She turned now, took the folder from him and started to reassemble it. She still looked pale and drawn and desperately sad.
‘The car is here,’ he said, checking his phone. He reached out to help her to her feet but she shrugged him off.
‘I’m coming with you because I have no real choice. Capisce?’
She grabbed her bag and her coat, walked to the door, down the steps and past the desks to the front door. Once on the street, she faltered. She looked around like a cornered deer, and for a moment he thought she was going to run. He caught her eye and in those seconds saw her fear and her hurt, and he felt the weight of what he was doing more keenly than if he had thrown her behind bars. It was going to take a long time for her to trust him, but it was absolutely the only thing he could do.
He watched as she sat down heavily and buckled the seatbelt over her belly. As he closed the door he saw her hand, bunched into a fist and clutching the cotton fabric of the tunic she wore. She looked straight ahead, saying nothing.
As they drove his mind swirled with a thousand thoughts. He had never come to any decision about parenthood. Had only thought that if the right woman came along he might marry her and then together they would plan to have a child. Not like this.
This wasn’t just a pregnancy. It was the joining of two families—each of them with estates that would tie up their legal teams for years. Giancarlo’s will wasn’t even settled, and Salvatore’s rage would be immense when he learned that he had a half-sister, and soon a half-niece or nephew. Legally they would all be entitled to something, and though Coral might be saying now that she wanted nothing, when she realised the world she was entering that might change.
His mind fired thought after thought as he battled to do what he always did and take hold of the universe, reorder it before it got even worse. But it felt as if he was wading through a river of mud, trying to get everybody safely to the shore, while they were all kicking and screaming and trying to swim in the other direction.
He reached across to close his fingers around Coral’s tight little fist, and as his skin touched hers she glared at him and pulled her hand away.
OK. It would take time. He knew that. Just as he knew that he would do everything he could to win her round. There was no way he was going to let any harm come to Coral and his child. She might think that fathers were superfluous, and that was understandable after what she’d been through. But from his point of view the presence of a father was non-negotiable.
His child needed him. And he would damned well be there. Every day from here on in.
THE DOCTOR CLOSED his case. Two deadened clicks—one for each lock. He stood up, forced out some more breezy words, and then turned and walked away. Another click—the door this time. Footsteps retreated on rugs and wood until finally the house was in silence.
Coral lay back on the bed, closed her eyes and placed her hands on her tummy. She felt her baby—her boy—and recalled with a wave of sweet joy the little foot that she had seen on the screen, each little toe, the gentle bend of the ankle, his knee and hip and shoulder. His arm curled up and his tiny fist in a ball by his face, eyes closed in sleep.
What was he dreaming about? Was he having some innocent dream or had he heard all the things that had been said this morning? Had the baby felt all the strain, as she had done? Had he known his father was there? Heard the low steady burr of his raised voice, drilling out his icy instructions and orders?
And then he’d tried to make it all better by holding her close, making her feel just for a moment that he cared about her.
Of course he didn’t. It wasn’t love for her that had caused him to ‘press pause on the rest of the week’, as he had instructed his assistant. It was his duty because she was Giancarlo Di Visconti’s daughter. Nothing else.
Giancarlo Di Visconti was dead and buried and past reproach. He would never be held to account. So his first lieutenant would sweep up the mess of the father just as he’d swept up the mess of the son.
The only thing she hadn’t expected was that he really seemed to care about the baby. No, she hadn’t expected that at all…
She opened her eyes and stared at the canopy above her head. It was a beautiful room, she had to admit, with the most lovely bed. Each brass post disappeared into a silk and muslin cloud. The mattress was high and she knew if she let herself curl up in it she’d feel like a fairytale princess.
To think that she’d lived across town in poverty while this was here. All the years of not having, of feeling trapped in their apartment, dreading the creeping chill of winter and the suffocating humidity of summer. Her mother’s anguish over paintings that wouldn’t sell, part-time jobs and summer jobs. Holidays that were a train ride, never a plane ride away.