Authors: Chantelle Shaw
She launched into a furious attack. ‘I can’t believe you went to Paris and left Cordelia when you
the central heating was broken, and after she had injured her hand so badly. It was utterly
of you. Good God—couldn’t you have controlled your sexual urges? Or is your grandmother’s welfare unimportant compared to you getting it on with Juliette What’s-Her-Name?’
For thirty seconds after her tirade silence trembled in the kitchen before Rocco demanded in an icy voice, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’
scurrying off to meet your mistress the day after you had kissed me. That’s what I’m talking about.’ Emma’s voice rose several notches. ‘I don’t give a damn what you do, or who you do it with,’ she assured him scathingly. ‘But to leave Cordelia alone in a freezing cold house was unforgivable.’
‘I did not leave her on her own.’
His tenuous control on his temper exploded. ‘
, woman—it’s a pity you don’t check your facts before making wild and totally unjust accusations.’
‘You don’t deny that you went to Paris?’ Emma snapped.
‘No, I don’t deny it. But Cordelia spent the whole of Sunday with Jim and Nora Yaxley at their farm. I took her over in the morning, flew to Paris on my private jet, and spent a few hours there before I returned in the evening to collect her. This morning I woke to find that the central heating had packed up,’ he explained curtly. ‘I called an engineer, and while I was showing him the boiler Cordelia injured her hand in the door. I checked to make sure she hadn’t broken any bones, and then lit a fire in the sitting room to keep her warm while I went to chop some logs.’ He glared at her coldly, with no hint of the friendliness he had shown her when he had taken her to tea at the Royal Oak Hotel on his haughty features.
‘At no time did I abandon my grandmother.’
Emma stared at the floor and wished she could sink through it. Once again she had jumped to conclusions and judged Rocco unfairly. ‘I had the impression from Cordelia that you had gone to Paris
her accident,’ she mumbled. ‘But she’s in shock, and it’s not surprising she’s confused. I’m sorry,’ she finished in a low tone.
She bit her lip. She might have misjudged him over Cordelia, but the fact remained that he
hot-footed it off to Paris to see his mistress, and had probably spent Sunday afternoon … She frantically tried to block out the image of him and the beautiful Mademoiselle Pascal naked on a bed, making love.
Acid burned in the pit of her stomach—indigestion, she reassured herself, not jealousy. Desperate to avoid looking at him, she busied herself with making a pot of tea.
‘Well, anyway, you’re back now.’ She strove to sound brisk and efficient. ‘When will the central heating be working again?’
‘It won’t,’ Rocco informed her tersely. ‘The problem is with the boiler, but the whole system is antiquated and needs replacing—which in a house this size could take weeks, if not months.’
Emma gave him a startled look. ‘Cordelia can’t stay here when there is no heating.’
‘Of course not. I’m sure you agree that it is imperative I persuade her to come and stay at my home in Italy—by whatever means I can,’ Rocco added obliquely as he picked up the tea tray and strode out of the kitchen.
Back in the sitting room, it became clear, when Emma poured the tea, that Cordelia was unable to hold a cup with her bruised fingers, and was struggling with her bandaged hand.
‘Let me help you,’ she said gently, feeling a wave of compassion for the elderly lady. Cordelia was so determined to hang on to her independence, but this latest accident had left her looking painfully frail.
Rocco stoked the fire and added another log, glad of the excuse to turn away from his grandmother for a few moments. It struck him forcibly that Nonna was in the twilight years of her life. For a moment his eyes stung, and he blinked hard, telling himself it was because of the smoke.
His mind drifted back to the past. It had been Nonna who had comforted him in the dark days after Gio’s death, and who had insisted that the accident hadn’t been his fault. He had overheard her telling his mother to stop blaming him, that Flora should have been responsible for her younger son rather than handing his care over to a teenage boy. His grandmother had been his friend and ally when
he had needed her most. Now she needed him—and he would not fail her.
He stood and walked back across the room, his eyes drawn to Emma, who was patiently helping Cordelia to sip her tea. She might be a termagant with him, but the gentle compassion she showed his grandmother was a rare quality that moved him deeply.
