Lily felt Vito’s hand pressing hers, and she lifted her gaze to his face. He looked as drop-dead gorgeous as ever, but she couldn’t read his expression. Was he telling her that he believed that she had not been involved with Luigi?
Or was he simply letting her understand that, despite the fact that he believed she had been unfaithful—if not with Luigi, then with some one else—this was all part of the act he was prepared to play to ensure his grandfather’s— happiness?
But, as glasses of sparkling prosecco were poured, and extravagant Italian toasts to the newlyweds were made, she couldn’t dwell on the problem any longer.
‘You look terrible,’ Vito said, rushing to help her up the last few stairs and onto the sofa in his study.
‘Thanks.’ Lily tried to smile, but she really didn’t feel very well.
‘I’ll call the doctor,’ Vito said, dropping down onto one knee in front of her to look at her properly.
‘There’s no need,’ Lily said. ‘I only went for a check-up— two days ago. Everything’s fine—it’s just I got so hot walking back from Ca’ Salvatore.’
With a muffled curse Vito shot across the room to the bar area, clunked ice into a tumbler and poured mineral water on top.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said as he handed the glass to her. ‘I should have thought of bringing you something to drink right away.’
‘That’s all right,’ Lily said, touched by his concern. ‘The first thing I needed was just to sit down.’
‘You shouldn’t be walking in this heat,’ Vito said. ‘You need to rest for a few days. Then, after you are re-covered,— if you want to visit my grandfather you must go by boat.’
‘I don’t need a few days’rest,’ Lily protested. ‘I’ll be all right by tomorrow. And I need to walk or I won’t get any exercise at all, and that can’t be good for me.’
‘I’m calling the doctor.’ From the decisive tone of his voice it was clear that he had already made his mind up. ‘I want to know for myself what it is all right for you to do. I won’t let you overdo it.’
Lily stared at him in bewildered consternation. At seven months pregnant she could still be working fulltime,— if she wasn’t in the privileged position of being married to a rich man.
‘Your ankles are puffy.’ Vito knelt down to pull off her sandals. He sat next to her on the sofa, turned her sideways and lifted her feet up onto his lap. ‘Is that normal?’
‘I think so,’ Lily said as Vito began to stroke gently along her feet, smoothing the slight indentations the straps of her sandals had made, and then massaging up her calves towards her knees. ‘Unless it gets too bad. The midwife always checks for it—but I don’t know what it means.’
‘I’ll ask the doctor.’
‘Really, I’m fine now,’ Lily protested. The glass of water had refreshed her, and she really did feel fine. Better than fine, in fact. The touch of Vito’s fingers, which she was certain he meant to be purely comforting,— was already doing things to her libido. Her progression— well into her third trimester had not done anything to curb her physical desire for Vito. ‘But I think I might feel better if I freshen up in the shower.’
Before she realised what he was about, Vito swept her up into his strong arms and, holding her cradled against the broad planes of his chest, carried her upstairs to their bedroom.
He took her through into the en suite and set her down on the marble floor. The small mosaic tiles felt deliciously— cool under her feet and, as always when she was close to Vito, Lily felt completely aware of her own body. And every inch of her skin or strand of her hair was conscious— of Vito—longing to touch or be touched by him.
‘Do you need any help?’ he asked, and Lily could see from the darkening of his blue eyes that he knew exactly what she needed.
‘I’d love some help.’ She sucked in a shaky breath as he brushed past her to turn on the shower. Then, bending to take hold of the hem of her loose-fitting summer dress, he pulled it up and straight over her head.
He shed his own clothes quickly, and kicked them out of the door into the bedroom before turning back to her.
‘You are so beautiful,’ he said, letting his hands caress her seven-month bump as he reached for her lacy underwear.
Lily held onto his powerful shoulders as she stepped out of her briefs. He still showed such adoration of her body, even though her pregnancy was well advanced. And he was very inventive when it came to finding new ways for them to enjoy their love-making despite her changing body. The way he was treating her gave her hope for the future—maybe in time he would come to share her feelings of love.
