But she bought them anyway.
Or rather to one day dress up alone to the memory of him.
As she arrived back at the hotel Lydia looked at the restaurant across the street, to the roped-off section and the table he had reserved for them.
Of course he wasn’t there yet.
Knowing he would be—knowing she could be—made tonight somehow worse.
Her mother called, but she let it go to voicemail.
A pep talk wasn’t required.
Lydia didn’t need to be told that everything hinged on tonight. That the castle was at the very end of the line and that it would come down to her actions tonight to save it.
She had a shallow bath, so as not to mess up her new curls, and as she washed she tried to remind herself how good-looking Bastiano was.
Even his scar did not mar his good looks.
He had been attending a wedding when they’d first met.
Maybe this time when he kissed her she would know better how to respond.
Try as she might, though, she couldn’t keep her focus on Bastiano. Her thoughts strayed to Raul.
With a sob of frustration Lydia hauled herself out of the bath and dried herself.
In a last-ditch attempt, Lydia rang Arabella. Searching for an excuse—any excuse—to get out of this meeting tonight.
‘Lydia!’ Arabella was brusque. ‘I meant to call you. You didn’t say it was this weekend you were in Rome.’
Of course Lydia had.
‘I’ve actually got a party on tonight,’ Arabella said.
And of course Lydia was not invited.
And there she sat again, like a beggar beside the table, waiting for Arabella’s crumbs.
Lydia rang off.
Maurice was right. She had no friends.
Arabella was her only contact from her first school, but she kept her at arm’s length, and there hadn’t even been a semblance of friendship at the other school.
Lydia could remember the howls of laughter from the other students when she had shaken hands and made a small curtsey for the teacher at the end of her first day.
It was what she had been taught, but of course her norms weren’t the norms of her new school.
She didn’t fit in anywhere.
Yet this morning Lydia had felt she did.
Oh, Raul had been far too forward and suggestive, but when they had spoken she had felt as if she were confiding in a friend—had felt a little as if she belonged in the world.
But all Raul wanted was sex.
Lydia had hoped for a little more.
Not a whole lot, but, yes, perhaps a little romance would be a nice side dish for her first time.
Wrong dress, Lydia thought as she looked in the mirror.
Wrong shoes, Lydia thought as she strapped on her neutral heels.
Wrong man, Lydia knew as she walked into the bar and saw Bastiano waiting.
Oh, he was terribly good-looking—even with that scar—and yet he did not move her. But perhaps this was romance, Lydia thought sadly, for he was charming as he ordered champagne. He was the perfect gentleman, and on the surface it was all terribly polite.
As was her life.
She thanked him for his generous hospitality. ‘It’s so lovely to be here. We’ve been looked after so well.’
‘It is my pleasure,’ Bastiano said. ‘Are you enjoying Rome?’
‘Absolutely.’ Lydia smiled and thought of her far more honest response this morning with Raul.
It was after six, and she knew—just knew—that Raul wouldn’t wait for very long.
And that she would regret it for ever if she missed out on tonight.
‘I was thinking,’ Bastiano said, ‘that for dinner we might—’
‘Actually...’ Maurice interrupted, and put his fingers to his temples.
Lydia knew he was going to plead a headache and excuse himself from dinner. Leaving her alone with Bastiano.
It was seven minutes past six and she made her choice.
‘Oh, didn’t Maurice tell you?’ Lydia spoke over Maurice, before he could make his excuses and leave.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw Maurice clench the glass he was holding, and she could feel his eyes shoot a stern warning, and yet Lydia spoke on.
‘I’m catching up with a friend tonight—we’re heading off to dinner soon. I wanted to stop by and say thank you, though.’ She gave Bastiano her best false smile, but it wasn’t returned. ‘I don’t want to get in the way of your business talk.’
‘I don’t think you could ever be in the way.’ Bastiano’s response was smooth.
‘Oh, you’re far too polite!’ Lydia offered a small laugh to a less than impressed audience.
It sank like a stone.
‘I’ll leave you two to talk castles.’
She placed her unfinished drink on the table and said her farewells, and simply ignored the fury in Maurice’s eyes and the muscle flickering in Bastiano’s scarred cheek.