Say it, Maurice, Lydia thought. Have the guts to voice it out loud.
‘Because Bastiano wants you.’
‘Then you need to tell him that I’m not part of the deal.’ Her voice was shaky. The truth, even if deep down she’d already known it, was actually very difficult to hear said out loud. ‘In fact you can tell Bastiano that, as of now, I no longer live or work at the castle.’
‘Lydia, he’s a charming man, he’s extremely wealthy, and he’s very interested in you.’
‘Well, I’m not for sale! I’ve told you—I’m leaving.’
‘And where are you going to go? Lydia, you’ve got no qualifications, no savings...’
‘Odd, that,’ Lydia responded, ‘when I’ve been living at home and working my backside off for the last six years.’
She was done, she was through, and she dug in her purse for her keycard and let herself into her suite.
Maurice knocked loudly.
Oh, my God.
She could not take even another night of this.
She didn’t have to, Lydia realised as she recalled Raul’s advice.
‘You can walk away from anyone you choose to and you don’t have to come up with a reason.’
She had many good reasons to walk, Lydia thought, and started throwing her possessions into her case.
‘Your mother is going to be very upset...’ Maurice called through the door, but he fell silent when it was opened and Lydia stood holding her case.
‘What the hell...? Lydia...’
Lydia could see a bit of spittle at the side of his mouth, and she could feel his anger at her refusal to comply.
When she always had in the past.
For the sake of her mother Lydia would generally back down when things got heated—but for the sake of herself she now stood her ground.
It was as if the blinkers had been lifted, and she could now see the control and the pressure he exerted.
And she would play the game no more.
No, she could not save the castle and, no, she would not meekly comply just to keep his mood tolerable. She could almost feel the eggshells she had walked on dissolving beneath her feet.
She marched to the elevators and he followed. He reached for her as she reached the doors and suddenly she was scared.
Raul had been right to be concerned.
She was scared of Maurice and his temper.
Oh, she wasn’t running to Raul—she was running away from hell.
Maurice slapped her.
He delivered a stinging slap to her cheek and pulled at her hair, raised his other hand—but somehow she freed herself.
Lydia ducked into the elevator and wrenched the doors closed on his hand.
‘Thank you,’ she said. With the gate safely between them she spoke in a withering tone. ‘Now I know for a fact what an utter bastard you are.’
She did not crumple.
Lydia refused to.
And she refused to waste even a single tear.
She was scared, though.
Scared and alone.
And she would have run into the night.
Without Raul, absolutely she would have run.
But instead of going down Lydia pressed the elevator button that would take her to his floor.
RAUL STEPPED INTO his suite, unexpectedly alone.
Allegra had, of course, rung ahead, and everything had been prepared for Raul to return with a female guest.
The suite was dimly lit, but Raul saw champagne chilling in a bucket. He bypassed it. Throwing his jacket on a chair, he poured a large cognac and downed half in one gulp, then kicked off his socks and shoes, wrenched off his tie and removed his shirt.
In the bathroom Raul rolled his eyes, for the sight that greeted him seemed to mock. Candles had been lit and the deep bath was filled with fragrant water. But Raul would be bypassing that too—perhaps a cold shower might be more fitting.
He soon gave up prowling the penthouse suite dressed for two and lay on the bed. He took another belt of his drink and considered extending his stay for another night in Rome.
Unlike before, when he had actually wanted to flaunt Lydia under Bastiano’s nose, Raul suddenly had a sense of foreboding.
Yes, Lydia might have stood up to her stepfather tonight, but for how long would that last? She was strong—Raul had seen that—but her family clearly saw Lydia as their ticket out of whatever mess they were in. And Bastiano, Raul knew, didn’t care what methods he used to get his own way.
It wasn’t his problem.
Over and over Raul told himself that.
He was angry with Bastiano rather than concerned about Lydia, Raul decided.
Only that didn’t sit quite right.
Tomorrow he would be out of here.
Raul had rescheduled the jet for midday tomorrow. He would soon be back in Venice and this trip would be forgotten.
Raul didn’t even want the hotel now—Sultan Alim’s words had hit home. The Grande Lucia was far too much responsibility. He wanted investments he could manage from a distance. Raul wanted no labour of love.