Christina Hollis
One Night In His Bed

He smiled, and Sienna could believe it.

‘In which case, the best place is twenty or thirty minutes’ drive out of town. And it’s quite a walk to the cab rank from here.’

Especially in shoes like those, she thought, her gaze firmly fixed on his Guccis.

‘That won’t necessarily matter. I was going to hire a car and invite some old friends out for lunch while I’m in their neighbourhood.’

The urge to look up at him grew too strong, so Sienna gave in. A change had come over his expression. It was as though a cloud had passed in front of the sun, and she realised he disliked giving out information about himself.

Sienna nervously passed the tip of her tongue over her lips. ‘The only thing is…the restaurant I recommended really needs somebody in your party who has an ear for the local dialect. Perhaps your friends are fluent, signor? Il Pettirosso is remote, and very much a haunt of those “in the know”, as I think the saying goes. Are you sure you wouldn’t be better off going to one of the fashionable places down by the sea after all? They get so much business from tourists that it’s accepted all their staff will speak English. All sorts of famous people go there,’ she finished lamely, in case he was famous, too, and she simply hadn’t recognised him. With those expectant eyes and resolute mouth, he looked as though he should have an international fan club.

‘I loathe watching money being thrown around solely in the hope of making an impression,’ he announced. ‘I prefer good food and service in excellent company. In which of your suggested places would you choose to eat?’

‘If I could go anywhere?’ Sienna could hardly imagine such luxury.

‘Go anywhere, spend anything—I don’t care what it costs as long as it’s value for money.’

‘Oh, then that’s easy!’ Sienna warmed with the thought of it. ‘Il Pettirosso—even if it means buying a phrasebook to help with the ordering. It’s a wonderful place with smoked glass windows so passers-by can’t see inside. They specialise in local dishes, and everything is freshly prepared from the finest ingredients. Regional food is cooked there to the highest possible standard.’

His smile returned. ‘That sounds just my sort of place. Authentic cuisine and an authentic name!’

‘It’s actually a sort of bird, signor. They live in the woodlands, and I shouldn’t think you would ever see one inside Il Pettirosso. Unless they have pictures of them on the menu, of course.’

Putting his head on one side, he looked at her acutely. ‘Are you telling me you’ve never actually eaten there?’

Sienna shook her head. The thought of trying to get her late husband Aldo over the threshold of a place like that made her smile.

The stranger reached inside his jacket and pulled out a small mobile phone. Flipping it open, he handed it to Sienna. She looked at him in bewilderment.

‘Go on, then—the choice is made. Would you mind booking it for me, please, signorina? I might have a problem making myself understood if I can’t give them some visual clues. I’ll need a table for four at midday. That will give me plenty of time to make all the other arrangements.’

‘I shall need a name, signor.’

‘Oh, just tell them it is for Garett Lazlo,’ he said, as though giving her the answer to everything.

Sienna’s eyes widened at this, but she rang the restaurant as instructed. To her amazement, the booking was accepted straight away. Within seconds the formalities were complete. Next moment, the receptionist at Il Pettirosso was thanking her for the call with a warm goodbye. For a few precious seconds Sienna could fool herself that she was his glamorous personal assistant, making an official business call.

The phone was warmed by a faint fragrance of handsome Mr Lazlo. Sienna savoured it for as long as she could, until she had to hand it back.

‘And now, signorina—can you achieve a double triumph, and point me in the direction of a decent car?’

Garett Lazlo tucked the phone back inside his jacket, all set to go. The part of Sienna that was not still under the influence of his masculine aroma almost managed to feel relieved.

‘If you go straight through the market, then turn right and carry on across town, there is a prestige hire firm within a kilometre. Keep your back to the harbour and you can’t miss it,’ she said quickly.

‘Thank you.’

It sounded as though there was a smile in his voice, but Sienna did not trust herself to check. When she eventually raised her head her visitor was strolling away, his jacket slung over one shoulder. With an unfamiliar pang of excitement she realised she could stare at him openly now, because everyone else in the market was doing exactly the same thing. Among that gallery, one more person admiring the tall, slim stranger would go unnoticed. Even if that person was ‘poor, downtrodden Sienna’, as everyone called her when they thought she could not hear.

She dared herself to take in his appearance for a few more minutes. There were always plenty of foreigners in Portofino, but this one was definitely something special. As she watched him walk away, Sienna was reliving every word he had spoken to her. Their conversation ran through her mind on an endless loop—his self-confidence, and her hesitancy. Butterflies were dancing in her stomach, although he had probably forgotten her almost instantly. He was looking over the other stalls again, and with genuine interest. The morning sunlight glowed against the dazzling white of his shirt. In contrast, his hair was gypsy-dark. Only a slight natural curl softened the depths of its carelessly expensive cut. Sienna found herself wondering what it would be like to trail her fingers through its luxuriance. The thought alarmed her, and she tried to look away. But it was hopeless. She had no choice but to watch him furtively until he was right out of sight, around the corner.

He never looked back. In contrast, Sienna spent the next hour glancing around for him.

