But she didn’t.
‘Going down?’ She pressed the ‘hold’ button for him, and he stood back as she stepped out and she caught the heavy scent of him, just the brush of his expensive suit as she passed by.
‘No, up.’ He grinned. ‘To the roof.’
‘Things that bad, then?’ Emma called over her shoulder, safer now that the doors were closing, but he halted them with his hands.
‘Do you want to join me?’
‘I’m sure another job will come along,’ she replied, watching a slow smile spread on his face as he got her dry humour. ‘Things really are never that bad.’
‘I’m actually going to Paris.’
‘Helipad’s on the roof.’
‘They usually are.’
‘Formal dinner, very boring, but maybe after…What are your plans?’
‘TV dinner, a rerun of my favourite murder mystery.’ Emma gave a sweet smile. ‘So there’s really no contest!’
He really was smiling now, thinking he’d got his easy way, holding the lift and waiting for her to step inside. So, so arrogant, so, so assuming, he really thought he could just snap his manicured fingers and summon her—he only seemed to get the message when she opened the doors to his office suite, his rich, assured voice just a touch perplexed.
‘If you’re worried that you’ve nothing to wear…’
‘I’m not worried at all!’ Emma laughed, and she could be as rude as she liked, could tell him exactly where to go with his smutty offer because, after all, he wasn’t going to be her boss. ‘As I said, there’s really no contest!”
As the lift doors closed on him and she walked over to Evelyn’s office, she was too irked to think before she knocked. Her hand rose, the door flung open and Emma stood there stunned as she took in the sight of Evelyn. The assured, pompous woman, who had dashed her hopes just a few moments before, was sobbing her heart out, first jumping up and shooing her out, appalled at being caught, then too upset to care.
‘Negative!’ she wept as Emma just stood there. ‘I was so, so sure that I was.’
‘I’m so sorry!’ Well, what else could she say? ‘I’m very sorry.’
And what could she do other than lead the sodden bundle to the nearest chair and peel off tissues as Evelyn gulped out her sorry tale?
Married five years.
Trying for a baby for four and a half of those.
IVF and injections and nasal sprays and tests and scans and egg retrieval.
And now she had to ring Paul and tell him, Evelyn had sobbed, had to ring her lovely, lovely husband, who wanted a baby as much as she did, and say that they’d failed to conceive through IVF for a second time.
Emma really didn’t have to worry about saying the right thing, she couldn’t get a word in. Instead, she just sat there and listened and poured water and offered tissues, and finally, when Evelyn had cried a river, she seemed to remember where she was and who she was talking to.
‘You’ve been so nice—I mean, after I was so cool with you.’
‘It’s not a problem. If I’m not the right person…’
‘No, you see…’ Evelyn was wringing the tissue in her hands ‘…it has nothing to do with your experience or that you don’t speak Japanese…’
‘I know that now.’
‘No, I mean—’
‘I get it, okay? I admit, I assumed you must like him yourself, but…’
Emma giggled as Evelyn gave a watery smile and rolled her eyes. ‘Not at all—I’m just sick of training new assistants, only to have them leave once he’s bedded them. He’s incorrigible, you know.’
‘I know!’ Emma groaned. ‘He just asked me if I wanted to join him for dinner in Paris.’ Emma smiled. ‘Maybe you should look for a male PA.’
‘They’d fall in love with him too,’ Evelyn sighed, then she blinked. ‘You said no to Paris?’
‘You don’t find him attractive?’ she gasped.
‘He’s divine,’ Emma corrected her. ‘He’s side splittingly beautiful and any woman who says otherwise is a liar.’
‘So why did you say no?’ Evelyn wanted to know.
‘Because I know him,’ Emma explained. ‘Not Luca personally, but I grew up amongst his type—I’ve read their rule book from cover to cover. I grew up in an all male household—an exceptionally good-looking all-male household at that.‘
‘What about your mother?’
