Unshaven, his hair damp from the shower, it flopped forward as he bent over her. Then he took the coffee pot from the tray and put it on the bedside table before placing a tray on her lap. He looked younger somehow, less austere perhaps, and for Emma terribly, dangerously, devastatingly beautiful.
‘It is chaos out there.’ His thumb gestured to the bedroom door. ‘So we will hide in here for a couple of hours.’
‘Shouldn’t I be out there, helping?’ Emma asked, reaching for the pot of coffee, but Luca got there first.
‘I’ll pour,’ Luca said, then answered her question. ‘No, as I just said to my mother, we would only get in the way.’
Only she wasn’t really listening—instead, she stared at the cup he filled. It had been a seemingly innocuous gesture, yet for Emma it was huge.
He’d brought her breakfast in bed.
Oh, she’d had staff knock on the door of her hotel room at six a.m. when she was travelling with Luca and bring her in her order, but never, not once in her life, had someone who wasn’t being paid prepared breakfast for her, brought it to her and expected her to just sit as they poured. Always she got up, always it was her…
And this morning it was him.
It was scary how nice it felt to be looked after, even in this small way.
‘These are pizelles. Like waffles…’ He smeared one with honey and handed it to her—and then lay on his side, propped up on one arm, his coffee in the other hand, watching her intently, scanning her features for remorse.
‘How are you?’ he finally asked outright.
‘Good,’ Emma said through a mouthful of pizelle.
‘Any regrets?’ he asked.
‘None,’ she shook her head. ‘You?’
‘None—so long as you’re okay?’ he pressed.
‘The first time’s supposed to be awful,’ she murmured a little wickedly.
‘Says who?’ he asked, outraged.
‘I read it in a magazine.’
Luca rolled his eyes.
‘If that was awful…’ Emma giggled ‘…I can’t wait for bad!’
‘Throw away the magazines, baby…’ He took her coffee cup and her pizelle away and straddled her on the bed. ‘I’ll teach you everything I know.’
It was such a different Luca, as if she’d been looking at him through the wrong end of a telescope. His energy was lighter, funnier, sexier even, if that were possible. They shared breakfast and then each other, and then they left the chaotic household and had a picnic on the beach.
This time she didn’t slip away when it was time to ring her father, she just sat on the blanket and laughed and listened to him reminiscing, and it was so much easier with Luca lying there beside her.
‘I’ll sort out the back fees for the home,’ Luca said as she clicked off the phone. She turned to him, appalled.
‘How did you know?’
‘I read the letter the nursing home gave you,’ he admitted shamelessly.
‘That’s reprehensible!’ She was furious, embarrassed… And then he kissed her.
‘Sorted,’ Luca said, and he caught her eyes, ‘You’ve helped me—now I can help you. I absolutely insist on it.’
And it was probably no big deal to him, except for Emma it was.
She felt the lightness as six months of worry slipped away, felt the elation as they ran down to the beach and enjoyed the late afternoon, felt the joy of being a couple, having someone to lean on, helping each other out.
And then Emma did a stupid thing.
As he kissed her in the salty sea, as she felt the waves rush round them and the chase of his tongue in her mouth, she started to wonder.
Started to hope.
Their day at the beach had brought a glow to her skin and on the morning of the wedding Emma massaged in body oil, glad of the peace in their bedroom and the chance, for once, to take her time getting ready, without Luca snapping his fingers and telling her she looked fine as she was.
Most of the house had been commandeered by the bride and her entourage. The whir of the hairdryer had been continual from eight a.m. and there was a constant stream of flowers, including the traditional arrival of flowers for the bride from the groom, which Emma was summoned down in her dressing gown to witness. As Rico was conserving his depleted energy for the wedding, Luca had stepped into father-of-the-bride duty and Emma had a little giggle to herself to see the usually unruffled Luca, who could handle the most difficult client or tense boardroom meeting with ease, just a touch frazzled as he dealt not just with his sister’s theatrics but vases and flowers and the hairdresser, who was trying to locate a free power point for heated rollers.
Yes, their bedroom was a nice place to be!
