‘A Biellmann spin.’ She winked. ‘It req
uires great flexibility.’ She was teasing him again. And it made his heart thud a little quicker in his chest.
Sure, he’d been physically attracted to his partners in the past but Sam was different. It wasn’t just physical attraction, and that’s pretty much what it had been for the rest of his conquests. That, and publicity material.
Everything about that went against his principles, but when he’d started in this business and the band had been trying to make a name for themselves he’d more or less done whatever the management team had advised. If that had meant dating one pretty actress or model after another he’d decided it wasn’t too big a strain.
But over the last few years he’d grown frustrated. He didn’t want to be on display. There were parts of his life he wanted to keep quiet—including his work with the children’s hospital. He didn’t want to play games any more.
Sam was different. The only agenda she had was money. But it wasn’t as ruthless as that. She had good motivation for what she was doing. It was obvious she struggled with the fact her mother was in a home. If this was the way she had to supplement her income to ensure her mum stayed in the best place possible, he really couldn’t fault her for that.
But could he trust her?
Would Sam sacrifice other things for money?
Years ago, one of Mitch’s old school friends had sold a story to the press about his brother’s illness. Up until that point no one had known. It had blazed across the headlines for a few days then, thankfully, disappeared. There wasn’t much interest in a brother who’d survived and made a good recovery.
But Mitchell hadn’t forgotten the betrayal. It had been a hard lesson. Desperation for money could put people in a situation where consequences seemed unimportant.
He couldn’t afford that to happen. He couldn’t afford St Jude’s and its patients to be subjected to unending press interest and speculation. The sanctuary of the specialist hospital would be ruined for the kids and their families who relied on it.
But could he trust Sam with his secret? Everything about her said yes. Her attitude, her unwavering sense of right and wrong.
His initial plan to win her round by charm and casual flirtation was sitting really uncomfortably with him now. There wasn’t any question that he’d do anything to keep this tour on track, but using Sam just seemed so wrong.
He liked her. He more than liked her—that was the problem. But he couldn’t allow his growing feelings for her to cloud his judgement. If he let his heart rule his head it could be disastrous. What if she didn’t feel as strongly about him? What if she was starstruck by the whole idea of being around someone in the media? He hoped not. He really hoped not. But the trouble was, he just didn’t know.
He couldn’t take the chance and he hated it that he had these little doubts about Sam. But he’d only known her just over a week. It wasn’t enough time to really get to know someone well. All his instincts told him she was a good person.
He’d already had comments from Lisa. Dave seemed to like her too. People he respected and trusted.
He tried to shake it off. This was his problem, not hers. This all came down to the fact that she’d been honest and told him she was only here for the money. He couldn’t judge Sam because of the betrayal of another friend years ago.
She might have only been here for the money originally, but what about now?
She was still pressing up close to his chest, the two pairs of skates making small movements on the ice. She smiled up at him, her blue eyes and blonde curls peeking out from under the bright blue hat.
Her cheeks were flushed from the exertion of her skating, or maybe from something else. He could stay here all day with his arms tightly around her waist, but the ice rink was busy with kids and families. He interlocked their fingers. ‘Go on, then, take me a few times around the rink.’
He was laughing at her, knowing he could match her pace for pace. But it was nice to let her take the lead as she pulled him forward, weaving expertly between the skating and stumbling bodies until eventually they ended up at the exit again.
‘So what did you think?’ he asked as she unlaced her boots. She ran her finger along the blade. ‘Well, they’re definitely not what I’m used to—these skates are blunter than a wooden spoon.’
He shook his head as he picked them up to return them to the hire booth. ‘Okay, you missed out on dessert last time we were here. Fancy some good Austrian coffee and cake?’
She nodded enthusiastically and he grabbed her hand, weaving through the winding streets towards his favourite café. She stopped at a few windows, gazing in at some of the items on display. ‘Want to go inside?’
She shook her head and they drifted forward. Her footsteps slowed outside one of the designer women’s clothes shops. He was conscious of the fact he’d offered to buy her something but she didn’t seem to want to take him up on the offer. Her eyes had fixed on a gorgeous red dress in the window. He rested his chin on her shoulder. ‘I think you would look spectacular in that.’
