‘Why not?’ Riccardo shrugged. ‘When you strip away all the nuts and bolts, isn’t that what everyone wants, whether they care to admit it or not?’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘You’re telling me that you wouldn’t want all the things that money can buy?’
‘You don’t need money to enjoy life.’ Charlie thought that she had never been happier than she had been over the past few weeks and money hadn’t been involved. Since when had money been able to buy the beauty of the Tuscan hills with a man you loved right there by your side?
‘But it enables one to eat…like this.’ On cue, their starters were brought for them, a bowl of massive tiger prawns smothered in butter and garlic.
‘You talk like someone who has oodles of it, Riccardo,’ Charlie laughed.
‘And you, cara, talk like an idealistic young kid who’s never sampled the reality of life.’
Which abruptly reminded her that he was probably right. She needed to edit her opinions just a fraction, because really, as a woman in her mid-twenties about to strike out in a brand-new career, she would be looking towards a future that involved making money, as much as she could, so that she could enjoy all the things money could buy. Nice house with a cosy mortgage, a small house but with a bigger one on the horizon just as soon as she had settled into her imaginary job and started climbing the imaginary ladder. She nearly grimaced at the dreary prospect of it all.
‘I’m trying to hang on to my inner child,’ she teased. ‘And so should you. I mean, you’re not exactly the old man of the sea as yet. You have plenty of time to start thinking about making money.’
If only you knew. He felt a twinge of discomfort at his deception.
‘I mean…’ she licked her fingers before dipping them into the bowl of water with the lemon bobbing in it ‘…you’re a free spirit. Somehow it’s hard to picture you behind a desk with a mound of paperwork in front of you, and the telephone ringing and the boss yapping at you to bring him that report you should have done three days ago.’
Riccardo couldn’t help it. He laughed at the comical picture she presented.
‘Maybe,’ he said smoothly, lowering his eyes. ‘I will be the boss yapping orders.’
‘Oh no, please don’t be one of those boring office people. Promise me!’
‘Okay. I promise. Now, shall we enjoy this meal? The last before I head off to visit my dear mother.’
Charlie wondered about his mother. He had let slip precious little about his personal life. Oh yes, she knew what turned him on, she knew his thoughts on politics and politicians and what his favourite foods were, and all the places he had been to, but his family background was a dark area.
‘Tell me about her.’ Their second course was brought and, as Charlie watched the waiter deposit large white plates laden with their heavenly dishes, she missed the sudden shutter that snapped down over Riccardo’s eyes. When she next looked across at him, he was back to his normal, teasing self.
‘She is a typical Italian mama, very protective of her little boy.’ That much was true. Riccardo dug into his piece of rare steak, a pleasant change from his recent diet of pasta and pizzas, and told her just enough to sate her curiosity without having to indulge in any out-and-out lying. Only when she asked where exactly his mother lived did he grow more circumspect.