The Italian Job
the assignment to go to Rome, not
because I was the best writer on the
A. Life Magazine,
nor because I could speak Italian,
because I couldn't. My incredibly
important skill was availability. Time
was short, Jason was on his honeymoon,
Pamela was very pregnant, and no less
than three staff members were out with
the flu, or so they said. In May, go
figure. Or perhaps because no one else
was willing to fly 3000 miles on
two-days’ notice. Shows what a
stunningly bad social life can do for
Even so, my boss, Mr. Hardcastle, the
first part of whose name should give you
an idea of his personality, hesitated
before giving his assent long enough to
grow mold on my sweaty palms.
"You aren't going to mess up again,
Like I planned to. Like climbing into
the window of a strange person’s hotel
room on my previous assignment for the
magazine had been a well-thought-out
decision. In truth, it was nothing but a
fluke, the unavoidable result of making
a serious miscalculation. Which, I
fervently vowed, would never happen
"No, of course not." I straightened
up to my full five feet, six inches and
shook my head. Which unfortunately set
my ponytail swinging, not a good thing.
Hardcastle frowned. "So go already.
My secretary will give you the tickets
and itinerary. Take your laptop and be
sure it works this time."
I'd only made that mistake once so he
had no call to remind me. And anyway,
even without the laptop, I'd remembered
almost the entire interview from that
assignment and my article was highly
praised in some circles.
"And, Sydney, don't forget this is
your last chance."
He meant that threat, so I smiled and
hurried from his office before he could
change his mind about Rome.
The next day I found my never-used
passport, had my hair trimmed, and
packed my itinerary, tickets and laptop.
I planned to record every minute of my
first European experience into my
journal and tucked it into my seriously
overpriced handbag. I went to bed before
nine in order to catch a very early
flight out of Los Angeles the next
However, as so often happens with me,
I couldn't fall asleep for hours. My
brain wanted to replay the episode of
the window, perhaps to reinforce in my
conscious mind that the entire thing had
not been my fault.
I’d been given the assignment to
interview a minor local politician
running for office in the next election,
and I sat opposite him in an armless
chair in his hotel room. I asked
questions and he answered politely but
softly in what I later realized he
considered a sexy voice. As I leaned
forward to hear him, my skirt hiked up
over my knees. I attempted to pull it
down, dropped my notebook and bent to
pick it up, and suddenly he was all over
me like a case of hives.
I managed to get out of his clutches
and protested in no uncertain terms, but
he would have none of it. We did a
little cha-cha around the sofa, and
then, after slowing him down by pushing
an end table in front of him, I grabbed
my purse, dashed into the bedroom and
slammed the door.
Yes, that might sound like a foolish
thing to have done, but I knew that old
hotel. The windows were actually French
doors and led to outside balconies. My
aim was to get out there and call for
Much to my surprise, he didn't follow
me. Maybe he had a phone call, or he
fell over the end table, or someone came
to the door, but my problem remained. It
was dark--he had set the interview time
for evening--and the balcony was two
stories above the street, too far for
jumping, even if I were an Olympic
athlete instead of someone whose only
exercise is changing the sheets on her
However, the next balcony being
merely a foot away, I decided to swing
over to it, enter the next room by way
of those French doors and return
to the hotel hallway. The next room,
which I could only see through a crack
in closed drapes, seemed dark and empty.
I paused but reasoned that even if
someone were staying there, chances were
slim it would be another man bent on
So I hiked up my skirt, swung my legs
over the two balcony railings and gently
tried the handle of the door. It was
jerked open from inside, and suddenly I
was face to face with a fledgling actor
in town to audition for a part in an
Of course, I didn't know his
occupation at the time. That came in the
next-day's newspapers. Even so, it could
all have ended unobtrusively except that
someone had apparently called a
paparazzo, who flashed a bright
light at me. I froze like a safe-cracker
with his hand on the dial, Mr. Actor
pulled me into his room, and I found
myself among a dozen people watching a
film clip on the room's DVD player.
I was labeled a "groupie," handed an
eight-by-ten glossy signed by the actor,
and laughingly sent on my way.
Except that, someone had taken
pictures, and, as a result of the sudden
publicity, Mr. Actor got a role in an
action-adventure film. At the same time,
while climbing over the balcony, my
handbag had slipped off my shoulder, and
the photographer found the magazine’s
business cards. Mr. Hardcastle was not
I wrote up the interview as if none
of that had occurred, because I
preferred to think the politician
perhaps never behaved that way before.
