How could they both be gone?
And how could she live with the sure knowledge that she was what had killed them, one way or another?
Her hand crept over her belly, then froze when she saw Matteo’s dark gaze follow the movement. A new wave of shame swept over her.
“What...” Matteo shook his head as if he couldn’t take all the information in. As if he could make it go away by scowling at it. Or her. “What on earth did they say?”
“About what you’d expect.” Pia tried to straighten her shoulders and stand taller, because Alexandrina had always told her it made a girl look a size smaller. “Mum wanted to make sure I knew that it was better to have a boy, as girls will steal your beauty.” She opted not to mention the awkward moment that had followed that pronouncement, as Pia and her mother had stared at each other, neither one of them pointing out the obvious. That Pia had clearly done nothing of the kind. Her brother blinked, and she pushed on. “While Dad said, and I quote, ‘I should have known you’d turn out to be nothing more than a common tart.’”
She even approximated their father’s growl of a voice, with that broad hint of Yorkshire he’d played up, the better to discomfit those who thought they were his betters.
For a moment, Pia and Matteo stared at each other.
Pia felt her stomach turn over, and not with leftover morning sickness. But with disloyalty. Her parents had always had it in them to be awful. Temper tantrums were one of their primary forms of communication. They had always been capable of saying terrible things, usually did, and then went to great lengths to make up for it—usually not by saying anything directly, but with whirlwind trips to far-flung places. Or sudden bouts of affection and sweetness.
They had been disappointed in her. Pia knew that. But if they’d lived, the temper would have given way to something kinder, no matter what they’d said to her in the heat of their initial reactions. She should have said that, too. She should have made it clear she knew they would both have softened.
But it felt too late. For them, certainly.
And for her, the child who had always disappointed them.
Pia could hear the sound of movement in the house outside the library. The staff was getting ready for the gathering that would happen after the service and burial. When all their father’s captain-of-industry contemporaries and associates—as Eddie Combe hadn’t trafficked in friends—would clutter up the house, pretending they missed him. And all of Europe’s heads of state would send their emissaries, because Eddie Combe might have come from the dark mills of Yorkshire, but he had married a San Giacomo. San Giacomos had been Venetian royalty in their time. At least one of their ancestors had been a prince. And that meant that the crème de la crème of Europe was bound to pay their respects today, no matter how little they had cared for Eddie personally.
Pia wanted no part of any of this. And not only because she was terribly afraid that she would cause a commotion simply by appearing in her...state. But because she still couldn’t believe her parents were gone. Not when she hadn’t had enough time to watch them come round. Not when she’d never know if this time, she’d disappointed them too much or if they’d soften the way they usually did. It seemed premature to mourn them.
And deeply unfair that she was expected to do it in public, as if she was part of a show for others to watch and judge.
“Do you not know who was responsible for getting you in this condition?” Matteo asked. Icily. “Or are you simply choosing not to name him?”
And maybe Pia was a little more emotionally fragile than she realized. Because that rubbed her the wrong way.
“I think you’ll find that I’m responsible for getting myself into this condition,” she replied. “I wasn’t attacked, if that’s what you mean. Nothing was done to me that I didn’t enthusiastically participate in. I’m not a damsel in distress, Matteo.”
There was a part of her that might have liked the fact she was pregnant—had it not horrified everyone who knew her. Pia had always wanted a family. Not the one she had, but a real family. The sort that she imagined everyone else had.
Matteo was studying her, and she could almost see the machinery working in his head. “That trip you took to New York. That was it, wasn’t it?”
“If you mean the graduation trip I took to celebrate finally completing college, then yes.” And oh, how she’d fought for that. It had been Matteo who had finally stepped forward and bluntly told their parents that Pia deserved as much of a chance as anyone to live her own adult life. Her cheeks burned all the brighter. Because she was imagining what he must be thinking of her now. “We had a lovely week in New York. It turns out, I happened to come back home with a little bit extra—”