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He stood back. ‘Get your things, then. I’ll send on whatever wages you’re due if you give me a forwarding address.’

Chiara shook her head and felt a part of her lament that her brief taste of independence was to be over so soon. ‘No, share them out with the staff. I won’t need them.’

He put up his hands. ‘Va bene—whatever you wish.’

Silvano stepped away, and Chiara turned to go into the staff room at the back of the shop. A hand caught her arm and she reluctantly looked at Nico. He seemed taller and broader than she remembered.

‘One of my men is round the back.’

He thought she was going to run again. She pulled her arm free and glared at him. ‘I don’t think I’d get anywhere very fast, do you?’

* * *

‘How many women were sharing that room?’ Nico’s voice rang with condemnation.

He was referring to the room she’d been renting, in a big house carved up into numerous flats. Salubrious, it hadn’t been.

‘There were eight of us.’

‘In bunk beds!’

‘Rent is expensive in Dublin. They were nice girls.’

She fought not to sound defensive. They’d mostly been Brazilian students, in Ireland to learn English. And Chiara had found the communality of their living quarters—while not ideal, obviously—a novelty after living in the castello for so long, with all that space to herself.

‘We looked out for each other and they helped me with my English.’ She was proud that she was almost fluent now. She’d discovered an unknown aptitude for languages.

Nico made a rude sound, and then he said, ‘If it had ever got out that you were there, living like that... You could have put the baby in danger.’

Chiara hid a dart of hurt. ‘Don’t pretend that you care about the welfare of the baby. All you care about is that you have an heir—which you planned all along.’

For a moment he said nothing, and all Chiara could hear was the hum of the private jet’s engines and the soft muted murmurs of the staff at the other end of the plane. Then he turned towards her, and she could see his strong hard features tighten with some expression she couldn’t decipher.

‘The truth is that I had no intention of not using protection that night. No matter what you might believe about my ruthlessness.’

She was surprised he remembered what she’d said. ‘What do you mean?’

His jaw clenched, and then he said with palpable reluctance, ‘By the time we got up to the bedroom protection was the last thing on my mind. It’s something I’ve never done before. That night... I wasn’t capable of thinking straight.’

The fact that his tone was almost accusing led Chiara to believe him. She hated the betraying quiver of awareness deep down between her legs. He wasn’t telling her he wanted her now. How could he when she looked like a beached baby whale?

Then he asked, even more accusingly, ‘Would you have told me?’

Chiara’s hand instinctively went to her bump, and his eyes followed it and then moved back up. There was a wealth of emotion she hadn’t expected in his expression for a moment, before it became a stern mask again. And she wondered for a second if she’d misjudged his ruthlessness when it came to having children.

She took a breath. ‘I know I wouldn’t have been able to keep it from you. But I’m not sure when I would have told you...before or after the birth. I did believe that you deserved to know, at least.’

He frowned. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘I was going to tell you that I fully intended bringing up our child on my own. I still believe that a loveless marriage is not a good environment for a child.’

Nico turned to face her more fully. The awareness deep inside her grew more acute. He dwarfed the chair he sat in. And the whole plane.

‘That family photo in the castello showed a seemingly content family, yet you admitted yourself that it wasn’t all that harmonious.’

Chiara wanted to ask him why he was so cynical, but she felt suddenly shy. Which was crazy. He’d all but barrelled back into her life and kidnapped her! Even if she had come willingly. Because she really had no choice. Not any more.

‘We weren’t perfectly harmonious, no,’ she admitted reluctantly. ‘I was close to my mother, but after she had me there were complications and she couldn’t have any more children. My father... He was disappointed he didn’t have a son. He didn’t think a farm was an appropriate place for a girl, so I wasn’t allowed to get involved in the business, and then it all collapsed anyway.’

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