“EVERYTHING looks good, Mrs. De Luca,” Dr. Calvin said as she wiped the ultrasound gel from Elaine’s stomach. “I’ll need to see you again in another month, but until then, unless you have any questions, I think you’re free to go.”
Elaine opened her mouth to say she didn’t have any questions but Marco, who was standing next to the exam room bed, arms folded, looking like some Roman god of thunder, interrupted.
“You are certain that she can continue to work?”
Dr. Calvin gave Elaine an understanding smile before addressing Marco. “She should be able to continue all of her usual activities, within reason.”
“But if her work is too stressful…”
“Then give her a foot-rub when she gets home. Really, Mr. De Luca, women have been having babies since the dawn of time. As much as it might feel that way, your wife isn’t the first woman to experience pregnancy.”
Elaine tried to hide the smile that crept slowly across her face. Marco was looking stormier than he had a moment ago.
It was easy to pretend that he was just like any other concerned husband, even though she knew that was far from the truth. She was just the vessel to carry his child—the female figurehead who would play the role of mother to his heir. He hated her. He had made it abundantly clear that morning. If he’d experienced a moment of concern over her being sick it was simply because he was worried about the health of the baby.
Yet—silly, stupid woman that she was—she’d soaked in his attentiveness, craving his touch, the feel of his lips on hers. It was humiliating to love him so much when she knew that he would get rid of her if his conscience would allow it. Even more humiliating that she couldn’t kill her love for him. And he couldn’t kill the love she felt for him either, though he was doing a good job of trying.
When they left the doctor’s office Marco’s limo was already parked against the curb, waiting for them. Marco let her get in first, and when he sat down she noticed that he kept a long stretch of empty seat between them.
“I have to go to the office now,” he said curtly.
“Then I’m going to work too,” she said, daring him to disagree. “The doctor said it was fine.”
He turned, his dark eyes flashing. “You need rest. You must be jet lagged, and you spent the entire flight being sick.”
“I need to check in,” she insisted.
“Absolutely not.” He leaned forward and pressed the intercom, and spoke in rapid Italian to the driver. He leaned back heavily and pulled his BlackBerry out of his jacket pocket, intent on email and very purposefully ignoring her.
The car pulled up at the De Luca Corporation headquarters and Marco got out with barely a nod of farewell. The slam of the car door expressed the anger he had chosen not to voice.
She leaned back in the seat, fighting the uncharacteristic tears that were threatening to fall again. She was tired. She did just want to go home and curl up in a ball and sleep. But she was not going to be dictated to, and the sooner Marco realized that the easier life would be.
She pressed the button on the intercom. “Scusi?” She knew her Italian was pitiful, but she thought it would be best to at least try.
“Si?” Paolo’s muffled voice came over the speaker.
“I’ve changed my mind. About going home, that is. I need to go to Burke and Black. It’s on Sixth.”
She managed to make it through a half day without falling asleep at her desk, and took the rest of her work back to the penthouse to finish in the comfort of her own bed, with the aid of Chinese takeout.
Paolo, Marco’s chauffeur, had made himself available to her when he wasn’t shuttling Marco around, and he’d agreed to take her to her favorite Chinese restaurant and then back home.
She’d ordered three extra entrées with the feeble hope that Marco might be home in time for dinner, and that he might join her. Both desires seemed to be unlikely, but she was always painfully hopeful when it came to Marco.
Any normal person would be angry with him for the assumptions he’d jumped to, but it was becoming clear to her that when it came to Marco her emotions defied logic. There was some anger, but mostly she just ached for the boy who had grown up with no one to show him what true, unselfish love was, and for the man he had become—the man who couldn’t trust anyone for fear of being hurt again.
She’d been hurt. Her own family had been a dismal example of suburban dysfunction, and she’d let that affect her. She’d also allowed what had happened with Daniel to halt her dating career. But none of those things mattered. Not now. She was making a new life with Marco, with their child. She was determined it would be a good life, better than the childhood either Marco or herself had experienced.
