He gave her a nod through the glass. It jolted her. She’d thought she might as well have been invisible. She held up the little sign she’d made, letting them know when Brian’s dad’s flight would land. There was no point in her going into the room and potentially exposing Brian to more bugs. The fewer people in his room the better.
Mitchell gave her a thumbs-up and wrote her a reply.
Dinner tonight in Innsbruck. 8 p.m.
She tried to ignore the flutter in her chest or the way her stomach just flipped over. He’d promised to take her out for dinner and show her around the city. Now that he knew when Brian’s dad was arriving, it was clear he meant to see it through.
She tried to appear casual, giving the slightest nod and wave before strolling back down the corridor. What on earth would she wear? She didn’t have any dressy clothes with her. She hadn’t thought she would need any.
Lisa caught her puzzled look. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘What do you wear to dinner in Innsbruck? It’s minus four outside and I have no idea what to wear.’
‘Something with an elastic waistband,’ was the instant response.
Samantha smiled. Now, that did sound good. She hadn’t had a chance to eat in the city yet. Most of the food in Mitch’s house was very traditional. It would be nice to sample some of the local delicacies.
Lisa touched her hand. ‘And definitely always leave room for pudding in Austria.’ Her eyes ran up and down Samantha’s frame. ‘You know, I might have something I can lend you. We look around the same size.’
‘You do? That would be great.’
Things were looking up. She didn’t have any doubt that whatever Lisa had it would be perfect. Probably a hundred times better than anything she could have brought from home. She looked out of the window at the view of the city beneath them. The sun was beginning to set, sending a warm glow over the snow-topped roofs and coloured houses. The white-tipped mountain peaks seemed to blush pink at sunset. The lights in the houses underneath twinkled. It looked magical, as if anything could happen down there. The question was, did she want it to?
* * *
It was like having two mother hens pecking at him now. Mitch almost regretted telling Lisa about his diabetes as she’d clucked around him all day about eating, testing and injecting. And he really didn’t like thinking of Samantha as a mother hen, because he had a whole host of other ways he could think about her...
It had been a whole week and he hadn’t even taken her to the city yet. What an appalling host. His mother would be enraged. She’d brought her children up to have much better manners than that.
Tonight he would be the perfect host. Tonight he would show her the wonders of Innsbruck, all while trying to keep his hands to himself.
He left his black shirt untucked with the first two buttons undone. Mitchell Brody didn’t dress up. He’d thought about taking her to one of the many local gourmet restaurants, before finally deciding to take her to one of his favourite Alpine inns. She’d never seen the Christmas market before and he wanted her to have time to wander around without being tied to a dinner reservation.
He glanced at his watch. It was only seven-thirty, but hopefully she would be ready early and they could head down the mountain. Now that Brian’s dad had arrived, he felt as if he could finally relax.
It happened every time. Every time one of the kids he’d bonded with got sick, he couldn’t get them out of his mind. The pale skin, the bruising, the lack of energy and appetite. Just like his brother.
It didn’t matter that his brother lived a healthy life now. While they’d been there as children they’d seen other friends become sick and slip away. That reality was still there now, and he couldn’t let that affect his work with the hospital. In fact, it made it much more important. Every family should feel supported, no matter what the outcome for their child. His tour money would allow that to continue in an environment more appropriate than they had now.
He’d been surprised to see that Lisa had persuaded Samantha to help out one of the sick kids. Lisa was wildly protective of her charges and the fact she’d relied on Sam, even for a few hours, was a big deal.
There was still that tiny doubt at the back of his mind—mainly stemming from the comment that Lisa had made. Samantha was clearly here to do a job. She’d already told him she needed the money. There was nothing hidden, nothing untoward. But was Samantha like the rest of the women Lisa had alluded to? If Samantha wasn’t his nurse, would she only be interested in him because of his money?
