Never Underestimate a Caffarelli(2)

By: Melanie Milburne

Lily sat back in her chair and chewed at a ragged end on her pinkie nail. For anyone else it would be a dream job to take on a man as rich and famous as Raoul Caffarelli. To spend a month in the lap of luxury working closely with a man every single woman on the planet would give ten years of her life to have one day or night with, let alone thirty-one of them. They would grab the opportunity with both hands and relish every minute of it.

But for her it would be a form of torture.

Her stomach recoiled at the thought of putting her hands on a hard male body. Working with a client as a physical therapist meant physical contact—close physical contact. Hands on flesh. Hands on muscles and tendons, stroking and massaging... Touching.

Her mobile rang from where it was sitting on her desk. She saw her mother’s face come up on the screen and pressed the answer button. ‘Hi, Mum. Are you OK?’

‘Darling, I hate to bother you when you’re at work, but the bank’s been on the phone to me again. They’re going to foreclose on the house if I don’t come up with the last three months’ mortgage payments. I tried to explain that it was Martin who siphoned off my account but they wouldn’t listen.’

Lily felt her blood boil at how her mother had been scammed by a man she had met through an online dating service. Never a great judge of character at the best of times—although she was hardly one to talk, given what had happened to her on the night of her twenty-first birthday—her mother had foolishly trusted her new partner and was now paying heavily for it. That lowlife pond-scum had hacked into her mother’s accounts and stolen her life savings.

Was fate twisting Lily’s arm? How could she knock back this job when her mother was in such desperate need of financial support? Her mother had stalwartly stood by her during her lowest point. Those terrible dark days after her twenty-first birthday had almost sent her to the edge of sanity. But her mother had stood by her, putting her own life on hold to help Lily come out of that black hole of despair and self-loathing. Didn’t she owe this to her mother?

It was only for a month.

Four weeks.

Thirty-one days.

It would feel like a lifetime.

‘It’s all right, Mum.’ She took a scratchy little breath. ‘I’m taking on a new client. It’ll mean I’ll be away in France for the whole of August but I’ll ask them to pay me up-front. That will sort out the bank. You’re not going to lose the house. Not if I can help it.’

* * *

Raoul scowled at his brother. ‘I thought I told you I want to be left alone.’

Rafe blew out a breath of frustration. ‘You can’t spend the rest of your life holed up here like a recluse. What is wrong with you? Can’t you see this is your best chance—maybe your only chance—of a recovery?’

Raoul wheeled his chair with his one good arm so he didn’t have to face his brother. He knew Rafe meant well but the thought of having some young Englishwoman fussing over him with her snake-oil remedies was anathema to him right now. ‘The best doctors in Italy said this is as good as it’s going to get. I don’t need to have this Archer woman wasting my time and your money pretending it’s going to be otherwise.’

‘Look, I know you’re still smarting about Clarissa breaking off your engagement, but you can’t hold it against all women just because she—’

‘This has nothing to do with Clarissa,’ Raoul snapped as he wheeled back round.

Rafe gave him a look that spoke volumes. ‘You weren’t even in love with her. You just thought she ticked all the boxes. The accident showed you her true colours. The way I see it—and Poppy says the same—you had a very lucky escape.’

Raoul’s left hand gripped the chair so tightly he thought his knuckles were going to explode through his skin. ‘You think I’ve been lucky? Look at me, Rafe. I’m stuck in this chair! I can’t even dress myself. Don’t insult me by saying I’m lucky.’

Rafe rubbed a hand over the top of his head. ‘Sorry. Bad choice of words.’ He dropped his hand back by his side. ‘Will you at least meet her? Give her a trial run for a week or even a couple of days? If it doesn’t work out then you can call it quits. You’ll be the one in control of whether she stays or goes.’

Raoul wheeled back over to the window to look at the view over the fields where some of his most prized thoroughbreds were grazing. He couldn’t even go out to them and stroke their velvet noses. He couldn’t walk over the soft springy grass. He was trapped in this chair, trapped in his own body, in the body that for the last thirty-four years had defined him as a person—as a man. The doctors had told him he was luckier than most; he still had feeling in his legs and full bladder and bowel function. He supposedly still had sexual function, but what woman would want him now?