AT FIVE-THIRTY the next morning she heard Marco’s bedroom door open. She hadn’t slept at all. She’d been packing. She’d only packed the essentials—nothing that had been purchased with Marco’s money. Child support she would accept, but she wasn’t going to take anything for herself.
She opened the door and walked slowly out into the kitchen, her shoes loud on the hard floor in the quiet of the morning.
Marco turned, his expression flat, no indication of what had passed between them the night before evident in his dark eyes. “You’re up early. Are you feeling well?”
She swallowed, hoping he wouldn’t hear the lump in her throat when she spoke. “I’m fine.”
He turned away from her and poured a cup of coffee. She couldn’t stop herself from drinking in his appearance—his broad shoulders encased in the tailored black suit jacket, his lean waist and hips. She took a breath and winced at the sharp pain that hit her heart. She might never have a chance to just look at him again, to take in all that masculine beauty that would never really be hers.
She took a shuddering breath. “Marco, I want a divorce.” Her words were amplified in the silence of the kitchen.
Marco stilled, his shoulders tightening. He turned toward her, the coffee mug gripped tightly in his fist. “Che cosa?” He spat out a tirade of violent Italian. She’d never heard Marco’s English desert him before, but at that moment he seemed incapable of using his second language.
“I don’t speak Italian,” she said quietly.
“And I must not speak English very well,” he said, his accent thick, “because I heard you asking for a divorce.”
“I did,” she said, striving for calm, trying to keep the wobble out of her voice.
“You will not get the company if you leave me. You know that, don’t you?”
She blinked furiously. “I understand that. We had a deal, and I’m backing out of it. The terms of the contract are very clear.”
She knew she was losing her chance at having the company and, far more painful than that, she was losing Marco, but she had to do it. She couldn’t face waking up one day and discovering that she’d lost the essence of who she was, trying to gain the love and affection of a man who would prefer it if she’d never entered his life. The pain, the cost, were simply too great.
“And what about the baby?”
“I’m having the baby. A lot of people share custody of their children, Marco. We can make it work.”
His lips went white around the edges and a deadly calm came over him. He turned away from her, as if suddenly he was uninterested in her. “If that is what you want, then of course I will not fight you. I did not want to be married to you any more than you desired to be married to me. I only suggested that we try to make it work for the sake of the baby, and for your own sake. It would have made your life much easier. I will have my lawyer contact yours, and we can discuss a custody arrangement that pleases both of us.”
Numbness settled over her. Marco didn’t care if she left. Maybe he didn’t hate her. Maybe hate was an emotion that was far too passionate for him to bother feeling for her.
“I packed my essentials,” she said quietly. “I was going to leave the rest.”
“As you wish.” He didn’t turn to face her again.
“My lawyer will be in touch, then.”
Marco made no effort to look at the lying witch’s face. “Si,” he bit out.
He heard her timid footsteps as she crossed the wood floor and listened for the final click of the elevator doors. Then he threw his mug of coffee at the wall and watched it shatter, the dark liquid staining the pristine white of the wall. He clenched his fists, trying to control the driving need to tear the apartment apart, to make it as broken as everything else in his life. She had been in his bed last night. She had clung to him, dug her nails into his skin, cried out his name in ecstasy as he joined his body to hers. And this morning she had walked out the door without hesitation.
Why would she leave now? Why when she knew she would not get the company? He clenched his jaw. It didn’t matter why. It was better that she was gone. Better that she leave now than in ten years. And he had never honestly thought that she would stay. A slow ache grew inside of him and he placed his hand on his chest to try and stanch the flow, shocked at the intensity of the real physical pain that he was feeling.
Yes. It was much better that she was gone now. He had already let her mean too much—had already let her get too far beneath his skin.
At least he had let her go without betraying his pain. He had clung to his mother, begged her not to go. It had made no difference. He would not debase himself like again—least of all for a faithless harlot.
He looked over at his tidy living room; the mess of paperwork that normally cluttered his coffee table was gone. Elaine was gone. He steeled himself against the onslaught of fresh pain that tore at the bloody hole in his chest where his heart used to be.
Elaine sat at her desk, ensconced in the privacy of her cubicle, and stared blankly at the gray walls while her fingers moved over her ten-key on autopilot.
Sometimes a smell or a sound would trigger a memory of her time with Marco, and a pain would assail her that was so swift, so acute, that it nearly made her knees give way.
She blinked. Her eyes felt like sandpaper. She had no more tears left in her after a week of constant crying jags. All that was left now was a deep-seated ache that pervaded her entire being.
“Mrs. De Luca?”
Fresh pain wrenched through her at the sound of her married name. She turned and saw one of the interns standing in her cubicle doorway, a manila envelope in her hand.
“Yes?” Elaine dug her nails into her palms, trying to offset the shooting pain that was racing through her body.
“This came for you just a minute ago.”
The girl thrust the envelope into her hand. When Elaine saw the name of Marco’s lawyer emblazoned across the top she started to feel dizzy.
