‘Did my fa—?’ Luca stopped himself. ‘Did Rico know I was not his son?’
‘He never said, and sometimes I wondered if he had guessed, if that was why he was so angry with you, with me, but really he was angry with me and treated me badly before I was ever unfaithful to him.’
‘And Leo?’ Luca swallowed. ‘When did you tell him?’
‘I didn’t for a long time. He was a man when he returned, and I was married with two children. He was married later too. I was friends with his wife.’ The pain of her secret silenced her for a moment. ‘He ended up being friends with Rico as well. No one knew the man Rico was in private. It was one time, Luca, and a long time ago, not much to ruin so many lives. When Carmella, his wife, died, Leo came over one night. He was chatting to your father and going through albums, talking of his wife, and there was a photo of you there when you got your degree. I remember him looking up at me, his eyes asking me, and I looked away, red and blushing—and from that moment he knew. He must have seen something of himself as a young man in that photo of you.’
‘Have you talked to him about it?’ Luca asked.
‘I spoke with him a few months ago, yet we could not properly talk. He was treating Rico, his friend, but we knew we would talk one day soon.’
‘And have you?’
‘Soon,’ Mia said. ‘Still I have to break his heart by telling him all I have suffered, how you, his son, have suffered over the years.’
‘How do you know it will break his heart?’ he wanted to know.
‘Love does not just go away, Luca.’
‘I know.’ He stared out the window at the Mediterranean.
‘You can push it away, you can deny it, you can make excuses, give reasons, but once love has been born, once it has existed, it cannot simply cease to be.’
There were so many questions, so much more he wanted to know from his mother and from his real father, but he didn’t need those answers right now.
It was Emma he needed to see and regardless of whether or not it was too late he had to tell her, which meant there was someone he had to speak with first.
‘You cannot leave now,’ Mia pointed out as he packed his case. ‘There is mass tonight, one more duty, Luca—for familia…’
‘No, Ma.’ He kissed his mother’s cheek to show he was not angry. ‘My duty is to Emma—she is familia now.’
‘CAN I pay Dad’s account?’
‘Of course.’ The supervisor was unusually friendly as Emma came into the office, just a little bit flushed in the cheeks and, well, just a little nicer. ‘You’ve sold another painting.’
It was actually the supervisor who handed her an envelope with a cheque in it and there was a flurry in her stomach as Emma took it. That feel of her baby moving still caught her by surprise, and she smiled, not just at the kicks from her baby but that she had almost paid her debts—and all by her own hand.
All was well.
She chanted those words over and over to herself and out loud to her baby too at times.
All was well.
Her father’s house had finally sold and she’d found a little flat nearby. Thanks to an excellent reference from Luca, she’d landed a wonderful job for three days a week and once the baby arrived they were happy for her to work a couple of days a week from home, which gave her time to concentrate on her art.
She was getting there.
Not quite thriving, but not just surviving either.
She missed Luca—missed him in her days, in her nights, in her life, and she missed him for their baby too.
But there was nothing she could do about that, so she poured her grief into her artwork and scared herself sometimes with her own mind—painting dark, swirling stories of loss and grief and hope and life.
And she’d sold not one but three paintings!
She’d put one up in her father’s room at the nursing home, which a relative of another resident had liked, and— things had taken off from there.
Oh, they hadn’t sold for vast sums, but they’d keep the baby in nappies and bottles, and Emma knew that they’d be okay.
All was well, she told her kicking stomach.
They really didn’t need Luca.
Want, however, was an entirely different matter.
She walked down the long corridor towards her father and wasn’t really looking forward to it. He’d noticed her swelling stomach these past couple of weeks and unfortunately a stroke and a touch of senility weren’t stopping him from asking awkward questions.
Emma pulled her coat around her and held a massive photo album over her stomach, hoping a few pictures from the past would be enough to distract him.
And then she saw him.
Saw six feet two with eyes of blue, sitting chatting on the bed and laughing with her dad, and she absolutely,— completely didn’t know what to do.
