Instead of answering, he stood vibrating with some inner conflict.
‘So, why are you here?’ she prompted, wanting him to say something, anything.
He shook his head, his face a rigid mask. ‘You’ve got a nerve.’
Lisa stiffened defensively. ‘What are you talking about?’
‘Do you really think you can use me?’
‘Use you?’ All Lisa’s thoughts on staying calm evaporated. ‘And just how am I supposed to have used you?’
‘I think you know. What was I to you, Lisa—some sort of device to excise your ghosts?’
‘My ghosts?’ She stared at him.
He stared back at her unflinching.
‘Or is there something else? Don’t tell me—’ she held up her hand ‘—I forgot to sign something.’ She stared accusingly at his jacket pocket. ‘Well? What are you waiting for? We might as well get this over with.’
His expression turned glacial. ‘Is that what you think of me?’
‘I think I understand you pretty well, yes.’
‘Understand me? You understand nothing about me.’
He couldn’t believe this was happening. He couldn’t believe she could arouse such feeling in him. They were eyeing each other like gladiators in the coliseum. There was so much passion in the room he could feel it swirling around them.
It was the last thing he had wanted, the last thing he had anticipated; emotion was his bête noire, something he avoided at all cost because he didn’t understand it. He didn’t have a strategy to deal with it. And he didn’t want to understand it—something so unpredictable, so unquantifiable?
He turned away feeling frustration building inside him again. He couldn’t find the words to express his feelings— and all he could be sure about was that coming to see Lisa was the worst mistake he had ever made.
‘I don’t know why you came here,’ she threw at him.
How could he tell her when he hardly knew himself?
‘I think it’s better if you go now and never come back.’
Did she have someone else? The thought speared through him as she spoke. ‘Is there someone else?’ Was this jealousy?
‘What?’ She stared at him incredulously.
‘Don’t hold back on my account, Lisa. If you’ve got someone else here in England, just tell me.’ His voice sounded hoarse. The cost of exposing his innermost thoughts to her was terrible—far worse than he had expected.
‘Someone else?’ As they stared at each other Lisa saw the expression in Tino’s eyes change. This was not the formidable business opponent she knew, or even the confident man. Those eyes were the eyes of the child who had been locked in a nightmare, the child who had cried out to her in the night. For just those few seconds it was as if all the barricades Tino had raised against the world and against her had disappeared, but he built them up again so fast, she was left wondering if she had imagined it.
He was just as damaged on the inside as she was. He would always wonder if he was capable of feeling anything beyond some fleeting triumph in business. She could only hope he wasn’t destined to remain as numb in his heart as she was. ‘There’s no one else, Tino,’ she said quietly. ‘There never can be anyone.’
‘So, your life will always be empty.’
‘It’s better that way. It would be irresponsible of me to involve anyone in my life, when I have nothing to offer them.’
‘You’re wrong, Lisa.’ Tino spoke from the heart as images of Stella and Arianna, as well as many others, crowded his mind. ‘You have had an empty life, I understand that. But it can get better, I promise you.’
‘You promise me, Tino? What do you promise me? That in time I can learn to care as much as you do?’
She used sarcasm like a shield, and he deserved her cynicism. ‘I admit that I’ve still got a long way to go, but at least I have started the journey—’ He stopped, self- conscious at showing such candour on a subject he was still building up faith in himself. ‘And it’s not that bad.’
Was this feeling currently tearing her apart Tino’s idea of ‘not that bad’? Lisa wondered, drawing a steadying breath. ‘Then, all I can say is, you’re very lucky, Tino… but I know that letting people in can never be for me.’