Christina Hollis
One Night In His Bed


‘My food is ruined,’ she said in a small voice.

The way she spoke provoked a slightly amused expression.

‘Problem solved—you’re lunching with me.’

‘He’s got you there. You can’t argue with that!’ One of the nonnas nodded with satisfaction.

Sienna had been scared of the elderly ladies who manned the other market stalls. Now she turned to stare at this one with open amazement. The old woman grinned back at her.

‘He’s ruined your lunch. A girl must eat—so the least he can do is feed you!’

‘Thank you, signora,’ Garett replied to the bystander, whose intonation worked in any language. He looked back at Sienna in obvious triumph. ‘The fact is, signorina, you need a lunchtime break and some refreshment. I need directions and a translator. If I take you to lunch now, that will solve all our problems—yours and mine. Therefore I am your perfect lunch companion, and you are mine.’

‘No, I’m not! I don’t know…I can’t…’ Sienna struggled, wishing she could say yes but knowing she would never allow herself to do so.

Garett Lazlo met all her excuses with amusement, which gave her no help at all.

‘Il Pettirosso has a strict dress code…it is that sort of place. I couldn’t possibly walk in there dressed like this!’ She flipped her fingers over the plain black of her clothes. This expanded his smile still further.

‘I don’t see why not. Black is always in fashion.’ His gaze travelled slowly down from her face in cool appraisal. ‘It’s true that your clothes are a little austere, signorina, but as far as I am concerned less is more in that department. Especially when it can be dressed up so easily.’ He threw his glance across the handicrafts on her table and it stopped when he saw a beautiful angora wrap. It was as blue as an angel’s eyes and as insubstantial as gossamer. Picking it up, he swept it in a misty billow around her shoulders, arranging it gently against her neck.

For those few precious seconds Sienna was enveloped in his clean, masculine fragrance once again. Intoxicated now, as well as astonished, she watched him in silence. He was casting a connoisseur’s eye over the delicate jewellery she had brought to sell. When he lifted a fine filigree of silver from her display, and held it up to catch the dancing sunlight, she knew there would be no resisting his next suggestion—whatever it was.

‘Now, all you need is this lapis necklace and matching bracelet and there will be no one at Il Pettirosso—no matter how sophisticated the place might be—who can raise a candle to you, signorina,’he said calmly, handing it to her.

Thank goodness he didn’t try to put it on me, Sienna thought, almost deafened by the sound of her heart hammering against her ribs. She hesitated at the sight of the beautiful necklace in her hands. It glittered and tempted her like cool water in a drought.

‘Yes…but I really cannot let you do this, signor!’ She shook her head and turned away, thinking of the craftsmen and women back in Piccia. They were depending on her to make them some money. ‘All these things are for sale. They aren’t here to act as a dressing up box for me. I can’t possibly use them! And what would I tell the co-operative—that I just danced off for lunch when I should have been taking care of business here?’

She put one hand up to her neck, touching the place where the beautiful necklace would have lain against her skin. She ached, and hoped it was because she wanted to feel the kiss of its metal there, rather than Garett Lazlo’s lips. That did not bear thinking about.

As her fingers fluttered over the smooth lines of her collarbone a shaft of sun streaked over the golden band on her wedding finger. Garett leaned back. It was only a slight movement, but it released Sienna from his shadow. Glancing up, she waited to feel relief that he no longer seemed about to force his presence on her. But when it came, the feeling was tinged with the faintest trace of disappointment.

‘I have a duty to the people who sent me here, signor,’ she said quietly.

‘Your loyalty does you credit, signora. But you have overlooked one simple fact. I’m not asking you to do anything immoral. Accompany me to lunch now, and I shall pay for all the things you are borrowing from your stall. When we return you will give me an estimate of the money you might reasonably have expected to make in the length of time you have been away. What could be fairer than that?’

‘Nothing!’ one of the stallholders called out.

Sienna looked around at the nonnas and market men. The thought that they were waiting for her to step out of line had been terrifying her for weeks. It was true that they were all watching her today, but it was with interest and genuine amusement. None of them looked in the least bit disapproving.

‘I’d go with him like a shot if I was fifty years younger!’ a nearby stallholder suggested. She was a tiny, bird-like woman, grinning up from her knitting.

‘Do you think it would be all right, signora?’ Sienna asked doubtfully.

The old lady rested the lacy beginnings of a matinee jacket in her lap. Loosening another length of baby-pink wool from the skein in her enormous carpetbag, she looked up with a mischevious twinkle.

‘My long life has taught me that you should grab opportunity with both hands whenever it shows up. And especially if it looks like him!’ She gestured with one long, fine knitting needle. Everyone within earshot laughed out loud.

Garett Lazlo studied them all as though his face was carved in stone. ‘Did I understand that correctly, signora?’

‘N-no. Probably not.’ She hoped.

