Oceans Between Us Online - Helen Scott Taylor Page 0,2

go to Truro where the hotels remained open all year. But he was softly spoken, unthreatening, and his obvious distress tugged at her heart. She nodded and went to the bureau they used as a reception desk. They had twelve bedrooms and during the winter shutdown, four had a makeover. She chose the key to number twelve, a family room at the far end of the upstairs corridor, the accommodation furthest from where she would be painting.

Opening the guest register, she glanced over her shoulder to find him staring blankly into space. "What's your name, please?"

He blinked and focused on her. "Mr. Rossellini." He spelled his name out for her. "It's Italian," he added.

"How long do you plan to stay, Mr. Rossellini?" He shook his head slowly, the vacant expression sliding back into his eyes. "I don't know."

"No worries. It doesn't matter." She closed the bureau and headed towards the stairs. "Follow me, please." As Maria mounted the steps, she remembered she had a hole in the seat of her old leggings, and she was wearing one of her dad's ancient T-shirts, one that had once been black but was now a washed-out gray with Led Zeppelin written across the front. And she probably had paint on her face. Not that Mr. Rossellini was likely to notice. He seemed so preoccupied. She wondered if he even knew he was in Porthale.

He followed her along the hall to room twelve. She opened the door and led him inside. He pulled up with a sharp intake of breath and stared at the baby's cot. "I hope you don't mind having a family room," she said quickly. "It has an ensuite bathroom and lovely sea views." Not that he would see much out of the windows right now. An American family who stayed last summer had called the outlook a 'million dollar view,' but at the moment the large bay window overlooking the harbor was awash with rain. Gradually the Italian's tense shoulders eased, and he moved into the room. He dropped his bag and wandered towards the window.

"Would you like me to put your leather jacket in the drying room, Mr. Rossellini?" She glanced down at his expensive-looking black shoes. "Your shoes, as well, if you like." He didn't seem to hear her. She moved closer to him, her gaze sweeping from his broad shoulders to his narrow hips. He was rather gorgeous, and his clothes and bag looked expensive. He belonged in an upscale city hotel, not a family-run guesthouse. Especially one that was supposed to be closed for the winter.

"Mr. Rossellini," she tried again, "shall I dry your jacket?"

He didn't look at her, but he unbuttoned the jacket, slipped it off his shoulders and held it out.

"Will you be wanting dinner?"

He shook his head and resumed staring out through the rivulets of rain snaking down the glass.

"Okay, well come down if you want anything." Maria hastened to the door and slipped out, closing it quietly behind her. The poor man was hurting for some reason, that much was obvious. She hated seeing anyone unhappy. Her greatest joy was to hear the laughter of the families who stayed at the Crow's Nest. The bucket-and-spade brigade, her dad called them. Along with the hikers who stayed a night or two during a trek around the Cornish coast, families were the guesthouse's mainstay.

She made her way downstairs and went to the warm drying room beside the laundry at the back. She carefully arranged the Italian's jacket on a hanger. The garment was certainly expensive, the leather and the satin lining both of good quality. Smoothing her hand down the wet sleeve, she wished she could smooth away the stranger's troubles as easily.

While he was here, she would do her best to pull him out of his dismal mood, make him forget his worries and relax. Her dad joked that she always wanted to pamper the guests. Really, she just enjoyed looking after people and until she had her own husband and children to pamper, the guests filled the gap. And she certainly wouldn't mind pampering the handsome Italian.

***

By seven the next morning Maria was down in the kitchen. She didn't expect her guest to be ready for breakfast this early, but according to Murphy's Law, he would come down at exactly the moment the carpet layers arrived. So she wanted to have everything prepared.

First, she fed Arthur, the village tomcat who turned up at her door every three or four days. He wolfed