Had to let her go.
‘Organise the plane—I need to be there for my mother. When did you say she gets back?’
‘Tomorrow, late morning.’
Which gave him space. He thought of the billion and one things he had to do—of the people relying on him, of things he had to do.
‘Arrange that I leave at eight a.m. tomorrow. Now, if you will excuse me, I should ring my mother.’
‘Of course, but—’
‘Cancel my diary for the week—I have warned most people that this might happen soon.’ He was back in business mode, standing tall and proud but unable to meet her eyes.
He glanced at the envelope he was still holding. ‘If you were thinking of leaving, I would appreciate it if you could stay on at least till I return.’
‘Of course, but…’ How to say it, how to just come out and say it? Finally, the words just flurried out. ‘Your mother thinks that I will be coming with you—she is expecting me to be there for the funeral.’
‘No.’ His response was immediate. He could not do this again, could not let her any closer, because it had already been hard enough losing her once—he couldn’t do it again. ‘I will explain you are needed here.’
‘She thinks I am more needed there.’ Emma was crying. It wasn’t her place to cry, it was his father that was dead, but to see him so lost for that moment, to feel the weight of his pain momentarily rest in her arms, even if it would be agony, even if it was just another charade, she wanted to be there for him. She wanted this time with the man she loved, with the father of her child and maybe, just maybe, being with him, sharing in his grief, might bring them close enough for Emma to reveal her news. ‘You don’t have to do this alone.’
‘No.’ His response was final. He had done everything alone—always he had been alone. Oh, there had been women, so-called partners even, and they had shared in important milestones, family occasions even—yet in his mind he had always been alone. Now she offered a different path and Luca gazed into her eyes and down that unfamiliar route.
To have her with him, to get through this and have her beside him at night, to have that hand hold his as he tried to make it through…
Never had he been more sorely tempted.
He dismissed her, picked up the phone and turned his back.
She quietly closed the door on her way out, and she held it together.
Evelyn was still in tears for her own reasons, so with just a little guidance from her senior, Emma put the plans for Rico D’Amato in place, and for Luca D’Amato too. She struggled through the wretched day and then headed not to home but to visit her father.
‘I loved her, Emma.’ He was holding a photo of her mother and weeping when she arrived. ‘I loved her.’
‘I know, Dad.’
‘I always knew she’d leave me. I knew that one day she’d go….’
Instead of taking the photo away, instead of filling up his little dish with chocolate, or replacing his laundry, Emma sat in the stiff leather chair by his bed—weary with new understanding.
Love made you do the unfathomable.
‘I should have supported her with her art,’ Frank wept, as Emma held his hand and closed her eyes. ‘I should have been there for her. I should have been a better father for you…’
Round and round he went, trapped in a circle of dementia and bitter, bitter regret.
It was exhausting to listen to.
And exhausting to leave.
Bone weary, she stepped out of the nursing home and into the dark night, almost knowing Luca would be waiting for her, almost sensing what was to come.
‘I went to your home.’
‘I was visiting Dad.’
‘We are finished, Emma.’ He made himself say it, because she deserved better than lies, better than false promises.
Better than him.
‘There can be no relationship.’
‘I know that now.’ And she did, finally she did, because he couldn’t make it any clearer. His face was stripped of colour, just the blue of his eyes and the blackness of his words resonated in her heart. But love made you daft, love made you care, love made you weak at times, but true love, real love, actually made you incredibly strong.
‘Your offer to come to the funeral, I would like to accept it now. It would mean a lot to my mother and also to me,’ he admitted. One slight weakness and she blinked in confusion, because sometimes he sounded like a man who adored her.
‘I said I’ll come, but there can be no…’ She couldn’t finish but she knew he understood her. Unlike before, this time she meant it, because although she loved him, and wanted him, being intimate with a man who had confessed he didn’t want her meant there was one rule that had to be voiced.
‘I understand that,’ Luca said, and he did. Always sex had been like balm, a release, a distraction, a pleasure—yet with Emma it had been something else, had taken him to places that had shown him all he was missing, all he must forever miss. Emma had been right too. His mother had naturally assumed Emma would join him, and at first he had reeled from even the thought. But to have her beside him…He knew he shouldn’t but, selfishly, his need overrode logic.
‘I am leaving in the afternoon now—Evelyn will come to your home in the morning to assist you.’
And in Luca’s world no explanation was necessary—he could just give his orders and they would be followed. But as Evelyn arrived the next morning with an array of dour suits, as she helped her junior pack and pay last-minute bills and cancel plans and ring the nursing home, the mood was sombre. Black was Emma’s safe staple—a suit, a jumper, a sexy little dress—but always it was lightened with colour. Pulling on black stockings, a thin black cashmere jumper and then the black suit, Emma felt sick. She had never been to a funeral before—well, just one, but she had been too young to remember her mother’s.
They sat in silence in Emma’s lounge, waiting for the toot of Luca’s driver. Evelyn saw her junior’s pinched face and restless foot that tapped a silent tune as she braced herself for whatever lay ahead.
‘I know something happened in Italy,’ the older woman said gently.
‘How could it not have?’ Emma gave a tight shrug.
‘I warned you,’ Evelyn said, but there was no accusatory note in her voice. She had seen it before and she would no doubt see it again—but it felt different with Emma. ‘You don’t have to go to this—’
‘But I do,’ Emma interjected.
‘He’ll hurt you,’ Evelyn warned. ‘Please don’t get too involved…Luca’s incapable of commitment.’
‘I know that.’
‘And he can’t stand to look at his mistakes.’ Evelyn spoke from years of experience. ‘I’ve seen it happen so many times. Sooner or later, you’ll end up leaving. Oh, you’ll get a glowing reference, a fabulous payout…’ Each word was like an arrow to Emma’s heart, because it washed away the last dregs of the uniqueness that she’d been sure had been them. ‘He’ll hurt you,’ Evelyn said again and then the car tooted its summons and they both stood, Emma tempted to follow Evelyn’s advice—to just walk away now, before he hurt her even further.
‘He already has,’ Emma admitted finally.
‘Then tell him you can’t go with him, tell him that you’ve changed your mind.’
The doorbell rang and the two women stood in silence for a moment, but then Emma picked up her bag and opened the door. She stared into navy eyes that were glassy, and saw a taut, guarded face that, for a little while longer at least, needed her there.
Real love did make you strong, Emma realised.
It wasn’t just for Luca she would go to the funeral.
It was for their baby. For the little bit of history that she would one day have to repeat to their child whose grandfather had just died.
EVERYTHING seemed different. As the helicopter swept them from the airport, Emma could see the bare vines and naked trees and as they made their way towards Luca’s home, the Mediterranean pulsing swollen and grey as they came in closer to land.
They walked into the house. All the curtains were drawn and a wail went up, women dressed in black sobbing as Luca and Emma entered.
She had never seen such raw emotion and it made her flinch—this wall of pain that hit them with force. In the middle of them all was Mia, who sat dignified and silent. She stood as her son entered and accepted his embrace, and suddenly Emma experienced a stirring of memory within her. Tears and black and grief…She could remember holding her hands up to her father, who didn’t notice, could feel again the bemusement she had felt as a child, seeing her brothers weep, her aunts, everyone… Emma had been holding Luca’s hand for appearances’ sake but suddenly he was holding hers.
Mia led them both past the kitchen where the men stood in strained, respectful silence and into Rico’s study, where she spoke with her son about the arrangements. But despite what was expected of them, Luca put his foot down. For his mother he would do it, would stand in the kitchen with the men and drink whisky and play the dutiful son, would put himself through whatever was expected of him this one last time, but he would not do it to Emma.