Also, I learned a long time ago that I
have plenty of faults of my own, so I
lean toward forgiving others for theirs.
* * *
I flew from Los Angeles to Washington
several hours after I expected to. Some
of the first class seats had developed
problems requiring the ministrations of
a maintenance crew, and we were unable
to board for some time. As usual, my
luck had decided not to be a lady that
The airline generously offered us
coupons for Starbucks Coffee while we
waited. Nevertheless, I missed my
connecting flight, and evening arrived
before I landed in Washington, boarded a
Boeing 747 to Rome and plopped into a
window seat in coach.
Almost immediately after stowing my
suitcase in the overhead bin and tucking
my laptop and purse under the seat in
front of me, I realized the man standing
in the aisle spoke to my seat-mate in
French. I couldn't speak Italian, but I
had studied French in school and
mentally translated, "Vous ete
Francais?" as the English, "You are
Having received a "Oui," in
response, the man, who was slender,
sandy-haired, and dressed casually in
khaki pants and a knit pullover, spoke
again to the man currently sitting in
the aisle seat next to me.
"Voulez-vous desire a changez avec
moi?" Sandy-hair accompanied the
question with gestures pointing first to
the seat the Frenchman occupied and then
the one in the center five-seat row
The Frenchman bobbed his head, said,
"Merci," and immediately
retrieved a brown tote-bag from in front
of his feet and rose to make the switch.
After which, Sandy-hair dropped into
the just-vacated seat next to me and
stowed his own bag. He turned to me and,
as if he felt the need to explain, said,
in American English that he'd obviously
grown up speaking, "He's traveling with
his wife and daughter, and I thought
they'd prefer to sit together."
"How very nice of you." I smiled
briefly and turned toward the window,
where my vision took in only the sight
of the stubbornly-unmoving jetway.
Sandy-hair seemed compelled to offer
more explanation. "I noticed they didn't
have seats together in the first place.
Maybe they booked late or, like me, they
prefer the bulkhead row and couldn't get
three seats together."
I thought his earnest speech made
some reply necessary. "But now you've
given up your own seat in the bulkhead
He grinned. "It seemed like a good
idea at the time. He looked as if
embarrassed that his generosity had been
noted, and I admired that. I also found
him quite good-looking and younger than
I first thought, maybe early thirties or
even late twenties.
He was also quite tall, which made
his giving up his seat even kinder. "I
suppose you like the extra leg room?"
"Plus the fact there'd be no one
sitting in front of me to put the back
of his seat down in my lap."
"I know what you mean." I smiled in
sympathy, although I hadn't done as much
traveling by air as this man apparently
"It can be claustrophobic. These
coach seats are narrow to begin with,
and when that happens I feel as if I'm
sitting in a coffin." He shrugged as if
he'd survived worse.
I felt rapport building, then checked
myself. I was not there to get
acquainted with a good-looking man.
Hardcastle meant it when he said the
assignment might be my last. I mustn't
"Do you speak French?" Sandy-hair
"Un petite peu." I put my
forefinger and thumb together, like
holding a pinch of salt.
He grinned again, a really sincere,
friendly grin. "In France perhaps?"
"No, in high school about a thousand
"If you're like me, a hundred anyway.
Do you also know a wee bit of Italian?"
"Unfortunately no." I liked his
looks, his smile and his courtesy, but
what I didn't need just then was a long
conversation to distract me from what my
boss expected me to do. I was rescued
from having to say more because the
flight attendant came through the aisle
reminding us to fasten our seatbelts.
The jumbo jet began to move.
"That's too bad. It's seven hours to
Rome, and I have an English-to-Italian
dictionary in my bag. Would you like to
"Thanks, but I have to read this." I
held up the guidebook of Rome, Florence
and Venice I had promised Hardcastle I'd
read on the flight.
He held up a paperback mystery, one
of those modern ones where the women
practice karate as well as they
I didn’t comment, and he nodded and
turned aside, as if assuming I'd rather
not be disturbed. That was the message I
needed to send, although I was
regretting it every second.
While the plane taxied to the runway
and finally took off, I thought of what
my mother always said when she knew I
headed out on a traveling assignment:
that a single woman traveling alone had
better be prepared to be hit on by men.
