The Spanish Billionaire's Hired Bride(7)

By: Rachel Lyndhurst

“No, it couldn’t. It’s been a long day and I’m starving. I wondered if you’d like to go for something to eat.”

“Oh.” She hesitated a moment. It was a tempting offer. “That’s very kind of you, but no, I really—”

“You really planned a lavish meal at home?” He flung open the battered fridge with one hand and a Formica cupboard door with the other sending her a withering look. “A tin of sardinas, some rather dubious looking bread, and I’ll bet there’s not a drop of wine in the place.” He slowly closed each door and turned to face her. “I think you just ran out of excuses, so are you coming or not?”

He had her cornered. And she was hungry. “Okay, I’d love to.” There was no going back now. “But we split the bill.”

“Go halves?” Ricardo sighed and ran a hand through his dark hair. “Do you think I’m poor? Or mean?”

“Neither,” she said flatly with a warning glare of defiance. “I’d prefer it that way, that’s all.”

“You really are annoyingly independent, aren’t you?” He looked around the shambolic kitchen area once again. “As you wish, pay the whole bill if you must, but let’s get out of here. I need to eat.”

Helen felt herself being eased through the glazed wooden doors of a small Italian restaurant with Ricardo’s large hand at the base of her spine. A thrill ricocheted through her as their bodies came into contact, and she had to sharply remind herself that this was chivalry and good manners. Nothing else.

A jovial man in his seventies noisily embraced Ricardo. “Hey Ricardo! Il molto tempo nessun vede! Long time no see!” He reached up and grabbed him by both cheeks and then wobbled his head from side to side between slab-like hands.

“For God’s sake, Alfonso, take it easy on the hair, will you? I don’t want to end up as bald and ugly as you.” Ricardo flinched as the old man cuffed him playfully around the ear.

“No one but an Almanza could speak to me like that and still get a table. You are a very bad boy, Ricardo. You notice I speak the English for you, eh?” He then winked conspiratorially. “Fabiana has been beside herself with excitement since I told her you wanted a table for two. She’d get me with the filleting knife if I sent you away before she got a look at your British girlfriend.”

“This is Senorita Helen Marshall. I’m showing her a few of the sights.” Ricardo was oblivious to the embarrassment that prickled her face. “And before you and Fabiana get any silly ideas, please be aware that she speaks very good Spanish. You won’t get away with anything.”

“I also speak Italian,” Helen said bluntly.

Ricardo forced a tight smile as they followed their host through the restaurant. “And Mandarin.”

Helen was irritated that he hadn’t corrected the old man on his “girlfriend” assumption. No doubt Ricardo was so self-absorbed he hadn’t even noticed her squirm, but she slipped politely into the chair he held out for her. Their table was in a discreet corner. The place had a homely feel with copper pans on one wall and a hodgepodge of faded prints on the other. Tattered Italian soccer posters mingled with an eclectic mix of ceramics, and the warm air was heavy with garlic and olive oil.

“I assume it is Senorita?” Ricardo asked quietly. “It was presumptive of me, but Alfonso can be quite a nuisance when it comes things like that. If he thought for one second I was out with a married woman he’d have slung us into the street.”

“Has that happened before?” Helen whispered in alarm.

Ricardo dipped his chin and leveled his sharp eyes with hers. “I don’t do married women.” His expression was serious. “So am I safe?”

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