Chiara could see gleaming new tiles. For years they’d had leaks in various parts of the castello, but it had been way beyond their financial reach to try and fix them.
Nico brought the car to a stop in the main courtyard and came round to open Chiara’s door. He had to help her out because the car was so low slung, and she hesitated before putting her hand in his, afraid of her physical reaction.
Nico scowled. ‘I don’t bite, Chiara.’
She flushed and put her hand in his, feeling it close tightly around hers. A wash of heat rushed through her whole system. She’d read in a book about pregnancy that increased hormones could make you more acutely sensitised to everything, including desire. Brilliant. She’d never felt more ungainly or more aroused.
It also hadn’t helped to hear what the doctor had said to them before they’d left the clinic.
‘I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you this, but you’re experiencing a very healthy pregnancy so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be enjoying every aspect of your marriage—including the physical side. Some couples are afraid they’ll harm the baby, but that’s really just a myth... You’re in your second trimester now—this is when you can really enjoy being pregnant...before the last trimester sets in and it becomes a little more uncomfortable...’
Chiara’s face had flamed bright red and she’d avoided Nico’s eye the whole way back to Sicily, terrified he might be expecting her to jump on him and demand her conjugal rights.
And then a blur of fur appeared from around the corner, and Chiara dropped to her knees as Spiro all but jumped into her arms, whining with excitement and slobbering all over her. She laughed, but felt perilously close to tears to see her old friend and find that he was okay. His tail was wagging so hard she could feel the air moving.
In a very gruff voice she said, ‘Thank you for looking after him for me.’
Nico didn’t mention the veritable team of dog-minders and walkers he’d had to hire to keep Spiro occupied and cared for. He also didn’t mention how the dog had somehow managed to burrow his way under Nico’s skin, so that when he was sitting in his office and Spiro came in to lie under the desk at his feet he liked it.
‘It was fine,’ he said, and watched as she got up and walked away from him with one hand on the dog’s head. She was more happy to see the damn animal than him. He felt irritated. She’d avoided looking at him or even talking to him the whole way here.
Actually, it had been from the moment the doctor had said that there was no reason they shouldn’t be enjoying a full marriage. Sex.
He was one of those people who had thought it dangerous for the baby, but now... All he could think about was Chiara’s lushly curved form and how badly he wanted her.
But evidently, if her reaction to what the doctor had said was anything to go by, the last thing she wanted was sex.
She wore the maternity clothes that the stylist in Rome had provided: leggings, a close-fitting clingy top that showed off her neat bump and a loose cashmere cardigan. Her hair was sleek and shiny. She oozed health and vitality and an innate sexiness he knew she was unaware of.
Once again it confounded him. He had never met a woman who didn’t use her assets to gain some advantage.
She disappeared into the castello and Nico took a moment before following her, reliving the moment when the doctor had revealed the sex of their baby. A girl.
Nico, in his arrogance, had assumed it would be a boy. The thought of a girl frankly terrified him. But it also sparked a wave of protectiveness so strong that he felt tremors in his body. The only other person who had come close to sparking a similar feeling was Chiara, when he’d seen those pictures of her in Dublin. The evidence of her pregnancy.
Protectiveness. A totally expected and sane response for a man to feel for his wife and the mother of his child. It didn’t mean anything more than that.
* * *
‘I waited until your return before hiring interior decorators as I thought you would know best what to do.’
Chiara was shocked. ‘I... Thank you. I wouldn’t have expected that.’
Ever since she was small, she’d often daydreamed and imagined what she would do to the castello if she had the freedom and the money. Her father had favoured heavy furnishings and dark colours, and her mother had gone along with it to keep the peace.
Chiara had even made a mood board of cuttings from magazines for what she’d like to do one day. Make the castello bright and modern and airy. Her mother had found her board and said, ‘Piccolina, don’t let your father find that. But you’re right, the castello deserves to look beautiful, so I hope you get to do this some day.’
Now, the prospect that she was actually going to get to fulfil her dream made her feel very emotional—especially since Nico would have had every right to get on with hiring an interior decorator in her absence after she’d left him. Abandoned him. Only now did it occur to her that what she’d done must have held echoes of his mother for him. She’d only reinforced his already healthy cynicism.
She looked at Nico. ‘You must have some ideas?’
He shrugged. ‘I’d like to retain as many of the original features as possible, while giving it a more open and modern air, but that’s about it. I trust your judgement.’
The fact that his vision matched hers made her feel ridiculously pleased. ‘But I might have awful taste.’
He gestured at the heavy dark curtains and furniture. ‘Would you keep any of this?’
She made a face. ‘No way.’