He would make sure no harm came to her. And he would lay down his life for his child! But he had to be sure.
‘Is. That. Baby. Mine?’ he breathed.
And he waited for the longest second of his life.
She stared at him, and then it happened.
All the fire in her voice and her eyes flared and went out, doused by the tears that surged and flowed.
‘Yes,’ she sobbed. ‘Yes. And I did nothing wrong. Nothing wrong. But you threw me out of your house like a common whore. You’re horrible! Horrible!’
The words were choked in her throat, but they were like spears in his heart. Her eyes were blazing. Her creamy skin was flushed and dewy. Her lips were plump and red. And her breasts and her tummy were round and full under her clothes.
She was pregnant. And he was shouting at her.
She squeezed her eyes shut. ‘You’re my baby’s father.’
He moved to where she stood, hunched and sobbing. He put his arms around her and pulled her rigid body close. He didn’t care if she pushed him away. He had to feel the life within her, had to hold her safe. To let her know that he would never treat her badly again.
‘I’m so sorry, Coral. I know that what happened was awful, and if I could turn the clock back I would. I wish you could understand… We thought you were up to something. Salvatore was sure you were going to try to blackmail him and ruin his wedding. He distrusts everyone, and I accepted what he said. I didn’t question it, and I’ve been furious with myself ever since.’
‘But you were so cruel. You made me hate you,’ she sobbed.
‘I know,’ he said, holding her, feeling the fight die within her.
He rocked her as her tears soaked his shirt. Her face was buried in his chest, her voice thick with grief. He held her steady as she told him over and over that she hated him.
And then he felt her lips on his skin, his neck, and his lips found her brow and her cheek. And then together they found each other’s mouth and he devoured her sobs and her anguish. He kissed her gently and yet greedily, and felt the fire of his lust flash swiftly through his veins.
This woman was special. He’d known it then and he knew it even more surely now. He tugged her closer, absorbing the softness and the warmth of her body, full with their growing child.
She was kissing him back, and for a second he felt the world fall into place. Then she pushed. Her hands flew to his chest and she pushed with all her might.
‘Get away from me!’
She shook her head as she gulped in air. She clamped her hand over her mouth as tears streamed down her cheeks.
‘Coral, don’t fight me. I’m going to help you. You’ll have whatever you need. You’ll want for nothing.’
‘No, no, no! I don’t want anything to do with your family. You threw me off your island and now suddenly you want to get involved? All those years my mother could hardly put food on the table. And now you want to know? I don’t think so!’
She sobbed out the words and grabbed at her coat and bag. His stomach lurched. He understood how she must hate them all, but there was no way he could let her go.
‘Coral, this stops now. I understand that you’re upset about your father, but don’t take me on too. I know I treated you badly. I made a mistake and I will right it—I promise you.’
He was ready for more drama, but surprisingly she didn’t shout, didn’t scream. When he finally moved a chair beneath her and urged her to sit down she didn’t even pull away. He stood there, listening to her deep, soulful sobs. She couldn’t hate him any more than he hated himself right now.
‘I’ll get you some tea. Would you like me to call anyone? Your mother, perhaps?’
She shook her head, said nothing. He spoke to the side of her head, which she now held in her hands, elbows on her knees. The folder of her work had spilled its contents onto the floor. He bent to pick it up.
‘I know you don’t trust me, Coral. And I think I understand why you didn’t seek me out. But this is too big and too important. We can work out the past later, but right now we have to work out the next few hours. OK?’
She still said nothing.
‘Look, you can ignore me, but you can’t ignore this. We have to make sure you’re in good health. Are you still living in Islington?’
She glanced at him, drew her eyes away and shook her head slowly.
‘I have an address for you there. If you hadn’t come for the interview today I was going to look you up.’
She shot him a glance through bleary, tear-soaked eyes.
‘Let’s not pretend we’re star-crossed lovers, Raffaele. I’m not so naïve any more.’
It wasn’t much, but it was a start. At least she was communicating.