A Proposal From The Italian Count. Lucy Gordon

A Proposal From The Italian Count - Lucy Gordon

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him. This catastrophe had happened only because he’d come to England and caused trouble. Now she’d lost her job and her home, and he was to blame.

      But was he really? If she hadn’t been silly enough to tell Rik about the money this wouldn’t have happened. When was she going to learn to control her temper?

      Never, she thought fiercely.

      ‘Let’s get you out of here,’ Vittorio said. He took her arm and ran up the stairs with her and began opening drawers and cupboards, working hard to help her.

      ‘Is that your only suitcase?’ he asked, regarding the one she had produced.

      ‘Yes, but I’ve got some plastic bags.’

      Luckily the bags proved enough to take her few possessions.

      ‘Anything else?’ he asked at last.

      ‘No, that’s all.’

      ‘You have nothing else?’ he asked, looking astonished.

      ‘This is all I need,’ she said defiantly.

      He gave her an odd look, as though wondering what madness had made her refuse his money when she seemed to own so little, but all he said was, ‘Then let’s go.’

      She looked around nervously as they went downstairs, but there was no sign of Rik.

      ‘Where are we going?’ she asked as they went out into the street.

      ‘I’m staying in the Davien Hotel, a couple of streets away. We’ll get you a room there for tonight, then make our plans.’

      She knew the hotel. It had a reputation as being costly.

      ‘I don’t think it’s quite the right place for me,’ she said uneasily.

      ‘If you’re worried about the money, don’t be. I’m paying. I landed you in this mess and it’s my responsibility to get you out.’

      Suddenly she recalled Rik’s warning to her. He’d suggested that Vittorio was hoping to lure Jackie into bed with the empty promise of a great fortune.

      Suddenly she was uneasy. Was that why Vittorio was taking her to his hotel at his own expense? Did he mean her to share his bed?

      Only recently that thought would have excited her. Vittorio attracted her powerfully. The thought of lying with him in bed would have been a pleasure. But now everything was different. Was he trustworthy? Could she be sure?

      A short walk brought them to the hotel. Vittorio went to Reception and chatted with the woman there as she typed something onto the keyboard. Nodding to her, he headed back to Jackie.

      ‘I’ve managed to secure you a room on the second floor.’

      He escorted her upstairs, leading her to a door for which he had the key. She held her breath.

      But when the door opened she knew she’d done him an injustice. There was only one single bed.

      ‘Th-thank you,’ she stammered.

      ‘If you need me I’m three doors along the corridor.’

      He departed at once, leaving her standing alone, trying to take in everything that had happened. Only yesterday she had quarrelled with this man, and today he had come to her rescue and she had accepted his help gladly.

      It doesn’t make any sense, she mused.

      But nothing had made sense since she’d met him. Perhaps nothing ever would again.

      He returned just as she finished putting her things away.

      ‘They do a good lunch here,’ he said. ‘I’ll have some sent up.’

      ‘Couldn’t we eat downstairs in the restaurant?’

      ‘Do I make you feel nervous, Jackie? Are you afraid to be alone with me?’

      ‘Of course not,’ she said uneasily. ‘I have no feelings about you one way or the other, actually,’ she lied bravely.

      ‘So you didn’t mean it when you said you wouldn’t marry me in a million years? Or the bit about me being cold and arrogant and a person who thinks money can solve anything?’

      For a moment it was as though her worst nightmares were coming true. But then she saw he was grinning, and that his eyes were full of friendly humour.

      ‘Forget it,’ he said. ‘People say things in the heat of the moment. And it’s not far different from what you said to me yesterday. But it’s time we drew a line under that. We have to work matters out between us and be friends—if that’s possible.’

      It was still embarrassing to know that he’d heard her, but his unexpected humour made it bearable.

      ‘So—can I have some food sent up?’ he asked.

      ‘Are you asking my permission?’

      Again he gave her a cheeky grin. ‘Isn’t that what you prefer a man to do?’

      ‘Stop trying to make me sound like a bully.’

      ‘Not a bully. Just a woman who knows her own mind—as Rik would tell us after the way you stood up to him. He’s a nasty bully, but you really dealt with him.’

      ‘Yes—and that was so successful that now I’ve got to start looking for another job and a home.’

      ‘But where? You’ll never get another job around here. He’ll make sure of that.’

      She groaned, recognising that Vittorio was right. Rik would spread the word that she was unreliable, destroying her prospects.

      ‘I still feel that I owe you any help I can persuade you to accept,’ Vittorio said.

      ‘You have a job to offer me?’

      ‘Not here, but in Italy. I could find many opportunities for you there. Why not come back with me?’

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