Authors: Chantelle Shaw
‘I’ll get a cloth.’ Rocco was already striding from the room.
Emma hurried along to the kitchen after him, and while he grabbed the dishcloth she rummaged in a cupboard, looking for the carpet cleaning solution she was sure was stashed at the back—before remembering she had used the last of it to clean up a spill at Christmas.
‘Is the stain very bad? I’ve brought another cloth.’ She ran back into the sitting room just as he was emerging, and they collided in the doorway.
‘It’s fine. I’ve cleaned it up and you can’t see a mark, so stop flapping.’
His impatient tone brought her up sharp. ‘I never
,’ she said tightly, flushing as she realised she had been doing just that.
What the hell was wrong with her? she asked herself furiously. She had spent two years working in an A&E unit, often dealing with life-threatening emergencies, yet here she was getting in a stew about spilt wine.
Rocco set her nerves on edge, she acknowledged ruefully. Ever since she had invited him into the cottage she had been conscious of the undercurrent of sexual awareness. And now they were jammed in the doorway, with
their bodies touching, and molten heat was coursing through her veins.
Her eyes were drawn against her will to his face, and her heart gave a violent thud when she watched his gaze narrow and become predatory. Time stood still and the air between them quivered. He stared down at her, as if he could see deep into her soul, before he slowly lowered his head.
He was going to kiss her.
She knew she should move, break the spell he had cast on her, but it was too late. His warm breath whispered across her lips and involuntarily she parted them as he claimed her mouth. With practised ease he took possession of her, sliding a hand to her nape as he deepened the kiss, yet keeping the caress non-threatening, so that she slowly relaxed and allowed her body to settle against him while she responded to the gentle demands of his mouth.
She was drowning in a sea of sensation. There was nothing but Rocco’s strong, hard body pressing against her, so that she could feel his powerful thigh muscles through her skirt. His hand slid from her nape to tangle in her hair, holding her still while he subtly increased the pressure of his lips on hers and took the kiss to another level that was blatantly erotic.
Without conscious thought she lifted her arms to his shoulders, a tremor running through her when he curled his arm around her waist and drew her even closer, so that she could feel the thud of his heart and, more enticingly, the solid ridge of his arousal straining beneath his trousers.
He delicately probed between her lips with his tongue before initiating a bold exploration that made her tremble. Reality had ceased to exist. All she was aware of was the faint abrasion of his jaw against her cheek and the softness
of his hair as she curved her arms around his neck and slid her fingers into the dark mass of silk above his collar.
At first slow and sweet, the tenure of his kiss changed to hot and hungry, seducing her with its innate sensuality. Nothing had prepared her for the wild, almost primitive pleasure he evoked, and she responded with a feverish urgency as her defences crumbled.
From upstairs came the sound of Holly coughing. The sexually charged silence down in the hall immediately shattered, and Emma dragged her mouth from Rocco’s, her chest heaving as she snatched oxygen into her lungs. Dear heaven, what if her daughter had got out of bed and discovered her kissing a virtual stranger? What if Holly hadn’t coughed and she had continued to kiss Rocco with the wanton abandon that had overwhelmed her mere seconds ago?
‘What are you doing?’ she demanded shakily.
His dark brows rose quizzically. ‘What am
doing? Surely you mean what are
doing? And I think the answer is pretty self-explanatory,’ he drawled softly. He trailed a lazy hand down to her breast and brushed across the hard peak of her nipple jutting beneath her jumper.
Mortified by her response to him, she snatched her arms from around his neck and sidestepped him out of the doorway into the hall, struggling to control her erratic breathing. ‘You took me by surprise.’ Panic made her voice sharp as she felt a growing sense of horror at her behaviour. ‘You had no right to come on to me.’
Rocco raked a hand through his hair, surprised by the strength of his desire for Emma, and his fierce urge to pull her back into his arms and kiss her into submission. ‘It was just a kiss.’ He managed to sound coolly dismissive, even though his heart was pounding in his chest. ‘There’s no need to get worked up about it.’
