Or too little!
An inch shorter than she would have preferred, it clung provocatively in all the wrong places. Her bottom surely appeared massive, and her breasts as if they had instantly gone up a size, where the feather-light wool caressed her figure, only loosening its grip at mid-thigh, then hanging innocently, yet flaring as smoothly as a trumpet bell as she walked.
It was, quite simply, divine.
Worthy, Emma told herself as she pulled a shoebox from her case, of the horribly expensive strappy sandals she’d bought to go with it. Worthy of the hours of buffing and polishing her body had endured—and her first visit to a tanning parlour.
Running her ceramic straighteners for the final time over her long blonde hair, she stopped worrying her bottom lip and applied a final layer of lipgloss instead, thanking the gods who had looked after her these past days, who must have known that Zarios D’ Amilo would be coming tonight, and had, unbeknown to Emma, insisted that she look her best for the embarrassing task of facing him again after all these years.
Emma picked up one of the photos on her dressing table and stared at the wedding group. Even though it was ridiculous, even though it was only a photo, still she blushed as she looked into Zarios’s serious dark eyes.
She’d been nineteen…
A young and extremely naive nineteen-year-old, she had been dressed up like a vast pink blancmange, as bridesmaid at Jake’s wedding.
Zarios had been invited. He’d only been in Australia a few weeks back then, and his accent had been so heavy and rich Emma had struggled to understand his words—except she could have listened to him talk for ever. Put simply, he had been the most stunning man she had ever seen. The whole wedding had passed in a dizzy blur until finally, dutifully, he had danced with her. And because it had been Zarios D’Amilo holding her, and she’d had rather too much champagne, Emma had promptly fallen in lust.
Shoving the photo in a drawer, she turned it face-down and covered it with the drawer’s contents, then slammed it closed. The last thing she wanted was for Zarios to see it—for Zarios to recall her exquisitely embarrassing mistake. But even with the photo safely tucked away Emma was struggling to beat her blush, struggling to banish the image of the two of them dancing that night. Zarios had lowered his head to say something and stupidly, blindly, she’d misinterpreted the action, closed her eyes and, lips poised, waited expectantly for him to kiss her.
Even six years on she burnt with the shame of the memory.
Could still hear his deep, throaty laugh as he’d realised what she thought he had intended.
‘Come back when you’re all grown up…’ He’d smiled at her and patted her bottom as the music had ended, merrily sending her on her childish way. ‘Anyway, my father would never forgive me.’
He’d probably forgotten, Emma consoled herself.
With all the women he’d dated, as if he’d remember a teenager’s clumsy attempt at extracting a kiss. Anyway, she was six years older now and light years wiser—she could see a man like Zarios exactly for what he was: a player.
She certainly wouldn’t make the same mistake again; she’d be aloof and distant, Emma decided, practising an aloof and distant look in the mirror. Maybe she should wear her hair up? Emma thought, piling her long blonde hair on her head and seeing if it made a difference, then deciding against. Maybe she should just make a joke about it, laugh the whole thing off…
Maybe she should tidy her room!
Her mother joined her, and the embroidered quilt was hastily replaced with crisp white linen as Lydia ran around the room removing stray bras, mascara wands and tampon boxes. Folded towels and washcloths were placed at the end of the bed, along with a little bar of Lydia’s expensive soap, and a jug of water and a glass was put beside the bed, covered with a little linen cloth.
‘It’s mineral water,’ Lydia assured a bemused Emma as she arranged the jug with precision. ‘Should I put out a little snack for him?’ she worried. ‘Is there anything else you can think of?’
‘A box of tissues?’ Emma nudged her mother, making Lydia giggle again. ‘Legend has it he can’t go twelve hours!’
But even if she could make her mother laugh and relax just a touch, as she stared out at the bay Emma felt her throat tighten when she heard a helicopter approach and knew it was him. As comfortably off as her parents and their friends might be, only the D’Amilos would arrive for a party in a helicopter. She watched it hover for a moment, could see the marquee flapping, the grass flattened by the whirring blades, and then…
She knew she was holding her breath, because the window had stopped misting over, and she knew as one well-shod foot appeared, followed by an impossibly long leg, that it was him.