As if I didn't know. In my twenty-five
years I'd had enough encounters with men
to know that some did, and usually not
because they expected me to be the most
witty and erudite of companions.
Besides, the memory of the incident with
the politician remained only too fresh
in my thoughts. He definitely had
something else on his mind than
wondering if I shopped on Rodeo Drive.
However, I hadn't expected to fend off a
male so soon on that trip. I thought I
might have to wait until I got to Italy
where they allegedly pinched women's
bottoms as a matter of culture.
I didn't really feel this particular
man had behaved at all aggressively,
especially when we were to be seat-mates
for seven hours. A little polite
conversation undoubtedly went with the
territory. In fact, keeping unsuitable
men from trying to seduce me often made
sticking strictly to business on
assignments a sizeable chore. I
sometimes considered myself a misfit: a
prudent woman in the new millennium when
Americans were allowed, if not obliged,
to be hedonistic.
The flight attendant appeared again
and took drink orders. I asked for
Seven-Up, then put my book in my lap and
lowered the tray table so she could put
a package of nuts and a paper napkin on
it. My companion did the same, and I
noticed he'd ordered Seven-Up as well. I
couldn't help smiling at that. At least
he didn’t plan to get drunk during the
The smile must have done it. He
offered his hand. "I'm Taylor Mitchell.
If I'm bothering you, just tell me to
I would never do that, even with
Hardcastle's threats running around like
gerbils in my head. Besides, since it
would be hard to ignore someone seated
so close to me during the long flight--I
didn't sit that close to a date in a
movie theatre--I thought we might as
well be friendly.
I put out my own hand. "Sydney
"I gather you're traveling alone.
Business or pleasure?"
"Business. I'm researching an article
for the magazine I work for. How about
"I'm on vacation, using my frequent
flyer miles. I missed a flight because
my program apparently has more blackout
days than a punch-drunk boxer."
I liked his sense of humor. Yet
before I could answer, the flight
attendant reappeared and pushed a cart
down the aisle. She asked what we'd like
While we ate, he continued the
conversation. "After a day or two in
Rome, I'm going to Lake Como to paint."
"As in pictures? You're an artist?"
"Part-time, more of a hobby, really.
In winter I free-lance in computers and
electronics, and in spring and summer I
paint and sell my work in galleries in
Scottsdale and San Francisco."
"Are you famous? Should I have heard
of you?" Although impressed, I thought
him too young to be famous. However, as
a person who knows next to nothing about
serious art, I wouldn't know anyway.
He threw back his head and laughed, a
rich, throaty sound. "Good heavens, no.
It's a nice dream, but I'm not that
ambitious. I just like to make enough
money to support my life-style. I'm
somewhat of a loner."
I assumed his comment, and the fact
he wore no wedding ring, meant he wasn't
married. Not that I considered him an
eligible man. I hoped to meet one
sometime, just not now when my job was
probably at stake. Still, I liked the
fact he wasn’t one of those married men
who apparently justified an
extra-marital fling as long as he left
his wife behind in a different zip-code.
And then, once the plane landed, I'd
probably never see Mr. Mitchell again.
"Did you bring your paints and an
easel with you on this trip?"
"Too much hassle and not necessary
anymore." He bent down, unzipped his
black nylon carryall, and pulled out a
camera. "Digital." He offered it to me.
"I can take as many as six hundred
pictures and store them on tiny discs.
Then when I get back home I put them
into my computer, print out larger
versions and paint from them in my
While I turned the small camera over
in my hands, he joked, "Ain't technology
wonderful?" Although I knew how they
worked because I owned a small digital
camera myself, I didn’t admit it. I
could tell he liked telling me about it.
Or else it was an excuse to take my
picture and up the stakes.
"Let me show you." He took the camera
from me, leaned back into the aisle a
little way and pointed it at my face. He
clicked a button on the camera and
returned it to me.
I saw myself in the tiny screen and
handed it back to him. "So now you can
erase it and take a picture of something
"I could, but maybe I want to keep
this one. In case I ever want to paint a
Although I'd been called that before,
I think my hair is more brown than red.
Yet who am I to disagree with someone
who puts "beautiful" in front of it? I
felt my face grow warm. I'd had my share
of compliments, but somehow I enjoyed
this one more than the others.
