Authors: Chantelle Shaw
As they neared the door to the sitting room she glanced at the portrait of Cordelia’s daughter hanging in the hallway. Flora Symmonds had been exquisitely beautiful, she mused as she studied the painting of the world-famous actress who had died unfairly young and at the height of her career.
‘She was stunning, wasn’t she?’ Rocco halted next to her and followed her gaze. ‘My dear
—beautiful, talented, but unfortunately a lousy mother,’ he said harshly.
Emma gave him a shocked look. ‘You don’t mean that.’ She was glad Cordelia had walked ahead of them into the sitting room and could not hear her grandson.
‘It’s the truth.’ Rocco’s jaw hardened as stared at the portrait of his mother. ‘Both my parents were selfish and self-obsessed. They should never have had children, and they quickly realised that fact and sent us away to school as early as possible.’
‘Us?’ Emma was puzzled. Cordelia had only ever spoken of Rocco, as if he was her only grandchild.
He was silent for so long that she thought he was not going to answer her, but then he said quietly, ‘My younger brother and I attended boarding school in England. Cordelia was more of a parent to me than either my mother or father. I spent many school holidays here at Nunstead when my parents were both away making films.’ He turned his head from his mother’s picture and gave Emma an amused smile. ‘I agree that the Northumberland National
Park has some great walks. I spent a lot of time exploring the moors when I was a boy.’
Emma felt her face redden at his reference to their conversation in the car, when she had been unaware of his identity. ‘I didn’t realise you were familiar with the area,’ she muttered, adding a touch defensively, ‘It’s a pity you didn’t explain who you were.’
He shrugged. ‘I did not know you were on your way to visit my grandmother and saw no reason to introduce myself. I see now that your concern for Cordelia was justified,’ he added honestly. ‘If I had known she was living alone I would have immediately come to England and made other arrangements regarding her care.’
She believed him. The affection Rocco felt for his grandmother was evident in his voice, and Emma felt ashamed of the way she had been so quick to judge him. ‘I’m sorry about your recent bereavement,’ she mumbled. ‘I hadn’t made the connection, until Cordelia spoke of him, that Enrico D’Angelo was your father. He was a brilliant actor. I was shocked when I read about his death in the newspapers a few months ago.’
Although Rocco did not appear to have been close to his parents, it must be hard to have lost both of them, she thought. She guessed he was in his mid-thirties, which meant he would have only been a young man when his mother had driven her car along a clifftop road on the French Riviera and taken a hairpin bend too fast.
The accident had made headlines around the globe. Flora Symmonds and Enrico D’Angelo had been world-famous film stars whose tempestuous marriage, numerous affairs and bitter divorce had been played out in the media spotlight. It was little wonder that Rocco had preferred to spend his school holidays with his grandmother, in the peaceful surroundings of Nunstead Hall.
Her eyes strayed against her will to his sculpted face. He met her gaze, his golden eyes gleaming, and her heart gave a little flip when his mouth curved. She might have known that his smile would be devastatingly sensual. He was the archetypal alpha-male—good-looking, confident and oozing sex appeal. Just like Jack, and exactly the type of man she had vowed to avoid like the plague.
The timely reminder of her husband served as a cold shower, dousing her awareness of Rocco. He was a charmer, but she was determined not to be charmed, and her smile was distinctly cool as she murmured, ‘I think you had better carry the tea in before it stews.’
Five minutes later Rocco grimaced as he watched Emma remove the dressing on Cordelia’s hand to reveal a large patch of raw scarlet skin. ‘That looks painful,’ he said grimly. ‘How did you burn yourself, Nonna?’
‘Oh, the silliest thing.’ Cordelia shook her head impatiently. ‘I had heated up some soup for my lunch and somehow managed to spill it onto my hand while I was pouring it into a bowl. Those copper-based saucepans are terribly heavy. I shall buy some different ones the next time I go to Morpeth.’
‘How have you been getting to the town, or even Little Copton, since Morag left?’ Rocco frowned as he thought of how isolated his grandmother was here at Nunstead Hall. One of the reasons he had appointed Morag Stewart had been because she had assured him she would be happy to drive Cordelia around the local area.
