Zarios had been confused by her parents’ reaction to the painting—had been confused by the gift as well. From the way Lydia had spoken, and from the information he had gleaned over the years, he had assumed Emma’s hobby had simply been indulged by Lydia and Eric.
But with one glance he’d seen her talent.
A real talent that should be nurtured and applauded, not tossed amongst a pile.
He was lying, and they both knew it, when he tried to say the right thing. ‘I know how it looked out there,’ Zarios said as he picked up some jugs from the bench, ‘but they are proud of you!’
‘I think you’re talking to the wrong sibling.’ She snipped open the juice and poured it into the jugs. ‘They’re proud of the one with the real job and the fancy car—the one who gives them grandchildren…’
‘You’re incredibly talented.’
‘That doesn’t always sell paintings!’ She hadn’t meant to say anything, but the financial pressure Jake had heaped on her fledgling business was just too much to bear, and unwittingly, just as her mother did when stressed, Emma put down the carton and massaged her temples for a moment.
‘Business not going too well?’
‘Just a few money worries at the moment; it will pick up,’ she said, doing just that to the juice. But his hands caught hers, making them let go of their contents.
‘Tomorrow?’ Zarios said, stunned by the comfort saying that single word gave him.
‘Tomorrow,’ she agreed, taking a deep breath, and then another rapid one, as he deeply kissed the nape of her neck. He kissed it so hard that when she fled to the loo moments later she could see the bruise he had left, which had her pulling out her ponytail and arranging her hair to hide it. She had been angry with him at the time, and yet was surprisingly grateful later.
Grateful, because when everyone had gone, when the chopper had long since lifted into the sky, and her parents had read through the cards for the hundredth time and all that was left was the tidying up, it was almost impossible to fathom what had taken place.
She checked her phone for the hundredth time, willing a text to appear, telling herself it didn’t matter that there wasn’t one—he was at a christening; he’d told her he’d speak to her tomorrow…
Later, having undressed for bed, exhausted, she brushed her teeth, and then, lifting her hair, saw again the smudge of purple bruise. She shivered, running her fingers over the only tangible evidence of what had taken place. Emma clutched the memory of it to her like a hot water bottle as she curled up in the same bed Zarios had slept in last night, slid under the weighty warmth of a duvet that still held his scent and let memories caress her exhausted body.
Remembered the bliss of being in his arms.
Willed sleep to come so that soon she could greet the morning.
‘COME with us, darling,’ Lydia said again, as Emma read the morning paper. ‘We’re going to drive along the coast and have a long, lazy lunch…’
‘I really can’t, Mum.’ Emma shook her head. ‘I haven’t been at the gallery since Thursday.’
‘Surely one more day off won’t hurt?’ Lydia pushed.
Oh, but it would. A buyer had been in twice the previous week, looking at her paintings, and Emma knew that a closed sign on her shop too many days in a row would soon temper his interest. And then there was Jake to deal with.
She jumped with nervous excitement as her phone shrilled, dismayed and panicked to find that it was just Jake—wanting to know her answer, wanting to know what time she was getting away so that they could talk.
‘I need to be at the shop.’ Emma filled her cup from the pot and added sugar. ‘Anyway…’ she smiled as her dad walked in and pinched Lydia’s bottom ‘…you two don’t need me sitting in the back seat spoiling your fun. You’ve got a trip to Rome to plan!’
‘I can’t believe Rocco was so generous!’ Lydia clapped her hands in delight at the prospect. ‘I just can’t believe he did that.’
‘I can…’ Eric slathered butter on his toast. ‘He’s always wanted to show us his home town, and I think, with his retirement coming up and everything…’ he paused for a pensive moment ‘…he’s probably wondering how he’ll fill his time.’
‘I know how I’d fill it!’ Lydia shook her head in wonder. ‘He should be off on a cruise. The women would be lining up for him, with his pots of money…and he’s a nice man, too,’ Lydia added, more as an afterthought.
‘You’re incorrigible!’ Eric laughed, but his expression was serious. ‘He’s a very nice man who happens to still be in love with his ex-wife.’