He sounded faintly bored, as if he was used to kissing women he barely knew on a passing whim—which he probably was, she conceded sickly. No doubt he had confidently expected her to invite him up to her bedroom, or maybe he would have led her back into the sitting room and removed her clothes—
—before making love to her on the sofa? Her face burned as erotic images of their naked, entwined limbs flooded her mind.
‘You shouldn’t have done it.’ Her voice sounded thick, almost guttural, as she fought the shockingly fierce pull of sexual desire that throbbed low in her pelvis. ‘I told you, I’m not looking for a …’ She faltered on the word
, certain that Rocco wanted nothing more than casual sex. ‘I don’t want a man in my life.’
As she looked through the doorway into the sitting room, the photograph of Jack’s grinning face seemed to mock her. Rocco followed her gaze and his face hardened.
‘He’s been dead for three years. He might have been a hero, but you can’t grieve for him for ever,’ he said harshly. His eyes narrowed on her face as a startling realisation dawned. ‘You’re not telling me I’m the first man you’ve kissed since you were widowed?’
‘I’m not telling you anything.’ Her marriage was not open to discussion. Holly coughed again. ‘Our voices are disturbing her,’ she muttered, glancing towards the stairs. The maternal instinct to go and check on her daughter finally released her from Rocco’s magnetic spell.
Arguing with her was not going to get him anywhere, Rocco realised frustratedly as he snatched up his jacket and yanked open the front door. And, when it came down to it, what
he actually want? He hadn’t meant for things to get so out of hand. Hell, he hadn’t meant to kiss her. But when he had stared into her soft grey eyes he had felt
compelled by a force he’d had no control over to slant his mouth over hers.
The uncomfortable throb of his erection was a mocking reminder that Emma turned him on more than any woman had done for a long time. But it was patently obvious that she was still in love with her dead husband—and, although Rocco eschewed any degree of emotional attachment with his mistresses, he balked at the idea of making love to a woman who wished he was someone else.
weather on Sunday mimicked Emma’s mood: grey, gloomy and unsettled. Holly refused to eat breakfast or lunch, and the cough that had developed during the night racked her fragile frame.
‘When will the sun come out?’ She sighed, her nose pressed to the window as she watched the rain falling relentlessly from a leaden sky. ‘
want to play in the garden.’
‘Spring will soon be here,’ Emma promised. But she was assailed by guilt when she recalled Rocco’s suggestion that she should accompany Cordelia to his home in Portofino and give her daughter a three-month holiday in the Italian sunshine. It was out of the question now, she thought grimly. She had proved last night that she could not trust herself to resist her sexual attraction to him.
She determinedly pushed him to the back of her mind and concentrated on finishing the household chores so that she could play with Holly, eventually slotting a favourite
into the player when it became clear that the little girl was weary.
During the afternoon, a retired couple came to view the cottage, and enthused over its quaint charm.
phone call from her landlord a few hours later, to inform her that the couple had offered the full asking price and were eager for the sale to go through quickly, rounded off a bad day
and preceded a second restless night when Rocco invaded her thoughts until the early hours.
On Monday Holly woke with a high temperature which, together with her worsening cough, warranted a trip to the doctor. He diagnosed a chest infection.
‘I wish I could prescribe fresh air and a dose of sunshine rather than antibiotics,’ he said ruefully.
Luckily Emma managed to reschedule most of her day’s visits, and a colleague agreed to cover her more serious cases. ‘It’s just Mrs Symmonds that I’ll have trouble fitting in,’ Sandra explained. ‘She lives so far out on the moors.’
‘I’ll go and see her, and take Holly with me.’ She had to face Rocco some time, so she might as well get it over with, Emma brooded as the four-by-four splashed through deep puddles made by the rain and melting snow on the road leading to Nunstead Hall.
Her knock on the door brought no response. Assuming that Rocco was busy somewhere in the huge house, she used the key Cordelia had given her. But as she stepped into the hall she immediately realised that for some reason the central heating wasn’t on. It was almost as cold inside as out in the bitter wind blowing across the moors.
Cordelia was in the living room, sitting in an armchair pulled up close to the fire that was smouldering in the grate. She looked unusually pale, and her eyes were closed. For a second Emma’s heart stopped, and she drew a relieved breath when the elderly lady stirred.