‘I haven’t been able to go anywhere since Dr Hanley said that my eyesight is too poor for me to be able to drive. I’m sure he’s wrong,’ Cordelia said indignantly. ‘I was perfectly safe. I used to drive ambulances in London during the Blitz, you know.’
‘I know you did, Nonna. You were—and are—amazing,’ Rocco said softly.
Cordelia’s spirit was as indomitable as ever, but her reference to the part she had played in the Second World War was a reminder of her advancing years, he thought heavily. Once again he felt guilty that he had not checked to see that all was well at Nunstead Hall, but he had been so focused on his father in the weeks before he died, and also on searching for Enrico’s mistress, who was the mother of his young son.
‘I’m very lucky to have such a wonderful nurse,’ his grandmother continued. ‘Emma has been bringing me my shopping. I don’t need much—just milk and bread mainly—but I must have cat food for Thomas. He does like his three meals a day.’
‘He’s the best fed cat in the whole of Northumberland,’ Emma said dryly. ‘I only wish
would eat three meals a day, Cordelia.’
There was genuine affection in her voice, and the smile she gave his grandmother was notably warmer than the frosty glances she occasionally directed his way, Rocco noted. Although he hated to admit it, his curiosity was piqued by Emma’s coolness. It was fair to say that it was not the sort of response he usually received from women, he thought self-derisively.
He acknowledged his luck in having been blessed with an athletic build and facial features that had drawn attention from the opposite sex since he was a youth. A degree of cynicism, developed over the years, warned him that his status as heir to his grandfather’s billion-pound company added greatly to his appeal. Mistresses came in and out of his life with mundane regularity, and it was rare for any woman to hold his interest for more than a few months.
It was always too easy, he reflected. He had never met a woman yet who had presented a challenge.
His eyes were drawn again to Emma’s neat red-gold bob that curved around her face. There was nothing frivolous about her appearance. Her practical hairstyle was the ideal choice for a busy professional, yet there was something very sexy about her sleek, shiny hair that made him want to run his fingers through it.
Eliciting a smile from her could be an interesting challenge, he mused. His gaze lingered on her mouth, and the unbidden image came into his head of tasting her, of slanting his lips over hers and exploring their moist softness. She was sitting on the sofa, attending to Cordelia’s hand, but she looked up at that moment and Rocco was startled to feel heat surge into his face.
, the last time he’d felt embarrassed was when he had been fourteen and the housemaster at his boarding school had caught him looking at pictures of half-naked women in a magazine. Muttering an oath beneath his breath, he strode over to the window to close the curtains, grateful for the excuse to turn his back on his grandmother’s nurse while he fought to bring his libido under control.
Emma finished re-bandaging Cordelia’s hand. ‘The burn is healing slowly, but there’s still a risk of infection so you need to keep it covered for another few days. I’ll visit again on Monday to change the dressing,’ she said as she stood up.
Her body tensed involuntarily when Rocco strolled across the room and halted beside her. Although she carefully did not look at him, she was supremely conscious of him towering over her, and to her disgust her hand shook slightly as she closed the zip of her medical bag.
‘It’s started snowing again,’ he announced. ‘The roads were treacherous on the way here, and they can only be
worse now. I think it would be a good idea for you to spend the night here, Emma.’
His sexy accent lingered on each syllable of her name and sent a little quiver of reaction down Emma’s spine. For heaven’s sake! How could she be seduced by his
? she berated herself silently.
Taking a deep breath, she flashed him a polite half smile. ‘Thanks for the offer, but I must get back.’
Rocco frowned. In his mind he had pictured sitting by the fire with Emma after his grandmother had retired to bed, enjoying the particularly fine malt whisky Cordelia always kept for him and exerting his acknowledged easy charm to break through her barriers. Her crisp refusal shattered the cosy picture and aroused his curiosity.
‘Is someone expecting you?’ This blunt question was just about the most unsubtle way of discovering if she had a partner, he acknowledged sardonically.
‘My three-year-old daughter.’ Cool grey eyes briefly met his gaze before flicking to the clock on the mantelpiece. ‘I was due to collect Holly half an hour ago. Fortunately her childminder was fine about it when I phoned to explain that I would be late. But now I really must go.’
‘Can’t your daughter’s father collect her?’