‘She died when I was four.’ Emma said, and there was nothing in her voice that requested sympathy—she merely stated the facts. ‘My brothers are all considerably older than me…’ She gave a thin smile at the memory of her childhood. ‘And my father, well, a good-looking widower attracts a lot of admirers—all wanting to change him, all assuming he’s just waiting for the next Mrs. Stephenson to come along—and he played them all well.’
‘Luca’s a nice man,’ Evelyn said, just a touch pink at her own indiscretion in discussing her boss so personally. ‘Beneath it all, when he’s not being horrible, he’s a really nice man. Take this assistant PA role that’s currently being advertised—that’s so I can cut back on my travel and late work nights…he’s great really.’
‘So long as you don’t love him,’ Emma said. ‘So long as you have absolutely no intention or hope that one day you might change him…’
‘You really do get it.’ Evelyn blinked in wonder.
‘I really do.’ Locating her bag, Emma plonked it on her shoulder. ‘I’d best get going.’
‘And I’d better ring Paul.’
And it had been no contest—not for a second had she considered accepting Luca’s extravagant offer, but sitting in her pyjamas, eating her TV dinner and watching the credits on her favourite show roll, the house was too big and too lonely for one.
She had never admitted it, not even to herself.
Oh, she had friends and a job and was kept busy— but sometimes, sometimes she wished she wasn’t so wise, so cynical, so mistrusting where men were concerned.
She reached for a magazine, skipped straight to the problem page and read about other people’s lives, other people’s problems, and for the millionth time in her life she missed her mum. Missed the chats that would surely have happened about boys and men. Everyone else seemed to find it so easy—her friends fell in and out of love, skipped from relationship to relationship, and some were even getting married, or moving in with their boyfriends.
Yet Emma felt as if she’d been left at the starting post.
Too embarrassed by her brothers’ teasing, too scared of getting hurt, she’d hid her first innocent crushes, had said no to dates in her teenage years, envying how others found this dating game so easy and just dived in and said yes.
Dear Barbara, she penned the letter in her head.
I’m an attractive twenty-four-year-old, I have friends, a job, a busy life and I’m still a virgin.
Oh, and I just said no to a night in Paris with the sexiest man on earth.
She’d make letter of the week!
And though it was great to have come home to no messages from her father’s nursing home or new bills in the mail, all she felt was deflated. She flicked off the TV, and for just a second she faltered.
A tiny, wobbly second, where she wished she were stupid, wished for that impulse gene where men were concerned that had been so sorely denied her.
Wished she’d just said yes to Luca’s dazzling offer.
Luca flicked through the channels on the television.
Not that he was watching it. It was on all day for background noise for the dog, Pepper—not that the animal appreciated it.
The night stretched on endlessly and he stood there, rueing the fact that he had been yawning and bored at eleven p.m. in Paris, but thanks to the time difference was wide awake and thoroughly restless at five minutes to midnight in London.
He should be exhausted, he had been up since five— but his head was clicking like an abacus. Hemming’s, a large shopping chain, had called him in way too late to stop them from going under.
Except he could see a way to save them.
He grabbed a beer from the fridge and tried not to think about it, tried to wind down—just fed up with all the travel, with the demands. Why did everyone want an in-person—why couldn’t they just settle for a face-to-face on a screen in the meeting room?
Hell, an email would usually suffice.
Sex would be nice.
And there were plenty who would be willing.
But he couldn’t be bothered to talk.
Couldn’t be bothered tonight to even pretend to be interested.
His tie must have been soldered on, along with his cufflinks—because he had to put down his drink to deal with them.
And deal with Pepper.
He snarled at the ginger miniature poodle, who snarled back at him. He let him out on his vast balcony to do whatever dogs did.
His maid would see to it in the morning.
Martha, an ex-girlfriend, had, after a trip back to his home in Sicily, decided to move in uninvited, and had conveniently forgotten Pepper when Luca had asked her to move out—three years ago!
‘You,’ Luca said, wandering back to the fridge and selecting a few choice morsels, ‘are the most pathetic excuse for a dog I have ever seen.’