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‘Why were they so protective of you?’

Chiara felt like squirming under Nico’s scrutiny. He hadn’t been so curious about her when he’d been railroading her into marriage. So why now?

Reluctantly she answered. ‘I was sickly as a child. Noth

ing specific, but I was prone to picking up infections. I grew out of it, but by the time I did my parents were used to home-schooling me and keeping me close.’

She opened her mouth, then closed it again. She felt deceitful, but she really didn’t want to admit that her parents’ marriage hadn’t been a truly happy one. It would only confirm his cynical beliefs.

A steward approached and interrupted with a discreet cough. Nico tore his gaze away from Chiara to look at the man.

‘Excuse me, sir, but we’ll be on our final descent into Rome shortly.’

‘Rome?’ Chiara asked when the steward had walked away. She’d only been to Rome once before, on an educational tour with her parents.

Nico looked at her. ‘Yes, I’ve been invited to a formal dinner tonight, at the French ambassador’s residence. It’s the perfect opportunity to show everyone that my wife isn’t a figment of my imagination.’

Chiara felt the lash of his censorious tone again. It made her hackles rise. ‘I’m nothing to you but a pawn. You bought me along with the castello.’

‘You allowed yourself to be bought,’ he pointed out in a drawling voice. ‘You wouldn’t have lasted two minutes outside the gates of the castello.’

Chiara flushed at that. ‘But I did last. I lasted five months.’

‘Your place is by my side, as my wife and the soon-to-be mother of my child.’

Nico looked away from her then, and down at his palm tablet. Chiara felt like a child. As if she’d been summarily dismissed. She bit back a growl of frustration and looked out of the window as the plane landed in Rome.

The irony wasn’t lost on her. She was fulfilling her fantasy of travelling and having new experiences while she’d never been more trapped.

* * *

‘I didn’t know it could look like this!’

Chiara stared at her reflection in shock. Her unruly hair was tamed into sleek shiny waves for the first time in her life. She had cheekbones. And full red lips. Her eyes were huge. She looked like a different person. Like the kind of person she saw in magazines.

‘You have beautiful, naturally wavy hair, Mrs Santo Domenico, you just need to use the right products to make it look its best.’

Mrs Santo Domenico. The use of her married name broke her out of her uncharacteristically self-absorbed reverie. Since they’d landed in Rome it had been a whirlwind. Nico had been on his phone for the entire journey to his apartment, situated in one of Rome’s most beautiful buildings, in one of its most exclusive areas.

He had the top apartment, with an outdoor terrace that offered breathtaking views over the ancient city. There was even a lap pool. And the Colosseum was within spitting distance.

On arrival, he had handed her over to a team of stylists to get her ready for the function. Chiara might have been insulted if she hadn’t been so relieved.

She’d barely had time to draw breath, never mind let her new reality sink in. Nico had found her and within four hours she’d been returned to Italy. If she thought about it too much she felt dizzy.

‘How many months pregnant are you, Mrs Santo Domenico?’

Chiara looked at the stylist, who had replaced the hair and make-up girl behind her.

‘Five months.’

‘Come with me. I’ve chosen a few dresses that should suit.’

As Chiara followed the very slim and sleek woman into a bedroom suite that had lots of wardrobe rails stuffed with clothes she tried not to feel totally intimidated. Her experience of shopping for clothes was via online bargain websites.

About five glittering dresses were hanging on a rail nearby and the stylist had started looking at them and looking at her.

Chiara said apologetically, ‘I’m sorry I’m not very tall.’

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