When she got back from work, Tara still wasn’t home. It was after ten that evening when the bell went. Daisy went to the door, expecting it to be Tara but wondering why she hadn’t used her key. Thirty seconds later, she knew why. Her daughter came through the door, smothering a yawn, with Alessio a mere step behind her. Caught unprepared, Daisy was appalled. She stood there barefoot, clad in a pair of old jeans and a T-shirt that had shrunk in the wash, while Alessio looked as infuriatingly immaculate and sleekly beautiful as he had done twelve hours earlier.
‘I’ve had a fantastic day,’ Tara confided, engulfing her small, stiff mother in a brief hug without even noticing her tension. ‘But I’m really tired. ‘Night, Dad.’
Dad? She said it so naturally, so easily that Daisy was shaken. As Tara vanished into her bedroom, she met Alessio’s shrewd gaze and hurriedly cloaked her own.
‘I’ll take that cup of coffee now,’ he drawled smoothly.
Daisy’s cheeks coloured. For an instant, she had a dismaying image of herself hovering like a little girl obediently awaiting her instructions and Alessio taking control of the situation in his own good time. ‘Coffee,’ she said tightly, and marched into the kitchen, leaving him to find his own way into the lounge.
So Tara and her father had got on like a house on fire. She was pleased for them both—she was! A good relationship with Alessio could only benefit her daughter. Now that Tara had met him, the ice was broken and they could all settle down into the kind of detached sharing practised by thousands of divorced parents. Alessio and Tara would form a relationship in which Daisy would play little part.
Maybe she was a bit jealous of that, a bit scared... well, possibly very scared...that Tara might start preferring Alessio to her. But that was childish, wasn’t it? Love stretched. Tara was perfectly capable of loving them both. And thirteen years had to count for something, hadn’t they? Having rammed down her own insecurities, Daisy entered the lounge, determined to be mature and reasonable regardless of how Alessio chose to behave.
She was taken aback to find Tara down on her knees in front of the bookcase, extracting the last of a pile of photo albums, most of which were already stacked suggestively at Alessio’s feet. She gave her mother an anxious look. ‘You don’t mind if Dad borrows these for a while, do you? I said he could.’
Thirteen years of Daisy’s life were documented in those albums. Daisy felt that her privacy was being cruelly invaded and had to bite back words of dismayed refusal. Those were Tara’s records too. What could be more natural than that her daughter should want to share that pictorial account of her childhood with her father?
‘I’ll look after them.’ Alessio’s faint smile was sardonic and Daisy registered the fact that he knew exactly how she felt.
Flushed and uncomfortable, she set a cup of coffee in front of him.
‘We can go over them together after I come back from my school trip,’ Tara told Alessio earnestly as she scrambled up again. “Night, Mum...Dad.’ She stopped in the doorway, grinned widely at both her parents and slowly shook her head in bemusement. ‘It sounds so weird to say that, to have you both here...like a real family.’
Daisy shrank deeper into her armchair as the door closed. Why did Tara have to go out of her way to sound like a deprived child within Alessio’s hearing? she thought in distress. A real family!
‘Family... not a concept you ever knew a great deal about,’ Alessio murmured. ‘So in one uniquely selfish move you thought nothing of denying her her own family.’
Daisy thought of the family who had made her feel like a tarty little adventuress at her own wedding. Everyone had known she was pregnant. Bianca had made sure of that. And Alessio’s mother had cried so much that people could have been forgiven for believing that she was attending her son’s funeral. Taking the hint, the guests had stopped mouthing good wishes and had offered sympathy instead.
‘It wasn’t like that,’ she countered.
‘You know as well as I do that there would never have been a divorce if my father had known that you were still expecting a child. The subject would not even have been broached.’