And then there was the other reason he would not submit to a paternity test. The real, gut-wrenching reason that made his palms start to sweat and his blood run cold. He simply could not bear to think of it—he could not face having his inability to father a child thrust in his face again.
‘Why not?’ Lily demanded. ‘Why not have a paternity— test and put all this misery behind us?’
‘If I turned out to be the father, that does not prove your fidelity,’ Vito grated.
Only his ex-wife, Capricia, and her fertility expert, knew of his failure as a man. The memory of Capricia’s scornful face as she’d waved the doctors report under his nose was almost as painful as his infertility itself.
He would never admit his failure to anyone else—especially not to Lily.
‘But…’ Lily hesitated, looking up at his troubled face. There was something different in his expression, something she hadn’t seen before. But she couldn’t ponder it for too long. It had been hard enough to make this conversation happen, and it wasn’t over yet. She owed it to herself to keep trying to get through to Vito. And he owed it to her to give a proper explanation.
‘Where does that leave us?’ she continued. ‘If we don’t have trust—where can we go from here?’
‘This isn’t about us,’ Vito said coldly. ‘This is about saving your baby from a miserable life as an illegitimate— child.’
‘But you can’t deny me a paternity test then not even tell me why you don’t believe me,’ Lily insisted. ‘How can I defend myself if I don’t know what proof you think you have against me?’
‘What you’ve done is indefensible,’ Vito said, picking up his suit and shirt and striding towards the door. ‘I don’t have to give you any more information to weave your web of lies around.’
In a moment he was gone, and Lily was left alone, staring miserably after him. The last two days had been an overwhelming series of shocks, and now she realised she was shaking with reaction to it all.
She sat down on the chair, feeling her hand settle on something soft and warm. Without thinking she picked it up. It was Vito’s black cashmere sweater. She lifted it automatically to her face, pressing the luxurious woollen fabric to her skin, and breathed in deeply, inhaling Vito’s aroma.
Tears suddenly sprung to her eyes as she remembered the last time she had been enfolded in his embrace while he’d been wearing that sweater. She’d come inside from the foggy city, holding a joyful secret inside her. She’d felt so safe and so secure in his arms—thinking that he cared about her and would protect her from anything.
But it had all been an empty illusion. Five minutes later he had turned on her. And from then on her life had been sucked into a whirlpool of misery, getting increasingly— out of her control. And this last argument had been the worst, with Vito not even giving her the information— she needed to defend herself.
But she’d had enough. She wouldn’t put up with it any more. She might not be able to fight Vito over his accusation of infidelity. But there was some control she could take. She wasn’t going to keep looking back at the special relationship she’d mistakenly believed she’d had with Vito. From now on she was going to concentrate on her future and make the best out of her new life.
She looked down at the black sweater which she was still holding on her lap. It was a harsh reminder of how much her life with Vito had changed—a reminder she did not need.
She stood up decisively and carried the sweater across the room. She opened the window and tossed it out into the canal below.
‘WE’LL eat out tonight,’ Vito said. ‘To mark your return to Venice.’
‘That would be nice.’ Lily spoke mildly, determined not to let Vito see she was still shaken from their earlier argument.
It would be good to get out of the palazzo. It was less than twenty-four hours since Vito had brought her back to his home, and so far she’d been a bundle of nerves.
It wasn’t surprising that she felt on edge after what had happened, nevertheless she’d tried to take her own advice and stop dwelling on it. She’d spent the afternoon pointlessly trying to lose herself in a good book, but even a favourite pastime like reading hadn’t distracted her from all the unsettling thoughts that were whirling round persistently inside her head.
‘We’ll go to Luigi’s,’ Vito said.
‘Oh…I…’ Lily drew an anxious breath and stared up at Vito, quickly trying to think of an excuse not to go to Luigi’s. After what had happened on Lily’s last night in Venice, bringingVito and Luigi into contact could be risky.
The restaurant had always been one of their favourite— places to eat. It was within easy walking distance of the palazzo, served some of the best dishes in Venice, and it had a wonderful ambiance. Luigi, the proprietor, was— a true character with an expansive personality and a generous nature.
The night Vito had thrown Lily out, Luigi’s kindness had been an absolute godsend for her. Trapped in a fogbound city, with every hotel she’d tried full and every mode of transport closed to her, Luigi had literally saved the day. He’d arranged for her to stay in his mother’s guest room—no questions asked—and then he’d seen her safely to the airport himself the following morning.
‘Not Luigi’s?’ Vito asked, a vertical crease forming between his brows as he studied her. ‘Why not?’
‘It’s up to you, if you’re set on going there.’ Lily stumbled for words. She’d done nothing wrong, but Vito was a proud Venetian man, and she knew instinctively that he would not appreciate the fact that she’d accepted help from another man. ‘But I’d really love to go out to that place on Burano. I’ve got a craving for fish.’
‘Very well.’ Turning to leave, Vito suddenly stopped and pinned her with his piercing blue gaze. ‘This meal is a celebration,’ he said. ‘Wear something suitable for such an occasion.’
Lily stared at his retreating back in irritation, wondering— if he’d deliberately meant to provoke her by being so autocratic. It was hard to get used to the way he was treating her now. He’d always been a dominant force, but he’d never blatantly ordered her about before.
She stood up and walked across the room to look out of the tall, arched window. Sleek black gondolas loaded with tourists glided past on the jade-green canal below. She watched the languid ripples glimmering on the surface of the water, thinking about how her life had changed.
She wasn’t a tourist any more. She wasn’t even a visitor.
She was in Venice to stay.
She pulled her thoughts together and headed upstairs to dress for dinner. She’d show Vito that she understood the rules of the game. He wouldn’t need to waste his time approving her choice of wardrobe—her instincts for self-preservation wouldn’t allow her to put herself through that humiliation again.
She’d accepted that Vito was utterly serious in his intention to marry her, and although the circumstances were not what she would have chosen she was determined to make the best of the situation.
She owed it to herself not to let the virile, masculine power of his personality completely overshadow her. She must take on the responsibility of creating a life for herself in Venice, and to prepare a place in this family for her unborn child.
And she knew that the best route forward was to stop fighting against Vito, to find a way to work within his rules. The way to stand up for herself was to be proactive. It would be better to try to influence how things happened in the first place, rather than battle with Vito after the event.
A little while later they were zipping across the lagoon towards the island of Burano.
‘I’ve missed being out on the water,’ Lily said, glancing at Vito. The golden evening light gilded his jet-black hair and cast a warm glow over his face, but his features were set in a shuttered expression. There was no way of knowing what he was thinking. ‘It was one of my favourite things about living here, even though it was winter.’
‘You never did seem to feel the cold,’ Vito said shortly. Then, despite the fact it should have been obvious she was trying to start a conversation, he fell silent again, his expression still closed to her.
With a small sigh, Lily turned to look at the view, determined to enjoy the rest of the boat trip. The low angle of the sun across the water was creating a beautiful effect—dark indigo waves rippled against goldenorange ribbons of reflected sunlight. It was true that she’d always loved being out on the lagoon, and she wasn’t going to let Vito’s brooding silence mar her pleasure in the amazing view.
Before long they were approaching the picturesque island. With its gaily painted houses and simple style, it seemed a million miles away from Venice. There were no hotels on the island, and as the evening drew in the tourists disappeared back to the city. The local artisans packed away their handmade lace and other crafts, and fishermen and their families came outside to enjoy an evening stroll.
The driver brought the boat to a standstill on one side of the harbour, then jumped out athletically to tie the craft up. Vito disembarked first, turning to offer Lily support as she climbed out of the swaying boat onto the quayside.