Anything for You Ch. 05byevanslily©
It was no good, I just wasn't hungry anymore. And sighing heavily, I stopped pushing slender carrot sticks around my plate and laid down my knife and fork.
I knew Marco was watching me. I could actually feel his quiet amusement. Oh, true to his word, he hadn't pushed me for an answer. Not yet, anyway. But now... Now that I'd given up all pretence of finishing my meal, the inevitable moment had to be at hand.
Sure enough, when I forced myself to look up at last, Marco was smiling, his dark eyes warm.
"Good." I gave a fervent nod then fired him a smile of my own. "Just too much food. Eyes bigger than my tummy. Maybe if I hadn't had a starter..."
His smile broadened and we shared a knowing glance. He knew I was playing for time. "You don't want a dessert, then?"
I shook my head in regret. "Nowhere to put it. Do you think they'd let me have a doggy bag?"
"A doggy bag?" Marco's brow furrowed as he reached for his glass and took a sip of red wine. "You have a dog now?"
"No!" Giggling, I shook my head again. "In Italy, if you're at a restaurant and don't eat all of your meal, can you ask them to put it in a box or a dish so that you can take it home? You can in England—though maybe not here," I added hastily, attempting to straighten my face as a diner at an adjacent table, a heavily made-up woman in her mid-fifties who had clearly been ear-wigging on our conversation, sent me an incredulous glare. "Anyway, that's what a doggy bag is."
"I see," Marco murmured, though I wasn't at all convinced that he did. "Well, if there's something you would like, I will ask."
"No," I assured him, reaching across the table to touch his arm. "Really—I'm full. Full to bursting. Thank you. That was a wonderful meal."
And it had been, much to my relief. My heart had sunk when I read the menu, realising that the dining room menu mirrored the room service menu and deciding that the chef had, in my view, an unhealthy preoccupation with seafood. But Marco, wise to my dietary foibles, had immediately accosted the waiter for fish-free alternatives. The result had been watercress soup, rich and deliciously creamy, followed by melt-in-the-mouth lemon chicken.
Marco looked pleased. "You're very welcome. Very welcome indeed. I am just hoping..." He paused to smile at me again then set his wine glass back down on the table so that he could clasp my hand between both of his. "I am hoping that maybe I've done enough to persuade you to come to Italy. We could have many more dinners together at my house in Treviso."
I held my breath. This was it then. He wanted my decision. I stared down at our entwined fingers, somewhat taken aback to see them linked that way. For all I was used to Marco's overt displays of affection, it felt oddly intimate.
"I promise you—no fish," he added, as though making a huge concession. "I will tell Maria that fish is off the menu."
I laughed softly, knowing it was expected. I knew of the legendary Maria, of course—she was Marco's housekeeper—but we'd never met during my brief stays in Italy. "Oh, but are you sure?" I gave a sort of half-groan, shaking my head slightly.
"About the fish? I think I can live without it for a while."
"No!" I rolled my eyes at him. Marco had a habit of taking whatever you said literally. "I mean, about me being the right person for the job. Let's face it, I have no qualifications, no experience—nothing. All I have is a sort of gut feeling for what looks right."
"That's exactly why I want you." In stark contrast to my inner turmoil, Marco appeared calm and unruffled. "The fashion courses these young designers take—they stifle creativity and flair. Make them clones of one another, so that they follow the trend, not set the trend. And with that—" he flapped a hand at me as I protested I wasn't sure I could ever be a trend-setter "—they lose that innate sense of style. They stop trusting their own gut feelings and—how do you say it?—go with the flow. The best, they're still good. Very good. But they have lost that certain something. That something I see in you."
Again, I experienced a warm inner glow. It had been a long time since I'd last received a compliment like that. Oh, people had congratulated me on my success with the shop. But rarely did anyone infer that I might be able to do even greater things with my life.
I returned my gaze to the hand that continued to grasp mine, absently noting Marco's well-manicured but strong long fingers, the contrast of his white shirt cuff against his olive skin. This was so hard. If I looked at him, I knew I'd cave. Knew that I'd lose all sense of perspective and reason and just be reckless. But there was more than my livelihood at stake here. "The shop..." I began.
