Even if it meant he would soon have to say goodbye to her…
‘I thought that with you there…’
‘Did you really think I’d say yes?’ Emma demanded. ‘Well, obviously you did if the travel team already know about it.’
‘I was going to speak to you later this afternoon. I didn’t realise the meeting had been brought forward.’
‘Well, the answer would have been the same—no!’
‘You’re making this a bigger deal than it is!’ he protested.
‘It’s a very big deal to me! Anyway, there are any number of women who would be more than happy to accommodate you. Ask one of them.’
‘My father’s ill!’ He played the sympathy card, but Emma just gave him a wide-eyed look.
‘So is mine—but I’m not asking you to share a bed with me,’ she retorted.
‘He has just a couple of months to live,’ Luca revealed.
‘I’m sorry to hear that,’ Emma responded, ‘but I can’t help. Look…’ she was irritated now. More than irritated, she was angry at his assumption that he could just go ahead and organise something like this without even consulting her. ‘I’m sorry he’s ill, but—’
‘I’m not sorry he’s ill, Emma,’ he interrupted her, his voice dark. ‘I hate my father—really, the end cannot come soon enough. My mother has asked, pleaded that I come, that for one final time we put on the D’Amato show…’
‘The D’Amato show?’ Emma frowned, but Luca didn’t elaborate.
‘I cannot face it.’ She’d never heard him anything other than assured and the plea for understanding in his voice momentarily swayed her. ‘I’m asking you because I know you get it…’
‘Me!’ For the first time he looked uncomfortable. ‘I have no interest in marriage, no interest in settling down—not ever. You understand…’ he gave an irritated shrug ‘…that this would be strictly business.’
‘Sharing your bed isn’t my idea of business!’
‘You’d be well remunerated…’ He took in her furious expression and hastily added, ‘We could just say you’re my girlfriend—I’m not asking for sex!’
‘Just as well, because I absolutely do not fancy you!’ Emma turned to go, her face burning. She’d heard enough, lied enough but she hadn’t actually said enough. She turned back. ‘You’re right, Luca—I do get you. And, yes, I get your good looks and your sentiments where women are concerned. I get that you have no desire to settle down and that women want more— I get it all. Well, enough to know that you rarely sleep alone, and no matter how you introduce me to your family or what you think may or may not happen between us while we’re away, but you and I, sharing a bed, well, it wouldn’t work!’
‘I think it would work rather well!’ he retaliated.
And just then there was a tiny shift, a brief moment when they were both imagining it, both thinking about it, both visiting the same place for a very dangerous second. She suddenly felt hot and bothered—partly, to be honest, because he simply oozed sexuality—and yet it wasn’t actually just about him and whether or not he deigned to lay a finger on her, whether or not he could keep to the spirit of any agreement they might come to.
It was also about the fact that she was twenty-four and had never had a relationship—sometimes she felt as if she was the last virgin around! Oh, she had made the excuse that she had been too busy looking after her father and in part that was true—but it was about more than that. She was far too guarded with her heart, far too mistrusting of men, and with Luca that was wise.
With Luca, at least she’d know where she stood from the very start.
He watched the small swallow in her throat, watched her cheeks dust pink.
And then she thought of his reaction when he found out she was a virgin—which snapped her mind away from the very dangerous place it had been dwelling.
‘The answer’s still no.’ Very firmly she said it.
‘Can I ask you to at least think about it?’ he pressed.
‘I already have and I’ve given my answer. I like working for you, Luca.’ She bared her teeth in a standoffish smile. ‘Let’s just keep things professional, shall we? If you’re able to!’ And with that, she walked out.
Which told him.
For the first time Luca was the one blushing—not that anyone would notice, but he could feel his ears burn just a touch as she dismissed him, put him in his place. Just as she always did, Luca realised as he sat, smarting, at— his desk. Unused to rejection, it didn’t sit well with him at all.
He could have anyone he wanted! With that thought, he— pulled out his phone and scrolled through the list of contacts, looking at the names of the many beauties around the globe he could summon right now, this very minute—only recently none had really appealed.
He sat there for ages, thinking, going over and over it in his mind, as the office darkened.
Emma could get him through these next few weeks—the wedding, the last stages of his father’s illness. How much more bearable it would be with Emma around…And why did it only have to be for just a few weeks? He had no qualms that they would get on—despite her protests, he knew she was attracted to him.
So why would it have to end so soon? Maybe it could be a few months, or even as much as a year…
He went to turn on the desk lamp, but though Evelyn had managed a close replica, the cord was on the other side, and in that second, as he reached for thin air, Luca was reminded why a relationship with Emma could never last even as long as that.
He pulled up a document on screen.
He read the guidelines and then added a few more words.
‘Fluent Japanese essential.’
Save the changes?
Emma knocked and he called her in. ‘I just need a file, if that’s okay…’
‘I brought you coffee.’ She didn’t appear in the least uncomfortable when she came in and placed his strong brew on his desk. In her own way, Luca realised, she was setting the tone, heading over to the filing cabinet and carrying on efficiently, as if their previous conversation had never happened.
She was absolutely gorgeous, Luca mused. Her hair was working its way out of its low ponytail, dark curls dancing around her face, and he sat watching her thin jumper strain over her generous breasts as she pulled over the foot ladder and still had to stretch to reach the top file.
She had a fantastic bottom.
Round and curvy and soft.
What was this fascination with Emma?
She was nothing like the women he usually dated—he usually liked his women trim and groomed to within an inch of their lives and preferably without an opinion.
Emma had an opinion on everything.
‘Go home,’ he said, irritated with himself now. He just wanted the temptation of her out of there.
‘Oh!’ She glanced at her watch. ‘Are you sure?’
‘It’s your art class tonight, isn’t it?’
She’d missed the last two weeks, and Emma was touched that he’d noticed. ‘Is there anything else you need before I go?’
He chose not to answer that one.
He’d get to that soon enough.
There were many ways Luca said her name, and with his rich Italian accent the first couple of thousand times he had made her rather plain name sound vaguely exotic.
Just not any more.
This was a short brusque ‘Emma’ that came over her intercom and jolted her out of the notes she was compiling, a clipped order that he wanted her to come into his office now.
She had a nine a.m. meeting with HR that she had to be at in a five minutes—a meeting about which he would want a full written report on his desk by lunchtime, with question time after, no doubt. She was tempted to ignore his summons, let him think that she had already left.
‘Emma!’ The voice was just as curt, only this time it came not from the intercom but from the man himself—clearly she hadn’t responded within the requisite two seconds.
‘Didn’t you hear me?’
‘I was just coming,’ Emma said calmly.
It had been a week since Luca had put forward his ridiculous proposition—and though he’d had the good sense not to broach it again, the mood between them wasn’t great.
He wasn’t sulking exactly but, as Emma had demanded,— things were strictly businesslike and the chatter and banter had gone—and she missed it. Working such ridiculous hours, he consumed a large part of her day, and she missed that side of him, that was all.
‘I need you to set up a meeting with Mr Hirosiko. I need all the latest figures…’
Luca had recently set his giddy sights on Japan—a difficult market to break into for an outsider, only Luca had seen it as a challenge, zipping through a refresher course of the language, instructing Emma and Evelyn to learn it too, and when Luca focused, he really focused. Not only did he brush up on etiquette skills but he was suddenly into kaiseki ryori, or Japanese haute cuisine, his restless mind constantly seeking challenges, new interests. He never tired; instead, he just absorbed the new energy and expanded, moving on to the next challenge while retaining the old.