Her orgasms had, till now, been slowly coaxed from her, a learned thing, this gradual build-up as he taught her to let go, as he urged her on to lose her mind, herself, to new sensations. But this night in his bed she was swept into a maelstrom of sensation that was as desperate and urgent as Luca’s fierce need.
The shudder of him inside her was met with sweet beats of her own—it wasn’t sex, it was devotion, the intensity of her orgasm startling her. Her hips moved frantically upwards to escape from the relentless throb of her body, but Luca was in instant pursuit, his last throes tipping her to a place there could be no coming back from, to true abandon, to utter trust.
They slept together—the third night in his bed, and this time they truly slept together, coiled around each other in a fierce embrace that didn’t abate with sleep.
Never did he just glance at his mother in the morning.
Never could he just accept that greeting and coffee without thought.
Always he checked.
And all these years later, still it happened—an instant check that, for Luca, was as natural as breathing.
A cardigan on a hot summer’s morning.
Or the unusual sight of her in full make-up at seven a.m.
Or worse, an empty kitchen and the explanation of a migraine as to why she couldn’t get up.
His dark eyes automatically scanned for clues or confirmation, yearning for that same rush of momentary relief he had sometimes felt as a child, that all was well—for today at least. That surely his father was too old, too sick, too frail to hurt her…Ah, but he had a savage tongue too—and words, if they were savage enough, could sometimes hurt as much as a blow.
‘How was he last night?’ Luca asked in his native language, watching his mother stiffen.
‘It went wonderfully,’ she replied evasively.
‘I meant how were things when you got home? How was Pa?’
‘Tired,’ Mia said briefly. ‘Where is Emma?’
‘Still asleep.’ Climbing out of that bed, feeling her stir, he had hushed her and kissed her back to sleep and then stood and watched her sleeping. Young, innocent, trusting—how— could he do it to her? How could he take her by the hand and lead her to hell? He felt as if his home was built on a sewer—he could almost smell the filth beneath the very foundations as he sat at the table and his mother embroidered the lies.
‘He did so well to dance with Daniela…Leo is coming this morning and his nurse Rosa. I am a bit worried, because he coughed all night—it was a very long day for him.’
‘For you too,’ Luca pointed out, and then added, ‘I heard him shout in the night.’
‘He just shouts, Luca, nothing else…’ Mia closed her eyes. ‘He is old and weak and tired…’
‘Yet still he treats you poorly.’
‘Words don’t hurt me, Luca,’ Mia said. ‘Please just leave things alone—it is good that you came.’
The coffee tasted like acid in his mouth—her words rendering him hopeless.
For everything he had a solution, an answer. His logical, analytical brain could take the most complex problem and unravel it to the base solution. Yet nothing—not logic, not reason, not power, not brawn, not wealth—could solve this.
‘Leave him.’ He stood up, stared into her eyes and even as he pleaded again, he knew it was futile, as futile now as it always had been.
‘You know I cannot!’
‘You can…’ His usually strong voice cracked, and he saw his mother flinch—both of them realising that he was near to tears. It had been so long since he had even been close to crying that the sting in his eyes, the swell in his throat caught even Luca by surprise. The pain, the fear, the helplessness, the never-ending grief he had lived with as a child was still there—right there and ready to return at any given moment—the anguish waiting to floor him. ‘Leave, Ma.’
‘He is dying, Luca. How can I leave a dying man? What would people think?’
‘What does it matter?’ Luca burst out.
‘It matters!’ Mia sobbed. ‘And he matters too. He is sick, he is scared…’
‘He wasn’t always sick! He can be moved to hospital.’
‘Luca. Please. I beg you to stop this.’
She didn’t want his help—she simply didn’t want it, yet— he could not accept that.
‘He is a bastard, and he has always been a bastard,’ Luca tried again. ‘That he is dying does not change that fact.’
‘He’s my husband.’
Those three little words that had condemned her to a lifetime of pain and suffering.