She started out of the daze she’d been in and shrugged her shoulders. ‘It’s not like I would have anywhere to wear something like that. It’s much too elegant—too impractical.’ She stomped her boots on the ground, knocking snow from them. ‘I’ll stick with the boots and jacket you already supplied. That’s more than enough.’
Her eyes drifted towards the shop next door, where display cases of exquisite jewellery were on show, all made by the master craftsman inside. It was difficult to know what had caught her attention. The window was jammed full of gold and silver jewellery, along with glittering coloured gemstones. He smiled. His last lady friend would have fixated on the massive pink solitaire diamond at the front of the display. But Samantha’s gaze was nowhere near there.
She shot him a smile and tugged at his hand. ‘Okay, enough window-gazing. Let’s find this coffee shop. I’m starved.’
He couldn’t stop his eyes lingering on the window as he walked past. What was it that had caught her attention?
He pushed open the door of his favourite coffee house. The smell of rich coffee, steamed milk and succulent cakes surrounded them instantly. Samantha pulled off her gloves and rubbed her hands together, her eyes sparkling. ‘I love it already.’
She went to sit down at one of the tables but he caught her elbow and guided her over to the huge glass cabinet with all the cakes on display. ‘Have a look first and see what you like.’
Her eyes widened at the huge array of cakes and desserts. She shook her head at the small signs in front of each of the delicious-looking cakes. ‘You’re going to have to tell me what they all are. I don’t have a clue where to start. We could be here all day.’
He nodded and pointed towards the cabinet. ‘We’ll start with the most traditional.’ He gestured towards a rich chocolate cake. ‘That’s Sachertorte, a chocolate cake with apricot jam filling, probably the most famous—you’d usually eat it with whipped cream. Among the cakes with the longest tradition is the Linzer Torte. The one next to it is caramel-flavoured Dobostorte, the cream-coloured cake is Esterhazy Torte—it’s really a Hungarian cake, buttercream spiced with vanilla sandwiched between layers of almond meringue.’ She smiled as he continued down the cabinet.
‘There are also the traditional pastries with fresh fruit and cream, and then there’s Punschkrapfen. You might like that—it’s a classic Austrian pastry, a cake filled with cake crumbs, nougat chocolate, apricot jam and then soaked with rum.’
She folded her arms across her chest. ‘You seem to know a lot about cakes. Should I be concerned?’
He laughed. ‘I’ve pretty much sampled everything in that cabinet at least a dozen times. But you’ve got to remember I’ve been coming here since I was six. I’m a cake connoisseur.’ He gave her a wink. ‘But my true downfall is the coffee in here. It doesn’t matter what you pick, there isn’t a bad one.’
She hummed and hawed around the cabinet before finally throwing caution to the wind and choosing the traditional chocolate Sachertorte with whipped cream. Mitchell was much better behaved, choosing a light pastry with fresh fruit and some low-fat cream. He ordered coffee for them both and it was only a few moments before the frothed milk concoctions appeared before them.
The sun was just beginning to dip outside and the Christmas lights were coming on all around them. He watched as she tasted the delicious chocolate cake and let out a little sigh. ‘Oh, I can tell why you keep this a secret. It’s gorgeous.’
He sipped his coffee. She was licking cream from her lips and it was playing havoc with his senses.
He glanced at his watch. He still wanted to visit the hospital again, but he’d had an email from his manager letting him know the insurance company was looking for a report on his diabetes. There was only one person they could ask for that report. Sam.
‘Have you checked your emails today?’ His insides turned over as he said the words. She was still concentrating on the cake, licking some chocolate from her spoon.
She shook her head. ‘Nope. Should I have?’
He was about to do something wrong. Every cell in his body told him not to try and manipulate her, but his protective instincts towards the hospital just couldn’t be smothered. Now he knew what being caught between a rock and a hard place was actually like.
He slid his hand across the table and intertwined his fingers with hers. ‘I think you’ll get asked about me soon.’
‘Asked what?’ Furrows appeared along her brow.
He tried to appear casual, but the handholding kind of negated that. ‘About how I’m doing—if I’m fit enough to do the tour.’
‘Oh.’ The fork she had poised in her other hand was gently laid on the table. Her eyes focused on her coffee and she lifted it up for another sip. It was obvious she was trying to think of what to say.