She was also a thief, he reminded himself. However good her intentions, she’d stolen her father’s pass key, incited someone into giving her the code—he would find out who as soon as he returned to the UK—and had intended to steal every scrap of data from his hard drive. If he hadn’t returned earlier from Milan than intended, she would have got away with it.
Her actions had been born out of desperation. Born out of love.
As sleep continued to elude him, he cursed that he hadn’t sent her to the staff shelter. Forget all his good reasons not to have done; for the amount he paid them, his staff could have put up with Emily for one night. Sleep was an essential function of his life. He’d never forgotten the words of his doctors when he’d been a child. Sleep will help you get better, they’d told him. And he had got better. He’d recovered. He’d beaten the odds and he’d survived.
He heard movement—Emily quietly making herself a hot drink before settling back on the armchair.
Pascha willed sleep to come quickly.
SLEEP DIDN’T COME. Time dragged ever more slowly. But Pascha must have drifted off at some point, for one minute Emily was there and the next she was gone.
Rubbing his eyes, he sat up. The armchair she’d been sitting in was empty. The small lamp still glowed.
He checked his watch and saw it was three a.m.
He looked through the porthole. It appeared the worst of the storm was over. The trees still swayed but the rain had stopped.
Stopping only to pull on a pair of shorts, he turned the handle. The door was unlocked. Stepping outside, he found her huddled up in the fleece blanket on the bench in front of the shelter.
The chill of the breeze hit him immediately. Not all the storm clouds had disappeared but right above Aliana Island they had cleared enough to reveal a black night sky alight with stars.
She turned her face to him. Under the glow of the outside light he could see her desolation.
‘It’s three o’clock,’ he said gently, crouching down to her height, noting that she’d taken the padded mats off the dining table chairs and placed them along the bench to sit on.
She nodded, blinking rapidly. She cleared her throat. ‘I needed some air. I’ll come back in if the wind picks up any more.’
She isn’t a child, he reminded himself. If she wanted to sit out in the cold wind, then that was her business. But the look on her face reminded him of a child. Emily looked lost.
He sat next to her, thankful for the mats she’d placed on the bench.
At first she didn’t acknowledge him, simply kept her deadened gaze on the starry sky.
After long moments of silence, she opened her mouth. ‘When I was a little girl, my mum told me the stars were our dead ancestors looking down on us.’
‘That’s a nice thing to believe,’ he answered carefully.
‘I want it to be true. I want to believe she’s up there looking over us all.’ She hugged the blanket tighter around herself. ‘You know you asked me why I went into fashion?’
He nodded, a pointless gesture with her eyes still staring upwards.
‘It was because of her. It was a way to spend time with her, just me. She loved us all but so much of her time was spent managing Dad’s depression and trying to limit its impact on me and James that sometimes it was hard to get her to myself. We’d hole ourselves up in her study and design and make our own clothing. I kept trying to talk her into going to my old fashion college as a mature student, but she kept putting it off, saying she would do it one day. And now it’s too late. She’ll never do it. All the dreams she had...all gone.’
‘When did she die?’
‘Three months ago.’
The jolt this information gave him felt like a physical blow.
That meant Malcolm Richardson had lost his wife only weeks before the money had gone missing...
He lost his train of thought when he felt her slump beside him, saw her drop forward to wrap her arms around her knees and bury her face.
For too long he stared at her shaking body before placing a hand on her back.
She shuddered. He thought she was going to shrug off his ineffectual attempt at comfort; instead she twisted into him, placing her head on his chest as she sobbed, her tears falling onto his naked skin.
Pascha didn’t think he’d ever felt as inadequate as he did at that moment. All he could do was stroke her hair with the palm of his hand, his guts a tangled knot.
His mind raced, a confusion of thoughts he couldn’t begin to decipher.
Only three months...
‘I miss her so badly.’ Emily spoke in gasps, her breaths warming his stomach. ‘I can’t believe she’s gone. I just want her back.’