Anything for You Ch. 06byevanslily©
I was just too tired to think of any right now, that was all.
"Okay." Rising to his feet, Marco presented me with a small, beautifully gift-wrapped parcel and smiled as I muttered a startled thank you. "Then let me give you a little more time to think about it, yes? You can let me know your decision by, let's say, the end of December? By New Year's Eve?"
"Are you sure?" I gazed down at the candy-striped wrapping paper, twisting a loop of gold ribbon around my finger.
"Of course. Now open your birthday present."
As I grappled with the paper, he headed for the desk and collected the champagne flutes. "You know, you really shouldn't have," I murmured, at last uncovering a dark blue box and recognising it as the type that almost certainly contained jewellery. "There was no need to get me anything."
Marco grinned at my hesitation. "Just open it, will you?"
I opened it, feeling my eyes widen when I saw what was inside. It was a gold bracelet watch, its heart-shaped links glittering in the lamplight. "Oh, Marco..."
"You never seem to know the time," I heard him say, his voice half-amused, half-chiding. "Always, I hear you asking everybody, "What time is it?" And then I realised I'd never seen you wear a watch and wondered if maybe, you just didn't have one."
I nodded, barely able to drag my gaze away, a lump rising in my throat as I studied the deceptively simple-looking but ornate chain, the oval pearlescent watch face. "I haven't worn one in a while," I confessed. "Not since..." I let the words trail off, reluctant to explain. This wasn't the right time. "Well, not for a few years anyway."
"But you'll wear this, won't you? You do like it?"
Hearing the consternation in his tone, I looked up with a smile, hoping he wouldn't spot the tears gathering in the corners of my eyes. "Marco, it's beautiful. Of course I like it! Thank you so much." I rose from the bed to plant a kiss on his cheek and Marco, hampered by dint of having a champagne flute in each hand nonetheless managed to give me a surprisingly close hug.
"You're welcome," he said happily, resting his cheek against my hair. "Here." He let me go, set the glasses down on the bedside cabinet and took the box from me. "Let me put it on for you."
"Oh..." But it seemed there was little I could do, other than obediently offer my right arm. I watched as he eased the bracelet from its presentation mounting and unfastened the clasp, my heart thumping ridiculously loudly when he finally looped it around my wrist, the metal cold and unfamiliar against my skin.
"There," he said, looking pleased as he held out my hand to inspect his handiwork and thankfully not seeming to notice that I winced when he grasped my fingers. "It looks well on you, cara."
It did, there was no denying that. It was quite the most beautiful piece of jewellery I'd ever been given—and almost certainly the most expensive too. "It's beautiful," I told him again, forcing myself to smile, hammering back my misgivings. "Thank you."
Marco gave a nonchalant shrug. "My pleasure. Now..." He reached for the champagne flutes and gave me one. "Let's toast your birthday properly, shall we?" He clinked his glass against mine, his eyes seeming to darken slightly as he regarded me for a moment. "Happy birthday, bella," he said, taking a sip of the effervescing liquid and motioning I should do the same. "Happy birthday, my beautiful Samantha."
"Hardly," I said with an embarrassed giggle, just as soon as I managed to swallow. "But thank you all the—o-o-ohm!"
I yelped as Marco's lips landed on mine, his free hand settling between my shoulders before sweeping upwards to the back of my head, holding my face to his as his tongue slid expertly into my mouth. Caught off guard, at first all I knew was the taste of champagne and red wine, the potent mixture assaulting each and every tastebud, his tongue swirling relentlessly against my own. But within a moment I knew I was in trouble, as holding me ever tighter, he deepened the kiss and made for my tonsils, groaning his pleasure into my mouth.
Suffocated, I tried to pull away, but Marco was having none of it, his arm dropping to my shoulders and holding me in place, his lips curving against mine. "Bella," he murmured, allowing me to snatch a breath but no more before his tongue returned and he let out yet another, protracted moan.
I finally managed a whimper of my own, my own free hand coming up between us to frantically push against his chest, shoving him backwards until he was forced to release my mouth with a loud smacking sound. I fell backwards on to the bed, droplets of the champagne I was holding showering over my hand. "Marco!"
He stared down at me, breathing hard, looking rather taken aback.
