Chiara took Sofia up to the nursery they’d set up directly across the hall from the master bedroom. It was a beautiful sunny room, with brightly coloured furniture and murals on the walls. She stopped in the doorway when she saw the new additions. Stuffed toys of every description were dotted around the room and in the cot, and there was a gorgeous upholstered rocking chair with a foot-rest and wide arms, perfect for nursing.
She could sense Nico behind her and asked faintly, ‘Did you do this?’
He sounded wary. ‘I just got a few extra things.’
His thoughtfulness made her feel vulnerable, and she knew she wasn’t strong enough to look at him, so she half turned and said, ‘Thank you, they’re lovely. I’m going to change Sofia and feed her now—can you give us some privacy?’
There was a taut moment, and Chiara almost lost her nerve, but then Nico said, ‘Sure,’ and shut the door.
Chiara felt awful, and hated herself for feeling awful. But she had to shut Nico out of these tender, vulnerable moments or she would break completely.
* * *
Chiara’s eyes flew open and she sat up. The chair rocked, pitching her forward.
Nico caught her, holding her by the arms. ‘You were asleep. Maria will have dinner ready in half an hour, and I’ve run you a bath.’
Chiara looked over to the cot to see Sofia sleeping peacefully. ‘Sofia—’
‘Is fine,’ Nico said firmly. ‘I burped her and changed her.’
Chiara was suddenly wide awake. ‘You did all that?’
‘Maria showed me how.’ He held up a baby monitor. ‘We’ll hear her if she needs anything.’
Chiara felt a pang. She should have been the one to show Nico how to care for Sofia and she couldn’t believe she’d slept through it. She realised she was still in the clothes she’d worn home from the hospital, and also that she was starving. She felt thoroughly dishevelled.
Assuring herself that Sofia was fine, she followed Nico into the master bathroom, where a fragrant steaming bath was waiting. Chiara wanted to dive in and never come out again.
He closed the door and Chiara saw that he had
laid out clean clothes—soft leggings, a long, loose cashmere top and underwear. Comfortable clothes. Thoughtful.
She sank into the bath, groaning in appreciation as the warm water soothed the parts of her that were still tender after giving birth.
She would have fallen asleep again if it hadn’t been for Nico knocking on the door a short time later.
After washing, she got out and changed, not wanting to admit that she felt like a new woman. She avoided Nico’s eye and tried not to notice how gorgeous he looked dressed in dark trousers and a long-sleeved top.
He led her downstairs after she’d checked again on Sofia, who was still sleeping soundly, her rosebud mouth in a little moue. Her lashes were long and dark. Taking after her father.
Maria served up a delicious hearty Sicilian stew, and it was only when Chiara sat back, replete and relaxed, that she saw the calculating gleam in Nico’s eye and realised how cunningly he’d manipulated her.
‘Chiara...we have to talk.’
She immediately tensed. ‘We have nothing to talk about.’
He fixed her with those dark eyes so like his daughter’s. ‘We have everything to talk about.’
Chiara felt panic rise. She stood up and put down her napkin. ‘I don’t want to do this now.’
He put out a hand. ‘Okay, let me just tell you about my mother, can I? I couldn’t tell you that night because it was a lot to process, and in all honesty I had trouble articulating it even to myself...’
Chiara sat down again, reluctant but curious. She hadn’t expected him to mention his mother. ‘Okay...’
Nico sighed. ‘She told me that night at the party about why she left. She had suffered from a mild form of bipolar disorder since her teens. When she got pregnant with me it exacerbated the condition and she couldn’t take her medication. My father was unsympathetic, not understanding mental illness. By the time my mother gave birth she was terrified she was going to do something drastic, like run away with me. She knew enough to know she couldn’t do that to me, so she left—and left me behind. She told me that she came back a couple of years later, when she was stable again, but my father refused to hear her explanation. He said she had shamed him and he told her to leave and never come back.’