Authors: Chantelle Shaw
To his surprise, Rosalinda’s parents had been sympathetic when he’d explained that he had been unaware of their daughter’s feelings, and that he had never made promises of marriage or commitment to her. They had revealed that Rosalinda had formed a similar strong attachment to a previous boyfriend. She had always been emotionally fragile, and they had not blamed Rocco for her suicide attempt. But, despite the Barinellis’ reassurance, he still blamed himself.
Now, as he stared at Emma, his conscience pricked. Maybe she was right to be concerned about his grandmother. He could not understand why Cordelia was living alone at Nunstead Hall, but he was determined to find out what was going on.
switched the kettle onto boil and began to unravel her scarf. Glancing down, she saw that she had walked snow into the kitchen from the garden, and tugged off her boots before unzipping her jacket. Her mind dwelled on Rocco D’Angelo’s assertion that he had arranged for a housekeeper to work at Nunstead.
‘There’s never been a housekeeper here since I’ve known Cordelia. I’ve never met this Morag Stewart, and your grandmother has never mentioned her. When did you say you hired her?’
‘Just before Christmas.’ Rocco’s jaw hardened at the scepticism in Emma’s voice. He was infuriated that she clearly did not believe him. He was not used to having his actions questioned—especially by a woman. In Rocco’s experience women agreed with everything he said.
‘Nonna was still frail after her hip replacement.
wanted to take her to my home in Italy, but she refused to leave Nunstead. You might be aware that
am the chief executive of the sports car company Eleganza?’ he continued coldly. ‘It is a demanding job and
have little spare time.’
The past four months had been manic. The death of his father after a short illness had been a shock, and his workload had been immense as he had continued to run
Eleganza at the same time as trying to sort out Enrico’s affairs. What a tangled web his father had left behind, Rocco thought grimly.
He stared at the nurse through the cloud of steam that enveloped her as she poured water from the kettle into a teapot. ‘I knew I would not have time to visit England regularly, so I contacted a staff agency and subsequently appointed Morag Stewart as housekeeper and companion to Cordelia.’
‘Your grandmother didn’t become my patient until the end of January,’ Emma said slowly. The realisation was sinking in that she might have misjudged Cordelia’s grandson. ‘I took over caring for her from one of my colleagues after our rounds were reorganized, and I was immediately concerned that she lived on her own such a long way from the village. At first I only saw her once a week, to check her blood pressure, but since she burned her hand I’ve visited every couple of days.’ She stared at Rocco, accepting that it was unlikely he had made up the story about hiring a housekeeper. ‘Morag Stewart must have left Nunstead for some reason,’ she ventured.
‘I intend to find out
But his intention to quiz his grandmother about her unsatisfactory living arrangements was not as imperative as it had been a few moments ago, Rocco discovered. Ever since he had watched Emma pull off her boots, to reveal a pair of surprisingly shapely legs sheathed in black hose, he had been intrigued to see the rest of the woman who had so far been hidden by outerwear that would not have looked out of place in the Arctic. The removal of her scarf had exposed a face far younger than he had expected, with creamy skin and a lush, full-lipped mouth that drew his gaze.
Now she pulled off her hat and shook her head, so that
her hair settled around her face in a chin-length strawberry blonde bob that shone like raw silk beneath the bright kitchen light. Her features were attractive rather than pretty, Rocco mused. There was strength in the firmness of her jaw, and her grey eyes, the colour of rain-clouds, were intelligent and coolly assessing. Finally she shrugged off her padded jacket. Her body was an even more pleasant surprise, he noted, skimming his eyes over her blue nurse’s uniform and focusing on her slim waist, the gentle flare of her hips and the rounded fullness of her breasts.
The thought came into his head that this was how a woman
look. He was jaded by a diet of whippet-thin, glamorous models. Emma’s curvaceous figure was a delightful contrast to his numerous high-maintenance mistresses. As he stared at her he was reminded of a Renaissance painting of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Like Eve, Emma’s soft curves were sensual and tempting. He wondered what she looked like naked, imagined her breasts filling his hands like plump peaches …
The sharp stab of desire in his groin was unexpected and disconcerting. She wasn’t his type, he reminded himself. To his surprise he found her physically attractive, but her brisk, no-nonsense personality reminded him of the strict headmistress of the English prep school he’d been sent to at the age of six, and her readiness to jump to conclusions without checking facts irritated the hell out of him.
