And then he kissed her again.
‘Or that,’ Luca said, and he stared into her lovely clear eyes and saw the whir of confusion. She was wholly adorable and for a second he felt regret.
Real, wretched regret, because soon he’d have to get used to missing her.
But it was too late for regret, because he’d pulled the pin now and the countdown to the inevitable end had started.
As Evelyn’s voice on the intercom filled the room, warning she was on her way up, he gave Emma a quick frantic look that made her giggle. ‘Don’t tell her!’
‘God, no…’ Emma swallowed. ‘Just go…’ She was more than confused now, trying to assert herself, wishing she could turn back the clock, only Luca was upping the ante now.
‘Think about Italy.’ He was still holding her, his kiss this steam that wouldn’t evaporate. She felt as if she’d been running, could feel her hammering heartbeat and the dampness between her legs. His knowing eyes were on hers, his hands on her hips, and he pulled her a little way in towards him once more, giving her just another small, decadent feel of what was there waiting there for her if only she could reach out and take it.
‘What are you so scared of?’ Luca asked, and after just a moment’s thought she gave him a very honest answer.
‘Losing.’ She stared back at him, and it wasn’t just the job, or the jet-set lifestyle, she was scared of losing, but him. ‘Let’s just forget that it happened.’
Futile words—and they both knew it.
‘DAD, please don’t cry.’
He always got upset when it was time for her to leave. She hadn’t got to the nursing home till eight p.m., and so couldn’t stay, but Luca left for Sicily tomorrow—he had finally agreed to stay with his family for a few nights so at least for a couple of days she’d be able to see more of her father.
It was worth it—even if her boss was barely talking to her! Luca was clearly smarting as, even after their kiss, she still had persisted in saying no to accompanying him to his sister’s wedding.
‘I just miss her…’ Frank was staring at a photo of her mother and Emma just didn’t get it—growing up, it had been practically forbidden to talk about her, and now it was practically all he talked about! Going over the past as if it had happened just yesterday, and it actually hurt to hear it. ‘I just want my Gloria. Why did she have to leave us?’
‘Dad, she didn’t want to…’
‘Off with that scum of a man…calling himself an artist! How could she walk out on her family?’ Emma felt the blood in her veins turn to ice.
‘She didn’t walk out on us, Dad, she was killed in a car accident.’
‘Out on the town with her fancy man, leaving her little girl crying at home,’ Frank sobbed, and the night nurse came in then.
‘We’re going to give him his sleeping tablet now, Emma, and settle him down.’
‘How could she walk out on four kids?’
How she wanted to press him for answers, to bombard him with questions, but the nurse was giving him his medicine, trying to settle him down, and he was just too frail and too confused to push it right then.
‘Rory!’ She didn’t care if it was late, or that she was driving, she punched in his name and waited for him to pick up, not bothering to introduce herself, just blurting out her question. ‘Did Mum walk out on us?’
‘Just tell me what happened.’
‘You know what happened,’ Rory sighed. ‘There was a car accident.’
‘Who was driving?’
Emma knew he was holding back, could tell by the uncomfortable pause before Rory next spoke.
‘What’s Dad saying now?’
‘That she walked out on us.’
There was a very long silence and then came a truth she had never prepared for. ‘Mum left us a month before she died.’ As he heard her start to sob, Rory showed rare concern for his sister. ‘Look, pull over, you shouldn’t be driving…’
‘She just left us!’
‘She wanted to “find herself”, do her damned art, see this new guy. Look, it was twenty years ago! I don’t see what you’re getting so worked up about,’ Rory attempted. ‘It doesn’t change anything.’
Oh, but it did.
She clicked off the phone and threw it onto the passenger seat.
It changed everything.
She shouldn’t be driving in this state…so she forced herself to concentrate, forced herself to be calm until she pulled up to her family home—the for-sale sign on the door, the home, the family her mother had walked out on—and only then did she see him. His car was there, waiting for her, and Luca climbed out of the back seat and walked towards her. His face was grey, and in the streetlight she could see the tiny lines around his eyes, the dark, weary shadows beneath them.
