Pascha had listened to Emily’s side of the conversation with increasing incredulity. ‘Your brother called about a washing machine?’
Judging by the way she inhaled deeply and swallowed, it was obvious Emily was carefully choosing her words. ‘James isn’t the most domestic of people.’
‘Doing the laundry does not require a PhD.’
‘In my brother’s eyes, it does. Anyway, how would you know? I bet you’ve never used a washing machine in your life.’
‘I make a point of learning how to use all the domestic appliances in my homes,’ Pascha told her coldly. He understood why she made so many assumptions about him but it needled all the same. He hadn’t been born rich—quite the opposite. Everything he had he’d worked damned hard for. Just being here, being alive, had been the hardest battle of all.
‘Why would you do that?’ For once there was no sarcasm or anything like it in her tone, just genuine curiosity. ‘Surely you have a fleet of staff in all your homes?’
‘I like to take care of myself,’ he said tightly. ‘Aliana Island is different—I come here to get away from the world and switch off.’
The lodge was only a few yards ahead of them now. Emily slowed down to adjust her rucksack. ‘I can see why you would do that,’ she admitted. ‘I think Aliana Island might be the most beautiful spot on the planet.’
‘I think that too.’
She gave him something that looked like the beginning of a genuine smile, her eyes crinkling a touch at the corners. It sent the most peculiar sensation fluttering in his chest. Before he had a chance to analyse it, he spotted Valeria waving at him in the distance.
‘Excuse me,’ he said, ‘But work calls.’
As he walked, that same strange fluttering sensation stayed with him.
EMILY HAD A quick shower, then steeled herself before setting off to the main lodge. But, when she stepped in the dining hall, the table was set for one.
A curious emptiness settled in her stomach when a young girl—she was certain the girl was Valeria and Luis’s daughter—brought a bowl of bisque and some warm rolls through to her and gave a garbled apology about something important Pascha needed to attend to.
She ate mechanically then retired back to her hut, distantly aware the island’s staff was now out in force. Though they weren’t bustling in the sense that people bustled in large cities, the speed with which they were working had increased dramatically.
Back at her lodge, Emily dragged her sewing machine out and placed it on the table then got her tubes of fabric and her A5 pad of designs. What she really needed but had forgotten to bring was a mannequin on which to pin the dress she wanted to make. She wondered if Valeria’s daughter—she must learn her name—would model for her.
Finally she had enough time on her hands to turn her own designs into something. Her own creations. Her own visions. No Hugo demanding she focus solely on his.
Disregarding the lack of mannequin and model, Emily laid the fabric on the long table and began to make her marks. How long ago had she designed this dress? Over a year, at the very least, before the bottom of her world had dropped away from her and she’d been left floundering, clinging on to anything that would give her a purpose.
The past year had been a constant whirl of hospital trips and visits to the family home. She’d been desperate to care for and spend as much time with her mother before the inevitable happened. All of this on top of holding down a demanding job and looking after her own home. When the inevitable had happened, life had continued at the same pace, this time a whirl of funeral arrangements, form filling and taking care of her increasingly fragile father. There had been no time to switch off. There had been no time for herself.
She placed the fabric chalk under her nose and inhaled, squeezing her eyes tight as memories of sitting in her mother’s craft study assailed her. Her mother would have loved the opportunity to be a seamstress but it had never been an option for her. She’d married at eighteen and had had her first child at nineteen, devoting herself to being a good wife and mother.
And she had been. Even if Emily had been given a city of women to choose a mother from, Catherine Richardson would be the one she’d have chosen. Always supportive, always loving. When Emily had won her place at fashion college, she doubted there had been a prouder mother alive.
She wished her mother was here with her to see this beautiful island. But of course, if that awful, awful disease hadn’t claimed her mother, Emily would never have seen Aliana Island either.