‘Yes, I’d like a drink.’
She walked into the room, trying to appear as nonchalant as possible, as if it was every day that she wore a vintage lace wedding dress that felt glued to her body like an indecent wrap. She’d caught his eyes on her at various times during the day and had wanted to squirm with embarrassment. No doubt he’d been sending up thanks that their wedding wasn’t more public. His unfashionable bride.
He uncorked a bottle of champagne that had been chilling in a bucket and presented her with a glass of the sparkling golden liquid. She took it from him just as a fresh rush of humiliation landed in her belly as she recalled the kiss they’d shared. She had a suspicion that he’d been toying with her in some way.
She clutched the glass tightly. ‘Why did you have to kiss me like that in the chapel, in front of everyone? The only person who doesn’t know the truth of this marriage is the priest.’
He looked at her steadily. ‘Maybe because I wanted to.’
She stared at him as something indefinable zinged between them. Not possible. Her and him. No way.
‘You really didn’t need to pretend to fancy me. We both know the kind of woman you prefer.’
He put a hand in his pocket. He couldn’t have looked more louche. ‘Oh, really? And what kind of woman would that be?’
Chiara’s face grew hot. She took a quick sip of her drink, regretting opening her mouth. She tried not to cough as the bubbles fizzed in her mouth and down her throat. When she risked looking at Nico again he raised a brow, still waiting for her answer.
She paced away from him towards the window. Dusk was claiming the sky. How had the day slipped by so quickly? Why was he still here?
She turned around to find an arrested expression on Nico’s face and she wrapped her arm around her middle in a subconsciously protective gesture. ‘I’ve seen pictures of the women you like—tall, willowy. Beautiful.’
His dark gaze rose to meet hers. ‘I might have agreed with you—until you appeared today looking like the most innocent temptress ever created.’
Reaction set into Chiara’s bones and she started to tremble slightly. Nico put down his glass on a side table and moved towards her across the room. He looked as if a civilised layer had been stripped back from his urbane surface and Chiara found it more mesmerising than she wanted to admit.
The air between them crackled. The room suddenly felt sweltering. She might almost have sworn that a fire burned in the massive fireplace just feet away, but a fire hadn’t been lit there since Christmas.
He stopped in front of her. She couldn’t seem to form a coherent thought. ‘I don’t... Why are you still here? You were supposed to be getting on a plane to New York.’
He frowned. ‘This is our wedding night—why would I be getting on a plane?’
Chiara’s head started to throb. ‘But it’s not a normal wedding.’
He stepped closer. ‘This was the perfect wedding. No false declarations of love, no heightened emotions. Just two people coming together for a mutually beneficial cause. To save the castello.’
‘Which you would have done in any case.’
He shook his head. ‘I’m not a patient man, Chiara. I wasn’t prepared to wait to regain my inheritance.’
‘An inheritance you had to pay for.’
It seemed to be important to goad him right now, to keep him back—because she was very afraid that if he came any closer he’d see just how brittle she felt right now. How ready she was to shatter into a million pieces if he touched her again.
This was where her real vulnerability lay. In this space between them that shouldn’t exist. Because he shouldn’t be looking at her as if he wanted to...to devour her.
He shrugged one wide shoulder. ‘The money I couldn’t care less about. The castello is mine now, and that’s all that matters. And into the bargain I have you as my wife.’
‘But you don’t want me...not like that. You should go...your business must need you.’
If Chiara could just get him to leave now, he’d go to New York and realise that whatever he was feeling for his convenient Sicilian bride was a total aberration. He was a highly sexed man—it oozed from his every pore. He needed to be reminded that she wasn’t his type.
But Nico looked straight into her eyes and said, ‘On the contrary, I find that I do want my wife. Very much.’
‘ON THE CONTRARY, I do want my wife. Very much.’
Chiara could barely breathe through the palpitations of her heart. Nico’s gaze left hers and moved down. He reached out and took a tendril of her hair that trailed over her shoulder. He twined it around his fingers and tugged gently, so that she had to move forward.