‘You should have told me all this,’ Emma said.
‘When?’ Luca challenged. ‘I don’t come with a government warning. I made my choice to never get too involved with anyone, and then you came along and that simple resolution…’ He swallowed as he recalled just how hard it had been to keep it in and how scared he had been to let it out. ‘I was going to tell you. The day of the funeral, I knew somehow that I would do better, that— I could not hurt you. For the first time I realised I had choices—and I also realised you had to make your choices too. It is not an easy family to marry into.’
‘Marry?’ Emma blinked. ‘You were thinking of asking me to marry you that day?’
‘And every day from the moment I met you—even if I didn’t want to admit it,’ Luca said truthfully.
‘So why didn’t you?’ she wanted to know.
‘I spoke with Leo.’
Luca nodded. ‘I tried to tell him my concerns, I wanted him to reassure me, and instead he said that I could not hide from my genes. He offered me counselling. I thought he was talking about anger management…’ —
‘How dare he?’ It was Emma who needed anger management now. ‘How bloody archaic, how dare he imply that you’d be like that too?’
‘No.’ He hushed her. ‘Emma, I woke up this morning and I knew, no matter what he’d said, no matter what history dictates, that I would never, ever hurt you.’
‘I knew that already,’ she said, but she did understand because there was a part of her that had the same sort of fears—that she’d be a lousy mother, that she’d turn forty and some strange force would take over and she’d suddenly walk out on her family. Luca’s words had rung that bell of fear that she’d heard many times before—that there was a certain inevitability to it all. ‘I feel the same sometimes,’ she admitted, ‘that I won’t be a good mum…’
‘You’ll be a wonderful mum,’ he said with absolute conviction.
‘You’ll be a wonderful dad.’
‘If you’ll let me be,’ he murmured.
‘I could never stop that, and I know in the end I’d have told you,’ she admitted.
He ran a hand over her swollen stomach, rued the moments he’d already missed and promised himself that he’d miss not a moment more.
‘You’re nothing like your dad,’ Emma continued. ‘You’re like Pepper!’ How she made him smile! ‘Snapping and snarling, but you’d never bite. Luca…’ She said it with absolute conviction. ‘You’re nothing like him.’
‘Actually, I am nothing like him.’
‘I just said that.’
‘No…’ He blew out a breath, because in all that had happened he hadn’t even had time to really process the news, to even think about it, to explore it, so when he did that for the first time, he did it with her.
‘I’m nothing like Rico because Leo is my real father.’
‘Leo?’ Emma gasped. ‘The doctor, the one who said…?’ She had thought him familiar when they’d met, and now she knew why! That assuredness, that arrogance that Luca possessed had to have come from somewhere—and now she knew where!
‘That is what he was trying to say, about genes. He thought I had guessed, thought I was trying to tell him I knew. Guilt made my mother stay with Rico—and shame. Not just at what others might think but because of what she secretly knew—that she’d been unfaithful to my father even before she’d married him.’
Emma blinked in amazement, trying to take it all in.
‘I love you.’ And it was a different way he said it this time. Not something he dragged from himself, not something he didn’t want to admit. Instead, he told her his truth. ‘People make mistakes. I have just sat and listened to your father’s regret about your mother and you—and I’ve heard my own mother’s regret and guilt too. People bury their shame and fears in the past but they don’t go away, they fester.’ He smiled. ‘Also, I have something else to tell you. Your father is not senile.’ Luca gazed down at her. ‘He told me that today. He knows you think he is, but his truth is that he remembers your mother now with love, and better still…’ He looked at her kind, clear eyes that had never been loved and vowed to make up for all past hurts. ‘Your father says he now has a second chance to love you.’
‘He said that?’ she choked.
‘He’s not confused from the stroke?’
‘No.’ Luca grinned, the old Luca, the funny Luca, the Luca who had first won her heart. ‘He’s just a bit uninhibited,’ — Luca said, and then he was serious. ‘And so now must I be.’ He stared beyond her eyes and to her soul. ‘I love you, Emma. I always have and I always will. I sat on the sofa that first night we met, after I came in from Paris, and there was a part of me imagining watching that detective show with you.’
He watched a pink flush warm her cheeks.
‘When I left my flat for Tokyo that day, I imagined coming home to you.’
He watched as the colour spread to her little ears, saw the smile wobble on her lips, and so he told her some more.
‘When you held my hand on the plane, I imagined lying next to you every night for the rest of my life.’
She could feel it, the warm glow of his love warming her icy veins, chasing away all the hurt, the fear, the loneliness—bathing her in this deep, rosy warmth and wrapping her in soft, infinite understanding.
‘You can,’ Emma said, her eyes open, staring into the eyes of a man who had made it so very difficult for her to love him. ‘Every night for the rest of your life, you can lie beside me.’
‘You too,’ Luca said, because it was such a nice thing to know, such a nice thing to be told. ‘Always, I am here for you.’
And he would be, Emma knew that. Luca was here, for— her, for their baby—and finally, finally she had the family she had always longed for.
‘Come on,’ she whispered. ‘Let’s go and tell Dad.’
‘ONE more push,’ Luca implored—as if it were that easy, as if he knew how it should be done just because he’d read it in a magazine!
It wasn’t pushing that scared her, it was life, because in a moment the future would be here—and although she couldn’t wait to meet it, she was scared she wasn’t up to it.
That, by not having grown up with a mother, she might not be able to be a mother herself.
It wasn’t one more push, it was four, and then this wait, this rush as a bundle of red was on her stomach and Luca was cutting the cord, was over. Ready or not, she was officially a mum, so she had no choice but to be able.
‘A girl!’ It was the doctor who spoke because Luca just stood, his face unreadable, watching his wife reach for their daughter, watching eyes peer at a very new, very big world.
He had hoped for a boy—not for the old reasons, not for a son or to continue the family name, which was a bit of a black joke between them. No, Luca had wanted a boy because Emma was so scared of having a girl.
And as he stared at this tiny little lady, so new and so raw and so fragile, he understood her fears—because he had them too. Their daughter was surely the most precious thing in the world and they had to do this right.
‘A girl…’ He picked up his daughter and cradled her close, hushed angry, startled cries and then, when he was sure Emma was ready, he handed her to her mother, and— he watched nature unfold, and Emma feed her hungry baby.
Watched his wife become a mother to his daughter.
The midwife tidied up around them then opened the curtains on the beginning of a glorious new day, pinks and oranges and pretty lemons filling the window as if the sky had known it was giving her a girl.
‘What a beautiful morning to become a mum!’ the midwife said, and left the new family to it. Emma wanted to call her back, worried almost that she’d been left with her baby, that she should know what to do. What if she stopped feeding, or what if she suddenly cried?
But she was still feeding, making little snuffly noises as Emma stared down.
Girls were different.
Politically correct or not, scientifically based or whatever, in a hormonal haze Emma knew that they just were.
They needed cuddles and blankets and something else—something Emma had been denied and something she swore her daughter would never be without.
‘If something were to happen to me…’ Seeing her cradling their daughter, hearing the wobble in her voice, it would have been so easy to wave her fears away, but Luca wouldn’t do that to her.
‘There would be Daniela, my mother, Evelyn and her twin girls when they come…She’d be surrounded.’ Luca stared at his daughter. ‘But more than that, she would know about you and know how much I loved you and how much I love her.’
He left no room for doubt.
‘What happened to my playboy?’ she teased.
‘He stopped playing.’
‘What happens now?’ Emma asked, because she had it all, here in this room. Here in her arms she had it all, and she didn’t know quite what to do with it.