* * *
By the time Nico returned to the castello the following evening—late—Chiara was waiting. Nervous but composed. She had let all the staff have a night off, because there was a fête in the local village, so there would be no interruptions.
He came into the reception room and saw her straight away. ‘You shouldn’t have waited up.’
Chiara noticed that he looked tired and her silly heart clenched. His jaw was stubbled. ‘Was everything okay?’
He moved over to the drinks cabinet, pulling at his tie as he did so. He poured himself a shot of whisky and downed it in one. And then he turned around.
‘There was a fire at a tech plant I own outside Rome.’
Chiara gasped, and immediately felt guilty for having thought he was just trying to avoid her. ‘Was anyone hurt?’
He shook his head. ‘Thankfully there were no employees there—just security guards, and they raised the alarm. It’ll be covered by insurance.’
Chiara said, ‘You should have told me, Nico. I want to know when things like that happen.’
‘But it’s nothing to do with you.’
‘Of course it is! I’m your wife.’
For a long moment he said nothing, and then he said, ‘Fair enough. And I owe you an apology. I handled the graveyard thing badly. It was a shock to see it like that...exposed, and being taken care of, after all these years. I shouldn’t have taken it out on you—you did a good thing.’
‘I wanted to do a good thing. I never meant anything else. But maybe I should have asked first. After all, this isn’t my home any more.’
He frowned. ‘Yes, it is, Chiara—you’re having my child.’
She felt desperation rise in the face of Nico’s infuriating calm. This was what he did—retreated to that civil place. No emotion.
‘But it’s not really my home, is it? I’m here mainly under sufferance—because you didn’t want to wait until the castello was in the bank’s hands and I didn’t want to let it go. And then I got pregnant. We both know I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for that sequence of events.’ She continued painfully, ‘I know you wouldn’t throw me out...but I’ll never be anything more than a glorified guest.’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘I’m talking about the fact that you are determined to shut me out at all costs, Nico. Whenever I stray too close you push me away. And I know you told me you can’t ever give me more, and I know I thought I could deal with that, but the fact is... I can’t.’
He just looked at her.
Chiara kept going before she lost her nerve.
‘The truth is that I fell in love with you, Nico, way back... I think on our wedding night. And when you were so clinical the next morning, so unmoved, I realised that I had it all wrong. It had just been a physical thing for you, while for me...it changed my life. Me. I was so terrified you’d notice that I ran away, hoping I’d never see you again. But then I became pregnant. And you brought me back.
‘Even then I tried to tell myself it wasn’t love. That it was infatuation because you’d been my first lover. But it wasn’t. I love you, Nico, and I do want more, and I won’t survive with you unless you can give me that... So I think the best thing, once the baby comes, is if I move somewhere else. We can talk about custody arrangements at a later date.’
She finished speaking and felt her heart beating wildly. Nico looked stunned. As if someone had just punched him.
‘Why are you telling me you love me? Is it because you’re hoping it might get you back on the deeds of the castello? Is that what this is all about?’
Chiara should have known to expect Nico’s ever-present cynicism, but it was still a shock.
She shook her head. ‘No, it’s not about me trying to get anything. It’s about self-preservation.’
His eyes were burning. ‘You’re having my child. You can’t leave.’
Chiara tipped up her chin. She felt as if her insides were being lacerated, and there was a dull pain at the base of her spine. ‘Nico, after the baby is born I’m going to ask for a divorce.’
He shook his head and put the glass in his hand down with a clatter on the drinks tray. ‘Chiara, this is crazy. You know what we have...’
He started walking towards her and panic galvanised Chiara into action. If he touched her she’d crumble.