Which brought him back to his grandmother and the case of the missing housekeeper, he brooded.
‘I still think you should have found the time to visit between Christmas and now.’
The nurse’s disapproving voice interrupted Rocco’s thoughts.
‘If you had, you would have known the housekeeper
wasn’t here and that Cordelia was struggling to cope on her own. I appreciate that you lead a busy life, Mr D’Angelo, but I know for a fact that you aren’t always working. Cordelia saves every newspaper clipping about you, and only last week she showed me a photo of you on the ski slopes at Val d’Isère.’
Emma opened a cupboard and took down three of the bone china cups and saucers that she knew Cordelia preferred to mugs before turning to face Rocco.
‘In my opinion …’
‘I’m not interested in your opinion,’ he stated. ‘Particularly in relation to my private life.’ Rocco’s mouth thinned as he struggled to control his anger. What would the sanctimonious, busybody nurse say, he brooded, if he revealed that the reason for the skiing trip had been an attempt to build a relationship with his father’s illegitimate young son, Marco—a half-brother whose existence he had been unaware of until shortly before Enrico’s death? ‘My personal life is no concern of yours.’
‘True,’ Emma agreed tightly. ‘But your grandmother’s welfare
my concern. I’m worried about her safety, living on her own, and I’m sure she’s not eating properly. I would be failing in my duty if I did not report my concerns to Social Services.’
She could tell from the dangerous gleam in Rocco’s tiger-like golden eyes that she had angered him with her bluntness. In her job she had found that people often became defensive when reminded of their responsibilities towards a vulnerable relative. But it was too bad, she thought, lifting her chin to meet his intimidating glare. She had grown very fond of Cordelia, and dreaded the thought of her falling and lying unaided, because there was no one around to come to her rescue—just as no one had come to the aid of poor Mr Jeffries.
‘Your grandmother needs help,’ she told Rocco fiercely. ‘It is unacceptable for you to abandon her while you gallivant around the world—whether for business or pleasure,’ she added, thinking of the attractive blonde in the photo, who had no doubt been Rocco’s companion both on and off the ski slopes.
Rocco muttered a curse under his breath, his patience finally snapping. ‘I head a billion-dollar global company. I do not
anywhere. And I have certainly not abandoned Cordelia.’ He took a deep breath and sought to control his temper. Emma was a nurse, he reminded himself, and it was her job to ensure that her patient was safe and well cared for. ‘I appreciate your concern, but it is unnecessary. I am perfectly capable of looking after my grandmother.’
‘Really?’ Emma’s brows arched disbelievingly. ‘I’ve seen little evidence of that. Cordelia has been struggling for weeks—the accident when she burned her hand was very serious. Your turning up out of the blue occasionally is simply not good enough. What she needs is for you to live here at Nunstead with her.’
‘Unfortunately that is impossible. Eleganza is based in Italy and I need to live there.’ Even more so now that he had Marco to consider, Rocco thought heavily. But he was damned if he would explain himself to Miss High-and-Mighty. All Emma needed to understand was that he intended to fulfil his responsibility towards his grandmother and take care of her—although quite how he was going to do that when Cordelia had always insisted that she would never leave Nunstead Hall was something he had not yet figured out.
It was not surprising that Rocco preferred to live at his luxurious villa in Portofino rather than on the windswept Northumberland moors, Emma thought, recalling
the photos of his house in the Italian province of Genoa that Cordelia had once shown her. There had been other photographs of Rocco aboard his yacht, with the sea sparkling in the background and a gorgeous brunette in a minuscule bikini pressing her body seductively up against him.
‘My grandson is a handsome playboy, just like his father,’ Cordelia had said, her obvious fondness for Rocco mixed with a faint air of resignation at his pleasure-seeking lifestyle. ‘But he says he has learned from his father’s mistakes and has no intention of marrying and having children.’
Emma dragged her thoughts back to the present. ‘Well, something has got to be done,’ she said crisply, trying to dismiss the memory of the photo and Rocco’s muscular, tanned torso from her mind.
