‘We must go.’ He waited at the bedroom door as with shaking hands she reapplied her lip gloss, catching her eyes in the mirror and giving herself a stern reminder of the terms that she had agreed to.
It was the most gorgeous, moving wedding.
Even if she couldn’t understand much of what was said, even if she was here under false pretences and was supposed to be playing a part, the tears that filled her eyes weren’t manufactured as the proud, frail father of the bride walked his glowing daughter down the aisle.
There were only two dry eyes in the church and they both belonged to Luca.
He stood, taller than the rest, his back ramrod straight, and though he did all the right things, there was a remoteness to him—an irritable edge that Emma couldn’t quite define, an impatience perhaps for the service to be over. For the second it was, the first moment that he could, she felt his hand tighten around hers as he led her swiftly outside.
‘These two will be next!’ Mia teased, holding her husband’s hand, laughing and chatting with her relatives.
‘When?’ Rico’s eyes met his son’s.
‘Leave it, Pa,’ Luca said, but Rico could not.
‘What about the D’Amato name?’ he pressed.
‘Soon, Rico!’ Mia soothed. ‘I’m sure it will happen soon.’
There was an exquisitely uncomfortable moment, because it was clear soon was far too long for Rico, but his brother Rinaldo lightened things. ‘They leave things much longer now.’ He squeezed his young wife’s waist. ‘Not like me…’ He kissed her heavily made-up cheek then murmured, ‘I wasn’t going to let you slip away.’
As Rico greeted other guests and Rinaldo and his wife drifted off, Mia chided Luca for his stern expression, talking in Italian then giving a brief translation for Emma.
‘Luca was close to Zia Maria, Rinaldo’s first wife,’ she explained to Emma, then looked over at Luca. ‘You cannot expect him to be on his own.’
‘He didn’t even wait a year,’ Luca retorted, his voice ice-cold on this warm day.
‘Luca—not here,’ Mia pleaded, then turned to Emma. ‘Come, let me introduce you to my sister.’
Emma lost Luca along the way, chatting to aunts, congratulating Daniela—really, she was doing well. Through her work she knew enough about Luca to answer the most difficult questions, though it would have been far easier if he was by her side.
They were starting to call relatives for more photos now and she found him behind the church, walking between the tombstones, standing and pausing, his shoulders rigid, almost as if he were at a funeral rather than a wedding.
‘You’re wanted for the photos,’ she said softly, her eyes following his gaze to the tombstone he was reading.
‘My grandmother,’ Luca explained.
‘She was so young,’ Emma said, reading the inscription. His grandmother had been little older than her mother when she’d died.
‘I don’t remember her really—a little perhaps.’ He shrugged as if it didn’t matter, but clearly from his grim expression it did. ‘And this is Zia Maria. I do remember her…’
Emma licked dry lips as she saw the young age of his aunt too. ‘Rinaldo’s first wife…’
‘She was a lovely woman.’ His voice was tender in memory, and pensive too.
‘I know what you meant about Rinaldo…’ He closed his eyes on her as if she couldn’t possibly know, but Emma did. ‘About not even waiting a year to remarry. I hated how many girlfriends my dad had. I know now that Mum had left him and everything, but he started dating so soon after…’
Now that she knew, it was as if her brain was finally allowing her to remember—patchy, hazy memories that she couldn’t really see but could feel—a woman who wasn’t her mother kissing her father, women’s things in the bathroom, the sound of female laughter drifting across the landing to her bedroom as she lay weeping into the pillow and wanting her mother.
‘They make me sick!’ He shook his head, then raked his hair back in a gesture of tense frustration. ‘Just leave it.’
And she had no choice but to do that, because now really wasn’t the time. ‘We should get back anyway.’ She turned to go, but he was still staring at his aunt’s grave and Emma guessed he must be painfully aware that in a matter of days or weeks he would be back here in the graveyard to bury his father. Only she didn’t understand what he was doing here today, when everyone was trying to be happy, reminding himself when he should be forgetting.
