Authors: Chantelle Shaw
The lining was still warm from his body. It seemed strangely intimate to hold something that seconds ago had sheathed his muscular torso. What would it feel like to be held against that broad chest, to press her cheek to his silk shirt and feel his arms close around her?
The image evoked a wistful pang of longing to feel protected, cherished. Her friends and family often commented on how well she coped as a single mother. She defined herself as being quietly confident, capable and independent. So why did the idea of being held safe in a pair of strong arms suddenly seem so enticing? And who was she kidding? she thought impatiently, as she walked out to the hall and hung Rocco’s jacket over the stair banister.
was not a word she would equate with Rocco D’Angelo.
The corkscrew was hiding at the back of the cutlery drawer, which went to show how infrequently she drank wine. She was struggling to remove the cork from the bottle when he strolled into the kitchen.
‘Allow me to do that.’
Rocco uncorked the wine with practised ease and watched Emma open a cupboard and retrieve two glasses. She had to stretch up to reach them, and in doing so her fine wool sweater was drawn taut across her breasts, emphasising their rounded fullness. Heat flared in his groin, prompting him to shift his position to ease the constriction of his suddenly tight trousers. The kitchen was built to the same minuscule proportions as the rest of the cottage. One
step was all it would take to bring his body into contact with Emma’s. But he fought the temptation to press himself against her soft curves and glanced around the room, feeling the top of his head brush against the ceiling beams.
‘I hope the agent deters anyone tall from viewing this place. It’s not much bigger than a dolls’ house.’
‘It’s big enough for the two of us,’ Emma said shortly, her heart sinking at the reminder that she would soon be forced to move out of the cottage which had been her home for the past three years.
‘Did you live here when your husband was alive?’
‘No—Jack was based at a fire station in the centre of Newcastle, and we lived in a flat nearby. I moved to Primrose Cottage after Holly was born.’
‘What made you come out here to this isolated village? I would have thought Little Copton was too quiet for a young woman. It must be difficult to have a social life when you’re so far from a decent sized town.’
‘I don’t want a social life—not in the way you mean … visiting nightclubs and bars,’ Emma added, flushing when Rocco gave her a quizzical look. ‘I did part of my nurse’s training at Hexham Hospital, and used to spend my days off exploring the moors. My parents wanted me to move back to their farm in Scotland with Holly, but when I saw Primrose Cottage I fell in love with it.’
She knew her parents had been worried about her living on her own with a newborn baby, but she had craved isolation, wanting to be alone to grieve for Jack and come to terms with the knowledge that he hadn’t loved her as she had loved him. The discovery of how he had betrayed her had decimated her sense of self-worth, and like a wounded animal she had gone to ground.
Three years on she was proud of the fact that she was in control of her life, and utterly determined never to relinquish
her independence or risk her emotional stability. It would be easy to be dazzled by a man like Rocco, she brooded. The way her heart skittered at his sexy smile was annoying proof that she was not completely immune to his charisma. But she had fallen for a charmer once before and been bitterly hurt. She wasn’t stupid enough to do so again.
Rocco skimmed his eyes over Emma’s silky bob of hair and her creamy skin, noting the faint dusting of red-gold freckles on her nose and cheeks. ‘So you’re Scottish—I thought I detected an accent.’
She shook her head. ‘Not technically—my family moved to Scotland from London when I was ten, so my Scots burr is not as strong as if I’d been born north of the border.’
‘Are they your parents?’ Rocco indicated the photo on the dresser of Holly with an older man and woman.
‘My in-laws. They adore Holly.’ Emma studied the picture of Jack’s parents and saw the sadness in the eyes that their smiles could not disguise. They had been devastated by the loss of their son, and doted on their little granddaughter. For them and for Holly she would continue with the pretence that Jack had been a devoted husband, and never reveal that he had shattered her trust irrevocably.
She had joined Rocco by the dresser when he had asked about the photo, and now she was acutely conscious of how close they were standing. The fine hairs on her body stood on end, each of her senses alerted to his sheer maleness as she inhaled the subtle musk of aftershave and pheromones.
