The Consequences of That Night

By: Jennie Lucas



He’d told himself Emma had no feelings for him, that their night together had been just an escape from grief. It meant nothing. He’d told himself that again and again. Told himself that if Emma tried to call it love, he’d break in a new housekeeper—even if that meant replacing her with someone who’d have the audacity to expect tea breaks and four weeks off every August.

But he’d never expected that Emma herself would just walk away.

Cesare looked out into the deepening autumn night. She’d done him a favor, really. She couldn’t be his friend and his lover and know all his household secrets. It was too much. It left him too—vulnerable.

You are truly too good to me, Mr. Falconeri.

Cesare rubbed the back of his neck. He didn’t deserve that. He had been a good employer to Emma. Hadn’t he done everything a boss could do—paying her well, respecting her opinion, giving her independence to run his home? For the past few years, as they’d grown closer, he’d resisted an inconvenient desire for her. He wasn’t used to ignoring temptation, but he’d done it, at least until three months ago. And as for what had happened that night...virgin or no—the way she’d licked her full pink lips and looked up at him with those heartbreaking eyes, how could he resist that? Christo santo, he was only a man.

But for that momentary weakness, she was now punishing him. Abandoning him without so much as a by-your-leave.

Fine. He growled under his breath. Let her quit. He didn’t give a damn. His hands tightened. He didn’t.

Except...

He did.

Cursing himself, he started for the door.

* * *

Emma wearily climbed out of the Tube station at Kensington High Street. Making her way through crowds of early evening commuters, she wiped rain from her cheek. It had to be rain. She couldn’t be crying over Cesare.

So he’d never given her a chance to tell him he was going to be a father. So she’d found him in a hotel room with his ex-girlfriend, the lingerie model. So Emma was now all alone, with a baby to raise and nothing to help her but the memory of broken dreams.

She was going to be fine.

She exhaled, shifting her aching shoulders. She’d phone Alain Bouchard and accept that job in Paris. He’d give her decent hours, along with a good paycheck. She needed to be more sensible, now that she’d soon be a single mother.

Passing a shop selling Cornish pasties, she breathed in the smell of beef and vegetables in a flaky crust, vividly reminding her of her father’s barbecues in Texas when she was a child. Going to the counter, she impulsively bought one. Taking the beef pasty out of the bag, she ate it as commuters rushed past her. Tears fell down her cheeks as she closed her eyes, savoring every bite. She could almost hear her father’s voice.

Let me tell you what I know, kiddo. You’re going to make it. You’re stronger than you think. You’re going to be fine.

It did make her feel a little better. Tossing the bag into the trash, she looked out at Kensington High Street. The lights of the shops glimmered as car lights streaked by in the rain.

She barely remembered her mother, who’d died when she was four, but her dad had always been there. Teaching her to fish, telling her stories, helping with homework. When Emma had gotten ill as a teenager, he’d been by her side every day, even as he pulled extra overnight shifts at the factory to fight the drowning tide of medical bills.

Her throat ached. That was the kind of father her unborn baby deserved. Not a man like Cesare, who’d loved once, and lost, in a terrible tragedy, and was now unable to love anyone but himself.

Maybe it was for the best he would never know he was a father. She could just imagine how Cesare’s careless lack of commitment would affect a child.

Why didn’t Daddy come for my birthday, Mommy? Why doesn’t he ever come see me? Doesn’t he love me?

Emma’s eyes narrowed. No more romantic illusions. No more false hopes. She’d never give Cesare the chance to break their child’s heart, as he’d already broken hers.

Pulling her raincoat tighter around her body, she gripped her handbag against her shoulder and went out into the drizzly night, walking down the street and past the town hall. Her footsteps echoed loudly past the expensive townhouses on Hornton Street, in counterpoint to the splatters of rain, until she finally reached Cesare’s grand three-story mansion.

It was a palace of white brick, which had cost, including renovations, twenty million pounds. For years, she’d buried herself in work here, waiting for her real life to begin. Trying to decide if she even deserved a real life.

