‘For God’s sake!’Vito exclaimed, surging to his feet and raking his fingers through his short hair. ‘It’s time to let that ridiculous charade go.’
She looked up at him carefully, trying to see what he was keeping hidden beneath his rigid expression. She was still sitting on the rug in the meadow and he towered over her, his white shirt and black hair outlined by the blue mountain-sky.
A light breeze tugged his fringe forwards, and he scraped it back from his face again with an impatient jerk of his hand. The gesture revealed just how tightly wound he was.
Lily got to her feet, her aching back and increased size making her feel awkward, and stood in front of him. Instinctively, she reached out a hand and placed it on his forearm. The skin was warm and supple beneath her fingers, but his muscles were as hard and immovable as steel.
‘I can’t let it go, because it’s the truth,’ Lily said simply.
She saw the change in him instantly and, despite the tight rein his was keeping on his temper, she knew he was about to explode if she didn’t say something to defuse the anger that was building in him.
‘Why do you think that?’ she asked gently. ‘Were tests done?’
Vito took a shuddering breath and turned to stare in the direction of the crystal-clear lake. Lily knew he wasn’t really seeing the spectacular view. He was deep in his thoughts and memories.
‘Capricia and I were unsuccessful when we tried to start a family,’ he said, startling Lily with his sudden candour. ‘After a time we submitted ourselves to fertility testing.’ He paused for a moment, but when he continued— Lily could hear the strain crackling in his voice. ‘I was the one who could not have children.’
‘A mistake must have been made,’ Lily said automatically.
‘There was no mistake,’ Vito said curtly. ‘Sit down and eat something. Then we’ll pack up and leave.’
He pulled his mobile phone out of the back pocket of his dark jeans and pressed a speed-dial number, presumably— for his assistant. Without another glance for Lily, he turned his back and walked away a few steps as he talked, effectively shutting himself off from her.
She sat down on the rug, watching him with a troubled— expression. Suddenly everything that had happened was starting to make sense.
He believed that he was infertile—so when she’d become pregnant he’d assumed that she’d been unfaithful. In his mind, that was logical. He thought there was no other way she could have conceived. That explained his anger towards her—but it did not excuse it.
If he had told her the truth that Easter weekend, she would have tried to reason with him, persuade him that there’d been a mistake. He could have had the results of his fertility tests double-checked. Obviously there must have been a mix up. Or maybe something had changed. She wasn’t an expert on fertility, but she knew that she was pregnant, and that he was the only one who could be the father.
She looked at him talking on his phone. Standing there with the awe-inspiring backdrop of the Dolomite mountains behind him, he looked as magnificent as the noble terrain. But he was also as cold and uncompromising— as those harsh, jagged peaks that soared above the verdant valleys.
She understood that his belief that he could not have children must have hurt him—especially when he was the last surviving man in his proud Italian family. But he had hurt her—throwing her out onto the street when she had done nothing wrong, and then coercing her into a marriage that he’d never meant to be permanent.
He should have told her the truth. Instead he’d misled her—first making her believe she was responsible for birth control that in reality he thought was unnecessary. Then making vicious accusations when she had never, ever given him any reason to doubt her. Then finally, worst of all, he had shamelessly used his knowledge of her troubled childhood to manipulate her.
Suddenly a wave of anger rose up out of nowhere, startling her with its intensity. He’d trusted a medical report over the woman he had shared his life with. He’d never given her a chance.
She stared up at him balefully. He had treated her appallingly, and she had let him get away with it. Well, not any more.
At last he finished his conversation with his assistant,— slid his phone back into his pocket and sat down on the rug.
‘You haven’t eaten,’ he said, finally looking at her again.
As she met his gaze a crackle of energy passed between— them.
His eyes widened in surprise, and she knew he had recognised the anger that was building inside her.
‘When we get back you must have the fertility tests repeated.’ The sound of her own voice thrumming with intensity startled her. But she continued to stare him down, determined to make him see that she meant business.
