The Consequences of That Night

By: Jennie Lucas



He must have slept with her that night out of pity—nothing more!

“Well?”

“No.” Emma shook her head, hiding her tears. “No message.”

“Ta, then,” she said rudely. But as she started to close the door, there was a loud bang as Cesare came out of the bathroom.

Emma’s heart stopped in her chest as she saw him for the first time since he’d left her in his bed.

Cesare was nearly naked, wearing only a low-slung white towel around his hips, gripping another towel wrapped carelessly over his broad shoulders. His tanned, muscular chest was bare, his black hair still damp from the shower. He stopped, scowling at Olga.

“What are you—”

Then he saw Emma in the doorway, and his spine snapped straight. His darkly handsome face turned blank. “Miss Hayes.”

Miss Hayes? He was back to calling her that—when for the past five years they’d been on a first-name basis? Miss Hayes?

After so long of hiding her every emotion from him, purely out of self-preservation, something cracked in her heart. She looked from him, to Olga, to the mussed bed.

“Is this your way of showing me my place?” She shook her head tearfully. “What is wrong with you, Cesare?”

His dark eyes widened in shock.

Staggering back, horrified at what she’d said, and brokenhearted at what she’d not been able to say, she turned and fled.

“Miss Hayes,” she heard him call behind her, and then, “Emma!”

She kept going. Her throat throbbed with pain. She ran with all her heart, desperate to reach the safety of the elevator, where she could burst into tears in privacy. And start planning an immediate departure for Paris, where she’d never have to face him again—or remember her own foolish dreams.

A father for her baby. A snug home. A happy family. A man who’d love her back, who would protect her, who’d be faithful. A tear fell for each crushed dream. She wiped her eyes furiously. How could she have ever let herself get in this position—with Cesare, of all people? Why hadn’t she been more careful? Why?

Emma heard his low, rough curse behind her, and the hard thud of his bare feet. Before she reached the elevator, he grabbed her arm, whirling her around in the hall.

“What do you want, Miss Hayes?” he demanded.

“Miss Hayes?” she bit out, struggling to get free. “Are you kidding me with that? We’ve seen each other naked!”

He released her, clearly surprised by her sharp tone.

“That doesn’t explain what you’re doing here,” he said stiffly. “You’ve never sought me out like this before.”

No, and she never would again! “Sorry I interrupted your date.”

“It’s not a— I have no idea what Olga is doing in my room. She must have gotten a key and snuck in.”

Hot tears burned behind her eyes. “Right.”

“We broke up months ago.”

“Looks like you’re back together.”

“Not so far as I’m concerned.”

“Now, that I believe,” she choked out. “Because once you have sex, any relationship is pretty much over where you’re concerned, isn’t it?”

“We didn’t just have sex.” He set his jaw. “Have you ever known me to lie?”

That stopped her.

“No,” she whispered. Cesare never lied. He always made his position brutally clear. No commitment, no promises, no future.

Yet, somehow many women still managed to convince themselves otherwise. To believe they were special. Until they woke alone the morning after, to find Emma serving them breakfast with their going-away present, and ended up weeping in her arms.

“I really don’t care.” Emma ran an unsteady hand over her forehead. “It’s none of my business.”

“No. It’s not.”

She took a deep breath. “I just came to...to tell you something.”

The dim lighting of the elegant hotel hallway left hard shadows against Cesare’s cheekbones, the dark scruff of his jaw, and his muscular, tanned chest. His black eyes turned grim. “Don’t.”

Her lips parted on an intake of breath. “What?”

“Just don’t.”

“You don’t even know what I’m going to say.”

“I can guess. You’re going to tell me all about your feelings. You’ve always shared so little. I convinced myself you didn’t have any. That I was just a job to you.”

Emma almost laughed hysterically in his face. Oh, if only he knew. For years, she’d worked for him until her brain was numb and her fingers were about to fall off. Her first thought each morning when she woke—was him. Her last thought before she finally collapsed in bed each night—was him. What he needed. What he wanted. What he would need and want tomorrow. He’d always been more than a job to her.

