‘We don’t have to do anything we don’t want to. We can draw up our own arrangement or have the legal sharks cut it up for us. It’s up to you.’
‘But what about our plans? Our child needs us both! That was what you said.’
He was standing now, right beside her wedding dress. He lifted his fingers to touch the delicate lace sheath. She would have looked so lovely. A huge ivory ribbon was tied just under the bust and trailed down the sides to the knee-length hem. He lifted it up, letting it slip through his fingers.
‘We can make new plans. I’ve already siphoned off MacIver. It’s there if you want it. You could create something amazing and it would be all yours. I’ve no influence with Argento. I’m sorry if boats float your boat, so to speak, but I really have done with that now. The lawyers are untying me as we speak.’
He heard her sob. He didn’t want to look round. He walked to the window and addressed the stupid little topiary hedges that he’d hated ever since he was a child.
‘I know you think I’m interfering, but I’d do anything for you not to be involved in any way with Salvatore—even if you’re fighting him. He’s poisonous. You deserve better. And, don’t ask me why, but I really want you to take my other baby. Take MacIver. Make it work. That’s what you really want, isn’t it, Coral? To make your mark on the world?’
He took her silence for confirmation. Every second was like another year of a jail term.
‘I’ll deal with the guests. You don’t need to face anyone. I’ll leave you here in Rome—you can have the house. I’ll take you to London, or back to Hydros. Tell me what you want, Coral, and I’ll make it happen for you. I promise you.’
‘No, you won’t you—you…bastard! You will not do this to me!’
He froze. ‘What did you say?’
She was halfway across the floor. She was untying the robe and throwing it down on the ground. Underneath she wore exquisite lingerie that hugged her wonderful curves, and stockings on her long, elegant legs.
‘You will not do this to me!’
She grabbed the wedding dress from the wooden mannequin and unzipped it. The mannequin wobbled back and forth as if in shock. She stepped into the dress, never taking her eyes off his.
‘You made love to me, Raffaele Rossini! You made me pregnant. Then you threw me out, and then wouldn’t let me out of your sight until you were sure I wasn’t a liar! And then you made me fall in love with you. You utter…’
The dress was on. The ribbon lay limp down one side. She tugged at the zip, staring at him as if she wanted to brand him with her eyes.
‘What did you say?’ he breathed.
‘You heard!’ she said.
He paced towards her.
He put his hand up to silence her.
‘What. Did. You. Say?’
He reached her. She was still struggling with the dress, twisting her arms up over her shoulders and pulling at the zip.
He grabbed her by the wrists. ‘What did you say, dammit?’
‘You will marry me if it’s the last thing you do,’ she breathed, staring up at him through the most blurry, beautiful eyes he had ever seen.
‘Oh, I will, will I?’ he asked, not moving a muscle.
Her eyes blinked. Her shoulders sank. Her lips fell open and she let her head fall down, just for a moment.
But then she looked up and into his eyes, and he felt something shift in his heart. Something shifted and settled and he knew then that he was going to be with this woman for the rest of his life.
‘You love me, don’t you?’ he said.
She looked him right in the eye. And then she nodded. ‘Yes. Yes, I do.’
He gathered her into his arms. This wild, wanton woman who was his…his everything. He held her closer than close. He cradled her and rocked her and breathed his love.
‘You do. And I love you, too.’
She grabbed his shirt, handfuls of it, and laid her head on his chest.
‘You’ve got a funny way of showing it.’
He held her closer still. He wouldn’t let her go.
‘I’ve never shown it to anyone before. You’ll need to help me practise.’
She nodded, but still she didn’t move. She was happy in his arms. He could feel it. This was love. Unconditional. Uncontracted. Real.
He fell to his knees.
‘Marry me, Coral. Make me the happiest man alive. Promise you’ll never change, never do what you’re told, never shut up and sit quietly or behave. Promise that you’ll win over the media world as you’ve won me over.’
‘I know in my heart that my mother and father would have loved you.’
She flung her arms around his neck. Their mouths met and they kissed and he felt her love.