Daisy thrust up her chin. ‘Do we have to keep harping back to the past?’
Brilliant golden eyes rested on her. ‘That past formed the present and will undoubtedly alter the future. Did you really think that I could meet my daughter and then walk away from her again? She’s tremendous!’ Alessio acknowledged, with a sudden surge of appreciative warmth that sharply disconcerted Daisy. ‘Half-child, half-woman, and she slides from one to the other between one sentence and the next.’
Her tense mouth softened. ‘Yes,’ she conceded.
‘She’s funny and bright and very open...but do you know what I found hardest to take?’ Alessio sprang upright and moved restlessly across the room before swinging fluidly back to her, his strong dark face taut. ‘At first, it was like she was getting this one big chance to impress me and she was terrified that she might not make the grade. That’s why she’s exhausted. She’s been living on her nerves all day.’
A lump ballooned in Daisy’s throat. She focused studiously on her bare feet.
‘I believe that I have set her fears at rest. I told her that I would have been there for her from the very beginning of her life had I been offered that opportunity.’
‘I can see how popular I’m going to be,’ Daisy muttered helplessly, but he wasn’t telling her anything she hadn’t expected. She was the fall guy in this newly formed triangle. Nothing would be allowed to come between Alessio and his desire to win his daughter’s affection. No excuses would be made for Daisy. He would emerge from the debris of their broken marriage shining white and squeaky clean. After all, Daisy hadn’t given him a chance to be a father.
‘On the contrary, you will be very popular, Daisy,’ Alessio drawled in honeyed contradiction. ‘You are about to play a leading role in fulfilling our daughter’s painfully obvious desire for a real family.’
Her violet eyes were strained. ‘I’m more than willing to meet you halfway for Tara’s sake. You can see her whenever you like.’
‘I expect much more than that from you.’
Daisy paled at that uncompromising assurance and curled her hands together on her lap. ‘I know that you’ll probably want to fly her over to Italy to meet the rest—’
‘Of the cast of the horror movie you mentioned?’
Daisy reddened fiercely, finding that reference ungenerous when she was bending over backwards to be reasonable. ‘You have to make allowances for the fact that I never knew that you would feel like this about Tara—’
‘And you have to accept that now I’ve found her I’m not letting go of her again.’
‘I am accepting that.’
‘And that either you share on my terms or risk getting left behind,’ Alessio extended drily.
Daisy struggled to work out what it was he wanted that she had not already offered. ‘What are your terms?’
‘Another home, two parents and complete security for my daughter.’
For a moment, Daisy looked back at him blankly. Then her sensitive stomach churned. Two parents? He cold only be talking about marrying Nina Franklin. She vented a hiss of angry disbelief. ‘You’re planning to marry Nina and fight me for custody!’
‘Give me one good reason why I would try to take an already insecure adolescent girl away from the mother she adores and give her a stepmother she would undoubtedly loathe,’ Alessio invited with evident impatience.
‘You said that if it took you a lifetime you would punish me!’
‘Not at the cost of my daughter’s happiness.’
Daisy’s brain felt as if it was functioning at half its usual capacity. If Alessio was not talking about marrying Nina...But then he hadn’t actually mentioned marriage specifically, had he? He had referred to another home and two parents. So what was he talking about? He simply couldn’t be talking about what was currently crossing her mind. That would be sheer insanity.
‘When did you last have a good night’s sleep?’ Alessio asked.
‘I don’t remember.’
‘It shows. I feel as though I’m banging my head against a brick wall.
‘We were talking about Tara.’ Daisy was still shaken and embarrassed by the mad thought that had briefly occurred to her and she reached out for her cup of coffee with what she hoped was an air of cool, detached composure.