Rival Attractions & Innocent Secretary(105)

By: Penny Jordan

‘I know that now,’ Luca said. ‘But I still wasn’t sure back then.’

‘Leo said you spoke with him.’ Mia sat on the edge of the bed, her eyes sparkling with tears. ‘I don’t understand, Luca. He said you understood your past, and wanted to ask him about it. I know it must have been a shock, that it must have caused you pain to hear the truth, but to end it with Emma! Why, Luca?’

‘Because Leo said it was in my blood, that I could not escape my genes. That the violent traits in my grandfather, my uncle, my father could not be denied. I said I felt nothing like them and he said he knew it was hard to accept, to face…’

A moan of horror escaped his mother’s lips…a sound of such pain that Luca started with concern. She had always been silent, even when being beaten, but she was moaning in pain now, a pain he didn’t understand, her eyes frantic and urgent and loaded with tears when they met her son’s. ‘To accept and face the truth that Leo is your real father…’

It was as if the sun had gone out. Everything suddenly went dark, as if the bed had been pulled from under him, as if the floor had just given way. Every rock, every foundation collapsed beneath him, yet he never moved, never moved a muscle, his mother’s voice seeming distorted from a distance as his mind frantically tried to process the words.

‘I thought you knew,’ Mia pleaded. ‘Leo thought that you knew, that you had finally guessed…’

As he looked back on their conversation with the knowledge the other man held, Luca closed his eyes. And as he did so, he felt the guilt, the shame, the fear truly unravel at last, and when he opened his eyes it was to a world that was brighter, safer. His only regret was that it was a world without Emma.

‘Devo sapere,’ Luca said. ‘Tell me.’ There was a flash of anger then. ‘Did he know, did Leo know how he was treating you?’

‘Never!’ Mia sobbed. ‘Only you, my son, only you know my pain. I was always promised for your father—our two families were friends. I knew I would marry him, but I did not like to think about it—sixteen seemed a long way off. Always I liked Leo—he was so clever, we all knew he was destined for better and sometimes, when he came home in the holidays, I felt his eyes on me. One time we kissed…’ She sighed and then visibly shook herself and continued her story.

‘I worked in the baker’s, my marriage was two weeks away. The village was celebrating because Leo had passed his exams and was going to study medicine in Roma; he would return a doctor. I was sad. My wedding was soon and your father had slapped me, he had pushed me, he had made me do things that shamed me…’

‘He is not my father,’ Luca corrected her, and how good those words felt!

‘Rico had hurt me.’ Mia nodded in acknowledgment. ‘We closed early one day and I was walking home and I met Leo. He was leaving the next day and he said he was sorry he would not be at my wedding…then he admitted he was not sorry. That it would hurt to see me marry another. We went to the river and I nearly told him…’

‘Why didn’t you?’ Luca asked.

‘How?’ Mia asked. ‘Leo was a good man, even as a teenager he was a good man, a man who cared for me. He would not have gone away to get his medical degree.’

‘He could have taken you with him.’

‘His family would have been shamed and would not have paid for his education. After all, I was another man’s bride-to-be, and this town would have never forgiven that. How, in one conversation, could I change his life when neither really knew how the other was feeling?

‘We kissed, and you were made that day, Luca. It was the best day of my life, and every night I fall asleep with that memory… Yes, in hindsight I should have told him, but we were young, and I loved him and wanted him to do well, to be happy. I would have brought him so much pain…’

‘Did my fa—?’ Luca stopped himself. ‘Did Rico know I was not his son?’

‘He never said, and sometimes I wondered if he had guessed, if that was why he was so angry with you, with me, but really he was angry with me and treated me badly before I was ever unfaithful to him.’

‘And Leo?’ Luca swallowed. ‘When did you tell him?’

‘I didn’t for a long time. He was a man when he returned, and I was married with two children. He was married later too. I was friends with his wife.’ The pain of her secret silenced her for a moment. ‘He ended up being friends with Rico as well. No one knew the man Rico was in private. It was one time, Luca, and a long time ago, not much to ruin so many lives. When Carmella, his wife, died, Leo came over one night. He was chatting to your father and going through albums, talking of his wife, and there was a photo of you there when you got your degree. I remember him looking up at me, his eyes asking me, and I looked away, red and blushing—and from that moment he knew. He must have seen something of himself as a young man in that photo of you.’