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She could feel the heat of his hand through the delicate material of the dress. Her nipples peaked into two hard points and she bit her lip, praying he wouldn’t look down.

He said, almost musingly, ‘It’s been a long time since I saw a woman with hair as long as yours.’

Chiara answered quickly, ‘It’s not fashionable. I should get it cut.’

He speared her with a dark look. ‘Do not get it cut.’

Her heart palpitated at his authoritative tone. ‘You can’t order me not to cut my own hair.’

Nico gritted his jaw for a second, as if biting something back, and then he said with faux politeness, ‘Please do not cut your hair. I like it.’

Chiara knew she was fighting a losing battle. To have all this man’s attention focused on her...she’d have to be made of stone not to react.

She was melting into a puddle of lust. Her body felt painfully alive and sensitised. She ached in secret places—between her legs. Her wedding dress suddenly felt constricting, and all she wanted was to feel a cool breeze on her bare flesh. She imagined Nico’s big hands reaching for her, pulling the dress apart...baring her to his dark, hungry gaze.

That lurid thought was like a bucket of cold water landing on Chiara’s head. What was wrong with her?

She jerked away from Nico so fast that her hair pulled and she winced. She realised she was still holding her glass with a death grip and put it down on a nearby table.

/> She sucked in a breath. Nico looked unperturbed. She gestured between them. ‘I don’t know what this is... I barely even know you.’

‘And yet we’re married.’

She glared at him. ‘Only because you made sure I was between a rock and a hard place.’

His mouth tipped up slightly and he drawled, ‘Believe me, cara, I know how hard it feels.’

She couldn’t stop her gaze from dropping and she saw the bulge pressing against his trousers. She glared at him again, even as her body quivered in reaction to this evidence of his arousal. ‘That is disgusting.’

‘That is chemistry—and we have it, whether you like to admit it or not.’

Desperation mounted. ‘We don’t! It’s only because you’re highly sexed and you probably haven’t slept with a woman since you arrived here and—’

He held up a hand. ‘Stop. I have been with enough women to know that true chemistry is a rare thing. I haven’t wanted a woman this much since—’ He stopped at that, his face darkening. ‘That’s not important. What is important is that I want my wife, as unexpected as that fact might be, and I have every intention of consummating this marriage tonight.’

In spite of her instincts, which were screaming at her not to let this happen, for reasons she wasn’t even sure she fully comprehended Chiara was intrigued. She wanted to know more about the other woman he’d wanted as much. She wasn’t as intrigued by the dart of dark emotion that thought engendered. This man shouldn’t be provoking her emotions.

‘You’re little more than a stranger!’

‘And yet I’d say we know more truth about each other than most couples who get fogged up by emotions that aren’t real.’

He closed the space between them and Chiara’s already weak resistance got even weaker. She’d never experienced such a compelling pull towards another human being. And she hated herself that it was for someone who was so singularly ruthless. That it was for someone who saw her only as a pawn.

He reached for her, placing his hands on her waist and tugging her towards him. She put up her hands, but all that did was bring them into contact with his chest—a wall of hard muscle.

God help her, but she felt it in her bones. The inevitability of what was to come. Because she wanted it. Though every self-preserving instinct was screaming at her to run, there was also something rebellious within her stirring to life after all these years, willing her to do the most audacious thing she’d ever done...

Maybe they did know more about each other because of the lack of emotion? But in spite of that she desperately needed to know that there was more driving his ruthlessness than just a need to succeed where others had failed.

‘Why was it so important to you?’ she blurted out.

He frowned. ‘Why was what so important?’

‘The castello—getting it back. You said yourself that you felt more detached about it than your ancestors and that’s why you were successful. So would it have really mattered if you hadn’t got it in the end?’

He tensed, his hands tightening on her waist. ‘Why are you asking me this now? It’s done.’

‘Because I just...need to know.’

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