Why did he affect her so strongly? she wondered despairingly. And how had he drawn so much personal information from her without her even realising it. So much for keeping him at a distance!
She forced a cool smile. ‘We seem to have diverted from
the subject of Cordelia. Let’s go back to the other room and you can tell me about your plans for how best to care for her.’
She preceded him into the sitting room and offered him the sofa, but instead of sitting next to him she crossed to the armchair on the other side of the room.
He poured the wine and handed her a glass. ‘Wouldn’t you be more comfortable over here? Where you can put your drink on the coffee table?’
She felt herself blush at the amused gleam in his eyes. ‘I’m fine where I am, thank you.’ Determined not to show how much he rattled her, she settled back in the chair and took a long sip of wine. It was deliciously smooth and fruity, and she felt a relaxing warmth seep through her veins. ‘So, what do you intend to do about Cordelia? I’m afraid the local health authority won’t provide a live-in carer for her, but there are a number of private agencies who could arrange for staff to visit her every day.’
Rocco shook his head. ‘I can see that Nonna needs more than that. She’s too frail to continue living at Nunstead Hall—even with regular visits from carers. And employing live-in staff has not proved successful.’
‘Then what do you propose? Cordelia is adamant that she won’t move from Nunstead.’
‘I’ve discovered that,’ Rocco said with feeling, recalling his grandmother’s stubbornness on the subject. ‘As a temporary measure, while she is recovering from the hip operation and the burn to her hand, I’ve asked her to come and stay with me at my home in Portofino.’
Emma’s eyebrows arched in surprise. ‘And she’s agreed?’
‘No—not yet. But I’ve had an idea that I think will persuade her.’ He looked across the room, his tiger-like amber
eyes trapping her gaze. ‘I’ve hinted that you might come to Italy to be her private nurse.’
She had been in the process of taking another sip of wine, but at his startling statement the sip became a gulp. The alcohol must have gone straight to her head, because for a second her brain felt fuzzy before his words sank in. ‘Well, you’d better
hint,’ she said sharply. ‘I have no intention of moving to Italy. The idea is ridiculous—and impossible.’
‘Why?’ Rocco queried calmly. ‘I’m not suggesting a permanent arrangement. My suggestion to Cordelia is that she comes to my home for three months’ convalescence. After that we will decide whether she is able to return to Nunstead, with the help of a live-in carer, or—as I’m secretly hoping—she will have settled in Italy and will agree to remain living with me. At first she point-blank refused to consider the idea, because she was worried she would be lonely and miss her friends here in Northumberland. But it’s clear that
are her closest friend, Emma,’ he said softly, and the husky way he murmured her name sent an involuntary quiver down Emma’s spine. ‘When I put forward the idea that you could come to Portofino for three months, Nonna was much happier to consider my plan.’
‘You had no right to suggest that to Cordelia without asking me first,’ Emma said tightly. What Rocco had done amounted to emotional blackmail, and she was furious with him. ‘It doesn’t seem to have crossed your mind that I have a life here in England—a job,
. I can’t simply take off for three months and abandon my responsibilities, and no way on earth would I ever leave Holly with my parents for that length of time. The most she’s ever been away from me is a weekend, when Jack’s parents took her to stay at their house in France.’
Rocco’s dark brows drew together in a frown, his anger
mounting at her diatribe and the unspoken accusation that
responsibility for his grandmother over the past months.
‘When did I say you would have to leave Holly?’ he demanded. ‘Naturally you would bring her with you. You say you have a life here that you don’t wish to leave, but you’re going to have to move out of this cottage. You’ve already told me there’s no man around and you’re not involved in a relationship—so what exactly is holding you back from taking a three month sabbatical from your job to help an old lady you insist you care about?’
‘Dozens of things,’ Emma muttered, infuriated by his casual attitude. ‘For a start, I need to look for somewhere to live.’
‘That’s not a problem. I’ll have one of my staff research suitable properties for you, and once you’ve chosen a place I’ll arrange the move.’