The view only improved from that point.
Zarios helped his father down, then, having ducked under the blades, they strolled across the lawn, too used to their mode of travel to give the helicopter even a backward glance as it lifted off into the sunset.
He was wearing black dress pants and a fitted white shirt, and like a prize thoroughbred being paraded before the race he had a restless energy, a glossy, groomed appearance, that had Emma’s stomach fold in on itself as he tossed his head back and laughed at something his father said. For just a moment, an embarrassing twinge, Emma was sure he saw her. Those black eyes had glanced up as if he knew he was being watched, and Emma stepped quickly back, as if burnt.
‘Emma!’ She could hear her mother’s shrill summons and, taking a deep breath, she steadied herself. ‘They’re here! An hour early and they’re here!’
‘Questi sono i miei buoni amici.’ As they walked across the lawn, again his father reminded him how important these people were to him.
‘You believe too much of what you read!’ Zarios laughed. ‘I am capable of behaving occasionally. Anyway, I fear it will be slim pickings at a sixtieth birthday bash, Pa!’
‘Zarios…’ Rocco was serious. It had seemed like a good idea for him to bring Zarios. Fresh out of a relationship, Zarios had that gleam in his roving eye that spelt danger—and if Rocco could avert scandal at this precarious time, then he would. Ah, but had it been wise to bring him here? On the short flight over Rocco had remembered the wedding, the instant attraction that had flared between his son and Emma Hayes. He had warned Zarios off that night—and thankfully the warning had been heeded. But Zarios was six years older now, and way past taking his father’s advice. ‘You remember their daughter, Emma?’
‘The good-looking blonde?’ A smile flickered across his face in instant recall. Things were maybe looking up for tonight after all. ‘Actually, I do.’
‘She’s grown into a very attractive woman…’
‘Attesa!’ Rocco called for his son to slow down, pulling out his handkerchief and mopping his brow.
‘Are you okay, Pa?’
‘A little chest pain…’ Rocco took a pill from a little silver box and placed it under his tongue. ‘Nothing I am not used to.’ He did have chest pain—perhaps not enough to merit taking a pill, but if the sympathy card would help Rocco was only too willing to play it. ‘You know I think the world of Lydia, but you know how she loves to spend—and, well, it would seem that Emma has the same tendency…’
‘It is fortunate I am rich then, no?’ Zarios joked, but his father wasn’t smiling.
‘Eric is worried…’ It was only a small lie, Rocco consoled himself. In fact he hadn’t lied, he told himself, just implied…Surely it was better to put Zarios off now, than face Eric after his son had broken his daughter’s heart?
And he would, Rocco thought wearily, mopping his forehead again before folding his handkerchief and putting it back in his pocket. Zarios would break her heart.
‘Don’t get involved with her, Zarios.’ Rocco resumed his walking. ‘It would be far too messy.’
‘You’re early!’ Eric, as laid-back as his wife was neurotic, didn’t worry about things like guestrooms and final layers of lipgloss, instead he was simply delighted as Rocco came through the door, and hugged and embraced his lifelong friend in the effusive Italian way. Zarios stood slightly back.
‘We wanted some time with you before the other guests arrived.’ Rocco beamed, offering Eric a lavishly wrapped gift. ‘Hide that and open it tomorrow.’
‘The invitation said no gifts!’ Lydia scolded, but she was clearly delighted that he had. ‘Zarios—we’re thrilled that you came.’
‘It is good to be here.’
His accent was still rich, his voice low and deep, and Emma could feel the tiny hairs at the back of her neck stand on end as she came down the stairs, attempting to maintain her distant and aloof look, watching as he kissed her mother on both cheeks and then did the same with her father. His black eyes met hers.
‘Emma. It’s been a long time.’ His smile was guarded, and in a split second his eyes took in the changes. The short cut she had once worn had long since grown out, and her hair now hung in a heavy blonde curtain over her shoulders. Her once skinny, overactive body had softened and filled out since then, too, and her feminine curves were enhanced by the soft drape of her dress—a dress that swished around her slender legs as she moved. Zarios was surprisingly grateful for his father’s warning, because without it the night might have taken a rather different direction.