She could smell the whisky on his breath and hear the dread in his words, and it matched her soul.
‘Come with me tomorrow.’ He didn’t touch her, he didn’t make any demands, he didn’t even ask, he just matched her need.
He blinked just a touch at the ease of her answer, a smile spreading over his face, relief creeping in, because now he could stomach it, now he could face it.
‘What took you so long?’ Luca asked.
Her mother had left them…
This idol she had looked up to, the perfect woman, gone too soon, had feet of clay after all—and she was angry, but boy it felt good to contemplate living instead of mourning, to let go of the past and dive into the future.
And there it was—if only she had the nerve to reach out and take it.
‘I’ve never slept with anyone before.’ She watched his reaction, saw his eyes widen, and thought it was almost fear that darted across his features. ‘Don’t worry, Luca,’ she said before he could respond, ‘I haven’t been waiting for Mr Right to come along and relieve me of my virginity.’
‘Emma!’ He hadn’t bargained on this. Not once, not for a second had he considered this. He wanted relief, distraction, and instead this was responsibility, but Emma just laughed and kissed his cheek. She was in a strange, slightly manic mood he didn’t understand, but it was actually a little bit catching. ‘You know I’m not looking for serious…’
‘I know the rules, Luca.’ Emma’s voice was steady. ‘And I’m prepared to play by them. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a weekend away to pack for.’
As his private jet lifted into the early morning sky, all Emma wanted to do was close her eyes and sleep.
The night had been spent packing and planning and then dreading, and finally weeping.
Weeping for a woman she didn’t know at all, for a father she had always resented but was maybe, just maybe starting to understand.
She was resilient, though, she had always had to be, so she hid her swollen eyes behind huge sunglasses and pleaded another headache when Luca commented on them. She had, after a night of weeping, pushed away yesterday’s news and was in a bizarre way actually glad to be getting away for a few days and leaving it all behind her.
They were served a sumptuous breakfast, pastries, waffles, meats and the thick treacly coffee Luca sur vived on, but Emma wasn’t hungry and Luca watched her push her food around her plate and frowned over his newspaper.
There was something different about her. Oh, she was chatty and polite, only there was a vague distraction about her, a restlessness almost, something he couldn’t quite pinpoint.
Her acceptance yesterday had floored him.
He had engineered this weekend—had been hoping the mutual attraction between them would be quickly sated, that she would be the solace that would get him through the difficult time ahead.
He had been dreading the wedding for months now—back to the family home, back to his father and uncles. Emma was to have been his relief.
But not now, and he had only himself to blame.
Breaking hearts he could deal with.
But breaking hers…he was having serious second thoughts about that.
He saw that she wasn’t eating her food and, remembering her beverage of choice when she was flagging, ordered his crew to fetch it for her. Then he sat and watched closely as she took a grateful sip of thick hot chocolate.
‘You have brothers, yes?’ Luca checked, watching a small furrow emerge on her brow.
‘Three,’ she acknowledged briefly.
‘And what happened with your mother?’
‘I really don’t want to talk about it…’
‘But we have to,’ he insisted. He finished with his breakfast and pushed his plate away. It was removed instantly, the conversation continuing when the steward had discreetly disappeared. ‘You speak little of your personal life.’
‘The hours I work hardly allow for much of a personal life!’ she protested.
‘Emma, for this weekend you are supposed to be my girlfriend—I am taking you to meet my parents. Surely you can see that I ought to know some of your background.’
He had a point. In the weeks she had known him, she had been privy to all sorts of information about him.
His diary had noted birthdays, anniversaries, his clothing preferences for the times when he needed an outfit at short notice, even the hairdresser he used for his regular trim. She knew, because it had been her job to hire a new housekeeper for him, how he liked things done, the sort of food he kept at home—had even downloaded some songs for him—so if she were put on the spot right now, she knew enough about Luca to bluff her way through, whereas apart from the fact her father was in a nursing home, Luca knew practically nothing about her.