‘Set up the meeting room for a face-to-face.’ He snapped his fingers as he tried to recall some small detail from his busy, brilliant mind. ‘There is something I need to address with him first…’
‘It was his mother’s funeral last week,’ Emma responded. She knew because she had arranged the flowers and condolences that had been sent on behalf of D’Amato Financiers.
‘That’s right.’ He nodded brief thanks—he would start the difficult meeting with some friendly conversation, before heading for the jugular. It wasn’t actually a tactic, Emma had realised after a few weeks of working for him. Luca could separate the business side of things from the social with alarming ease—his condolences would be genuine, his sympathy real, but when it came down to business there would be no concessions or momentary reprieves—which was why D’Amato Financiers were not just surviving but thriving. Luca dealt in money, serious money—his own and other people’s—and, eternally vigilant, he preempted things with skill and ease.
And he was pre-empting now as she glanced at her watch.
‘HR can wait,’ Luca said. ‘This is important.’
Kasumi, Mr Hirosiko’s PA, was always sweet and unruffled whenever Emma had dealings with her, and this morning she was smiling into the screen when Emma finally found the right button to push. She chatted for a moment with the other woman, admiring her glossy blue-black hair in the video conferencing room as she arranged Luca’s meeting desk and pulled up some figures he had asked for on his laptop.
‘I will tell Mr Hirosiko that Mr D’Amato is ready for him,’ Kasumi said when both women were sure everything was in order. And though she had done this many times now, there was still an awkwardness talking to the large screen, still a certain awkwardness in Emma’s movements as she set up the room.
‘Konbanwa,’ Emma said, wishing Kasumi a good evening.
On Luca’s instructions she had been learning Japanese in what could loosely be called her spare time. On the drive to work or to visit her father she practised the difficult language with some CDs Luca had lent her—but after six weeks she was still on level one!
‘Have a pleasant day,’ Kasumi returned the greeting, but as Luca strode into the room, Emma realised that the calm, unruffled Kasumi wasn’t impervious to his charms either. On the vast screen above the meeting room Emma watched as the other woman’s pale cheeks turned pink—and who could blame her? Luca didn’t just stride into the meeting room and bid her a brief good morning. No, he walked in and stood and gave her his full attention, bade her good morning and chatted in rather impressive Japanese, managing to keep fullon eye contact that would make any woman squirm—and then he treated Kasumi to one of his rare laughs.
‘And that, I’m afraid, is as far as I can go!’
‘You did very well.’ Kasumi smiled. ‘Your Japanese is improving.’
‘A bit,’ Luca agreed. Walking to his desk and seeing Emma’s slightly rigid lips, he turned back to the screen, catching Kasumi’s waiting eyes again as thick heat flared in Emma’s throat. ‘Saifu o otoshimashita,’ Luca said, and Kasumi started to giggle. ‘Isha o yonde kudasai,’ he added, to Kasumi’s obvious delight, and Emma was appalled at the prickles that rose on the back of her neck, at her indignation at their obvious flirting while she was in the room. Well, she wouldn’t show it, of course; instead, she poured his water and checked that the meeting was being recorded, as no doubt Luca offered promises of dinner and breakfast in bed on his next trip to Japan, or whatever it was that was making Kasumi giggle so.
Still, the skittish giggles from the, oh, so professional Kasumi soon faded as her boss entered the room, but it was Emma’s cheeks that were still flaming even after she discreetly left the meeting room.
‘Everything okay?’ Evelyn checked as Emma collected some files for the rescheduled HR meeting.
‘Everything’s fine,’ Emma said, forcing a smile, only everything wasn’t fine. She was unsettled, restless—angry— even—and she didn’t want to acknowledge why. Taking her chair in the meeting, she eyed the pale pink blooms of an impressive display of orchids—Luca’s choice of flowers for the week—her teeth grinding against each other as she choked on that alien emotion. It was jealousy that had flared when he had spoken with Kasumi, and it had no place in her life.
