A sound came from behind Cara, then a cool familiar voice. ‘Am I too late to ask if you’d share another drink with me?’
Intense relief rushed through her. He hadn’t gone! Cara turned around and looked up into that face. He was even taller than she had imagined, holding his coat casually over one arm. A zing of sensation rippled through her stronger than before making her forget her vow to leave. All she knew in that moment, as irrational as it was, was that she didn’t want him to walk away again. That feeling of relief was too strong to ignore.
All she could manage was to shake her head, she was sinking into those fascinating eyes again, mesmerised by the harsh beauty of his face. A couple of people came in, jostling past them, chattering. Leaving them in their own little bubble. She flushed with how needy she felt, how unsure and at sea with all these sensations and achings he was causing within her. How had she ever thought for a second that she’d be able to walk away?
Enzo’s eyes glittered with some intent that made her feel weak. ‘Good, I’ve organised a private booth and a bottle of champagne.’
Liquid heat seemed to pool straight to Cara’s groin. Unable to respond with any coherence, Enzo took her by the arm and led her over to where one of the waitresses was showing them into a plush velvet booth, half hidden by a thick ornate drape. Cara could only breathe in a jerky sigh of relief when Enzo took one side of the booth, leaving her to occupy the other side. He sat back and stretched out an arm across the back of the seat, causing his shirt to tighten across his chest. Hard flat nipples stood out against the material and Cara squirmed on her seat.
‘So…’ he drawled, ‘Here we are.’
A sudden tension spiked the air, she couldn’t understand why, as she nodded warily. He leant forward then, his face coming into the soft light thrown by a hanging lamp over their heads. He truly was the most beautiful man she’d ever seen. Her insides clenched.
‘Tell me, you come here often?’ The words, usually such a cliché uttered by hapless men sounded completely different when he said them.
Cara smiled a small wry smile, ‘It’s like my second home.’ She heard her words and saw immediately how they might be misconstrued and hurried to clarify, ‘That is of course because I –‘
At that moment the waitress arrived with the champagne stopping Cara’s explanation that she worked there. And by the time Enzo had dismissed the girl and filled their glasses Cara had forgotten what he’d asked her.
‘Let’s drink to this evening.’
Cara frowned lightly but clinked her glass to his, it felt cool in her hand, the vintage wine sparkling in the light with a thousand bubbles. ‘Why this evening?’
He took a sip of wine and Cara was aware of the strong column of his throat as it worked. ‘Because, I think it will prove…cathartic.’
What an odd thing to drink to Cara thought and took a sip of her own wine, savouring the bubbles as they burst down her throat. She couldn’t quite believe that she was sitting here, in her work clothes, sipping champagne with this enigmatic man. In all her time working here she’d never met anyone with even an nth of his dynamism and some of the wealthiest men in the world came into this exclusive club. It’s how she’d got her job, it had been her brother’s favourite haunt.
At least her dress was adequate enough. Simple and black, her only gripe was that it was far too short but Simon the manager, Rob’s boyfriend, insisted on her looking the part as the main hostess of the club. And with Barney there to protect her from unwanted attention, she generally avoided lecherous situations. Something Simon had been aware of when he’d hired her, as he’d felt she was too young at the time to work in the club proper, and then in the end, he’d kept her on the door.
‘Tell me about yourself, Cara.’
He was doing it again, that subtle inflection, changing the pronunciation of her name. Something about his expression caught her for a moment, some sense of familiarity or déjà vu but she couldn’t catch it. She was so tempted to do exactly what Rob had advocated, lose herself a little, allow this stranger to help her forget her pain and sorrow. There would be time for that in spades when she went home and tried to start over. At the thought of that, the threat from last night crashed back into her head, for a second she almost felt overwhelmed with it all and had to struggle valiantly to bury the fears again. But just for now, surely…she could pretend with this man that everything was OK, couldn’t she?
