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‘Hey!’ Emma jumped as Luca walked into the bedroom unannounced, blushing as she held a handful of his hipsters. It just seemed wrong somehow to be going through his underwear drawer, even though it was her job to be in there. He was completely at ease with it, of course. Just kicked off his shoes and lay on the bed, chatting on his phone as Emma walked through to the sumptuous bathroom to pack his toiletries and to try and not listen as he made a couple of personal calls—cancelling his plans for the next couple of nights and, by the sound of it, breaking a couple of hearts in the process. ‘Why?’ Luca asked as she came back into the bedroom with his toiletry bag and was finishing off his packing, ‘when I say I’m going to Japan, do they think it has something to do with them—why would they think that I’m lying?’ ‘Because you usually are,’ Emma pointed out. ‘Well, I’m not this time.’ He ran lazy eyes over her, taking in the smudges under her eyes, the vague distraction that slightly displaced her more usual sunny nature. ‘What’s wrong, Em?’ ‘Ms Stephenson to you!’ Emma instantly pulled him up, refusing, just refusing as she always did with him, to cross the line. ‘But you can call me Emma.’ ‘What’s wrong, Emma? And don’t give me that rubbish about a headache.’ ‘Nothing’s wrong,’ Emma insisted. He lay back on the bed, closed his eyes and gave a low laugh. ‘Now that I’ve stopped, I realise I have a headache too!” He did—right there at the front of his head. He could hear the sounds of her packing, and it would be so incredibly easy to just close his eyes and sleep. He didn’t want to go to Tokyo. Incredibly, and not for the first time lately, he could hardly stomach the thought of the flight. ‘We should fare force…’ Luca smiled with his eyes still closed. ‘Sorry?’ ‘You know…’ he waved his hand, tried to come up with the English word for it, but it eluded him, and those gorgeous navy eyes finally opened to hers. ‘Leave school…’ He snapped his fingers, impatient with himself now. ‘Not go back.’ ‘Play hooky!’ Emma grinned. ‘Play hooky!’ Luca smiled at the term and closed his eyes. ‘That would be good—we could get ice-packs from the fridge for our foreheads and lie in the dark and ignore the phone.’ ‘Sounds good.’ ‘And I wasn’t being inappropriate.’ ‘I know.’ Emma smiled, because she knew exactly what he meant, exactly how he felt, because she felt it too. ‘But we can’t.’ He looked as if he was dozing, except his mind was actually whirring. He was sick of keeping things businesslike between them. He was cross with himself too for his handling of things. He wanted her. And yet he didn’t—because he actually liked working with her. Liked having her around, and once things moved, as they surely would, well… There was no question of a future for them. Not even a hint of one. He deliberately didn’t do long-term relationships—as soon as things got too comfortable, too nice, he cut all ties. It was a promise he had made himself many years ago. He lay there, head pounding, listened to her pad out to the kitchen, to the running of the tap, and for once he was torn with indecision. He wanted her. He didn’t want to lose her. Yet he couldn’t have both. ‘Here.’ She was back, holding out a glass of water and punching out two tablets from a blister pack. ‘Take these.’ ‘Only if you do.’ Emma punched out two for herself and they shared the glass of water. Funny that he noticed a little thing like that—funny that to Luca it mattered that she didn’t go and get another glass. ‘We’ll feel better in twenty minutes.’ Emma smiled, glad that they seemed to be talking normally again after the strain of the past few weeks. ‘It says so on the box.’ She zipped his suit holder and picked up the phone to summon his driver as Luca downed a quick shot of espresso from his coffee machine. He stuffed files and papers into his briefcase as he gave her a few lastminute instructions that would take about a couple of hours to execute. ‘Any problems, ring Kasumi. It doesn’t matter what time it is there—things have to be in place for tomorrow.’ ‘Sure!’ He watched her bristle slightly at the mention of the other PA’s name and inside Luca smiled. ‘Saifu o otoshimashita,’ Luca said, watching her cheeks go pink as he repeated the words he had said to Kasumi. ‘Isha o yonde kudasai.’ ‘You can tell her yourself when you see her,’ Emma responded coolly. ‘I’ve dropped my wallet!’ Luca laughed. ‘Can someone please call a doctor? I was practising new phrases!’ He made her laugh, but her little flare of jealousy was acknowledged and out there now—and she didn’t know how to handle him, or this energy that swirled between them. His dangerous offer still dangled in the air and right there at that moment she wanted to reach out and grab it. Maybe she could fake it, Emma thought wildly, maybe she could pretend that she wasn’t a virgin. Maybe her body would just know what to do. Evelyn buzzed and he picked up his briefcase. ‘Don’t bother going back to the office,’ he said, nodding to a PC. ‘Do it from here and then finish up for the day…’ He frowned at her pale face. ‘Actually, have tomorrow off.’ ‘I’ve got a full schedule tomorrow.’ ‘Cancel it—my orders.’ Luca shrugged. ‘Have a day off and sort out whatever “nothing” is, or, failing that, catch up on some sleep. I’ll see you on Monday.’ And as always, he left home as easily as he left a hotel room—just turned and walked out of the door without a second thought. As he handed his driver his bag, her voice reached him. ‘Have a safe trip.’ He looked back over his shoulder, a throw-away comment, a rushed farewell on the tip of his tongue, and in that moment he glimpsed it. Leaving. How it could feel to leave home. ‘See you Monday.’ His voice was gruff and Emma stood there as he closed the door behind him. Now that he was gone, she breathed. She wanted to tell him. For the first time ever, she actually wanted to confide in someone—to tell him what ‘nothing’meant. To share, to reveal, not that he might fix it, because she knew no one could do that, not so he might wave a magic wand and make her father suddenly better, or the nursing-home fees smaller, or the anger at her father’s past treatment of her disappear. It was none of that. No, standing in that bedroom, seeing him lying on the bed, those dark blue eyes concerned, all she had wanted was to do exactly what Luca had said. Fare force. To escape for a little while, to lie down beside him in a dark room and let the world carry right on without her for a little while. As the door flung open again she stood to attention almost, snapped the smile back on her face as Luca hurried in and strode across the lounge towards her. He must have forgotten his passport or phone or… And then it happened. What she had been secretly thinking about from the very first time she had seen him. What she had desperately been trying to avoid and ignore. That bubbling, simmering tension between them finally acknowledged. His arms pulling her in and his mouth pressing on hers. Wrapping her in his embrace and crushing her with his mouth. And it should have been unexpected, should have caused shock, anger, except it was just pure relief. Sheer, sheer relief to be kissed and to kiss back. His tongue was cool and he tasted of mint and man and coffee and escape—and Emma didn’t at that point question it. All she did was feel it. The bliss of firm lips and the scent that had always made itself known captivated her as it intensified in their close proximity. His body to touch was everything her eyes had promised—lean and powerful beneath her hands and against her own body. His eyes were closed, she had to look, had to see him, and it made her want this moment more because he was as lost in it as she. He moved from her mouth, his moist lips lingering on her cheeks, his hands on the small of her back pushing her hips into his, and then it was her ear he was kissing. Instead of moving her head away, with his kiss, she leaned towards him, curved into his touch, weaker in her body as Luca’s mouth met her throat and thoroughly kissed it too—her neck was arching and his hands had moved, both now on the peach of her buttocks and pressing her heat into him. Then his mouth found hers again and she tasted his ragged breaths—and it was just like the first time she’d ever seen him, because the world was black again, everything diminished and nothing else mattered, just his kiss and his body. And who cared where it might lead or the damage it might do, because for the first time ever she wasn’t thinking or fixing or solving or surviving—she was living, just alive and alert, but only for this, for him, for them. And then the intercom buzzed—Evelyn warning him they would be late. ‘That,’ Emma said in a shaky voice as he pulled back from her, ‘didn’t just happen.’ She put her fingers up to her lips, could feel them swollen and tasting of him, and what had been simple and natural a moment ago was suddenly very confusing.
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