She had finished making the tea and went to pick up the tray at the same time as he stretched his hands towards it. Heat shot up her arm at the brush of his warm skin against hers. Startled by the unexpected contact, and her reaction to it, she jerked her hand away as if she had been burned.
The kitchen door swung open and Cordelia walked in, seeming not to notice Emma’s pink cheeks or the way she quickly stepped away from Rocco.
‘I was wondering what had happened to the tea,’ the elderly lady said cheerfully.
‘I was just about to bring it in.’ Nothing in Rocco’s voice revealed that he was fighting a strong urge to run his fingers through the shiny bell of red-gold hair that framed Emma’s face. He could not identify her perfume, but he liked the delicate lemony fragrance, which was so subtle compared to the cloying designer scents most women he knew chose to drown themselves in.
With an effort he dragged his mind from the sexual allure
of his grandmother’s nurse and fixed Cordelia with a stern glance. ‘Nonna, where is the housekeeper I arranged to live at Nunstead with you?’
‘Oh, I sacked Morag ages ago—after I discovered her stealing money from my purse,’ Cordelia told him brightly. ‘Dreadful woman—I’m certain she had been pilfering from almost the minute she arrived. I’ve realised since she left that several pieces of silverware have disappeared.’
Rocco exhaled heavily. ‘Why didn’t you tell me? You knew I did not want you to live alone after your fall last year.’ His exasperation with his grandmother was mingled with a flare of satisfaction when he noted the guilty expression on Emma’s face. She knew now that he had not abandoned Cordelia. Perhaps that would teach her to be a little less judgemental in future, he thought self-righteously. On the other hand, his conscience pointed out, Emma
been right when she had said that he should have found the time to visit Cordelia during the past three months.
‘I didn’t want to worry you,’ his grandmother explained. ‘You had enough to deal with, running Eleganza. And of course losing your father must have been such a shock.’ She sighed. ‘It’s hard to believe that my one-time son-in-law is dead. Enrico can only have been in his early sixties, and he was still so handsome. He had just finished making another film when his cancer was diagnosed, hadn’t he?’
Rocco nodded. ‘At least he was not ill for very long. He would have hated that.’ His father had not been an easy patient, he remembered heavily. Enrico D’Angelo had been one of Italy’s most famous film stars. Fêted and adored all his adult life, he had expected his son, for whom he’d had little time during Rocco’s childhood, to be at his bedside twenty-four hours a day. But there had been little that Enrico’s doctors could do apart from keeping the dying man comfortable, and Rocco had felt a sense of helplessness
that he could not save his father—just as he had not saved his brother, nor prevented his mother’s fatal accident years before.
Dragging his mind from the past, Rocco recognised his grandmother’s attempt to steer the conversation away from herself. ‘But, Nonna, I wish you had told me about the housekeeper. I believed these past few months that you were being looked after.’
looking after,’ Cordelia argued hotly. ‘You should know by now that I’m a tough old stick. And before you start—’ she fixed her grandson with a sharp stare ‘—I will not move from Nunstead. I was born here, and I intend to die here.’
Emma glanced at Rocco and felt a reluctant tug of sympathy for him. His grandmother was barely five feet tall, and looked as though she weighed little more than a sparrow, but she was as strong-willed as an ox. Rocco would have a battle on his hands if he attempted to persuade Cordelia to move house, she thought ruefully.
He turned his head and their eyes met in a moment of mutual understanding. She knew she owed him an apology. It sounded as though he had done his best to arrange a live-in companion for Cordelia, and far from being too busy to come to England he had remained in Italy to be with his terminally ill father.
‘Why don’t we go back into the sitting room?’ she murmured, addressing Cordelia because she felt embarrassed about how unfairly she had accused Rocco. ‘I want to take a look at your hand.’
It was a relief to move away from the gorgeous Italian. She was shaken by her strong awareness of him. He made her feel flustered and on edge, and caused her heart to thud unevenly. But
did he have such an effect on her? she asked herself impatiently as she followed him along
the hall, trying not to allow her eyes to focus on his muscular thighs and the taut buttocks outlined beneath his close-fitting black denim jeans. He was stunningly good-looking, but she knew of his reputation as an inveterate charmer, and she had sworn after Jack that never again would she be seduced by a handsome face and a ton of charisma.