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As he always did. Her throat thickened with tears as he spoke to Evelyn, as she heard again the rare tenderness that she craved from him. ‘Because you do so much for me, because always you have been loyal to me. Because I know that when your baby is here—and it will be here, Evelyn—that even if you come back to work for me part time, or even if you decide to never work again, I will be able to call on you, perhaps to train someone up, perhaps to help for a few days. And more than that, we are friends. I know I can count on you, and you can count on me too.’ When he was nice, there was no one nicer, Emma realised. No one. Evelyn was perhaps the one woman he could sustain a relationship with because there was no sex involved, no attraction, just mutual liking and respect. Emma would kill to have the latter two from him. Later, sitting at her desk, staring out at the grey autumnal sky that declared summer over, when Luca strode past her desk and to his office and slammed the door behind him, she felt like one of the trees waving in the streets below. Slight, every breeze exposing the bare truth beneath, and she couldn’t do it to herself any longer. Couldn’t cling on when there was nothing left—couldn’t stave off winter. She didn’t hate him after all, she only hated his behaviour. Hated it that he didn’t love her. And she must remember this, Emma realised, when she told him about the baby. If she told him. She let out a slow breath at the immoral choice she was considering taking—denying him the knowledge of the child that she was carrying. That she would carry until she gave birth to it. Oh, she would love to be one of those stoic women, one who had never considered the alternatives to giving birth—except she had. Had scoured her magazines for information, had searched on the internet, had made a couple of phone calls—and yet it was Evelyn who had unwittingly halted that thought process. Evelyn’s very real grief at what had just been lost that had reminded Emma of the miracle that had occurred. That despite precautions, despite a man who wanted nothing more than a short-lived affair, despite a woman who’d had other plans, a life had been created. A life that she would cherish for ever. It was taking some getting used to, that was all. She had never felt closer to understanding her mother. She finally understood now how her mother could have felt trapped inside her role of wife and mother. Hopefully, for Emma, that feeling would one day soon be diminished by the overwhelming love she would feel for her child. Would Luca feel the same? Tears stung her eyes as she tried to predict his likely reaction—no doubt he would assume she was just after a monthly support cheque or, even worse, a wedding ring. Well, a loveless marriage wasn’t on her agenda—she was the product of one after all and would never expose her own child to it. So now she just had to tell him, only exactly which piece of information Emma didn’t know yet—that she was leaving for good or that they had created a child together. And so busy was Emma, wrestling with her decision, that when the call came, although it was not entirely unexpected, it was like a bolt from the blue. CHAPTER FIFTEEN ‘SIGNORA D’AMATO. COMESTA?’ Emma responded to the familiar voice in very new Italian but the greeting faded as her mind registered Luca’s mother’s voice, and heard the effort and emotion behind the thickly accented English when she asked if Luca was in the office. ‘I’ll put you through.’ ‘No!’ Mia’s voice was urgent. ‘Emma, please—the news is not good.’ A strangled sob from Mia had Emma closing her eyes at the raw sound of pain. ‘Rico has gone.’ Emma held the phone and her eyes remained closed as Mia wept for a moment before speaking again. ‘I do not know Luca’s reaction, they were not close, but can you tell him…gently for me?’ Emma could feel the beads of sweat on her forehead, as it wasn’t her job to do something so personal. Except it wasn’t about her job role—Mia thought they were in love. But only one of them was. ‘I will see you both soon for the funeral.’ Mia’s assumption had Emma’s heart pounding, and more so when she continued talking, giving Emma details that only a fiancée should know. She concluded. ‘Emma, this will be hard for Luca—I am so glad that he has you.’ The walk to his office was impossibly long, yet all too soon she was there. As were her instructions, she knocked and waited for his bored voice to summon her inside. Had he looked up, maybe he would have seen her pale face and realised something was seriously wrong, but he was deep in the middle of a phone call, his long legs on the desk and crossed at the ankles, and he waved her to sit down, which Emma did, sitting quietly, going over and over in her head how she should break it to him. ‘Yes?’ As he replaced the receiver he also pulled his legs from the desk and adopted a more formal position, his curt word reminding her that Luca liked to be brought straight to the point—only she truly didn’t know how to just come out and say it. ‘I have something to tell you.’ ‘So tell me.’ ‘It’s difficult.’ Emma swallowed, then opened her mouth to speak, but Luca overrode her. ‘Then let me make it easy for you—you’ve come to hand in your notice.’ He opened a drawer and handed her a thick cream envelope, his relief evident. ‘I have written a reference, as we agreed—’ ‘Luca—’ ‘There will be a bonus in your pay.’ Again he spoke over her. In fact, for Luca the words were tumbling out. He had known this moment was coming, had engineered it, wanted it, needed it to happen, only when the moment had arrived, it was unusually hard, painful even, and he noticed just the smallest shake to his usually steady hand as he held out the envelope. ‘It is for the best,’ Luca said, more for his benefit than hers. ‘Luca, will you please just listen?’ she begged, wringing her hands in her lap. ‘I just took a call from your mother.’ And he could hear her voice, see her mouth move, only he couldn’t quite process the words, his hand still holding out the envelope as somewhere he computed that his father was dead, that finally it was over…He had wished for this moment, Luca reminded himself as something catapulted him from his seat, had him striding to the window and turning his back to Emma. He had wanted this, wished for so long that it would be over, but he had never imagined mourning, grieving.— He had never considered that it actually might hurt him. He was dead, he was gone, it was over. Finally it was over, finally he should be able to breathe, only he couldn’t. He actually couldn’t drag in the air or push it out, even thought he might fold over in two, because it was all there in front of him—every memory, good and bad, playing out before his closed eyes, and futile questions playing over and over like a mantra in his pounding head. Why? Why had his father been like that? Why couldn’t he have just been happy? Why? He was almost doubled over with the agony of it all—shocked at the depth of his grief over a man who had caused nothing but pain. ‘When?’ he asked instead. ‘Just now,’ Emma said gently. ‘Your mother has a friend with her; she’s staying in a hotel tonight and then coming home in the morning.’ He was obviously devastated, and she felt like an intruder almost, witnessing this most private moment, knowing Luca would never have chosen for her to see him like this. There were no tears, no outward, dramatic displays of emotion—they would have been easier to deal with somehow. No, it was his pain, this deep, wretched pain that sagged those strong shoulders as he had strode to the window then stumbled, bemused almost. She had sat there, torn—instinct wanting her to run to him, yet logic telling her to stay exactly where she was. ‘And Pa?’ She heard him attempt to inject strength to his voice. ‘Did she say anything?’ ‘She asked if you could sort that out…arrange things.’ Only that wasn’t what he’d meant. Everything was already sorted, things had been put in place weeks ago—all he had to do was pick up the phone, or ask Evelyn to. No, that hadn’t been what he’d meant and he had never thought he would care enough to ask it. ‘Did he suffer?’ ‘No.’ At one time he had wanted him to suffer—had wanted the agony he had inflicted to catch up with his father in death—but wishes were but flights of the imagination, Luca realised, reality entirely different. ‘Your mother said it was very quick and peaceful at the end.’ That did give comfort, why he didn’t know. And then he felt it, her hand on his shoulder, and he wanted to brush it off, ashamed at being seen like this, embarrassed that she should witness such private pain. Yet her touch helped, the bliss of human contact was like a rope to cling to in the dark, ferocious waters of grief. Luca turned and for the first time in his life and only for a moment so fleeting it was barely there he leant on another, felt her warmth, her kindness, felt her tears on his cheeks and accepted the bewildering fact that for a moment she shared his pain, divided it, lessened it even, just by being there. And then he let her go.
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