‘Ms Chase, you will accompany me to my suite.’ His voice rolled down her spine like thunder, setting her insides quaking. He’d never spoken to her like that before.
‘I…I should make arrangements with Mr D’Ambrosio, ’ Lily prevaricated. Part of her longed to go with Vito, but the sensible part of her mind told her to keep well away from him.
He was not the man she’d thought she knew—the tender lover who’d taken care of her and made her feel safe. This was a very different man—a heartless beast who’d thrown her out of his house one horrible cold night in March.
That night had turned into an escalating nightmare. The airport had closed early because of the fog, leaving her no escape and nowhere to go.
‘Come with me.’ His words were nothing short of a command, and Lily found herself moving forward even before Vito’s hand closed around her arm.
She gasped as he made contact, and her step faltered. It felt like an electric shock had jolted through her. She turned shakily to look up into his face.
Any hope that still flickered in her heart was extinguished— as his hostile gaze knifed through her. The anger that glinted in his blue eyes was so cold and relentless that it felt like shards of ice were piercing her soul.
She wanted to get away, but there was no way out. She wanted to bolt for the door—willingly sacrifice the sale and her potential job—but Vito had her arm.
The glacial touch of his gaze ravaged her like a blizzard, but heat from his hand was steadily burning through the sleeve of her linen jacket, spreading insistently— through her chilled veins, making her acutely aware of every single inch of her body.
It only took seconds to reach his private elevator and, before she knew it, he’d pulled her inside with him.
She exhaled with an involuntary whoosh as the doors closed, cutting them off from the rest of the world, enclosing them in a space that suddenly seemed too small to contain Vito. The sheer power of his presence was pressing out in all directions, bouncing off the mirrored walls of the elevator, becoming— increasingly magnified with every moment that passed.
It felt like she was trapped inside a capsule with him, in a place that was completely saturated by his powerful presence. The air that flowed around his body, slipping underneath his designer clothes and sliding across his firm bronze skin, was moving sensuously over her too.
Every breath she took was laced with his achingly familiar scent, setting her nerves alight, making the tiny space they shared more real and vibrant than the world outside.
His fingers still pressed into her arm, but from the way her heart was racing and her skin tingling it was as if his touch extended way beyond that. It was more like he was running his hands all over her naked body. And in a distant part of her mind she was aware of the elevator travelling up, further away from the outside world. Further away from escape.
Then suddenly the mirrored doors slid open and he stepped forwards, taking her with him. She blinked in surprise as he let go of her arm, momentarily disorientated— by her new surroundings, and stared around at the cavernous space she found herself in.
‘What is this place?’ she asked, saying the first words that came into her mind. The floor was covered in a luxurious light-grey carpet, but there was no furniture apart from one imposing desk which was set to the side near the floor-to-ceiling plate-glass windows.
‘The penthouse suite,’ Vito responded shortly. ‘I have no use for it—it’s being converted.’
She glanced around again, slowly regaining a little equilibrium as she put some distance between herself and Vito. She couldn’t believe how powerfully her body had responded merely from being confined in a small space with him.
As she looked about, she noticed the marks where furniture had once stood, and shadows on the wall where pictures had been removed. It was a soulless space, like a home that had been gutted.
It didn’t seem right that she was in this bleak place with Vito. In her mind her time with him was associated with his palazzo inVenice, or even just going out and about with him. It wasn’t the level of comfort and luxury that was missing—it was simply being together. Being with Vito had always felt like being home. Now she had no home.
‘Where are you living?’ Vito asked, snapping her out of her thoughts.
‘London,’ Lily replied briefly. After the way he’d treated her, she didn’t see any reason to let him know how unsettled her situation was.
‘Alone?’ he probed.
‘That’s none of your business.’ He was standing only a few feet away from her, and she met his hard blue gaze with her own. She didn’t want him to think that he intimidated— her, even though she was feeling very shaky and uncertain. And she was sure he’d seen how being close to him in the elevator had affected her.