He couldn’t imagine for a minute that she was a fan or interested in the media. She hadn’t made a single comment like that. But money could be a big draw for people. Maybe he’d made a fool of himself by kissing her the other night. She hadn’t objected, though, and now it was eating away at him. Samantha seemed spunky enough to tell him not to make assumptions about her. He was cringing at the thought that he might have pushed himself on her unwillingly. Now he was beginning to doubt himself. Was the underlying attraction between them really there? Had it truly been there with any of his past relationships? Or had he just been too blind to see that women weren’t actually interested in him, only his money?
It was the first time in his life he’d ever had thoughts like this. And he certainly didn’t like the way they were playing on his mind.
Tonight would solve that. Tonight would let him forget about all that. Tonight would be about showing her around a city that he loved. It would be about introducing her to the local customs and traditions he’d known since he was a child. He ran his fingers through his hair one last time.
* * *
The smell hit her as soon as she stepped from the black four-by-four. ‘Oh, wow, what’s that?’ She sniffed the air hungrily. The whole area around her smelt good enough to eat.
Mitchell grinned as he got out of the car. They’d been lucky to get parked as the streets were crowded around them. He moved out of the way of some locals and walked around next to her. ‘That is the smell of Tyrolean fritters, mixed in with the smell of gingerbread and punch.’ He held out his arm. ‘Welcome to the Christmas market.’
She wrinkled her nose but couldn’t stop smiling. ‘Okay, you’ve got me. What’s a Tyrolean fritter? And should I really be eating anything like that?’
‘A Tyrolean fritter is the best thing in the world, especially if it comes with lingonberry jam.’
She shook her head as she pushed her gloves on her hands. ‘I don’t even know what a lingonberry is.’
He steered her through the crowds, past the floodlit white Imperial Palace set against the background of the Alps and the luminescent St Jacob’s Cathedral swathed in a multitude of coloured lights. They almost took her breath away.
‘Can we go inside the cathedral?’
He nodded. ‘It won’t be open right now, but we can come back during the day. Would you like to see around it?’
‘Absolutely. I love buildings like this.’
As they walked through the streets the sounds of Christmas carols echoed around them. It seemed like the whole of Innsbruck was in the Christmas mood. The entrances to every door were covered in garlands of evergreen boughs and
red velvet bows. Christmas-tree lights glittered in the windows all around them.
The Christmas market in the old town was magical. Stars and fairy-lights were strung across the streets. Figures from well-loved fairy-tales gazed down from the windows of the old town houses.
The smell of hot spiced wine surrounded them and they stopped at a large copper cauldron. Mitchell handed over some money and brought back two steaming cups. Just a sip was enough to catch in her throat and send a warm feeling down to the tips of her frozen toes.
‘What’s this called?’
He smiled. ‘Glühwein. Any more than a cup will give you a major headache in the morning.’ There were other stands all around them and the air was filled with a whole host of tantalising and unusual aromas. Even in the space of a few paces she could smell everything from doughnuts to roasted chestnuts, chocolate and candied apples and garlic bread. He stopped in front of the next stand with some shiny brown pretzels and stuffed fritters, carefully placing his virtually untouched glühwein to the side.
Four teenagers with bright pink candy floss wandered past them while they waited in the queue. Mitchell gestured towards one of the stuffed fritters, dusted it with sugar and wrapped it in a napkin before holding it out towards her. ‘I don’t want to spoil your appetite before dinner, but you’ve got to try this.’
He was holding the wrapped fritter with both hands and she could smell the warm jam inside. She eyed the dusted sugar around it, ‘Please, don’t tell me this is one of your addictions?’
He laughed. ‘Fortunately, no. But everyone who comes to Innsbruck at Christmas should definitely taste one of these. Think of it as one of the unwritten rules.’
She bent forward and took a bite. It only took the briefest seconds for the taste explosion in her mouth. The fritter wasn’t heavy, as she’d feared. It was light and crispy, but the jam inside was much hotter than the mildly warm fritter. ‘Ow-w-w!’ she yelped, closing her mouth in shock, then opening it again quickly in the hope the cold night air would help with the jam burning her tongue. She panted, blowing out clouds of hot air into the icy night.