“It kept things simple,” he said. “It’s why we got along so well. I liked you. Respected you. I’d started to think of us as—friends.”

Friends. Against her will, Emma’s gaze fell to the hard planes of his muscular, tanned chest laced with dark hair. Wearing only the low-slung white towel wrapped snugly around his hips, he was six feet three inches of powerful, hard-muscled masculinity, and he stood in the hallway of his hotel without the slightest self-consciousness, as arrogant as if he were wearing a tailored suit. A few people passed them in the hallway, openly staring. Emma swallowed. It would be hard for any woman to resist staring at Cesare. Even now she... God help her, even now...

“Now you’re going to ruin it.” His eyes became flinty. “You’re going to tell me that you care. You’ve rushed down here to explain you still can’t forget our night together. Even though we both swore it wouldn’t change anything, you’re going to tell me you’re desperately in love with me.” He scowled. “I thought you were special, but you’re going to prove you’re just like the rest.”

The reverberations of his cruel words echoed in the empty hallway, like a bullet ricocheting against the walls before it landed square and deep in her heart.

For a moment, Emma couldn’t breathe. Then she forced herself to meet his eyes.

“I would have to be stupid to love you,” she said in a low voice. “I know you too well. You’ll never love anyone, ever again.”

He blinked. “So you’re not—in love with me?”

He sounded so hopeful. She stared up at him, her heart pounding, tears burning behind her eyes. “I’d have to be the biggest idiot who ever lived.”

His dark gaze softened. “I don’t want to lose you, Emma. You’re irreplaceable.”

“I am?”

He gave a single nod. “You are the only one who knows how to properly make my bed. Who can maintain my home in perfect order. I need you.”

The bullet went a little deeper into her heart.

“Oh,” she whispered, and it was the sound someone makes when they’ve been punched in the belly. He wanted to keep her as his employee. She was irreplaceable in his life—as his employee.

Three months ago, when he’d taken her in his arms and kissed her passionately, her whole world had changed forever. But for Cesare, nothing had changed. He still expected her to be his invisible, replaceable servant who had no feelings and existed solely to serve his needs.

Tell me this won’t change anything between us, he’d said in the darkness that night.

I promise, she’d breathed.

But it was a promise she couldn’t keep. Not when she was pregnant with his baby. After so many years of keeping her feelings buried deep inside, she couldn’t do it anymore. Maybe it was the pregnancy hormones, or maybe the anguish of hope. But emotions were suddenly bleeding out of her that she couldn’t control. Grief and heartbreak and something new.

Anger.

“So that was why you ran away from me three months ago?” she said. “Because you were terrified that if I actually woke up in your arms, I’d fall desperately in love with you?”

Cesare looked irritated. “I didn’t exactly run away—”

“I woke up alone,” she said unsteadily. She ran her trembling hand back through the dark braids of her chignon. “You regretted sleeping with me.”

He set his jaw. “If I’d known you were a virgin...” He exhaled, looking down the gilded hallway with a flare of nostril before he turned back to her. “It never should have happened. But you knew the score. I stayed away these past months to give us both some space to get past it.”

“You mean, pretend it never happened.”

“There’s no reason to let a single reckless night ruin a solid arrangement.” He folded his arms over his bare chest, over the warm skin that she’d once stroked and felt sliding against her own naked body in the dark hush of night. “You are the best housekeeper I’ve ever had. I want to keep it that way. That night meant nothing to either of us. You were sad, and I was trying to comfort you. That’s all.”

It was the final straw.

“I see,” she bit out. “So I should just go back to folding your socks and keeping your home tidy, and if I remember the night you took my virginity at all, I should be grateful you were such a kind employer—comforting me in my hour of need. You are truly too good to me, Mr. Falconeri.”

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