Christina Hollis
One Night In His Bed

‘Good, isn’t it?’ He smiled, slipping behind the wheel with similar satisfaction.

Sienna nodded, but did not speak. She was determined to keep her head down. Garett Lazlo had not laid a finger on her since letting go of her arm. Whatever her secret feelings about that, she knew she must not encourage him in any way. But modesty was not the only reason for her silence. On the way to the restaurant they would be passing within a few kilometres of Piccia. She could only hope and pray that none of the villagers saw her being driven along in a car like this.

Although I’m the last person anyone would expect to see in a Lamborghini. She smiled to herself. They’d probably write it off as a hallucination, brought on by too much sun.

‘You’re the first girl who’s ever smiled at my driving. They usually squeal and grab at something.’ Garett glanced at her as he pulled away from the kerb. ‘What’s the joke?’

‘N-nothing,’ she said nervously, ‘except that…travelling along like this reminds me of that old song: “If My Friends Could See Me Now”. I was wondering what my stepmother would say if she caught sight of me in this!’ She ran her hand lovingly over the passenger seat. It was made from softest glove-leather, and had the fragrance of money well spent.

His face cleared, and his eyes narrowed with devilment.

‘Let’s call in on her and find out, shall we?’

Sienna was horrified. ‘No! Please don’t! She would kill me! Respectable women aren’t seen in fast cars with strange men.’

‘Why not? Better that, surely, than being spotted in a strange car with a fast man? Are we going to pass your house?’

‘No—thank goodness,’ Sienna said with real feeling. ‘It’s too far from here to take a detour without making you late for your table reservation, signor.’

‘I get the message—you’re keeping me safely at arm’s length. But that’s no reason to be so formal. You can call me Garett.’

Sienna’s lips flickered briefly into a smile. Then it was gone and she looked out of her window again. This was not what he had come to expect from women.

‘Don’t you have a given name, signora?’ he prompted her.

‘Of course, but perhaps we should keep this formal.’ Sienna pursed her lips.

‘I call all the ladies of my acquaintance by their first names, so why not give me yours?’

Sienna took this as an order. She was used to those, but it didn’t make carrying them out any easier. Besides, this was a total stranger. She had to make a stand somehow, and insist on keeping him at a distance. Resisting would overturn everything she had been taught about obedience—but the idea excited her. She had already done one astonishing thing today, by coming this far with him. Why not another?

‘My name is Signora di Imperia.’ She looked at Garett boldly, daring him to challenge her for more information.

One hand on the steering wheel, he watched her with interested eyes. Sienna returned his look. And then, almost imperceptibly, he smiled. Then he transferred his gaze to the road ahead. As he did so, he gave the same small, formal bow of his head he had given the respectable matron back in the market place.

Sienna knew now why the old woman had giggled like a teenager. Garett Lazlo’s talent for melting women with his smallest gesture was at work on her, too. Oh, if only they could exchange more than pleasantries…

After Garett pulled his car into Il Pettirosso’s car park and killed the ignition, he drew out his mobile and made a quick call before getting out.

‘First they’re engaged. Now they’ve switched their damned answering machine on!’ he announced.

Sienna flashed a look at him. His lips were a taut line. A pulse was beating visibly at his temple. But when he finally spoke into the phone his confident tone was in total contrast with his strained features.

‘It’s me,’ he said, without bothering to explain who ‘me’ was. ‘The time is eleven fifty-nine a.m., Tuesday. I’m sitting in Il Pettirosso with my credit card in my hand just waiting to entertain you. So if you want to make the most of this outrageous offer, you’ll get down here for lunch ASAP!’

He ended the call, and then clicked his tongue in disappointment. Shoving the phone back into his pocket, he slammed the door of his hire-car with a report that echoed across the nearby valley like a gunshot. Sienna gulped. As they walked the few metres from his car to the smoked glass door of the restaurant she hoped he would not need her to do much translating for him. If he was cross already, he might not take kindly to having the menu deciphered for him as though he was illiterate.

She need not have worried. They followed in the restaurant manager’s highly polished footsteps to a discreetly placed table for four. Sienna was gazing around in awe at the clean, modern lines of the restaurant, but Garett had his eyes on something much more down to earth.

‘Ah—so that’s what a pettirosso is!’ He pointed to the beautifully painted European robin on the front of his menu. ‘Do you know, there’s a duke in England who has one of these living in the grounds of his historic house that will actually hop onto his hand to be fed?’

