It was quick and it was painless and it absolutely had to be done.
Even with a dog-sitter and a housekeeper, there had always been a small dash of guilt at leaving him so much—but as the vet had often pointed out on increasingly regular visits, finding a home for a geriatric poodle with dementia would be a tough task.
It was his time.
‘Do you want me to take him?’ the vet asked.
‘Do you want his collar?’
‘No, thank you.’
He shook the vet’s hand and thanked him, saw him out, and then spent ten minutes trying to find where Rita kept the bin liners. Walking around the apartment, he filled it with Pepper’s things, kneeling and checking under the bed, in the laundry, under the sofa, making sure that every last thing of his was gone, then throwing the bag down the chute. Annoyed at the dog hair on his favourite suit, he stripped it off and changed, then threw his suit down the chute too.
Only when every last trace of Pepper was gone did Luca head back to the office.
‘I’M SURE I’m pregnant,’ Evelyn said firmly. If she said it assuredly enough then the universe wouldn’t dare to argue.
‘Let’s just wait and see what the clinic says.’ Emma attempted caution. ‘You’ll know tomorrow.’
‘I’ve got all the symptoms,’ Evelyn insisted. ‘I mean, I feel sick all the time, my breasts are hurting…’ It was like water torture—drip by drip, Evelyn listed her symptoms, each one causing a further stab of unease in Emma. ‘I just want to know now.’
So too did Emma.
‘Evelyn…’ Emma picked up her bag. ‘I’m going out for my lunch break, okay?’
‘Out?’ Evelyn frowned, as well she might. There was no such thing as a lunch break—it was either out with Luca and taking notes or a quick sandwich at the desk. The requisite lunch break in this place was non-existent. ‘I’ve got some things I need to do…’ Emma slung her bag over her shoulder ‘…and I doubt I’ll be out of here by five.’
The public toilets in a department store wasn’t the best place to find out the news, but somehow she needed to be away from Luca for this. Leaning against the wall, the short wait was interminable. Picking up the indicator, she stared at it, not trying to work out the hows or whys, as the internet had already told her that—new job, lots of travel, different time zones…She had been vigilant taking her Pill but sometimes, apparently, these things happened. Picking up the instruction leaflet, she didn’t need to check it as the answer was perfectly clear—whether or not it was to her liking was another matter entirely.
She walked back to work, her heart in her mouth, not even attempting to fathom Luca’s reaction to the news—she was having enough trouble fathoming her own!
‘Where the hell have you been?’
Luca was not in the best of moods—in fact, he hadn’t been in the best of moods for a long time. Since his return from Sicily the pretence of business as usual had soon worn thin, but since Pepper’s death his mood had darkened further. Still, as she slipped off her jacket his harsh tone had no impact on Emma.
‘I asked where you’d been,’ Luca said. ‘I’ve been ringing your mobile.’
‘At lunch,’ Emma said, ‘and I forgot to charge my phone.’
‘You went to lunch two hours ago.’
‘And I stayed here till eleven p.m. last night,’ Emma retorted, her head too full of the sudden news to feel threatened by Luca’s tone.
Maybe she should just tell him now. Oh, I just took a pregnancy test and was building up to giving you the happy news!
God, men had it easy at times.
She looked up at him, at a face that had once appeared to adore her, at the stern lips that had kissed her, at the hands that had soothed her, and wondered how he could have changed so. How she could possibly ever work up the courage to tell him.
So, instead of explaining herself, she peeled off her jacket and then made her way to the desk, not that her lack of response deterred him. Luca rattled off a list of orders that had even Evelyn frowning at the impossibility of it all.
But Emma just set to work, dealing with the most pressing emails and telephone calls, as Evelyn dealt with Luca.
His temper was palpable, she could hear it in the impatient buzz of her intercom, could feel it from behind the thick oak door, could see it when she knocked and entered and gave him the most recent list of figures he had demanded that she pull from thin air and that though deemed urgent were given nothing more than a cursory glance.
