And when his father was finally admitted to hospital and he returned, it was more business than usual.
Efficient, competent, she got on with her work and, on his first day back, she brought him in coffee and offered a pleasant good morning—and very deliberately set the tone.
‘Good morning, Luca.’
‘Good morning, Emma.’
Had she not known better, Emma might have been fooled for a second into thinking this was hurting him as much as it was her.
He looked awful.
Oh, by any other standards he looked divine, but there was an ashy tinge to his complexion, a fleck of silver in his hair she was sure hadn’t been there before, and the neck of his shirt was just a touch too loose, yet it looked as if it was choking him.
‘Your client meeting isn’t till nine. Evelyn has asked if I can go through your schedule for the next fortnight, if you’ve got time.’
She had been practising hard for this moment—Luca knew that. She didn’t blush, or avoid his gaze, and there wasn’t even a hint of aggression as she spoke. Never had he admired her more.
‘Now’s fine.’ He nodded for her to sit and pulled up his schedule on his computer as Emma took notes.
‘You’ve two international trips scheduled…’
‘Three,’ Luca said. ‘We will need to stay overnight in Paris.’
‘I thought…’ Her pen was poised over the paper. As Evelyn had started another round of IVF, it meant Emma would be accompanying him on all trips—the prospect was almost more than she could bear. ‘I mean with your father being unwell, Evelyn wasn’t sure that you still wanted—’
‘Paris is closer to Italy than London,’ Luca interrupted. ‘I won’t be cancelling anything—in fact, after taking a week off, there is a lot to catch up on. I’ll need one of you to stay back late tonight.’
‘Of course,’ Emma said evenly.
‘Probably tomorrow too.’
Emma knew what he was doing—he was warning her just how difficult this would be if she chose to pursue it, because it was she who would be doing the bulk of the travelling—she was here to lighten Evelyn’s load after all.
‘Not a problem!’ She gave him a smile. ‘Was there anything else?’
He didn’t answer her, but it was the word that thrummed in his head during every meeting, every flight, every overseas trip.
Leave, his mind willed her—because it was killing him to be so close to her and not be able to have her.
He had thought it hard breaking things off with Martha—had thought for years that Martha had been ‘the one’, quietly safe in the knowledge that it would never be that hard again…
This was a thousand times worse.
Maybe she should just give him his wish, Emma thought over and over in the ensuing weeks as she worked alongside him, refusing to give in—it would certainly be easier to.
But she couldn’t quite close that last little door, couldn’t— just sever all ties—and for one very good reason.
‘What star sign would the tenth of June be?’ Evelyn had given up trying not to hope—she had a blood test in a couple of days that would determine her fate, and was frantically working out dates.
‘Gemini.’ Emma smiled, then put her head down and got on with her work.
‘What are Geminis like?’ Evelyn pushed, and Emma hesitated. She’d seen Evelyn’s devastation once and was dreading it happening again, yet was trying not to show it.
‘Charming, happy, witty,’ Emma said, wishing Evelyn wouldn’t get her hopes up so, but, then, who could blame her? It was, of course, all Evelyn could think about, all that was on her mind, no matter how she tried to get on with her day.
Emma could empathise with that.
‘I know I’m going over the top…’ Evelyn stood up to join Luca for his two p.m. meeting and glancing over and seeing Emma’s worried face, misconstrued it. ‘I think sometimes you just know—I feel different this time, I just know that I’m pregnant.’
For Evelyn’s sake, Emma prayed she was right.
For her own sake, she was frantically hoping that Evelyn was wrong because she was feeling different too. She pushed the thought firmly out of her mind and forced herself to concentrate on her busy afternoon.
Emma could hardly believe the variations in her workload. One minute she was arranging seven-star hotels in Dubai, the next she was dealing with a hysterical housekeeper on the phone and a dog that was convulsing.
Just another day behind the scenes of Luca D’Amato’s busy life.
Evelyn was with him in a meeting, so she texted her rather than rang.
