Page 5 of Second Time Bride

‘In what way was I greedy?’ Daisy pressed in ever growing bewilderment. ‘I took nothing from you or your family.’

‘You call half a million pounds nothing?’

A furrow formed between her delicate brows. ‘But I refused the money. Your father tried very hard to make me accept it but I refused.’

‘You’re a liar.’ Alessio’s eloquent mouth twisted with derision. ‘My father was not the leading light in that deal. You made the demand. He paid up only because he was foolishly trying to protect me.’

‘I didn’t demand anything...and I didn’t accept any money either!’ Daisy protested heatedly.

Alessio dealt her a look of complete indifference that cut like a knife. ‘I don’t even know why I mentioned it. That pay-off was the tacky but merciful end to a very sordid little affair.’

Daisy bit the soft underside of her lower lip and tasted the acrid tang of her own blood. The pain steadied her a little. Alessio’s father, Vittorio, had obviously lied. Clearly he had told his son that she had accepted the money. And why should that lie surprise her? The Leopardi clan had loathed her on sight. His parents had tried hard to hide the fact when Alessio was around, but his twin sister, Bianca, had shown her hostility openly. Daisy stared into space, her whole being engulfed by a powerful wave of remembered pain and rejection.

In the swirling oblivion of that tide of memory she relived the heady scent of lush grass bruised by their lovemaking, the kiss of the Tuscan sun on her skin and the passionate weight and urgency of Alessio’s lean body on hers. Broken dreams and lost innocence. Her eyes burned, her small frame tensing defensively. Why had nobody ever told her how much loving could hurt and destroy? By the time she had found out that reality, the damage had been done and her reward had been guilt and despair. A ‘sordid little affair’? No, for her it had been so much more, and it was in the divergence of outlook that the seeds of disaster had been sown...

The clink of glass dredged her back from her dangerous passage into the past. Her lashes fluttered in confusion as Alessio leant lithely forward and slotted a brandy goblet between her nerveless fingers. ‘You look like you are about to pass out.’

Faint colour feathered then into Daisy’s drawn cheeks. She watched him help himself to a drink from the cabinet, every movement calm and precise. He did not look as though he was about to pass out. Although if he ever found out about Tara he might well make good the oversight. Hurriedly, she crushed that disturbing, foolish thought. Alessio had never wanted their baby.

At nineteen, Alessio had been able to think of an awful lot of things he wanted but they had not included a baby. So, knowing that, why on earth had she let him marry her? And yet the answer to that was so simple. She had honestly believed that he loved her... deep down inside...even though he hadn’t been showing it any more. It was amazing what a besotted teenage girl could persuade herself to believe, she conceded painfully.

‘And you are wearing odd shoes,’ Alessio remarked in a curiously flat tone.

A feeling of unreality was starting to enclose Daisy but she also sensed that Alessio was not as in control as he wanted to appear. She surveyed her feet, saw one black court shoe, one navy. It didn’t bother her. In the midst of a nightmare encounter, unmatched shoes were a triviality. She drained the brandy in one gulp. It sent fire chasing into the chilled pit of her stomach. She swallowed convulsively. ‘I wasn’t supposed to be working today. I came out in a hurry.’

‘You’ve cut your hair.’

Daisy lifted an uncertain hand halfway to her shoulderlength bob of shining silver-blonde hair, connected with brilliant eyes and wondered why time seemed to be slowing up, why they were now having this curiously stilted conversation when barely a minute ago they had been arguing. ‘Yes. It’s easier to manage.’

Alessio was running that narrowed, gleaming gaze over her slight figure in a manner which made her feel incredibly hot and uncomfortable. A wolfish smile gradually curved his hard mouth as he lounged back with innate grace in the seat opposite. ‘You don’t seem to have much to say to me...’