All he could think of to counteract his reaction was to push Chiara back to where he might be able to breathe again.
He turned to her. ‘Cleaning a graveyard won’t do much to rectify the fact that your family wilfully denied us our home for generations. The only thing that will is when our daughter is born, and then a son, to breathe life back into the Santo Domenico name indelibly.’
Nico walked away from Chiara, but her stricken, hurt expression was burnt onto his brain. He told himself it was for the best. The sooner she remembered why they were married, the better.
* * *
‘You haven’t forgotten about the charity ball tonight in Naples? We’ll be staying over, so you need to pack a bag.’
Chiara closed the book on pregnancy she’d been reading in the library and looked up. Hurt at the way Nico had reacted to the graveyard yesterday was still fresh in her stomach, making her feel ill, but she suppressed it.
‘I’ve packed a bag. I’m ready to go when you are.’
He looked at his watch. ‘We’ll leave in an hour.’
Chiara didn’t pick up her book again when he’d left. She couldn’t concentrate. She rubbed her belly distractedly. The baby had been restless over the past few days. She figured it was just because she was getting closer and closer to her due date.
The cracks that she’d envisaged as being just below the surface of her marriage with Nico were becoming more apparent. And even though he’d shown her again and again that he wasn’t ready to give more, that little kernel of hope inside her wouldn’t die.
She hated herself for it, but sometimes she saw an expression on Nico’s face, or in his eyes, before he blanked it, that made her heart thump hard and made her think there might be a chance he could feel something for her.
But yesterday had been a brutal lesson in remembering her place. She had thought the restoration of the graveyard would please him, but maybe inadvertently she’d reminded him of his priorities.
She levered herself out of the chair to go and gather her things, telling herself that what she had to focus on was the baby—that had to be her priority for now, not wishing for things that would never happen.
* * *
Nico knew he was behaving like a boor, but he couldn’t seem to help himself. They’d taken his private jet for the short flight to Naples, and he’d booked them into one of Naples’s most exclusive hotels to get ready.
When Chiara had emerged from the dressing room he’d wanted to march her right back inside and peel the grey Grecian-style dress from her body. It was one-shouldered, and totally modest, but it seemed to cling indecently to every rounded curve.
She’d left her hair down and coiled it over one shoulder in a loose plait, and it glowed with brown and faint auburn highlights. She looked young and modern and fresh—and far too sexy for Nico’s equilibrium.
He’d said nothing, though and they’d left, with the tension that had been between them since the graveyard incident yesterday still simmering. Nico knew he should apologise—Chiara was not to blame for the decisions made by her family many years ago, and he’d told her from the start that he didn’t hold her personally responsible. And yet he couldn’t bring himself to do it because he was afraid of the softening he’d see in those green eyes. He was afraid of how badly he wanted to see it. To have it soothe something ragged inside him.
When they’d arrived at the function he’d been cornered by some business associates who had been chasing him for weeks and Chiara had said, ‘Go on—I’ll find a drink and a seat.’
And now he couldn’t see her, and frustration was prickling over his skin. He was feeling claustrophobic.
And then finally he did spot her, over in the corner, and hated how his heart-rate immediately eased.
He kept her in his sights after that.
* * *
‘Do you mind if I join you?’
Chiara looked up to see a tall and very elegant grey-haired woman dressed in black hovering over the chair beside her.
She put out a hand. ‘Not at all. I’m afraid I’m not being very sociable. High heels and swollen ankles don’t really mix very well.’
The woman sat down.
She looked familiar to Chiara, and she asked impulsively, ‘Have we met before?’
The woman shook her head. ‘No, my dear, we haven’t. I’d remember you—you’re one of the most naturally beautiful women I’ve seen in these circles in a long time.’
Chiara blushed, embarrassed by this compliment from a stranger. ‘Thank you—what a nice thing to say.’