‘Then he needs to get over her!’ Lydia said, unmoved. ‘You know I love you, Eric, but I wouldn’t wait thirty years.’
‘She wouldn’t wait thirty minutes!’ Eric winked at his daughter, peeling off the front and sports pages of the newspaper, as he always did. ‘Have you had a good weekend, darling?’
‘I had a great time,’ Emma enthused. ‘Everyone did!’
‘You’re sure?’ Lydia checked. ‘Did you hear anyone actually say that?’
‘Everyone had a ball…’ Emma’s voice trailed off as she turned the page, everything freezing as Zarios’s face suddenly stared out at her from the newspaper. He wasn’t alone.
He was with Miranda.
The regular Monday gossip column, telling what had happened with the rich and famous over the weekend, was causing more than a vague stir of interest as Emma read the words below the photo.
The rumoured break-up of drop-dead gorgeous financier Zarios D’Amilo and his model girlfriend Miranda Deloware (pictured yesterday, wearing an exquisite Kovlosky gown), seems to be just that: a rumour.
Appearing together at the christening of Elizabeth Hamilton (see p42) there was no mistaking that they were very much a couple. A source close to the pair hinted there might soon be the sound of wedding bells.
Sorry, gals…it would appear Zarios is very much spoken for.
‘I thought as much…’ Lydia tutted as she peered over Emma’s shoulder. ‘Any woman would be mad to get involved with him.’
‘That’s not what you said on Saturday.’
‘I hadn’t spoken properly to Rocco then. Zarios is the incorrigible one! He’s got the morals of an alley cat, apparently; he’ll say anything to get a woman into bed. Really, I can see why Rocco’s hesitant to just hand everything over to him.’ She stabbed at his image in the paper. ‘Zarios doesn’t know the meaning of the word commitment.’
Somehow Emma managed to be normal.
Somehow she managed to kiss her parents goodbye and thank them for a wonderful weekend as they headed off for their drive along the coast.
She wasn’t even angry as she clipped on her seatbelt and headed for her own long drive home, still hoping that he’d ring, that her phone would bleep and it would be Zarios, offering some sort of an explanation.
Pulling up at her flat, Emma felt her heart leap as she saw him standing at her door, glad—so glad—that she hadn’t rung and blasted him with accusations.
He gave a very thin half-smile of acknowledgement as she parked her car, then walked towards him, and Emma felt her heart sink at the grim expression on his face.
‘Hi.’ Refusing to be needy or jealous, refusing to let him know she’d even seen the newspaper, Emma let him into the hallway then up the steep steps towards her flat. She certainly wasn’t going to make this easy for him—if he was still with Miranda then he could tell her so without assistance!
‘I’ve been waiting for you…’ He couldn’t meet her eyes; he followed her through to the kitchen. ‘May I?’ He gestured to the sink and Emma frowned as he poured himself a glass of water and downed it in one gulp. For someone who had had so much practice in breaking women’s hearts, he sure looked nervous. ‘As I said, I’ve been waiting for you.’
‘Well, I’m here now!’ Emma kept smiling, deliberately kept smiling, even though her heart was shrivelling. Just yesterday she’d been in his arms. Little more than twenty-four hours ago she’d been foolish enough to glimpse a future with Zarios in it—and now she knew, just knew, he was about to break her heart.
What an idiot she was to believe him.
What a blind, trusting fool.
‘Your brother asked me to come…’
‘My brother?’ Emma frowned. What on earth did Jake have to do with all this? Unless he’d been asking Zarios for money…Emma’s blood chilled at the very thought.
‘He’s at the hospital…’ Zarios ran a tongue over very pale lips. ‘We thought it better that I came and told you rather than the police…’
‘The police…’ Tiny needles prickled at her scalp, along her arms. Her eyes shot to his, seeing the very real anguish there. ‘What’s he done?’ Frantic images dotted her mind. Oh, she’d known Jake was worried—in deep trouble, perhaps—but from the serious note in Zarios’s voice, from the grey tinge to his skin and his reticence, Emma knew that this was serious. ‘What’s happened to Jake?’