Picture of Innocence(9)

By: Jacqueline Baird

Five years later, with the grief and rage dimmed, he could look at the tragedy with some perspective, but it still did not sit easy with Lorenzo. He doubted he would have cut a rope on his friend, but then he had never been in that position—and Damien Steadman had eventually raised the alarm.

It was the eventually that disturbed him more now—that and the lingering taste of Lucy Steadman’s lush mouth beneath his. Where the hell had that thought come from? he wondered. She was far too young, never mind the rest of her faults.

His decision to sell the Steadman’s shares was the right one. His last connection to the Steadman family would be finally cut. He’d explain it to his mother somehow, and thankfully would never see Lucy Steadman again.

Banishing her from his mind, he sat down at his desk, clicked on the computer and called his secretary.

The following afternoon, after a restless night in the strange hotel bed, during which a large dark man who looked suspiciously like Lorenzo Zanelli had seemed to slip in and out of her dreams with a surprisingly erotic frequency, and a morning spent exploring Verona, Lucy exited the taxi outside a magnificent old building, feeling excited, if a little hot. But then almost every building in Verona was fabulous and old, she thought wryly.

She carefully placed her leather satchel holding the portrait on the desk in the foyer of the most luxurious apartment building in the city, according to the taxi driver who had brought her here. Looking around, she believed him as she handed her passport to the concierge at his request for identification.

She reached a hand around to rub her lower back. Carrying the satchel around all morning had not been a great idea, but she had not wanted to waste time returning to the hotel.

‘The Contessa della Scala is at home, signorina. Number three—the third floor. But first I must call and tell her you have arrived.’ He handed her passport back and, placing it back in her satchel, she glanced around the elegant foyer towards the elevator.

The doors opened and a man walked out—and her mouth fell open in shock as what felt like a hundred butterflies took flight in her stomach.

Dark eyes clashed with green. ‘You!’ he exclaimed, and in two lithe strides Lorenzo Zanelli was at her side. ‘What do you think you are doing, following me around?’ he demanded and grabbed her arm.

‘Following you around? You must be joking,’ Lucy jeered, the butterflies dying a sudden death at his arrogant assumption. She tried to shake off his hand, but with no luck. ‘Oh, for heaven’s sake, get over yourself and let go of me.’

‘How did you get in here? This is a secure building.’

‘Through the door. How do you think?’ she snapped.

‘And that is the way you are going out, right now—after I have had words with the incompetent concierge who allowed you to enter.’

At that moment the concierge put down the telephone and turned back to smile at Lucy. But before he could speak Lorenzo Zanelli launched a torrent of Italian at the poor man.

Lucy’s Italian lessons had not been completely wasted, but she could only understand Italian rather than speak the language, so she didn’t try now. She watched with interest as Lorenzo’s voice slowly faded as the concierge responded. She noted the slow dark flush crawl up the tanned olive-toned face and almost laughed out loud. The superior devil was totally embarrassed, and suddenly she was free.

Lorenzo Zanelli looked down at Lucy and saw the amusement in her green eyes, and for the first time since he was a teenager he felt like a prize idiot. What on earth had possessed him to think she was following him? Probably the same irrational urge that had made him kiss her yesterday. He was acting totally out of character—usually he was the most controlled of men—and it had to stop. But she had told him she was going to be in town another day and suggested he might change his mind, so his assumption was not that ridiculous. Obviously he realised she had been winding him up, but however he tried to justify his behaviour he still felt like a fool.