She reached for him automatically, but the instant their hands made contact a jolt of highly charged sensual energy ran through her. She snatched her hand away with a gasp, then stumbled awkwardly as the boat lurched with the movement of the water.
Vito’s fingers closed around her forearm, his grip strong and steadying, but he didn’t speak as she climbed out onto the quay.
‘Thank you.’ She tried to make her voice bright and breezy as they started walking towards the main street, but it sounded strained to her own ears. Why should simply taking his hand make her so sexually aware of him? Out of the blue her body was humming with desire for him—even though he hadn’t done or said anything much since they’d left home. ‘I should know better than to make sudden movements when I’m standing on the edge of a boat.’
She lifted her eyes to his face, and the way he was looking at her suddenly made her mouth run dry. She looked away skittishly, waiting a moment for him to speak, but it seemed he was continuing to maintain a charged silence.
‘For goodness’ sake!’ Lily stopped in her tracks and turned to stare up at him. ‘Stop giving me the silent treatment. You’re the one who wants us to keep up appearances.’
‘What do you want me to say?’ Vito asked, with an infuriating lift to one black eyebrow before he turned and continued walking towards the restaurant. ‘Should I reprimand you for acting foolishly at the water’s edge? Or would you like to talk about how the simple touch of my hand on yours sent shock waves of sexual desire burning through you?’
‘No it didn’t,’ Lily said indignantly, feeling hot colour flood to her cheeks as she hurried to keep pace beside him. The very mention of sexual desire was doing things to her that she’d rather deny, especially given Vito’s current rather arrogant and hostile mood. She was glad now that they were walking along and he wasn’t looking at her any more.
‘Of course it did. And, if something as simple as touching hands turns you on, whatever will happen at the restaurant when I take you in my arms and make a show of how happy we are together?’ His voice rumbled through her, setting her nerves alight.
His absolute confidence in his effect on her bothered her on more levels than she could say. Even thinking about the fact that he could turn her on was doing exactly that. She could feel her skin start to flush, and her heart rate had definitely speeded up.
‘Why can’t we have a proper conversation?’ Lily protested, trying to ignore the way she was feeling.
‘We could try,’ Vito said, as he held the door for her to walk into the restaurant. ‘But you might as well face up to it—not much else is going to hold your attention. We both know how this evening has to end.’
Mental pictures of Vito making love to her whirled through her mind, and she could feel her body buzzing with anticipation. Try as she might, it was impossible to ignore the images and the way they were making her feel.
Lily’s cheeks were scarlet as the maître d’ rushed over to them, fussing about how long it had been since their last visit, and showing them to the best table in the restaurant.
‘Your usual glass of prosecco to begin?’ he asked.
‘That would be perfect.’ Vito flashed Lily a lazy smile that sent a frisson skittering through her. ‘After all, this is an evening of celebration.’
‘I shouldn’t drink more than a few sips,’ she said. For some reason she shied away from mentioning her pregnancy.
‘What is it you English say?’ Vito asked, with a devilish glint in his eyes. ‘“A little of what you fancy does you good”?’
Lily’s face was glowing and she could feel herself actually trembling. She told herself it was just nerves magnifying her reaction to his provocation, and buried her head in the menu to avoid his piercing gaze.
If she was going to get through the evening unscathed,— she had to get herself in check. She forced herself to read the menu, concentrating very hard on all the options, to chase all other thoughts out of her mind.
She was feeling slightly more composed when the waiter came to tell them the special fish dishes available from the day’s catch, and she was pleased at the extra distraction. By the time they had both made their selections, she had more or less clamped down on her wayward reaction to Vito, although she knew her control was pretty tenuous. She’d have to work very hard to keep the conversation neutral.
‘We should discuss wedding arrangements.’ Vito suddenly spoke, taking her by surprise with his change of tack.