‘Here’s my baby girl!’ Frank beamed as she made her way over.
She kissed her dad on the cheek and ignored Luca.
He watched as she put her father’s pyjamas away and sorted out his chocolate and put some money in a little dish for his newspaper—and he saw the swell of her stomach and the strain on her features, and finally, finally— she faced him.
‘Could we have a word?’ Emma said. ‘Outside.’
They walked out to the nursing-home gardens, along the winding paths, and finally she spoke.
‘Don’t…’ Her voice was shaky. ‘Don’t you dare drag him into this! He’s old and he’s confused.’
‘He’s our child’s grandfather,’ Luca pointed out. ‘I’d say he’s already in this…and he knows, by the way.’
‘That you’re pregnant,’ Luca said, and watched her cheeks burn. ‘Were you ever going to tell me?’
‘I don’t know,’ she said honestly.
‘You don’t know?’ he repeated incredulously.
So she turned to him and just said it, too tired, too confused and too angry for his mind games this time.
‘You knew anyway,’ Emma accused. ‘You knew that morning you said you loved me, and you knew it when you chose to let me go.’ And it was agony when he nodded. ‘So don’t play the wounded party now—you chose not to be around, Luca. I bore you, remember?’
‘Never,’ Luca said, his face pale.
‘And I’m not very interesting in bed.’
‘That’s not true either,’ he said. How he hated hearing it, how he hated what he had done to her—and yet now he had to face it. ‘All I think about is you. All I want is you—if you will give me this chance,’ he vowed.
‘Why would I?’ She had loved him so much and he hadn’t wanted that love. She could almost forgive him for herself, but she wouldn’t be careless with her baby’s heart. ‘Why would I risk it again? We’ll do fine without you.’
And she would, he knew that she would, but how he wanted her to do better than fine—with him by her side.
‘I was scared I was like my father,’ he admitted.
‘Not good enough, Luca.’ She turned her face away. ‘I’m scared I’m like my mother—but deep down I know I’ll never walk away. You did.’
‘He beat her.’ Luca closed his eyes. ‘Badly, over and over.’
‘I know that,’ Emma pointed out. ‘And I know you never would do that to me or our baby, so why couldn’t you trust that?’
‘My grandfather, my uncle, they were the same too. Emma, I didn’t want to hurt you.’
‘But you did!’ She was trying not to cry, trying not to get upset, trying to stay calm for the baby, but it was hard. ‘Over and over you did. It doesn’t have to be a fist to hurt, Luca.’
Her words sliced his heart—bitter, bitter was his regret.
‘My grandmother slipped and fell.’ Luca’s voice was a hoarse whisper, voicing dark thoughts that had never been said. ‘That is what I was told, that was what I believed—I heard my mother sob one night that Rico was just like his father. “And look where my mother ended up” was Rico’s response.’
It wasn’t just his father, Emma started to see that now, and it wasn’t just the beating…
‘He killed her.’
‘Oh, Luca,’ Emma whispered.
‘And Rico’s brother, Rinaldo.’ His voice was hoarse, the filth of the past all spewing out now. ‘He beat Zia Maria too. Daniela remembers her as glamorous, always wearing make-up—only, of course, it was to cover the bruises.’
Emma closed her eyes, recalling the well made-up face of Rinaldo’s second bride.
‘Maria came to our door one night, scared and crying, yet my mother sent her away—and she was dead the next morning. Kicked by a horse, my father, the— policeman, announced after he’d investigated.
‘I grew up with this secret—a secret so well hidden that not even the family doctor could see. My father was the trusted village policeman and yet in his home he did terrible things—his brothers and father too. And when I was younger, I promised I would never get so involved with a woman that I would marry her, give her children…’ — It was so hard to explain and yet he persevered. ‘I thought there was this…inevitability, that the violence was in my blood, in my genes. That I had been passed not just the family name…’ His eyes searched the gorgeous mound of her stomach. ‘And I thought that I had passed it on too—and that the baby would have a better chance of a normal life with just you to look after it.’