Anything for You Ch. 06byevanslily©
Drew's eyebrows vaulted towards his blond hair, his mouth opening then closing uselessly, the shock of seeing me there apparently robbing him of the power of speech.
And then he laughed. "No way," he said disbelievingly. "Really? You had the same idea? You figured I must've left it here too? Great minds, eh? Oh but Sam, you didn't have to come! And how the hell did you get past the people on the front desk? When I asked if someone could check to see if I'd left my coat in the room, they said, oh no, they couldn't possibly disturb one of their guests and that I'd have to wait until—wow."
He broke off, looking me up and down as though seeing me properly for the first time and his grin widened. "You look good enough to eat. Don't tell me that you got this dressed up for Maretti? He must've thought his luck—" He stopped again. And as his eyes cut from my face to somewhere over my right shoulder, a wash of dismay flooded through me as I realised just what it was he'd seen that'd caused his expression to freeze.
Or rather, who he'd seen.
"Drew..." I faltered, turning to follow the direction of his gaze and hoping against hope it wouldn't be as bad as I feared. That by some miracle, Marco might have found another shirt in the bathroom, or at the very least, grabbed a towel.
No such luck. No, having emerged from the bathroom looking surprised but pleased, Marco remained stripped to the waist, all olive-skinned and beautifully contoured, his six-pack thrown into marvellous definition by the overhead lighting in the hallway.
"Drew!" he exclaimed warmly, striding forwards with his right arm extended and giving the other man's hand a vigorous shake. "How great to see you! It seems such a long time since we last met. How long must it have been? Was it last summer? Yes, it was, but..." He paused and I watched helplessly as the cogs in his brain whirred, his smile slipping as his brow furrowed in confusion. "How did you know that we would be here?"
"Oh," I put in, relieved that Marco hadn't overheard the bit about looking for a coat, but not daring to make eye contact with Drew all the same. "I sent him a text message earlier, didn't I? Said that I—that we were at a hotel in town. And—" oh God, how could I get out of this? "—that we were just having dinner."
The just was for Drew's benefit, of course. Because this looked bad, didn't it? Really, really bad. Me, in a hotel room, and not any old hotel room at that, with a semi-naked Marco.
"And," I hurried on, "I s'pose that Drew... That Drew must have—"
"Yes, that's right. I guessed where you were and just thought I'd pop in to say hello," Drew interjected drily, propping a denim clad shoulder against the door and thrusting his hands into the pockets of his faded jeans. "There's only one decent hotel in town, after all. It had to be here, didn't it? And hey, fancy that." Drew seemed to have no qualms about making eye contact with me. "You're in the Regent Suite."
"Yes indeed," Marco agreed, oblivious to the irony. "I cannot believe that you didn't tell me about this hotel before. It's not bad at all. And even better, it's been a very good evening—and about to get better still, because..." He beamed, looking very pleased with himself. "Drew, you should know that Samantha and I were about to have a celebration, weren't we, cara?"
Drew glanced at me before taking a rather more meaningful sidelong look at the bare-chested Marco. "Is that right?"
No, not that sort of celebration! My heart began to beat a little faster. Dear God, did he honestly think...? Surely not. This was getting out of hand.
"Yes," I heard Marco reply as I tried to look as innocent as possible and gave my head an almost imperceptible shake, hoping Drew would get the message. "You see, Samantha has agreed to come to Italy to work for me."
Drew's eyes widened. "Really?" he said after a pause—a pause so brief that Marco couldn't have noticed it.
But I had.
"Only for three months," I hastened to assure him—and in the same moment, realised I was reassuring myself. Because until then, Marco's offer of a job hadn't seemed entirely real. And even though I'd accepted his offer, I hadn't even begun to comprehend the magnitude of my decision. Oh God, how could I have said 'yes' so quickly? Was I crazy?
"Three months, Drew," I said again, my voice sounding peculiarly far away. "That's probably all it'll be. You see—"
"Oh no, cara, it'll be longer than three months," Marco interrupted, nudging my shoulder and sending Drew a conspiratorial grin. "Won't it? Once she starts working for Maretti, she won't want to leave! Why would she? She'll be working in Italy, the home of fashion, with top designers, with the best materials, in a wonderful environment."
"Marco!" I protested, turning to him. "That's not what we agreed. I have a shop, remember? I have responsibilities here in England."
