Her eyes lowering from his, Daisy mulled over that calm explanation. She believed him. Colour rose slowly in her cheeks. Bianca had made up a story and Daisy had foolishly swallowed it without demanding evidence or confronting Alessio. Clearly, there had been no other girl involved in the breakup of their first marriage. And yet hadn’t she been ready to give credence to Bianca’s spiteful allegations a second time? Should she tell Alessio what had really happened with his sister? Would he believe her? she wondered ruefully. Bianca was a very overprotective and possessive twin, but clever enough to hide it. Daisy was almost certain that she had been treated to a side of Bianca that Alessio had yet to experience.
‘What are you thinking about?’ Alessio probed, taking in her evasive gaze and guilty flush.
‘You actually thought I might be anorexic too?’ Lifting up her head, eager to move the subject in a safer direction, Daisy studied him, and an undeniable lurch of tenderness warmed her. He had been worried about her, concerned about her health. She picked up her knife and fork. ‘Tense situations kill my appetite,’ she told him. ‘That’s all.’
‘But that wasn’t what you were thinking about,’ Alessio said perceptively, after watching her clear her plate in careful silence.
‘Maybe I was thinking about just how well I know you ... in fact, how well I ever knew you,’ Daisy said unsteadily.
‘I’m a very average guy,’ Alessio asserted lazily, his lush black lashes partially screening eyes of vibrant gold which interfered with her ability to breathe.
‘You think so?’ Daisy responded a little unevenly, struggling to close out the flash-fire effect of those gorgeous eyes. ‘You know ... I need fresh air more than I need caffeine. It’s very airless in here.’
But Alessio sprang up and caught her as she left the table, tugging her up against him with hard, insistent hands, every muscle in his big, powerful body tense as he stared down at her with unhidden frustration. ‘We’re married now. Don’t shut me out... and don’t run away from me.’
The hard masculine thrust of his virility against her taut stomach made her slender length hum and throb like a race car revving up. A bitter-sweet ache made her thighs clench, leaving her dizzy and disorientated. But even as her hips began to rise in a tiny, inviting circular motion as old as time, and the kind of fierce, unquenchable longing that burned engulfed her, Daisy fought her own frailty with frantic determination.
‘We’re making a home for Tara. That’s all we’re doing,’ she told him unsteadily. ‘Now...please let go of me!’
His smouldering gaze told her that he wasn’t about to listen and then a door slammed, voices intruding from the hall, and Alessio released her with a raw expletive. On legs that felt as reliable as cotton-wool sticks, Daisy fled through the French windows. But she felt as though she had left half of herself behind in the broken circle of his arms. A stifled sob tore at her throat, her eyes smarting with stinging tears as she breathed in the hot, still air and saw right to the very heart of her turmoil.
Only loving had ever hurt this much. Alessio influenced her every emotion and response. And that was so achingly, terrifyingly familiar to Daisy. She could have coped so much better with being a sex-starved animal. The idea that she might still love Alessio petrified her. Loving him meant that the very last thing she could live with was a humiliating marriage of convenience cobbled together solely for their daughter’s sake.
Indeed, much as she loved Tara, if Alessio told her once more that they were only married again for her benefit she would scream and push him out of a window, because every time he stressed the all-encompassing importance of Tara’s needs it made Daisy feel as if she herself was of no account. And why was she so pathetically envious of his affection for her daughter? Because she wanted more for herself. In short, she was still hopelessly in love with the same male who had stolen her heart at seventeen. Why had it taken her this long to work that out?
In a daze of conflicting emotions, Daisy watched Alessio stride down the steps at the front of the villa, a devastatingly handsome male whose every lithe, graceful movement made her shockingly aware not only of him but also of her own extreme vulnerability. Hurriedly, she looked away again, only then giving some attention to the scene before her. Nina was posing in a gorgeous shoulderless sugar-pink evening dress against the dark yew topiary. Tara had once had a Barbie doll that looked remarkably similar. Impossibly perfect, dressed like a fairy-tale princess, complete with a cloud of golden hair.