His heartfelt outburst tugged at Lily’s sympathies, but it was a cruel kind of torture to listen to him describing— how he’d battened down his emotions after Capricia had left.
‘You must have loved her very much,’ she said.
‘Capricia?’ Vito looked at Lily in surprise.
Her hazel eyes were wide in her pale face, and the dark shadows of fatigue around them accentuated their size. She looked so small and vulnerable, sitting there in the white hospital bed, that his chest contracted painfully.
‘I don’t think I ever loved Capricia,’ he said. ‘Not really.’
‘Then why did you marry her?’ Lily asked.
‘I was young,’ Vito said. ‘She was beautiful. Venetian. And at the time I foolishly thought she’d make a good wife and mother.’
Lily didn’t reply, but he could see in her face what she thought of his judgement. It was terrible. It had always been terrible. In business it seemed he could do no wrong. But, in his personal life, everything he’d done was wrong.
Until one day, in a moment of good fortune, he’d met Lily. And then he had set about ruining that too.
‘I’m sorry. I’ve ruined everything,’ he said. ‘It wasn’t necessary to force you into this. I’ve married you when I didn’t need to.’
Suddenly he saw her eyes fill with tears. As the liquid pooled and spilled down her cheeks it felt as if someone had ripped his heart from his chest.
‘Don’t cry,’ he said, sitting on the edge of the bed and taking her hands in his. They felt pitifully cold in his grip. ‘I know we are married—but I don’t see how I can hold you to that now.’
‘But what about your grandfather?’ she said, her voice uneven with the sound of crying.
Vito held her hands, gently warming them between his palms. Then suddenly he realised something.
Lily was more important than his grandfather.
His desire to see Giovanni end his days in contentment— was still powerful. But not at the expense of Lily’s happiness.
‘My grandfather doesn’t need to know,’ Vito said carefully. ‘You’ve given him the heir he desired. And, with your friendship, so much more than that. I can’t ask you to give up your life.’
He looked at her sad face, his heart contracting painfully— at her distress, and suddenly all he wanted was to take away her sadness.
‘Don’t cry,’ he said again, leaning forward to kiss away the salty tears that were streaming down her cheeks. ‘You’re tired. It will seem better later. We’ll work things out.’
‘How can we work things out?’ she sobbed. ‘You don’t need me any more. You never needed me.’
‘Of course I need you!’Vito exclaimed. ‘I’ve always needed you. From the very first time we talked I knew I had to make you part of my life.’
He cupped her face and looked at her puzzled expression. She’d stopped crying and was looking at him in confusion.
At that moment it hit him.
Like a punch in the solar plexus, he suddenly knew the truth.
He loved her.
He’d always loved her. That was why her pregnancy had hurt him so deeply, why he’d forced her to marry him, and why the thought of letting her go now was grinding into him like a steel bar.
He let his breath out with a whoosh, and smiled at her.
Love. That must be causing this ground-rush of emotions that was rising up to meet him as the clouds of doubt fell away, finally revealing the woman he loved.
‘What?’ she whispered, looking anxiously into his face. ‘What is it?’
‘I love you,’ he said.
‘But…’ Lily stared at him in disbelief. Where had that suddenly come from? A moment ago he’d said he planned to divorce her—which she’d expected, now he had finally accepted he was not infertile.
So why had he said he loved her? Had she even heard correctly?
‘I love you!’ he said, hauling her into his arms and nearly crushing her with his exuberance. ‘Oh, my God! Why have I only just realised it?’
‘It can’t be true,’ Lily said. She couldn’t let her hopes be raised. It must be guilt for what he’d put her through making him momentarily lose his common sense.
‘It is true,’ Vito said, cupping her face with gentle hands again and looking deeply into her eyes. ‘I’ve never said anything more true in my life.’
‘But…’ Lily didn’t know what to say. She looked deep into his sky-blue eyes, trying to suppress the tingle of excitement that was bubbling inside her. It was what she’d yearned to hear for such a long time that she hardly dared to believe it. ‘Why are you saying this now?’
