When Chiara woke it was bright. She could feel a soft cool breeze skating over her skin. The window must be open. She felt incredibly...at peace. Sated in a way she’d never felt before. Even though when she moved experimentally her body ached all over. But not with pain. With remembered pleasure.
And then it all came rushing back—every Technicolor moment of her awakening. She looked round but she knew she was alone in the bed. The sheets were creased. She saw her wedding dress draped carefully over a chair. Nico must have done that, because she certainly hadn’t given it a thought last night. All too eager to strip off.
She pulled the sheet over her face for a moment, groaning softly. Who had she been last night? A total wanton. A sensualist in training. No inhibitions—or too few to mention.
After that first time Nico had only had to touch her for her to be eager to experience that extreme pleasure again. She had a vivid memory of him moving down her body, pushing her legs apart and putting his mouth on her there.
She pulled the sheet down from her face and blinked, trying to will away the rush of heat sweeping up through her body, which was still tender. And yet she knew if he was here right now, looking at her and touching her, she’d probably give in all over again.
Where was he?
She sat up, the sheet falling away from her body. She looked down and could see marks on her breasts. Faint and pink. Evidence of his touch. Mortified, Chiara scrambled from the bed and found a robe to pull on. She belted it tightly and made her way downstairs.
Spiro appeared at the bottom of the stairs, tail wagging. She patted him on the head. There was no sign of Nico in the main rooms or in her father’s old office, which she presumed he would take over.
She found him in the massive kitchen. He was dressed in dark trousers and a light shirt, and he was drinking coffee and reading something on a tablet. Chiara felt a rush of self-consciousness as she stood in the doorway.
He glanced up and saw her, and indicated with his head towards the stove. ‘I made fresh coffee.’
He looked back down at his tablet again. ‘The first thing we’ll have to take care of here is the WiFi—it’s ridiculously slow. And then we need to hire staff. A housekeeper and a maintenance person to start with.’
A lead weight sank into Chiara’s belly. She’d had no idea what to expect the morning after a night such as she’d just experienced, but it wasn’t this: Nico speaking to her as if she was some kind of assistant, not the woman he’d made love to all night with an ardour that had made her feel—
She slammed a lid down on that thought, terrified that it might show on her face. She shouldn’t be feeling anything.
But you are, whispered a little voice.
Chiara walked into the kitchen, acutely aware of her naked body under the robe while Nico was fully dressed. She needn’t have worried, though, because he wasn’t looking at her. She poured herself some coffee and brought it over to the table, sitting down at the opposite end to her husband.
He was pristine and cool. A million miles from the passionate lover of last night. He looked up at her and finally something seemed to register.
He put down the tablet. ‘How are you this morning?’
Chiara struggled to keep her frayed emotions in check and to be as cool as him. ‘I’m fine, thank you.’
‘Bene.’ Nico stood up. ‘I’ve made a change in my plans. I’m going to go to Rome today for some meetings and I’ll go to New York next week instead.’
Chiara put down the cup, a tiny spurt of excitement making her pulse jump. ‘Will I be coming with you?’
He frowned. ‘Why would you come with me for business? No, you’ll stay here unless there’s a social function that requires your attendance. There will be enough for you to do, preparing the castello for its refurbishment.’
The spurt of excitement sputtered, but a tiny flickering flame of hope refused to die. She said, ‘I thought...after last night...that perhaps our marriage might not be so...businesslike.’
Nico’s face was unreadable. ‘You were a virgin, cara, it’s natural for you to confuse lust with emotion. I married you for the castello, and because I need a wife and heirs. Nothing has changed in that regard.’
Oh, God. She thought of the things he’d told her about fulfilling his father’s dying wish and how the castello had felt like home. Meaningless platitudes. Humiliation was immediate and acrid in Chiara’s gut.
She went cold as the true enormity of her naivety sank in. What for her had been a deeply transformative experience evidently hadn’t been anything of the sort for Nico. How could it have been? She’d been a virgin.
Then something else struck her and she went even colder. She stood up, barely aware of the clatter of her chair on the stone floor. ‘We didn’t use anything...protection.’ It hit her—she could be pregnant right now.
Something flashed across Nico’s face. He said heavily, ‘I know.’
Panic gripped Chiara, twisting her insides. ‘You did it on purpose—you took advantage of my inexperience so that you could try and get me pregnant.’
Nico’s face tightened. ‘Your opinion of me isn’t very high.’