He would not be repeating it!
Still, it was worth it for the result.
He took her to Aventine Hill. ‘Rome’s seventh hill,’ he told her.
‘I know that,’ Lydia said. ‘We came past it on a bus tour.’
‘Who were you sitting with?’ Raul nudged her as they walked.
‘They really hated you, didn’t they?’
But he put his arm around her shoulders as he said it, and it was something in the way he spoke that made her smile as she answered.
And then they stopped walking.
‘This is the headquarters of the Order of the Knights of Malta,’ he told her. ‘Usually it is busy.’ But tonight the stars had aligned, for there was a small group just leaving. ‘Go on, then.’
And she waited—for what, she didn’t know. For him to open the door and go through?
They did neither.
‘Look through the keyhole.’
Lydia bent down and did as she was told, but there was nothing to see at first—just an arch of greenery.
And then her eye grew accustomed to the view and she looked past the greenery, and there, perfectly framed in the centre, was the dome of St Peter’s.
He knew the moment she saw it, for she let out a gasp.
It was a view to die for.
The soft green edging framed the eternal city and she bent there for a while, just taking it in.
It was a memory.
A magical one because it made Rome a secret garden.
Her secret garden.
By the time she stood there were others lined up, all waiting for their glimpse of heaven, and her smile told them it would be worth the wait.
Raul refused to be rushed.
‘Don’t you want a photo?’ he asked. Assuming, of course, that she would.
She didn’t need one to remember it.
Even if Raul took her back to the hotel now, it would still be the best night ever.
In fact if Raul were to suggest taking her back to the hotel she would wave the taxi down herself, for he was kissing her again—a nice one, a not-going-anywhere one, just sharing in her excitement.
He did not take her back yet.
They walked down the hill, just talking, and he showed her the tiny streets she would never have found. He took her past the Bocca della Verità sculpture—the Mouth of Truth—though he did not tell her the legend that the old man would bite off the hand of liars.
For perhaps she might test him.
Though Raul told himself he did not lie.
He just omitted certain information.
And he continued to do so, even when the opportunity arose to reveal it.
They were now sitting on a balcony, looking out to the Colosseum, and a waiter placed their drinks down on the table.
Cognac for Raul and a cocktail that was the same fiery orange as the sky for Lydia.
He didn’t assume champagne, as Bastiano had.
Like this morning at breakfast, she let her eyes wander through the menu selections.
She chose hers—he knew his.
Raul gave her choice at every turn, and that was something terribly new to Lydia.
Finally she had good memories of Rome.
‘Salute,’ Raul said, and they clinked glasses.
Wonderful memories, really.
It wasn’t the sight of the Colosseum that brought a lump to her throat but the fact that now there were candles and flowers on the table, and that at every turn Raul had surprised her with his ease and enjoyment.
He did not sulk, nor reluctantly trudge along and put up with things before taking her to bed.
But she must remember it could never—for her—be the City of Love.
Raul didn’t do love.
‘How did Bastiano take your leaving?’ Raul asked, and his question caught her by surprise, for her mind had long moved on from the hotel.
Raul himself had only just remembered the real reason he was there.
‘He was fine,’ Lydia replied. ‘Well, he was polite. I can’t blame him for being fed up—anyone would be, stuck with Maurice for the night.’
He was about to say that he doubted Bastiano would hang around anywhere he didn’t choose to be, but stopped himself.
For the first time since they had met Lydia looked truly relaxed. The conversation flowed easily, and quite simply he did not want to take the chance of ruining a very nice night.
But he did need to know more. And he did not need to delve, for a very at ease Lydia was now talking.
‘I know he can’t stand Maurice.’
‘How do you know that?’
‘Because Bastiano told me.’
She was stirring her drink and didn’t see the sudden tension in his features. It dawned on Raul that Bastiano and Lydia might already be lovers for all he knew.
‘There was a wedding at the castle one weekend,’ Lydia explained. ‘It was a very good one. Of course Maurice had been through the guest list, and he made a bit of a beeline for Bastiano. He’d found out that he’d converted an old convent into a retreat, and Maurice wanted to hear his thoughts on doing something similar with the castle.’