‘We have only been married for five hours.’ A slow, teasing smile curved Alessio’s sensual mouth as he gazed down at her.
It was the most genuine smile that Alessio had given her over the past week but Daisy was even more chilled by the charismatic approach. Tara smiled just the same way when she was after something—usually something that cost two arms and a leg. ‘Five hours feels like long enough.’
‘When a challenge comes knocking on the front door, you’re already halfway out the back, aren’t you? You’re faster on your feet than a greyhound!’ Alessio censured her grimly as he bent down and without the smallest warning scooped her bodily out of her seat. ‘You’ve done that from the first night we met, right through our marriage and out of it again, and you were still doing it this week when you bolted from the bank. But there’ll be no escape this time, I assure you.’
‘What do you think you’re doing?’ she gasped, unnerved by his behaviour.
‘What I should have done an hour ago. You’re suffering from sleep deprivation.’ Alessio laid her down on the bed in the cabin. ‘Trying to talk to you now is like trying to talk to a drunk. I am getting nowhere fast. And it’s all my own fault. Mea culpa. I employed every device I could to nail you. I leant on your conscience. I crowded you. Your weaknesses were my strengths. I admit it. Does that make you feel better?’
Dumbstruck, Daisy stared up at him.
Alessio sank down on the edge of the mattress and calmly took off her shoes. ‘One bad week and we’re married. What’s one bad week?’
‘It was fourteen the last time... hell on earth—’
‘It was not hell on earth. Dio, give me strength!’ Alessio growled, searing her with exasperated eyes. ‘So we had a few problems... OK? But it wasn’t all my fault. You changed. All of a sudden you were creeping about like Little Orphan Annie, looking all wounded and pathetic.’
‘You stopped talking to me.’
‘I wasn’t talking to anyone.
‘You could have talked to me.’
‘You couldn’t have handled it. You were blissfully oblivious to the fact that life as I knew it had gone down the tubes.’ A wry smile twisted his well-shaped mouth and then faded again. ‘Superficial things that shouldn’t have mattered to me did matter then. My friends thought it was hilarious when you ended up pregnant. In fact, they thought it was the funniest thing they had ever heard. Alessio had finally got caught.’
Daisy winced and paled. ‘I didn’t know that.’
‘And anything but marriage would have been cool in my circle. I wasn’t very good at laughing at myself at nineteen. One day I was a social lion, the next a hermit... and then on top of that I had Vittorio trying to act the heavy father for the first time at the wrong time... you weeping over me, my mother weeping over me, Bianca weeping over me. You’re right,’ Alessio suddenly breathed, with the faintly dazed air of one making a long-unacknowledged admission. ‘It was sheer bloody hell.’
Daisy flipped over and looked at the wall. Her eyes stung, her mouth quivered. He was finally agreeing that their first marriage had been a nightmare. She felt astonishingly ungrateful for that agreement. Why was it that she should now recall odd little moments when the sheer hell seemed worth it? She was being very perverse. And at seventeen she must have been appallingly self-centred not to appreciate that Alessio might be suffering just as much as she was, if not more...
As she lay there, Daisy saw the past slowly rearrange itself along less familiar but perhaps more realistic lines, and it was not a pleasant experience. Alessio might have changed towards her but hadn’t she also changed towards him? The sunny romantic he had shared that summer with had turned into a weepy wet blanket. She had been a complete pain. Wasn’t it time she admitted that? Out of her own emotional depth and feeling painfully insecure, she had needed the kind of constant reassurance that no teenage boy would have been capable of giving her.
Alessio had not been deliberately punishing her. He had been getting by the only way he could. He had even tried to protect her by keeping quiet about his own problems. His friends laughing at him...Daisy shrank from that image, remembering with aching clarity just how proud Alessio had been then. It must have taken real guts to marry her in the face of that cruel adolescent mockery. His friends would have been far more impressed if he had given her the money for a termination and put her on the next flight back to London. She swallowed back the thickness ballooning in her throat.