Even as he opened the front door for her, Luca was mentally retreating. Watching Katherine walk down the concrete steps towards the silent gleaming Rolls Royce for only a moment, he closed the door behind her, as if to prevent himself from following her and fervently admitting that he would really like her to stay the night after all….
* * *
‘Oh, God! Not again!’
Kate was typing a letter at her desk the next morning when a sensation of nausea overtook her, bringing her out in a clammy, cold sweat. Frantically reaching for her bag, she dug inside it for the dry biscuits she’d remembered to bring with her that day. Just as she located them, Luca walked into the room.
‘I’d like you to ring this number in Paris for me. It is the office of a client of mine and I need to—’ He cut off what he was saying to frown down with concern at Kate’s ghostly pallor.
In her anxiety she’d accidentally swept the biscuits in their flimsy cling-film wrapping onto the floor, and as she reached out to retrieve them the heel of her shoe connected instead. Kate knew they were crushed even before she examined the evidence. At that moment her nausea was suddenly made worse by an overwhelming sense of despair. Rising up from her desk, she bolted from the room without pausing to explain to Luca where she was going.
‘Katherine!’ she heard him call after her, and she registered the sense of frustration and bewilderment in his voice even as she hurried away. ‘Are you ill again? What is the matter? Dio! Why will you not tell me?’
By the time Kate felt well enough to return to her office, it was to discover Luca staring out of the window. The tension in his broad shoulders was palpable as he stood with his back to her. Hearing her come in, he turned to face her. His expression was so haunted that Kate sucked in a shocked breath. He looked like a man who had been shaken from a dream—and a singularly unhappy one at that. Something inside Kate rose up in protest at the sudden idea that he was hurting, and she momentarily forgot the reason for her hasty dash to the bathroom. Almost.
‘Luca? Are you all right?’ she asked.
‘It is me that needs to ask you that question!’ he retorted, impatience edging his tone. ‘Clearly something is not all right when you turn the colour of pure white marble and rush from the room! What is wrong with you, Katherine? And I do not want you to spare me anything! Just tell me the truth, will you?’
Taking a deep breath, and drawing out the chair behind her desk to sit down, Kate sighed and admitted softly, ‘I’m pregnant.’
‘You are pregnant?’
It wasn’t a question that Luca responded with, merely an unaffected statement of fact that sounded rather distant and detached. The sensation of sluggish melting ice meandered slowly down Kate’s back. Somehow his detachment sounded far more forbidding than outright anger—which, in truth, was what she had been expecting.
‘By your ex-fiancé? Is that what you are telling me?’
His assumption took her aback for a moment.
‘I broke up with him three months before we met, Luca…I’m only just twelve weeks pregnant. So, no…he’s not the father of my baby. That’s not what I’m telling you at all.’
‘Then what you are trying to say is…that I am the father?’
Her fathomless dark eyes seared into his very soul. Luca inhaled, and although he sensed and heard his own sharp intake of breath, he felt more like an observer, looking down at himself, rather than the actual owner of the stunned unmoving form that occupied his chair. A surreal moment ticked by when his thought processes seemed frighteningly suspended from all sense of reality. Then as he began to devastatingly react, long- frozen feelings desperately tried to creep round the ice that packed them.
The woman who sat in front of him, dark eyes holding his with surprising steadiness in light of the emotion she had just caused to erupt inside him, waited for him to speak. How could she know that Luca was seriously struggling right then with the means to do that? When he did reply, his voice sounded as though he had narrowly missed choking on dust.
‘And you expect me to believe this outrageous claim?’
‘You wanted the truth. Don’t spare you anything, you said.’
As the fear icily gripped him that Katherine might be deceiving him—or, worse, trying to blackmail him into taking responsibility for another man’s child—rage acted as extremely effective lubrication for Luca’s dry throat.
‘We only slept together once, cara mia—remember? It is over three months since I saw you last! How do I know how many men you have had in your bed since then?’