Page 40 of Second Time Bride

They dropped Tara off with her luggage at the school. She hurtled onto the waiting coach to join her friends and waved frantically through the back window.

‘She’s scared that one kid on that coach will fail to see the limousine,’ Daisy groaned in embarrassment.

‘She’s happy,’ Alessio countered. ‘That’s all that matters.’

A few minutes later, the limo drew up outside Janet’s house. Her aunt smiled widely at them both, her eyes brimming with wry amusement, her indifference to the tense atmosphere profound. ‘Have a wonderful honeymoon!’ she urged with immovable good cheer.

‘What honeymoon?’ Daisy bleated as the door thudded shut.

‘We’re flying straight to Italy,’ Alessio informed her. ‘Janet packed a few things for you.’

‘What do we need with a honeymoon?’

‘I think we need one very, very badly.’

‘I thought I would be moving into your apartment until Tara got back—’

‘But you hadn’t packed for that eventuality either, had you?’ Alessio murmured drily.

The uncomfortable silence lasted all the way to the airport and onto the Leopardi private jet. After takeoff, the steward served them with champagne and offered them the flight crew’s best wishes.

‘Have you told your family about this yet?’ Daisy asked Alessio abruptly.

‘Of course.’

‘I suppose it hit them harder than a crisis on Wall Street.’

‘They would have liked to have attended the wedding.’

Daisy turned as pale as death and helped herself to some more champagne with an unsteady hand. ‘And I thought the day couldn’t have got any worse...’

‘There would have been no recriminations,’ Alessio asserted.

Daisy sat forward, dragged from her lethargy by a horrible thought. ‘We’re not going back to live with them, are we?’

Alessio expelled his breath in a hiss. ‘Of course not!’

Daisy sank back, weak with relief.

‘But they were extremely shocked to learn that I am the father of a teenage daughter,’ Alessio admitted tautly. ‘They feel very guilty.’

Daisy wasn’t listening. She had already switched off. One Leopardi at a time was enough for her to deal with. ‘This has been the very worst week of my life,’ she complained, looking back on a mindless blur of sleepless nights, abandoned meals and thumping tension headaches.

‘Last Saturday, I met you again. It destroyed my weekend,’ Alessio volunteered with velvet-smooth emphasis. ‘On Monday, you told me I was a father. I spent the night walking the floor. Tuesday was dominated by an almost overwhelming desire to seek you out and strangle you. I consoled myself by buying the estate agency. Wednesday, I met my daughter. I cooled down and started to laugh again. Thursday, I had to play games of entrapment. Friday, I prayed that Tara would prevent you from buying a one-way ticket to somewhere like the Bermuda Triangle. But today we got married and the games are over. I can now finally relax.’

Outraged by that assessment, Daisy studied his darkly handsome face and long, lithe, undeniably indolent sprawl. ‘How can you call what you did to me a game? You blackmailed me!’

Alessio surveyed her, his bright gaze a sliver of gleaming gold below luxuriant ebony lashes. ‘Stress is not for you, piccola mia. I thrive on it. You don’t. If I hadn’t gone for the special licence and the blackmail you might well have starved yourself into a lasting decline before I got you to the altar. You’ve already lost a lot of weight.’ His lean features were surprisingly taut.

The complete exhaustion which Daisy had been fighting off all week was relentlessly gaining on her. It was becoming an effort to think straight. An enormous yawn crept up on her while she wondered why he was going on about her weight.

‘And let me assure you that you will not be staging a continuing decline under any roof of mine. The next meal that is put in front of you you will eat,’ Alessio spelt out as he sprang lithely upright. ‘Now I think you should get some rest.’

Daisy regarded the ring on her finger with a heart that sank, and then looked up. ‘You’re trying to manage me. I don’t like being managed. I don’t like being married either,’ she added helplessly.