‘I only just realised,’ Vito said. ‘I think I was so closed off to my feelings that it took me a long time to realise the truth. Even though it was staring me in the face all the time.’
‘What do you mean?’ Lily asked.
‘Back before Easter, when you went to the doctor with your stomach bug,’ Vito said. ‘I was so worried about you.’
‘I remember you waiting for me,’ Lily said, thinking— about the black cashmere sweater she had tossed into the canal.
‘You came home looking white as a sheet, and I thought something might be seriously wrong with you.’ Vito took a breath. ‘I couldn’t bear that thought. It cut me like knife.’
‘I didn’t know that,’ Lily said. ‘But I remember how kind you were to me. Until…’
‘Until I lost my mind with jealousy,’ Vito said. ‘I couldn’t bear the thought of you with another man. I think I lost my reason for a while.’
Lily gazed at him, the lines of his distress clearly etched onto his face.
‘It’s all right,’ she said. ‘It turned out all right.’
‘Thank God for Luigi,’ Vito said. ‘And for your friend Anna.’
‘I would have been okay,’ she said. ‘I don’t need someone to look after me.’
‘I know,’ he said seriously. ‘You are the strongest person I know. When I think how you dealt with all the appalling difficulties I threw your way…I’m sorry.’
‘Please, stop saying that,’ Lily said, placing the flat of her palm against his chest. She could feel his heart beating beneath her hand, and the power of its rhythm gave her hope. ‘We can’t turn back the clock. Let’s go forwards.’
‘Will you stay with me?’ Vito asked. ‘Give me another chance?’
‘Of course I will,’ Lily said, feeling tears of happiness— start to well up in her eyes.
‘Why are you crying?’ Vito leant forward to brush his thumb across her damp cheek.
‘Because I love you too,’ Lily answered. ‘I’ve always loved you.’
A smile of incredulous happiness broke across Vito’s face. Then the next moment he was crushing her in his arms again.
‘I can’t believe it.’ Vito’s voice was muffled against her hair. ‘Last night I was despairing that things could ever be right—and now all my dreams have come true.’
His words reflected exactly how Lily was feeling, and she clung to him tightly, feeling like she’d never let go again. But a moment later a tiny, mewling cry from the cot interrupted them.
‘He’s awake!’ Vito’s voice was full of love and pride, as if waking up was the cleverest thing any baby had ever done.
‘Would you like to pick him up?’ Lily watched as Vito lifted the baby out of the cot. His gentle hands seemed almost as big as his son as he gazed down at the crumpled, newborn face with adoring eyes.
‘What does he need?’ Vito turned to her for advice.
‘I don’t know,’ she replied honestly. ‘I’m new at this. Perhaps I should try to feed him.’ She unfastened the top few buttons of her nightdress and held out her hands for the baby. Vito placed him gently in her arms, then doing the same as the previous evening, guided the little head towards her nipple.
‘Ah, that’s the idea. I like to see a little bit of teamwork.’ Lily recognised the doctor’s voice and lifted her gaze to see him walking into the room. ‘We have the results of the blood test,’ he continued. ‘Unfortunately it seems this little fellow is following in your footsteps with a rare blood-type.’
Lily looked at Vito’s face to see how he would respond to this physical proof that he was the baby’s father. To her surprise a worried frown marred his features.
‘That’s a blow,’ he said. ‘I was hoping he would have taken after his mother.’
‘There’s nothing to worry about,’ the doctor said. ‘Your wife and I talked some more last night, and she understands now that it won’t be a problem. It’s just something it pays to be aware of.’
He walked over to the bed and gave a satisfied nod as he saw how well the baby was feeding. ‘I’ll be back to check on you later,’ he said as he left them alone again.
‘I thought you’d be pleased,’ Lily said. ‘Pleased to have concrete proof of your paternity.’
‘I didn’t need it.’ He turned and held her gaze with serious eyes. ‘I have all the proof I need, in here,’ he said, placing his hand over his heart.