He was a rake, a born flirt, a serial heartbreaker and a self-confessed playboy. He’d crush her in the palm of his hand. Well, Kasumi was welcome to him—they all were. She’d been right to say no to his ridiculous offer. If she accepted it, well, her job would be as good as over. Whatever Luca had implied about nothing sexual happening between them while they were away, Emma didn’t believe it for a second. And Luca didn’t like looking at his mistakes afterwards. Evelyn had warned her of that from the beginning.
Yes, she’d been right, but then why at night did she lie there thinking, wishing it could be different, wishing she could pluck up the courage to say yes?
Her head buzzing from the HR meeting, she returned to find several personal calls that needed to be returned—and not one of them brought her joy.
The interested vendor that had been through her house at the weekend had put in a bid—on a different house.
And, though he insisted he wanted to help, her brother Rory had just found out that his child maintenance to his ex-wife had been increased, so, sorry, no, he couldn’t.
‘Rory!’ Emma snapped. ‘We agreed when we chose this home for Dad that we’d cover the fees between us until the house sold!’
‘That was before we found out how much of a mortgage Dad had on the house. Look, Em, even if the house does sell, it’s not going to keep him there for ever. He’s only in his sixties. I’ve been talking with the boys and maybe we should look for somewhere cheaper…’
They’d do it, too.
As Emma hung up on her brother, she knew without a doubt that they’d do it—would move him from a home where he was, for the most part, happy, if it meant they could get their hands on some cash.
And then the nursing home rang to say that her father had been asking for her all morning.
‘He’s fine,’ the nurse assured her. ‘Just a touch anxious…’
‘Look, I know I haven’t been in as much recently.’ Emma closed her eyes in exhaustion. ‘It’s not that I don’t want to.’
‘We’re not trying to make you feel guilty,’ the nurse said. ‘You asked that we keep you up to date, and though he is confused, well…he does notice that you’re not visiting as often as you were.’
‘Tell him that I’ll be in soon,’ Emma said.
‘Can I tell him when?’
They didn’t mean to make her feel guilty—except guilty was exactly how she felt.
And at times it was completely overwhelming.
She pressed her fingers into her eyes in a bid to stem the tears, stem the urge to just throw in the towel, to let her brothers sort out the mess. To stop caring about a father who had treated her so poorly in the past.
When the house did sell, she’d be homeless. Oh, the profits from the sale would cover the overdue fees of the home, but it was the backlog of debt that was giving her nightmares.
‘Problem?’ Emma jumped, unsure how long Luca had been watching her.
‘Not at all…’ She forced a smile. ‘The meeting went well; I’ll write up a report and get the information to you.’
‘I wasn’t talking about the HR meeting.’ Luca frowned. ‘Is anything wrong?’
‘Nothing,’ Emma said, then realising what he’d seen she relented. ‘I’ve got a bit of headache, that’s all.’
‘My housekeeper’s not well.’
‘Oh!’ Emma blinked, reaching for the phone. ‘Did you want me to ring the agency and arrange a replacement?’
‘I’ll survive for a day,’ Luca said magnanimously, ‘but I am going to be flying to Japan this afternoon. Evelyn’s coming with me, she’s gone home to get ready, so can you go over to my apartment and pack for me?’
It was a strange byproduct, Emma had realised, of being rich and in demand—there was very little personal in his personal life. There was a whole army of people ensuring that every minute of his valuable time was put to best use. Letting herself into his vast, luxurious apartment a little later, Emma bent down and went to stroke Pepper, who duly growled a warning, then waddled to the huge glass sliding door to be let out. Emma wandered out onto the balcony and stared at the spectacular view of the Thames, before setting to work. She headed into the bedroom, opening her organiser and locating the list that would tell her what was required for a two-night international business trip.
All the information was there in her folder.
His immaculate suits and shoes were packed, as was his equally immaculate casual wear, and then she opened his underwear drawer to see neat rows of folded hipsters and socks as if they were on display in an exclusive store. There was nothing personal about the choices she made—the list saw to that. These cufflinks were preferred with this tie and shirt, these shoes with that suit…It just felt personal, that was all.