She put up her hand. ‘Please—don’t. I don’t want you, Nico. Not like that. Not now.’
Liar. You’ll always want him.
She saw that look in his eye—the look that told her he was thinking that all he had to do was touch her and she’d acquiesce.
Her panic intensified. ‘I’m sleeping alone tonight, Nico. I need some space.’
The intense expression on his face and in his eyes faded, to be replaced with the mask Chiara recognised well.
She was doing the right thing. She had to do this.
The tone in Nico’s voice when he spoke was ominous. ‘We’ll talk in the morning.’
Chiara had said her piece and now just wanted to escape, so she could lick her wounds. She left Nico behind in the reception room and went up to the bedroom. The pain in her back had intensified and she was feeling crampy. She put it down to emotional stress and got ready for bed.
It was when she was about to get into bed that the first crippling spasm of pain hit her—right across her belly. It was so strong she couldn’t breathe for a long moment. When it had passed she gasped for air, and it was only then that she noticed she was wet. She looked down and for a horrific moment thought she’d wet herself, But then she realised what it was and said wonderingly, ‘My waters have broken...’
A wholly different kind of panic surged as reality set in and Chiara rushed out of the bedroom, cold and clammy. She went back down to the reception room, but Nico wasn’t there. He wasn’t in the study either.
By now Chiara was sweating, and she felt another wave of pain about to hit. She doubled over at the bottom of the stairs, groaning. This spasm was longer and more painful. She was also feeling an urge to push, which terrified her.
She forced herself to breathe deeply and calmly as she checked all the bedrooms, and she was almost giving up hope when she saw a light coming from under the door leading to the gym that Nico had had installed. She pushed open the door and he was there, dressed in sweats, punching a bag with a ferocity she’d never seen him exhibit before.
She collapsed to her knees as another contraction hit and Nico saw her. He threw off his gloves and rushed over, crouching down.
She gripped him and got out, ‘Waters broken...contractions...the baby is coming.’
He looked at her stupidly for a moment, and as the contraction died away Chiara gripped his hand.
‘This is what happened to my mother, Nico. She had me here at the castello...then there were complications...she couldn’t have any more children... I’m scar
Nico rose to his feet in a smooth movement, lifting her into his arms. He said grimly, ‘That won’t happen. I’m going to put you in the car and take you to the hospital.’
Chiara could feel the next contraction coming and said urgently, ‘There’s no time, Nico. She’s coming... I need to push. You have to call an ambulance—they’ll tell you what to do.’
After Nico had laid her down on the bed he got someone on the end of the phone—a paramedic—and it all became a blur to Chiara. She was in the grip of an elemental force and just had to hang on for dear life.
All she could do was focus on Nico and do as he told her to do. After what felt like hours of excruciating pain she felt a rush of energy between her legs—a great release—and then she had an image of Nico’s awestruck face as he held his tiny daughter in his hands. There was an impression of flashing lights before she slipped into blessed darkness and relief from pain.
‘I’M VERY HAPPY to be able to tell you, Signora Santo Domenico, that all is well. There is no reason why you can’t go home tomorrow.’
Chiara couldn’t stop the knot of anxiety tightening inside her even though she held her perfect sleeping baby in her arms. ‘There were no complications?’
The hospital doctor glanced at Nico, who was also in the room. ‘Your husband did tell me what happened to your mother, but, no, happily things have moved on from those days, and there is nothing to worry about. You had a textbook birth—thanks to your husband—and the only reason you fainted was because of pain and shock.’ He patted her hand reassuringly and said, ‘I’ll come back later to check on you, but please don’t worry. Everything is fine.’
Chiara forced a smile and felt relief wash through her. She knew that everything wasn’t fine, though. She had told Nico that she loved him and it hadn’t precipitated a declaration of anything from him except that she couldn’t leave. She could still recall finding him in the gym, punching that bag with all his might...
She looked at Nico reluctantly. He was still in his sweats, hair messy.
‘You should go home, Nico.’ Her conscience pricked. ‘Thank you for what you did—you were amazing. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t been there.’
His face darkened. ‘I’m your husband, dammit, you don’t have to thank me. It was the most profound experience of my life.’