Claire’s expression crumbled into near tears as he told her the truth. He reached his arm out for her. “Come here,” he said. Claire snuggled against him, and he wrapped his arm around her shoulders. With her beside him and her curious eyes turned away, it was easier for him to talk.
“Don’t cry. I’m sorry. I should’ve told you about that, but it was so hard on me and I don’t like reliving it. I was just a kid. Someone that age shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not they can have children someday when they’d never even kissed a girl, much less face their own mortality. I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it to my next birthday. The price of beating the cancer was high. It took more from me than a teenager my age could understand at the time. Even now, knowing what I do, I would pay it gladly, but it’s not something that ever goes away. I’ve continued to pay to this day.”
* * *
Claire could hear the pain in Luca’s words and it made her heart break a little more the longer he spoke. He was right; that wasn’t something a child should have to deal with.
“The physical toll was a lot to get over. I recovered from the surgery, my hair grew back after the chemo, but that really isn’t the worst part of it all. The worst part is the waiting.”
“Waiting for what?”
“Waiting for it to show up again.”
She placed a reassuring hand on his knee. “You don’t know that it will. It has been over ten years since you were sick. That’s a long time to go. Don’t you think if the cancer was going to come back it would have already?”
“Don’t use logic in the same context as cancer. It doesn’t work. Besides, I know that’s not true. The treatment I received to destroy the cancer alone puts me at risk of developing a secondary cancer at some point. It also can cause a slew of other health issues later in life. I suppose I should be happy to have a ‘later in life’ to get sick from the long-term effects of the chemo and radiation.”
“So is that why you’ve focused so much on work at the expense of your relationships? In case you got sick again?”
“In part,” he admitted. “The children part doesn’t help, either. I don’t ever want a woman to give up her dream of a family because she had the misfortune of falling in love with me.”
“Luca!” Claire said, sitting up to look him in the eye. “The woman who falls in love with you is anything but unfortunate. You have so much to offer. You’re doing yourself a disservice by only focusing on what you can’t do. Besides, there are plenty of women out there who already have children or don’t want any. Or can’t have any,” she said with a pointed tone. “Like me.”
Luca looked at her with dark eyes that reflected a pain he’d always hidden from her before. There was a vulnerability there that she never expected to see in the eyes of her confident CEO. She hated that he had been through such horrible things, but she was happy to finally feel the last walls coming down between them. He deserved to be happy.
And more than anything, she wanted him to be happy with her. Her defenses were coming down as quickly as his own. Before she could stop herself, she leaned into him, capturing his face in her hands before she pressed her lips to his.
The emotional current running through each of them connected with a spark of a desire. Luca’s hands pulled her closer, his hungry mouth eager to pick up where they’d left off a few minutes ago. This time, Claire wasn’t about to stop him. She eased into his touch, craving the feel of him against her.
It didn’t take long for the throbbing ache of need to build inside her. Claire had been content enough to go without a man for months and months, but Luca had opened Pandora’s box. She wanted him. Now.
Pulling on his shirt, Claire slipped down to the rug and brought Luca with her. Their lips never parted as they slid to the floor. Luca’s heavy body covered hers, the weight of it making her feel secure, somehow. She had been drifting through life since Jeff died, but here and now, she finally had an anchor to keep her steady.
“Make love to me, Luca,” she whispered against his lips. “Let me show you that you’re everything a woman needs.”
Her words lit a fire in him, and she was happy to receive the results of it. His hands slid over her body, pulling at her cotton dress and exposing the length of her leg beneath it. He continued pushing the fabric up until it bunched around her waist.
He sat up then, abandoning her lips at last so she could pull his shirt over his head and toss it away. Her hands immediately moved to his chest, rubbing over the hard muscles. She let the smooth crescents of her fingernails drag over the ridges of his six-pack, leaving tiny half moon imprints just above the waistline of his jeans. Before she could unbutton his fly, Luca moved out of her reach.