‘Yes,’ Vito replied. ‘In fact that is why I am here. My grandfather’s health is much improved. This morning would be a suitable time for you to meet him.’
‘I’ll go and get my bag.’ Lily walked towards the door, then hesitated as Vito didn’t step aside to let her through. She held her breath and slipped past him, feeling the hairs on her arms stand up and her heart-rate increase, as she couldn’t help brushing lightly against him.
She tried to ignore the feeling as she ran up the stairs to the bedroom. She paused in front of the mirror to check her appearance, and was disconcerted to see her flushed cheeks and animated eyes.
Was it the simple contact of brushing against him that had caused the light in her face? Or was it the prospect of spending a little time in Vito’s company?
Whatever the case, she didn’t ponder it, and as she didn’t need to change her clothes she hurried back down the stairs. Ever since the first morning in Venice she had taken trouble with her appearance. She didn’t want to give Vito another opportunity to humiliate her.
The walk to Ca’ Salvatore didn’t take long, and as they arrived at the baroque palazzo Vito took her hand in his. A charge of energy passed between them and, as Lily felt herself tremble, she realised it was the first proper physical contact they’d shared since the night they’d nearly made love.
Vito had not touched her since then, and the fact that he had chosen this moment to hold her hand made it clear to Lily that his intention was to show all at Ca’ Salvatore that she was his. It was a reminder of how important— it was to Vito that his grandfather saw them as a proper couple.
He led her into the beautiful building and up to the second-floor room where Giovanni was resting in bed.
‘Nonno, there is someone I’d like you to meet,’ Vito said. He crossed the room to kiss his grandfather’s cheek. Then, putting his arm round the old man’s shoulders,— he helped him up into a sitting position.
‘We’re speaking in English?’ Giovanni asked, squinting— across the room short-sightedly. ‘Very intriguing. I’d better put my spectacles on.’
Lily smiled. Despite her nervousness, she was already— warming to the old man. His body might be frail, but his mind was certainly active.
‘They’re here, with your newspaper.’ She slipped around to the other side of the large bed and handed his spectacles to him.
‘Thank you, my dear. No, stay close,’ Giovanni added, his bony hand shooting out to catch her arm and pull her closer. ‘So I can get a proper look at you.’
‘Nonno!’ Vito chided gently. ‘Let go of Lily, and I’ll introduce you properly.’
‘Formalities!’ Giovanni scoffed, although he did release— his grip. ‘What use are formalities at my age? Tell me quickly—who is this beautiful young English woman? And why have you brought her to meet me?’
‘This is Lily,’ Vito said. ‘And I’m very pleased to tell you that—’
‘Yes, yes—get on with it,’ Giovanni urged.
‘That she is my wife,’ Vito finished smoothly, not at all phased by his grandfather’s interruption.
‘Your wife?’ Giovanni said. ‘Why didn’t I know about this?’
‘You were sick, Nonno,’ Vito said. ‘I thought it best to go ahead with the wedding and tell you when you were feeling better.’
‘You were married without me?’ Giovanni said, sounding slightly affronted as he looked sharply at Vito, then across at Lily. ‘So you’ve finally come to your senses and decided to settle down?’
‘Yes, Nonno,’ Vito said, hugging Lily in an open display of affection. She leant into his embrace, taking comfort from the feel of his strong arms around her, despite the knowledge that it was only for show. A whirl of conflicting thoughts and emotions was flowing through her, but she fought to keep a clear head and pay attention to the exchange between Vito and his grandfather. ‘It was a very small wedding,’ Vito added.
Just how significant had Giovanni’s desire to see his grandson settled been in Vito’s sudden proposal? Everything had happened so quickly at first, and in the intervening time she still hadn’t come any closer to figuring out Vito’s motivation. She had married him for her child’s sake but she didn’t really understand what was in it for Vito. Especially as he seemed to be avoiding her.
‘So you found the right woman after all?’ Giovanni probed, leaning forward and peering closely at Lily. ‘An English rose—or should I say an English lily? The name is certainly appropriate.’