‘The baby’s father.’ He spoke through gritted teeth. ‘Are you living with him?’
For the second time that morning, Lily’s heart skipped a beat.
Vito’s words didn’t make sense. He couldn’t really mean what she thought he did—could he?
‘What are you talking about?’ she gasped, laying her hand protectively against her still-flat stomach. ‘I know it wasn’t planned—but of course you are the father.’
He was staring at her from beneath black brows, but the morning light flooding in from the massive windows caught his eyes, making them look almost metallic. For a moment she hardly recognised him. This really couldn’t be the man she’d lived with for five wonderful months of her life.
‘Don’t bother with your lies,’ Vito said. ‘Just tell me if you are in contact with the father. Does he know you are pregnant?’
‘You’ve made a mistake,’ Lily said, still struggling to process the implications of what he was saying. ‘You know I’ve only ever been with you.’
‘I may have been your first lover,’ Vito said. ‘But I wasn’t your only lover.’
‘But why do you think that?’ Lily gasped. ‘I don’t understand. Did somebody tell you something about me?’
‘Just tell me if the father knows,’ Vito grated.
‘You are the father!’ Lily cried. ‘There’s no one else and there never has been.’
His eyes pinned her for a moment longer, as if he was assessing a cold, emotionless business situation.
‘From that, I take it that he doesn’t know—or maybe he doesn’t want to know,’ Vito said. ‘Whatever the case, from now on, as far as the world is concerned, the child you are carrying is mine.’
‘It is yours.’ Lily said hollowly. She felt like she was banging her head against a brick wall.
Still holding her with his cold blue stare, Vito nodded once. The decisive movement of his head was strangely unnerving.
‘We will be married immediately,’ he announced.
‘MARRIED?’ Lily echoed, staring at him in utter shock. She couldn’t believe what she’d heard. ‘If that’s some kind of cruel joke, I’m not falling for it.’
‘It’s no joke.’ Vito sounded completely serious, and was looking at her with the hard expression she was starting to get horribly used to. ‘We will be married at once.’
‘How can you even ask me that?’ Lily gasped. Six weeks ago she would have accepted willingly. A proposal— from Vito would have been like a dream come true—but not any more. Now it was more like a nightmare. ‘After the way you’ve treated me, I’d be mad to marry you.’
‘I’m not asking,’ Vito said. ‘I’m telling you that we will be married. And, as far as the world is concerned, the baby you are carrying is mine. He or she will be brought up as the Salvatore heir.’
Lily’s head was spinning and her stomach churning. With every passing second, Vito seemed more and more like a stranger.
Her mother, Ellen, had warned her how men could easily change. She’d had personal experience of it. Lily’s father had gone from adoring lover to threatening— brute overnight, when Ellen had told him that she was pregnant. That was when Ellen had found out that Reggie had been married all along.
He’d already had a wife and two children, and was steadily working his way up the hierarchy of his father-in-law’s— accountancy firm. Despite the sweet words of his seduction, he’d never been interested in anything more than a fling with Ellen. Her pregnancy had come as a wake-up call to him. He’d had too much at stake.
If his wife, or her father, had discovered his infidelity— Reggie could have lost everything—his family, his professional status and, most importantly to him, the prospect of taking over a successful business when his father-in-law retired.
To protect himself, Reggie had set Ellen up in a tiny country cottage. He’d paid her rent and had made measly maintenance payments for Lily, but it was based on the strict understanding that Ellen could never reveal herself or her illegitimate child to his family.
‘Look, I don’t know what game you’re playing with me.’ Lily put her hands on her hips and met Vito’s gaze straight on. Her childhood had been blighted by her father’s duplicity, and suddenly she felt she’d had enough of dishonesty and secrets to last a lifetime. ‘But, whatever you’re playing at, I don’t have time for it. If you want to buy the web-conferencing system, that’s good—I need the commission to get myself a flat. If you don’t want it, that’s fine too. Just let me leave so I can get on with my life. I have to go find a permanent job.’