“We’re getting married,” she said flatly.
Alain’s mouth literally fell open.
Emma held up her engagement ring, then let her hand drop back to her side. “You’ve been good to me, Alain. I know you deserve better than me leaving you like this.” She swallowed. “But I have to take this chance, for Sam’s sake. I’m sorry. I’ll never forget your kindness and generosity over the past year....”
“I’m sorry, too,” Alain said shortly. “Because you’re making a mistake. He ruined Angélique’s life.”
“Your sister’s death was a terrible tragedy, but the coroner ruled the overdose an accident....”
“Accident,” he said bitterly. “Falconeri drove my sister to her death. Just as surely as if he’d poured the sleeping pills down her throat.”
“You’re wrong.” Steadying herself, she faced him in his office, clenching her hands at her sides. “He loved her. I know that all too well. He loves her still,” she said quietly.
“She gave him everything,” Alain continued as if he hadn’t heard. “He lured her into marrying him. She loved him. Trusted him.” His eyes were wild. “But from the moment they were wed, he neglected her. So much so that she told me she meant to divorce him—then she mysteriously died before she could.”
Emma blinked at his implication. “You can’t think—”
“If she’d divorced him, he would have gotten nothing. A few hundred thousand dollars. Instead he got her entire fortune. He used that money to turn his shabby little hotel in New York into a multibillion-dollar international hotel conglomerate. You know he’s ruthless.”
“But not ruthless like that,” she whispered. She reminded herself that Alain’s words were spoken in anger, that he was a grief-stricken brother. Going toward him, she put her hand gently on his shoulder. “I’m sorry about Angélique. I truly, truly am. But you have to stop blaming Cesare. Her death wasn’t his fault. He loved her. He never would have hurt her.”
Alain slowly put his hand over her own. “Someday you’ll see the man he really is. And you’ll come back to me. I’ll give you your old job back...or better yet...” His eyes met hers. “I’ll give you exactly what Falconeri is offering you now.”
Marriage. He meant marriage. Emma swallowed, then pulled her hand away. “I’m sorry, Alain. I care about you deeply, but not in that way.” She stepped back from him and said with her heart in her throat, “I wish you all the best. Please take care of yourself.” She turned away. “Goodbye.”
She turned back at the door. Alain’s jaw was tight as he looked at her.
“My sister shone like a star,” he said. “She was so beautiful, the life of every party. But even Angélique couldn’t keep his attention for long. Don’t think you will, either.” He faced her across the shadows. “Loving him destroyed her, Emma. Don’t let it destroy you.”
WHAT A RIDICULOUS warning. Emma still couldn’t believe it. It was laughable.
Yes, laughable. Emma felt pleased at the word. She hardly knew which was more ridiculous: the idea that Cesare would have caused his wife, the only woman he’d ever loved, to kill herself with sleeping pills, or that Emma would still be stupid enough to love him, knowing he’d never love her back.
Because she wouldn’t.
Even though Cesare had been so wonderful since they’d arrived in London two weeks ago. He’d taken days off from work just to spend time with them, walking across the city, seeing the sights, pushing Sam together in his baby buggy, strolling like all the other happy families along the Thames. But what did Emma care about that?
She certainly wouldn’t fall in love with him just because they’d shared champagne while riding the huge Ferris wheel of the London Eye. Or because he’d agreed to a lunch of fish and chips at the Sherlock Holmes pub, when he’d wanted sushi, purely because she’d begged. She didn’t care that they’d gone to Trafalgar Square to show Sam the stone lions, and Cesare had taken about a thousand pictures, and let her take some of him making funny faces as he pretended to fall from the stone pedestal. Those memories didn’t matter. Her heart was made of stone.
They’d visited the National Gallery. The British Museum. They’d gotten a tour of the new Globe Theatre, then bought fresh bread and cheese at the outdoor Borough Market. But her heart was completely safe. Cesare wasn’t doing this for her. He was just following through on his promise to be an amazing father to Sam. That was all.