We talked of weather and the unique
problems connected with travel. I felt
an attraction toward him growing. We
both remembered a smattering of high
school French, and although I enjoyed
Taylor's company, I kept thinking about
the guidebook I should be reading. Then
I rationalized almost immediately that
Hardcastle surely didn't expect me to
study instead of eat. I told myself I'd
open the book as soon as the dinner
service was over.
When coffee was served and the
in-flight movie came on, Taylor looked
up at the screen and sighed. "I'm afraid
I've seen this before."
"Me too." I made a face. "And wish I
He turned to me with a questioning
look. "What didn't you like about it?"
I groaned. "Oh, there I go putting my
foot in my mouth again." In my opinion,
conversation would be more fun if people
said what they thought. But, because I
often do, I'm unfit for polite society.
"I suppose you're going to say you loved
"I wondered if you found it as
childish as I did."
"I guess ninety percent of movies
these days are made for teens."
"The girl in the film was pretty,
I'd been thinking, "smart as a smoked
salmon," but instead I offered,
"How about dumb as a post?"
I laughed. "Close enough."
"I suppose if we're not going to
watch the movie we can talk a bit more."
I wanted to, but Hardcastle’s voice
in my head kept saying, "No, no, no."
How was I ever going to study my
guidebook at that rate? I pulled the
book from under the napkin in my lap and
showed it to him again. "I'm supposed to
be learning this."
Taylor shrugged. "I guess I ought to
try to get some rest. It'll be morning
when we land." He pushed his seat back
down, turned off his overhead light and
closed his eyes. "See you in Rome."
I hoped I hadn't offended him, but he
picked the wrong moment to enter my
life. I needed my job, and that required
I know something about Italy before I
got there. I opened the book to the
section on ancient Rome. However, due to
remembering the window fiasco, I'd had
very little sleep the night before, and
soon my vision began to blur and I found
myself yawning between every sentence I
read. Maybe if I just rested my eyes for
a few minutes...
"I wouldn't ask Gary Pritchard to captain Southern Star if he were the last
skipper left alive in the Bahamas!"
Marilee Shaw rarely put herself in the position of having to eat her own
words, but as she walked quickly along the dock to where Southern Star lay tied
at anchor, the challenge she uttered earlier lingered in her ears as well as on
her tongue. So much for rash promises.
"That sounds vaguely familiar, except this morning it was the entire
world." Jane Owens, who owned a catering service that supplied food for
local charters, and who at sixty had the energy of most women at forty-five,
hurried to keep up with Marilee's long-legged stride. "Now that you've changed
your mind, let's not quibble over geography."
As she neared the yacht she had recently inherited, Marilee slowed her pace.
The largest and most luxurious of the two dozen craft berthed in the marina, the
Star swayed gently atop the water's surface.
"I wish I could think of one good reason, even two bad ones, why he should
agree to take Southern Star out on this cruise." Her gaze swept the fifty-two
foot length of the yacht. With a sigh, she climbed the gangplank, a red and
white For Sale sign in one hand and a roll of tape in the other. Although the
Star was listed with three brokers, one at Harbour Island there on Eleuthera,
and two in Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, it paid to be practical.
"He loved you once," Jane said from the deck below. "Men don't forget those
things, although they like to pretend they do."
"Whatever he felt, that was eight years ago. Men don't stay in love that
long." All he was likely to remember was how much she’d hurt him. "He'll say
After securing the sign to the forward window of the saloon, Marilee turned
quickly and, with Jane, left the yacht and dock behind, heading for the nearby
cinder block building that housed her late father's office for South Wind
Charters. As she made her way across the asphalt roadway and down the cement
sidewalk, a crisp Atlantic breeze, carrying the fresh, clean scent of salt air,
riffled through her hair. The sun felt warm on her skin and she would have liked
to enjoy it further, but enjoyment of any kind had been pushed to somewhere
below "read everything by Shakespeare" on her list of priorities.
She pushed open the office door and went to the desk where piles of invoices,
outdated correspondence, and an unhealthy preponderance of bills greeted her.
Having sorted through all that paper for the past three weeks, she wanted to
sweep it into the trash and return home to California.
"I need a miracle," she said. "Only something tells me that Gary will not be
the knight who rides to my rescue."