‘The right woman,’ Vito repeated, placing a brief kiss on Lily’s cheek. ‘Si, Nonno. You always told me that in time I would find the right woman.’
The old man snorted, wicked humour making his eyes brighten. ‘I said that, did I? I seem to remember talking to you just a few days before I got that wretched infection,’ he said. ‘I told you to hurry up and provide me with an heir. Is that what this is?’
Lily barely managed to shield her shocked reaction. Her heart jerked painfully in her chest, and for a second she struggled to draw air into her lungs. Then she became aware of Vito beside her.
He had gone utterly rigid. A horrible sensation cut through her. It was as if she could actually feel his pain as his muscles tensed with agonising intensity.
‘You went on a business trip to London,’ Giovanni said. ‘What did you do—propose to the first attractive girl you met?’
‘No, Nonno. That’s not how it happened…’ Vito looked at his grandfather’s face and suddenly ran out of words.
This wasn’t how it had been supposed to go. The wily old man had completely wrong-footed him— and— if he didn’t pull himself together quickly it would all be for nothing. If he couldn’t convince his grandfather— that his relationship with Lily was genuine, he might not accept her child as his heir. It wouldn’t make him content.
And that was what this was all about—fulfilling Giovanni’s dying wish to see his name continued. What kind of grandson was he if he couldn’t do the one thing that would make his beloved grandfather happy in his dying days? After everything his grandfather had done for him, this was the one thing that any man ought to be able to do in return.
His shame at his failure bore into him, burning a hole in his chest, making it hard to think, impossible to speak.
‘It’s true we arrived from London the day before you got sick,’ Lily suddenly spoke up, her voice quiet but clear in the high-ceilinged chamber. ‘But we didn’t just meet.’
‘Tell me more.’ Giovanni leant forward, as if it would help him catch everything she said.
‘We first met nearly a year ago,’ Lily said, stepping closer to the bed. ‘After several months of travelling between London and Venice for weekends and holidays, Vito asked me to move in with him here. I’ve been living in Venice with him since Novem…’
Vito looked at her sharply as her words petered out. He’d been amazed, and very relieved, that she’d spoken— up. But now she was blushing and looking down at the floor, letting her blonde hair swing forward to conceal her face.
‘What is it?’ Giovanni barked. ‘Why did you stop talking?’
‘I…it just occurred to me that you might be Catholic.’ Lily looked up and continued hesitantly. ‘That you might not approve of us living together. I’m sorry— that’s— probably why Vito never brought me here before.’
Giovanni’s bark of laughter broke the sudden tension in the room.
‘Now I see.’ The old man spoke between chuckles. ‘You were taking your time, making sure it was right. After Capricia, I can understand your caution.’
‘It seemed wise to be sure,’ Vito said, turning to look at Lily. He didn’t know why she had said what she’d said—whether she was defending him, or simply acting out the role she had agreed to. Or maybe she was just naively speaking her mind.
Whatever the explanation, relief flooded through him, and he hugged her to him in an embrace that was entirely natural. Her guileless chatter had utterly won over his grandfather, and for that he was thankful.
Suddenly he found himself thinking how different Lily was from his ex-wife Capricia. In fact, she was different— from all the other women he had ever been involved with.
Capricia’s heart was as hard and impenetrable as a diamond. Her scornful face flashed unpleasantly through his mind, and he knew he could never have employed the same tactics of persuasion on her that he had used on Lily.
For some reason the thought made him uncomfortable, but he pushed it ruthlessly to the back of his mind. Just because Lily had her weaknesses did not mean she didn’t deserve everything she got. He couldn’t forget she had betrayed him by sleeping with another man.
‘But now something has changed.’ Vito turned back to his grandfather and continued speaking. ‘Something that has made us look to the future.’
‘What’s that?’ Giovanni sat up straighter, and from the sharp expression on his face Vito thought he had guessed what was coming next.
‘Lily is pregnant,’ he said. ‘You are the first one to share our wonderful news.’