He shrugged. "Of course. But nothing that couldn't be rearranged, reorganised, don't you agree, Drew? It would be a simple matter to dispose of her shop. To sell it as a going concern?"
"It's not just the shop!"
"Oh yes, quite simple," Drew cut across me, seeming to have recovered himself now, his tone icily civil, "if that's what Sam wants to do. I'd imagine that even in the current economic climate, she'd receive a fair price. It's a highly successful business. A niche market, you might say."
I sent him a despairing glance. "But I—"
From somewhere behind Drew came the sound of someone quietly clearing his throat. "Excuse me, gentlemen—madam?"
I looked past him to see a man dressed from head to toe in the hotel's distinctive bottle green livery, pushing a cloth-covered trolley upon which was a bottle in a shining silver bucket.
"Room service?" he offered, inclining his head towards the bucket
"Ah yes, of course!" Marco exclaimed, motioning to Drew that he should step aside. And as he obliged, we all watched as the man wheeled the trolley in, produced two champagne flutes with a theatrical flourish and then seized the bottle from its nest of crushed ice.
"I should go," Drew said, frowning. "Leave you both to it."
"No, stay," Marco insisted, as though he hadn't registered the sarcasm in Drew's tone. Maybe he hadn't. How was he to know that that was a blatant dig at me? "I'm sure that," he leaned forward to peer at the porter's name badge, "James here could bring another glass?"
Drew shook his head. "That won't be necessary, thanks all the same. It's getting late and to be honest, I'm pretty tired. You see, I ended up having a rather late night last night," he added pointedly.
A rush of heat rose into my face. Oh God, no. Marco already knew he'd spent at least part of the evening with me. It wouldn't take much to put two and two together, surely?
"Ah, I see." Marco shot him another knowing grin. "With a lucky lady, eh?"
"Not exactly, just helping a friend do something she'd never done before. I won't bore you with the details," Drew responded lightly. But my rush of relief was short-lived as he met my gaze again, his brown eyes cold. "She turned out to be a really fast learner though. Apparently, she's putting her new-found skills into practice already. Looks like there'll be no stopping her now."
I stared at him, stung. What?
But Drew had already turned away, a polite smile fixed in place by the time he addressed Marco again. "So I should get going," he said. "Let you get on with your, er..." He hesitated. "Celebration. You'll have a lot to talk about, no doubt."
What could I say? I wanted to tell him that this wasn't what it looked like, but how could I do that with Marco standing right there? How could I say anything without giving the game away and letting Marco know that something had happened between Drew and me?
Though more to the point, I thought, feeling hotter and hotter, why was Drew behaving this way anyway? He was the one who'd been out on a date with another woman tonight, the same woman he'd slept with the other evening if the 'magic fingers' text I'd read on his phone was anything to go by. He'd been the one who'd made it abundantly clear this morning that, as far as he was concerned, it was business as usual between us. And he'd been the one who apparently had no qualms about sleeping with me, even though he'd recently commenced a relationship with another woman. So why the hell should he care if I did plan to sleep with Marco? What business was it of his if I did?
"Yes, indeed," Marco agreed cheerfully, unaware of my mounting irritation. "We must start to make plans for Sam's arrival in Italy, of course. Discuss the arrangements in more detail. But it's been good to see you, my friend," he went on as Drew held out his hand for one final shake. "I hope very much to see you again soon, meet up for a longer chat."
Drew nodded, responded in kind then turned to leave, the smile he sent in my direction not quite reaching his eyes.
Still not knowing what to do or how to feel, I let him get as far as the doorway before my feet made a decision. And as Marco looked on in surprise, I raced after him into the hall, the door to the Regent Suite slamming closed behind me as I hurtled down the narrow corridor. "Wait! Drew!"
He carried on walking as though he hadn't heard, only drawing to a halt when he reached the lift doors.
As I caught up with him, he muttered something under his breath, pushed the call button and only then, twisted around to face me. I almost wished he hadn't. The exasperation in his expression made my heart plummet into my strappy gold sandals.
He blew out a breath. "Italy, Sam? Seriously? Have you even begun to think this through?"
"I know." I chewed my lower lip. "I know it all seems a bit sudden. But—"
"A bit?" He gave a disbelieving snort. "You mean it isn't sudden? You mean you and Maretti have been planning this for a while? Is that what you were about to do in his room just now then—some more planning?"