He reached behind her to unfasten her bra. And then, totally naked, they both stepped into the shower. She sighed asVito started to smooth exotically scented shower cream over her body. Being with him was incredible.
Later that evening Vito took Lily to his house in the Dolomite mountain-range. As soon as she stepped out of the helicopter she could feel her body relaxing in the cooler atmosphere. Although sometimes it had felt like it, she knew she hadn’t really been hot all the time in Venice—the palazzo was air-conditioned—but there was something wonderfully refreshing about being in clear mountain air.
‘It’s incredible,’ Lily breathed, gazing at the awe-in-spiring— view.
‘The chalet makes a useful retreat,’ Vito agreed. ‘And it will be a good place for you to rest.’
‘I don’t exactly do much in Venice,’ Lily protested, turning to look at what she presumed must be Vito’s chalet. It didn’t look like her idea of a chalet—but then she was thinking of the small, individual holiday-homes she and Ellen had sometimes stayed in while she was growing up. Not an impressive timber building that looked more like an exclusive alpine ski-lodge. ‘I’m pregnant—not an invalid.’
‘The doctor thought it would be good for you to get out of the city,’ Vito said, taking her hand and leading her up the wooden steps to an impressive first-floor balcony that appeared to run right round the building. ‘And I agree with him.’
He led her into the first-floor living space, which was laid out to take maximum benefit from the ravishing— view that seemed to roll on and on for ever.
‘Sit down and rest, while I speak to the housekeeper about dinner.’
Obediently, Lily sunk into a huge comfy armchair. It did feel good to be off her feet, even though she’d only just stepped out of the helicopter. And before that she’d spent most of the afternoon sleeping, until Vito had woken her up to tell her that the doctor had arrived.
He had confirmed that everything was fine, and had said there would be no harm in Lily leaving the city for a while. After he had left, Lily had started to say that there was no need for Vito to disrupt his work routine for her. But then she’d discovered Vito had already packed for her while she’d been asleep.
She knew that once Vito had made up his mind there was no way to change it. And also she was secretly touched that he’d taken the trouble to pack her things himself. Never in her life had anyone packed her suitcase for her. On short breaks away with Ellen, she’d always had to be the responsible one who made sure nothing essential was forgotten.
‘I’ve brought you a drink.’ Vito paused in the doorway, holding a glass of iced water in his hand, and watched at her gazing out at the view.
She looked beautiful. There was a gentle glow to her cheeks, and in profile he could see the slightly upturned tip of her delicate nose. Her hair was tied back at the nape of her neck, but long blonde curls had escaped and were coiling prettily around the side of her face.
‘Thank you.’ She turned to him and smiled, the expression— lighting up her already radiant face. Suddenly he was pleased he’d brought her away from the city. He could have her all to himself without any distractions. Soon the child would be born and, although it was the whole point of this marriage, he knew everything— would change. Lily would have a new focus in her life, and the pleasant routine they had established would be replaced.
‘It seemed a good bet that you’d like a drink—you’re always thirsty these days.’ He passed her the glass and sat in an armchair, facing her.
‘I didn’t know about this place,’ Lily said, ice-cubes— clinking as she took a long drink of water. ‘Do you use it often?’
‘For skiing in the winter,’ Vito said, grimly remembering— how he had spent nearly two weeks after Lily had left at Easter hurling himself recklessly down black runs. ‘And it makes a quiet place to get away from it all in the summer. It’s not too far—even by road—from Venice.’
‘You never brought me here,’ Lily said. There was a slight crease between her brows as she gazed out at the view.
‘It didn’t snow until late this year, and then you had your stomach bug,’ Vito said. ‘What we thought was a stomach bug,’ he amended.
‘Oh.’ Lily put her hand up to smooth her blonde hair. She hesitated self-consciously, as if she’d just realised it was still a riot of curls after their love-making in the shower. He’d left her sleeping in bed, and then there hadn’t been time for her to style it in her usual careful way before they’d left the city.