His choice of word was like a slap in the face.
At that exact moment she knew he would never forgive her for what he thought she’d done. It made no difference that he was mistaken, that there was no possible proof of her sin against him—her denial would continue to fall on deaf ears.
‘You are the one that needs forgiveness, for the awful way you treated me. For the way you’re still treating me!’ She snatched her clothes up off the floor and held them protectively across her body.
He had never truly planned to make love to her. His intention— that morning had only ever been to humiliate her.
But she’d spoken her mind before she thought about the consequences, and as Vito turned back towards her his fury was almost palpable.
‘Don’t pursue this.’ His words were forced out through gritted teeth, and she could see the monumental effort he was exerting to control his rage. ‘You won’t win. You can’t win. It would be better for everyone if you don’t keep reminding me of your betrayal—of the fact that you are carrying another man’s child inside you.’
Vito didn’t need to speak again to quell Lily’s retort. As his gaze met hers, the tortured look in his eyes cut through her pain, and in a sudden instant of clarity she realised how he was being torn apart by his belief that she had cheated on him.
But it wasn’t her fault that he thought she’d been unfaithful. Was it madness to stay with someone who thought her capable of such a thing? But she’d made her decision—she had to marry him to make a future for her unborn child.
Later, for her own sake, she was going to have to try to discover why he believed what he did. But for now she had to let it rest. From the anger and tension radiating from every ounce of his powerful body, she could tell that now was not the time to keep pushing him. There was no chance of having a reasoned conversation with him while he was so tightly wound and his anger so raw.
‘Put this on,’ Vito said, holding out the dress to her.
She slipped it over her head silently, gathered her long hair to one side, and turned to present him with the zip. She straightened her shoulders consciously, determined— to show him that her will was as strong as his. She wouldn’t fight with him now—but neither would she let herself be quashed by the brute strength of his personality.
He pulled the zip up slowly, not touching her at all. She exhaled quietly, careful not to let him know that she’d been holding her breath in case his fingers brushed against her sensitive spine. Then she turned to look at her reflection in the mirror.
She hardly recognised the girl who gazed back at her. The girl who’d worn that dress and lived in this bedroom—that— girl—belonged to another time. A happier time.
If she was going to survive this marriage, she was going to have to assert herself. Show Vito that, despite his threats and undeniable position of strength, he couldn’t walk all over her.
‘That will do very well,’ Vito said, his patronising tone setting Lily’s nerves on edge. He passed her bag to her and headed towards the door. ‘We must set off to my grandfather’s.’
‘Wait a minute.’ Lily gripped her suede bag tightly and dug in her heels.
‘What is it?’ Vito turned back impatiently.
‘That sweater,’ she said, tossing her bag onto the bed and walking briskly towards him. ‘It’s not right. You can’t wear a depressing black sweater if you’re serious about cheering your grandfather up.’
‘He won’t be looking at me…’ Vito’s words petered out as she gripped the soft cashmere in her hands and started peeling it off his body.
‘You must have something lighter and fresher. Maybe— your pale-blue sweater?’ It was an effort to keep her voice steady, but she was proud of how matter-of-fact she managed to sound. Especially when she discovered he wasn’t wearing anything under the sweater, and an intoxicating waft of his pure, masculine aroma filled her senses, making her legs feel weak all over again.
She took a step back, and for a second let her eyes run over his magnificent form. A shiver of sensual appreciation— ran through her, and she realised her ploy to regain some control was in serious danger of backfiring— on her.
Vito turned and stepped towards his wardrobe. Try as she might, she simply couldn’t tear her gaze away. She’d always loved to watch him without his shirt on—never— failing to be fascinated, and frankly turned on, by the irresistible play of his well-defined muscles beneath his golden-brown skin.
‘It’s your choice.’ He indicated the neatly folded piles of sweaters in his wardrobe—but for a moment Lily got the impression he wasn’t simply talking about clothing. He’d seen the way she was looking at him. He knew how she was reacting.
