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The Innocent's One-Night Surrender Kate Hewitt 2022/8/5 16:57:37

‘No,’ he agreed, ‘I suppose we aren’t.’

Cristiano gazed out at the blur of buildings streaming by. ‘Because I don’t respect him,’ he said at last. ‘And it’s difficult to have a relationship, at least a positive one, when there is no respect involved.’

Laurel considered this for a moment. ‘Does he respect you?’

‘I have no idea, and I really don’t much care.’

‘Why don’t you respect him?’ She was like a dog with a bone, worrying away at it, getting to the bloody marrow.

‘Do we really have to talk about this?’

‘We’re about to go visit him, so yes, I think we do. Why don’t you, Cristiano?’ She asked the question softly, her voice filled with compassion. She was ready to understand him, and it made him answer reluctantly.

‘Because he’s thrown his life away on love.’

‘Ah.’ She nodded thoughtfully, not looking as disappointed in his answer as he’d expected, and perversely wanted her to be. ‘So you’re angry at him for wasting his life.’

When she put it like that… ‘I’m not angry,’ he said tersely. ‘Not exactly.’ Except, he realised as he said it, it wasn’t true. He was angry, but it seemed childish somehow. An emotion he wanted to rise above.

‘It must not have been easy,’ Laurel said quietly, ‘to lose your mother the way you did. And then to see your father fall in love with women who weren’t in love with him.’

‘Do you count your mother in that number?’ Cristiano asked more sharply than he intended but, damn it, he felt so raw.

‘No,’ Laurel said softly. ‘I don’t. But I understand why you would.’ She reached for his hand and Cristiano threaded his fingers through hers, taking a deep breath to compose himself. These honest, emotional conversations still felt new and difficult. Painful. But he was trying, because he knew Laurel wanted more from him, and amazingly, alarmingly, he wanted it too. He was tired of the superficial, sex-only arrangements he’d had before.

And yet that question niggled at his mind—how much more do you want?

The rest of the journey to Capri passed pleasantly enough; Laurel stood at the railing of the ferry and gazed out at the blue-green sea, jewel-bright under the afternoon sun.

‘It’s so lovely,’ she murmured. ‘I’d forgotten how lovely it was in Italy.’ She tilted her face to the sun, her whole body seeming to drink in the light. If Cristiano could have painted her like that, he would have. She was the essence of happiness, of joy and freedom, a faint smile curving her lovely mouth, her hair blowing in the wind.

They walked from the ferry landing to the funicular, the cable railway that went to the town centre. From the piazzetta they walked to Lorenzo’s villa, which was on the outskirts of the town. Laurel gazed round at the white villas with their brightly painted shutters and pots of trailing bougainvillea, delighting in everything.

And then they were there, standing in front of the steep, winding steps that led to his father’s villa, a tall, white building near Capri’s old town, its terracotta roof tiles blazing under the late-afternoon sun.

Laurel paused, nervousness flitting across her features as she gazed up at the steps, and then shot Cristiano an anxious look.

‘Do you really think…?’

‘I know,’ Cristiano said, and took her hand. They climbed the steps together, then stepped into the airy, sunlit foyer. A housekeeper bustled in with a cheery stream of Italian…and then there he was, Cristiano’s father, standing in the doorway, looking older and frailer in the year since he’d last seen him, but also far happier, his face wreathed in smiles as he held his arms out to Laurel.

‘Cara,’ he said in a voice full of welcome and warmth, and with a little stifled cry Laurel ran into his arms.

LAUREL STRETCHED OUT on the sun lounger, her heart brimming with happiness. It had been three days since they’d arrived in Capri, and they’d been the best three days of her life.

Seeing Lorenzo again…having him welcome her with open arms and tears in his eyes… Laurel hadn’t even realised just how much she’d missed him, the gaping absence he’d left in her life, until she’d ran into his arms and he’d whispered how sorry he was ever to have let her go.