‘We have spoken on the phone.’
And that must be it. ‘It’s nice to meet you.’
‘You too. And as a near local now! It is good to see Luca bring a friend here; you are welcome.’
‘Thank you,’ she replied, a little bewildered.
‘Gradite unirli per la prima colazione?’ Mia offered, inviting the doctor to join the family for breakfast, but Dr Calista declined, instead asking if he might see Rico.
‘He seems nice,’ Emma observed as the trio made their way out of the kitchen.
‘He’s a good doctor. He is from the village, he studied medicine in Roma, then returned, but always he keeps up to date. He has been good to my family,’ Luca explained. ‘His care has meant my father can be looked after at home.’
‘That must mean a lot.’
‘It does to my mother, but I think that my father should be in hospital—now that the wedding is over. I spoke with Leo before…’
‘What did he say?’ Emma asked.
‘That it is not my choice. That my father wants to die at home and my mother wants to nurse him.’
‘Then you have to respect their wishes…’ Her voice trailed off as she saw his sharp expression, and there was a pause, a long tense pause as Luca made the decision, as he picked the fight…
And let her go.
‘Don’t tell me how to deal with my family, Emma— you can drop the concerned act when there is no one else present.’
‘Act?’ She had missed the change—was still working on yesterday’s clock. Yesterday, when he had held her, kissed her, adored her, and it took a moment to flick to the new time zone Luca now demanded she adjust to.
‘When we let people think we are together.’
‘There was no one present in the bedroom last night,’ Emma pointed out, ‘but that didn’t stop you making love to me.’
‘Making love?’ Wide eyes mocked her, a cruel smile on his face as he jeered, ‘Why do women always call it that?’
God, but he could be sadistic. She could feel tears sting her eyes but she refused to let them fall. ‘Because that’s how it felt at the time, Luca.’
‘It was just sex, that’s what I’m paying you for, Emma, if you remember rightly. Remind me again, how much are the back fees for your father’s home?’ And then he was silenced, her hand slicing the air to meet his cheek, but his hand caught her wrist before it made contact.
‘That would be extremely silly.’
‘You’re utterly despicable!’ she gasped.
‘Brilliant in bed, though. Tell me again, how much are the back fees for your father?’ Luca drawled. ‘Pillow talk is just that, Emma, you said yourself it is what men do.’
‘This wasn’t about money,’ she denied, because his offer to help her had come after she’d slept with him. God, she hated him, hated what he was doing to her and that she didn’t understand why he was doing it.
‘I hate you!’ she cried.
‘Good,’ Luca said calmly. ‘Good—hate me, loathe me. Better that than love me, because I will not love you back, Emma. I told you that from the start. I made it exceptionally clear. Don’t go getting teary now and complaining, just because the sex is too good.’
There was nothing she could say to that, nothing because the door was opening and he dropped her wrist as Dr Calista walked in. Clearly sensing the thick atmosphere, he asked in English if there was a problem.
Emma didn’t answer, appalled by Luca’s words but more appalled by her action—if he hadn’t halted her she would have hit him. She held her wrist where he had stopped her, his words still stinging as the doctor asked his question again.
‘Is everything okay?’
‘Yes.’ Emma’s voice gathered strength. ‘Everything’s fine.’
‘Actually, it isn’t,’ Luca snapped. ‘My mother is exhausted. How much longer must she nurse him at home before you admit him?’
‘Luca, I am trying to respect your parents’ wishes.’
‘Which means you are only respecting my father’s wishes.’ Luca’s lip curled as he added, ‘That is all my mother does.’ He turned to Emma. ‘Can you excuse us, please?’
As she left the room they faced each other, two proud, impressive men.
‘I am not leaving till my father is admitted to hospital,’ Luca said.
‘Then you may be here for a while, Luca.’ Leo’s words were born of exasperation. ‘Luca, what is going on?’
