‘I’m going over to Hemming’s.’ Evelyn came to her desk. ‘Luca needs some files and I have to speak with the accountant.’
‘Whatever you do, Emma—’ Evelyn’s voice was serious ‘—don’t put Daniela through—with Luca in this mood, he’ll surely say something he regrets and guess who will have to deal with it?’
‘What is going on?’ Emma asked for the fiftieth time. ‘Why can’t he just go for the weekend? He does it for his clients all the time.’
‘I’ve no idea.’ Suddenly Emma realised Evelyn wasn’t putting her off with vague answers. ‘I’ve worked for Luca for years now and have had little to do with his family, but since this wedding was announced, they’re on the phone every five minutes, and it’s doing nothing to improve his mood.’
‘I had worked that one out.’
‘Get me Dr Calista on the phone.’ Luca’s voice through the intercom was a brusque order and Evelyn rolled her eyes as Emma picked up the phone.
It was rather like knowing there was a wild bear in the building with the door unlocked.
Luca wandered out every now and then, snarling and sniping, giving his orders and then retreating. The phones were ringing red hot and with Evelyn out, Emma rang the deli and had some sandwiches sent up for her own lunch. Luca had snapped, when she’d asked him, that he didn’t want anything.
‘What’s in them?’ He peered at her lunch and selected the smoked salmon and cream cheese without a word, but Emma was used to him now, and the second he slammed the door of his office she opened her drawer and pulled out her own smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches, smiling at her own foresight as she picked up the phone.
She wasn’t smiling now—the sandwich like sawdust in her mouth as she faced a new challenge, wondering if she should ring Evelyn and check, completely unsure what to do.
‘Luca…’ she swallowed the mouthful of water she had quickly taken ‘…it’s your mother on the phone.’
‘I’ll call her later,’ came the curt reply.
Which she relayed, to no avail.
‘Luca…’ She felt as if she were pressing the demolition button as she pressed the intercom again.
‘She’s crying. I don’t know if something’s happened…’
When he swore in Italian, Emma held her breath, hardly letting it out when she saw the red light on and realised he had taken the call, wondering if she had done the right thing. The thick door to his office meant she could hear nothing and Emma paced up and down, staring at the red light, knowing they were talking, wondering if she should go in and apologise afterwards, berating herself for not checking with Evelyn what she should do in these circumstances. And then, after an interminable time, the red light went off.
She waited a moment for his angry summons but, worse than that, there was only silence and a closed door.
She knocked—as he insisted she did.
And knocked again, ignoring that he didn’t answer—deciding to ‘practise some of the assertion this job demands’. Taking a deep breath, she walked in. Afterwards, she fervently wished she hadn’t, but by then it was already too late.
He couldn’t stand it—he just couldn’t stand it!
For weeks Daniela had been ringing, every day, then every hour, and now and then his mother too.
And now had come the tears.
He hated familia!
‘Just this—all I ask of you, all I have done for you, all I have suffered for you!’
Always his mother twisted things—and she was twisting them now, telling him she had suffered for him, that she had taken the beatings, the hell, the agony—for him.
And now, supposedly, he had to repay the favour.
He hated this!
There was a rip of anger in him, this fury that sixteen years living away from home had only slightly dimmed, because it was always there, churning beneath the surface. His vast office was tiny, too small to contain his fury, his loathing, his hate.
Then he became distantly aware that his mobile was ringing.
He picked the mobile up and threw it across the room—but still it rang.
He picked up his landline phone and tossed that too.
Ah, but soon would come the emails…
So with one swoop he cleared his entire desk of its contents, the computer, papers, his lamp, his coffee, everything, crashing in one swoop, a smash of glass and chaos, with no relief, no reprieve because Emma walked in.
He roared it at her, but she just stood there, frozen.
