The Consequences of That Night

By: Jennie Lucas



Her skin was cold to the touch. She pulled away. Her beautiful face looked more than forlorn now—she looked frozen.

He sucked in his breath. He searched her face. “You’re still going to leave, aren’t you,” he breathed. “You’re still going to throw everything away for dreams of love, marriage and children. For a delusion. I can’t believe you’d be such a...”

Emma’s eyes were stony. She looked as if her soul had been shattered.

“...fool?” she finished.

He gave a single stiff nod.

She shook her head, wiping her eyes. “You’re right. I have been a fool. A stupid romantic fool who believed a man like you could ever change.”

Kneeling down, she gathered all the piles of money off the floor and dumped it into her suitcase. Picking up the platinum watch, she tossed it inside, then closed the suitcase with a bang. She looked down.

“Thank you for your offer,” she said in a low voice. “I’m sure some other woman will take you up on it.” She looked up, her eyes luminous with tears. “But I’m going to have a baby, and a home. And a man who loves us both.”

Her words, spoken with such finality, hit him like a blow. He’d just offered Emma more than he’d offered any woman in ten years. And this was his reward for letting himself be vulnerable. Though he stood in front of Emma right now in flesh and blood, she was still rejecting him for some ridiculous fantasy of love and a child.

Something Cesare hadn’t felt in a long, long time—something he’d thought he would never feel again—sliced through his heart.

Hurt.

His arms dropped. He stepped back.

“Bene,” he said stiffly. “Go.”

She pulled on jeans and a T-shirt. She picked up a few errant fifty-dollar banknotes off the floor and tucked them securely in her pocket, then lifted her chin. “Don’t worry. I won’t bother you again. I’ll leave you alone to live the life you want. I give you my word.” She held out her hand as if they were strangers. “Goodbye, Cesare.”

His lips tightened, but he shook her hand.

“Arrivederci, Signorina Hayes. I hope you find what you’re looking for.”

Her green eyes shimmered, and she turned away without a word. Gathering her suitcase, her coat and her bag, Emma left the tidy bedroom. Cesare listened to her suitcase thump, thump, thump down his stairs. He listened to the front door open—and then latch closed.

She’d really gone. He couldn’t believe it.

Going to the window, he looked down and watched her walk away, down the sidewalk toward Kensington High Street, in the drizzling rain of London’s gray morning. He watched her small, forlorn figure with an old suitcase and a beige mackintosh, and felt a strange twist in his chest.

It’s better this way, he told himself fiercely. Better for her to go, before the small hole in his heart had a chance to grow any larger. He watched her get smaller and smaller.

“Go,” Cesare said aloud in the empty room. “You mean nothing to me.”

But still, his hands tightened at his sides. She’ll be back, he thought suddenly. No woman he wanted had ever been able to resist for long. And the sex had been too good between them. Emma wouldn’t be able to stay away.

She’d soon be back, begging to negotiate the terms of her surrender. He exhaled, his shoulders relaxing. He allowed himself a smile. She’d be back. He knew it.

Within the week, if not the day.





                      CHAPTER FOUR

Ten months later

CESARE LOOKED OUT the window as his driver pulled the Rolls-Royce smoothly through the traffic of the Quai Branly, past the Pont de l’Alma. The September sun was sparkling like diamonds on the Seine.

Paris was not Cesare’s favorite city. Yes, the city was justly famous for its beauty, but it was also aloof and proud. Like a coquette. Like a cold, distant star. Like his late wife, Angélique, who was born here—and took her lover here, a scant year after their marriage.

Sì. He had reason to dislike Paris. Since his wife’s death over a decade before, he’d avoided the city. But now he was building a Falconeri Hotel here, upon the demand of his shareholders.

But Paris had changed since his last visit, he realized. The city felt...different.

Cesare looked up at the elegant classical architecture of cream-colored buildings. Through the vivid yellows and reds of the trees, the golden sun was bright in the blue sky. The city had a new warmth and charm he’d never felt before.