Was he letting her know that, if she was prepared to make the first move, he wanted to make love to her after all?
With an effort of will, she pushed the thought aside. He was probably playing with her again, and she certainly didn’t intend to cause herself any more humiliation.
‘This is a cheerful colour,’ she said, tossing a blue sweater at him. ‘That will brighten your grandfather’s day.’
Vito pulled it on silently. Then, without even bothering— to check his appearance in the mirror, took her hand and pulled her towards the door.
CA’ SALVATORE, the beautiful palazzo that had been the home of Giovanni Salvatore for more than seventy-five years, stood in the very heart of the city on a magnificent— stretch of the Grand Canal.
It was possible to make the journey from Vito’s home by water, using the impressive canal entrances of both palazzi, but Lily was pleased when he decided they should walk. She had missed strolling through the maze of narrow streets, along canals and over bridges. Although she had lived in Venice for quite a while, she’d discovered— something new almost every outing, and had always taken pleasure from investigating unfamiliar areas.
Now she walked apprehensively beside Vito. He’d told her that his grandfather was old and frail, but she knew that for most of his life Giovanni had been a formidable— Venetian businessman. Vito had often spoken of him with a great deal of respect, but also great love.
She knew that when Vito was a child he’d come to live with his grandfather at Ca’ Salvatore after his parents had died in an accident. It was clear that Giovanni was still hugely important to him—as was this visit. For everyone’s sake, she hoped things would go smoothly.
It didn’t take long to reach the baroque palazzo, and for a moment Lily gazed in awe at the building’s amazing façade, complete with marble pillars and statues.
‘And this is just the back entrance.’ Vito paused beside her to look up at the bold ornamentation. ‘The side facing the canal is really something to behold.’
Lily smiled in surprise at his tone. He’d grown up in this grand historic palace, but he didn’t take it for granted, and was obviously very proud of his family’s heritage. She glanced sideways at him, and for a moment he looked like the Vito she used to know. He appeared relaxed and almost happy—as if coming to Ca’ Salvatore was like coming home for him. Suddenly— she had the feeling that he was genuinely looking forward to seeing his grandfather and telling him their news.
He took her hand in his. It was a gesture that could be taken equally as a sign of possession or affection, and once more she was reminded how important it was that she played her part well. He led her into the building and up to the second-floor room where the housekeeper had told them Giovanni was resting in bed.
The moment they entered the old man’s bedchamber, Lily got a sense that something wasn’t right. Vito stiffened— beside her the instant he laid eyes on his grandfather,— then he dropped her hand and crossed to the bed in two long strides.
‘Nonno?’ Vito bent down to speak close to his grandfather’s— ear. ‘Are you feeling all right?’
Lily stood beside the door, not sure what to do. The housekeeper had said Giovanni was resting, but she hadn’t implied that anything was wrong. And, from Lily’s perspective, she couldn’t identify what had made Vito react so strongly. Giovanni looked old and tired, but maybe Vito had spotted something more worrying in his appearance because he knew him so well.
‘Vito?’ The old man’s voice was weak, but he was looking at his grandson’s face with recognition. ‘I’m tired, that’s all.’
‘I’m calling the doctor,’ Vito said. ‘I don’t like the way you look.’
‘Hmph!’ Giovanni snorted. ‘You don’t have to like the way I look—I’m not one of your women.’
Lily smiled at the old man’s quick humour. His comment on Vito’s women was unsettling—but he clearly had his wits about him. And it was obvious that, even though he appeared to be bed-bound, he was still a man to be reckoned with.
Vito was leaning close, talking to his grandfather in a firm but kind voice. It was plain from his body language and tone of voice that the old man meant the world to him.
Suddenly Lily’s throat felt tight, and a foolish tear sprang to her eye as she remembered Vito talking to her in a gentle and caring way. But he wasn’t like that with her any more. She blinked and turned away, trying not to think about just how different things were between them now.