-Caught me on the balcony, so I can’t run away ? she tried in a voice that came out weak rather than amused.
-You could always jump. But I don’t think it’s worth it. Either way, I didn’t intend to trap you.
She felt a small smile on her lips, and she saw the corners of his stretching a bit.
-So…You talk first, I talk first ?
-I will, if you let me.
She nodded and wrapped her arms around herself, leaning on the balcony.
-I wanted to apologize, he said after taking a deep breath. I’ve been acting like a fool, and I’m very sorry about it. You were right. About my father, about Constanza…I should have stood up to him a long time ago, but I guess I was just scared.
-I understand that.
-As for Constanza…
He looked away for a moment, as if looking for the right words.
-I broke up with her, he announced, looking straight at Cat. Realized I didn’t love her. That could have come in time, but I didn’t want to invest myself in this relationship.
-Why do you tell me that ? she asked faintly, her heart pounding loudly in her ears.
-I...I’m going to tell my father I won’t have any business with him anymore. Among other things…And once I’m done, I hope you’ll wait for me downstairs.
-I doubt he’ll let me spend the evening here after what I’m going to say.
-I see…Cat answered with a smile.
Girolamo’s smile broadened, planting a warm feeling in the girl’s belly.
-Will you wait ?
He stepped closer, reached for her hand. She let him touch her, pressed his fingers gently as he did.
-I will, she whispered, only for him to hear.
He lifted her hand and kissed it on the top. Cat shivered as a million sparkles rushed under her skin.
He kept her hand in his and led her back inside. Her cheeks were red and hot and she hated it. She needed a drink. Or some fresh air.
-My father is up there, Girolamo hissed between clenched teeth.
Cat quickly acknowledged a bald man, standing on a small platform leading to what seemed like a more private lounge. His clothes looked more expensive than anything his guests had managed to get on their back and a golden watch was shining at his wrist. From where she was, she couldn’t tell whether or not he was smiling, but both options were equally terrifying. She felt Girolamo stiffening at her side.
-You can do this, she hushed. Want a kiss for good luck ?
He didn’t answer, just looked at her in surprise. She stood on her toes and kissed his cheek, making him blush slightly.
-I’ll wait for you in the hall, she promised.
He gave her a half-smile and parted from her reluctantly. Cat stood waiting for him to reach his father, giving her friend an encouraging smile every time he turned around. When he stepped forward, she stole away to find her own father.
She pretexted a headache, told him she would call for the car on her way down, that there was no need to worry and that she would see him tomorrow morning. As she strolled down to the hall, the weight on her chest disappeared and she was smiling as she asked the woman in the cloakroom for her coat and Riario’s.
She had only stepped outside of the building, savoring the cold night air on her skin and in her lungs, when the screams pierced the night. The security agents standing at the gates looked up, searching for the origin of the trouble.
“And don’t ever show yourself in my presence again !”
Cat smiled when she grasped a vision of Girolamo coming down the stairs, rushing in the hall as he saw her outside. One security guard reached for his talkie, only to have Riario smiling at him and telling him he knew his way out.
He was laughing when he reached Cat.
-I never thought it would be that enjoyable, he exclaimed, his eyes lost in the night sky.
-I’m glad I’ll never have to do that. I’m not brave enough. Your coat, by the way.
He took it from her hands, negligibly throwing it on his shoulder.
-I think you are.
-What makes you say that ?
-I don’t really know. Do I have to ?
-Good. God, I could walk all the way back home.
-It’s a seven hours ride.
-I know. You’re up for it ? he asked, holding out a hand, the light in his eyes making it impossible to determine if he was joking or not.
-I’m afraid not. Not in this shoes, at least.
She pointed towards her heels and lifted her skirt just enough for her toes to show.
-Too bad…I’ll have to call for a taxi to get us back to the hotel.
-Us ? You are quite bold.
-I feel bold, he answered, spreading his arms like if they were wings. I finally taste freedom.
-And do you like it ? she asked, amused by his reaction.
He looked back at her, stood silent for a moment. She clenched at her purse, unsure about what would come next.
Something flinched in his eyes. He stepped towards her, cupped her head with his hand and pressed his lips against hers.
Not a sweet romantic kiss as in movies and romantics novels. He kissed her hungrily, with need, as she wished he had kissed her months ago.
He looked mad when they broke their kiss. And she probably looked mad too. Heavily panting, shaking in each other arms…
-I’m sorry, he began to apologize. I shouldn’t have…
She put her hand on his cheek and kissed him again, with all the strength and passion she could muster. And he answered in the same way. His hand slipped to her back, pressing her closer to his body.
-That proposition about an hotel still stands ? she whispered in his ear once they parted again, his hand still resting in the curve of her back.
He gently chuckled against her neck, tickling her with his breath.
-You are the bold one, now, he finally said.
