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His eyes bored into hers. ‘I did it for my father, who wanted it for his father, who had memories of this place. It was his dying wish that I return this land to our name and I will always regret that I wasn’t able to do it in time. I grew up in Naples, but it was never home. We were reminded of that by the gangs who ran our neighbourhood. We were never welcome. I’ve never felt at home anywhere. You’ll probably think this sounds ridiculous, but as soon as I walked into the castello it felt like home...’

Chiara’s chest felt tight. She recalled having that impression when he’d arrived—as if he belonged here more than she did. She understood the concept of home all too well. She’d been lucky enough never to question hers. Until now. And she knew what grief felt like and had an insight into what it must have been like to want to fulfil a parent’s dying wish.

She had a sense that Nico was already regretting saying what he had. She could see his expression closing, becoming impenetrable. Acting on instinct, she put her hand up to his face, tracing his hard jaw.

‘I’m sorry your father died before he could come back here.’ Her voice was husky. For the first time since she’d met him she felt a moment of affinity with him.

The tension she’d been holding on to eased inside her. Nicolo Santo Domenico wasn’t as cool and impenetrable as he appeared.

His hands were still tight on her waist. ‘I don’t want to talk about that. In fact I don’t want to talk at all. I want you, Chiara.’

I want you.

The words sent a thrill of excitement through Chiara. In spite of the fact that everything about this whole situation was unorthodox, and had morphed out of all sense of control, she knew she didn’t want to be anywhere else right now.

Trembling from head to foot at the strength of the feelings and desires building within her, she said, ‘I want you too.’

Nico’s eyes flashed. He pulled her to him, spearing a hand into her hair at the back of her head and curving his other arm around her waist.

When his mouth met hers Chiara almost combusted on the spot. Her fingers clutched at his shirt. She could feel his arousal digging into her belly and it made her ache even harder. The kiss was wild and hot, too consuming for Chiara to wonder if she was doing it right or wonder what Nico would do when he discovered his very traditional Sicilian wife was a virgin.

She had no time to think at all, because Nico broke off the kiss and swept her up into his arms, striding out of the room and up the stairs. He stopped in the corridor and she felt the tension in his bunched muscles.

‘Which way?’

Chiara’s old bedroom lay to the right, but the master bedroom, which she’d prepared while fully expecting it not to be used, lay further down to the left. She lifted a hand and pointed in that direction and Nico moved, all coiled power and intent.

He strode through the door, kicking it shut behind him. The moon was rising outside, bathing the room in a silvery glow. Nico let her down beside the bed. Her shoes had fallen off somewhere along the way, unnoticed.

She looked up at him, breathless with desire and a kind of wonder that this was actually happening. To someone like her. Who had harboured fantasies like this all her life. But the feelings fluttering inside her were too dangerous to try and analyse now—because how could she be feeling anything for someone she hardly knew?

For a taut moment neither one moved, and a sudden cold dread moved through Chiara at the thought that Nico was coming to his senses and wondering what on earth he was doing.

It was the very thing she’d wished would happen. But then he said, ‘Turn around.’

Chiara turned around, and the relief rushing through her was more than immense. It was dangerous. Because she knew she should let Nico know just how innocent she was. But she was afraid he’d stop looking at her as if she was the only woman in the world. She wasn’t ready for this moment to end. And so she said nothing.

* * *

Nico brought his hands up to move Chiara’s long hair over one shoulder. He noticed they were shaking. Dio. What was wrong with him? He was behaving like a virginal groom who had never undressed a woman before. But he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been so hard and aching. He scowled at himself. Not even then.

Her hair was heavy and silky. He pulled out the tie holding it back from her face and pushed it aside over her shoulder, to reveal the bare back of her neck. He had an urge to press his lips against that spot and so he did, noticing that her petite frame shuddered slightly.

Who would have known it? he marvelled. That he would have considered marriage to a woman like this and that he would want his convenient wife so much? When he’d first thought it through he’d fully intended for this to be a traditional marri

age in all aspects, but even he had considered giving her some space before making this a marriage in bed.

But from the moment he’d watched her walk down the aisle earlier he had known there was only way this day was ending. In this bedroom. Right now.

He found the top of her dress and the long line of buttons that ran down her spine. A bead of sweat broke out on Nico’s brow, as he painstakingly undid every button until the last one, just above her buttocks. It was a surprisingly erotic experience when he was used to women leaving little to the imagination. The dress gaped open to reveal her pale back and the clasp of her bra.

He undid that and felt her go very still. Giving in to an uncharacteristic moment of conscience, Nico put his hands on her shoulders and asked, ‘Okay?’

The fleeting thought occurred to him that maybe she was innocent, but he dismissed it. In this day and age? No matter how sheltered someone might be, it was nigh on impossible to hang on to any kind of innocence or purity.

He was surprised at how that thought made him feel. Almost disappointed...

She nodded her head and he heard a faint, ‘Yes, I’m fine.’

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