"I told you. I will pay you so you can pay someone to help Alice. She will manage without you. And you will still be able to choose the stock you buy from Maretti." He gave a soft chuckle. "Of course, you won't need to choose, because if you decide to work for me, you'll know that you want everything anyway."
I nodded, unable to hide a smile. "And you're sure that if I find I don't want to stay—or, well..." I risked a glance at him then. "You might decide that you don't want me to stay. I might be rubbish at all this."
He laughed, shaking his head. "Three months, bella. That's all I'm asking. If it doesn't work out—" he shrugged "—you come back to England, carry on as before. But..." He lifted his free hand to my face and cupped my cheek. "You won't be rubbish."
Okay. There was definitely something different about this. I wasn't just imagining it, was I? Marco's fingers felt silkily warm against my skin, awakening a sensation that I'd only just learned to recognise as...
Oh dear God.
But Marco didn't feel that way about me, did he? I would have noticed before, wouldn't I? He was just being his usual touchy-feely self, that was all. Nothing had changed, I told myself, trying to relax and keep smiling.
Or more strictly, Marco hadn't changed, I realised. But it seemed that what had taken place here last night, at this very hotel, in a suite two storeys above us, had changed me forever. The thought of Drew, who'd already moved on and was at this very moment dating another woman as though nothing had happened between us, caused an odd cramping sensation in my chest.
"I hope you're right," I murmured absently.
Marco's gaze narrowed. "Does that mean you're saying yes?"
Frowning, I replayed what I'd just said in my head. Oh, what the hell. So what if going to Italy was reckless? Other than the shop, there was nothing for me here in Stow Newton, was there? What on earth did I have to lose, after all? Exactly where had being sensible and rational landed me until now? Exactly no-bloody-where, that was where.
"Yes," I said decisively before level-headed Sam could reassume control and force me to chicken out. "Yes. I'm saying yes."
Marco beamed—there was no other word for it—but nothing could have prepared me for what happened next. Because suddenly, he was leaning towards me across the table, and before I could do anything about it, kissing me rather thoroughly on the lips.
Startled, I was dimly conscious of losing my balance, of needing the hand he was still clasping. Wrenching it free, I heard an ominous thunk as my fingers collided with something cool and smooth, Marco pulling away just in time for me to watch the wine glass bounce from the pristine cream table cloth, a torrent of red wine arcing upwards before splattering spectacularly all over the front of Marco's dress shirt.
"Oh my God." My lips tingling, I stared helplessly at the carnage and watched the pool of wine seep into the tablecloth, creating a rapidly-expanding circle of crimson. I was acutely aware of the woman seated at the next table, her look of disdain causing my already hot cheeks to burn with shame. But if that wasn't enough, waiting staff swooped in on us from all directions, fussing over Marco—who, it had to be said, appeared rather as though he'd been shot at point blank range in the chest—and using napkins to mop furiously at the table before any of the liquid trickled over the side to the carpet.
Without even realising I'd pushed back my chair, I found myself standing beside the table, clutching my handbag under my arm and battling an almost overwhelming urge to flee the scene. Only when a now laughing Marco grasped my hand did I finally return to my senses and started to stammer a string of half-finished apologies. "Marco, I'm so sorry... I didn't mean to—I mean, oh God! I can't believe I—can you ever forgive me? I—"
"Samantha, stop," he said firmly, taking my coat from the maitre d' and grinning as he escorted us from the dining room, moving us swiftly away from the prying eyes of the diners around us. "It was not your fault. I caught you off guard, no? But I was so pleased you said yes. I was beginning to think you would turn me down."
"But your shirt." I turned to look at him as we arrived back in the relative sanctuary of the lounge bar, my breath catching as I witnessed the damage at close range. "It's ruined!"
Marco glanced down at himself, smiled ruefully then gave an unrepentant shrug. "It's only a shirt."
Shit. That one glance told me what I really hadn't wanted to know. "An expensive shirt?" I whispered, my heart sinking all over again. "Not—not Salvani?"
He grinned. "Of course. But who cares? I have a hundred of them. Besides, you said yes. That calls for a celebration, don't you think?" And before I could utter another word, he gave me my coat and strode purposely towards the bar. "Have you got an ice bucket?" I heard him ask the barman. "We're going to need champagne."