"Then why are you going all the way down to Governor's Harbour when you
already know his answer?" Mischief danced in the depths of Jane's dark eyes.
"Because I'm a masochist." Marilee sank into the ancient swivel chair.
"Because I have this overpowering urge to have him slam the door in my face.
Because I believe in living dangerously. Take your pick."
"I like the last," Jane said.
"Unfortunately, I have few options. This is simple economics. Either I honor
the last commitment Dad left on the books, or the bank will repossess the Star."
She stared at the invoice confirming a ten-day charter for Tom Wellman and a
party of four. The very fact of the cruise seemed an answer to her prayers. How
else could she make even one payment to the bank?
"Dad put his entire life into the Star," she continued. "Now he’s left her to
me, every gleaming, mortgaged foot of her. They'll sell her at auction for a
fraction of what she's worth. I can't let them do that."
"You've convinced me," Jane said, "and you'll convince Gary. I think it a
good sign he's come back to Eleuthera after all those years he lived away. As if
he knew you were going to need him."
"That's one way of looking at it." Marilee had already decided she needed a
second miracle, finding a skipper. She stood and picked up her keys. "But I
still wish there was another way. Any other way. Taming lions would have
to be a picnic compared to coaxing Gary into this assignment."
She remembered their last meeting vividly. Hurt had burned in his eyes and it
had taken her the better part of two years to stop hating herself for what she
believed, at the time, was the right decision.
"Don't feel you have to be overly scrupulous." Jane, never one to keep good
advice to herself, pressed each point home with emphasis. "Play on his sense of
fairness. Your father helped Gary get started in this business, made it possible
for him to buy his first yacht. Loyalty and obligation are sentiments he'll
"I'll try." Marilee paused at the door. "But will they work when he knows
I've got a fifty-two-foot white elephant on my hands?"
"Gary Pritchard was like a son to your father. You might want to remind him
of that, too."
They stepped out into the bright sunshine. "This sounds like a pep rally. You
know, one up for our side." She laughed, but it came out sounding forced.
After saying goodbye to Jane, she climbed into the Jeep and, as she turned
the key, its engine sprang to life. She felt a moment's hesitation, but before
she allowed herself to think of the consequences, swung the Jeep onto the road
and headed south toward Governor's Harbour.
Her memory was good and the area she sought was not too difficult to find.
Eleuthera Island, less than 100 miles long and under five miles wide in many
places, could be covered in less than three hours. In the past, she had explored
every inch of it with her father, but that had been only after her parents
divorced and he moved from Florida to the Bahamas, where he thought business
would be better. She drove past old homes, lying on either side of the hill,
half secluded by tropical shrubs, tranquil and quiet. That day, however, she had
no time to slow and admire their quaint beauty. Then she was past the few shops,
the supermarket, the bank, the church she had once attended and over the ridge
where the road ran toward sandy beaches.
An hour later, she recognized Gary's house from Jane's brief description. She
climbed out of the Jeep and walked slowly up the flagstone path. All smoked
glass and wood and vaulted roof, the house was bordered on three sides by
immaculately kept emerald lawns. Just beyond, across an expanse of pink sand
dotted with lush green palms, the ocean rushed at the shore. In a swirl of
sparkling turquoise, it inched up onto the beach only to be swept back out to
sea. Almost mesmerized by the motion of the water, ebbing and flowing, rising on
a high, sweet crest, only to crash and slip away, she realized her relationship
with Gary had been like that.
If it was possible to love a man too much, to become totally captivated by
the sight and sound of him, then that was how she had loved Gary Pritchard. But
what she had felt for him in the beginning had become, at the end, too strong,
too consuming, so that when he asked her to marry him, she knew without a
moment's doubt that she could never share him with his mistress, the sea. She
could never have become a part-time fixture in his life. Like her mother had
been in her father's.
She pushed the bell. A chime sounded somewhere in the interior of the house,
soft and muted. It died, and she waited, finally deciding, almost with a sense
of relief, that no one was home. Before she had a chance to consider what plan
to adopt next--leaving a note was out of the question--something furry brushed
against her. With a small gasp, she looked down to find a fat orange and white
striped cat looking up at her.
"Where did you come from?" she said aloud.
The cat examined Marilee, then strolled languorously to the door, where it
stretched its front paws against the polished mahogany.