Because she could, Emma spent time on her hair, attempting what a hairdresser had once, when she’d been to her brother Rory’s wedding—taking several curls at a time and wrapping them around her wand till it fell in one thick heavy ringlet. Over and over she did this and for once her hair behaved, for once Emma was pleased with the results.
The hot September weather meant foundation wouldn’t see the service out, so she put just a slip of silver eye shadow on her lids, relying mainly on lashings of mascara, a quick sweep of pink on her cheeks and a shimmer of tinted lip gloss. In her dash to shop and get ready for the trip, Emma had relied heavily on the stylist’s suggestion of a suitable dress, although Emma hadn’t been at all sure that it was right for a wedding when she’d tried it on in the boutique.
The silver-grey dress had looked very plain, if a touch short, in the shop, but the assistant had assured her it would look marvellous with the right shoes and makeup.
It slipped over her head, the material shimmering more in the natural light and the superb cut of the delicate fabric turned her most loathed bits into voluptuous curves.
Staring at her reflection in the mirror, Emma was slightly taken aback by what she saw. It was as if she’d grown up in these few days—gone from young lady to woman, and Emma knew it had little to do with her birthday and a lot more to do with the man who was now walking into the bedroom.
‘I must get changed…’ His voice trailed off as she turned to face him—and he suddenly felt that walking into his room to find her there was like coming across a haven of tranquility in a madhouse.
He’d appreciated her all morning—so many of his girlfriends would have been demanding their hour with the hairdresser while simultaneously demanding yet more of his time, yet Emma had left him to deal with his family—no sulking, or pouting, just that lovely smile when she’d briefly come down, and now he’d walked into the bedroom to this. Oh, he’d seen her dressed formally on many occasions, only this was different—a wedding, a family affair, his Luca plus one.
His diamonds on her ears were as sparkling as her eyes and there was that glimpse again, that small glimpse of how life could be for him if he hadn’t made the choices that he had.
Of a life he could have with her.
‘We leave in ten minutes,’ he said, his voice gruff with suppressed emotion. He’d already showered and shaved, so he quickly pulled off his casual shirt and trousers and dressed in the dark wedding suit and gunmetal grey tie that had been chosen for the men of the wedding party, or rather that Emma had chosen for them. He had refused, point blank, to consider the burgundy monstrosities his sister had insisted would match the bridesmaids, and Emma had found the perfect one.
Not the one, but the perfect one.
Making a rare effort, he combed some sculpting gel through his thick hair then splashed on cologne. He filled his pockets with various envelopes for the priest and the band and then, when his head was around it, when more rational thought had descended, he spoke.
‘You look lovely.’
‘Thank you.’ She gave a brief smile at his clipped tone, insecure enough to worry that he privately thought she looked awful.
‘I will be busy today, back and forth with relatives. With my father ill, that duty…’
‘It’s no problem.’ Emma smiled, putting some tissues in her bag and then squirting her perfume—just as she always did last thing before they went out. It was these little things he was noticing, Luca realised, these small details that added up to Emma. Her perfume was reaching him and her entire being was too.
Today was a day he had been dreading for months, since— the wedding date had been announced and the preparations had begun. It had hung over him like a black cloud—being with his family, all his family, smiling and joking and keeping up the pretence, the charade, that there was no rotten core to the D’Amatos—yet here in this room he could breathe.
He couldn’t not kiss her.
He lowered his head and his lips gently found hers, just pressing a little into the luscious flesh of her mouth, and he felt a flutter of something sweet and good and right settle.
Only their lips met, gently touching, barely moving, just tiny pulse-like kisses as they breathed each other’s air, and it was a kiss like no other, this rare, weary tenderness from Luca that made her feel beautiful and wanted and somehow sad too.
‘This is so much better with you here.’
There was a sting at the back of her throat and she couldn’t understand why something so nice should make her feel like crying.
‘It could always be.’ She’d crossed the line, she knew she had. She’d taken the present and hinted at a future—there was suddenly no breath on her cheek as Luca stilled, no acknowledgment as to what she had said, but it circled in the air between them.