That was the last time she’d seen the coward. For a whole weekend, while her brother and grandfather had been in New York, she’d had to cope with a siege of paparazzi on her own. Those reporters had been there to witness Javier’s wife arrive at the villa and bang on the door until a guilt-stricken Alessandra had answered it, her fulsome apology ready on her tongue. She’d never had the chance to say the words. As soon as she’d opened the door, Javier’s wife had spat in her face, slapped her and called her a puttana—a whore. The press had caught every frame for posterity.
By the time her brother and grandfather had returned the damage had been done.
‘Why didn’t you ever put your side across?’ Christian asked. If he felt any pain in his fingers he didn’t show it, allowing her to continue squeezing tightly, as if he knew it to be an outward measure of the fury and pain recalling that awful time provoked.
‘I wasn’t allowed. Rocco and Nonno closed ranks.’ She attempted a laugh. ‘They were furious with me.’
‘Why? Your tutor took advantage of you. If they were furious with anyone, it should have been him.’
‘They were furious with him for taking advantage of me, but it didn’t change the fact that I’d been sneaking around with a man almost twice my age. They forbade me from speaking to the press, saying I’d caused enough shame on the family name.’ Even if she’d chosen to defy them, by the time she’d got over the shock that had rendered her virtually mute the press had moved on to its next victim. Alessandra Mondelli’s affair with a married man had been old news. No one had cared for her side.
Christian disentangled his fingers from her grip and muttered another curse as he got to his feet.
The place where he’d rested his hand against her neck suddenly felt cold.
She shivered and rose to her feet to stand before him. ‘If I leave with you today, my career will be ruined. No editor or fashion director will ever trust me again. It’s the only thing I’ve got to hold onto, the only thing that gives my life any meaning.’ How could she expect him to understand that? Her career was all her own. It had taken everything she had to get her name taken seriously and pull herself out from the cloud of scandal.
‘And what about our child? Or does he or she not come into it?’
‘Don’t twist it like that. When our baby is born everything is going to change—I know that, and I’m preparing myself for the change it will bring, but right now I’m healthy and capable of working.’
‘I’m not happy about this. You can’t take risks with your health.’
‘I don’t expect you to be happy about it, but ultimately the decision is mine, so please don’t patronise me about the health aspect—you were there when the doctor said I should live a normal life.’
He threw his hands in the air and shook his head, not bothering to hide his anger or frustration.
She continued speaking before he could open his mouth to argue any further. ‘I will hire a bodyguard for when I leave the apartment—I promise I will protect our baby.’
‘I will hire a bodyguard for you,’ he insisted, looking only slightly mollified. ‘And I want your word of honour that if at any time you feel in any kind of danger you will call me immediately.’
He appraised her with narrowed eyes for a moment longer before inclining his head. ‘Then I will have to trust you to keep to your word.’
She certainly deserved that.
* * *
Welcome to Athens.
No sooner had Alessandra stepped off Christian’s private jet than two bodyguards appeared from nowhere. They took her luggage and escorted her to the waiting car with its bullet-proof, blacked-out windows.
A week ago she would have thought this overkill. She’d thought her brother was a pain when it came to being over-protective. Rocco had always been protective of her. After Javier, he’d become even more controlling. Her grandfather had been even worse. He’d withdrawn her allowance and curtailed her freedom, which had always been limited, to the point of non-existence. She’d returned to her private all-girls school when the holidays had finished to find he’d given strict instructions not to let Alessandra leave the grounds under any circumstances. This had been particularly humiliating, it being her final year, the school year when more adult freedoms were permitted. But not for her. All trust between her and her grandfather had broken down irrevocably.