‘Honestly, Riccardo. You can be so infuriating at times!’
‘Hmm. Does that mean you won’t miss me when I’m gone?’
‘Stop trying to change the subject!’
‘I’ve never seen you hot and bothered before. Cute. Anyway, it doesn’t matter what we’re wearing. Who cares? Certainly not the proprietor. Competition is stiff. He’ll be very grateful for our contribution to his kitty, whatever our attire happens to be.’
Charlie gazed at him, half impressed by his easy self-confidence, half determined not to be swept out of her reality zone.
‘Come on.’ Riccardo cupped her elbow and guided her to the front. ‘And, before you start telling me about your financial situation, this is on me.’ He didn’t give her time to reply. He spoke rapidly in Italian to the head waiter, so rapidly that she couldn’t keep up with the translation in her head, and whatever he said must have been funny because the stiff, proper Italian actually cracked a smile.
It was the first proper restaurant Charlie had been into since she had come to Italy. The clientele was mostly over fifty, and she could feel their eyes on her, which made her self-consciously twiddle her fingers under the table until Riccardo raised his eyebrows.
To further disconcert her, he ordered wine, shooting her a quelling look just in case she interrupted.
This, he had discovered, was one of the more boring aspects of being a so-called wanderer. He was supposed to be penniless. Or at least conserving all his money for some mysterious sensible future that lurked around the fictitious corner. Despite his relief that he didn’t have to be on his guard with her, there was still a part of him that would have liked to spend money on her. After all, it wasn’t as though he didn’t have an endless reserve of the stuff. He supposed it all came down to a pretty human desire to quite simply show off. Strange.
‘You’ll regret this,’ Charlie said, stifling her awkwardness by very quickly downing a glass of cold, white Italian wine. ‘When you’re backpacking your way through some bit of Europe and you haven’t got enough cash to get the train…’
‘That will never be the case,’ Riccardo said truthfully. Persuaded by him, she had stopped wearing a bra, and his eyes drifted to her ample breasts pushing against her tee-shirt.
He prided himself on his sophistication, but there was nothing sophisticated about what his body was doing right now. He hurriedly focused his attention on her face. Safer.
‘Because I will…make sure I always have sufficient to get by.’
‘That’s fine to say, but you don’t know what’s around the corner.’ Her friend Pete’s dad had, quite suddenly, been made redundant at the age of sixty-two. They had been forced to sell the family home and move into a tiny terraced house. Life never quite worked out the way you thought it was going to.
‘No, but you can hazard a pretty good guess. God, as they say, helps those who help themselves.’ He lazed back in his chair and looked at her with hooded eyes. Without turning, he snapped his fingers and a waiter came charging over. Charlie marvelled at his air of command. Where on earth did he get that from?
‘And where would you like God to help you get?’ she asked, smiling, relaxed, blossoming under his languorous gaze.
‘Oh, all the usual places. To a sprawling house with the sprawling lawns and the fleet of fast cars…’