‘I do remember saying I liked your hair smooth,’ Vito found himself saying. ‘It has a beautiful sheen when you straighten it, almost like polished-gold foil embedded in Murano glass.’
Lily was staring at him, her eyes wide with surprise at his confession.
‘Then why did you say you didn’t like it straightened?’ — she asked.
‘I didn’t mean that,’ Vito replied, suddenly wishing he hadn’t brought the subject up. ‘It’s just that I prefer it curly.’
‘Well, that’s good.’ Lily put her glass down on the coffee table and stood up to walk across to him. He tilted his head back, looking at her as she perched on the arm of his chair and lifted her hand to run her fingers lightly through his short black hair. ‘Because that’s how it goes naturally.’
His body responded instantly. It always did. Just looking at her was enough to make him hard with desire. Hell, just thinking about her when he was at work was enough. She was gorgeous. Even with her body changing— shape, and slowing her down slightly, he still couldn’t get enough of her.
‘I brought you here to rest.’ Looking into her face, he reached up and traced her delicately defined cheek bones with his fingertips. Her eyes glowed with a sultry sexual invitation, and hot desire pulsed through him.
‘Then you’d better show me the bedroom,’ she said, pulling him to his feet.
Over the next couple of days Lily honestly thought she’d never been so happy in her entire life. She’d made a conscious decision not to let her worries about the future intrude, and she focussed completely on the present, knowing it might be her last opportunity to be truly alone with Vito.
She’d never spent such wonderful, uninterrupted time with him before, and she was revelling in it. As far as she was aware he’d totally ignored his mobile phone and laptop to concentrate entirely on their time together. It was like heaven.
Vito was simply amazing. Attentive to her every need, he looked after her so well, and they visited the most incredible— places each day. Then at night he took her in his arms and made wonderful, exquisite love to her.
‘You are lucky to have grown up near here.’ Lily sighed, rotating on the spot to enjoy the breathtaking panoramic view.Vito had brought her to a beautiful alpine meadow filled with wild flowers for a picnic lunch.
‘Sit down and rest,’ he instructed, spreading out a blanket on the lush green grass. ‘You still have to walk back to the chair-lift.’
‘I am feeling it a bit,’ Lily admitted, passing her hand over her stomach protectively, then curling her spine forwards and rubbing the small of her back.
‘Let me.’ Vito dropped down beside her and began to tirelessly rub the exact spot that was aching, right above the base of her spine.
‘Oh, that feels good,’ Lily murmured, taking a long breath and enjoying the firm, hot pressure of Vito’s palm on her back. ‘I wish I had the energy to walk down there,’ she added, gazing across the incredible landscape— to the crystal-clear mountain lake.
‘I’ll take you tomorrow,’ Vito said. ‘I know a different— route that will involve less walking.’
‘You’re spoiling me.’ Lily turned and looked at him. ‘But don’t you have to get back to the city?’
‘Business can wait.’ Vito shrugged. ‘Summer will be over soon and, beautiful as this place is in winter, it’s not so warm and welcoming for a picnic then.’
‘I can’t imagine it bleak and windswept, or covered with snow,’ Lily said. ‘We’ve had such lovely weather.’
‘Let’s make the most of it.’ Vito opened the hamper he had carried with them, pulling out a bottle of mineral water, some chilled fruit-juice and a mouth-watering array of food that the housekeeper had prepared.
‘You know, I don’t think we should stay away too long,’ Lily said. ‘I hate to think of Giovanni with no one visiting him.’
‘He has visitors,’ Vito replied shortly. ‘He wasn’t a total recluse before you came.’
‘I didn’t say he was,’ Lily said, upset by the sudden abruptness in Vito’s tone. ‘Anyway, I thought you were pleased I’ve been keeping your grandfather company.’
‘And I thought you were happy staying here,’ Vito said. ‘But if you’d rather go home we’ll fly back this afternoon.’
