘That is exactly what I would expect from you and you got exactly what you deserved.’
‘Hey, Lucy?’ Elaine called out as she appeared in the hall. ‘Is everything okay?’
Appalled by her loss of temper, Lucy stared at Lorenzo’s cheek, with the imprint of her fingers clearly visible, and then at Elaine. ‘Yes, it’s fine,’ she said, and took a deep steadying breath, forcing a smile to her lips. She did not want to involve Elaine. ‘Mr Zanelli and I had a discussion, that is all.’
‘We still are, Lucy,’ Lorenzo inserted, reining in the furious impulse to shake her till she rattled. What was it about this witch of a woman that made him lose his legendary control? He was here for one reason only, he
reminded himself. He could fob his mother off for a while, but he was taking no chances—and he needed Lucy to agree to have nothing to do with his mother if she
call. Especially if she tried to commission a painting that would keep Lucy Steadman on the periphery of his life for heaven knew how long.
But holding her by the throat was no way to go about it.
He turned to the other woman, slightly taller and a lot wider than Lucy. ‘Elaine, isn’t it?’ he said smoothly, his razor-sharp brain quickly recalling Lucy’s explanation that Elaine, who did tapestries, also helped out at the shop. ‘Don’t concern yourself. Lucy and I got our wires crossed—I believe that is the English expression—but it is nothing we cannot put right, I assure you.’
‘That does not look like a wire that crossed your face,’ Elaine quipped. ‘More like a hand—and it serves you right. A married man should know better than to mess around with a single woman.’
Elaine’s witty comment in rushing to her defence cooled Lucy’s anger—then she realised she had by omission misled her friend.
Lorenzo’s cheek was stinging, and he had probably bruised his shoulder, but he could have sworn his head was clear and he was in control. Yet these two women were intent on driving him crazy—and who the hell was the married man?
‘What married man?’ he asked, his dark gaze skimming from Elaine to settle on Lucy and catch the guilty look on her expressive face.
Surely she had not taken up with another man already? A married one at that? Not that he cared—he was here for the express purpose of getting Lucy Steadman out of his life for good, and was prepared to pay to do
so. His one regret was that he hadn’t cut the Steadmans out of his family’s life years ago, before her brother had talked Antonio into the reckless lifestyle that had got him killed. As for Lucy—he knew exactly what type of woman she was and yet the thought of her with another man did nothing to help his self-control.
‘You, of course,’ Elaine answered. ‘Lucy told me all about you.’
‘Did she, now?’ Lorenzo said, never taking his eyes off Lucy. He saw her nervously chew her bottom lip and she would not look him in the eye. ‘I’m surprised at you, Lucy. You know perfectly well I am not married—never have been, and never likely to be. Which makes me wonder what other fairytales you have told your friend,’ he drawled, shaking his head mockingly. ‘We really do need to talk.’
married? ‘ Elaine queried, and looked at Lucy.
Lucy finally met her friend’s puzzled gaze. ‘Not to my knowledge—and if you recall I never said he was, Elaine. I think you must have jumped to the wrong conclusion after giving me the benefit of your own dubious wedding experiences.’
Elaine looked from Lucy to Lorenzo and back again. ‘Ah, well, that is different.’ She chuckled, obviously amused. ‘Well, good luck, Lucy, in sorting out your problems. I’ll just get my bag and leave.’ And she disappeared down the hall, to reappear a minute later, with a cheery wave and a goodbye as she closed the door and left.
There was silence. Lucy glanced up and found Lorenzo’s gleaming dark eyes resting on her. Something in his look made her stomach curl and she flushed hotly.