Now she knew differently. It had been about her.
She’d been good enough to be his lover, but not good enough to be his wife. Not until he’d seen an opportunity— for her to give him, for his aging grandfather, something— he thought he couldn’t get anywhere else.
And even then it had taken the time pressure of his grandfather’s failing health to bring him to his decision. She couldn’t forget that when she’d got pregnant he had ruthlessly thrown her out of his life without a second thought.
But, after they were married, she had realised that she loved him. She had clung to the hope that maybe, if she managed to convince him that she had never been unfaithful, he would start to open his heart to her. She had to believe that there was something between them, a tiny little ember that could be brought to life in the right circumstances.
However, now she knew he believed himself to be infertile,— all hope seemed to be gone. It really was only circumstance that had prompted him to marry her. Once he discovered he was not infertile there would be nothing tying him to her any more. He could have any woman he wanted.
‘You look tired,’ Giovanni said, taking his spectacles off and laying them down with his Venetian newspaper beside him on his large bed.
‘A little,’ Lily admitted, easing herself down into the comfy chair Giovanni kept near his bed especially for her visits. ‘I don’t know why. I’m not doing much these days.’
‘What do you mean?’ he exclaimed. ‘You are growing my grandson inside your body—that is something!’
Lily smiled. Her visits to Giovanni always lifted her spirits.
‘Not long now, and you’ll get to meet him,’ she said, hoping that it was true. The doctors had been pleased with how stable Giovanni’s health had been lately, but he was still a very frail old man.
‘I won’t watch him grow up,’ he said. ‘But I’m not going anywhere until I’ve seen him with my own eyes.’
Suddenly Lily felt tears welling up. She blinked them away, feeling self-conscious, but Giovanni hadn’t noticed. He was gazing forward with a smile on his face.
‘I promise I’ll teach him everything you told me about your life and Venice,’ she said, keeping her voice steady with a determined effort.
‘You’ve made me a very happy old man,’ Giovanni said, turning to look at her. ‘Only the very lucky can live long enough to see their great-grandchildren. I don’t know if I’ve ever told you how pleased I am that you are to be the mother.’
‘Thank you. You’ve always been so good to me,’ Lily replied, hearing her voice tremble with heartfelt emotion.
‘You were worth the wait,’ he said with a lively smile. ‘You know, after Capricia, I was worried my grandson might not have good taste in women.’
‘Really?’ Lily asked, her curiosity piqued even though she knew it was potentially a controversial subject. ‘But if they’d stayed together, and if they’d started a family, you would have had longer to get to know your grandchildren.’
‘Capricia’s children?’ Giovanni said in disgust. ‘I never understood why he married her. She might have been Venetian, but she was not a good wife for him. And I doubt that she would have agreed to motherhood for a long time.’
‘What do you mean?’ Despite her better judgement telling her to keep off the subject of Vito’s first wife, Lily wanted to know more.
‘She was far too busy living it up—enjoying her selfish existence, spending his money on frivolous things,’ Giovanni said. ‘She’s still the same, except now she’s in Rio de Janeiro spending her Brazilian lover’s money—if what my contacts tell me is true.’
‘Contacts?’ Lily smiled, trying to appear lighthearted even though her heart felt anything but light.
‘What do you think?’ Giovanni sounded affronted. ‘Just because I’m old and in bed I know nothing?’
‘Of course not,’ Lily laughed, but she couldn’t help wondering what he knew about her and Vito.
‘But don’t think about Capricia,’ Giovanni added. ‘Vito never loved her the way he loves you. Anyone can see you two are soulmates—like me and my dear Anna Maria.’
Lily forced a smile and looked down at her hands clasped in her lap, feeling heartsick. She knew now that Vito had never loved her at all.
‘I nearly forgot—I have a surprise for you,’ Giovanni said.
‘A surprise?’ Lily repeated, pleased at the distraction. She didn’t want to bring Giovanni down by looking dejected. But she hoped he wasn’t going to make things awkward for her with Vito by giving her any more family heirlooms. She loved the antique necklace he’d given her the first day, but she hadn’t seen it since Vito had taken it away from her.