You selfish girl. Her stepmother’s hoarse voice came back to her. It should have been you who died.

The memory still caused a spike of pain. She pushed the thought away. Marion was the one who’d ruined her father’s life. She’d made a bad choice. It wasn’t Emma’s fault.

Though it sometimes felt that way. She swallowed. If only her father were still alive. He always had known the right thing to do....

She walked past the gate. Her lips pursed as she remembered meeting Alain Bouchard for the first time six months ago, here in the front garden. He’d shown up drunk and wanting to start a fight with Cesare, his former brother-in-law, blaming him for his sister’s death. Fortunately Cesare was away, on a business trip to Berlin; Emma knew he’d never gotten over Angélique’s tragic accidental death ten years before.

Emma could have called the police. That was what the rest of the staff had wanted her to do. But looking at Alain’s grief-stricken face, she’d invited him into the house for tea instead, and let him talk himself out.

The next day, Alain Bouchard had sent her flowers and a handsome note of apology for his drunken ravings. That was the proper way of showing someone appreciation, Emma thought. Not by throwing expensive jewelry at them, bought in bulk, via a paid employee.

She stalked up the shadowy steps to the mansion, punched in the security code and entered. The foyer was dark, the house empty, gloomy as a tomb. None of the other staff lived in. When Cesare was gone, which was often, she was alone. She’d spent too long in this lonely tomb.

Well, no more. Throwing down her handbag, Emma ripped off her coat and ran up the stairs, taking them two at a time. She was going to pack and leave for France immediately. Before she’d even reached her bedroom at the end of the hall, she was pulling off her knit dress, the pretty dress that hit her curves just right, that she’d bought that very day in a foolish attempt to impress Cesare. Yanking it over her head, she tossed it to the hall floor. She’d wear comfortable clothes on the train, black trousers and a plain shirt. She’d be in Paris within three hours—

A small lamp turned on by her bed. Startled, she turned.

Cesare was sitting in her antique chair with blue cushions by the marble fireplace.

She gasped, instinctively covering her lace bra and panties. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“I live here.”

She straightened, and her expression hardened. “Oh, so you just remembered that, did you?”

His eyes were black in the dim light. “You left the hotel before we could discuss something important.”

“How did you—” she breathed, then cut herself off. He couldn’t possibly know about the baby. And she didn’t intend to let him know now.

Cesare rose to his feet, uncoiling his tall, powerful body from the chair. He looked down at her.

“I’ve decided not to accept your resignation,” he said in a low voice. “I want you here. With me.”

For a moment, they stared at each other in the shadows of her bedroom. She heard a low roll of thunder outside, the deepening patter of rain. Water dripped noisily from her hair onto the glossy hardwood floor.

Her arms dropped. She was no longer trying to cover her body. Why should she? He’d already seen everything. And she meant nothing to him. Never had. Never would.

“I don’t belong here,” she said. “I won’t stay.”

“Just because we slept together?” His eyes narrowed dangerously. “Do you really have to be such a cliché?”

“You’re the cliché, not me.”

“One stupid night—”

“No,” she cut him off. She looked at him, and said deliberately, “I’m in love with you, Cesare.”

Oh, that did it. She saw him flinch. He’d taken the words like a hit. Which was fine, because she’d meant it that way.

His black eyes glinted with fury as he grabbed her shoulders. “You don’t love me. It’s just because I was your first experience in bed. You haven’t learned the difference between sex and love.”

“But you have?”

Cesare didn’t answer. He didn’t have to. The whole world knew his tragic story: how he’d married young, and had been desperately in love with his wife, a beautiful French heiress, before she’d died just three years later. His heart had been buried with her.

She’d known this. And she’d still let herself hope...

Pulling away from him angrily, Emma went to her closet and reached up to the top shelf for the beat-up old suitcase that had once belonged to her father. Tossing it open on the floor, she turned back to her wardrobe to reach for her clothes.

He put his hand over hers, stilling her.

“Emma. Please.”

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