She wasn’t a Di Visconti. That much she knew. Giancarlo wasn’t really her father. A father was someone who parented their child, not just someone who impregnated its mother. A father was someone who was there for you. Protected you. Loved you.
Raffaele had been fathered by him—she hadn’t.
Her mind ran back over his glacial denial and the pain tore at her all over again. Was this because he had somehow found out? That made it even worse.
What a fool.
How could something that had felt so right be so wrong? Had she imagined those moments when he’d seemed to let down his guard? When his eyes had crinkled and there’d been the flash of his teeth as he laughed? It had felt secret. Special. Privileged, almost.
Well, it had exploded right in her face.
* * *
She sobbed and slept, and sobbed and slept. Night turned into day. Still she couldn’t shake off the sick sense of injustice. What had she done to deserve it? She hadn’t asked for anything her whole life. She’d won that commission fair and square. If they’d somehow found out who she was, why hadn’t they welcomed her? She wouldn’t have hurt anyone—she’d only been trying to do her job!
But, worse, why was she tearing herself apart when for the first time in her life she could finally put a face to the word ‘father’?
It was shock.
She was in shock. Nobody would believe luck could turn so bad.
At least it couldn’t get any worse. At least she knew now who she was and the circumstances of her birth. She’d made a spectacular error of judgement, but she could recover. She could get her career back on track. There were other magazines, other publishers.
There was no reason for their paths ever to cross again.
If she saw something on the news about the Di Viscontis she only had to switch it off. She could do that. She’d lived her whole life oblivious to the Di Visconti family and she could settle into ignorance again.
She and Lynda would be fine. Coral knew better than to judge her mother because, after all, was she any different? She’d walked right into the same situation. She hadn’t been thinking about anything other than her own pleasure when she’d let Raffaele into the shower.
The only thing she had to pray for was the chance to put it all behind her. All she had to do was wind the clock back one week. To before she’d known she had this commission. Before she’d known anything about Giancarlo Di Visconti. Before she’d played right into the hands of the worst man alive.
She’d learned the hard way that it was all about her career and nothing else. So many doors would open if she had the nerve to push them. And she would.
Over the next few days she busied herself. She edited her website, uploading new images, and sent a slew of emails to potential employers. She went out on the streets and took pictures of cool boys and girls and began a London street fashion blog. She set up meetings with anyone and everyone who would give her five minutes of their time.
But after two weeks all she felt was worse. Her energy still hadn’t returned. Her mother had hidden herself in her studio and today, as she trudged through throngs of people, she felt utterly and completely and desperately awful.
What was worse was that she could hear a tiny little voice at the back of her mind—a voice that she couldn’t ignore any more. It was a voice that said there was a very simple reason for those tiny spots of menstrual blood that had stopped at just that. For the painfully tender breasts and the increasingly frequent waves of nausea that rolled through her body.
There was a very simple reason and it was demanding her attention. Now.
She stopped at a chemist on the high street. The automatic doors swung open and she stood aside to let a woman exit with her pram. Coral looked at the tiny baby bundled inside it and the voice in her mind got louder.
She walked inside and immediately her eyes flipped to the shelf on the left, stocked high and wide with all sorts of sanitary products and pregnancy tests. She lifted one down and her heart began to pound in her chest. Right now this was her issue, her problem. Or not. But as soon as she did the test the problem would not be hers alone any more.
She paid for the test and stuffed it into her leather tote, clasped it close to her chest and legged it back to her flat. Her fingers fumbled over the cellophane. She crouched over the toilet. And then she held her breath.
THERE WERE TWO things in life that Raffaele detested more than anything else. Deceit was one of them. Indolence was the other.
He opened the email from Salvatore and looked at the latest photographs from his six-month honeymoon with Kyla in the South Pacific, and their ten-million-dollar housewarming party in Sydney. Pictures of them drinking and dancing and doing not a lot else.