Page 54 of Second Time Bride

Bianca drifted over. ‘Stunning, isn’t she?’

Daisy was watching Nina blowing a flirtatious kiss at Alessio between takes. ‘I don’t believe in the coincidence of you and Nina arriving today—’

‘But Alessio does. Obviously I knew you were staying here,’ Bianca confirmed drily.

Irritably brushing off the attentions of the fluttering make-up girl, Nina approached Alessio with the efficiency of a heat-seeking missile closing in on a target.

‘You’re a week too late,’ Daisy told Bianca firmly. ‘You should have tried this charade before the wedding!’

‘I’m merely bringing a continuing relationship to your attention,’ Bianca responded sweetly. ‘Does Nina strike you as a woman who has recently lost her lover to a wife? She knows why Alessio married you and she knows it won’t last long. She can afford to be understanding.’

Nina had engaged Alessio in animated conversation. Daisy tilted her chin and walked over. Nina ignored her. Alessio settled a casual, long-fingered hand on the base of her spine. Daisy leant against him in a sudden tiny but aggressive movement and dug her fingers into the back pocket of his jeans, her seemingly idle fingernails scoring the flexing muscles of his lean hip. The scent and the heat of him engulfed her. An infinitesimal quiver ran through her. A seductress well on the way to becoming a hopeless victim of her own ploy, Daisy sucked in oxygen in a despairing rush, feeling Alessio tense and shift, while she dazedly questioned the inconsistency of her provocative behaviour.

‘Let’s go for a walk,’ Alessio breathed with telling abruptness.

Nina opened her green eyes wide. ‘But I can’t. I have to get into my next outfit in five minutes.’ She frowned down at Daisy, too self-centred even to realise that the invitation had not been directed at her. ‘Oh, yes, I almost forgot. Barry gave me a message for you.’

‘Barry?’ Daisy frowned, momentarily thrown by the reference.

‘I went to view that house with him,’ Nina said carelessly. ‘I felt really sorry for him too. He’s terribly broken up about losing you.’

Before Daisy could part her lips to challenge that astonishing assurance, Alessio intervened curtly, ‘And the message?’

Nina looked coy. ‘He said to remind Daisy of the proposition he made the night before your wedding.

‘Barry wants you to give him the chance to manage the agency,’ Daisy proffered beneath Alessio’s chillingly unimpressed gaze while Nina walked back to the cameras wearing a feline smile of satisfaction. ‘He’s very ambitious. Why are you looking at me like that?’

Alessio shook free of her.

Daisy’s lashes fluttered and she groaned, ‘Oh, no, you’re still a jealous toad!’

His eyes blazed with derision, his mouth twisting. ‘You have to be out of your mind to think that,’ he drawled with icy precision.

Yes, possibly she was ... for wasn’t she attributing emotions to him that he did not possess? There had to be some degree of caring for jealousy to exist. And Alessio did not care. Alessio’s sole concern was Tara. Flushing a hot, mortified pink, Daisy spun away and headed off for the cover of the trees, feeling that she’d made an outsize ass of herself. Let Bianca and Nina play out their stupid farce, she decided ruefully. They would be gone soon enough.

How could she have hidden from what was in her own heart when she’d married Alessio again? Her emotions had threatened to tear her in two with their contrary promptings. Yet still she had refused to see them for what they were. She still loved Alessio. What price their marriage of convenience now? And in forcing her into that agreement hadn’t Alessio really been giving her what she secretly wanted? She burned with shame at that acknowledgement.

Curled up in the shade of the giant oaks on the edge of the estate, she found herself inexorably reliving powerful and disturbing memories of the teenagers they had once been, so intensely and exclusively involved in each other that they had always wanted to be alone. Could she possibly settle for less now? Could she live with a man who only needed her to keep his daughter happy? In such an empty relationship, it would kill her by degrees to be a real wife to Alessio, she conceded painfully.