If you could call waitressing thriving.
She could imagine the scathing look her husband might give her. Because he was still her husband. He’d comprehensively rebuffed any overtures from her solicitor to agree to a divorce. Why? She kept circling back to that question.
And then her conscience struck with the other constant refrain. You have to tell him about the baby. She knew she did. Some time. But not right now. When she felt ready.
Heartburn crept up Chiara’s oesophagus just at the thought of initiating a meeting with Nico. Coming out of her hiding space...seeing him again in the flesh...
‘Chiara... Earth to Chiara.’
Chiara blinked and the restaurant came back into focus. One of her fellow waitresses was standing in front of her with her hands full of plates.
She jerked her head towards the door. ‘Someone has just come in...can you seat him?’
Chiara lambasted herself for spacing out and snapped into action. ‘Of course—sorry, Sarah.’
She grabbed a couple of menus and turned around to greet the new customer, planting a fake smile on her face. But it soon slid off.
Recognition was swift and brutal, because this customer stood head and shoulders above all other mere mortals. The menus fell out of her nerveless fingers.
It would appear as if she didn’t have to worry about initiating contact with her husband. Because Nicolo Santo Domenico was right here. In the flesh.
Somehow Chiara managed to form some words. ‘Can I help you?’
Those dark eyes flashed. ‘I’ve found what I’m looking for, but I’ll take a black coffee. Strong.’
Chiara’s brain felt sluggish with shock. Her husband was here, in this small, unremarkable restaurant. I’ve found what I’m looking for. He’d been looking for her.
She could feel the simmering tension. The barely banked anger. She saw it in his eyes and fought against putting a hand on her belly, where his dark gaze had just rested. She’d felt it like a physical touch. Or the lash of a whip. Censorious.
She finally kicked into gear—before her boss came over to see what the stand-off was about. She picked up the menus and said, ‘Of course. Please take a seat and I’ll bring your coffee right away.’
Nico was lowering his tall, broad frame into a chair as she turned away, her heart palpitating. She felt sick. Clammy. She was all fingers and thumbs at the coffee machine, cursing herself for not thinking more clearly. She spied the open back door nearby and for a second thought wistfully of making a run for it. But at that moment she looked back into the restaurant and caught her husband’s eye.
He shook his head very slowly and deliberately. Don’t even think about it.
Chiara finished making the coffee and carried it out from behind the counter, praying she wouldn’t spill it all over the floor. She put it down in front of Nico with a clatter, belatedly taking in his pristine suit and tie. His clean-shaven jaw. Ridiculously, she found herself wondering if he had to shave twice a day or once? She’d slept with him but she didn’t even know that useless information.
She was about to turn away when a large warm hand clamped around her wrist. The shock of his touch was blistering. A rush of X-rated memories filled her head, making her dizzy.
‘Sit with me, mia cara moglie. It’s been so long since I’ve seen you.’
Beloved wife. She was no beloved wife. She’d been a means to an end and she’d walked herself into the situation, believing that she could somehow emerge unscathed. She was far from unscathed now, at five months pregnant. And, as much as she knew this wasn’t the ideal situation for a baby, from the moment she’d had to accept she was pregnant she’d felt a fierce love and protectiveness for her unborn child.
A child that didn’t deserve to be born into this mess.
Anger rose and she welcomed it, pulling her hand and wrist free of his hold. ‘What do you want, Nico? I’m working.’
He cast a disdainful look around the resta
urant and then looked back to her. He said coolly, ‘No wife of mine needs to work.’
Feminist hackles Chiara hadn’t even known she possessed rose. ‘I like working and I need to survive.’
‘Because you ran away.’
‘I told you—the marriage was a mistake.’
His eyes narrowed. ‘Ah, yes, your kind note. I never lied to you, Chiara. I never pretended emotions were involved. I thought you understood it was a logical business agreement. A marriage of convenience.’