Page 43 of Second Time Bride

They were in Italy... and Alessio was smouldering again but, unhappily, not in silence, she thought as she recalled that scene with the photo album. At nineteen, Alessio had told her that a boy who slept around was only gaining necessary masculine experience but that a girl who slept around was a tart. That might not be fair but that was life, he had informed her cheerfully. But Alessio could not find it within himself to be quite so cheerful now about the idea that he might have married a tart.

Daisy might have told the reassuring truth had she been asked, but she hadn’t been asked. Alessio was not prone to demanding direct answers on sensitive subjects. He was naturally devious. Being sneaky had put him into the hands of his equally sneaky daughter. Tara, bless her scheming and shrewd little Leopardi brain, had worked out exactly what her father wanted to hear and had given it to him in spades. Daisy felt no pity for Alessio. Her sex life... or indeed her lack of a sex life...was none of his business.

But, for her daughter’s sake, she had to make the best of this crazy marriage, she told herself staunchly. Thankfully, she was not the sort of female who made a six-act tragedy out of a broken cup, contrary to Alessio’s opinion. She lifted her feathery lashes and then froze. A stricken gasp was torn from her. All languor banished, Daisy jackknifed upright, her horrified gaze flying round the eerily familiar contours of the spacious room.

Vacating the bed in a flying leap, she wrenched back the curtains with impatient hands and looked out in disbelief at the formal gardens spread out below. Boxshaped parterres adorned with statures and fountains and huge planted stone urns ran up to the edges of a magnificent oak wood. Beyond the trees stretched the rolling verdure of the Tuscan hills.

The very first time Daisy had seen that magnificent view, she had been under the naive impression that she was having a guided tour of the palatial Leopardi summer home. Alessio’s parents had generally been in residence only at weekends. Daisy had been hugely intimidated by her luxurious surroundings. Having got her off balance, Alessio had easily overcome her shy, uncertain protests by smoothly locking his mouth to hers in heated persuasion and sweeping her off to bed to deprive her of her virginity...

But not before assiduously assuring her that he would not go one step further than she wanted him to, that she had only to say no and he would immediately stop. Daisy hadn’t been capable of vocalising a single word in the flood of passion which had followed. Alessio would naturally have worked that fact out beforehand. Even as a teenager, he had been ruthlessly well acquainted with her every weakness.

Daisy finally spun from the window and back into the present; trembling with outrage and discomfiture. How dared Alessio bring her back to the family villa in Tuscany? How could any man be so insensitive that he didn’t appreciate that this was the very last place she would want to revisit? This was where they had fallen in love, where they had played adult games of passion, blithely risking consequences that neither of them had been equipped to deal with.

She was standing beneath the shower in the adjoining bathroom before it occurred to her that thirteen years ago that bedroom had been his bedroom. Of course it wouldn’t still be his, she thought, scolding herself furiously for the fact that her impressionable heart had just skipped an entire beat. Instead of being clenched by horror, she had been clenched by excitement, she conceded with deep chagrin. But she would never allow herself to succumb to the potent lure of Alessio’s allpervasive sexuality again. A healthy distance and detachment would provide the only safe and sensible foundation for a marriage of convenience.

Daisy turned off the shower and towelled herself dry. Then, throwing the towel aside, she padded back into the bedroom. She was heading for the dressing room, where she hoped to find some clothing, when a light knock on the door momentarily froze her to the spot. She wasn’t wearing a stitch! As the doorhandle began turning, she gave a frantic, unavailing pull at the securely lodged sheet on the bed and then dived with a strangled groan under the massive bed to conceal herself. The rattle of china broke the silence. Daisy waited to see a pair of maid’s feet approaching but instead she saw male feet... unmistakably Alessio’s feet—bare, brown, beautifully shaped.