Finding out she was pregnant had been the single most terrifying thing that had ever happened to her, but after going to the doctor, after seeing the little barely formed shape on the ultrasound screen, she knew she wanted her baby. She knew she loved her baby.
She didn’t know where the company would fit in yet. It still mattered—she’d worked her whole adult life at becoming qualified and finding a way to take over Chapman Electronics. But the baby had to come first. On that point both she and Marco were in total agreement.
Her stomach was begging for nourishment before she finally gave in and ate, abandoning the idea of a nice dinner together. She ate the Chinese food with none of the relish that she normally felt. It all just seemed bland without him.
She opted against working in her room, and spread all her documents out on the coffee table in her usual organized disaster. She tried to pretend she wasn’t watching the clock and listening for the sound of the elevator moving between floors.
The overwhelming pull of exhaustion finally won out over her desire to be awake when Marco arrived home and she fell asleep on the couch, her work still spread over her lap.
The pinging of the lift doors jerked her out of her sleep. “Marco?”
He moved stiffly from the entry to the living area, his jaw tight, his eyes flat and unreadable. “You should be in bed.”
“I was working and I fell asleep.” She stretched, trying to get the kinks worked out of her joints.
“You need your rest,” he said curtly. “This isn’t good for the baby.”
“There’s leftover Chinese food in the fridge,” she said, ignoring his autocratic statement.
“I already ate.”
It hurt her that he’d had dinner without her, without even letting her know. It was a small, stupid thing, but in Hawaii, before she’d found out about the baby, they’d shared every meal together. Her face heated as she remembered the time they’d shared a mango at the private beach, and he’d let the juices of the sweet fruit drip down her chin before licking away the stickiness.
The face of the man standing before her and the face of the man in her memory were impossible to meld together. The man from the beach was a fantasy—her lover, her friend. This man was a cold, remote stranger.
She stood and took a step toward him. He turned away and began to move in the direction of his office. “I have more to do,” he said by way of explanation. “I’ll be leaving early for work, so I doubt we will see each other in the morning. Get some rest.”
He left her standing there, her arms wrapped around herself, trying to hold in what body heat she had left, trying not to give in to the misery that was filling her entire being.
Marco managed to completely avoid her over the next week. He spent most of his time at the office, and when he wasn’t there he was in the home office. She wanted nothing more than to close the ever-widening gap that had opened up between them, but he seemed determined to speak as few words to her as possible. He only ever talked to her to ask about her health, and that was out of concern for the baby.
She looked at the clock that hung on the wall of her cubicle. It was pushing nine o’clock and she was still at work. All of her co-workers had left hours ago, and she was still sitting, alternating between quadruple-checking that week’s time card and adding up some data projections for Chapman Electronics. She didn’t want to go home and face Marco’s chilly silence. It was always painful, but she was even more aware of his rejection when they were both in the same space.
Finally, at ten, she knew that she couldn’t avoid the penthouse any longer. Marco was likely to be cloistered in his office by now anyway, pretending she didn’t exist. Her heart clenched.
By the time she made it back home she felt ready to fall asleep standing up. She’d had to take a cab home, which she didn’t like to do, but she’d liked the prospect of walking home in the dark, almost overcome by exhaustion, even less. The lift doors swung open and she stumbled into the living room, fatigue slowing her movements.
Marco was standing by the bar in the living room, his expression dark. He brought the tumbler of Scotch in his hand down onto the marble bar with a crack. “Where have you been?”
“Work,” she said, trying to sound flippant.
“Tell me, cara mia, how will you bleed me for child support if you drop dead from exhaustion before you are able to collect it?” He crossed the room in long strides.
Were it any other man he might have frightened her, but she knew that Marco would never harm her, no matter how angry he was.
“The doctor said going to work was fine. I don’t have to take orders from you.”
“No, but you might want to try and engage some common sense.”
“It isn’t as though I was out running the New York Marathon! Sitting behind a desk isn’t likely to put me at any great risk!” Her tiredness began to ebb as adrenaline surged through her veins.
