The marriage ceremony was brief. A tide of sick dizziness ran over her as a slender platinum wedding ring was threaded over her knuckle.
‘Signora Leopardi...’ Alessio carried her ice-cold fingers smoothly to his lips and kissed them.
The return of that name churned up Daisy’s stomach. Tugging free of his light hold, she rubbed her trembling fingers against her skirt. Her wavering smile, kept in valiant place for Tara, died away altogether.
Alessio swept them off to an early lunch at the Ritz. He ate a hearty meal, whereas his bride couldn’t manage a single lettuce leaf. He cracked jokes with Janet and teased Tara. No, there was nothing remotely sensitive about Alessio, Daisy reflected. When Alessio triumphed, he was never tempted to a show of mock humility. No, indeed. He radiated glowing satisfaction and that burning, wolfish smile flashed out with unnerving frequency. When a Leopardi was on top, all was bliss in the Leopardi world.
Repelled by that brazen lack of remorse, Daisy escaped to the cloakroom and, finding a comfortable chair, sat there for a while with the attitude of an earthquake victim waiting for the tidal wave that would surely follow. When she finally emerged again, she was startled to find Alessio waiting outside for her.
‘I thought you might have done a runner,’ he confided with complete calm. ‘Lucky for you that you didn’t. I would have called the police—’
‘The police?’ Daisy repeated in horror.
‘When your sense of tragedy overpowers you, you are very likely to fall under a bus. Dio, in the state you’re in right now, it would be like letting a rampaging toddler loose in rush-hour traffic!’ Alessio said with rueful amusement. ‘I have known people who have faced death with greater fortitude than you faced our wedding with today, but it has been a memorable experience for which I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I have been entranced from the minute you tottered into the register office in unrelieved black. Every lachrymose sigh, every sensitive shudder has held me mesmerised.’
Hot pink invading her extreme pallor, Daisy straightened her slight shoulders. ‘Excuse me?’
‘Oh, don’t stop drooping,’ Alessio pleaded, studying her with dancing golden eyes. ‘It makes me feel so wonderfully medieval and macho.’
‘I was not drooping!’ Daisy bit out in outrage.
‘And you look so incredibly feminine and fragile when you do it, I get this really erotic buzz,’ Alessio drawled with thickened emphasis, his golden eyes flashing over her with a sudden, startling smoulder of raw sexual appreciation.
Shocked to the core by the unexpectedness of that assertion, Daisy connected with that explicit look and jerked as if she had been struck by lightning. Instantaneous heat surged up inside her, making her slender thighs clench. Suddenly it was alarmingly difficult to breathe and her heart was pounding insanely fast. Horrified, she dropped her head, breaking that dangerous visual contact while she struggled to still her racing pulses and conceal the response he had so effortlessly evoked.
‘That remark was inappropriate,’ Daisy managed to say in what she hoped was a lofty tone of disapproval. ‘This is a marriage of convenience.’
‘Convenience.’ The repetition deep and audibly appreciative, Alessio caught her hand smoothly in his to lead her in the direction of Tara and Janet, who stood across the foyer. ‘How do you define convenience, or haven’t you got around to that yet?’
‘Separate bedrooms,’ Daisy said in breathless clarification. ‘I should think that was obvious.’
‘Barry was so sweet last night,’ Tara was proclaiming loudly as they drew level. ‘I felt really sorry for him. He even brought Mum flowers.’
Alessio stilled. ‘Barry?’
Spinning around, Tara flushed and threw her father a startled look.
Daisy stiffened. ‘He called in to see me...and wish me well.’
Out of her daughter’s hearing, Barry had congratulated Daisy on being such a fast mover and had then implied that she owed him a favour for her good fortune as Alessio had, after all, been his client. ‘Maybe you would like to marry him instead,’ Daisy had said. Barry had roared with laughter and soon revealed the true motivation behind his visit. That very morning, Giles had told Barry that Alessio now owned Elite Estates. Barry, very much in barracuda guise, had called round to remind Daisy that she had always thought Giles Carter was a sexist pig. He had gone on to suggest that young, aggressive blood in management would bear much more profitable fruit.