Oh God, now what should I do? I didn't have a clue. Although sitting up—and sitting up quickly at that—seemed wise for a start. I eased myself upright, resisting the urge to wipe my already sore and now dripping fingers on my dress and discreetly rubbing them against the bedclothes instead.
"Well..." I murmured at last, glancing down at my remarkably intact champagne flute then tentatively touching my bruised tongue to the roof of my mouth. "That—that was very..." Oh God. "That was..."
Marco appeared to give himself a little shake. "Mmm," he murmured. "Si. That was..." He met my gaze, amusement playing at the corners of his lips. "Yes. Very."
Inexplicably, I felt my own lips twitch. But this wasn't funny, was it? This was exactly what Drew had warned me could happen, wasn't it? He'd warned me, over and over, that Marco might try to find a way into my knickers. So why the hell did I want to laugh?
"Samantha." He tried to look innocent, failing miserably.
"So, er. What was that, exactly?"
"Cara." He crouched down and made as if to kiss me again, laughing when I ducked away and brushing his mouth against my temple instead. "That," he murmured into my ear, "was because you are a very beautiful woman. But sadly, I fear I've a little too much wine."
Maybe I hadn't had quite enough, I thought wryly, raising my now not quite full champagne glass to my lips and swallowing its contents in three long gulps, the icy cold bubbles soothing my battered tongue. "Is that right?"
"Yes. But no matter." He smiled again, his chocolate brown eyes dark with promise. "I'll just have to seduce you another time. Besides," he went on, missing the experience of seeing my jaw drop as he straightened up, "we have business to discuss. It's the golden rule, yes? Business before pleasure?"
He motioned towards the sofa and I got up to follow. But as I watched him take a detour en route to collect what remained of the Bollinger, giddiness swept through me in a huge wave and I promptly sat down again with a gasp.
"I'm okay," I said automatically as he hurried back towards me. "I think I—ooh." The room seemed to give another ominous heave. "Got up too fast, maybe? I don't know. Weird, or what?" I heard myself laugh weakly, feeling him take my champagne flute from me. "Everything's sort of spinning..."
Had I had more to drink than I thought I had? The waiter had continually refilled Marco's wine glass at dinner, but I thought I'd only had a glass or two at the most. Perhaps it had been more, after all. Or maybe it was because Marco had quite literally taken my breath away just now, leaving my poor brain starved of vital oxygen?
"I'll get you some water," he said. "Stay right there."
I nodded. I had no intention of arguing. Everything seemed to be shifting around me. The pictures on the walls. The pile of the carpet. Even the wardrobe doors undulated in and out of focus.
Frowning, I tried to concentrate on those doors, wondering what it was about them that tugged at a memory. There was something I needed to do, wasn't there? Something I needed to check?
"Here." Marco was back, pressing a tumbler into my hands. "Drink this."
I drank gratefully as he sat beside me on the bed, recognising with some surprise just how very thirsty I was. Never mind alcohol—had I simply not drunk enough today full stop? I certainly felt better after a few glugs. Better enough to recall what it was that was nagging at me about that wardrobe.
"I'm okay, honestly," I assured him as he watched me with anxious eyes. "I think it's just that maybe I'm really tired, and maybe," I shot him my best, mock-embarrassed smile, "just a little bit tipsy?"
He sighed, shaking his head with a smile. "You always were a very cheap date."
I pulled a face at him and he laughed. "Do you think," I began, one part of my still-addled brain desperately trying to come up with a plan, "that we could talk business tomorrow? Before you fly home? You're not leaving until tomorrow evening, are you?"
Marco smiled. "You want me to call Reception and arrange a taxi for you?" he guessed. "Although, of course..." His smile widened and he put his arm around me. "You could always spend the night here with me."
"What?" He grinned, that innocent look reappearing. "There's a spare room next door, you know. This is a suite, remember? What did you think I meant?"
I rolled my eyes.
He laughed, leaning over to kiss my forehead again. "Okay. I'll get you a taxi."
"Wait." I touched his arm as he reached around me for the telephone. "Could you maybe get me some more water first?" I proffered him my now empty glass. "Please? I think I might be dehydrated."
"Of course." Marco leapt to his feet. "One moment, cara."
"Thank you. Oh, and Marco?" Inspiration striking just as he reached the bathroom doorway, I sent him a sweet smile. "Do you think you could make it really cold this time? Let the water run for a bit, p'raps?"