‘Why is the heating off—?’ She broke off and stared at Cordelia’s hands—one bandaged to cover her burn, the other purple and bruised, with the fingers swollen to twice their normal size. ‘What on earth has happened to your hand?’
‘I opened the back door to call Thomas, and a gust of wind blew it shut and trapped my fingers,’ Cordelia explained
in a shaky voice. ‘Rocco doesn’t think they’re broken because I can move them.’ She winced as she wiggled her bruised fingers a fraction.
‘They must be agony.’ Emma felt physically sick as she inspected the elderly lady’s injured fingers. Desperately worried about her patient, she repeated her first question. ‘Why is the house so cold?’
‘The heating has broken down. Something to do with the boiler, I think Rocco said.’ As she finished speaking, Cordelia closed her eyes once more. She looked heart-wrenchingly fragile, and was probably suffering from mild shock, Emma realised.
‘Oh, he went to Paris to meet one of his lady friends … today … or was it yesterday?’ Cordelia shook her head. ‘I’m a bit muddled.’ She smiled faintly. ‘He’s such a Lothario—just like his father.’
For a few seconds Emma was too shocked to speak. ‘You mean he’s left you injured and alone in a freezing house to go on a
?’ The sick feeling in the pit of her stomach intensified, and with it a growing sense of outrage that Rocco had so casually abandoned his grandmother. Professionalism held her back from voicing her opinion that he was the most heartless and irresponsible man she had ever met, but she could not dismiss the little voice in her head which taunted that his beautiful mistress Juliette Pascal lived in Paris. Clearly kissing
on Saturday night had been an aberration which he had probably already forgotten about, Emma thought grimly.
She needed to focus on her job, she reminded herself. Her priority was to arrange temporary accommodation for Cordelia in a nursing home, where she could be properly cared for. Stubborn as the old lady was, she would
surely understand that she could not remain on her own at Nunstead Hall.
Emma glanced at Holly, who was coughing again. ‘Keep your coat on, munchkin, and stay in here, where it’s a bit warmer than the rest of the house. I’m going to go and make Cordelia a cup of tea.’
The little girl nodded and patted Cordelia gently. ‘I’ll look after you, Nonna. Shall I tell you the story about the three little pigs?’
The weariness in Cordelia’s eyes faded, and she smiled. ‘That would be lovely, darling.’
The special bond between her daughter and her elderly patient was so poignant, Emma brooded as she hurried down to the kitchen. She knew the two of them would enjoy spending time together in Italy, and once again she felt guilty that she had refused to accept the position as Cordelia’s private nurse. The truth was she could not bear the idea of staying at Rocco’s villa, where he no doubt entertained an ever-changing parade of gorgeous women. It would be torture, she thought dismally. And it would be all the worse because she bitterly resented her attraction to a man she disliked.
She was suddenly jolted from her thoughts when she felt a blast of cold air rush into the kitchen, and as she glanced towards the back door her eyes widened in shock.
‘I thought you were in Paris?’
Rocco frowned at the accusatory tone of Emma’s voice, but he was intrigued when she blushed and quickly looked away from him. ‘I was there yesterday,’ he told her with a shrug.
One half of Emma’s brain was busy registering that he looked unbelievably gorgeous in faded jeans and the big sheepskin jacket that emphasised the width of his broad shoulders, his damp hair brushed back from his brow to
reveal the stark beauty of his features. But the other half of her brain was clinically assessing his words. So it was true—after he had made a pass at her he had gone straight to visit his French mistress. It was utterly ridiculous to feel so betrayed, she told herself fiercely. She was aware of his playboy reputation. And his kiss had meant as little to her as it clearly had to him, she assured herself.
She thought of Jack, who—although she had not known it at the time—had sometimes made love to her only hours after he had spent the afternoon having sex with his mistress. Since his death she had supressed the anger that simmered inside her, but now it rose up in an unstoppable tide. She wanted to lash out at her husband, who had hurt her so badly, but Jack was dead. It was Rocco standing in front of her—Rocco, who for a few breathless moments on Saturday night had made her feel like an attractive woman. For all she knew he might have been thinking about Juliette Pascal while he had been kissing her, she thought sickly.