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No one had ever defended Nico like that.

He could remember being beaten by a group of lads when was a young teenager. His father had found him, bruised and bleeding on the ground, with the boys standing around him jeering. His father had just stood there and said, ‘Get up, boy. You’re a Santo Domenico. Show them!’

And Nico had somehow hauled himself up and limped home.

When Chiara had walked away earlier, Nico had been aware of a load lifting off his chest. As if he’d finally broken free of some shackle. He’d barely even glanced at Alexandra’s stricken face as he’d gone after his wife.

His wife. His lover. The mother of his child.

Nico felt a surge of protectiveness race through him. He knew he couldn’t give Chiara everything she wanted—not even for her was he willing to expose himself to the vulnerability of loving someone again. Seeing Alexandra was a sign he couldn’t and wouldn’t ignore.

But he and Chiara had all they needed. They didn’t need anything deeper.


CHIARA FLIPPED ONTO her back and lazily moved her arms and legs, just enough so that she didn’t sink like an overinflated beach ball to the bottom of the pool. It was late summer and she loved the evenings, when the intense heat was lessening and she could go down to the newly installed infinity pool and cool off.

She looked up into the azure blue sky. There was only the sound of the sea water lapping against the shore nearby, and the call of the birds. The workmen restoring the outside of the castello had finished for the day, as had the interior decorators, who were moving through the castello room by room, accompanied by someone from the Italian National Heritage Trust to make sure none of the original features were damaged.

Chiara sighed. She felt...restless. In spite of the soothing surroundings. Content...but not happy. And then she castigated herself. She had it so much better than many people. She had no reason to complain.

Her husband was unfailingly solicitous. He was considerate. He never spent more than three days away from home. And when he was at home... Chiara blushed even now to think of how intense the attraction still was between them. In spite of her pregnancy.

Since she’d turned eight months pregnant he’d decided not to go back to New York for work until after the baby was born, and he’d promised that once Sofia was old enough to travel they would all go as a family.


They’d already agreed on the name.

Sofia, after Chiara’s beloved nonna.

Maria was now living in at the castello, along with two other permanent household staff. Chiara had little to worry about except for the fact that no matter how considerate Nico was, how solicitous, it was as if a glass wall separated them. She could get close, but not too close. He maintained a distance that she couldn’t seem to breach, no matter what.

The only time she seemed to get closer to the man behind the wall was when they made love. No matter how ‘pregnant’ Chiara was feeling—fatigued, et cetera—as soon as she laid eyes on Nico it all fell away and she became a mass of needy hormones.

‘Here you are...’

Chiara stopping moving in the water and promptly sank like a stone. She popped up again quickly, spluttering and blinking to clear her eyes of water, to see that Nico’s voice hadn’t been an aural hallucination. He was standing at the side of the pool in short swimming trunks, holding a towel and looking too gorgeous for words.

It was so unfair. As her body got progressively rounder, his body remained as beautiful as ever. Lean and hard-muscled. Not an ounce of spare fat. And that tantalising hair on his chest, leading down to the line dissecting his six-pack and then disappearing—

Chiara forced her eyes up to see an amused expression on his face. She scowled. He was disturbing her peace. ‘You’re back early.’ He hadn’t been due back from Rome till tomorrow.

An expression she couldn’t decipher crossed his face fleetingly before he dropped the towel and dived gracefully into the pool, surfacing just inches away from Chiara.

Predictably, her body was already responding, tingling. Every cell was aligning with

his, like magnet filings finding true north. He reached for her, his hands finding her arms and pulling her towards him until her belly touched his.

She put her hands on his arms, feeling the muscles bunching under his skin. He smiled and it made him look ten years younger. Carefree.

‘You can admit you’re pleased to see me.’

When he was like this—charming—it was almost impossible to forget that she had to keep her guard up: the final bastion of her self-protection.

‘Fine,’ she conceded. ‘It’s nice to have you home.’

He winced. ‘Nice? Now, that is not a word levelled at me too often.’

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