‘I’ve already made the decision which will best serve all our needs.’ Alessio studied her with brooding eyes, his wide, sensual mouth suddenly setting hard. ‘We will get married again.’
As her fingers involuntarily loosened their grip on the cup and hot liquid splashed down her jeans, Daisy vented a startled shriek of pain and sprang up, pressing her palms against her burning thighs. Alessio dealt her a split-second look of raw incredulity and then strode forward. Snatching her unceremoniously up into his arms and tumbling her down on the sofa, he proceeded to unzip and peel down her jeans at speed.
‘What are you doing?’ Daisy screeched in horror, endeavouring without success to evade his determined ministrations.
‘I heard a scream,’ Tara intervened. ‘Mum...?’
‘Your mother has scalded herself. Where’s the bathroom?’ Alessio countered.
Thirty seconds later, Daisy found herself standing in the bath with Tara aiming the shower head at her bare thighs to cool the smarting flesh with cold water. Tears of mortification had now taken over from momentary tears of pain. Alessio was rustling, tight-mouthed with disapproval, through a first-aid box crammed with cosmetics.
‘You’re really cool in a crisis,’ Tara was saying appreciatively to her father. As she took her attention off what she was doing, the gushing water angled up to drench Daisy’s T-shirt as well. ‘I did a first-aid course last summer but I wouldn’t have remembered what to do so quickly.’
‘I’m all right now,’ Daisy murmured in desperation, cringing with embarrassment.
‘You need at least ten minutes of that treatment,’ Alessio overruled.
‘At least ten minutes. He’s right, Mum,’ Tara added, sounding like a little echo.
‘It was a very minor scald. The coffee wasn’t that hot.’ Daisy was trying somewhat hopelessly to tug the too small T-shirt down over a pair of minuscule white pants which were probably transparent now that they were wet.
‘You screamed,’ her daughter reminded her. ‘You scared me!’
‘Don’t tell me Daisy hasn’t done that to you before. She’s accident-prone but wonderfully resilient,’ Alessio put in reassuringly. ‘She came off my motorbike twice without breaking anything.’
‘Mum just hasn’t got very good spatial awareness,’ Tara told him informatively. ‘Aunt Janet thinks it’s because she was born weeks before she should have been. That’s probably why she’s so small and skinny as well. It was a real miracle that she survived. I mean thirty years ago a lot of premature babies died! I was only a couple of weeks early. It didn’t harm me but Aunt Janet said that Mum’s development was definitely affected—’
‘I thought you were tired,’ Daisy slotted into the flood of chatter, feeling older, smaller, skinnier, clumsier and less adequate than she had in years.
‘Yes, you should go back to bed,’ Alessio agreed, a slight tremor disturbing his smooth drawl. ‘I can handle this.’
Daisy wondered if her legs were turning blue. They were numb. The bathroom was freezing cold too. But it was no use; she couldn’t block out that shattering announcement one minute longer. ‘We will get married again.’ Though every rational thought denied that Alessio could have said that, she knew he had said it. And that unapologetic arrogance was at least familiar. Only the last time Alessio had told her that they were getting married Daisy had had no problem with being told rather than asked...
She had been weak with relief and, indeed, it hadn’t been very long before she’d begun feeling incredibly happy that she was going to stay on in Italy as his wife and share as many of his waking and sleeping moments as she could possibly manage. Sadly, her sunny belief that Alessio would soon reach that same blissful state of acceptance hadn’t lasted much beyond their wedding night, when she had had the poor taste to joke that she felt like Cinderella.
Alessio had looked at her for the very first time as if he could quite happily have strangled her. His wonderful sense of humour had vanished when he’d put that fatal ring on her finger and it had not reappeared. But had she then sown the first seed of his suspicion that she had been plotting all along to acquire a share of the Leopardi wealth? Daisy reflected that she could truthfully put her hand on her heart and assert that the very last thing that had ever been on her mind when Alessio had been making love to her was money...