There’s a problem with Pepper.
Housekeeper has to leave soon.
Vet on way.
She hit ‘send’—knew what the reply would be and wearily picked up her bag and summoned a driver to take her straight to Luca’s.
Somehow she hadn’t been to his apartment since that day—since their first kiss.
Stepping inside, it was hard to recall her innocence, her— naivety—that she had thought that she could handle things, could somehow deal with the force of his charm and his hot-and-cold affection and come out unscathed.
‘The vet’s coming!’ Rita, his housekeeper, was in tears as she bent over the little dog. ‘He’s just a few minutes away. I have to get to school to pick up the children.’
Pepper was a sad sight, lying on the floor in obvious distress but snapping and snarling if anyone approached.
‘You go,’ Emma said. ‘I’ll wait for the vet.’
‘Luca will be devastated,’ Rita sobbed. ‘He loves that little dog.’
‘Really?’ Emma couldn’t keep the note of surprise from her voice. ‘He’s hardly ever here to see him.’
‘But he liked to come home to him,’ Rita said, emotion countering discretion. ‘Oh, poor Pepper. I could never understand Martha just leaving him behind…’
Emma hated this.
Left alone with Pepper, she hated this.
These glimpses into Luca were killing her.
Working with him was bad enough, travelling with him too, but she could almost deal with business, only this job involved his personal life too…
Being in his home—amongst his things—sitting trying to comfort a little snapping, snarling, terrified dog that had belonged to a woman he had once loved, was more than she could take, more than she could bear…
‘Where’s the damn vet?’
She hadn’t been counting on Luca arriving, she had never thought he would dash out of an important meeting for a little dog he didn’t seem to particularly like.
‘He’s two minutes away—he just rang.’
He knelt down beside the little dog, his face grim and his voice not particularly tender.
‘You’re fine,’ he said to Pepper in a gruff voice, and then glanced up at Emma. ‘If I start being all nice he’ll realise…’ He put his hand out to the dog who bared his teeth and Luca ignored it, just stroked the little thing, and Emma watched as finally Pepper relaxed. ‘You know you like it really, you know you won’t bite me,’ Luca said, and then, when the intercom buzzed, he addressed Emma.
‘Can you let the vet in on your way out?’
‘I don’t mind staying.’
‘There’s no need.’
He was stroking the little dog with both hands now, soothing it and calming it and now saying nice things. She just didn’t get him—never, ever would she get him!
‘Should you ring Martha?’ she asked and watched him freeze for a moment.
‘She left him,’ he snapped. ‘It’s not her dog any more.’
‘Why did you two break up?’ she asked curiously. Now maybe wasn’t the right time for this discussion, but— it was the only window she had, the only possible time to ask the question she had for so long wondered about.
‘Things weren’t going too well,’ Luca said. ‘Here’s the vet now—let him in and then go.’
‘Or they were going too well?’ Emma stood up. ‘What, you were too happy, Luca, so you had to break it off with her?’
But she couldn’t, instead she said what was on her mind. ‘Are you worried you might turn out like your dad?’ His face was black with anger as he turned to her, except— he didn’t scare her. ‘You’re not your father, Luca.’
‘Don’t practise your high-school psychology on me,’ Luca sneered. ‘I don’t love you, Emma—in fact, I don’t actually like you.’ His words were very deliberate and aimed straight for her heart. ‘I slept with you because you wanted it, because you begged me for it. I warned you from the start an affair was all it could be. Now, when— I tell you, as I did from the start, that it would not last, you have to find a reason why I ended it.’
‘Okay, Luca,’ she said, feeling sick, ‘I get the message.’
‘No, you ask, I answer—the reason I ended it is because,— like the rest, you got too clingy, too needy…and frankly—’ all his attention was on Pepper now ‘—you’re not that interesting in bed.’
She closed her eyes and swayed on her feet.
‘Out,’ he said, without turning his head.
This time Emma went.