Cordelia glanced at her injured hands and gave him a resigned look. ‘This is a pretty kettle of fish, isn’t it?’
‘It is indeed, Nonna. But fortunately I have the ideal solution.’ Rocco spoke firmly and without hesitation. ‘Emma has agreed to come to Portofino to be your nurse while you are recovering from your various injuries. Naturally she will be bringing Holly with her,’ he added, quickly reassuring the little girl, who had looked momentarily worried.
He saw Emma stiffen, but before she could say a word Cordelia gave her a beaming smile tinged with tangible relief. ‘Oh, my dear—I can’t tell you how delighted I am. Rocco has been trying to persuade me to go and stay with him, but he leads a busy life, and I was afraid I would be lonely. But if you and Holly are going to be with me we’ll have a
holiday—before I come back to live at Nunstead,’ she said, her tone as firm as Rocco’s had been.
‘We’ll discuss that once you are fully recovered.’ Rocco deemed it wise not to push his luck with his stubborn grandmother. Conscious that if the look in Emma’s stormy eyes could kill, he would be dead by now, he focused on her daughter. ‘Would you like to come to Italy and stay in my house by the sea?’
Holly nodded, her eyes as wide as saucers. ‘Can we go in the sea?’
‘The sun will soon be warm enough for us to go to
the beach, and you can play in the garden with Bobbo, my dog.’
Wonderful, Emma thought bitterly. If the promise of trips to the beach wasn’t enough, Rocco had a dog. Holly would be in seventh heaven. She stared at her daughter’s excited face and her heart sank. How could she disappoint an elderly lady and a small child by refusing to go to Italy? She glared at Rocco—who knew quite well that she could not.
‘Can I have a private word with you, to discuss arrangements?’ she murmured in a saccharine tone, so that Cordelia would not realise she wanted to murder her grandson.
‘Of course.’ Rocco gave her a bland smile. ‘Why don’t we step into the hall?’
,’ she breathed, the moment she shut the sitting room door behind them.
‘I’m not certain you mean that as a compliment, but thank you.’
Her fingers itched to wipe the amusement from his face. ‘You know damn well it wasn’t a compliment—just as you know my feelings about this trip to Portofino. I made my reasons clear as to why I can’t go.’
‘Actually, you failed to give any good reason for wanting to upset my grandmother and spoil Holly’s excitement.’
right to use my daughter to try and get your own way. Emotional blackmail is unforgivable.’
He shrugged. ‘In business, I’ll use any means at my disposal to win a deal, and the same goes for my private life. I want you to look after Cordelia, and if I have to use a little coercion to get what I want, so be it.’
Beneath his charming façade there was a ruthless side to Rocco. He would make a dangerous adversary, Emma
realised. But at the same time his loyalty and love for his grandmother were undeniable.
‘If you are worried about your job here in Northumberland, it’s fine. I’ve squared it for you,’ he told her.
‘What do you mean, you’ve
‘I spoke to the head of the trust you work for and arranged for you to have three months’ unpaid leave. Mr Donaldson was most obliging—especially after I made a donation to the local cottage hospital.’
Far from being grateful that he had resolved a significant reason for her decision not to go to Portofino, Emma was furious at his interference. ‘You treat people like puppets, don’t you?’ she snapped. ‘You think your money gives you the right to arrange my life to suit you. If you want the truth, I don’t
Holly to stay at your villa. A playboy’s love nest is
a suitable environment for a child.’
While Rocco was absorbing this startling statement, she demanded, ‘Will Juliette Pascal be there? Or another of your
, as Cordelia euphemistically describes them? Maybe you plan to entertain more than one? From what I’ve heard, you frequently juggle multiple mistresses.’
‘What an eye-watering vision you present,’ Rocco drawled. He studied her flushed face speculatively. ‘Juliette won’t be visiting the Villa Lucia because I ended our affair yesterday. It wasn’t really even an affair. We both lead busy lives and met up occasionally whenever we happened to be in the same city. It was an arrangement that suited both of us.’
After Rosalinda he had made sure any woman he dated understood unequivocally that there was no chance he would ever want more than a casual affair. He noted Emma’s scathing expression and his jaw hardened.