It was still early in the day, and the season had barely started. Although there were a lot of visitors to Portofino, business was quiet. Sienna tried to keep her mind off the handsome American, but it was difficult. He had stirred a strange yearning in her. She made work for herself—arranging and rearranging the items on the co-op’s table. Handmade lace produced in her village was always popular, and now that Molly Bradley was learning to make it as well, there would be no shortage of things to sell.

Kane and Molly Bradley were new arrivals in Piccia—polite, and not at all pushy. Sienna had first met them in the local store, where their ‘teach yourself’ Italian had earned them nothing but mutinous stares from the staff. Once Sienna had sorted everything out, the Bradleys had slowly but surely worked their way towards acceptance by the villagers.

The best sort of incomers were like that. They felt they had to work twice as hard as the locals to be thought half as good. Sienna did not mind newcomers, as long as they were like Kane and Molly. At least they weren’t keeping holiday homes empty for most of the year, or playing at farming on the hills.

Sienna was wondering whether to pour herself a cup of coffee when someone spoke, making her jump guiltily.

‘Hello again, signorina—I’d like to thank you for your directions. They were perfect.’

There was no mistaking that voice. It was like mountain honey. With dread in her heart, but hope in her eyes, Sienna straightened up to be confronted by all her dreams and nightmares rolled into one handsome package. That old woman back at home had been right when she’d said pirates had landed today, Sienna thought, as the fluttering feeling rose up from her stomach and turned all her sensible thoughts into butterflies.

She did not dare acknowledge the stranger with anything more than a nod. He took no notice of her nervous silence. Leaning forward, he planted his hands firmly on the edge of the table. He made it instantly obvious that, whatever he had come for, it was not souvenirs.

‘Don’t mention it,’ Sienna said, turning hot pink as she felt the eyes of all the other stallholders fastening on her. She was already thinking of this stranger as ‘The Pirate’ so the thrust behind his next words should have come as no surprise—but it did.

‘I’ve got the hire-car, and as none of the phrasebooks on sale in town included detailed directions to Il Pettirosso, I’m here to collect you.’ He homed in on her with a devastating smile.

‘Me?’ Sienna stared around, flustered. Everyone was looking. She was the centre of attention, which she hated, but at least they were all smiling.

‘It’s the perfect solution, signorina. You’ll be able to make sure I get there on time, in one piece, and by the most direct route.’

Distracted, Sienna plucked at her skirt. If Garett Lazlo had been one of the regular guys who cruised the stalls on the lookout for lone girls that would have been easily fixed. She had no hesitation in telling strangers where to go. But this man was different. He was serious, formal, and truly stunning—and for the moment at least he seemed to have eyes only for her.

Sienna began to panic. She ached to break free from her boring life and do something different, but her reputation was on the line. She imagined all the elderly Ligurian matrons in their doorways and loggias, on their stalls and balconies, shaking their heads and sucking their remaining teeth in disapproval. She could almost feel their eyes boring into her. One wrong move, one word out of place, and Sienna was sure her honour would be gone for ever. She had not felt so totally alone since her wedding day.

Garett Lazlo smiled again. Sienna did not need to look up and see it. Her heightened senses were already filling in the details of his irresistible face and those tempting dark eyes…

If only she was free. She wished with all her heart that the world would go away and let her be herself for once. But who am I? she thought helplessly. It’s been years since I’ve been allowed to give it any thought. So now I’m nothing but a girl who is too scared to say yes. Even to a once-in-a-lifetime offer like this!

‘Don’t tell me you’re going to resist coming along for the ride?’ he said silkily. ‘I’ve picked up such a car. It’s beautiful—sleek and shiny—and it is exactly the same shade of Mediterranean blue as your eyes.’

‘How do you know, signor?’

Despite her nerves, this man aroused strange, conflicting feelings inside her, and she felt she had to challenge him.

‘My attention to detail is said to be legendary. But allow me to check—’

Before Sienna knew what was happening, cool, strong fingers had slipped beneath her chin and tilted up her head. In the last hour she had agonised over Garett Lazlo’s approach, and then been struck dumb by his presence. But such intimacy from this stranger cleared her mind in a flash. She jumped back, cannoning into her stall. As she did so her vacuum flask overbalanced, bounced off the corner of the table and landed with a shuddering thump in her open lunchbox. Coffee and sparkling shards of glass spilled out over the focaccia and salad she had been about to eat.

For one second everyone looked at the scene in shocked silence. Then Sienna drew in a great breath and rounded on the American. ‘Oh, look what you’ve done!’

Garett spread his hands in an artless gesture. ‘What can I say? I am sorry—but I didn’t expect you to act like a frightened rabbit. All I did was make a perfectly reasonable request for you to accompany me to an appointment as my guide and interpreter. I may have backed it up with a little harmless flirtation, but if you aren’t in the market for that—well, it’s fine by me.’ He shrugged one shoulder, unconcerned by what he deemed to be her overreaction.

Sienna had to concentrate hard to stop her eyes filling with tears. She was hungry, and she didn’t have any cash on her.