And then he kissed her.
His tongue was strangely cold as his lazy kiss brought her round, welcoming her back to a world that was brighter, and somehow very different.
‘If I swim out again will you rescue me?’
‘That is not funny.’
‘Well, that wasn’t a very good deterrent.’
‘I might not be here next time to save you…’
As he looked down at her Emma realised that his eyes, though they looked black, were actually the darkest deepest indigo, more purple than blue, and a colour she wanted to capture and recreate with her brush. Only, even with her artistic prowess, she wasn’t sure she could do the colour justice.
‘Although I would like to be there.’
And she knew he wasn’t talking about swimming—knew, because at that moment they were so close words were hardly needed. A new language was forming, and their minds were meeting with the same force their bodies had and blending just as perfectly.
‘I’d like you to be there.’
‘Let’s get you back to the house.’ He held her tighter as he spoke. ‘This weekend cannot be about us. I want your father to enjoy his celebration.’ He kissed her very slowly. ‘Emma, this is big.’
A rather facetious comment was on the tip of her tongue, given the length of him on her thigh, but Emma restrained herself. Her mind was simply being kind, using humour to deflect the seriousness of his words for a moment. What they had just found was monumental.
There was nothing to joke about.
‘We need to be very sure, and we need to get our heads around things ourselves before we share this with our families.’
Oh, he was right. If there was even a hint of romance today, the whole dynamics of the weekend would shift. They had to get used to things first, before they revealed their feelings to the world.
There wasn’t a flicker of question or doubt in her eyes as she stared back at him.
For that moment at least, she absolutely trusted him.
‘There you are!’ Lydia smiled when, a considerable time later, a rather bedraggled Emma appeared. ‘We were about to send out a search party.’
‘I was enjoying a walk.’
‘And the water!’ Lydia frowned at the knot of wet hair trailing down her back.
Given that it was now after eight Emma could be a touch honest. ‘I had a swim—I couldn’t resist.’ Emma flushed, her heart thumping as, not for the first time, she realised just how disastrous the consequences might have been had Zarios not saved her. Thankfully Lydia was too wrapped up in preparing for the champagne breakfast to question her further. ‘Do you need me to do anything, Mum?’
‘Get changed, darling!’ Lydia scolded, pulling out of the fridge the vast bowl of Strawberries Romanof that Emma had yesterday painstakingly prepared for the occasion without comment, then twittering with delight as she pulled back the cloth on the basket of rolls and pastries that had thankfully been delivered.
‘He’s gone way over the top, as always…’ Lydia tutted at the contents. ‘But then, that’s Jake!’
The shower was bliss—warm water washing away the salt, her body burning still from Zarios’s attention. Massaging conditioner into her hair, Emma closed her eyes and revelled in the sheer wonder of being alive, every nerve in her body tingling as she recalled his hands and mouth on her. Her heart was fluttering with excitement, and she cradled her knowledge like a treasured gift—scarcely able to comprehend that in just a few short hours everything had changed.
She dressed in pale khaki shorts and a white cotton halter neck, quickly blowdrying her hair and then tying it back in a loose ponytail, before adding just a little make-up. She joined her family and the D’Amilos out on the decking. Today was more intimate—just immediate family, which Rocco practically was, and of course Zarios.
He smiled as she entered, just a brief smile, but it confirmed every last thing she was feeling.
There was an exhilaration about her that perhaps had something to do with surviving a near death experience, or perhaps just the sheer pleasure of being with her family, all combined with the giddy recall of Zarios’s lovemaking. For Emma it truly was the sweetest time, every second relished as she sipped on Bucks Fizz and listened to her father’s laughter, saw her mother’s face flushed and pretty with the relief that the her beloved Eric’s birthday had gone so well. He was opening his gifts, smiling at the slippers, the tankards, at an expensive pair of binoculars for his beloved bird-watching, and then frowning at Rocco’s gift.
