Page 28 of Second Time Bride

Daisy emerged from an undeniably erotic reverie to find her T-shirt being whipped off. She emitted a strangled moan of protest just as her equally sodden bra was tugged down her arms. Alessio wrapped a towel round her bare, pouting breasts, met her outraged eyes and said tautly, ‘You’re cold and wet. I couldn’t undress you in front of Tara. It would have embarrassed her.’

He sank down on the corner of the bath and directed the shower head at her shivering legs, and then his smooth dark head angled down and a lean hand settled on her hip to twist her round. ‘Where the hell did you get those bruises?’ he demanded thunderously.

‘On the stairs at the bank.’ Daisy was resigned to humiliation now but striving not to show that it mattered.

‘Didn’t I tell you to watch out?’ Alessio gritted. ‘Didn’t I warn you?’

‘Yes... you’re always right,’ Daisy muttered with a speaking lack of appreciation.

He switched off the water and minutely examined her goose-fleshed thighs for patches of scalded pink. ‘Do you feel any heat anywhere?’ he finally enquired.

‘Are you joking?’

‘It could have been a lot worse.’ It was quite beyond Alessio to admit that he had overreacted.

He lifted her out of the bath and hunkered lithely down to pat her trembling legs as gently and carefully dry as if she were a baby. Daisy submitted, suddenly so choked up by tears that she was undyingly grateful that it was her skinny thighs that had all his attention. Below the discreet cover of the hip-length towel, her wet pants were tugged smoothly down. She didn’t notice, for beneath the overhead light Alessio’s black hair had the extraordinary iridescent sheen and lure of pure silk and involuntarily Daisy was entrapped by that compulsive view. She wanted to touch those gleaming strands so badly that her fingers tingled and she had to fold her arms tightly because, for a split second, she really didn’t trust herself not to surrender to temptation.

It didn’t even occur to her to wonder why Alessio was making her stand on one foot and then the other as the damp scrap of lingerie was deftly wafted away, for Daisy was by then in a hot-cheeked fever of self-loathing. Shame was flaming through her in punitive waves. She despised her physical weakness in Alessio’s vicinity. What had been excusable at a sexually naive and besotted seventeen was in no way allowable in a grown woman of thirty. Raw resentment suddenly filled her to overflowing. She couldn’t understand how she could still be so disgustingly susceptible. One attack of Alessio ought to have conferred lifelong immunity.

And how dared he come into her home and upbraid her for her failings? He had given up on their relationship first, hadn’t he? What possible future could he have envisaged for their marriage when he had already been consoling himself with Sophia? Why hadn’t she faced him with that fact? But she knew why, didn’t she? She couldn’t have mentioned that final betrayal without revealing just how deeply she had been hurt by it. And, thirteen years on, she was too proud to expose herself to that extent.

Secure in the belief that she was ignorant of his extramarital activities, Alessio was aggressively determined to load her down with so much guilt that she wouldn’t dare to fight back. And why had she not yet said a word about that insane proposition he had made? Marry Alessio again? Always honest with herself, Daisy could think of several things Alessio might be able to persuade her to do in a weak moment, but a second trip to hell and back was definitely not one of them.

‘You should be in bed too,’ Alessio said very quietly. ‘You’re exhausted.’

Banging his head against a brick wall...she reflected furiously. Just how much affronted dignity could one effectively portray standing naked in a towel with intimate items of apparel scattered round one’s feet? Particularly one intimate item that she didn’t even recall being removed! She could almost feel Alessio consciously tempering his powerful emotions to the constraints of the situation. If she hadn’t been hurt, she knew he would have been laughing uproariously at what had happened. Instead he was practising tact. She hated him for that even more.

‘Tell me you weren’t crazy enough to say that we should get married again,’ she begged, hugging the towel round herself as if it were a suit of armour.