She wanted to dent that smugness. She wanted to shock him as he’d shocked her. She wanted to see him look as surprised as she must have looked this afternoon. She wanted to call his bluff and witness his panic when he really thought through the repercussions of his arrogant assumptions and demands.
NICO DIDN’T LIKE the sense of anticipation he felt as he waited for his driver to return with Chiara Caruso. When she’d rung him earlier that morning he’d offered to meet her at the castello, but she’d told him she’d prefer to meet him at his villa, so he’d sent someone to fetch her.
He paced back and forth on the terrace that wrapped around the side of the modern villa with its stunning view of the sparkling sea. From here he could see the land around the castello but not the actual building, which was a mix of architectural styles dating all the way back to his early ancestors, who had been Spanish. There were elements of Moorish architecture, and then more classical bits had been added over the years.
The effect was a snapshot of Sicilian history—a potent symbol of longevity and survival which had withstood the ages on its dramatic promontory overlooking the sea.
The emotional punch from his first view of the castello and his visit to the graveyard yesterday still lingered. The sense of urgency to reclaim what was his was even stronger now. As was his urge to claim Chiara Caruso. Last night he’d found her image stealing into his brain with a vividness that had unnerved him. He’d told himself it was only due to the fact that he’d decided to include her in his plans. Not because he hungered to know the secrets she hid under her shapeless outfit. Not because base instincts he hadn’t indulged since he was a teenager had resurfaced. He was more than that now.
He heard a noise behind him and turned around to see the uniformed housekeeper leading Chiara out to meet him. He settled back against the wall and watched her walk towards him, unconsciously tensing himself against those base instincts she’d ignited so effortlessly within him.
But it was no use. In spite of the fact that she looked as if she belonged to another era, wearing a starchy white shirt with a big collar and a boxy dark jacket, arousal hummed in his blood. It was almost galling. A calf-length skirt did nothing to enhance her figure, and nor did practical flat shoes. Her hair was pulled back from her face and left loose and wavy around her shoulders.
It had been a long time since Nico had had any woman presented to him who wasn’t coiffed to within an inch of her life. If he hadn’t been so unnerved by the strength of his attraction to her he might have found it refreshing.
She walked out into the sunshine and he saw she was pale. The vivid green of her eyes stood out, unusual and arresting. He fought not to let his gaze drop to the full line of her breasts and straightened up, indicating for her to take a seat at a table nearby set with coffee and tea and small cakes.
She looked at the table, and then back at him. ‘I’d prefer to stand.’ She held a capacious black bag in front of her like a shield.
He faced her. ‘Very well. Have you thought about what I said?’
Chiara could hardly breathe. Nicolo Santo Domenico was—unbelievably—even more gorgeous than she remembered. With his back to the astounding view, dressed in a white shirt with its top button open and sleeves rolled up and dark trousers, he could have stepped directly from the pages of a fashion magazine for men.
The villa was breathtaking too, in its modern simplicity, built into a cliff overlooking the sea. A total contrast to the castello and its ancient crumbling history. She’d never seen so much pristine white furniture.
It hurt to look directly at the man, but she forced herself to meet his dark gaze. She’d felt full of bravado yesterday, but right now that was in short supply. Why had she thought it was a good idea to come here? What had she wanted to prove? She couldn’t turn back now—he expected her to say something...
And then she remembered. The shock and humiliation. The desire to see him lose some of that cool sense of entitlement.
She took a breath. ‘I have thought about what you said, Signor Santo Domenico, and I’ve decided that I’ll accept your offer.’
Chiara’s heart was beating so hard she felt light-headed. She waited for Nicolo Santo Domenico to register what she’d said and then panic. Except he didn’t look like a man who would ever panic about anything. He looked supremely assured. Not a flicker of reaction crossed his face. Had he heard her?
She felt panicky. ‘I said—’
‘I heard you,’ he said. ‘Are you sure about this?’
Chiara had a sickening sensation that she’d misjudged how to handle this situation badly. She forced herself to nod. ‘Yes. I’m sure. I want to marry you.’
He pushed himself away from the wall and strode back into the villa. Chiara turned to watch him, her panic intensifying. She followed him inside. He picked up a mobile phone and made a call. She heard him speak to someone on the other end.
‘We will proceed with drawing up the contracts. Chiara Caruso has consented to be my wife.’
When he’d terminated the conversation he looked at her and frowned.
‘What’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.’
‘I thought... I thought if I said yes that you’d come to your senses.’
His frown grew deeper, and then something flickered in his eyes. Surprise? ‘You called my bluff? You didn’t think I really meant it?’
Now Chiara flushed. ‘I just thought that when it came to it...to the prospect of taking me as your wife...’ She stopped.
He shook his head and walked towards her. ‘Oh, no, cara, you need to realise that I never make empty propositions.’