“Is that what you were doing? Because I’ve had hours to put together all the possible scenarios for how you were spending your time. You could have been injured. Something might have happened to the baby.”
He was leaning close to her now, the spicy scent of his cologne teasing her nostrils, reminding her of forbidden pleasures. Pleasures that seemed as though they were from another lifetime.
“You could have been in the hospital, or worse, and you didn’t even afford me a courtesy call to let me know you would be late. Your office phone rang straight to voicemail, and you didn’t have your mobile on you either, so I had no way of reaching you.” His dark eyes were blazing with more heat than she’d seen in over a week.
“I…I’m sorry. I didn’t want to worry you.” That much was true. She hadn’t really imagined that Marco would care where she was. He seemed content to avoid and ignore her when they were in the same vicinity, and she certainly hadn’t envisioned him pacing the floor in concern over finding her missing.
“Anything could have happened to you!” he said roughly. He stroked his thumb over her tender lower lip. “I pictured you lost. Hurt. I could not reach you. You cannot do that to me again.”
He hooked an arm around her waist and leaned in, claiming her mouth hungrily, desperately, his tongue plundering the depths of her mouth, his lips moving furiously over hers.
She was helpless to do anything but submit to his passion. She wrapped her arms around his neck, pouring every ounce of the frustration that had been building over the past few days into the kiss.
Marco drew Elaine hard against the length of his body and pressed his erection firmly against her. Let her feel what she did to him, what he was powerless to control.
Rage had reached boiling point, turning to passion, desperation. He forked his fingers through her mass of blond hair and began to press hot open-mouthed kisses to her neck, her collarbone, the faint shadow of cleavage that was just barely hinted at by her demure blouse.
When he’d returned home and found her gone he had imagined her leaving, returning to her old apartment, or simply disappearing. It had gutted him. Utterly. Completely. He had imagined never seeing his child, not being able to care for him, raise him. He had promised himself that if he were to ever have children their care would be his top priority. He had imagined losing that chance. Imagined having his child grow up believing his father did not care.
And he had imagined never seeing Elaine again. Never kissing her soft lips or sinking into her warm, willing body—never having her legs wrapped around him again as she cried out his name in ecstasy.
She would not leave. He knew she wouldn’t. There would be no way for her to collect her precious company if she did that. And yet old fears had claimed him, images of being left, of feeling stranded and utterly, completely alone.
It’s because of the child.
If not for the baby the gold-digger could go and latch onto any other man she pleased. What he felt for her was all about sex and lust. He should not want her as he did—not knowing what she was. And yet he was a slave to his passion for her. At this moment he could no more deny himself her body than he could deprive himself of oxygen.
“I need you,” she whispered, her voice broken, her body trembling.
“I need you too, bella. Amore mia.” He deftly unbuttoned her shirt and parted the fabric, revealing her pearly skin. Her perfect breasts were shielded from him by only the sheerest whisper of lace. “So beautiful.”
He swept her up off the floor and carried her down the hall. Her eyes were wide, her kiss-swollen mouth parted in surprise. “I cannot wait,” he said. He could hear the torture evident in his own voice.
He laid her down on his bed and knew that he had never seen a lovelier sight than this woman, spread out before him, offering herself to him with total trust, total desire.
He knelt down on the bed and leaned over her, kissing her softly on the lips. She squirmed beneath him. She was hot for him, ready for the next step. But he would make her wait. He would make her feel the desperation that consumed him, make her ache as he did.
His pulse pounded in his head as he undid the front clasp of her bra and pushed the flimsy cups aside, leaving her bare for his inspection. Her rosy pink nipples were puckered, begging for the attention of his mouth.
He swirled his tongue around one tightened bud, careful to avoid the pouting tip. She arched beneath him, her breathing ragged. A low moan escaped her lips as he laved the swollen flesh that surrounded her taut nipple. She bowed off the bed when the tip of his tongue brushed the dusky skin of her areola.
“Marco, I can’t wait.”