Surprised to find so tame an animal on the premises--a pair of Great Danes
would have seemed more appropriate for the Gary Pritchard she
remembered--Marilee said, "Don't tell me you belong here!"
"He doesn't. I gave him a hand-out once or twice and I haven't been able to
get rid of him since. I call him Cat." The voice that came from directly behind
Marilee was low and husky, familiar, and intensely masculine, like its owner.
She straightened up and turned in that direction.
Except for the deeper lines etched into his brow and along the sides of his
mouth, he had, in her view, changed very little. At thirty-two, he was still
slim where it counted, the muscles finely toned in his long legs and upper arms.
Dark hair fell carelessly in thick waves to frame his face, and his blue eyes
were exactly as she remembered them, alive with a curiosity and zest for living
that had once made him the most exciting man she had ever met.
"Hello, Gary." Her heartbeat shifted into high gear. She took a series of
deep breaths. In, out, in, out, like a do-it-yourself mouth-to-mouth
He took a half step toward her, then drew back. "Well." He sounded uncertain,
which heightened Marilee's own nervousness.
"How are you, Gary?" There, she had managed to say his name twice without
sounding like a breathy ingenue.
"Right this minute, surprised would be an understatement." After a moment,
the uncertainty disappeared from his voice. "You look wonderful, Lee."
"You look well, too." It was her turn to understate. Dressed in denim
cut-offs and navy blue tank top, he looked as vital, tanned and handsome as
"I had no idea you were here on Eleuthera." A tiny smile flirted with the
corners of his lips.
"I'm on temporary leave from my job." The cat brushed against Marilee, then
leaped to its adopted owner, rubbing against his legs.
"Computers, isn't it?"
"Yes." Had her father told him that? Or had he asked about her? She wondered
what else he knew of her life. "I'm with Visions Unlimited. I help businesses
develop networking systems, use new software."
"You're a teacher. That's a good career for you, Lee."
"What makes you say that?" She laughed. "Have you pictured me as some
outdated stereotype of a teacher, in stout shoes and frumpy dress, my hair
pulled into a bun?"
"Hardly. And it would be a shame to hide that hair." His smile softened his
rugged features. "But it's conservative, and predictable."
"Not the kind of work I do." She felt an urge to defend herself. "My
territory takes in three states. I could be in San Diego one day and Seattle the
next. There are times I have to catch a flight on less than four hours' notice.
It's hectic, but it is not predictable."
"I'm glad." He smiled more broadly this time. "You've changed, then. That's
Oh, he was going to make this very difficult. Why had she allowed herself to
hope otherwise? "I have less than a month left to sort out Dad's affairs. The
business is in terrible shape. I... I suppose you heard."
He nodded, genuine sorrow flicking to the surface of his eyes. "I'm sorry,
Lee. He was a good friend--the best--and I'll miss him. I was in Miami when he
died. I didn't find out about it until last week."
He pushed open the door and reached toward her.
Her first instinct was to back away, but before she could act on the impulse,
his long fingers brushed her arm. With the slightest pressure he guided her into
the cool interior of the house.
"I appreciate your driving all this way to tell me."
Guilt washed over her momentarily, and she followed him into a large living
room, but its simple beauty failed to register on her. Rattan chairs, glass
topped tables, recessed lighting, woven straw rug, made only fleeting
impressions. Her conscious mind was filled with the man, not his surroundings,
and also of the fact that she was disturbed he could still have such an effect
on her. On the drive down to his house, she felt convinced she had made peace
with herself over Gary. Now, she wasn't so sure.
"Can I get you something? Club soda or coffee? I'm afraid that's all I can
offer you just now."
She shook her head. How could she admit she had come, not to share her grief
with him, but to offer him a proposition, yacht owner to yacht owner: that she
had, in essence, materialized on his doorstep to offer him a job? "Gary... I..."
She turned toward the tall sheets of glass that formed the side wall of the
room. "I like your view." She wished again that she didn't need his help.
"I like the one I’m looking at." He came up behind her, and she felt
vulnerable again, wished she hadn't come rushing down there wearing her yellow
terry cloth shorts and top, as if she were still eighteen. Brief hot-weather
clothes were usually all she had ever worn when she visited her father there.
But now, at twenty-six, their encounter was to be strictly business. Had to be.
But, with the mere sight of him warming her face and turning her hands clammy,
surely that was merely wishful thinking.