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He’d never have expected it, but right now all he could think about was how much he wanted to kiss his bride. He caught her chin between his fingers and thumb, angling her face up to his. The church, priest and witnesses were forgotten as he fixated on that lush mouth. As lush as the rest of her, it trembled slightly, and he saw the tiniest hint of a pink tongue. A wave of need rushed through him.

His mouth was on hers before he could stop himself and this was no chaste kiss, mindful of where they were. This was fuelled by unexpected lust and desire. He gathered her to him, feeling those abundant curves press against his body. Soft where he was hard and aching.

It took a long second for him to realise that his brand-new wife wasn’t responding as he’d intended. She was like a taut bow against him, quivering but not acquiescing. Her mouth trembled under his but didn’t open.

With the utmost reluctance he pulled back and saw those wide green eyes as startled as a fawn’s. Her cheeks were flushed. Her breasts moved rapidly against his chest.

He trailed his thumb down and along her delicate jawline, touched the corner of her mouth, making it open slightly. Right now there was nothing else in the world but this.

Nico said roughly, ‘Baciami.’

Kiss me.

Chiara’s whole body was on fire. She was pressed so tightly against Nico’s body that she could feel the delineation of every hard muscle under his suit.

This wasn’t how it was meant to be! She’d been expecting a peck on the cheek. Nothing more. Then leaving the chapel. Enduring a couple of hours of their pseudo-happy wedding breakfast with total strangers before Nico left in his private jet to get on with his life and his work. Leaving Chiara at the castello, to come to

terms with her new situation and the hope that she’d be served with divorce papers as soon as possible.

But she couldn’t think about any of that now. All she could think of was Nico’s firm mouth and how it had felt on hers. Like a brand. A hot brand of ownership. As if he didn’t already own her, thanks to the price he’d paid. As if he had to kiss her like that to really stamp his mark on her.

He was still holding her and saying ‘Kiss me.’ As if she hadn’t just—

His mouth touched hers again, chasing away all coherent thought. And if she’d thought that last kiss was a brand then this was a brutal awakening.

Nico’s mouth moved over hers, insistent, masterful. She had no choice but to open up to him, and when his tongue touched hers she almost lost the power of her legs, her insides turning to hot liquid jelly.

She’d longed her whole life to know the power of a transformative kiss. But this didn’t feel transformative—it felt cataclysmic. Earth-shattering. Nothing so banal as merely transformative. This was scorching along her insides and lighting a fire deep within her that begged for more.

When he finally lifted his head again Chiara was aware of a vague sound and realised it was the priest, clearing his throat with increasing vigour. She felt undone...turned inside out.

She looked up into her husband’s dark eyes and realised she hadn’t a clue who this man truly was. And yet she’d just allowed him to breach defences she hadn’t even been aware she’d erected over all the years of her isolation here at the castello.

She pulled back so abruptly she almost fell, and only Nico catching her arm stopped her. She glared at him, not even sure why she felt so angry. He’d just kissed her. So why did it feel like more than a kiss?

He held her arm and they walked back down the aisle. Chiara’s face was flaming. When they stepped out into the bright morning sunshine she was momentarily blinded, but she rounded on Nico anyway, pulling her arm free of his grip.

She opened her mouth, about to demand to know why he’d kissed her like that, but then their guests walked out behind them and she had to close her mouth again. It felt swollen.

Nico led the way back to the castello, where he’d hired a local catering company to set up a wedding breakfast.

There she endured the further humiliation of making small-talk with one of Nico’s legal team, aware every second that everyone knew this was just a business agreement.

Finally, when everyone had gone—including the caterers—Chiara pulled the veil off her aching head and massaged it with her fingers. She walked downstairs into the kitchen, Spiro at her heels, and for a moment felt grateful that at least she hadn’t been separated from him.

After she’d fed Spiro she went back upstairs, wondering if Nico might have already left for New York. But when she walked into the drawing room, he was there, looking moodily at a family photograph of Chiara and her parents, holding a crystal glass in his hand.

She was very aware of the jump in her pulse, reminding her of that kiss and also of that secret part of her which didn’t necessarily want to see the back of him so quickly. She was very aware that he’d divested himself of his jacket and waistcoat and she could now see that he wore a close-fitting shirt that left little to the imagination.

Once again she had the realisation that, even though she knew superficial facts about him, she didn’t really know him at all.

He turned and saw her, where she stood in the doorway. He put out a hand. ‘Welcome, mia moglie, would you like a drink?’

My wife.

The castello was now his. She was now his. The only thing protecting Chiara from being thrown out on her ear was the fact that she’d married him.

Panic mounted inside her as she questioned if she’d done the right thing. But she’d had no choice! she assured herself, trying to quell that panic.

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