‘I certainly hope you did, signor!’ The nonna chuckled with delight, speaking in heavily accented English this time. ‘Take her away with a clear conscience, signor, and for as long as you like. I shall look after her stall.’

‘Thank you.’ Garett inclined his head graciously and took a firm hold on Sienna’s elbow.

‘She speaks English?’ he queried, drawing Sienna quickly across the marketplace before she had time to think up any more delaying tactics.

‘We all do. If the price is right.’ But as she said the words she worried that he would take them the wrong way. Had she just wrecked her own reputation?

CHAPTER TWO

THEY were leaving the busy market behind. He was drawing her away from the crowds. If she were forced to call for help, then soon there would be no one to hear her. Panic began to bubble up, foaming into real fear. Garett Lazlo was so much bigger than she was. Fighting him off, if worse came to the worst, would not be an option.

Sienna did the only thing she could. Stopping abruptly, she caught him off balance.

‘Wait—I wasn’t expecting you to take me to lunch, Mr Lazlo, much less anything else. I’m not looking to make anything out of this at all—honestly! If you are going to regret dressing me up like this, then you should know that I made this wrap, and my friend designed and made the jewellery. I can pay her back for that, and at least no one but me will be any the poorer if my wrap has to be given away, rather than sold. It won’t cost you a thing. I can easily make the co-operative another one.’

‘You made this?’

She nodded, on firm ground for once. ‘I keep rabbits for meat. It is easy to hide a few Angoras in their shed as well.’ Sienna warmed with the thought of that tiny triumph, which she had managed in the face of Imelda and Aldo. Neither of them would have recognised a rabbit outside of a casserole dish.

Intrigued, he lifted the trailing edge of the cornflower-blue shrug and inspected the fine stitches. ‘It’s exquisite. And you look ravishing in it, by the way,’ he added disarmingly. ‘But I find dedication and skill like this in one so young slightly worrying. A beautiful woman like you really should get out more, signora.’

‘I’m not allowed—that is, I don’t get the chance. I have to keep house for my stepmother on top of everything else,’ Sienna corrected herself quickly. Imelda might treat her like Cinderella, but she did not want this real-life Prince Charming to think she was a push-over—especially if they were about to enter a secluded alleyway together. ‘That doesn’t leave me the time or the energy for anything else,’ she finished primly.

‘I see.’

Her message must have been clear enough, for his grip on her elbow eased slightly. To Sienna’s relief, he let go completely as they entered the warren of streets leading out of town.

She thought it was because he respected the line she had drawn between them, but Garett’s mind was actually elsewhere. He was uneasy. His escape from Manhattan had been so sudden, and it meant travelling without the comfort of a schedule. His working days used to run like clockwork, but that was behind him for the moment. The alphabet soup of PAs, PDAs and GPS which made sure he got from A to B and back again in the shortest possible time was nothing but a memory. He patted his jacket, feeling the reassuring bulge made by his passport. With that, and his unlimited funds, Garett could do what he liked and go where he wanted. The world should be his oyster. But he was finding freedom unexpectedly hard work.

This thought carved furrows in his brow. He had more money to burn than most people made in a lifetime, and yet it was no longer enough. Why not? Something—some basic truth obvious to everyone else—still evaded him. From the age of six he had worked continuously—because when he stopped the restlessness returned. A vital element was missing from his life. He had discovered a disturbing new side to himself earlier that week. It had made him realise he must find out what he lacked—immediately—but how? Work was clearly part of the problem. The only way he could think to avoid its siren song was to put a few thousands miles and complete radio silence between him and his headquarters. The moment he tried to log in to the office computer system his staff would be on his case like kids mobbing a tomcat. He needed space, and time to think.

Garett put one hand in his pocket. It was only the third time he had checked for the hire-car keys since they’d been handed to him. He must be slowing down. As he thought that, he noticed another change in himself. Strolling through these airless city passageways with a nervous stranger should have been hell—a horrible reminder of what he had escaped. Instead, he found himself actually enjoying the sensation of not being expected to make conversation. What was happening to him?

Without realising it, he slowed his walk still further. It gave him the chance to look around for once. Lifting his gaze from the pavement, he sent it up to where the tenement canyons showed a strip of sky. The silhouette of a woman with bulky breasts and a wayward home perm loomed out of an upstairs window. She was holding a big juice container. With a shout of cheerful warning she poured water from it into her flower boxes. A noisy cascade of liquid ran out from beneath her billowing scarlet geraniums, darkening the front of the apartment block before dripping down to the flagstones.

A trickle ran towards the feet of Garett’s unwilling companion. She was lost in thought and had not noticed the gardener overhead. Now she looked up and frowned at the clear, cloudless sky above.

‘An April shower?’ Garett spoke his thoughts aloud. Then he smiled, realising that for the first time in decades he was thinking about something other than work.

It might not be the whole answer to his problems.

But it was a start.

The car was every bit as beautiful as he’d said it would be. Sienna slid into the passenger seat with a sigh of real longing.