For a moment Giovanni looked stunned. It was as if the news, which he’d waited so many years to hear, was suddenly too much to take in. Then a massive smile spread across his old face.
Lily watched as his eyes started to sparkle with unshed tears and, even though she had only just met Vito’s grandfather, she understood how important this was to him. Impulsively, she leant over the bed and kissed his cheek.
‘You’ve made me very happy,’ he said. ‘My name will continue. There will be Salvatores living at Ca’Salvatore.’
Lily smiled at him, thinking how different life was for Vito’s family. After her upbringing, it was hard to imagine living in a palace that had been in the family for hundreds of years.
‘What do you think of Venice?’ Giovanni suddenly asked. ‘People say it’s old and crumbling—like me.’ There was a merry twinkle in his eyes that made him look years younger, but Lily knew that the question was important to him. ‘But I say there’s life in the old dog yet. What do you think, Lily?’
‘Oh, definitely.’ Lily smiled warmly and leant forward— to take his hand. She could feel a slight tremor, and despite the fact she had only just met him she knew that he was tiring. ‘It couldn’t be more different from the green and open countryside where I grew up—but I absolutely— love it. It’s beautiful, fascinating, and there is always more to see.’
‘Not too crowded for you?’ he pressed. ‘After the quiet of the countryside?’
‘I love the hustle and bustle,’ Lily said truthfully. ‘And if I want some space around me I can walk beside the water, or take a boat out onto the lagoon.’
Giovanni leant back against his pillows. His body looked frail, but there was a light in his faded blue eyes.
‘You’re tired, Nonno,’ Vito said. ‘We should leave you to rest.’
‘No, wait a moment,’ Giovanni suddenly said. ‘Look in the top drawer—a wooden box.’
‘Is this what you mean?’ Vito asked, holding up a highly polished, flat wooden box that he’d found in the old chest-of-drawers across the room.
‘Give it to Lily,’ Giovanni said.
Vito frowned, but did as his grandfather bid. Lily took the box hesitantly, caught between the displeasure on Vito’s face and Giovanni’s wishes.
‘Oh!’ she gasped as she opened the box to reveal a stunningly beautiful necklace. ‘It’s exquisite!’
‘Antique Venetian glass,’ Giovanni said. ‘It was my great-grandmother’s. Until now I didn’t have anyone to pass it on to. It’s for you, my dear. Welcome to my family.’
Lily stared at the antique jewellery in awe. She’d never seen anything so gorgeous—and knowing that the glass beads were hundreds of years old, that the necklace had been treasured for generations, made it even more special.
‘We can’t accept that, Nonno,’ Vito said.
‘I’m not giving it to you.’ Giovanni looked sternly at his grandson, then his watery gaze moved on to Lily. ‘Your wife appreciates it. From her expression, I can see that she knows the true value of the necklace.’
‘Vito’s right,’ Lily said, reluctantly closing the lid of the box. ‘This is too much. You’ve only just met me.’
‘That doesn’t matter.You are my granddaughter now,’ Giovanni said. He leant back against his plump pillows and closed his eyes. ‘You may leave now. I am tired.’
Lily clutched the box tightly as Vito steered her out of the palazzo. It had been a morning full of surprises.
They walked home quietly. Lily had a lot on her mind. There were still so many questions—but at least some things were starting to come clear. Vito’s grandfather— was a wonderful old man, and she understood completely why Vito wanted to make his last days happy. But he wasn’t being honest with anyone.
It wasn’t long before they were back in their bedroom.
‘I wish you had told me.’ Lily spoke without preamble. ‘That the only reason you wanted to marry me is to make your grandfather’s final days happier.’
‘There was no need to complicate our arrangement.’ Vito spoke shortly, not bothering to deny her accusation. ‘It was not your concern.’
‘Of course it was,’ Lily said. ‘I’m involved! I’m the one carrying your child—Giovanni’s great-grandchild. And I’m the one who is going to spend time with him during his last months.’
‘Save that for the rest of the world,’ Vito snapped. ‘Endless repetition won’t make it true, so stop trying to convince me that the child is mine.’