‘Why does it always have to be all or nothing with you?’ Lily voiced her frustration without thinking. She loved the fact that Vito was a strong, decisive man—but sometimes she wished he didn’t have to see everything in black and white.
‘I don’t know what you mean,’ he said, briskly passing her a plate of food. Lily took it glumly. Suddenly it didn’t look so delicious any more.
‘I mean I have been happy here—incredibly happy,’ Lily said, watching Vito’s thunderous face. ‘That doesn’t stop me thinking about Giovanni. But I didn’t mean we have to go back immediately.’
‘He has people caring for him twenty-four hours a day.’ Vito took a savage bite of bread and stared at the rugged mountains across the valley.
He thought about his grandfather. He owed it to him to make his last days as happy as possible. And, although for some reason it suddenly irked him, he did know how much Giovanni counted on Lily’s visits to cheer him up.
He cursed his selfishness at wanting to keep Lily away from the city for his own pleasure. There was nothing for it now. They’d have to return to Venice.
‘I love your grandfather,’ Lily said unexpectedly, catching his full attention. ‘He accepts me and he doesn’t judge me.’
‘He doesn’t know what you’ve done,’ Vito said in a tightly controlled voice, wishing Lily hadn’t said something— to remind him of her betrayal. ‘I do know what you’ve done,’ he added. ‘But I’m not the one who keeps bringing the subject up. I know the truth.’
‘Our son won’t grow up knowing his great-grandfather,’ — Lily said, as if she was wrapped up in her own thoughts and hadn’t heard a word he’d said. ‘But Giovanni wants him to grow up knowing about his family history—with a real sense of where he came from and where he belongs.’
Vito stared at her, unable to believe that she was still carrying on in the same vein. He felt a muscle start to pulse at his temple, and he clenched his fists, trying to control his rising anger. Why would she say things that were bound to make him remember that she had been unfaithful to him?
‘I never felt I belonged. My father didn’t want me, and my mother could barely cope,’ she said. ‘More than anything I want our son to know he’s truly wanted and loved. Know he belongs with his family.’
Vito gritted his teeth, not trusting himself to speak. Why didn’t she seem to care, or even realise, that she was skating on thin ice?
‘My grandfather is old now,’ Vito said. ‘You wouldn’t have found him so easy-going in his younger days. He was a formidable man.’
‘Of course he was. He still is,’ she responded instantly,— looking at him sharply. ‘It obviously runs in the family.’
‘Now that he’s old, he knows his time is limited,’ Vito continued. ‘I believe that has brought his remaining wishes into very sharp focus.’
‘I agree,’ Lily said. ‘I thought that’s what we were talking about.’
‘We are talking about his desire for a grandson.’
‘That’s what we are giving him,’ Lily said.
‘That’s what he thinks we are giving him.’ Vito spoke through gritted teeth. ‘The fact that for the sake of my grandfather’s happiness I am prepared to publicly— accept the child as my own does not mean I have forgotten the truth.’
‘Nor have I,’ Lily said quietly. She pushed her curly hair off her face with an exasperated gesture.
‘I thought we’d got past this,’ Vito said. ‘The pretence that the baby is mine is for the rest of the world. Don’t insult me by acting like I don’t know the truth.’
‘You don’t seem to,’ Lily said simply. ‘And I don’t know why you won’t give me a chance. I agreed to your wishes not to mention it any more, because I knew there was no chance we’d ever sort things out if we kept arguing. But I thought a bond was growing between us now, and I don’t understand why you keep shutting out what I’m saying.’
Vito clenched his fists and dragged in a controlled breath. No matter what he said, she just kept on claiming innocence. It was starting to grate on his nerves. He would not put up with it any more.
‘I know he’s not mine,’ he said. ‘Because I know that I can’t have children.’
LILY stared at him in shock. His expression was tightly controlled, but she could see the strain he was feeling by the lines of tension around his blue eyes. Suddenly, despite the fact she knew he could father a child, she realised that he really did believe that he couldn’t.
‘Of course you can,’ she said at last. ‘You are. I mean, I’m pregnant and you are the father.’