The Amalfi Bride - Page 81

The morning was sunny and picture-perfect, too. He’d organized everything—her, the hotel. He’d even told her what to wear and had bought her sunscreen in the gift shop. He’d had the hotel pack a huge lunch after their breakfast even though she’d protested that after two cups of raspberries—they had been too good to waste—she could never eat again.

Then with him directing her, rather bossily, she’d driven them to Nocelle, where they’d left her rented Fiat so that they could walk this trail that offered the most dramatic views of the rugged coastline.

She’d read that the walk to Praiano was four and a half hours and the return would be the same, so she’d protested when she’d realized his plan.

Nine hours of hiking.

Much as she liked to hike, she hadn’t wanted to totally exhaust herself on the trail when they had so little time together.

“Don’t worry.” He’d placed the car keys under a rock behind the left, front tire. “A little genie will spirit your car to Praiano, so we can drive back from the end point of the trail.”

“But my contract says I’m the only one who can drive.”

“It will be okay.” He’d lifted his cell phone to his ear.

“It will most definitely not be okay! The road was very narrow and windy. Your genie might wreck it.”

“He is an excellent driver. Besides, this is Italy. He and I have many friends. Important people who will help. You understand, no?”

She would have argued, but he’d held up his hand. “Scusa. Massimo…” After that he’d turned away and had rattled incomprehensible Italian to this Massimo fellow.

Somehow, even though he was a gigolo, which meant technically she was the boss, she’d resisted the instinct to seize control. At the same time, she’d wondered if his many friends were rich women with important husbands, women who could pull strings for their gorgeous special pleasure provider, who made their pampered lives with dull husbands more bearable.

One night with him and Regina was feeling possessive of him, and as if she were losing control.

Not good.

Good thing she was leaving Ravello in a couple of days, or he might become a permanent addiction.

“Do you want some water?” he asked, still staring at her rather than the view, his question bringing her back to the present.

When she nodded, he uncapped his water bottle and offered it. When she was through sipping, he took the bottle and drank after her, as if their sharing the same bottle was the most natural thing in the world.

He slid the bottle into her backpack and lifted it onto his shoulders along with his own. He pulled out his camera and took a picture of her and the view. Then, of course, she had to take another one of him.

After that, they continued their walk and were rewarded with glimpses of ruins and an abandoned farmhouse and an ancient arch that once had led somewhere but now led nowhere. Of course, she had to photograph him again in front of the farmhouse and then the arch and had to have him photograph her in front of both settings, as well.

“You must send your pictures to me,” he said, his manner so urgent and sincere she nodded.

She could almost believe this was a real date and that last night had been real, too; that they were beginning a genuine relationship that would be vitally important to both of them.

After they left the farmhouse, they came to an ancient convent filled with fading frescoes of saints. He charmed her by picking a bouquet of wild roses and olive branches. After giving her a rose, which she put in her hair, he knelt. His face grew serious as he said a silent prayer and left the saints the rest of the flowers as a humble offering.

When he stood again, he said, “If you are hungry, I know a perfect spot for a picnic.”

“I could eat something.”

“All right, then.”

He led the way up another bougainvillea-shaded, cobblestone path that passed between the whitewashed buildings of a second deserted farmhouse, more charming than the first, and then through a lemon grove.

With every step the sun rose higher and became warmer on her back. The hike became more of a plod. She was breathless and perspiring long before they’d made their way up the hidden path and a nearly impassable cliff to a stone bench in the shade of an olive tree with stunning views of the mountains and sea.

“You’re right. This is perfect,” she said, still panting from the climb.

When she sank wearily down onto the bench, he came closer. Smiling down at her, he studied her so intently she almost stood up in the hopes that he might kiss her. But instead of doing as she wished, he lowered her backpack to the ground and rummaged in it.

Quickly, he got their boxed lunches out, sat down and spread their sandwiches, cheeses and wine between them on the stone bench. Then he deftly uncorked the wine bottle and poured two glasses of jewel-dark, red wine.