Chiara couldn’t stop her heart aching for Nico and his mother. ‘I’m so sorry...’
Nico shook his head. ‘I always blamed her, but it was my father who refused to give her a chance. She had no money, no resources to try and mount a legal battle—and anyway, they would have made mincemeat of her in a court once they knew about her illness. So she left and got on with her life... But she told me she never forgot about me. She sent me letters but they never reached me—my father must have destroyed them.’
Chiara curled her hand into a fist to stop herself from reaching out to touch Nico. ‘I’m glad you know now. Are you going to see her again?’
He nodded. ‘Yes, at some stage. But it’s thanks to you, for pushing me to listen to her...otherwise I would have cut her off again.’
Chiara shook her head. ‘I’m sure you would have listened to her eventually.’
Feeling even more vulnerable after hearing about Nico’s mother, Chiara put down her napkin. She was about to make her excuses and leave when Nico said, ‘Wait, I need to say something else.’
She stopped, her heart pounding. She desperately wanted to escape Nico’s inexorable pull, but she forced herself to ask. ‘What?’
‘I love you.’
He was looking directly at her, his eyes never darker or more intense.
Chiara couldn’t breathe. ‘What did you say?’
His jaw clenched. ‘I said, I love you.’
A surge of hope so strong that it made her tremble, galvanised Chiara to move up and away from the table. Out of Nico’s orbit.
She hugged herself. She couldn’t believe this...the risk was too great. He’d told her about his mother just to play on her emotions. He had too much to lose now if she insisted on divorcing him. He loved his daughter. Of course he was going to do his utmost to convince her otherwise.
‘You don’t have to say this just because I said it to you, Nico.’
He stood up. ‘I’m not. I mean it.’
Chiara shook her head, refusing to allow herself to believe. ‘What we went through the night Sofia was born... You delivered her into your own hands. It’s natural to associate strong emotions with an intense experience like that.’
‘Don’t patronise me, Chiara. I know what I feel.’
She desisted from reminding him that he’d said more or less the same thing to her about losing her virginity.
‘Then it’s very convenient that you had this revelation after I told you I want a divorce and after the birth of your daughter—which is perhaps making you realise more than ever that you want to promote a united family front to your peers.’
He shook his head. ‘You didn’t used to be cynical.’
Chiara responded tartly, ‘I wasn’t, until I met you.’
She stopped and bit her lip. He was right, damn him. This wasn’t like her.
‘I’m tired, Nico. I’m going to bed. Sofia will be awake again for a feed shortly.’ She stopped at the door and looked back. ‘I’d appreciate it if I could sleep alone. I’ll take Sofia into the bedroom in her Moses basket...’
Nico’s jaw clenched visibly, but then he said, ‘Of course. I’ll sleep in a guest suite.’
As she went upstairs she told herself she was doing the right thing. Nico was ruthless—she’d seen it at first-hand. He wasn’t above doing whatever it took to get what he wanted...even telling her he loved her.
* * *
When Chiara woke at dawn the next morning she found a note on the pillow beside hers. She picked it up, recognising the slashing writing instantly.
I have to go to Rome on business for a couple of days. We will talk again when I get back.