Here she was, married, with a beautiful engagement ring and pregnant. She’d always imagined in this scenario that she’d be with someone she loved. Who loved her. She’d seen the lack of love between her parents and had always yearned for something more. That was why she’d devoured romances all her life, stuffing them behind other books in the library so her father wouldn’t find them.
Was it really asking too much to love and be loved in return? She hated it that the world Nico moved in seemed to be populated by cynical people.
She sensed him behind her and tensed, not ready to see him. But when was she ever ready?
‘Are you okay?’
There was concern in his voice and Chiara turned around. She waved a hand. ‘I’m fine—it was getting stuffy in there.’
His eyes dropped to the swell of her belly. ‘We need to set you up with a doctor—we’ll do it tomorrow.’
She put a hand on her belly. ‘I’m fine.’
The baby gave a vigorous kick at that precise moment and Chiara let out a little oof.
Immediately Nico put his hands on her arms. ‘What is it? The baby?’
Chiara shook her head, something quivering inside her at the concern in his voice, even if it was only for the baby.
‘She’s moving.’ Acting on instinct, Chiara reached for Nico’s hand and placed it firmly on her belly, with her own hand on top. ‘She’ll do it again...just wait.’
It seemed very important to Chiara right then that Nico should experience this moment, amidst all the cynicism, and feel something very un-cynical and pure. His daughter.
For a heart-stopping moment nothing happened. Chiara was about to apologise but then the baby kicked again, even harder. As if she knew.
Chiara held her breath as a look of pure wonder came over Nico’s face and his eyes widened on hers. Her chest swelled and she felt a swooping sensation. He was getting it. The baby kicked again and Chiara couldn’t help a small laugh escaping. Pure joy in the moment. In new life. In hope that maybe, just maybe—
‘Well, well, isn’t this a cosy scene.’
Nico’s whole body went rigid and he lifted his hand off Chiara’s bump. Chiara looked to her right, to see one of the most beautiful women she’d ever seen in her life. Flawless bone structure, enviably smooth olive skin, full pouting lips and long sleek black hair. She was poured into a midnight-blue glittering gown that was slashed all the way to her navel, displaying the perfect globes of her breasts.
Her dark and dramatically kohled eyes were on Chiara—specifically on her bump. ‘Ingenious...’ she purred. ‘To trap Nico by getting pregnant. Maybe I should have thought of that myself.’
And suddenly Chiara knew who this was. The woman who had broken Nico’s heart. How could she not have? She was perfection.
‘That’s enough, Alexandra. Chiara does not deserve your spite.’
Nico’s voice was taut with anger, but that did little to assuage Chiara’s growing sense of insecurity.
The woman wouldn’t stop looking at Chiara, her dark eyes raking her up and down. ‘Are you seriously telling me that you chose to be with this woman? I can’t believe you could bring yourself to—’
Nico’s voice rang out like a pistol shot. But Chiara put up her hand when she thought he was about to say something else. His ex-lover’s words were cutting far too close to the bone for Chiara’s liking, but she wasn’t going to stand meekly by and let Nico defend her.
She was blisteringly angry that a precious moment had been ruined—infected by the cynicism she hated so much.
Chiara walked up to the woman—so close that her belly was almost touching her. She had to look up because she was so much smaller, and some part of her delighted in seeing the woman swallow nervously.
‘My marriage to Nico is none of your business. You gave up any right to know anything about my husband when you slept with his best friend. You are not a nice person. And yet I wish you well, because everyone deserves a chance.’
Before Chiara could lose her nerve, she turned and walked back into the party, through the throng and all the way down to the foyer, which was empty. She paced there for a few moments, sucking in deep breaths to try and diminish the rush of adrenalin.
Nico appeared at the top of the stairs and Chiara watched him come down. His face was expressionless, but then when he got closer she saw that there was a small smile playing around his mouth.
‘Well, I think you handled Alexandra pretty well. But you didn’t really need to jump to my defence.’
‘I didn’t want you to jump to my defence. I’m not sorry about what I said.’