‘Yes. Talking of my Anna Maria reminded me…’ He smiled, and Lily knew from his dreamy expression he was still thinking of his wife. ‘I remembered her favourite— thing when she was pregnant, and I thought you might like it too.’
Lily smiled expectantly, intrigued to get another glimpse of the woman who had so clearly captured Giovanni’s heart.
‘I can’t come with you to see how you like it,’ he said, pressing a button to call a member of his staff. ‘But you must tell me when you visit tomorrow.’
At that moment his housekeeper came into the room and he told her to show Lily to her surprise. From the way she responded to the instruction, she had obviously been involved in the arrangements, and as Giovanni settled down for a nap she led Lily away to a part of the palazzo she had never seen before.
Down two flights of stairs, across an absolutely delightful— courtyard complete with citrus trees in giant terracotta— pots, and in through another double door, Lily found herself gazing at the most inviting thing she had seen for days.
A cool, blue swimming-pool.
‘Oh my!’ she sighed, suddenly aching to ease her tired body into the water.
The housekeeper explained how Giovanni had had the pool repaired and refilled, showed her where the changing and showering facilities were, and finally presented— her with a collection of maternity swimwear.
Just minutes later Lily was floating on her back in the blissfully cool and supportive water. She rolled over and slowly swam a length of the pool, admiring the detailed mosaics beneath the rippling water.
She loved Giovanni for this gift to her. It was absolutely— perfect in every way.
Suddenly tears sprung unchecked to her eyes.
Vito’s grandfather had shown her unstinting kindness like no one in her life ever had before. He treated her with respect and as an individual he genuinely wanted to get to know. Her own father had never done that. He didn’t even want to know her at all.
And now Vito, her husband, didn’t seem to want to know her either.
Vito strode through the narrow Venetian streets impatiently. It was late afternoon, and he’d come home from the office early for the third day in a row only to find Lily was not at the palazzo. Since they’d returned from the mountains, she’d started spending more and more time at Ca’ Salvatore. In fact she was rarely at home these days, and it was beginning to bother him.
He knew that his grandfather had refilled his swimming— pool for her, which he acknowledged was a very thoughtful gesture. And apparently Lily loved swimming—which— was something he hadn’t known about her. But surely she couldn’t be spending all day in the pool?
Suddenly the memory of their conversation in the meadow loomed large and uncomfortable in his mind. He swore under his breath, cursing himself for telling her about his infertility. Things had been progressing smoothly between them up until that point, and he wished he hadn’t chosen that moment to upset the balance of their relationship.
He didn’t understand what had driven him to come clean, but blamed it on Lily. He’d spent so much time alone with her that she had whittled her way through his defences. He had quite simply let his guard down. He wouldn’t make that mistake again. He shouldn’t have made it this time.
He remembered all too well the scornful look on Capricia’s face when she’d waved the doctor’s report stating his infertility under his nose. It was unbelievable that he’d been foolish enough to put himself through the same humiliation twice.
He’d been young and naive when he’d married Capricia, hoping that she would be the perfect Venetian wife to bring up the next generation of Salvatores. It hadn’t worked out that way. But he’d thought he had learnt something from the experience—to protect his pride if nothing else.
His infertility had driven a wedge into his first marriage. To alleviate her disappointment in his failure, Capricia had thrown herself into a wild life of socialising— and travel. They’d grown apart, but he hadn’t made any effort to hold onto their marriage. When Capricia had finally left, he’d been pleased. With her gone there should have been no reminder of his shame.
But, no matter how hard he’d tried, he hadn’t been able to forget what had happened. He was accustomed to success, and his failure as a man continued to burn into him mercilessly.
Dealing with the unrelenting sense of humiliation was the hardest challenge he had ever faced. So he’d vowed never to let a serious relationship compromise— his defences again. He could not father a child—therefore there was no point in long-term commitment.