The barman—naturally, the same barman who'd witnessed my amazing Trevi fountain alla Coca Cola display earlier—did an almost imperceptible double take as he took in Marco's just-been-stabbed-with-a-kitchen-knife appearance, glancing at me with amusement before sending Marco a polite smile. "Of course, sir. Which champagne would you like? We have Veuve Clicquot, Moet and Chandon, Bollinger..."
I listened in a daze as he rattled off what was clearly an increasingly expensive list of bottles and was grateful to be distracted by a familiar frantic buzzing sound. Throwing my coat over my arm, I reached for my handbag and delved inside, pulling out my mobile phone and squinting at the display.
It was a message from Drew. Just for a second, my heart seemed to go into freefall—a sensation that was quashed the moment I saw the contents of the text.
Hv u got my leather jacket? Can't find it n e where!
I frowned, trying to remember. Had he been wearing it when he dropped me off at the shop this morning? Actually, I didn't think he had. But he had been wearing it when he picked me up last night. He'd probably tossed it into the back seat of his Audi.
No, hvn't seen it, I texted back, before adding, more helpfully than he deserved, Look in ur car!
Marco was still deliberating over vintages when Drew replied, lightning fast.
Already hv. Never mind.
I seriously doubted he wasn't concerned. He loved that jacket. I'd once accused him of being surgically attached to it, he wore it so much. Though I'd be quite sad if he had lost it. There was something about the softness of the battered brown leather, the way it felt against my face when I snuggled up beside him in the cinema...
"Right, all organised." Marco's voice broke into my thoughts, making me jump. "They're going to bring it upstairs for us."
"Upstairs?" That got my attention. "Wh-what?"
He motioned towards his shirt, smiling serenely. "Well of course, we could sit here in the lounge. For you, cara, I guess I could live with everyone staring at me. But if I'm honest, I would much prefer to change into something a little..." His smile widened. "Drier."
Oh God. I could hardly refuse, could I? But going upstairs—that meant going to his room. That meant...
"Yes, of course," I heard myself saying meekly. And after rewarding me with another smile, Marco began shepherding me towards the lift.
"We will find it easier to talk there, anyway," he said reassuringly. "Much less noisy. We can start making plans, decide when you will come to Italy."
"Yes," I agreed, attempting to reassure myself that those were the only plans he had in mind. Because however much I tried to ignore it, I could suddenly hear Drew's voice in my head.
You wanna watch yourself with that one, kiddo. He'd have you on your back with your legs in the air faster than you can say buongiorno.
Marco wouldn't though, would he? He'd never made amorous advances towards me, not in the whole five years we'd known one other. Surely if he had any plans to hit on me, he'd have hit on me before? All right, so he'd kissed me just now—but that hadn't meant anything, had it? Of course it hadn't.
Unless Drew hadn't been kidding and it really was possible for Marco to sense my newly-acquired sexual enlightenment.
He'll be able to smell it on you...
As we waited for the lift to descend from the fourth floor, I dropped my chin to my chest and inhaled deeply.
I lifted my head to find Marco peering at me curiously. Shit, shit, shit. "Oh!" I exclaimed, forcing a bright smile. "I was just—just..." Fuck, he'd just caught me sniffing my own cleavage. What the hell could I say?
He tilted his head on one side. "You're tired, cara?"
Oh thank God. He thought I'd been trying to hide a yawn. "A little," I confessed, grateful that this at least was the truth. "It's been rather a long day."
Understatement of the year. Had it only been twenty-four hours since Drew and I curled up together in fluffy white robes on that wondrously huge bed in the Regent Suite, and watched Denzel Washington save the world on the enormous flat screen television?
No, not even as long as that. As the lift doors swished open at last and Marco accompanied me inside the brightly lit car, my gaze rose to the digital display above the gleaming brass plate of buttons.
"Well, now you can relax," I heard Marco say behind me, and as I dragged my eyes from the clock, I watched in the mirror as he reached up to loosen his silk tie, clearly intent on doing a little relaxing himself. But if that made my mouth go dry, witnessing my own reflection for the first time since I'd left the shop made my stomach lurch—and not because the lift had started its ascent.
Yikes, was I dreaming? Surely I hadn't looked like this earlier? No, I was damned sure I hadn't. I'd never have allowed myself to go out dressed like this, never in a million years!
