‘I think so.’
‘Is it true?’
‘Is what true, Luca?’ Leo asked.
That I will beat my wife, that the cruel streak of the D’Amato men is my inevitable fate—or Emma’s? This was what he wanted to say, but instead he downed his drink.
‘I should never have started this.’ Luca stood up. ‘I should get back to the house.’
‘Sit, Luca.’ Leo gestured to the waiter to fill his glass, but Luca remained standing. ‘There are things we need to discuss, and it will be better for you, for Emma too perhaps, to know the truth.’
‘I don’t want to discuss it any more,’ Luca said, because— even if he had started it, he didn’t want to go there, didn’t want to face the inevitable, but it was coming at him now.
‘There is a good counsellor in Palermo, one I highly recommend to deal with these things.’
‘No!’ He shouted it.
‘Luca, you cannot escape your genes.’ It was like hearing the guillotine fall, the truth was so appalling, and the horrible inevitability had Luca wanting to vomit. But instead he drowned the acrid taste in his mouth with whisky and willed the fear to abate as the doctor delivered his diagnosis that no matter the strength of Luca’s feelings, his unenviable gene pool would claim, not just him but Emma and the baby he was sure she carried.
‘No!’ It was Emma’s sobs that filled the house—and Luca had to restrain her flailing arms from making contact with his chest as he broke her heart again. ‘You said you loved me.’
‘Emma.’ His voice was detached, matter-of-fact even, as she raged at what he was doing, at what he was saying. ‘I was upset this morning, emotional…’
‘You!’ Emma sobbed. ‘Emotional? You’re a coldhearted bastard. You looked me in the eyes and said you loved me, and you did love me, I could see it.’ She wanted to lash out again if he would just let go of her arms.
‘People say that…’ Luca’s was the voice of cool reason. ‘Men say that, you know that. Men say these things to—’
‘Get what they want?’ Emma finished for him. ‘You already had what you wanted, Luca. You were already screwing me when you said it!’
‘Don’t talk like a tart.’
‘Well, that’s what you made me, that’s what you did to me!’ And then, because he was holding her arms, because— she couldn’t hit him again, she swore at him instead.
And then she swore again, using the most vile epithets she could think of.
He didn’t even flinch.
She didn’t tell him about the baby, didn’t play her last card.
And for that Luca had grudging admiration.
She didn’t cash in the cheque he sent her, which made Luca worry.
In the weeks and months that followed, every day he waited, for her letter, or her lawyer’s letter, or a phone call—admiring her that it never came, eroding him that it didn’t.
Back in his village for another tour of duty, for the three-month mass to mark his father’s passing, it killed him to be back in the same room, only this time without her.
He lay in bed that morning, not wanting to get up, not— wanting to shower, to walk into the bathroom, where— he had told her his ultimate truth.
He had hurt her.
Not in the way that he had feared, but he had hurt her all the same.
He had never—except in this—doubted himself.
And he was angry now.
Angry for doubting himself, because after weeks of soul searching he knew—Luca knew—he would never hurt her. His grief on the night of his father’s funeral and in the days that had followed had been real—except it had all been because of losing Emma.
Since she’d left, in the depths of his grief, this proud man had visited a counsellor—although not the Italian one Leo had suggested. Instead, he had sat in a bland beige office in the middle of London and had opened his closed heart to a stranger, explored his closed mind in a way he had never dared to do before, and he knew now.
Knew, despite his heritage, despite what Leo had said, despite the facts and figures, despite the anger of his youth and the unenviable history of the D’Amato men, he knew that his anger would never, could never be aimed at her.
For the very first time he trusted himself, except now it was maybe too late.
‘Luca?’ His mother knocked and then came into the bedroom, placed coffee on the bedside table and handed him the tray then headed to the window, opening the shutters and letting the sun stream in.
‘You did not have to do that!’ Luca protested. ‘I should be looking after you.’
‘You should be looking after Emma,’ his mother pointed out.