‘And remember the midday meeting tonight,’ he called to her departing back. ‘Make sure I’ve got all the documentation I need.’
‘Midday meeting tonight?’
‘With the Los Angeles office.’ He bared his teeth in a sarcastic smile. ‘Evelyn has to leave at six tonight, so if you want your break, could you take it before then?’
‘I’ve got plans tonight.’ She did have plans, important plans—like seeing a doctor and trying to work out what the hell she was going to do. ‘I really need to leave.’
‘Would you excuse us a moment, please, Evelyn?’ His voice was dark and Emma was grateful for the sympathetic smile Evelyn gave her on the way out.
‘When you were offered the position…’ Each word came in clipped tones, his eyes never leaving her face as he spoke, but Emma wasn’t going to take this.
‘I know what you’re doing!’
‘When you were offered the position,’ Luca said again, his voice icily calm, ‘it was clearly stipulated there would be extensive travel and late nights.’
‘You’re trying to push me into resigning.’ With every interruption, with every rise in her voice, Luca leant back further in his chair, a cruel glimmer of a smile on his lips as he calmly spoke over her.
‘It was clearly outlined that the reason you were being hired,’ Luca smoothly continued, ‘was to lighten Evelyn’s workload. I value Evelyn—’
‘Unlike me,’ Emma spat.
‘I value all my staff,’ Luca responded, ‘but Evelyn is vital—that is why I have been so accommodating with her doctor’s appointments and schedules. That is why you are here—to lighten her load so that she doesn’t hand in her notice.’
‘Which is what you want me to do?’
‘Why would I want you to leave?’ He was smiling now—utterly boxing her into a corner. ‘If Evelyn gets good news tomorrow, we’ll need you on board even more. It might even mean a promotion for you!’
He kept her at the office till ten p.m., and exhausted she fell into bed, but sleep evaded her. Her mind was a whir of scattered thoughts—that she was carrying his child was just too big and too scary to contemplate. Imagining telling him, dealing with him—telling the man who so clearly didn’t want her in his life that she would be in it now for ever. Whether that meant monthly maintenance payments or access visits, there was a link now that couldn’t be severed.
She lay there and wondered.
He had changed, yet so had she.
It had been like a beautiful seamless dance, and somehow she had tripped—had forgotten the rules, had tipped the scales from trusting to wary almost imperceptibly.
So she lay there, trying to pinpoint the moment it had ended, when, for Luca, the light had gone out on their relationship.
Trying not to ponder what she had done wrong.
Because she had done nothing wrong, Emma knew that.
It wasn’t about wrong or right, or trying to please, or bending to fit—she had known from the start it would be short-lived, that Luca, by his own clear admission, would never loan his heart to anyone for long.
She had accepted the rules of the game, had gone into it utterly prepared—and had come out of it utterly broken.
Had been so sure that she could handle it.
Change him. Be the one.
Glimpse a future for them.
So, instead of sleeping, she lay there, rueing her own carelessness, because she had been taught, and she had learnt, and yet she had chosen to forget.
What a fool she’d been…
THE call when it came was unexpected. Luca had won, Emma finally decided. She had her notice typed up and printed off and it sat waiting in her bag for when the right moment presented itself. She simply couldn’t do it any longer.
Evelyn had had her blood test that morning and the bad news that very afternoon. Luca had offered to let her go home, but Evelyn had declined. ‘This will not be the last time,’ he had said to her, as Emma had sat with her arm around Evelyn.
‘Maybe it’s time to see someone else. I have found out about a very good clinic. Their success rate with IVF is high.’ He handed his PA a thick glossy brochure.
‘We can’t afford to go there,’ Evelyn sobbed.
‘I am to be sent the bills,’ Luca said, ‘and this time you will take the time off that you need and rest properly while you wait for the results.’
‘Why would you do this for me?’ Evelyn wailed as Emma wondered the same thing—he could be so nice, so charming, so very, very kind. Ah, but Evelyn was vital to Luca, she thought cynically, the last thing he must privately want was for his esteemed PA to be leaving—but his show of kindness had caught her off guard.