I waited until he'd disappeared before attempting to stand, praying I wouldn't feel quite so dizzy this time. But to my relief, although everything went a little bit swirly for a moment, the ground didn't feel quite so spongy beneath my feet. I took a deep breath, darted unsteadily to the wardrobe and wrenched open the left hand door.
There they were. Two white fluffy bathrobes nestling side by side. I swallowed hard, wishing that the mere sight of them didn't cause something to clench low in my abdomen, then pulled them aside. Nothing. Behind the robes were three empty hangers. I frowned. Drew hadn't left his jacket here after all. Maybe it really was lost then?
Sighing, I was about to close the door when I caught sight of something lying in a heap at the bottom of the wardrobe. Something dark and brown and...
"Here you are, bella. But I'm not sure it's much colder, I'm afraid."
Shit, Marco was coming back! Bending down, I balled up the soft leather jacket and closed the door, only then realising I had no place to hide it. How the hell was I going to explain where I'd got it from? "Fuck," I muttered under my breath as a waft of Drew's aftershave, both familiar and delicious, assaulted my already reeling senses. "Come on, Sam. Think!"
I looked around frantically, my gaze finally landing on my own coat draped across the back of the sofa. And racing across the room, throwing Drew's jacket over my arm as I went, I snatched up my long black coat, threw it over the top and took a wild dive towards the sofa.
"Oh." Stopping short outside the bathroom door, Marco regarded me with understandable surprise. "You're over there now."
Sitting primly with one knee crossed over the other, I gestured to my coat and my handbag as he came to hand me the refilled tumbler. "Just... Just getting these," I said cheerfully. "So I'm all ready to go when the taxi comes."
Marco's brow furrowed when I started to drink, gulping down the water as fast as I could. "There's no rush. I haven't even phoned Reception yet."
"Ah-mmm," I murmured into the glass as I swigged the last mouthful then handed it back to him. "About that. I've been thinking. I could just go down to the front desk and ask in person, couldn't I? Let you turn in for the night."
"Let me turn in?" His eyes narrowed still further. "Samantha—"
"'Cos it has to be getting late, right?" I hurried on, aware I was burbling like a lunatic now. "What time is it, anyway? Oh, of course." I could feel his bemused gaze upon me as I carefully pushed my coat—and Drew's coat beneath it—further up my arm and consulted my birthday present. "Huh. Yes. It's half past eleven," I announced and beamed up at him.
What? Half past eleven? Startled, I took another look at my glittering new gold watch.
"It isn't half past eleven, it's half past ten," I heard Marco say patiently. "The watch—it's set an hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. That's the time in Italy right now. Cara," he gave me another concerned look, "are you sure you're okay? Are you still dizzy? Maybe I should ask Reception if there's a doctor—?"
"No, no," I interrupted, realising there was a very real danger he might not let me go. "Really, I'm fine. Just tired. And a bit squiffy, of course." Hamming it up for all it was worth now, I grinned manically and bobbed my head from side to side for emphasis. "But fine, honestly. I think I just need to get home. Drink some more water. Get some shut-eye." And to prove I really was okay, I hauled myself to my feet, swaying only slightly before finding my balance.
"Right," Marco said, sounding unconvinced. "All the same, I think I might come downstairs with you. Make sure you get there in one piece."
I couldn't argue, could I? And to be honest, I was rather grateful for his support on the way back to the lift. I hadn't really noticed before, but the floor seemed perilously uneven in places. It was actually pretty difficult to walk in a straight line.
He left me in the seating area in Reception while he went to order my taxi and I listened as he gave instructions to the girl behind the front desk. It was quite something to be Marco Maretti's friend, I thought, feeling oddly proud. Even from here, I could see the deference in the Receptionist's expression, hear the obsequious politeness in her tone. Of course, it wasn't as though anyone at the Park had been less than courteous to Drew and me the evening before, but unless I was imagining it, there was something different about the interaction between Marco and the hotel employees. A sort of tacit acknowledgement of his superior status, I supposed.
"All done. The taxi's on its way." Marco squatted beside my armchair, smiling benignly at me. "They said it should be here in just a minute or two. I've given them your address, so all you need to do is get in it and let the driver take you home."
Did Marco think I might have forgotten where I lived? Oh well. I guess I had been acting rather strangely. "Thank you," I said, returning the smile.
