‘Do you realise what time it is?’
Daisy paused halfway up the stairs and studiously consulted her watch. ‘Half past nine.’
His lean features a set mask of self-restraint, Alessio nonetheless prowled like a sleek, dark, hungry predator across the hall and spread his hands expressively. ‘Where the hell have you been until this hour?’ he gritted from between clenched teeth.
‘I went for a walk. I thought I’d give our visitors a chance to get on their bikes,’ Daisy said tightly. ‘Sorry I missed out on dinner but I made myself a sandwich in the kitchen. Now I’m off to bed. Goodnight.’
‘Goodnight?’ Alessio raked, the mask slipping slightly to allow her a view of the angry exasperation he was struggling to control.
Daisy hurried into the dressing room off their bedroom. Frustratingly, her case had been unpacked while she had been out. After locating a nightdress, Daisy removed herself again at speed and selected a small bedroom on the second floor. Only when she had got into bed and doused the light did she begin to relax a little. Alessio would get the message eventually. They could be...well, parenting partners. Anything more intimate was out of the question and as long as she kept her feelings to herself, as long as he had no suspicion of his power over her he couldn’t hurt her again, could he?
Some time later, a distant dull thud broke the silence of the villa. Daisy frowned when within the space of a minute another thud followed...and then another. She lost count but realised in growing horror that the racket of slamming doors was getting louder and closer, not to mention more intimidating, by the second. The image of Alessio striding through the villa conducting something as uncool as a room-to-room search for his missing bride shook her rigid but Daisy stayed where she was, as stiff and tense as a sacrificial offering, until finally and with an almighty crash that matched her heartbeat the door flew wide.
‘I ought to chain you to a wall in the cellar!’ Alessio launched at her in a roar of raw derision as he strode over to the bed and stared fulminatingly down at her shrinking figure. ‘At least then I’d know where to find you! You spend half the damned day hiding in the woods and then creep up here to the attics to spend the night. What sort of a marriage do you call this?’
‘This is not a normal marriage—’
‘But it’s about to become one!’ Alessio swore with conviction as he dragged back the bedding and hauled her up into his arms before she could even draw breath to evade him.
‘Put me down!’ Daisy screeched in shock, having been prepared for argument but not physical intervention.
‘You’re supposed to be in my bedroom. That’s where you’re going. And if you don’t want to sleep in the bed with me you can sleep on the floor...but one thing I do know—you are sleeping in the same room. Why? Because you are my wife!’ Alessio spelt out with wrathful emphasis.
‘You blackmailed me into becoming your wife!’
‘Come off it,’ Alessio countered with blistering contempt, thundering down the stairs two at a time and striding along the corridor. ‘On your terms the blackmail was manna from heaven!’
‘I... beg... your... pardon?’ Daisy gasped, devastated that he should already be harbouring such a suspicion.
‘You want me every bit as much as I want you ... and only this way could you have me without admitting that fact. Manna from heaven!’ Alessio repeated with provocative bite as he dumped her down on the bed.
‘That’s an absolutely ridiculous accusation!’ Daisy struggled to sound convincingly incredulous but she had turned scarlet.
‘And since nothing will convince me that you don’t want me ... mutual lust being instantly recognisable ... I can’t understand why you’re still running in the wrong direction!’ Alessio delivered with savage candour. ‘What more do you want from me? What does it take for me to get some co-operation? Do I need to tell you that there is a string of credit cards and a monthly allowance that would keep an oil sheikh happy waiting for you?’
Daisy paled and swallowed hard at the degrading suggestion that money might make her more amenable. Suddenly, playing the role of gold-digger who had gone out with a big unfeeling bang during their first marriage no longer felt like a source of secret amusement or a clever defence mechanism. Maybe it was time she told Alessio the truth about that financial settlement. She worried at her lower lip, feeling threatened by the prospect of even telling Alessio that much. But how could it hurt? At least he wouldn’t be able to call her mercenary again!