‘For when you come to visit me at my home in Rome.’ Rocco waved away Eric’s protests as he opened a travel itinerary along with two first class tickets. ‘When Bella left—when I was on my own—every week you rang me, every week there was a letter, and every time I came back to Australia to check on my business here not once did I sleep in a hotel. You, my friends, were always there. Now it is time for you to eat at my table—for you, Eric, to take your wife to what is surely the most beautiful city in the world,’ Rocco finished, wiping tears from his eyes as he told the couple the true value of their friendship.
Well, nothing was going to top that!
‘Here, Dad.’ Emma found she was biting on her lips as she handed her father her gift. An oil painting, it was of the beach scene from their house at late afternoon. Normally in her paintings Emma always left faces blank, so the people who bought her pieces were able to place themselves in the image—it was the signature mark of her work. Except in this one, amongst the families and children playing on the beach, unmistakably there were her parents, smiling and relaxed as they walked hand in hand along the beach they had loved for so long.
It had taken her days to paint.
But it had been weeks of thought that had drained her.
‘It’s lovely, darling.’ Eric gave her a suitable smile as he studied her work for, oh, around ten seconds, before kissing her cheek.
‘You and Mum are there…’ Emma pointed to the figures in the scene.
He pulled on his glasses and peered more closely. ‘So we are!’ Eric beamed, then took his glasses off and kissed her on the cheek again. ‘Thank you, darling.’
He put the painting down on the floor beside the mountain of other presents, then peeled open the gift Jake and Beth had bought, crowing in delight at a bottle of champagne Emma could have sworn she’d given them as a gift when the twins were born, and holding up the two department store champagne glasses that accompanied the bottle as if they were made of the finest crystal.
‘That’s for you two to share,’ Jake said, and smiled, ‘when the party’s over. Happy birthday, Dad!’
Emma found she was biting hard into her lip as her mother oohed and ahed, kissing Jake and telling him he was so thoughtful. Her fingers were clenched, and in an effort not to say anything, not to spoil things, Emma actually sat on her hands, telling herself she was being unreasonable. Her father had been delighted with her present. She was just being sensitive, that was all, because Rocco was nodding at the lovely champagne and Zarios was busy with his mobile phone. She was surely just being childish. But was she the only one who could see the glaring disparity between how she and Jake were treated? Blinking back sudden pathetic tears, Emma was glad of the diversion of her own phone bleeping. Picking it up from the table, she frowned slightly when she saw that she had a message from Zarios.
She suppressed a smile as she texted back.
Do you blame me?
As she hit ‘send’, the sound of his phone bleeping at the opposite end of the table sent a fizz of excitement through her—especially when she saw that he was texting again.
I liked it.
She was about to text back her thanks, but she had another incoming message.
I want you.
Two spots of colour burnt on her cheeks as her phone bleeped again, and Zarios told her exactly how much he wanted her. She was blushing like an eighteen-year-old—felt like an eighteen-year-old as her mother’s frown scolded her for spending so long on her phone.
‘Could you get some more orange juice, Emma?’
She fled to the kitchen, embarrassed yet exhilarated, as jumpy as a cat. She trembled as she pulled open the door of the fridge. It wasn’t just that he was sexy—though he was, Emma thought, gulping icy air from the fridge—it was that smile, that lazy smile that just made the world pause, and the intensity of his eyes when they held hers.
And instinctively he had known how much her father’s dismissal of her work, however unwitting, had hurt her.
Never had a man read her more skilfully.
It was as if he’d versed himself in her thoughts—like an extension to her mind.
He got it!
Got the crazy make-up of her family and the fact that they could make her smile, make her laugh, even as they drove her round the bend.
‘Need a hand?’
He didn’t wait for an answer. His hot palm was between her legs, running lazily the length of her thigh, and she rested her head on the freezer door to steady herself, simultaneously revelling in his touch and tensing at the thought of anyone walking in.
‘Zarios…’ She turned to face him, to warn him off with a brittle expression, to tell him this was neither the time nor the place—but he’d beaten her to it. He was smiling down at her, pulling out cartons from the fridge and feigning such utter innocence that if her thighs hadn’t been on fire she’d have sworn she’d imagined the whole thing.