‘Of course,’ Lily replied, overwhelmingly relieved that he had apparently given up his campaign to make her feel uncomfortable. She picked up her prosecco glass and took a sip of the sparkling white wine that the Veneto region was famous for. The delicate bubbles fizzed pleasantly in her mouth, and for a moment she felt the tension start to drain out of her body.
‘It must be very soon,’ Vito continued. ‘And I think a relatively small family affair would be best. Is there anyone you wish to invite who would be able to come at short notice?’
‘I don’t know. I hadn’t really thought.’ Lily smoothed her hand over her long hair in sudden consternation. It was going to be strange enough going through with the wedding. And nothing had changed regarding her concerns— about keeping up appearances with her mother or best friends being there. ‘You know, I think it would be better to tell them afterwards. Maybe they can visit later.’
‘Ashamed of your fiancé?’ Vito asked. His tone was utterly neutral, and for a disconcerting moment Lily wondered if he was offended or being sardonic.
‘No.’ She looked him squarely in the eye. A couple of months ago she would have been so proud to call him that. ‘I’m just not sure I’ll be able to convince the people I love that this is real. I’m still getting used to it.’
‘All right,’ he said. ‘If you think it would be best, we’ll— keep it very small. Just my grandfather—if he’s well enough—and a couple of witnesses.’
He continued to hold her gaze for a long moment, his blue eyes looking smoky in the candlelight, and for a second Lily had a flash of how it used to be between them. She was glad he had accepted what she said without making more of it. She knew she had to make the marriage look normal—and she had very good reasons for going ahead with it. But it was still too soon to be confident that she’d manage in front of the people who loved and knew her best.
The rest of the meal passed smoothly. Vito kept the conversation light, for which she was very grateful, and by the time Lily had finished her ice cream she was surprised— to realise that she had actually enjoyed a proper meal for the first time in weeks. Maybe her body was finally settling into the second trimester of her pregnancy— and the misery of morning sickness was over.
‘Let’s go home,’ Vito said, signalling for the bill.
Lily looked at him, suddenly remembering what he had said about them both knowing how the evening would end. A dark shiver of anticipation ran through her. She couldn’t deny that she missed the nights of passion they had shared.
Her skin was flushing again, and she stared at the paintings covering the walls to take her mind off making love with Vito. On their earlier visits to the restaurant he had told her how previous owners had sometimes accepted paintings as payment for meals. As a result the walls were covered with an astonishingly eclectic array of artwork that she’d always enjoyed looking at—but right then it wasn’t enough to distract her from the thought of lying in Vito’s arms.
It was dark as they travelled back across the lagoon, and a beautiful crescent moon hung in the sky. Lily shivered, hugging her silk wrap tighter around her—not because she was cold, but because of the way Vito had started looking at her again.
It was too dark to see his features clearly, but she could sense his expression was the one she had seen so many times before when they’d been lovers. The expression— that meant very soon they would be making love.
‘You’re cold,’ Vito said, slipping his arm around her shoulder and pulling her closer to his side.
‘Not really,’ Lily responded, leaning against his hard muscled body with a ripple of pleasure. Half a glass of prosecco had gone to her head—or maybe she was simply intoxicated by her proximity to Vito. His spicy masculine aroma was filling her senses, making her body sing with remembered sensations.
‘You’re trembling,’ Vito murmured, leaning close to her ear. She could feel his lips moving deliciously against her hair. Excitement knotted deep inside her, making her shiver in expectation of what was to happen later.
‘I’m not really cold.’ The words came out in a small, shaky voice, and she realised that although she yearned to lie in his arms again she was also extremely nervous. Would it be as good as she remembered? Would Vito be satisfied with her?
Their physical compatibility was the one thing that might create a genuine bond between them in their marriage of convenience. Or was she placing too much significance on it? Would it ever again be more than just sex to Vito?
‘I’ve missed this, bella mia.’ Vito’s deep, sensual voice rumbled right through her as he lifted his hands to turn her face towards him. His fingers slipped between the silky tresses of her hair, and he inclined her head slightly to one side, as if he was about to kiss her.