‘Nothing.’ He was eighteen years old again, Leo slicing the needle through the raw flesh of his cheek and asking questions, Luca pretending that he had a hang-over, that there had been a fight in the next village…
‘I’m worried about you, Luca.’
‘Worry about my mother.’
‘That I do,’ Leo said, ‘and Emma too.’
‘Emma?’ Luca’s voice was incredulous. ‘You worry about Emmam?’
‘I heard you fighting, and I could see the bruises on her wrist. I know this is a tense time,’ the doctor said, and Luca opened his mouth to make excuses, to lie, to cover up, to hide from it, except he didn’t. It was like a fist in his stomach—he had done nothing wrong, logic told him that, he had been stopping Emma from hitting him, that was all—and yet he felt as if he were being handed the baton.
The D’Amato curse being passed onto him, when he had sworn the line would be finally broken.
Only, unlike his father, Luca faced it.
Stood there and faced the truth.
And knew he had to deal with it.
‘I’m staying for a few days.’ Luca walked into the bedroom where Emma lay on the bed, staring upwards. He could feel her pain, sense her confusion and he could see the purple marks his fingers had left on her tender skin. He flinched inside but let nothing of his horror show on his face or in his voice. ‘You should pack.’ Luca’s head inclined to the wardrobe. ‘I’ll arrange the transport and ring Evelyn to cancel my diary for a week—I will stay on for a while. When you’re back can you speak with Kasumi…’ And he reeled off his orders, spoke of nothing but work and even managed to look her straight in the eyes as he did so.
‘I take it that means business as usual?’ Emma got his point—oh, she so got the point!
‘That was what you wanted. I assured you that you wouldn’t lose your job over this. Of course…’ he gave a brief, mirthless smile ‘…if you choose to leave, I will provide an excellent reference. I have some contacts…’
He wanted her gone.
With no excuse or explanation, he just wanted her gone.
‘What happened, Luca?’ she wanted to know. She just didn’t get it. ‘Everything was wonderful…’
‘For a little while, perhaps,’ Luca said. ‘But I’m bored with you now.’
‘Should I send myself some flowers?’ Emma sneered. ‘That’s what you usually make me do.’
‘Buy yourself a leaving gift,’ Luca suggested.
‘Who said I’m leaving?’ She damn well wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. ‘When did I say that I was looking for other work?’ Deep beneath the pain of his dismissal, there amidst her loss, there was a small coup—a little surge of triumph as, though his expression appeared unmoved, she registered the slight bob of his Adam’s apple and knew she had unnerved him. She felt a little flicker of satisfaction as she refused to dance to his beastly tune. ‘I’m very happy where I am—unless you have any complaints about my work?’
She watched his lips tighten just a fraction before he answered.
‘Good, then I shall see you on your return.’ She took off the earrings and attempting some dignity held them out to him, but Luca merely shrugged.
‘Consider them a bonus.’
And just like that she was dismissed from his personal life, they were dismissed, everything they had shared these past days was cheapened and soiled.
‘While we’re still on personal time, before it’s back to business…’ There were no tears in her eyes, no waver in her voice, as she meant every word. ‘I hate you.’
‘You’re repeating yourself now.’
‘Just so you know,’ Emma said, in a voice that was surprisingly clear. ‘When I smile and bring you in your coffee, or laugh at one of your jokes, or join you at some function, or when you think that I’ve forgotten what you did…’ Her eyes briefly met his. ‘I haven’t. Just so you remember…I hate you.’
SHE was preparing to leave.
Quietly, imperceptibly perhaps, but preparing all the same.
Like the lights being switched off in an office block, one by one, she closed the little doors to her heart—applying for other jobs, preparing her art portfolio, being more assertive with the real estate agent—all the while working alongside the man who had shattered her heart.
She had been back at her desk the next morning, ringing his clients, cancelling meetings, chatting with Evelyn, refusing to grant him his undoubted wish and immediately remove herself from his life so that he didn’t have to look at his mistake.
She’d take small victories where she could find them, and absolutely refused to be rushed.