Sienna watched him for a minute to see if he was joking. But his smile seemed quite genuine, and she decided to probe further.

‘How do you know?’

‘He does it as a kind of party trick to impress visitors. I think the poor old guy’s lonely. He valued me as much as someone to talk to as a business advisor.’

Sienna raised her eyebrows and lowered her head to study the menu. She did not want Garett to see her amazement at what he had said. A man who talked to dukes was sitting opposite her in the restaurant of her dreams! She tried to concentrate on the list of dishes before her, but that made her feel still more nervous. Il Pettirosso offered everything from asparagus to zucchini. She had no idea what to select, nor—more importantly—how much of his money Garett would be willing to spend on her.

‘Choose what you like, Signora di Imperia.’ he announced, as though reading her thoughts. ‘If a place is good value for money, I don’t bother with budgeting. Just order, and I’ll see to the rest. For myself, I’ve been living off chateaubriand and fries for days, so I think I’ll make it something vegetarian for my main course. I fancy a change today.’ He lifted one shoulder in an easy gesture.

Vegetarian—that sounded reassuringly cheap. Sienna decided to order the same thing he did, but went on pretending to study the menu. This was partly to give his friends time to arrive, but also because it was a rare luxury. Sienna had not been out to lunch for years, and certainly never to a bewitching place like this. The experience ought to be played out for as long as she could manage.

Poring over the deckle-edged, beautifully inscribed menu, she waited until, despite his obvious good manners, Garett showed signs of becoming a little restless. Eventually she looked up shyly. He smiled and summoned the waiter.

‘What have you chosen, Signora di Imperia?’

Sienna stopped smiling. ‘Oh…er…actually, it all looks so good I was hoping you could give me some suggestions…Garett…’

‘I think we need a few more moments to decide, signor.’ Garett nodded to their waiter. The moment the man stalked away, Sienna’s host leaned forward with the look of someone who was about to reveal a great secret.

‘You were right, signora, this place might have been beyond me if I had come here on my own. I thought to follow your selection! I can recognise all the general words, for things like soup and pasta, but some of these regional names are beyond me. Could we perhaps puzzle them out between us?’

Laughing, they went through the choices together, and came up with cacciucco for their starter, with pansôti al preboggion to follow. Sienna stayed with her idea of choosing the same things he did. It made ordering easier, and gave her a few extra seconds to gaze around in awe at her surroundings—and, more secretively, at her host.

The headwaiter materialised beside Garett the moment they were ready. Sienna looked up and smiled a little apprehensively as the man flourished his silver fountain pen over a small leatherbound notepad.

‘Don’t worry. I’ll do the ordering,’ Garett said smoothly, before she could open her mouth.

She held her breath, waiting to see what would happen.

His pronunciation was faultless. Before Sienna could congratulate him, a telephone call from his mobile burst in between them.

‘Darn—it seems like we’re going to be lunching on our own after all, signora. My friends can’t make it,’ he said when he had taken the call. He clicked his tongue, and then smiled at her reaction. ‘What’s the matter? Anyone would think you weren’t looking forward to eating here in your dream restaurant.’

‘It isn’t that.’ Sienna watched him switch off his phone and tuck it away. Suddenly it was as though the shrinking market girl had returned, trying to take up as little room as possible at his table. ‘I had not expected to be dining alone with you.’

He narrowed his eyes in a way that made her smile, despite her nerves. ‘That cuts both ways, you know, signora. But I suppose we’re both going to have to buckle down and endure it.’ He sighed theatrically, making Sienna giggle.

As her laughter died away, the sophisticated silence of the restaurant closed in. Garett was completely at ease. He sat back and studied his surroundings openly. Sienna could not manage to look anywhere directly, taking small swift glances around the room when she thought no one else was looking. Her mind was as active as her eyes, although it was not doing her much good. She desperately wanted to start up a witty, sparkling conversation. Only two things stopped her. Not being able to look at him without blushing was bad enough, but the second reason was still more of an obstacle.

She could not think of a single sensible thing to say. But then she was rescued by the most unlikely of sources. A butterfly flitted in through an open window of the restaurant.

‘Oh, look—an orange tip!’

‘You know about butterflies, signora?’ He quirked a brow, suitably impressed.

‘Not really, but they’ve increased at home since the place has been allowed to run wild. They like the purple flowers that have seeded themselves all the way through the old terrace walls. The name is one I like, too—easy and obvious.’