‘Despite what you may have read in the tabloid newspapers, I only ever have mistresses in multiples of one.
After kissing you on Saturday night, it was only right that I should end my relationship with Juliette. But I certainly wouldn’t have done so with a phone call.’
Emma was struck dumb by his revelation. She felt a grudging respect that he had had the decency to end his affair in person. But had he slept with the beautiful model yesterday—enjoyed a final sex session for old times’ sake? she wondered, feeling acid burn in the pit of her stomach.
‘Why did you end your affair because of one kiss?’ She strove to sound uninterested, not knowing that Rocco could see the uncertainty in her eyes. ‘You said yourself there was no need to get worked up about it.’ Unconsciously she worried the tender flesh of her lower lip with her teeth. ‘It meant nothing to either of us.’
‘Let’s see, shall we?’
The sudden deepening of his voice should have triggered alarm bells, but he moved so quickly that she had no time to react. One arm snaked around her waist and pulled her hard up against him, while his other hand cupped her jaw as he covered her mouth with his.
This time his kiss was no gentle seduction. This time it was urgent and demanding, born of a sense of frustration—not only at Emma’s stubbornness, but from the fact that ever since he had kissed her two nights ago all he had been able to think about was how soon he could repeat the experience. The feel of her soft curves pressed up against him heated his blood. Desire thundered through his veins, and he slid his hand from her jaw to tangle in her hair, tugging her head back so that he could plunder her soft, moist mouth.
Desperately, Emma fought the temptation to sink into him and lose herself in the mastery of his kiss. The logical part of her brain reminded her that she did not want this. She functioned perfectly well without passion and desire
in her life. Those emotions had brought her nothing but heartache in the past and she would be a fool to be seduced by their sorcery. So
, instead of pushing Rocco away, did she slowly uncurl her clenched fists and lay her hands flat against his chest?
The determined probing of his tongue between her lips demolished her pitiful resistance and she gave a low moan as she opened her mouth for him, a tremor running through her when he explored her with devastating eroticism. Driven by a need she barely understood, she responded to him mindlessly.
Sensing her capitulation, he changed the tenure of the kiss so that it became a flagrant seduction of her senses. She shivered when she felt him slide his hand beneath the edge of her jumper to stroke her bare flesh lightly above the waistband of her jeans. Her skin felt acutely sensitised, so that the brush of his fingertips caused needle-darts of pleasure to shoot through her. Silently she willed him to skim his hand higher, to slip it beneath her bra and touch her naked breasts. Her nipples felt hot and swollen, and she was conscious of the moist secretion between her legs, the ache that could only be relieved by pressing her pelvis against his thighs.
She was utterly unprepared when he suddenly broke the kiss and lifted his head to stare down into her wide, stunned eyes. Realisation slowly dawned that she was clinging to him, and she snatched her hands from his body, scarlet colour flooding her face.
Attack was her only form of defence.
‘How dare you?’
He gave her a mocking look. ‘Your outrage would have a little more impact if you had not responded to me so ardently.’
Rocco watched Emma pull the edge of her jumper firmly into place, feeling a curious tug on his heart when
he saw that her hands were shaking. Her usually neat golden bob was mussed and had fallen forward across her cheek. He wanted to stroke her hair back from her face, but knew she would react like a wildcat if he attempted to touch her.
, Emma berated herself furiously, closing her eyes as shame swept over her. It was bad enough that she had allowed him to kiss her, but to compound her stupidity she had kissed him back with embarrassing eagerness—until
had pulled back. She hadn’t just responded to him ardently—she had practically eaten him alive!
Through the sitting room door she could hear Holly singing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’, her sweet voice joined by Cordelia’s slightly wavering one. How could she walk back in and announce that she was
prepared to go to Italy as Cordelia’s private nurse? The thought of the disappointment her words would cause made her wince. But how could she stay at Rocco’s home after she had all but begged him to make love to her on the hall carpet? she wondered despairingly.
Taking a deep breath, she forced herself to meet his gaze. ‘For Cordelia’s sake I will come to Portofino.’ Somehow she had to regain her dignity. ‘I’ll be happy to act as her nurse and companion, but I will
put up with you manhandling me.’