She rested her head on his shoulder during the ride, filling herself with his smell, trying to remember the beating of his heart, the rhythm of his breathing, the heat of his hand on her shoulder.
Every time they caught each other’s glance, they couldn’t help but smile. It felt silly, but also right. She had waited too long for that, his lips on hers, his hands in her hair, his breath intertwined with hers. No one could take that from them.
The hotel room was larger than she had expected. It was actually bigger than her own flat.
-All that for yourself, she teased as she let her finger linger on the white leather couch.
-Yes. Curtesy of my father.
-Not afraid he will throw you out after tonight ?
-He can’t, Girolamo replied with a devilish smile. I made arrangement with his secretary to remain here as planned. Also, all my accounts are blocked from him and he got all his money back. I am officially free.
-I would drink to that ! Cat said, rising an imaginary glass.
-Later, he promised as he crossed the distance between them and kissed her again. She let herself fall on the couch and he found himself on top of her. He flipped her over, before holding her tight in his arms, pinned on his chest. She closed her eyes, at peace. He started caressing her hair. It had been long since the last time she had cuddled like that with anyone. And she felt foolishly happier to be in Girolamo’s arms.
-I haven’t been intimate with someone in years, he said in a hoarse voice as he stroked her back. I just need some time to…get used to it again.
-It’s alright, Cat answered, raising her chin as to meet his eyes. It’s not like if we had been waiting for six months.
He chuckled gently and brushed her lips against her forehead.
-When was your last relationship, if I may ask ? he went on, serious again.
Cat had to think a bit.
-One year and an half ago…A boy who was studying with my brother. I met him at Carlo’s graduation. Lust at first sight, she said with an embarrassed giggle. We began with sex and ended up being quite happy for six months. Until he fell for a man he met during holidays. Which we were spending together.
-Not very tactful.
-Indeed. We are perfect strangers now. But what about you ?
-There was a girl, Girolamo said with a sigh. Lovely, brown hair, shy smile. She was my cousin’s best friend. Lucrezia never forgave me for dallying with her friend.
-Is that why you two are like cat and dog ?
-Among other things…
Cat rose an interested eyebrow, but Girolamo didn’t mean to discuss that subject any further. He tucked a lock of hair back behind her ear but then decided to play with it. Cat rested her head on his chest again.
-Can I take a bath ? she suddenly asked, making him jumped. She suspected he had fallen asleep, she was now sure of it and felt a little guilty for waking him up.
-Of course, he said in a sleepy voice.
She moved out of his arms and back on her feet and followed him to the bathroom. Where she couldn’t help but gasped in awe at the bathtub.
-How many people can you put in there ?
-I sent a picture to Leo, and he estimated the number to five.
-“Leo” now, is it ? Cat teased.
-Stop that. I’ll leave you to it.
She had mildly expected he would join her, but she understood he didn’t want to rush it and mess up from the start. What were they anyway ? They had kissed, he had got her back in his hotel room…Surely, that meant something.
-Unless you need help with the zipper in your back.
-I think I can manage, she answered with a smile as she tried to reach for the zipper…and got strands of hair tangled in it.
He chuckled and offered her his assistance. His hands on her back were way more arousing than she would have thought.
-All done, he whispered as she felt the last strand getting free and the zipper run freely to the small of her back, along with a kiss on her shoulder.
She had to bit her lips to prevent moaning again. Did he have any idea of how he was making her feel ? As she turned around to face him, the fabrics still covering her breasts, she noticed her smirk and had her answer.
-I…I think I can manage with the rest. Thank you.
-I’ll leave you to it, he said, smirk still on his lips, turning on his heels and walking towards the door.
Once she stepped out of the bathtub, she realized she had no other clothes than her dress. And there was no way she was sleeping in it.
-Girolamo ? she called, wrapped in a towel, tiptoeing her way to the bedroom. Would you have something I could sleep in ?
She bit her lips just in time to contain her gasp.
Standing next to the huge bed, he was getting out of his clothes and hadn’t apparently noticed her. She had never seen more than his feet and arms in the months they had spent together. Maybe it was the champagne she had drunk or the tiredness, but the view of his back made something stir inside of her.
-Enjoying the view ?
-Yes…Euh, no. I mean…I need a shirt, a pull-over, anything that I can sleep in. Please.
Amused, he tossed her a black t-shirt. The smell was familiar and the fabric soft on her skin as she put it on. She slipped under the sheets and had almost fallen asleep by the time he joined her.
She liked it, his warmth against her. He hesitated a moment before pulling his arm around her and letting her closer. She turned her head and kissed his lips, slowly, as if he would break at her touch.
-Can I tell you something ? he said when they broke apart. I didn’t think you would forgive me that easily.
-I can make things harder, if you wish.
-Not now, he asked, nuzzling further against her shoulder. Yell at me tomorrow.
-As you wish.
She fell asleep quicker than she had in the past few weeks, at peace and safe.