But he was keeping that promise beyond her wildest dreams.
Just yesterday, he’d insisted on going to Hamleys on Regent Street, where he’d bought so many toys that they’d needed to order an extra car to bring all the bags back to the Kensington house.
“When exactly are you expecting Sam to be interested in this?” Emma had asked with a laugh, looking from their sleeping five-month-old baby to the cricket bat and ball on the top of the toy pile.
“He is already fascinated with cricket. Can’t you tell?” Cesare had leaned the foam cricket bat across Sam’s lap, placing it in the baby’s tiny hand as he slept on with a soft baby snore in the stroller. He stepped back. “Look. He’s clearly a prodigy.”
Holding a foam ball, Cesare elaborately wound his arm, then gently tossed the ball underhand. It bounced off the plastic edge of the stroller and rolled across the floor.
“Prodigy, huh?” she said.
He picked the ball up with a grin. “It might take a bit of practice.”
“For him or you?”
“Mostly me. He already seems to have the knack.”
“You’re just a big kid yourself,” she’d teased. “Admit it.”
They’d looked at each other, smiling—then the air between them suddenly changed, sizzled with electricity.
Cesare had looked away, muttering something about going to the cashier to pay. And Emma’s hands had gripped the stroller handle, as in her mind she repeated the words In name only about a thousand times.
Now she shivered as she went up the stairs of the Kensington house. He’d shown her every bit of attention he’d promised, and more. And as promised, he hadn’t once tried to kiss her. Not even once.
But that was starting to be a problem. Because in her heart of hearts, she was starting to realize that she wanted him to...
She veered past his bedroom, and continued to her own bedroom, down the hall, where Sam was currently sleeping.
Emma told herself she was being stupid. They weren’t even married yet, and she wanted to give him her body? Stupid, stupid. Because how much harder would it be not to give him her heart in the bargain?
We won’t be lovers, he’d said in Paris. We’ll be equal partners.
Her brain had accepted this as the best possible course when she’d agreed to his proposal. And yet...
She was supposed to be planning the wedding right now. But every time she started, something stopped her. Something that had nothing to do with choosing the cake or venue or church.
She was sacrificing her heart. For her son. She could accept that. There was one thing she was trying not to think about.
A marriage in name only would inevitably mean that Cesare would take lovers on the side.
What else could it mean—that Cesare would do as she planned to do, and go without sex for the rest of her life? No. For a red-blooded man like him, that would be impossible.
She was trying not to think about it. Trying and failing.
Emma leaned heavily back against her own bedroom door, closing it behind her. She didn’t want to be jealous. She didn’t want to be afraid.
But the day they’d returned to Kensington, Emma had fired the housekeeper. Miss Maddie Allen was an attractive young blonde, and Emma had instantly felt she hadn’t wanted her within a million miles of Cesare. He’d said he was glad to see her go, that she was the worst housekeeper imaginable and had regularly left iron marks on his shirts. But Emma had given her a year’s salary as severance, out of guilt for the real reason she’d fired the beautiful Miss Allen—out of pure, raw fear.
She didn’t want to feel this way. With a sigh, Emma walked across her bedroom. A garment bag from a designer shop on Sloane Street was laid carefully upon her bed. Zipping open the bag, she looked down at the gown she would wear tonight at their official engagement party.
For a moment, she just stood there looking at it. Then she reached out and stroked the slinky silver fabric. Pulling off her clothes, she put on a black lace bra and panties and black garter she’d gotten from a French lingerie shop. She didn’t dare look at herself in the full-length mirror as she put them on, for fear she’d lose her nerve.
Tonight, she would be introduced to Cesare’s friends, and London society in general, not as his housekeeper, but as his future wife, and the mother of his child. She didn’t want to embarrass him.
And if, by some miracle, he thought she looked pretty, maybe their marriage could become real. Maybe he’d take her in his bed, and she’d never have to feel insecure again....