She was dressed in black. This was a dark day, but there was a lightness to her—the absence of fear, Luca realised. Oh, she would respectfully mourn her husband, but her duty was done now, there would be no feigned tears—life could be peaceful now.
‘I thought I was looking after her,’ Luca said, ‘by keeping her away. I thought I was doing the right thing by her.’
‘How?’ Mia begged. ‘I thought you were happy with Martha, but with Emma I just knew…How could you think you were helping her by ending it? Emma loves you.’
‘I did not want to be like him.’
‘I know I said hurtful things to you, out of fear, out of pain, out of guilt, and for that I am truly sorry. But you are nothing like him,’ his mother said fiercely.
‘I know that now,’ Luca said. ‘But I still wasn’t sure back then.’
‘Leo said you spoke with him.’ Mia sat on the edge of the bed, her eyes sparkling with tears. ‘I don’t understand,— Luca. He said you understood your past, and wanted to ask him about it. I know it must have been a shock, that it must have caused you pain to hear the truth, but to end it with Emma! Why, Luca?’
‘Because Leo said it was in my blood, that I could not escape my genes. That the violent traits in my grandfather, my uncle, my father could not be denied. I said I felt nothing like them and he said he knew it was hard to accept, to face…’
A moan of horror escaped his mother’s lips…a sound of such pain that Luca started with concern. She had always been silent, even when being beaten, but she was moaning in pain now, a pain he didn’t understand, her eyes frantic and urgent and loaded with tears when they met her son’s. ‘To accept and face the truth that Leo is your real father…’
It was as if the sun had gone out. Everything suddenly went dark, as if the bed had been pulled from under him, as if the floor had just given way. Every rock, every foundation collapsed beneath him, yet he never moved, never moved a muscle, his mother’s voice seeming distorted from a distance as his mind frantically tried to process the words.
‘I thought you knew,’ Mia pleaded. ‘Leo thought that you knew, that you had finally guessed…’
As he looked back on their conversation with the knowledge the other man held, Luca closed his eyes. And as he did so, he felt the guilt, the shame, the fear truly unravel at last, and when he opened his eyes it was to a world that was brighter, safer. His only regret was that it was a world without Emma.
‘Devo sapere,’ Luca said. ‘Tell me.’ There was a flash of anger then. ‘Did he know, did Leo know how he was treating you?’
‘Never!’ Mia sobbed. ‘Only you, my son, only you know my pain. I was always promised for your father—our— two families were friends. I knew I would marry him, but I did not like to think about it—sixteen seemed a long way off. Always I liked Leo—he was so clever, we— all knew he was destined for better and sometimes, when— he came home in the holidays, I felt his eyes on me. One time we kissed…’ She sighed and then visibly shook herself and continued her story.
‘I worked in the baker’s, my marriage was two weeks away. The village was celebrating because Leo had passed his exams and was going to study medicine in Roma; he would return a doctor. I was sad. My wedding was soon and your father had slapped me, he had pushed me, he had made me do things that shamed me…’
‘He is not my father,’ Luca corrected her, and how good those words felt!
‘Rico had hurt me.’ Mia nodded in acknowledgment. ‘We closed early one day and I was walking home and I met Leo. He was leaving the next day and he said he was sorry he would not be at my wedding…then he admitted he was not sorry. That it would hurt to see me marry another. We went to the river and I nearly told him…’
‘Why didn’t you?’ Luca asked.
‘How?’ Mia asked. ‘Leo was a good man, even as a teenager he was a good man, a man who cared for me. He would not have gone away to get his medical degree.’
‘He could have taken you with him.’
‘His family would have been shamed and would not have paid for his education. After all, I was another man’s bride-to-be, and this town would have never forgiven that. How, in one conversation, could I change his life when neither really knew how the other was feeling?
‘We kissed, and you were made that day, Luca. It was the best day of my life, and every night I fall asleep with that memory…Yes, in hindsight I should have told him, but we were young, and I loved him and wanted him to do well, to be happy. I would have brought him so much pain…’