He shrugged. ‘My father died. Luca had been groomed from birth to take over the business but none of us expected my dad to die so young. Luca held the fort on his own while I completed university but I knew he needed me. It wasn’t fair for him to shoulder all the burden and pressure on his own. I’d spent my childhood playing the joker and it was time to grow up. Plus it was a good distraction from losing my father and from what Luisa had done to me.’
Her stomach contorted again, although whether this was because he’d mentioned Luisa’s name or because of something physical, she didn’t know, but it quickly passed.
‘I think your father would be very proud if he could see you now, Pepe Mastrangelo.’
His eyes widened a fraction and glistened with something she couldn’t discern.
‘I’m very proud of you. And I know our child will be too.’
Before Pepe could respond, Georges Ramirez joined them, his pretty wife, Belinda, in tow.
Another, sharper pain cut through Cara’s stomach.
Blocking out everything around her, she concentrated on breathing through the pain. This was definitely physical.
Cold fear gripped her.
‘Not drinking?’ Georges asked, looking pointedly at the orange juice in Pepe’s hand.
‘I’m driving.’ Pepe could have used his driver tonight but he enjoyed driving Cara around, especially now she seemed over the worst of her travel sickness. He always made sure to drive her in the car with the sturdiest stabilisers and keep his speed at a steady level—too much heavy braking and up she would chuck. As good as his driver was, Pepe preferred to trust in his own driving ability to keep Cara free from nausea. In any case, it hardly seemed fair for him to be quaffing champagne when she had to stick to soft drinks. If she could make the minor sacrifice of forsaking alcohol for nine months, then he could do his bit too.
‘Good—you can drive me and Belinda home. Stay for drinks...’
But Pepe had tuned Georges out.
Cara was proud of him?
Such a simple word but one that filled his chest with something so light and wonderful he couldn’t begin to find the words to describe it.
Like a thunderbolt came the realisation that Cara had the capacity to bring him more joy than anyone else in the world.
Holding tight to her hand, he scanned the room, looking at some of the women who had once shared his bed and the women who, if Cara hadn’t come into his life, he would have considered bedding.
There was no comparison, and it was nothing to do with the physical, although that certainly played its part.
Bedding all these women...
He’d been hiding. Tied up with his feelings of being second best to his brother and after everything Luisa had put him through, he’d sworn never again. Never again would he put himself in a position where he could be hurt. Those women had been nothing but a temporary affirmation that he was worth something, a good time, a boost to his ego.
Cara made him feel like a king, as if everything he did was worth something, if only to her.
At some point he’d stopped hiding the essence of himself from her—he didn’t know where or when, it had been a gradual process born of their enforced intimacy over the past few months—and, even after seeing the real man behind the mask, she could still stand there and declare her pride in him.
And it came from her. The one woman in the world whose opinion actually mattered.
Because she mattered.
She mattered more than he had ever dreamt possible.
Even though he’d successfully tuned Georges out, Cara’s whispered call of his name brought him back to sharp focus...and with it came the realisation that something was wrong.
Her hand, still clasped in his with a grip tight enough to cut off his circulation, had gone clammy. In the blink of an eye she had gone from being pale to totally devoid of colour.
He placed a hand to her forehead. It was cold. And damp.
He’d hardly got her name out when she doubled over with an anguished cry and fell to the floor.
* * *
Rancid fear clung to Pepe like a cloak. For the first time in his life he felt helpless. Totally helpless.
The ambulance sped through the streets of Montmartre and he had to stop himself from demanding the driver go faster. The sirens blared but it rang like a dim distant noise, drowned out by the drumming in his head.
Cara’s huge eyes, so full of pain and terror, didn’t leave his. An oxygen mask had been strapped to her face. He wished he could take her hand but the paramedic had ordered him to keep his distance so she could do her work.
Under his breath he said a prayer. A long prayer. He prayed for their child. But mostly he prayed for Cara. For the sweetest, most beautiful woman on the planet, who had brought such meaning and happiness to his life.