‘People have been known to drown in shallow waters.’
‘Well, it’s certainly not easy to swim in them! Anyway, I didn’t see them much after that...’
‘You left school?’
‘I went to the local comprehensive for my final year. Far more sensible...but hell.’
Everything—not just the fact that she was a new girl for the last year, but every little thing, from her accent to her handwriting—had ensured she didn’t fit in from the very first day.
Raul knew it would have been hell.
He could imagine his schoolmates if an Italian version of Lydia had shown up in his old schoolyard. Raul could guess all she would have gone through.
‘I was a joke to them, of course.’
He squeezed her hand and it was the kindest touch, so contrary to that time.
‘Too posh to handle?’ Raul said, and she nodded, almost smiled.
But then the smile changed.
Lydia never cried.
Not even when her father had died.
So why start now?
Lydia pulled her hand back.
She was done with introspection—done with musings.
They hurt too much.
Lydia was somewhat appalled at how much she had told him.
‘Raul, why am I here?’
‘Because...’ Raul shrugged, but when that did not appease her he elaborated. ‘Maurice was getting in the way.’
Lydia found herself laughing, and it surprised her that she could.
A second ago she had felt like crying.
It was nice being with him.
She had told another person some of the truth and he had remained.
‘Maurice is my stepfather,’ she explained.
‘Good,’ Raul said, but she missed the innuendo.
Lydia didn’t respond to his flirting as others usually did, so he adopted a more businesslike tone. The rest they could do later—he wanted information now.
‘Maurice wants you to be at some dinner tonight?’
Lydia nodded. ‘He’s got an important meeting with a potential investor and he wants me there.’
Lydia gave a dismissive shake of her head.
She certainly wasn’t going to discuss that!
‘I probably shan’t go,’ Lydia said, instead of explaining things. ‘I’m supposed to be catching up with a friend—or rather,’ she added, remembering all he had heard, ‘an acquaintance.’
‘Arabella.’ She was embarrassed to admit it after all she had told him. ‘She works in Rome now.’
‘I thought you fell out?’
‘That was all a very long time ago,’ Lydia said, but she didn’t actually like the point he had raised.
They hadn’t fallen out.
The incident had been buried—like everything else.
She conversed with Arabella only through social media and the odd text. It had been years since they had been face-to-face, and Lydia wasn’t sure she was relishing the prospect of seeing her, so, rather than admit that, she went back to his original question—why Maurice wanted her to be there tonight.
‘The family castle is now a wedding venue.’
‘Do you work there?’
‘I deal with the bookings and organise the catering...’ She gave a tight smile, because what she did for a living was so far away from her dreams. When her father had been alive she had loved the visitors that came to the castle. He would take them through it and pass on its rich history and Lydia would learn something new every time.
‘And you still live at home?’
She didn’t add that there was no choice. The business was failing so badly that they couldn’t afford much outside help, and she didn’t get a wage as such.
‘Bastiano—this man we’re supposed to meet tonight—has had a lot of success converting old buildings... He has several luxury retreats and my mother and Maurice are hoping to go that route with the castle. Still, it would take a massive cash injection...’
‘Castles need more than an injection—they require a permanent infusion,’ Raul corrected.
All old buildings did.
It galled him that Bastiano had been able to turn the convent into a successful business venture. On paper it should never have worked, and yet somehow he had ensured that it had.
‘Quite,’ Lydia agreed. ‘But more than money we need his wisdom...’ She misinterpreted the slight narrowing of Raul’s eyes as confusion. ‘A lot of these types of venture fail—somehow Bastiano’s succeed.’
‘So why would this successful businessman be interested in your castle?’
Lydia found she was holding her breath. His question was just a little bit insulting. After all, the castle was splendid indeed, and Raul could have no idea what a disaster in business Maurice had turned out to be.