‘You go. I’ll be there soon.’
‘Luca, today is a wedding—your family are waiting for the photos. For now, surely you should try to forget?’ she said hesitantly.
‘I never forget.’ It was a bald statement and his eyes met hers for the first time since she had joined him in the cemetery, but there was none of the warmth that had been there that morning. In fact, there was no warmth at all. ‘Come—we have a job to do.’
And in that short sentence he both reminded and relegated her. This was just a weekend away to him, a deal that had been struck, a pact that had been reached—an act she had agreed to partake in. It was Emma who had forgotten that at times; Luca clearly always remembered it.
As they joined the rest of his family, as they stood side by side with her hand in his, never had it been harder for her to force a smile.
IT HAD been a long exhausting day and was a long exhausting evening—as weddings often are.
Rico made it through dinner and, as Mia watched on anxiously, he managed to dance with his daughter. After that, clearly unable to participate further, Rico took a back seat and it was for Luca to take up the baton.
There was nothing Emma could put her finger on as Luca took over the role of patriarch with ease. He chatted with everyone, sat with the men at a table for a while and she could see him laughing at jokes, raising his glass in a toast, joining in tapping spoons to demand that the newlyweds kiss—and when she came over, he was soundly slapped on the back for his choice in women.
‘The D’Amato name goes on,’ Uncle Rinaldo cheered, so clearly she would do! ‘Salute!’
There was just something…
Something that filled the air between them as they waved off the bride and groom.
As they put his parents into a car and then stayed to say farewell to the last of the guests.
Something as he let them into the darkened house. He climbed into the bed beside her and stared unseeingly into the darkness.
A shout from the house snapped Emma’s eyes open, her body instinctively moving to investigate, but he caught her wrist.
‘It is just Pa, calling for his pain medication.’
His fingers were loose, but there. That small contact became her sole focus, every nerve darting along its pathways to locate and gather where his fingers touched hers.
She listened to the sound of silence and thought how hard it must be, not just for Rico but for Mia with the exhausting, round-the-clock care she delivered. And Luca must be thinking it too, for she could feel him—the tense energy in the room, this state of hypervigilance this family must live with when dealing with someone so ill.
Had it been like this for him as a child too?
She had never known violence—oh, there had been arguments and, living with four men, yes, the occasional fight, but they had been storms that had blown over quickly. This was different. A thick tension had slowly built as they lay there together—yet he would have lain here alone as a child, and heard every creak, every bang, every word while wondering if…
‘Luca?’ She knew he was awake even if he was ignoring her. ‘How bad was it?’
‘Leave it, Emma.’
‘You can tell me.’
‘I don’t want to.’
And it should have ended it. She expected him to turn away, except he didn’t. Instead, he turned on his side, towards her. ‘Emma, please…’ He didn’t finish what he was saying, or had he just said it? This begging for distraction.
He moved his body over hers, and then his lips were on hers, his kiss catching her by complete surprise. Luca’s mouth was seeking an urgent distraction; it was a frenetic, heated kiss that urged her body into instant response. They had made love over and over, Luca initiating her into the wonders of her body, the marvel of his, only this was nothing like the tender, slow lovemaking of previous times—this an enthralling new facet. Urgency crashed in like a stormy ocean slamming onto the beach, and her body flared in instant response to his potent maleness. He was kissing her, hot, demanding kisses that she reciprocated, her fingers at the back of his head pressing his face closer to hers. His thighs came down hard on hers, his arms swept under her, circling her, craving more contact— as too did she.
She opened her centre to him, parting her legs, yearning for that first thrust of him with the hunger of an addict. Only it didn’t bring relief, the feel of him driving inside her, his skin sliding over her, it just made her want more, energy building like a cyclone, swirling and obliterating and dragging her to its centre. He moved his arms from beneath her and there was the sensation of falling as her back hit the mattress and Luca leant in on his elbows. Over and over he kissed her, over and over he said her name into the air as he gulped it in, into her mouth as he licked her.