The intern bent down in front of her. “Are you all right? You look sick.”
Elaine nodded, trying to swallow. “I’m fine.”
The girl nodded and left, giving Elaine a concerned, lingering look.
Elaine tore into the package, her fingers trembling. Inside was a very official-looking letter, obviously drafted by Marco. Elaine skimmed it, looking for mentions of the word “divorce”.
When she’d finished the missive, her heart was pounding. He had given her the company. No strings. A gift. Which was perfectly in keeping with her father’s contract. There was nothing that said she couldn’t inherit the company, and nothing that said she couldn’t receive it as a free gift.
A soft curse escaped her lips and she let the paper in her hand fall to the floor. He’d given her everything but what she wanted most. She just wanted him. It was a bitter moment to discover that the company, her life’s ambition, meant absolutely nothing without Marco by her side to share in it with her.
Early Saturday morning Elaine walked through the dimly lit halls of Chapman Electronics and took the elevator to the top floor—to her new office. She still had two weeks left at Burke and Black, and she wasn’t about to leave her co-workers in the lurch by leaving without notice.
Her father’s former secretary, Lynne, had agreed to come in later that morning and help her get familiarized with the layout of things. Elaine would have to remember to get the older woman a gift for being so nice.
She opened the door to the office and grimaced. It was exactly as she remembered it: stuffed duck mounts frozen in eternal flight on the wall, a dark wooden desk and forest-green carpet. She would change everything about it as soon as possible.
She positioned herself in the wingback chair and laid her head down on the desk, hoping the cold surface would cool her heated skin. She was suddenly very aware that she had no one to share this moment with.
She cradled her flat stomach with her hand. “Well, little one, I made it. Funny thing is it doesn’t seem so important anymore.” A fat tear slid down her cheek and splashed onto the desk.
She ached for Marco’s touch, for the sound of his husky, faintly accented voice, for his presence. She clenched her fist and sat up straight. This was why she’d left in the first place. It wasn’t healthy, this obsessive unreturned love. The pain would fade; her feelings would fade. They had to.
She spent the rest of the morning getting to know her father’s antiquated filing system with the aid of the ever-helpful Lynne. By lunchtime her stomach was shouting at her to get nourishment quickly, and she’d learned since becoming pregnant that she couldn’t ignore hunger pangs when they started gnawing at her.
“I think I’m going to order some Chinese food. Lynne, do you want anything?”
The other woman flushed a bit. “No, I brown bagged. Actually, you have a lunch appointment.”
“I do?” Her stomach protested the idea of anything coming between her and her sweet and sour chicken.
“Yes. It’s an old appointment, and it couldn’t be rescheduled. You can handle it though. You’re a sharp girl.”
“Thanks, Lynne. I’d still like to order some Chinese, though.”
“I’ll take care of it for you,” Lynne said, backing out of the office with a smile.
“Sweet and sour chicken, please!” she shouted through the closed door.
For the first time in more than a week the pain her chest had ebbed, replaced by a teeming fleet of butterflies in her stomach that were threatening to demolish her critical thinking skills. She didn’t even know what the meeting was about, much less if she was ready for it!
Of course you are! You’ve been training for this day all of your adult life!
She leaned back in her chair and smoothed her hair down, trying to look cool and professional. She straightened a line of pencils on the desk four different times in an effort to keep her hands busy.
Only five minutes later the door to her office cracked open and the smell of crispy chicken wafted into the room. She pulled her head up sharply and blinked. She’d finally started hallucinating. Because there was no way that Marco was standing in the doorway holding takeout boxes. She had fantasized about him too many times. Had dreamt that he was with her again, in bed, holding her tightly against his body, his heartbeat pounding rhythmically against her back.
“I assume that your craving is still sweet and sour?” He moved into the room, bringing the tantalizing smell of food and the musky, unique scent that was all Marco with him.
She nodded dumbly. “You’re my lunch appointment?” She still didn’t fully believe that the man standing in front of her was really there.
“Yes. I’m sorry. I asked Lynne to tell a white lie for me.”
Which explained why Lynne had looked so sheepish!
“What…what are you doing here?”
“I’m here to see you.” He spread his hands apart in a helpless gesture.
“Did you bring your lawyer?”
“I thought it might be best if we talked without legal counsel present.” Marco sat heavily in the chair that was placed in front of her desk.
She’d been so bowled over by his presence that she hadn’t noticed until just then how worn out he looked, how tired. His lean face looked almost sunken; his golden pallor had an ashen overtone. His normally immaculate hair looked as though he’d run his fingers through it too many times, and the brackets around his mouth looked as if they’d deepened. He looked exactly as she felt. Older. Tired.
Marco looked up, his dark eyes holding a depth of emotion she couldn’t fathom. “I want you to come back.”
She put a hand to her breast to try and keep her heart from leaping out of her chest. It was her every fantasy come true. Except she had left him, and her reasons for leaving were still sound. She loved him, body and soul, but having that love unreturned would ultimately destroy her.
