And then he came closer and took a box out of his jacket pocket. A small navy velvet box. She looked from it to him, not understanding.
He made a small grimace. ‘I know this was never a traditional marriage, but I should have given you an engagement ring. I’d like to rectify that now.’
He opened the box and Chiara looked inside and gasped. It was a beautiful emerald, baguette cut, with smaller diamonds either side.
He took it out and held it up. ‘Shall we see if it fits?’
Feeling a prickle of superstition, and almost hoping it wouldn’t fit because that might mean something and it was too beautiful, Chiara held her hand out. Nico took it and slid the ring down her finger so it nestled alongside her wedding band. Her heart clenched. It fitted perfectly.
Weakly she said, ‘You shouldn’t have bought this. It must have cost a fortune.’
Nico’s hand tightened on hers and she looked up at him. He was shaking his head.
‘Seriously? Most women would be asking for a bigger gem.’
Chiara felt gauche. Stiffly she said, ‘I’m not most women.’
‘No,’ Nico said, ‘you’re not.’
Chiara pulled her hand back, avoiding Nico’s dark eyes that seemed to see too much. ‘It matches my dress.’
‘It matches your eyes.’
Chiara looked at Nico again and the electricity flowed between them. A delicious coil of tension knotted deep down inside her.
Nico took a step towards Chiara and she saw the intent in his eyes. She could feel herself softening, moving towards him almost helplessly, as if he were a magnet. But she put her hands up to his chest, saw the emerald glinting in her peripheral vision like a beacon. A reminder not to let him get too close.
‘Wait...my make-up...’ she said half jokily. ‘I’ll never be able to re-do it on my own.’
Nico’s jaw clenched. ‘You don’t need make-up. But you’re right—we should leave.’
Chiara followed him out, feeling wobbly in the high heels after what Nico had said. Did he mean she didn’t need make-up in a good way? Or because it didn’t make any difference? But then she thought of how he’d just looked at her and her heart skipped a beat. Maybe he meant it in a good way.
A driver was waiting to chauffeur them the short distance to Syracuse, and as Chiara slid into the luxurious confines of the back of the car she realised that she couldn’t keep pushing Nico back for ever. She would have to learn how to disguise the way she felt when he touched her or she wouldn’t survive this marriage.
* * *
‘Don’t touch me. You disgust me.’
Chiara tried not to let her jaw drop as the very tall, very glamorous woman they’d just been talking to, with her husband, stalked away and into the crowd. She and her husband had just had a very brief but vitriolic row, sparked off by him making a snide remark about her shopping habits.
Her husband, an equally tall, grey-haired gentleman, didn’t even look surprised. He said lightly, ‘Excuse my wife. She likes to air our grievances in public—it adds an extra dimension to the torture that is our marriage.’
He walked away, leaving Nico and Chiara staring after him. Chiara was in shock. When she looked at Nico, though, he didn’t appear to be too perturbed.
The whole time they’d been talking there had been a brittle tension between the couple. And the wife had flirted outrageously with Nico, precipitating her husband’s snide remark.
Nico looked down at her. ‘Was it? Maybe they were just being more honest than most of the people here who can’t stand each other. They’re probably already re-enacting that exact scenario they just played out with us. Couples like that get off on public displays of aggression.’
Chiara shivered. She felt
cold all of a sudden. And disheartened by Nico’s persistent cynicism. The room was too hot and Chiara saw open French doors nearby. Muttering something about needing air, she put her glass of water down and made her way through the glitterati of Syracuse.
When she got outside the terrace was mercifully empty and a cool breeze was coming in off the ocean in the distance. It was dusk and lights were twinkling on, lighting up the stunning Syracuse cathedral nearby. It was magical. Romantic.
Chiara put her hands on the stone wall and looked down at her ring, glittering as brilliantly as the rest of the jewels she’d seen in the room. Was that why Nico had given it to her? To keep up with his peers? Had he noticed that Chiara wasn’t adorned enough?