‘Are you forbidding me to cook?’ She forced a lightness into her voice she didn’t feel.
‘If I’d wanted you to cook I would have made you my housekeeper, not my wife.’
* * *
When Chiara woke the next morning she lay there for a long moment, soaking in the sounds and the smells and the warm breeze coming in through the open window. The earth smelled damp—it must have rained during the night.
The night. In bed with Nico.
Chiara’s eyes opened. The bedroom was empty—she knew that much. She looked to her left and saw the covers thrown back and the dent in the pillow where Nico’s head had been. She could smell his scent.
She had gone to bed last night after dinner, hoping to be asleep before he retired, but not really expecting it to happen. Her head had been whirring with everything he’d told her, and the fact that they’d shared a relatively pleasant meal together. Until the end, when he’d more or less told her to stay out of the kitchen.
But after she’d washed and changed and scurried into bed, like a terrified little mouse afraid of a predator, she’d obviously fallen asleep immediately. Tired after her two eventful days.
The baby moved now, and Chiara put her hand on her belly, smiling. A girl. A pang of anxiety rose up though when she thought of Nico’s response to the news. But, she had to remember that he’d been brought up by a single father after his mother had abandoned him, and then his lover had betrayed him. It was no wonder he felt less than enthusiastic about a girl. He wouldn’t know how to relate because his experience of women was skewed.
Still, she couldn’t believe she’d slept so soundly beside the man who had driven her mindless with pleasure in this very same bed on their wedding night. She put it down to extreme pregnancy fatigue...
There was a light knock on the door and Chiara clutched at the sheet like a terrified virgin. ‘Yes?’
The door opened and a smiling Maria appeared with a tray balanced expertly in one hand. She came in and put it down on the table beside the bed. The tray contained orange juice, pastries, water, fruit salad...
Chiara stuttered a greeting. It had been a long time since housekeepers had served anyone in bed at the castello.
Maria was now delving into Chiara’s cases, which she realised Nico must have brought up to the room at some stage while she’d slept. All attempts to tell Maria not to worry fell on deaf ear
s as the woman pulled out all the clothes that the stylist had packed and proceeded to hang them up or put them in drawers.
Chiara’s belly sank. So much for hoping she could make some excuse not to sleep with Nico. Not only had she slept like a log, but apparently she’d be checked up on first thing every morning by Maria.
After Chiara had showered, and dressed in a pretty floral maternity dress, she went downstairs to find Nico. It felt strange in the castello now. But good. There was an air of activity that hadn’t been there for a long time.
She found him in her father’s study where, instead of her father’s ancient computer, there was now a state-of-the-art desktop computer and two laptops. A TV was high on a wall in the corner, showing rolling footage of a financial channel.
Nico heard a sound and looked up. Chiara stood in the doorway in a dress that was all at once positively nun-like and yet more provocative than the most barely-there lingerie Nico had ever seen on a woman.
There were two straps showing off Chiara’s toned arms and delicate collarbone. Her breasts were barely contained by the bodice, full and ripe. The dress had an empire line and flowed out over the bump and to her knees. Her legs were bare. So were her feet. And her nails were painted a coral colour that seemed absurdly provocative to Nico.
Her hair was long and loose, and he wanted to grab it and wrap it around his hand so he could tug her onto his lap, where she would feel for herself how hard it had been for him to sleep beside her last night while, unbelievably, she’d snored gently.
It had been a total novelty for Nico, to come to bed and find Chiara curled up on one side, already asleep, with the sheets pulled up to her chin. He had never slept beside a woman before without seduction and the pursuit of pleasure being involved. He’d half expected her to be naked and waiting.
He’d found it curiously disturbing at first, until he’d fallen into a fitful sleep, populated by X-rated re-runs of their wedding night, and then woken with a raging erection as dawn broke outside.
Chiara had been on her back by then, one hand thrown above her head, the sheet down around her waist. Her chest had been rising and falling gently as she slept. Her thin nightdress had done little to disguise the press of her nipples against the fabric. It had taken all of Nico’s willpower not to lean over and put his mouth there, encircling the peaks and bringing them to hard life...waking her up and seeing those green eyes widen with sensual appreciation and desire...
Instead he’d taken a cold shower and checked in on the markets waking up across the world, and now he felt thoroughly disgruntled and had no one to blame but himself.
‘You slept well?’
Chiara nodded, her face pinkening slightly. ‘Like a log. I must be more tired than I thought I was. In truth, the room I shared with the girls was like a train station—it was almost impossible to get a good night’s sleep.’
Nico put down his pen. ‘Why did you put yourself through that? Why did you leave so suddenly? Didn’t I at least deserve a conversation?’
The pink leached out of Chiara’s cheeks and he had the impression that she was ready to bolt. So much so that he got up and took her by the arm, leading her into the office and closing the door.
He let her go and sat on the edge of the table. She was skittish, avoiding his eye. And then he saw it—the delicate flush on her face, and the pulse beating hectically at the base of her neck. A surge of triumph went through him. She wanted him. She might have slept through the night in the bed beside him, but she wasn’t immune.