The shame of leaving, the scandal attached to such an action had silenced her and in turn had silenced Luca too.
It hadn’t always silenced him.
He had spat in his father’s face many times as a child—and he still bore the scars to prove it.
He had tried to intervene when he was twelve years old, and had been beaten to within an inch of his life for his trouble.
And always Mia had sobbed—always she had pleaded that he ignore what his father was doing, that he was making things worse.
So he had waited.
Waited for his moment, waited till he was taller, fitter, stronger—and then one night, when the inevitable had happened, an eighteen-year-old boy in the body of a man had intervened.
Eighteen years of tension and frustration, combined with a generous dash of testosterone, had exploded, and he had beaten and bullied his father that night as mercilessly as his father had beaten and bullied his mother over the years—sure this would end it, sure that finally it was over.
Yet the next morning, his knuckles bruised and bleeding, his top lip swollen, his left eye closed, his cheek a savage mess, something inside Luca had crumbled and died when his mother had walked into the kitchen—bruises that hadn’t been there last night on her face, her arms a pitiful mass of red and blue. But worse than that had been the accusing look in her eyes as she’d faced her son, telling him that he had made things even worse, that his interference hadn’t helped. And then she had said the words that would stay with Luca for ever.
‘Siete no migliore del vostro padre.’
‘You are no better than your father,’ Mia had told him as Luca had sat appalled at what he had done and sick with what she said next. ‘It is as I always feared—you are just like him.’
‘Don’t make things worse, Luca,’ his mother said now, and her words dragged him straight through the coals of hell from the past to the even more hellish, hopeless present. ‘There is nothing you can do. Having Emma here has made things better.’ Mia gave a tired smile. ‘He is proud that perhaps his name will continue, and that has appeased him for a while.’ Her eyes anxiously scanned Luca’s face. ‘She is a wonderful girl— I am pleased. It helps in other ways too…’ Mia admitted. ‘Seeing that you are finally happy. But please look after her, Luca, and don’t let your past…’ Her voice strangled off into silence, and Luca shut his eyes. ‘Soon, one day, there are things I must tell you—about your past, your history…’ she finally managed to add.
But he knew them all already, had worked it out long ago.
Vigilance and tombstones had taught him the unenviable truth.
And now, on this morning, discovering that his mother thought he might be capable of the violence of his father, that his mother, who loved him, worried for the woman who was starting to—That the most innocent of them all slept upstairs in his bed, was, for Luca, an added torment.
‘There are things you need to know, things we have to face,’ Mia said.
Not if Luca could avoid them.
Rinaldo’s words rang in his ears. ‘The D’Amato name goes on. Salute!’
Not if Luca could help it.
The last D’Amato—he was it. He had sworn that on his Aunt Maria’s grave, that night when he’d been eighteen. He had sworn that the D’Amato line ended with him.
If he could keep his heart closed, never fall in love, then he could never cause pain to anyone else.
It really was that simple.
EMMA dressed in khaki shorts and a white halter-neck top and sandals and applied some light make-up, but gave up on her hair—if she brushed out the serum and lacquer, it would end up all fluffy, so instead she ran her fingers through it and tied it in a low ponytail, then tentatively made her way down to the kitchen.
‘Good morning.’ Luca stood and kissed her, but didn’t meet her eyes. Instead, he introduced her to a rather formidable man who was sitting at the table. ‘This is Leo, Dr Calista—he was called out yesterday to an emergency, so he could not make the wedding. And this is Rosa, the nurse.’
Rosa was at the kitchen bench, measuring out medication, and gave Emma a brief smile, then turned her attention back to her work. Dr Leo Calista was more formal than the people she had met so far. Instead of kissing her on the cheeks, as everyone else had, he stood as she entered and shook Emma’s hand. He was also familiar to her and Emma frowned as she tried to place him.
‘I was in the UK for a conference recently!’ He smiled at her confusion. ‘I dropped in to see Luca to update him on his father…’
‘No, that’s not how I know you.’ Emma frowned, sure that she would remember.