“I can’t, Marco.” She formed the words slowly, her mouth rebelling against the order to speak them.
“What is it you need? An allowance? A different home? I can give you whatever you need.”
“No. I don’t think you can.”
He swore violently and stood from the chair. “Do you need me to beg? Because I promised myself I would never lay down my pride like that again. But if that is what it takes to get you to come home to me I will do it and condemn my pride to hell. Please, Elaine. Come home to me.”
“I love you. And I will do whatever it takes to make you love me in return.”
Her mouth went completely dry, and it seemed as if the walls of the office, the desk, the chair, everything holding her to the earth had fallen away, leaving only the two of them. “You’re just saying that because of the baby,” she said hoarsely.
“No. I love our unborn child, but you’re the one who has left a gaping hole in my life. I miss your laughter. I miss your wit, your beauty, your body—the mess you leave on my coffee table,” he ground out. “I miss your smell, your touch, arguing with you. I miss everything about you, Elaine, and I need you to come home to me. I need you to be my wife in every sense of the word.”
Fresh tears welled up in her eyes and she fought to speak around the lump that had formed in her throat. “But you seemed so…indifferent when I left.”
“I was an idiot. I was clinging to my pride. I didn’t want you to know. I didn’t want to face what you had come to mean to me. But I’m done having pride. It means nothing if I cannot have you. I would rather lose everything I have than lose you. I know I said unforgivable things to you when you told me about the baby and I cannot make excuses.” He rounded the desk and knelt before her, taking her hands in his. “I can only explain to you what I felt. I felt too much for you—more than I ever had for any woman. It was much easier to tell myself that you had tricked me, that you were not who I believed you to be. Anything to lessen my attachment for you. But nothing worked. I had already begun to love you, though I was too much of a fool to see it. When you said you were leaving I told myself it was best—that you, like everyone else in my life, would leave eventually, and it was better if you did it sooner than later. I knew the moment you’d gone, the moment you forfeited the company, that I was the only liar among the two of us. I had lied to myself. I know you don’t feel the same way, but I can make you happy. We can be a family.”
“Marco.” She threw her arms around his neck and kissed his face—the face that she loved so painfully. “I love you too—so much!”
“But you left.”
“I know. I was an even bigger idiot than you were,” she said, laughing through her tears. “I was afraid that by staying, by loving you, I would become my mother—that I would lose myself in an effort to gain your affection. I was arrogant enough to think that I was not at all affected by my childhood, that you were the one who needed to learn about love. But I was just as guilty of bringing the past in, of returning to old hurts and using them to shield myself from hurt. I was a big coward.”
“No bigger than I was. When you left I lost myself. I had never felt such pain—not even after losing my mother. I knew I had made a mistake—the biggest of my life—driving you away. I wanted to beg you to stay then, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to face it if I threw myself on the ground before you and you left anyway. Like my mother did.”
Her heart clenched. “Oh, Marco. I’m so sorry.” She cradled his head against her breast. A momentary surge of rage at the woman who had hurt Marco so badly nearly stole her joy. “The past has a lot to make up for.”
“I think we can start now. We’re building a strong future.” He put his hand on her stomach.
“Why did you give me the company, Marco?”
“Because it was what you wanted. And I wanted you to be happy, even if your happiness did not lie with me. At least that’s what I told myself. But today…I couldn’t stay away any longer.” He leaned in from his position on the floor and kissed her gently on the lips—a kiss of barely leashed passion, a kiss of love. “I’d like it if we could work at rebuilding Chapman Electronics together. I love how your mind works. I’d love a chance to see you in action.”
“What about when the baby comes?”
“We’ll do whatever you think is best. We can put a daycare facility in the building, or we could alternate days so that one of us is always with him.”
Her eyes widened. “Well, that’s very progressive of you. I think you might be getting enlightened.”
“Don’t let it get around.”
“I would never try to damage your formidable reputation.” She slid out of her chair and knelt with him on the floor, wrapping her arms tightly around him. “I don’t know exactly what I want to do after I have the baby. I’m sure I’ll want to stay home for a few months at least. But I am also sure that I love you, and that I want to spend the rest of my life with you. So what do you think?”
“I think—” he pressed a kiss to her neck “—that marriage is the only logical course of action.”
She laughed. “Oh, is that right?”
“Mmm.” He trailed kisses from just beneath her ear down to her collarbone, swirling his tongue in the hollow at the base of her neck. “I’ve done my research.” He flicked the buttons of her blouse open.
She sucked in a breath as he feathered kisses over the swell of her breasts. “Have you?”
“Yes. And according to my research you and I are destined to be together forever and ever.”
“Is that so?” she gasped.
“It’s an indisputable fact. My figures are always accurate.” He nipped her neck and she melted into him.
“And how did you arrive at your conclusion?”
“It’s very simple. I love you. And I will love you, and honor you, and cherish you, for all of my days.”
Leave a Reply