"Oh, come on." Keen to lighten the mood, I tried a laugh. "You know it isn't what it looks like, right? You know that I—"
"Please." Drew held up a hand to stop me. "Spare me the explanation, okay Sam? Of course it's what it looks like. But you're a grown up. You can do whatever you want. I just thought you had more sense. And I definitely thought you had more sense than to wear a dress like that in front of Maretti."
"What?" Shocked, I took an involuntary glance down at myself, feeling my face flush to match the folds of red chiffon. "What's wrong with my dress?"
"Oh, there's nothing wrong with the dress, so long as you don't mind looking like a—" He stopped abruptly as though appreciating he was about to go too far, instead settling for a despairing shake of his head. "Are you really that naïve? Don't you know what kind of effect something like," he grimaced as he motioned towards the low cut bodice of my dress, "that has on a guy like Marco Maretti? Do you really not have any idea what kind of message you're sending him?"
What the hell...? Completely taken aback, I felt my eyes growing wider and wider. "Drew," I began, not knowing quite what I was going to say. "Look—"
"Or do you know?" he added, his eyes narrowing, that cold glint returning. "Maybe you're not that naïve after all. Maybe this is all part of the deal?"
"What?" I gazed at him, bewildered now. "What deal?"
"You know." He gave me a withering look. "You get a job in Italy, he gets laid. Nice work if you can get it."
Drew made the mistake of staying exactly where he was while his words permeated into my consciousness. It was a mistake, because my reaction was to take a wild swing at him, my hand colliding with his face with a resounding slap.
Have you ever had one of those moments when you feel totally disconnected from your body? When, although you know you must be awake, it feels more like you're dreaming and that what you're experiencing can't be real? I had one of those out of body moments as Drew staggered backwards a step or two, his hand flying up to his cheek as though to shield himself from my next blow. I watched in horror as he swore under his breath, touching a tentative finger to his mouth before checking it for signs of blood.
"Oh God," I whispered. "Drew."
"Jesus, Sam," he muttered then winced. "That damned brother of yours taught you well."
It was true that Paul had been the one to show me how to throw a punch, but I'd never actually hit anyone like that before. I wasn't a violent person. I much preferred peaceful, harmonious solutions to problems. I'd never previously felt the need to settle an argument with my fists. But now—oh God, now...
I'd hit Drew twice in twenty-four hours. What the hell was wrong with me?
"Fuck," I mumbled, surreptitiously flexing my throbbing fingers behind my back, my eyes burning as a sudden pool of tears threatened to blur my vision. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have—"
"No, I'm sorry." He shook his head again. "I shouldn't have." As the lift bell pinged to signal its imminent arrival, Drew glanced over his shoulder at the doors. "Still," he continued when they finally rumbled open and he backed into the empty car, doubtless worried that if he took his eyes off me, I might attempt another swipe, "I guess it's a relief to know you're quite capable of looking after yourself."
I swallowed hard, my mouth horribly dry. "Drew..."
He held up his hand again. "But do me a favour? Just promise me one thing? One little thing, okay?"
I stared at him miserably as, still watching me like a hawk, he reached across to the lift controls and pushed the button for the ground floor. Unsure what was coming and equally unsure that I wanted to promise him anything, my head bobbed once just the same.
"Be careful." Drew sent me a grim smile. "Make sure he wears a condom."
And with that, the doors promptly closed and he vanished, leaving me alone in the hallway with my mouth wide open.
I gazed at the doors for what felt like a month, half-expecting them to open again. Half-expecting Drew to re-emerge, grinning like a Cheshire cat, eyes bright with mischief as he shouted, "Gotcha!"
But he didn't. And by and by, I heard another door opening some distance along the corridor. I looked up just as the uniformed man with a now empty trolley reached me. There was a hint of amused recognition in his expression as he met my gaze, and to my horror, I suddenly realised why. Oh pants, it was the same guy who'd brought champagne and chicken goujons to the Regent Suite last night. The guy who'd just delivered champagne to Marco was the same guy who'd seen me in that very room with Drew, snuggled up together in bathrobes on that huge, bouncy bed.
Doubtless he was, even now, speculating about my presence there with another, barely-clad man. But professional to the core, he merely gave me a polite nod as he passed then trundled on, the faint rattling of the trolley wheels fading into the distance.
I turned to see a concerned-looking Marco standing just aside the door to the Regent Suite and hastily plastered on a smile. My unwilling cheek muscles burned with the effort. "Hi!" I exclaimed brightly—rather too brightly, I realised—and made an effort to dial it down a notch. "Sorry about that. I just wanted to tell Drew that—"
Shit, tell Drew what?