‘Get out now!’ Except she didn’t, just stood there eyes wide in shock and then, worse, with tears in them…refusing to leave, refusing to go. So he stormed out of his office and on to the lift, pounded on the button and then gave in, resting his head on his forearm and dragging in air.
He would explain.
He must explain.
He hadn’t wanted her to see him like that…
Luca turned and walked back, calmer now, together now, and then he saw her.
Kneeling on the floor, crying and scared and shaking, picking up the lamp, retrieving shards of glass—trying to clear up the chaos so that it might appear to have never happened.
It could have been his mother twenty years ago—only this time it was he who had caused the chaos, and he who had reduced Emma to frightened tears.
‘I’m sorry!’ Her voice was shaky as she took the blame, and that was what almost killed Luca. ‘I should never have put her through to you.’
It almost killed him, because Luca realised with a dread that had been building for years now—he was turning into his father.
EMMA had grown up with men long enough to refuse to tiptoe around them—oh, she steered clear of Luca for a while and when Evelyn came back a new lamp was purchased, a few items replaced, and supposedly it had never happened.
Except it had.
Yet she refused to be silenced.
Refused to dance around him and refused not to question him when a ridiculous plan made itself known.
‘Can you tell me why I’m booked to attend your sister’s wedding?’ Emma struggled to keep her voice even—after all, this was her boss and this had to be a mistake, but she wasn’t going to take this!
It was six p.m. and Emma had spent the last two hours with Luca’s travel team, working out the logistics of his impossible schedule for the upcoming fortnight, only to see her name appear on the flight list for Palermo and the transfer helicopter to his village. Worse than that, she’d had to suffer the thinly veiled smirk on the travel team manager’s face when she’d asked why the hotel hadn’t yet been booked.
There were no hotels in the village!
‘Oh!’Luca had at least the grace to wince. ‘I’ve been meaning to tell you…’ Luca could read women as easily as a newspaper and as her eyes widened at his choice of words, he quickly corrected himself. ‘I mean, ask you.’
‘Ask me what?’ she asked through gritted teeth.
‘You know my sister is getting married soon.’
‘Is she really?’ Emma feigned surprise. After all, she was the one co-ordinating the lavish wedding gift—a pool, and not just any pool, an infinity pool cut into the edge of the volcanic rock no less. And she was the one who had been dealing with the Sicilian foreman and the architect and the insurance company, the tie selection people, the sister and the mother, not to mention Luca’s appalling mood! Oh, yes, she knew his sister was getting married!
‘Please,’ Luca said. ‘Sarcasm doesn’t suit you.’ He frowned for a moment, then added, ‘Actually, it does—but not now. I need some help over the weekend. It’s a bit hard to explain…’
She gave a tiny shake of her head. Luca never found things hard to explain—the Luca she knew always just came out and said what he meant.
‘Well, I can’t help. I actually have plans that weekend,’ Emma said, her voice still even and calm. She didn’t actually—even though it was her birthday, she’d— made no plans other than visiting her father, but she certainly wasn’t going to let Luca know that. ‘And I know my job is varied, but playing the part of wedding planner is really out of my league.’
‘The wedding is all taken care of.’
‘So what do you need me for?’
‘It would make things easier, to have someone there with me,’ he admitted.
‘You mean with you?’ She was really shaking her head now. ‘No, Luca, absolutely not. You could ask anyone…’
‘But you’re not going to go and get any stupid ideas,’ Luca said. ‘Emma, you understand me. The last woman I brought home…’ He gave a small swallow before he named her. ‘Martha. I explained to her not to get swept away, that my family would assume we were serious, that— they would think that there was a wedding imminent. She assured me she understood, except when we got there…’
Luca nodded. ‘I can’t face going; I can’t stand the thought of being in the same house for two, maybe three nights on my own.’ He looked at her then, at her dark curls bobbing, at the mouth that could always somehow make him laugh, at the body he thought of at night now. This was the one way he could do it—with the one woman who could make hell bearable right now beside him.