Rocco did not know who was more surprised by his unguarded query—him or Emma. He couldn’t understand what had got into him—or why, when he glanced at her left hand, the sight of the gold wedding band on her finger intensified his feeling of irritation.
‘No.’ Emma did not offer any further explanation. The mention of Holly had made her impatient to get home. She was aware of Rocco’s frown, but she had no intention of appeasing his idle curiosity by discussing Holly’s father. ‘I’ll just go and get my boots and jacket, and then I’ll be off. Stay in the warm, Cordelia,’ she added, when the elderly
lady began to get to her feet. ‘I’ll see you after the weekend.’
‘Don’t forget your hat,’ Cordelia called after her. ‘It’s lucky I knitted it for you. You need it in this weather.’
Emma stifled a sigh at the mention of the dreaded woollen hat that so resembled a tea cosy. But Cordelia had been so proud when she had presented it to her a few weeks ago that she’d felt she must wear it. As she passed Rocco she caught the glimmer of amusement in his eyes and flushed.
He was waiting by the front door when she walked back down the hall from the kitchen a few minutes later. She was desperately conscious of his appraisal and, although she knew she was being ridiculous, she wished she was wearing her elegant grey wool coat rather than the unflattering ski jacket.
‘I’ll see you out,’ he said, opening the door so that a gust of icy air rushed into the hall. The snow falling from the inky black sky was light, but steady, and not for the first time that winter Emma was grateful to her father for giving her the four-by-four.
‘There’s no need for you to come out,’ she told Rocco when he followed her down the front steps.
He ignored her and walked with her to where she was parked. ‘I haven’t thanked you for coming to my rescue.’ His face was shadowed in the darkness, but his eyes glowed amber, reminding her once again of tiger’s eyes.
‘You’re welcome.’ Emma hesitated. ‘To be honest, I’m relieved you’re here. I worry about Cordelia living alone in such a remote place. How long do you plan to stay?’
‘I’m not sure yet.’ His original intention to visit his grandmother for a few days was no longer viable, Rocco acknowledged. But he could not remain in England indefinitely when he had a business empire in Italy to run.
Perhaps Emma recognised his quandary, because after
she had climbed into the four-by-four she gave him a sharp look. ‘While you’re here I’ll need to arrange a meeting with Social Services so that we can decide on the best way to care for Cordelia.’
Her schoolmistress tone annoyed Rocco. Did she think he would simply disappear and abandon his grandmother? He was about to tell her that he did not need interference from her or anyone else, but then remembered that without Emma’s help over the past weeks Cordelia might have come to serious harm.
He gave a brief nod. ‘You had better get going before the snow gets worse. Will you phone to say you have arrived home safely, to put my grandmother’s mind at rest?’
The journey back to Little Copton on the hazardous roads demanded Emma’s full attention, and she pushed all thoughts of Rocco D’Angelo to the back of her mind.
‘I’m sorry I’m so late,’ she apologised to Holly’s childminder when Karen opened the door of her bungalow and ushered her inside. ‘The roads are like a skating rink.’
‘Don’t worry about it. Holly has been fine playing with the twins,’ Karen reassured her. ‘I gave her dinner with Lily and Sara, but she didn’t eat much, and she looks tired now. That flu virus really knocked her out, didn’t it? What the two of you need is a nice, relaxing holiday—somewhere abroad, where it’s warm and sunny.’
‘Some hope,’ Emma said with a sigh. ‘My finances simply won’t stretch to a foreign holiday, and I can’t plan anything while the owner of Primrose Cottage is considering putting it up for sale. I might have to start looking for somewhere else to live.’ Her heart sank as the worry that had gnawed away at her for the past few weeks filled her mind, but her smile was determinedly bright when she
walked into Karen’s sitting room and Holly hurtled into her arms.
‘Mummy, I missed you.’
‘I missed you too, munchkin.’ More than words could convey, Emma thought silently as she lifted her daughter into her arms and hugged her tight.
Leaving Holly every day was a wrench she had never grown used to, but she had no choice. She enjoyed her job as a nurse, but when she had fallen pregnant she had planned to take a career break for a few years to be a fulltime mother. Fate had intervened, and the necessity to pay rent and bills meant that she had returned to work when Holly had been six months old. It also meant that the time she spent with her daughter was doubly precious, and her heart ached with love when Holly pressed a kiss to her cheek.