Enzo’s eyebrows rose. ‘You did a degree in business and accountancy?’ Cara nodded, still inordinately proud of the degree she’d finally obtained just in recent weeks after a long hard slog, not sure why he sounded so incredulous. Perhaps he was one of these men who didn’t believe that women should get qualifications and work? But then that didn’t sit easily with her either. The champagne bottle stood half empty. She had a delightfully light feeling in her head. She felt as if she’d been living in some sort of haze all her life and now everything was crystal clear. Despite the fact that she’d only just met Enzo, she’d found him easy to talk to, and that was a revelation when she’d never done this with anyone before.
‘But you didn’t go to college.’
Cara frowned, she’d been intent on Enzo’s mouth and now she blushed, which she seemed to be doing every two minutes in his company. ‘Did I say that?’ That was funny, she couldn’t remember telling him about studying from home.
‘You’re right I didn’t –‘ She wondered how they’d got onto this subject when a beep came from nearby. He excused himself and reached into his jacket pocket beside him to pull out his phone, answering the incoming call with an apologetic smile saying something about an ill father. Cara shooed away his apology and signalled that she would leave to give him privacy but his hand snaked out and caught her wrist, pulling her back.
As he spoke in rapid Italian he kept his eyes on hers, his thumb started moving in little circles on the underside of her wrist. Cara had to stop herself from groaning out loud. Did the man have any idea what he was doing to her? But she couldn’t take her eyes away from his either. As she watched, a hard expression came into them, his hand tightened on hers fractionally but he didn’t stop that seductive motion with his thumb. Cara knew she could have pulled away if she’d wanted to but for the life of her she couldn’t. And was that giving him some tacit signal? To her shame, she knew that she hoped it was. What was this madness?
He ended his conversation and slipped the phone back into his jacket. He let go of her hand, dropping it abruptly almost as if he’d regretted holding it. Cara’s heart went out to him when she guessed it must have to do with his father and she asked hesitantly, ‘Is everything ok?’
She saw his jaw clench slightly, he seemed to be wrestling with something. He looked at her then and the intensity in his eyes pinned her to the spot and then he said, ‘It’s time to get out of here.’
There was an unmistakable edge to his voice this time and for a second Cara fooled herself into thinking that he’d said it in such a way as to mean for themboth to get out of there. And then mortification raced through her. Why on earth would a man like him have meant that? He only meant that he had to leave. And so did she. The sooner she copped on to herself again, the better.
But disturbingly, a shaft of pain went through her. She forced herself to say lightly as she avoided his eye and gathered her things, ‘I have a busy day tomorrow, I’d better go too. Thanks for the drinks.’
Enzo had paid already brushing aside her attempts to give him something. It was somewhat of a relief even though she hated being paid for, as in reality she barely had enough in her purse to get her home. Rob had left before he’d had a chance to give her her tips, and it would be a couple of weeks before she got her final check.
She let Enzo guide her out through the now busy VIP area and back through the club. Cara shivered slightly, she wasn’t sorry to be saying goodbye to the place. It was Barney, the main doorman’s night off and his replacement was new so she said a perfunctory goodnight as they left. In seconds the club was behind them and they were out in the darkness and cool early spring air. It was almost midnight. Cara shivered lightly as Enzo helped her into her coat, he caught her long hair and pulled it free, his hands brushed against her bare neck.
Cara’s insides melted, it felt like the most intimate gesture. Just then her name was called by someone in the queue and Enzo dropped his hands leaving her feeling ridiculously bereft. She looked to see an actress waving energetically. She was a regular. Cara waved back half heartedly and watched as she disappeared into the club with her entourage and sent up silent thanks that she’d never have to help carry her out again.
‘A friend of yours?’
Cara turned to face Enzo looking up. Her heart was beating so hard she felt constricted. She smiled awkwardly, ‘Not exactly.’
She stepped back and away, finding it harder than she cared to admit to walk away from him. ‘Look thanks for everything, and the drinks…it was nice talking to you.’
With hands stuck deep in his pockets he just looked down at her. ‘Do you really want to go?’
Cara’s brain froze. Her heart tripped. ‘What did you say?’
‘Come back to my hotel with me.’
