‘Excuse me,’ she said, and made a dive for the door.
When she had managed to compose herself again, she popped her head round Tara’s bedroom door. ‘Are you ready yet?’
Tara was sitting on the edge of the bed, unusually still. Glossy streamers of black hair rippled as she turned her head, her anxious eyes so painfully like her father’s that Daisy’s heart skipped a startled beat. ‘I’m terrified,’ she whispered jerkily. ‘I’ve thought about this for so long, but now it’s really happening, now he’s actually here...suppose he doesn’t like me?’
Daisy recalled Alessio’s restive, simmering tension. ‘He’s just as scared you won’t like him.’
‘Is he?’ Tara scrambled up, bolstered by the assurance. ‘Did he say so?’
‘No, but it’s written all over him,’ Daisy managed with a wobbly smile.
‘I guess this is hard for him too. Maybe he thinks I’m expecting Superdad or something.’ Tara’s eyes softened, her tender heart instantly touched. ‘I mean, he won’t know what to do or say either. I suppose it’s easier for me really... I’ve always known about him.’
‘Yes.’ Daisy watched the carpet begin to blur under her aching gaze.
‘And he must be dead keen, to arrive this early,’ Tara decided.
‘I’m being really cruel staying in here and keeping him waiting,’ Tara concluded with a sudden frown of discomfiture.
Having reached the conclusion that her father was more to be pitied than she was, Tara straightened her slim shoulders and stepped round her mother. ‘It’s OK...you don’t need to come. I think I’d prefer to see him on my own first.’
Daisy flattened herself up against the wall and wrapped her arms round herself. Alessio wouldn’t want an audience either. So why should she feel excluded? Her daughter was no longer a baby who needed her every step of the way and Tara had always had a strong streak of independence.
In the lounge they both spoke at the same time.
‘You look like my sister...’ she heard Alessio breathe raggedly.
‘Do you still have your motorbike?’ Tara asked in a rather squeaky rush.
Daisy pressed her fingers against her wobbly mouth, yanked herself off the wall which had been supporting her and fled into the kitchen. Where was all this truly slaughtering guilt coming from? she asked herself wretchedly. Did she have to accept that she’d been completely in the wrong to keep father and daughter apart?
But how easy it was for Alessio to heap all the blame on her! Thirteen years ago, he had not made a single attempt to share his real feelings with her. So, naturally, Daisy had made assumptions. His behaviour had led her to believe that she was making the right decision, but why had it not occurred to her that she might only be storing up trouble for the future? Yes, it was very easy for Alessio to condemn her now. Hindsight made everyone wise. He could say now that he would have loved and cared for his daughter, and how could she challenge him when he had never been put to the test?
And what was going to happen to her relationship with her daughter if Tara started thinking the same way? Did she deserve to be treated like some sort of unfeeling monster? But how much had she been protecting herself from further pain and humiliation when she’d chosen not to tell Alessio about Tara? Daisy dashed a hand over her streaming eyes. And what if Alessio proved to be a terrific father? Just to spite her, just to prove her wrong and himself right, Alessio would very probably break his neck to be Superdad and, the next thing she knew, Tara would bitterly resent having been denied her father all these years.
‘Mum...we’re away!’ Tara called from the hall.
Before Daisy could respond, the front door slammed. From the lounge window she watched Tara walking admiringly all the way round the gleaming black Maserati that Alessio had evidently arrived in. She was chattering and laughing non-stop. She looked as if someone had lit a torch inside her. Alessio was visibly entranced by that glowing volubility. His absorption in his excited daughter was total.
And why not? Daisy thought painfully. In looks and personality, Tara was very much a Leopardi. Strongwilled, stubborn, outspoken and passionate, she was Alessio without the ice and self-control, Bianca without the spite and spoilt-rich-girl arrogance. Daisy would have had to be blind not to recognise that. And how much easier it must be for Alessio to relate to that laughing, talkative girl who bore so little resemblance to her mother. A cold, hard knot of fear clenched in Daisy’s stomach as she gazed down at them. Breathing in deeply, she moved away from the window.