"You're welcome. You know," his gaze travelled to the coat draped across my lap "you might want to put that on. It's pretty cold out there tonight."
"Oh." I clutched at the sleeve of my black woollen coat. "Yes. I'll put it on in a moment. I'm er, quite warm at the moment." As there were goose pimples dotted all over my arms, I sincerely hoped that Marco wasn't observant enough to question the validity of that statement. "Listen," I carried on hastily, "you don't need to wait here with me. I'm not feeling dizzy any more—not sure what that was about, actually—but anyway, I think I'm up to getting in a taxi on my own. Why don't you go back upstairs, finish off that champagne, put on a movie...?"
He grinned as I trailed off. "Samantha, if I didn't know better, I'd say you were trying to get rid of me."
"No, of course not! I was just thinking that there was no point in us both sitting down here and that you could..." To my enormous relief, because I really didn't have any idea how I might have talked my way out of that one, the doorman beckoned towards us. "Ah, it's here already. That was quick."
Saying nothing, but then he didn't need to—I could see the amusement in his expression—Marco held out a hand to help me. I rose slowly, more to make sure that neither coat slipped from my grasp than because I was unsteady on my feet then turned to smile at him. "Thank you for a wonderful evening. It's been..."
He laughed. "Interesting?" he suggested.
"Yes." I knew I was blushing. "Very. And I'll call you tomorrow, okay? To talk about—business."
He was still laughing. "Okay." He pulled me towards him and kissed me on both cheeks, making no attempt to kiss me on the mouth this time, much to my relief. "Tomorrow," he agreed, letting me go. "Sleep well, cara."
"Thank you. You too. Oh—" As I reached the door, the doorman obligingly holding it open for me, I remembered my manners and twisted around to shoot Marco one last glance. "And thank you again. For the watch?"
He grinned, raising a hand in farewell. "Prego, cara. Ciao."
Dear God, but it was cold outside, the frosty late November air seeming to slice straight through to my bones. I took the steps as quickly as I dared, which frankly wasn't all that quickly—I didn't want to run the risk of tripping now—and made a beeline for the taxi-cab parked at the kerb, inwardly cursing Drew and his brown leather jacket every step of the way.
"Evening, love," the driver said, sending me an amused look via the rear view mirror as he watched me clamber into the back of the cab, gasping for breath. "Bit chilly not to be wearing a coat, isn't it?"
"Just a bit," I said through chattering teeth, snatching up Drew's jacket and tossing it on to the seat beside me before tugging my coat around my shoulders. "Fu-oh..."
The driver chuckled at my hastily substituted expletive. "Had to leave in a hurry, did we? Couldn't pay the bill?"
Great, a comedian.
"Yep, that's it," I agreed, my attempt to play along rewarded as he flicked a switch on the dashboard and jets of hot air began streaming into the back of the cab. Oh, bliss. I huddled into my coat, rubbing my arms. "They wouldn't let me do the washing up, so I thought I'd better leg it."
"Good for you." The driver gave me another smile. "They charge way too much for grub in these places. So love, we're going to Chesterton Close, is that right?"
Home. God, it seemed like years since I'd been home. It couldn't only have been a day, could it? But yes, that's all it had been. Drew had picked me up at six, yesterday evening. He'd taken me to the hotel, ordered me room service. Taken my virginity. Broken my heart.
I frowned. Broken my heart? He hadn't broken my heart! He was my best friend, not my boyfriend. That deal had never been on the table and I'd never even considered that it could be. Our relationship just wasn't like that. There'd been more girls than I cared to remember, flitting in and out of Drew's life, and I'd been perfectly content to watch them come and go. Besides, what we'd done last night, we'd done as friends, not lovers. Well okay, yes, of course we'd had to become lovers, but not in that way...
It hadn't meant anything to Drew though, had it? He clearly considered we were still friends and nothing more. He'd been out tonight with another woman, for heaven's sake. He'd had plans to go out with Angie, whoever she was, even before he took me to the Park last night. Which had to mean that he'd never considered that anything more would come of what we were planning to do there. I felt an odd pang in my chest.
So where did he get off, calling me naïve, telling me to watch out for Marco Maretti? What gave him the right to tell me that I shouldn't go to Italy, that I hadn't thought it through? And why the hell should I take it from him that my dress made me look like a...? Like a what? He'd never actually finished that sentence, had he?