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Emilio swallowed his coffee, grimacing at the taste. It had gone cold. Knotting his silk tie with one hand, he finished up the coffee and headed out of the door. A quick glance at his watch confirmed that with luck and good traffic he could make it to the airport to meet Rosanna's flight and still be at his desk by tena very late start for him, but being the boss did have certain privileges.
There were people who considered his life was one long privilege.
Some went further, like the actress he had been meant to escort to a premiere the previous night. She had called him selfishquite loudly.
Emilio had received the insult with a philosophical smile. Her good opinion meant nothing to him. They had not even slept together yet and he doubted now they would, even though she had rung back later, clearly regretting her outburst, to apologise.
Her efforts to ingratiate herself had left him as unmoved as her earlier tantrum. He actually thought she might have a pointmaybe he was selfish. The possibility did not unduly bother him. Was selfishness not the upside of being single and not in a serious relationship?
Upside? Were there any downsides to being in a position where one did not have to consider the wishes of other people? Emilio could not think of any.
In the past he had done his duty and pleased others, namely his father. That unquestioning compliance had resulted in a failed marriage entered into when he was too young, stupid and arrogant to believe he could fail at anything.
On paper his father had been right. He and Rosanna had been the perfect couple, they had a lot in common, they came from the same world, and, most importantly from his father's point of view, his bride had been good breeding stock from a family who could trace their bloodline back almost as far as his own family.
Emilio slid into the driving seat of his car, his lips twisting into a bitter smile of recollection as he fastened his seat belt.
Luis Rios had been incoherent with outrage when the marriage he had promoted had failed. He had used every threat and bullying tactic in his considerable arsenal and had become frustrated when he saw none made any impression on his son.
His fury had turned to scornful contempt when Emilio had introduced the topic of love, suggesting mildly that the absence of it might be a possible reason for the short life span of the doomed marriage.
The irony in his voice had sailedpredictablydirectly over his father's head.
'Love ?' his parent had snorted contemptuously. 'Is that what this is about? Since when were you a romantic?'
The question had, Emilio conceded, been legitimate. It was true that his own attitude towards the hype around romantic love had always been at best condescending, at worst contemptuous.
He had continued to feel that way right up to the moment he had found out the hard way that love was not an invention of overactive imaginations, that it was possible to look at a woman and know with every fibre of your being that she was meant to be yours.
The instant was indelibly seared into Emilio's memory, every individual detail of her breathless late arrival midway through the boring dinner carrying the scent of the warm summer night into the stuffy room with her.
His heart had literally stopped, which was crazy when you considered how many times he had seen her walk into a room previously, but in that moment it had been as if he were seeing her for the first time.
Wary of sliding into self-pitying mode, jaw clenched, Emilio pushed away the image of her face allowing the far less pleasing image of his father's face to fill the space it left. He no longer attempted to fill the empty space in his heart; he lived with it.
You didn't lose her, he reminded himself. She was never yours. Because the fact was it was all about timing and his had stunk.
He crunched the gears, wincing at the sound as he heard his father say, 'If you want love, take a mistress. Take several.' His father had sounded astonished that such an obvious solution had not occurred to his son.
Emilio could still remember looking at the man who had fathered him and feeling not even filial dutythere had never been affectionbut coruscating revulsion that burnt through his veins like acid.
The idea of putting anyone through the humiliation his father had inflicted on his mother had filled Emilio with deep repugnance. Emilio might have entered into a marriage of convenience, but he had always intended to be faithful.
'Like you did, Papa?' It had been a tremendous struggle
to keep his voice level, but he had not struggled to disguise the anger and disgust he felt.
The older man had been the first to look away, but during that long moment their eyes had met a profound change had taken place in the relationship between father and son.
Luis Rios had never attempted to carry through with any of his threats to disown him, but Emilio would not have cared if he had. Part of him would have relished the challenge of building a life away from the financial empire his great-grandfather had begun and each successive generation had built upon.
It had been shortly after this event that his father had stopped taking any active part in the business, retiring to the stud where he bred racehorses, leaving Emilio free to put in place wide-ranging changes with no opposition. Changes that meant the global financial downturn had left the Rios brand virtually untouched and the envy of many rivals. People had begun to speak enviously of the Rios luck.
That luck appeared to be working in his favour as he drove into what appeared to be the only vacant parking space a full ten minutes before his ex-wife's flight was due in.
Emilio walked towards the terminal building feeling glad as he passed by a group of vociferous placard-carrying air-traffic controllers that he was not here to catch a flight. The building was filled with anxious and, to varying degrees, angry people who clearly were.
He spared a sympathetic thought for them before his thoughts turned to the reason for his presence. He sighed, wishing he shared Philip's apparent belief that one word from him would somehow magically remove any obstacle in his friend's path to romantic fulfillment. Still, some of the things his friend had said had made it seem that there were things that had been left unsaid.
Emilio had not seen Philip Armstrong for almost a year, so it had been a surprise to see his old friend walk into his office yesterday.
Emilio gave a sardonic smileit had not been the last!
He chose a vantage point where he would see Rosanna and allowed his thoughts to drift back over yesterday's extraordinary conversation.
'There is a problem.'
It was not a question. A person did not have to be an expert at reading body language to see that there was something wrong in Philip's world.
'I've never been happier.'
The gloomy reply made Emilio's lips twitch. 'It does not show.'
'I've fallen in love, Emilio.' If anything, the Englishman's gloom seemed even more pronounced as he explained the source of his great joy.
Missing the sardonic inflection, Philip produced a dour 'Thanks.' Adding, 'Oh, I don't expect you to believe it. I've often wondered, you know ?'