‘Why would I subject myself to that humiliation again?’ Vito bit out, the planes of his face tightening as he spoke. ‘In the circumstances, don’t you think it would be better to let sleeping dogs lie? Or are you simply masochistic enough to want incontrovertible proof of your infidelity?’
‘I want proof of my innocence!’ Lily snapped. ‘And, if you won’t have those tests repeated, I’ll get a DNA test after the baby is born.’
‘Are you mad?’ Vito demanded. ‘If I won’t submit to a fertility test, what makes you think I’ll be party to a DNA test?’
‘I’ll go to Giovanni,’ Lily declared. ‘His DNA will prove a family connection.’
Vito cursed violently in Italian and surged to his feet, hauling her up by her arms.
‘You go too far!’ His words throbbed with barely contained fury, and suddenly Lily felt herself quaking under the sheer force of his rage. Of course she’d never do anything to hurt Giovanni, but Vito’s refusal to listen to reason was driving her to distraction.
Then, with one powerful arm around her waist and one hand gripping her upper arm, he started marching her away, back in the direction of the chair-lift.
Everywhere they made contact she could feel Vito’s thunderous energy burning into her body. It felt like she was caught up in an escalating storm, still waiting in trepidation for it to reach its maximum force.
In barely any time they reached the main footpath, and Vito eased his grip slightly as two young male hikers approached them. He hailed them in English, then quickly switched to fluent German as he identified their nationality.
Lily couldn’t catch everything he was saying, but, as he thrust a wad of euros their way and pointed back to the abandoned picnic-hamper in the meadow, she understood— what had just transpired. Vito was so used to issuing orders and being obeyed that apparently he’d thought nothing of paying the young men to clear away their mess.
She didn’t have time to ponder what it must be like to be Vito—so powerful and self-assured that he expected complete strangers to jump to do his bidding—because— at that moment he continued walking her briskly towards the chair-lift.
They flew back to Venice in virtual silence, and the days that followed were miserable for Lily. Refusing point-blank to engage in conversation with her, Vito kept well away. He left for work early, returned late at night, and only spoke to her when absolutely necessary.
She felt like she was trapped in a nightmare, and there was no escape that she could see. At first she thought she must leave Venice—but it wasn’t that simple. It wasn’t just the gnawing ache that filled her soul at the thought of leaving Vito, there were other things to consider.
Her pregnancy was too advanced for it to be easy to travel, and the idea of arriving in London with a baby due to arrive so soon was frankly terrifying. At least here in Venice she was already under medical care.
And the other thought that kept plaguing her was how devastated Giovanni would be. She knew the baby was his true great-grandson—but if she left she didn’t know what Vito would tell him. Although she still felt horribly betrayed by how Vito had used her, she shared his desire to make his grandfather happy. So she’d have to wait for the baby to come before she could do anything.
As the days went by, the anger she’d felt towards Vito in the alpine meadow slowly ebbed away, and she was left feeling dejected and lonely.
Time seemed to drag on interminably, sometimes making it feel like she was going to be pregnant for ever. She still had more than a month to go, and she honestly didn’t know how she was going to get through it.
She visited Giovanni every morning, travelling on the canals both ways, and in the afternoons she took refuge in her supply of paperback books. She slept a lot. And, in between sleeping, reading and visiting Giovanni, she sat in the baby’s nursery, trying not to think about the implications of Vito’s stunning revelation that he believed— himself to be infertile.
At first it had been like a light switching on in her mind, because it finally explained why he’d assumed she’d been unfaithful. Then she had felt anger at his lack of trust in her. Now she felt something different.
If Vito hadn’t believed himself infertile, he would never have married her.
Right from the start she had understood that Vito wasn’t interested in a serious commitment to her. At the time it hadn’t mattered to her. She’d been overwhelmed just by being with him, and had assumed his ‘no commitment’— rule was not a reflection of what he thought about her but simply a rule he lived by.