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Chiara felt prickly. He was so smooth. So used to these post-sex situations. ‘Fine, thank you. You should have woken me earlier. I didn’t need to sleep the day away.’

‘Clearly you did. You’ve been overdoing it.’

Chiara heard the censorious tone in his voice and opened her mouth to say something, but a young girl came into the room with their dinner. A pasta starter. By the time she left Chiara had forgotten what she’d wanted to say.

She asked, ‘Who is she?’ as Nico filled her water glass and poured some wine for himself.

‘She’s Maria’s daughter—helping out until we hire more permanent staff. Actually, I’ve arranged for someone from a local recruitment firm to come and speak with you tomorrow, so you can let them know what we need and the kind of people you want. We’ll also need a nanny for after the baby is born.’

Chiara nearly choked on her pasta and put her fork down. This was what he’d done after their wedding night—made love to her with a zeal that had turned her inside out and stirred up all her emotions, only to behave as if nothing extraordinary had happened. And for him evidently it hadn’t. He’d merely been scratching a physical itch.

Chiara knew she wouldn’t survive unless she could channel the same kind of detachment—but not right now. Her anger bubbled over. She looked at Nico. ‘I am not handing my baby over to a nanny.’

He put down his own fork. ‘We will have a busy social schedule and I will expect you to be by my side. You’ll be traveling abroad with me when I require it.’

When I require it.

Chiara’s appetite disappeared. ‘I am not your employee, Nico. I’ll be the mother of your daughter and she will be my focus—not you or your career.’

Upset at this reminder that for Nico this marriage was very much just a business transaction, Chiara stood up and left the room as elegantly as she could, feeling Nico’s eyes boring into her back the whole way.

She passed Maria, who gave her a startled look. ‘The everything all right?’

Chiara took her hand and said truthfully, ‘It is delicious. I’m afraid I’m just not hungry.’

The women patted Chiara on the shoulder and glanced at her belly before saying something sympathetic about knowing how she felt. She obviously assumed Chiara had some kind of morning sickness.

Spiro appeared at that moment and came up to Chiara, nudging her thigh. She patted his head and then instinctively went to one of her favourite secret spots in the castello. The old library—a huge, cavernous room with hundreds of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

She pulled one of her favourite books off a shelf, as familiar to her as her own face, and then curled up in one of the big high-backed chairs and opened it. She was hoping it would help to give her back some sense of equanimity and control, when she felt as if she was in deep water and in serious danger of drowning.

* * *

Nico threw down his napkin and stood up. He’d just endured a hurt look from Maria after telling her he wouldn’t eat any more dinner. He sighed. Since when had he grown a conscience and cared about people’s feelings?

He took his wine glass over to the window. The view took in sweeping gardens all the way down to the sea. It was majestic. And his. Finally.

He should be feeling extremely satisfied right now. He’d achieved it all. But he didn’t feel satisfied. He felt unsettled. As if the world to which he’d become accustomed, where everyone said yes and success begat success, just wasn’t functioning any more.

Actually, there was only one area where he seemed to be misstepping all the time. Chiara.

He scowled, thinking of the dinner she’d prepared the previous evening. He’d literally never tasted anything better. And yet at every moment he’d resisted the urge to sink into that cosy scene with every fibre of his being.

The disturbing thing was how alluring it had been.

He wasn’t stupid—he knew it stemmed from having grown up with a single father, and because their lives had been as far from a cos

y domestic scene as possible. In a very secret place he’d always envied harmonious family units, so he’d told himself that it was all just an illusion, hiding the cracks in unhappy families. Something he would never indulge in because it wasn’t real.

But it had felt real last night. Sitting and talking to Chiara...

Women had tried to seduce him over the years by creating something similar, believing they could be the ones to heal his fractured soul, but in every instance he’d walked out, earning himself a reputation as being cold-hearted. Impossible to please. Impossible to tame. As if he was a wild animal.

He’d felt wild earlier, when he’d made love to Chiara. She made him wild. She made him forget everything. She made him want...want things he hadn’t thought of in years. Things he hadn’t even known he missed. Or needed. Things that would make him weak. Make him lose his edge. Because if he didn’t have his intense hunger to succeed and restore, what would be left?

And that was why it was important to keep her back. Make sure she knew where the boundaries were. Make sure she doesn’t get too close? asked a jeering inner voice.

Nico ignored it and drained his wine. She would soon adapt to his life, he assured himself. She would grow used to the ease and luxury he could provide.

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