'What have you wondered?' Emilio asked, mystified but not inclined to take umbrage from the underlying antagonism that had crept into the other man's manner.
'Why did you ever get married?' he said bitterly. 'It's not as if you were'
'In love?' Emilio suggested without heat. 'No, I was not. I am presuming you did not come here to discuss my marriage.'
'Actually, I did, sort of,' Philip Armstrong conceded. 'The thing is, Emilio.'
Emilio repressed his impatience.
'The thing is, I want to get married,' the Englishman revealed in a rush.
'That is surely good news?'
'I want to marry your wife.'
Emilio was famed for his powers of analytical deduction, but he had not seen this one coming!
'You're shocked. I knew you would be,' his old school friend announced with darkly pessimistic gloom.
'I am surprised,' Emilio corrected honestly. 'But if I was shocked, would it matter? Rosanna has not been my wife for quite some time. You do not require my blessing or my permission.'
'I know, but the thing is I think she feels guilty about finding happiness.'
'I think you are imagining things,' Emilio said, wondering if he ought not at some level to feel a little jealous.
He didn't. He was still fond of Rosanna, but then that had been the problem: he had been fond of Rosanna just as she had been fond of him. It was one of the many things they had in common, and they had both agreed that mutual respect and common interests were a much stronger foundation for a successful marriage than anything as transitory as romantic love.
Madre di Dios, he really had been that stupid!
The marriage had, of course, been doomed, but Emilio had been spared the painful task of telling Rosanna that there was 'someone else'. He hadn't needed to agonise over it, she had taken one look at him and known.
Women's intuition, or had he been that obvious?
What he had not been spared was the overriding sense of guiltirrational, some might have said, considering his wife had been already unfaithful to himthat and the nasty taste that came with failure in any form.
It had been drummed into Emilio in his cradle that an integral part of being a Rios was not contemplating failure. It was a lesson he had learnt well. Divorce was not just failure, it was public failure, and that had been tougher to take than his wife's confession she had slept with someone else months after they had exchanged vows.
Emilio had been a lot more tolerant of her weakness than he had his own, and in his eyes the fact he had not been physically unfaithful did not make him any less culpable.
Before issuing the public statement on the divorce they had told their respective families, to prepare them. His father's reaction had been predictable and Emilio had been able to view his final ranting condemnation with an air of detached distaste that had clearly incensed his parent further.
What had been far less predictable was the viciously hostile response of Rosanna's familythat had been a genuine shock to him, but not, quite clearly, to her.
It had come out during the heated exchange that unbeknown to him his father had agreed to pay the blue-blooded but broke Carreras family a large sum of money on the marriage and another equally large sum when the first offspring of that union was born.
Under the impression that her attitude had been similar to his own when they had married, he could now see that his bride's motivation had been less to do with pragmatism and more to do with coercion and parental pressure.
It certainly explained Rosanna's initial refusal of a divorce when he had floated it. At the time he had been mystified, but now he realised that she was more afraid of being disowned by her money-grabbing family than living a lie.
It was the reason that, though supporting the official line of mutual decision, amicable divorce, blah blah, Emilio had not made any effort to deny the rumours that had hinted heavily that his infidelity had caused the rift.
It was not totally a lie and it made things easier on Rosanna, as did the sum he paid the Carreras family out of his own funds.
The media, having created the story, had waited, headlines at the ready, confidently anticipating a lover or lovers to surface once they realised their sordid stories were lucrative. Of course none had because the person he had left his wife for remained oblivious to her role in these events.
Any woman seen with him immediately after the divorce would run the risk of being labelled the other woman, but patience in the circumstances was, he had reasoned, if not a virtue, certainly a necessity if he wanted to protect the reputation of the woman he had fallen for.
So he had waited a decent interval, or almostthere were limits to his patiencebefore he made any move: six months for the divorce to be finalised and six months for the dust to settle. The only minor problem he'd anticipated that day had been his inexperience at courtship; Emilio knew about seduction but he had never wooed a woman.
The dark irony of it almost drew a laugh from him almost. It was hard to smile at anything related to the day he had had his heart broken and his pride crushed simultaneously.
In hindsight he was now able to appreciate that the injury to his pride had caused the most damage. He was embarrassed that for a short time he had done the predictable bitter and railing-at-fate thing, but he had reined in those emotions, walled them securely upa man had to put a time limit on such self-indulgencesand got on with his life.
There had been a certain dark irony in Philip's comment of, 'If you could fall in love with someone, I'm sure Rosanna could move on.'
'With anyone in particular?'
'God, no, anyone would do.' Emilio's laughter brought his attention back to his friend's face. 'Sorry,' he said with a self-conscious grimace. 'I've had a sense of humour bypass. It's just I know we could be happy, but Rosanna I think she won't be able to move on until you're with someone.'
'I have hardly spent the last two years living the existence of a monk.'
'I know that and I'm sure most men would envy you,' Philip admitted. 'I did. The thing is, Rosanna thinks that underneath you're not really that shallow, not that I think you're shallow.'
'I'm relieved,' Emilio responded gravely. 'So you are asking me to fall in love to make your love life easier. I'm sorry, Philip. I would do a lot for you but'
'I know. I don't know what I expected. The thing is I'm pretty desperate.' The driven expression shining in his blue eyes was a reflection of that desperation. 'I'd do anything for Rosannacut my hair, for starters.'
The comment drew a laugh from Emilio. 'I am impressed.'
'I'm serious. It's time to settle down. No more wandering the world for me. I'm going to get respectable. If Rosanna wants me to, I'd even go and work for Dad, become a suit, swallow the silver spoon and be the son he always wanted me to be.'
'Would the opportunity arise?'