Not for the first time he looked at her and saw her father. Shrewd, intelligent and determined. She was Giancarlo’s daughter, all right. This could get…interesting.
‘All right, Coral,’ he said. ‘I’m ready to listen. What is it you want?’
She sat back in the chair, placed her arms on the armrests and looked him square in the face. The yellow diamond sparkled traitorously on its new owner’s finger.
‘I’ve decided that you’re right. Why am I fighting for the right to dress in second-hand clothes when I should have been enjoying this view all my life?’
She drew her hand in the air and looked out at the sea, her chin held high.
‘So, yes, I have thought it through from every angle, Raffa. I could refuse your offer and go back to London. Whether or not we get married, morally you’d still have to put us up in a house, pay for staff and school fees. We’d share contact and do what loads of other couples do and everything would be fine. I know you’d do the right thing by us. I’m not saying that you’d stick around for ever—there are loads of dads who slip up when a shiny new family comes along—but I don’t think you’d ever “do a Giancarlo”, so to speak.’
She turned to face him. Her face was utterly calm, but her eyes were clouded with something that tugged at his heart.
‘I thought I’d made that clear,’ he said.
‘You have. But I don’t think you fully understand what you’ve offered. It’s not just marriage, Raffa. It’s bringing me face to face with a world I was never meant to see. All of this.’
She reached for her cup, laid her fingers around it as if for warmth.
‘It’s already cost me so much. Yesterday morning, down there on the beach, I looked around and all I saw were the ghosts of someone else’s childhood. My father didn’t want me because he had something better here.’
‘I’m so sorry you feel like that, but it wasn’t—’ he began, but she shook her head.
‘You don’t know what it was like for me—what it is li—just as I don’t know what you went through being orphaned. We’re both damaged goods.’
Her eyes flicked from the cup to him and she delivered him a look layered with pain and shame and sorrow. A slight sad smile curled at her lips before she crushed them together.
‘But I have to be optimistic. I have to assume that I’m not going to choke to death with jealousy every time I see a cruise ship or eat an olive. I’m not so bitter that I’m going to let it spoil the rest of my life. Because it’s not really about me any more.’
She folded her napkin carefully and ran her finger along its edges, smoothing each crease. He got the sense that she was waiting for a reply—some sort of affirmation of her plan. He reached for her hand, gripped it, squeezing it in solidarity.
‘No, you’re right. It’s got to be about our son.’
She didn’t withdraw her hand for a moment, and he used the pause to rub little circles over the back of her hand, smoothing and soothing and trying to telegraph how much he wanted to care for her. But her head remained bowed and a deep, lonely sadness seemed to settle over her.
Finally she withdrew her hand and looked at him, a ghost of a smile on her face. ‘That’s what I thought. And that’s what everything must be about from now on. We’ll plan our lives around him. I’ll be the best mother I can possibly be. And that includes being the best person I can be. So when I say that I want to work, it’s because there’s a creative part of me that I need to feed in order to feel whole. For him as well as me. Don’t fight me on any of this, Raffa.’
‘Of course not.’
When he looked now, the sadness was gone. Only the sure and steady certainty that he knew so well from her father remained.
‘I’m not going to return to London to work in a café, or beg you for a job,’ she cut in. ‘I haven’t figured everything out yet, Raffa. One thing at a time. But to be a good mother I need to be a whole person. I need my career.’
‘I would never fight you on having a career. I’m as much of a feminist as you are, cara. I’ll support you in whatever you want to do.’
What they could achieve together would be immense, whether she stayed in photography or branched into other creative areas. She could hold court in any board meeting—it was surely only a matter of time before she realised that potential too.
He could feel the image forming more clearly. They would be a couple, a family, a little unit he’d protect and nurture. Coming home to each other, working together, spending time together, with all the fragments of his childhood blending to become his future.