‘But it is,’ Lily protested. ‘Whatever you say, I’m not going to stop believing it—or saying it—because it is true.’
‘My grandfather is old and frail. He doesn’t have long to live.’ Vito brutally brought the subject back around. ‘It is the thought that his family line will continue that he needs. Not to socialise with you.’
Lily stared at him bitterly. Despite the circumstances, she had enjoyed meeting Giovanni. He was a wonderful— old man, and she was sure spending time with him would enrich her life.
‘Oh my God!’ she gasped suddenly, sitting down on the edge of the bed as her legs felt weak with shock. ‘As far as you’re concerned, this is a temporary arrangement. As soon as Giovanni passes away, you’re planning to throw me and the baby out again!’
She looked up at Vito in a silent appeal, desperate for him to tell her that she was wrong. But he just stared down at her, a hard, unfeeling expression on his face.
‘Your grandfather will have died happy.’ At last Lily spoke her awful train of thought aloud. ‘And you will have no further use for me. Or for the baby. No wonder you were able to suggest this, even though you are adamant that the baby isn’t yours!’
‘It was a practical solution,’ Vito said coldly. ‘And now you’ll finally understand that it is pointless for you to continually try to persuade me of your innocence. Or to build a relationship with my grandfather. Or to put down roots in Venice. As soon as his time comes, you’ll be history.’
Lily stared at him in horror as the cold brutality of his words sunk in.
‘You are a despicable human being!’ she cried, suddenly— flying to her feet and squaring up to him. ‘You don’t deserve a grandfather who loves you so much!’
‘I didn’t deserve a lover who cheated on me.’ The angry blue fire sparking in his eyes was the only sign of emotion on his face.
Lily glared at him, struggling for words. She couldn’t believe Vito would really do something like this.
All the time she’d lived with him she’d thought him to be a fair and generous man. That had changed the day he’d thrown her out for getting pregnant. Then, when he’d asked her to marry him, she’d been forced to rethink her opinion for a second time.
She knew he was angry and upset because he believed— she had betrayed him but after this latest, awful revelation her opinion of him had sunk to the lowest depths—into a confusing emotional mass of disbelief and disillusionment.
‘Give that to me,’ Vito said, lifting the antiquenecklace— box from her hands. ‘You can’t wear that.’
Lily stared at the box as he carried it away, her temper suddenly sparking again.
‘No wonder you didn’t want Giovanni to give it to me,’ she said bitterly. ‘Don’t worry. I’m not going to steal a priceless family heirloom from you.’
‘It’s very old and fragile,’ Vito said curtly. ‘The high humidity in Venice makes things deteriorate quickly. It needs expert attention to ensure it won’t fall apart when you wear it.’
‘I won’t be wearing it,’ Lily said. ‘It was a wonderful— gift—but you’ve tainted it.’
She looked up at Vito, and she could see his shoulders were rigid with tension, and a muscle was throbbing insistently on his angular jawbone. Although his eyes were cast into shadow by black brows that were drawn heavily downwards, she could see that powerful emotion glittered within them.
Perhaps he wasn’t as cold and unmoved by this discussion— as he would like her to think, but that didn’t change his intentions.
‘Once and for all, it’s time to make things crystal clear between us.’ His voice cut through her shattered nerves like steel wire. ‘Nothing you have discovered today makes any difference to our arrangement. You did very well with my grandfather this morning—and now you will continue to play your part as my adoring wife. Until I am finished with you.’
Lily glared at him angrily, unable to find words to express the horror she was feeling.
Was he really saying that she must put up with whatever unjust accusations and hostility he chose to throw her way? That she wasn’t allowed to speak up in her own defence, or express her opinion about anything?
And then, when he was done with her, that he would toss her out as callously as he’d done before—except this time she’d have a baby with her?
‘You lied to me,’ Lily said. ‘You lied to me about making a future for our baby.’
‘You lied to me first,’ Vito fired back at her. ‘When you tried to pass that baby off as mine.’