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The Innocent's One-Night Surrender Kate Hewitt 2022/8/5 16:57:40

‘I’m not.’ Laurel spoke flatly, folding her arms across her body, needing to hold herself together.

Cristiano stared at her for a few moments, his gaze assessing, speculative. ‘But, as you said before, it is not possible to know for certain at this stage?’

‘No, but I’m quite sure, Cristiano, just as I was when you first mentioned the possibility. My period isn’t due for another week.’

Something flashed across Cristiano’s face too fast for her to discern what it was—disappointment, relief or something else entirely. ‘Even so…’

‘There’s no point, trust me. If by some miracle or twist of chance I was pregnant, I would tell you. But I don’t need to stay here until it’s irrefutable, for heaven’s sake.’ Unless you want me to stay…for my own sake. For ours.

Neither of them said anything for endless moments, moments where Laurel felt the last, faint, frail thread of hope she’d still nourished fray and then snap. And, because she couldn’t bear Cristiano to send her away, she spoke first.

‘I suppose I should book my ticket.’ She lifted her chin and forced a smile to her lips that felt like a crack in her skin. ‘Pack my things. It’s…’ She swallowed. ‘It’s been fun, Cristiano.’ It had been so much more than that, but what else could she say? Cristiano did fun. He didn’t do much more than that. And this entire affair had always been on his terms.

He stared at her for a long moment, his eyes hard, his expression still so unrelentingly inscrutable. ‘Yes,’ he said finally. ‘It has.’

The next twenty-four hours seemed to go into hyper-speed. From the moment Laurel had walked out of their bedroom to the awful one when she left Capri, Cristiano felt as if everything was moving in a fast blur while he was stuck in slow motion.

His mind felt numb, frozen in the same gear it had been in when Laurel had walked out of the bathroom, her face wiped of expression, her eyes so terrifyingly blank. He used to be able to see everything in her eyes—every thought, every emotion, every hope. But standing there, with the silence yawning between them, he hadn’t seen anything.

And then those awful words… It’s been fun. Such a casual dismissal of everything they’d shared and experienced together. Yet how many times had he said it over the years? The words had tripped off his tongue with thoughtless ease. Sometimes he’d tossed them over his shoulder while strolling out of a room.

That evening Cristiano found Laurel in their bedroom, packing a suitcase. Her face was pale and composed; she looked lovely, even peaceful. Perversely Cristiano wanted her to look heartbroken, or at least a little distressed.

She looked up when he entered, her hands stilling on the pile of folded clothes. ‘I booked my ticket,’ she said, her voice toneless.

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Cristiano felt as if everything inside him was coiled so tightly he was going to snap. Fall apart into broken pieces like a clock too tightly wound. ‘Have you?’ he asked, his tone diffident. Almost.

‘Yes; a morning flight from Naples to Rome tomorrow. And then on to Chicago.’ She started packing again. ‘I’ll be home by tomorrow night.’

‘Yes.’ She resumed packing, her head bent. ‘Late.’

Cristiano watched her pack for a few moments and then he realised how little she was actually putting into her one small suitcase. ‘Wait,’ he said, his voice coming out terse and demanding. ‘What are you doing? Why are you not packing all your clothes?’

‘I hardly need evening gowns in Canton Heights, Cristiano,’ Laurel said without looking up.

An entirely unreasonable indignation rose up in him. ‘They’re yours. They belong to you. You should take them.’

‘They’d require two or even three suitcases,’ Laurel returned evenly. ‘I don’t want to pay the extra baggage allowance for clothes I’m never going to wear.’

‘I’ll pay it, then,’ Cristiano insisted. It suddenly felt important that she take the clothes he’d bought for her, the gifts he’d given.

‘And how would I manage to carry all those suitcases?’ Laurel asked, a note of exasperation entering her voice. ‘I’m taking the funicular to the ferry, and then a bus to the airport and then to the plane. I can’t manage it.’