He made it sound so simple, she thought irritably. But his wealth inured him to the mundane problems of day-to-day living that most people experienced. She was sure he had never had to worry about how much rent he could afford, or deal with unscrupulous landlords who demanded a huge deposit but failed to carry out vital repairs. She had been lucky that the owner of Primrose Cottage was a decent, kindly man; there was no guarantee that her next tenancy would be as trouble free.
But, as Rocco had pointed out, her life
going to change whether she liked it or not, she thought heavily. However, that did not mean that she should uproot her daughter and take her to live temporarily in another country.
‘It’s important for Holly to feel settled and secure.’
‘I’m sure it is, and I am certain she will love my home in Portofino. The Villa Lucia has ten guest bedrooms and
there is plenty of space for a child to play inside, or outside in the four acres of gardens. Already there is plenty of spring sunshine, and in a month the weather will be warm enough for trips to the beach. You were only saying earlier today how you wished you could take Holly for a holiday to help her recuperate from the flu virus that has left her so pale and robbed her of her appetite,’ he reminded her.
Emma could not deny she had said exactly that, when Holly had refused to eat more than half a sandwich at the hotel. ‘But it won’t
a holiday,’ she pointed out. ‘Who will look after Holly while I’m working?’
‘It won’t be work as such. Cordelia doesn’t need nursing. I simply want you to act as a companion to her. And you know as well as I do that she loves having Holly around. I can’t see why you have a problem with the idea,’ he said, frustration edging into his voice. ‘It seems the perfect solution—I’ll know that my grandmother is safe and happy, and Holly will get to spend three months where the climate is a good deal warmer than in Northumberland.’
When he put it like that it was difficult see a problem with his plan, she admitted. But there
a problem—and he was it. Or rather, she had a problem with the idea of living in his home for three months. She could hide her attraction to him while he was staying at Nunstead Hall and she was only likely to meet him occasionally. But to stay with him at his villa and see him every day—that was something else.
She wished he didn’t unsettle her. He was offering her a golden opportunity to give Holly a wonderful holiday and she was angry with herself for allowing him to affect her. But he stirred feelings inside her she had been sure she would never feel again—desires that she’d believed had died when she had learned how Jack had betrayed her. Even now her mind was only half concentrated on what
he was saying, while the other half was swamped by her intense awareness of his smouldering virility.
‘I’m sorry, but my answer is no,’ she said stiffly.
‘Why not?’ Rocco struggled to contain his frustration. It hadn’t occurred to him that Emma might refuse. In his position as CEO of Eleganza he was used to people doing his bidding without question, and in his personal life he had never yet failed to charm a woman around to his way of thinking.
‘I have my reasons.’
?’ He could not think of one good reason why she would turn down a three month sojourn in a beautiful part of the world, for which she would get paid. ‘If it’s a question of money, obviously I will pay you the top rate for a live-in nurse. Nonna won’t come without you,’ he said harshly, glaring at Emma’s mutinous expression. ‘What am I going to do? We both know it’s not safe for her to remain at Nunstead, but I have commitments in Italy that mean I have to return there next week.’
Emma tried to quash her pang of guilt. She could not deny that it would be best for Cordelia to go and stay with Rocco, but he would have to find another way of persuading his grandmother to accompany him to Portofino.
‘I’m sorry if you have led Cordelia to think I would go to Italy with her, but I can’t. And I don’t see why I should have to explain my reasons to you—a man I met for the first time yesterday,’ she added fiercely, her temper rising when she saw the angry gleam in his amber eyes. ‘That’s all I have to say on the subject.’ She jumped to her feet. ‘I think you should leave.’
She was throwing him out!
No woman had ever asked Rocco to leave, and the novel experience was not one he relished. But he had stated his case—or rather his grandmother’s case—and he was damned if he was going to
plead with Emma to reconsider, he thought grimly. Without another word he stood up, and placed his glass on the coffee table at the same time as Emma set down her half-full glass. Their fingers brushed and she snatched her hand away, sending the glass flying so that red wine cascaded across the table and dripped over the edge.
She stared in horror at the spreading stain on the cream carpet. ‘It had to happen now. The estate agent phoned earlier to say he’s arranged for someone to view the cottage tomorrow.’