Because we finished the business deal, he told himself. After months of mind-numbing negotiations, his team had finally completed the purchase of an old, family-run hotel on the Avenue Montaigne, which—after it was exhaustively remodeled—would become the first Falconeri Hotel in France. I’m just pleased about the deal.

But he shifted in his leather seat. Even he didn’t buy that.

Closing his eyes, he felt the sun on his skin. Against his will, he thought of her, and his body flashed with heat that had nothing to do with sunlight.

Emma lived in Paris.

You don’t know that, he told himself fiercely. It had been almost a year since she’d left him in London that dreary November morning. For all he knew, she’d moved on to another job, another city. For all he knew, she’d changed her mind and never taken a job in Paris at all. For all he knew, she’d found another lover, a man who would love and marry her and be willing to have a child with her, just as she’d wanted.

For all he knew, she was already his wife. Pregnant with his child.

Cesare’s hands tightened involuntarily.

For ten months, he’d made a point of not knowing where Emma was or whom she was with. He’d told himself he didn’t care. At first, he’d been sure she’d soon return. It had taken him months to finally accept she wasn’t coming back. Cesare knew she’d wanted him, as he wanted her. He’d been surprised to discover she’d wanted her dreams even more.

He’d been furious, hurt; and yet he’d respected her the more for it. She was the one who’d gotten away. The one he couldn’t have. But she’d made the right choice. They wanted different things in life. Emma wanted a love, a home, a husband and a family of her own.

Cesare wanted—

What was it he wanted?

He tapped his fingers on the leather armrest as he stared out at the sparkling river. More, he supposed. More money. More hotels. More success for his company. More, more, more of the same, same, same.

His PR firm would soon announce how absolutely ecstatic the Falconeri Group was to finally have a hotel in this spectacular French city. His lips twisted. Well, Cesare would be ecstatic to leave it. This magical city seemed to have a strange power to steal any woman he actually tried to keep for longer than a night.

He wondered suddenly if Emma’s dreams had been haunted, as his had been. Or if all she felt for him now was indifference. If she’d forgotten him entirely. If he alone was cursed with the inability to forget.

His driver stopped at a red light. Resentfully Cesare watched smiling tourists cross the street, walking from the popular bateaux of the Seine to the nearby Eiffel Tower. He still saw Emma in his dreams at night. Still felt her breath against his skin. Still heard her voice. Even by the light of day—hell, even now—his feverish imagination...

Cesare’s eyes widened as he saw a woman crossing the street. She passed by quickly, before he could see her face. But he saw the black, glossy hair tumbling down her shoulders, saw the way her hips swayed and the luscious curve of her petite frame as she walked away from him. No. It couldn’t be her. This woman was pushing a baby stroller. No, he was imagining things. Paris was a city of over two million people. There was no way that...

Cesare gripped the headrest of the seat in front of him.

“Stop the car,” he said softly.

The chauffeur frowned, looking at Cesare in the rearview mirror. “Monsieur?” he said, sounding puzzled. When the light turned green, he drove the Rolls-Royce forward with traffic.

Cesare watched the woman continue walking away. It couldn’t be Emma for a million reasons, the most obvious being the stroller.

Unless she’d really meant what she said about finding a man who would give her a child, and she’d done it in a hurry.

I’m going to have a baby. And a home. And a man who loves us both.

Watching her disappear down the street, he remembered the cold, gray morning last November, when he’d watched Emma walk down Hornton Street. He’d been so sure she’d come back. She never had. Not a message. Not a word.

He watched this woman go, with one last sway of her hips, one last shimmering beam of sunlight on her long, glossy black hair, before she turned toward the Champ de Mars. Disappearing...again...

Cesare twisted his head savagely toward the driver. “Damn you!” he exploded. “I said stop!”

Looking a little frightened, the driver immediately plunged through traffic to the side of the road. The Rolls-Royce hadn’t even completely stopped before Cesare opened the door and flung himself on the sidewalk, causing several pedestrians to scatter. People stared at Cesare like he was crazy.

He felt crazy. He turned his head right and left as he started to run, getting honked at angrily by a tour bus as he crossed the street.

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