Tears had dampened her face. Daisy pressed unsteady hands to her wet cheeks. Telling Alessio about Tara had somehow brought all those painful feelings of inadequacy back again. But that was the past and far behind her now, she reminded herself. Taking a deep breath, she stood up again and set about eradicating the evidence that she had been crying.
Her phone was ringing when she reached her desk. She swept up the receiver a split second before Barry the Barracuda reached for it. He lounged back against her desk, curious brown eyes nailed to her, a faint smirk on his handsome mouth. ‘You seem a little harassed ... anything wrong?’
Daisy shook her head, carefully avoiding his hotly appreciative appraisal. Even though she was as encouragingly warm as an ice sculpture around Barry, he had buckets of persistence. One minor pleasantry and Barry would be back to embarrassing the hell out of her by telling her what a good time an older woman could have with a younger man.
She put the receiver to her ear.
Her heart lurched violently against her breastbone. It was Alessio. ‘What do you want?’ she whispered.
‘You... now,’ Alessio spelt out succinctly. ‘I’m in the wine bar on the corner. You have five minutes to get here.’
The line went dead. Daisy straightened, deathly pale, and then reached for her bag again.
Alessio was in the darkest corner of the bar. As she walked, towards him, he sprang fluidly upright and surveyed her with glittering eyes that were as hard as jet, his lean, powerful frame whip-taut with sizzling tension.
‘I promised I’d ring you tomorrow,’ Daisy reminded him defensively.
‘I want to meet my daughter and I am not prepared to await your convenience,’ Alessio gritted in a fierce undertone.
‘She’s at school.’
As she sat down, Daisy looked at him in appalled comprehension. ‘You can’t go there—’
‘When does she get out?’ Alessio growled.
‘You’re not thinking straight,’ Daisy protested, shaken by the immediacy of his demand. ‘Tara didn’t even know I was coming to see you today.’
His eyes flared. ‘Dio...you should be locked up! You breeze into the bank after thirteen years of silence and tell me I have a daughter! Then you walk out again and tell me I’m not thinking straight? What kind of a woman are you?’
A woman who had not enjoyed being forced to break the same ‘bad news’ twice in one lifetime, she thought.
‘I still can’t credit that you have done this to me,’ Alessio confessed with barely suppressed savagery, driving not quite steady fingers through his luxuriant black hair and surveying her with more than a glimmering of stark incredulity. ‘That you could be so bitter you would conceal the birth of my child from me—’
‘I wasn’t bitter then. I thought I was doing you a favour.’
‘A favour?’ Alessio queried in rampant disbelief.
A suffocating silence hummed.
‘I believed you would be happier not knowing,’ Daisy finally admitted.
‘Obviously I was wrong,’ Daisy conceded in a tense rush. ‘I wish you would stop looking at me like that...like I belong in a lunatic asylum or something... I never had the slightest idea that you would feel like this about it!’
As Alessio got a grip on his seething emotions, chilling dark golden eyes closed in on her. ‘It was a despicable act. Whatever mistakes I made, I did not deserve to be kept in ignorance of my daughter’s existence. We were still married when she was born. Your silence was indefensible. Don’t try to excuse it—’
‘Maybe I could take this kind of talk better if you had once shown the slightest interest or concern for your child before she was born!’ Daisy dared shakily, for there was something about the way Alessio was talking now which sent a compulsive shiver down her spine.
‘I demonstrated my concern by marrying you. I did not once suggest any other means of dealing with our predicament. Nor, you may recall, did my family,’ Alessio reminded her coldly.
‘But you still didn’t want the baby,’ Daisy argued feverishly, desperate to hear him admit that fact.