He lifted his head and cupped her chin in his hand. “But the waiting makes it so much sweeter, cara mia. I want you to burn for me.”
“I do,” she whispered, her blue eyes unveiled, the honesty of her words beyond question.
“For me. Only for me.”
“Yes, Marco, my love. Please.”
He removed his clothing as quickly as his unsteady fingers would allow. He joined her on the bed, bare skin to bare skin. He flicked open the closure on her pants and slid them down her shapely legs, taking her filmy panties with them and consigning them to the floor with the rest of their clothes.
He ran a finger up the inside of her thigh and her muscles quivered. “Elaine, bella, I would spend all night exploring your lovely body, but I cannot wait to have you.”
He parted her thighs and moved between them, placing the tip of his erection at the opening of her slick channel. She gripped his shoulders, her dainty fingernails digging into his skin, the light pain making the blinding pleasure of easing into her tight, wet body almost bearable.
Her short cry of ecstasy and the gentle pulse of her internal muscles as he filled her to the hilt nearly sent him over the edge. He bit back a groan and tensed every muscle in his body, using every ounce of his self-control to keep himself from coming then and there.
Her sweet feminine sighs worked against the last vestiges of his control, shredding it, leaving him exposed. He pumped into her wildly, no longer able to think about making it last, no longer able to think about anything but the roar of ecstasy pounding through his blood, bringing him closer to completion with each stroke.
He felt her muscles clench around him, the rhythmic pulsing signaling her impending orgasm. He thrust into her hard, emptying himself into her, giving himself up to the blinding heat of his climax. She wrapped her legs tightly around his waist and gripped his shoulders, her petite body arching stiffly beneath him as she rode out the wave of her orgasm.
They lay entwined together, their breathing harsh and broken.
She’d called him her love.
He rolled away from her and sat up. His chest suddenly felt too full. He stood and walked into the bathroom, closing the door behind him. He turned the shower on cold and stepped under the harsh spray, trying to numb the conflicting feelings that had invaded his body.
Elaine brought her knees to her chest and tried to still her thundering heartbeat. She closed her eyes and attempted to block out the sound of the shower. The sound of Marco washing her off his skin.
Nausea rolled through her. There was no excuse for the way she’d behaved, for what she’d allowed herself to do. Marco had made his feelings for her plain, and yet she’d still fallen into bed with him at a speed that left her feeling a deep sense of shame.
It hadn’t been this way before. She’d known that he hadn’t loved her, but he hadn’t hated her either. Tonight she had been nothing more than a body to him. Nothing more than a means of finding physical release. He had taken her to bed, joined himself to her in the most intimate way, and he’d hated her the whole time.
She climbed out of his bed and scrambled to collect her clothes. She clenched her hands into fists and tried to stop the uncontrollable shaking that had taken over her limbs. Tears blinded her vision. She hated what she’d allowed herself to do. That she’d let him use her like that—that she’d wanted him to do that to her even knowing how he felt about her.
It would be so easy to blame Marco, but the blame lay with her. She’d let herself become that weak-willed woman she’d hated all of her life.
She didn’t know when it had started, but everything in her life now depended on Marco. The fate of the company, her happiness, her self-worth. Everything. She had despised her mother growing up, never understood how she had allowed her father’s indifference to destroy her the way it had. She knew how it could happen now. She had been letting it happen to her.
Marco didn’t love her. He never would. In her pig-headedness she’d imagined making him see her love, making him understand what love was, making him love her in return. It had never occurred to her that it wouldn’t work out—not deep down. She, who should have lost every ounce of idealism at the hands of her awful childhood and her initiation into the real world as an adult, had not really believed that her ending would be unhappy.
In a blinding moment of clarity she saw herself in the future as a bitter, unhappy woman, unable to give her child the love and support it needed because she was so wrapped up in contriving ways to gain her husband’s affection. An affection she would never be able to earn.
She covered her mouth with her hand to keep a sob from escaping.
She dressed quickly and went back to her own bedroom. She locked the door behind her and slid down the smooth wood, finally letting misery overtake her.
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