‘Luca!’ She could hear his mother’s annoyance, and had no idea what they were saying, but Luca seemed adamant, his voice, firm and non-negotiable, then he led her away, up to the bedroom, where she sat on the edge of the bed.
‘What was all that about?’ Emma asked. ‘Surely now is not the time to argue with your mother?’
‘You are expected to sit and weep with the women while I stand with the men.’ He watched her eyes widen in horror. ‘So, perhaps now is a good time to state my opinion, hmm?’
‘Yes, thank you,’ she conceded. ‘What did you say?’
‘That you are tired, upset…’ He gave a thin smile. ‘That you are English.’
Emma managed a watery smile back. ‘We English have emotions too, you know.’
‘Ah, but you hide them so well.’ She was quite sure he was talking about them, about these past hellish weeks. ‘When it hurts, when it really hurts…’ His hand reached out, pushed a few stray curls back from her strained face and he just stood there, his hand resting on the side of her cheek as her skin warmed to his slight touch. ‘You just keep it all in.’
‘Crying and screaming doesn’t change anything. I learnt that long ago.’
‘You just get on with it?’ he wanted to know.
‘Maybe living in England, some of your ways have rubbed off on me.’
She felt as if he was giving her a message, as if beneath his blandness, beneath the void of emotion there was a deeper meaning in his words—which was the edge of madness, Emma reasoned. There was no deeper meaning with Luca, he had told her that from the start, so she jerked her head, removed herself from his contact and wished him gone.
‘I must go back down, I will bring you some supper.’
‘I’m not hungry,’ she told him.
He didn’t listen, and returned a few minutes later with a plate of pastries and a large mug of hot chocolate and some liquor. ‘My mother said to give you this—it’s limoncello—made from the lemons from the family tree, it will help you rest.’ He poured her a small glass and Emma took it, but placed it on the bedside table.
‘I should join them,’ he said.
‘Go,’ Emma replied.
‘Thank you.’ He stood at the door, then turned and added, ‘For being here. It helps.’
‘Does it?’ Her eyes searched his. ‘Luca, if me being here helps…’ She watched his face immediately become shuttered, and knew now wasn’t the time to demand answers—to ask why he shut her out over and over again, only to occasionally let her in, why he was so closed off to emotion.
‘Rest,’ Luca said instead, and once he had gone back to join his family, Emma undressed, feeling exhausted. Even if she weren’t pregnant she wouldn’t have drunk the limoncello, so she tipped the brew down the sink, hating his father’s legacy. Then she undressed for bed, catching sight of herself in the mirror and noticing the slight changes in her body already. There was no bump, it was way too soon for that, but there was a softness to her belly and pressing her fingers to her pubic bone she could feel the firm wedge of muscle. Her breasts were rounder, the areolae darker—small, subtle changes that Luca would never notice. Not that he would see them because she pulled on her shapeless candy-striped flannelette pyjamas as if they were some sort of chastity belt—usually worn for a girls’ movie night and certainly not seduction material.
She slipped between the crisp cotton sheets and willed sleep to come, wished it was morning and that this long night was over.
He came to bed before midnight, undressed and climbed in beside her. Silence would have been welcome, but wails of tears still filled the house at times.
‘I hate this,’ Luca admitted to the darkness, knowing she was awake beside him.
‘This day has been coming for a long time.’
‘You can never prepare for losing someone you love.’
‘I don’t love him.’ She lay still beside him, her heart stopping for a moment as she heard his truth. ‘I have never loved him.’
‘Luca…’ She shook her head on the pillow. ‘You shouldn’t speak like that on the eve—’
‘So he is a saint now?’ She heard the flash of anger in his voice. ‘All those people out there think they are mourning a good man, a loving husband, a wonderful father, when the truth is…’ He halted, but Emma wouldn’t let him leave it.
‘What is the truth, Luca? How bad was it?’
‘He beat her.’ Here in the dark, with her hand slipping into his, he said it. ‘Over and over he beat her, yet she never cried, she just took it. Only even if she made no noise, you could still hear it…’ The marrow chilled in her bones as he continued. ‘Of course, we were not allowed to tell, of course Ma covered her bruises.’
‘What was he like…’ Emma swallowed ‘…to you and Daniela?’
‘Daniela was his angel—people say children know, but I am not sure as Ma and I hid it well, even from her.’
He didn’t answer, so she asked again, her hand reaching out to the scar on his cheek, and he held her hand against it for a moment.
‘Did he do this?’
He didn’t say anything more and it took a moment for Emma to realise that he was finally asleep—exhaustion catching up with him at last.
He reached for her in sleep, one strong arm dragging her that little bit closer, and she lay rigid in his arms, telling herself to pull away, except she had never felt closer to him, remembering his tension when they’d lain here all those weeks ago, when every noise, every creak of the house must for Luca have screamed danger.
Sleep didn’t let him rest quietly, though.
With every noise she felt the slight jump of muscle still loaded with adrenaline, his arms pulling her further in until she could feel the press of his groin against hers.
She could feel the hardness of his erection, the tense heat of him, a need so demanding it must have woken him, because he turned away, moved onto his back, remembering their rules.
But distance didn’t help it abate.
She knew that, could feel the thick energy in the room, could hear his tense breathing as he willed it to pass, for sleep to rescue him. For this hell to be over.
She turned on her side, and as her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she could see his were closed, could see the muscled outline of his stomach and the sheet that didn’t disguise his need in the slightest.
Her hand reached out, resting on his stomach, and she heard his hiss of frustration as he thought inadvertent contact had been made, knew he assumed her asleep beside him—that, like himself, her body had forgotten the rules.
Well, it hadn’t.
Slowly she traced the line of hair that snaked from his umbilicus, then nervous, tentative but bold she touched him, hearing his moan, running her finger along a thick vein, then tracing the path back, then doing it again.
‘Shh…’ She didn’t want questions and she didn’t want answers. She was stroking him more firmly now, and— then his hand was over hers.
‘You don’t have to…’
‘I want to.’
Because she loved him, because she wanted him, because always, always she would—and despite her promises to herself, she could never lie in a bed beside him and not want him.
And because he needed this—in the thick of night, for— Emma it really was that simple.
So she kissed him.
Kissed him in a place she’d never once have considered.
Licked his lovely length so slowly it took for ever to get to the top as he moaned again.
The dark made her brave, braver with each kiss, with each stroke of her tongue. She could feel his fingers in her hair now, guiding her, hear his breath quicken, her hair a thick curtain around his centre, shielding her from the world, to a place where she could just be, where— it was just them and she could focus only on this. It was an act of pure giving and it came from the heart with no hope of return. She was crying when he climaxed, her salt mingling with his as he shuddered his release.
He pulled her up to his arms, and he held her, he spooned right into her and held her close and then he asked, ‘Why would you do that for me?’
Only Emma didn’t reply. She could feel him unwound and relaxed beside her now, felt his breath even out as he drifted into decent sleep. She knew her answer.
But it wasn’t for Luca to hear.
She was embarrassed.
He was pretending to be asleep when she awoke, deliberately ignoring her—and Emma lay next to him for a moment, her body one burning blush as she remembered last night and the intimacy she had bestowed on a man who had so clearly told her this was for appearances’— sake only.
Quietly she slipped from the bed and walked to the en suite, closing the door behind her, then sitting on the edge of the bath and resting her burning face in her hands.
She should never have agreed to this, should never have come back to Italy. Even if she had convinced herself that it was for all the right reasons—for Mia, to keep up appearances, for Luca even—in part, a very big part, it had been for her, for some time with him, for that chance to rekindle or reawaken in Luca some of the feelings that had once existed.