Alessio froze, his dark head whipping round, the smooth planes of his strong profile hardened by a flash of angry incredulity.
Daisy turned crimson as she realised what she had said.
‘Grow up, Daisy,’ Alessio advised with withering bite. ‘You may be stuck in a time-warp but the rest of us have moved on. If you can’t behave like an adult and be civil, I suggest that you stay up here!’
But the door closed with a final thud. With a groan of frustration, Daisy flung herself back against the pillows. Smart move, Daisy. Alienate him more by attacking his twin. Alessio had no idea how much abuse she had once had to take from his sister. Daisy hadn’t told tales. And it was too late now to redress the balance. She would only sound like a sulky child harbouring a grudge. And really Bianca was the least of her problems, she told herself painfully as she threw back the sheet and got up.
For only now did she truly appreciate the depth of Alessio’s bitterness. In angry impatience, he had taken her beliefs and shaken them inside out, shattering her view of the past. Alessio had not been grateful to be released from their shotgun marriage. Alessio had been equally devastated by their divorce. He had actually thought he was the one being dumped.
That picture dredged a shaky laugh from Daisy but it also made her think. Bianca’s assurance all those years ago that within months of their wedding her brother was already involved with his former girlfriend again no longer seemed credible. Had her sister-in-law lied about Sophia and that supposed reconciliation in a cruelly clever play on Daisy’s insecurity?
Whatever—Daisy gave her head an impatient shakenaturally Alessio was still seething at the fact that after walking out on their marriage she had chosen to deny him all knowledge of his daughter. Alessio thought she was a greedy, shallow woman who could not be trusted. Although, with cool Leopardi calculation, he had not shared that news with her until after the wedding. Daisy shivered, suddenly cold with apprehension about what the future might hold. She had still fallen into his arms, her every defence destroyed, a physical hunger that terrified her betraying her with humiliating ease.
Ten minutes later, she descended the sweeping staircase, her battered confidence bolstered by the elegant pale blue dress she wore. Inside she was still a mess of see-sawing emotions and conflict but she had no intention of entertaining Bianca with a miserable face.
The front doors in the hall were wide open. On the last step of the stairs, Daisy froze. Alessio was standing outside with a blonde draped round him. Daisy blinked and looked again, unable to credit the evidence of her own eyes. Slender brown arms were linked round Alessio’s throat as the woman laughed up at him, her flawless profile and the flowing mane of her corn-gold hair instantly recognisable to Daisy...
Her heart gave a sickening lurch as she was plunged into shock. Nina Franklin. What was she doing here? And why had Alessio led her to believe that the visitor was his sister? A stifled moan of distress trapped in her throat, Daisy reeled off the stairs before she could be seen and fled into the drawing room.
‘SOMEHOW you don’t look quite as smug as I expected,’ a languidly amused female voice remarked.
Startled, Daisy spun round, breathless and bewildered. In shock, she focused on Alessio’s sister. Bianca was standing by the window, a tall, rake-thin brunette in an enviably simple white shift-dress that screeched its designer cut. ‘Bianca...?’ she muttered dazedly, her brain refusing to function.
The only image stamped inside her head was that of Nina with her arms linked round Alessio, laughing and smiling with confident intimacy, certainly not reacting as any woman might have been expected to react when her lover had broken off their relationship and almost immediately married another woman. That disturbing image still twisted like a fiendish knife in Daisy’s shrinking flesh.
Bianca strolled forward, a mocking smile pinned to her lips. ‘Yes, I have to admit that much as I despise you, Daisy, I also have to admire your sheer nerve. You are holding a real live Leopardi as a hostage to fortune.’
In an uncertain gesture, Daisy pushed back damp tendrils of silver-fair hair from her brow. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’