His Final Bargain(5)

By: Melanie Milburne


His eyes remained cold and hard, his mouth a grim flat line. ‘Widowed,’ he said. ‘I have a daughter. She’s three.’

Eliza mentally did the sums. He must have met his wife not long after she left Italy. For some reason that hurt much more than if his marriage had been a more recent thing. He had moved on with his life so quickly. No long, lonely months of pining for her, of not eating and not sleeping. No. He had forgotten all about her, while she had never forgotten him, not even for a day. But there had been nothing in the press about him marrying or even about his wife dying. Who was she? What had happened to her? Should she ask?

Eliza glanced at his left hand. ‘You’re not wearing a wedding ring.’

‘No.’

‘What…urn—happened?’

His eyes continued to brutalise hers with their dark brooding intensity. ‘To my wife?’

Eliza nodded. She felt sick with anguish hearing him say those words. My wife. Those words had been meant for her, not someone else. She couldn’t bear to think of him with someone else, making love with someone else, loving someone else. She had taught herself not to think about it. It was too painful to imagine the life she might have had with him if things had been different.

If she had been free…

‘Giulia killed herself.’ He said the words without any trace of emotion. He might have been reading the evening news, so indifferent was his tone. And yet something about his expression—that flicker of pain that came and went in his eyes—hinted that his wife’s death had been a shattering blow to him.

‘I’m very sorry,’ Eliza said. ‘How devastating that must have been…must still be…’

‘It has been very difficult for my daughter,’ he said. ‘She doesn’t understand why her mother is no longer around.’

Eliza understood all too well the utter despair little children felt when a parent died or deserted them. She had been just seven years old when her mother had left her with distant relatives to go on a drugs and drinking binge that had ended in her death. But it had been months and months before her great-aunt had told her that her mother wasn’t coming back to collect her. She hadn’t even been taken to the graveside to say a proper goodbye. ‘Have you explained to your daughter that her mother has passed away?’ she asked.

‘Alessandra is only three years old.’

‘That doesn’t mean she won’t be able to understand what’s happened,’ she said. ‘It’s important to be truthful with her, not harshly or insensitively, but compassionately. Little children understand much more than we give them credit for.’

He moved to the other side of the room, standing with his back to her as he looked at the street outside. It seemed a long time before he spoke. ‘Alessandra is not like other little children.’

Eliza moistened her parchment-dry lips. ‘Look—I’m not sure if I’m the right person to help you. I work full-time as a primary school teacher. I have commitments and responsibilities to see to. I can’t just up and leave the country for four weeks.’

He turned back around and pinned her with his gaze. ‘Without my help you won’t even have a job. Your school is about to be shut down.’

She frowned at him. ‘How do you know that? How can you possibly know that? There’s been nothing in the press so far.’

‘I have my contacts.’

He had definitely done his research, Eliza thought. Who had he been talking to? She knew he was a powerful man, but it made her uneasy to think he had found out so much about her situation. What else had he found out?

‘The summer holidays begin this weekend,’ he said. ‘You have six weeks to do what you like.’

‘I’ve made other plans for the holidays. I don’t want to change them at the last minute.’

He hooked one dark brow upwards. ‘Not even for half a million pounds?’

Eliza pictured the money, great big piles of it. More money than she had ever seen. Money that would give her little primary school children the educational boost they so desperately needed to get out of the cycle of poverty they had been born into. But a month was a long time to spend with a man who was little more than a stranger to her now. What did he want from her? What would he want her to do? Was this some sort of payback or revenge attempt? How could she know what was behind his offer? He said he wanted a nanny, but what if he wanted more?

What if he wanted her?

‘Why me?’

His inscrutable eyes gave nothing away. ‘You have the qualifications I require for the post.’