It was shocking, and it wasn’t a question. It was an imperative. A calling that set her blood racing and heart beating fast again. Lord knew she wasn’t ready for this, on this week of all weeks. Who was she kidding? She wouldn’t be ready for a man as virile as Enzo in a million years and yet even as she thought that, newly awakened awareness flooded her body making her believe that he was the only man she could make love to in the world.
Confused by how strong this feeling was, she backed away shaking her head. ‘I’m sorry, I don’t –‘ Do that sort of thing because I’ve never done it before. Her voice failed and the words resounded in her head. She shook her head again. No matter what her body might be saying, her head was warning her to run fast in the opposite direction.
Enzo stood under the streetlight, his shoulders huge, his frame lean and awe inspiring, his face dark and sinful. Everything about him was sinful. Rob’s words came back to Cara. Could this man make her forget? For one night? Even as she was thinking this, her thoughts and belly in turmoil at what she was walking away from, he shrugged nonchalantly and stepped back too. The moment was gone. Of course he wouldn’t insist. It had been a complete mystery to her what he had seen in her at all in the first place. However, disappointment was crushing, mocking her.
‘Allora buonanotte Cara.’
Her tongue seemed to cleave to the roof of her mouth as she realised that she’d never in her life see this man again. And she suddenly wondered desperately how it would be to kiss him. But she reiterated to herself sternly, that was the realm of fantasy. He was not in her league and she wouldn’t even want him to be. Didn’t she despise the kind of men that went into that club? And yet, prompted a voice, hadn’t he been different?
As if in accord with the rebellious voice, her newly awakened body was screaming to walk up to him and say, wait, yes, I’ll take what you’re offering. Even though he’d displayed his own indifference to her answer. Patently, he didn’t care. All he had to do was snap his fingers and women would be tripping over themselves to be with him. She had to focus on that. There was nothing special going on here.
‘Good night Enzo.’ He hadn’t even told her his second name. She turned abruptly and walked away, her breath coming fast, her heart thumping so hard that she feared it might burst from her chest. And ridiculously at that moment she felt more alone than she had at any point in her life to date. And that was saying a lot. Silly tears pricked the back of her eyes and she told herself it had to be the result of the fraught and emotional week. The amazing evening that had come out of nowhere.
As she passed the queue of people waiting to get into the club she overheard one girl say loudly, ‘Look at him…must be crazy to walk away from him…’
Cara stopped in her tracks and slowly turned around. Enzo was not looking at her anymore and if anything that should have made it easier for her to put this whole night down to some crazy experience brought on and heightened by grief and shock. But she couldn’t move, she watched as he said something to one of the other doormen who whistled, obviously calling his car around. All Cara could see was his broad shouders, that inky black hair, the sheer masculine beauty of his build. The latent power in his tall proud stance. Something within her was calling out to be obeyed. Some deep primal need to forge a connection. The thought of never seeing him again was causing a panicky fluttering in her chest.
Cara was unaware of her feet carrying her in one inevitable direction: back to him, until she was standing behind him and feeling as though the world had come back to rest on its axis again. With her heart in her mouth she tentatively touched his back. Immediately he tensed and turned around, dark brows coming together over tawny eyes that sliced down into hers, seeing right through her in an instant.
‘Changed your mind?’
The sardonic arrogance, something cynical in his expression couldn’t impinge on her pathetic weakness that had led her back to him. She couldn’t answer straight away. She’d never done anything so rash and impulsive in her life but the thought suddenly struck her: she’d never wanted anything or anyone with such a deep visceral need before. There was protection in knowing that this was it. One night. With this beautiful man. And then she would allow all the pain and hurt and grief back in, but just for this night, these few hours that stretched ahead, she could be someone else. Not the girl orphaned by sixteen; not the little sister bullied by her older brother, hoping pathetically that he might change; not the girl working day and night to obtain a degree. And not the girl who had been involved in a horrific car crash in which she’d been the only one to walk away without a scratch.
His jaw was clenching again, a muscle working under the skin and Cara had the strongest desire to reach up and press her lips there. She wanted to grasp at this moment in which she could lose herself in him with a passion that made her shake. Finally she did seize the moment and nodded and said huskily, ‘Yes. I’d like to come to your hotel with you.’