As I cast around for something convincing to say, part of my brain registered that Marco was fully clothed. He'd put the clean shirt on, completely concealing that bronzed muscular torso, and now looked the very image of respectability. Why the hell couldn't Drew have turned up five minutes later? Why was life so unfair?
"I just wanted to..." Oh, yes. "Wanted to thank him again for his birthday present," I said in a rush. But my relief at happening upon something plausible was soon dampened by the realisation that Marco would feel obliged to ask what Drew had given me.
To my surprise though, Marco's expression cleared and he gave a vigorous nod. "Ah, of course! Your birthday. I almost forgot." He beckoned to me. "Come, cara! I too have a gift for you."
I managed another bright smile and started back along the corridor, rediscovering as I moved just how much of me was aching. In fact, I concluded, allowing myself a grimace as Marco disappeared back into his room, pretty much every part of me was sore. No doubt I'd been running on sheer adrenalin for most of the evening, that and the couple of hours sleep I'd managed to grab after lunch. But the excitement of being offered a new job in a foreign land had definitely worn off. Drew's reaction had seen to that.
How much longer was I obliged to stay here with Marco to discuss the finer details of an offer I probably shouldn't have accepted? How rude of me would it be to fob him off with my "actually, I'm really sorry but I'm knackered" excuse and leave? Probably very rude, I decided, heaving a sigh. It still wasn't that late, at least, not by Marco's standards. I knew from experience he rarely turned in before midnight. Could I keep going until then without collapsing in a heap? What time was it now, anyway—a little after ten, maybe? Oh God, was that all?
I groaned under my breath, reapplied my fake smile and opened the door.
Marco, kneeling in front of one of the bedside cabinets, sent me a quizzical glance as I entered. "You okay?"
"Me? I'm fine," I lied, jumping slightly as the spring-loaded door closed behind me. "I was just thinking about, um.... Well, nothing important," I finished weakly. "Really."
"Really?" Marco raised an eyebrow before turning back to the drawer he'd opened. "You're sure, cara?"
I chewed on the inside of my cheek, eyeing the ice bucket on the desk across the room. Would it look really odd if I went over and plunged my stinging fingers into it? Unfortunately, it probably would.
"You're having second thoughts about working for me."
Releasing a sigh, I perched on the edge of the bed beside him and watched as he rummaged through the drawer. "Well... Not exactly," I began tentatively. "Marco, you have to know I'd love to work for you. And it's wonderful of you to even offer me the chance—and I know I said that I'd do it—but..."
He looked up again. "But now you're wondering whether you should have said yes so soon? You're wondering whether you should have asked me for some time to think it over?"
"That obvious, huh?" I gave him a small smile.
"Oh, Samantha." He smiled back. "From the moment Drew arrived, I knew you'd started to have doubts. It was clear he didn't approve."
"Well..." But there was no point in denying it.
"And what he thinks matters to you. It always has. You've always looked to him when it comes to making important decisions."
Whoa, steady on!
"I wouldn't put it quite like that," I protested, feeling more than a little indignant. "Sure, I ask his advice about things, of course I do. I've known him a long time. I value his opinion. But that doesn't mean that I only do the things that he thinks are a good idea. At the end of the day, the decisions I make are mine and mine alone, okay? If he didn't agree with something I wanted to do, it doesn't mean I wouldn't do it. If I thought it was the right thing to do, I'd go ahead, whatever he had to say about it."
Marco was grinning. "Okay, okay. I believe you."
"Good," I said, still bristling. "Because that's how it is, all right? I call the shots. I decide when and what I'm going to do. I manage my shop perfectly well, thank you very much, without—"
"Samantha." I heard him push the drawer closed then felt his hand on my arm. "I hear you, bella. Forgive me? It was just an observation."
"All right." I nodded my acceptance, at the same time wishing that the rather uncomfortable feeling he might just have a point would go away. But Drew had been an integral part of my life for what felt like forever, hadn't he? He was my best friend. He was intelligent, intuitive, incisive—one of the cleverest people I knew. And besides, he was my lawyer. It was only natural I'd run ideas past him, wasn't it? But that didn't mean I'd always go with his opinion. No, I was pretty sure that if I put my mind to it, I could come up with plenty of occasions where he'd thought something a bad idea but I'd proved him wrong.