What the hell had I been thinking? There was so much... So much flesh on display. The plunging V-neck of the deep red dress, coupled with the way Roxy had nipped in the waist, accentuated the curve of my breasts, making them appear very much larger than I knew them to be. No wonder I'd been receiving so much attention—it hadn't just been my Coca Cola spewing antics in the bar or the red wine bloodbath in the dining room. No wonder that woman at the next table had looked at me daggers.
Judging by the appreciative look on Marco's face as he watched me survey myself in the mirror, it seemed he certainly didn't have an issue with how much of my flesh was on display. "Hai l'aria cosi bella questa notte," he murmured.
I swallowed nervously. "Th-that could be a problem though, couldn't it?"
Marco's eyebrows shot upwards, an indulgent smile tugging at his lips. "What, you looking so beautiful tonight?"
"No." Really? Slutty, maybe. But beautiful? "The fact I didn't know what you just said without you translating for me. Marco—" I turned round to face him, glad to have an excuse to stop looking at my reflection, although my re-acquaintance with the brilliant crimson splodges across the front of his shirt still came as an unpleasant shock. "I can't speak Italian! How in the world am I going to cope, working with the rest of your designers? I won't understand what—"
"Samantha." He planted warm hands on my upper arms and dipped his head so that he was looking directly into my eyes. It was disconcerting enough to be faced by all that Italian chiselled-jaw perfection. The aromatic addition of fine wine evaporating from his warm chest left me weak at the knees. Literally. "It won't be a problem, okay? All of my team speak English—very good English. And I will insist that they speak in English to you."
"Ah-a-a." Shaking his head, Marco waggled a finger at me. "No buts. They don't like it, they can go work somewhere else. Besides..." He gave a dismissive shrug. "You'll learn Italian—no problem. Truly, it won't take long."
I wondered whether now was the right time to tell him how abysmally I'd failed my French GCSE, but decided it probably wasn't, just as the lift bell pinged and the doors slid open on Floor Two.
Help. Was I really going to have to do this?
Oblivious to my misgivings, Marco led the way along the short corridor, stopping when he reached the door at the end. And after fitting the keycard into the slot with a deftness born from innumerable stays in innumerable plush hotels, he ushered me into the room.
Unsurprisingly, the Regent Suite looked exactly as I remembered it. There, taking pride of place, was the huge bed replete with green and cream embroidered cushions. There, over by the elaborately dressed windows, was the perfectly co-ordinated green and cream striped sofa. And there, to the left, was the partially open door to the en suite bathroom, allowing a glimpse of shining chrome, gleaming tiles—and the Jacuzzi.
I didn't know where to look. I didn't want to look. Everything my gaze fell upon reminded me of the night before. The picture on the wall above the bed, the composition of which made a lot more sense now that I was looking at it the right way up. The deep pile of the carpet on the floor, which I happened to know was every bit as soft as it appeared. The trouser press, which funnily enough, Drew had never got around to experimenting with.
"Not bad for an English hotel room, is it?" Marco said cheerfully, throwing his key card down on the bed and turning to me. "I was very pleasantly surprised. So." He waved to the sofa. "Sit down, make yourself comfortable while I find another shirt. Make—ah. Make yourself at home." He flashed me a perfect-toothed grin, clearly delighted to have remembered the appropriate English expression.
Managing a smile, I did as I was bid, although making myself 'comfortable' proved to be a tall order. Oh, the sofa itself was comfortable, the squishy cushions moulding themselves wonderfully to my weary body. But having to sit there in full view of the super-king-sized bed was anything but comfortable.
What the hell was wrong with me? Why had my imagination suddenly gone into overdrive? Because when I looked at that bed, all I could see was Drew and I lying upon it. Naked. Flesh pressed against flesh. Limbs gloriously tangled together.
It was like accessing my own private porn movie.
I dragged my gaze away, deciding to focus on Marco instead, who by now had opened the right hand wardrobe door—not the left door, thank heavens, behind which I knew two bathrobes would be residing—and was considering a closely packed rail of clothing. Good grief—he was only staying a couple of days, wasn't he? Clearly he didn't believe in travelling light.
"So when will you need me to come to Italy?" I asked, watching as he pulled out one pristine and perfectly pressed shirt and then another, holding them against his person as though there was some discernable difference between them.
Marco thrust both shirts towards me, his head tilted on one side. "Which should I wear?"