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Second-Time Bride(3)

By:Lynne Graham

The clink of glass dredged her back from her dangerous passage into the past. Her lashes fluttered in confusion as Alessio leant lithely forward and slotted a brandy goblet between her nerveless fingers. ‘You look like you are about to pass out.’

Faint colour feathered then into Daisy’s drawn cheeks. She watched him help himself to a drink from the cabinet, every movement calm and precise. He did not look as though he was about to pass out. Although if he ever found out about Tara he might well make good the oversight. Hurriedly, she crushed that disturbing, foolish thought. Alessio had never wanted their baby.

At nineteen, Alessio had been able to think of an awful lot of things he wanted but they had not included a baby. So, knowing that, why on earth had she let him marry her? And yet the answer to that was so simple. She had honestly believed that he loved her... deep down inside...even though he hadn’t been showing it any more. It was amazing what a besotted teenage girl could persuade herself to believe, she conceded painfully.

‘And you are wearing odd shoes,’ Alessio remarked in a curiously flat tone.

A feeling of unreality was starting to enclose Daisy but she also sensed that Alessio was not as in control as he wanted to appear. She surveyed her feet, saw one black court shoe, one navy. It didn’t bother her. In the midst of a nightmare encounter, unmatched shoes were a triviality. She drained the brandy in one gulp. It sent fire chasing into the chilled pit of her stomach. She swallowed convulsively. ‘I wasn’t supposed to be working today. I came out in a hurry.’

‘You’ve cut your hair.’

Daisy lifted an uncertain hand halfway to her shoulderlength bob of shining silver-blonde hair, connected with brilliant eyes and wondered why time seemed to be slowing up, why they were now having this curiously stilted conversation when barely a minute ago they had been arguing. ‘Yes. It’s easier to manage.’

Alessio was running that narrowed, gleaming gaze over her slight figure in a manner which made her feel incredibly hot and uncomfortable. A wolfish smile gradually curved his hard mouth as he lounged back with innate grace in the seat opposite. ‘You don’t seem to have much to say to me...’

She wasn’t about to tell him that he was still gorgeous. Even as a teenager he had known that and had shamelessly utilised that spectacular combination of smouldering dark good looks and animal sex appeal to his own advantage. He had used it on Daisy—dug his own grave, really, when she thought about it. She had been agonisingly naive and had fallen like a ton of bricks for him, defenceless against that polished seduction routine of his.

‘You’re still full of yourself,’ Daisy told him helplessly.

A faint darkening of colour accentuated the slant of his chiselled cheekbones, his tawny eyes flaring with momentary disconcertion.

She loosed a sudden laugh, sharp in its lack of humour. ‘But then why shouldn’t you be?’

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘I think it means that you should get me out of this car before I say something we both regret,’ Daisy admitted tightly, feeling all the volatile emotions she had buried so long ago rising up inside her without warning.

Alessio slung her a knowing look redolent of a male who knew women and prided himself on the fact. ‘You never forget your first love.’

‘Or what a bastard he was...’ The assurance was out before Daisy could stop it.

Alessio’s long, lithe frame tensed—a reaction which gave her a quite extraordinary surge of satisfaction. Shimmering eyes lanced into her with stark incredulity. ‘How can you say that to me?’

‘Because being married to you was the worst experience of my life,’ Daisy informed him, throwing her head high.

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘And, believe me, I didn’t require a financial bribe to persuade me into a quick exit! You were domineering, selfish and completely insensitive to what I was going through,’ Daisy condemned in a shaking voice that steadily crept up in volume in spite of her attempt to control it. ‘You left me at the mercy of your totally monstrous family and allowed them to treat me like dirt! You stopped talking to me but that did not stop you using my body whenever you felt like it!’

Alessio was transfixed. There was no other word for his reaction. The Daisy he had married would never have criticised him. In those days, Daisy had crept around being quiet and apologetic while silently, miserably adoring him, no matter what treatment he handed out. Alessio had accepted the adoration as his right. She hadn’t had the guts to stand up to him then, not when she had mistakenly blamed herself for the fact that he had had to marry her.

‘In fact you went into a three-month-long sulk the same day that you married me! And the minute your obnoxious family saw how you were behaving they all jumped on the same bandwagon. I didn’t just have one person making my life a living hell, I had a whole crowd!’ she spelt out fiercely. ‘And I don’t care how any of you felt; I was only seventeen and I was pregnant and I did not deserve that kind of punishment!’

Daisy fell silent then. She was shattered, genuinely shattered by the bitterness that had surged up in her and overflowed. Until now she had not appreciated how deep her bitterness ran. But then she had not had an opportunity to vent those feelings before. Within forty-eight hours of her miscarriage, Vittorio Leopardi had presented her with divorce papers. And, sick to the heart from all that she had already undergone and Alessio’s cruel indifference, she had signed without a word of argument.

‘So, when you took the money and ran, you thought it was your due,’ Alessio opined grittily.

She stole a dazed glance at him from beneath her feathery lashes. His darkly handsome features were fiercely taut. ‘I ran but I didn’t take any money,’ she muttered wearily, and then wondered why she was still bothering to defend herself. When it came to a choice between her word and his father’s, she had no doubt about whose Alessio would believe. And it wouldn’t be hers.

‘I despised you for what you did,’ Alessio admitted with driven emphasis. ‘And to listen now to you abusing my family makes me very angry.’

‘I doubt if I’ll lose any sleep over that.’ Yet Daisy’s heartbeat suffered a lurch when she met that anger brightening his hard gaze. Her chin came up, defying the sudden chill of her flesh. She had said her piece. She had waited thirteen years to say it and there wasn’t a single word of it which she could honestly have taken back. How could he still behave as if he had been the only one wronged?

When she had discovered that her miscarriage had not been quite what it had appeared, she hadn’t dreamt of bothering Alessio or his family with what would have been very bad news in their opinion. Indeed, still loving Alessio as she had, she had felt positively heroic protecting him from such an unwelcome announcement. He had wanted neither her nor their child, so she had taken care of the problem. She had kept her mouth shut, let the divorce proceed without interruption and brought her baby into the world alone. Alessio owed her! He had been able to get on with his life again, unhampered by all the many adult responsibilities that had become hers at far too young an age.

The limousine had stopped. She hadn’t noticed. She gazed out at the elegant Georgian square and simply knew that she could not bear another single minute in Alessio’s company. There was too much pain and confusion biting at her.

‘I’m going to catch a cab back to the office and say you cancelled,’ Daisy told him abruptly. ‘Then you can come back on Monday if you like and see the house with someone else.’

‘I don’t think your boss would swallow that story.’ Alessio’s shrewd gaze lingered on her and his expressive mouth took on a curious quirk.

‘I don’t care!’ Daisy stared back at him defiantly.

‘So you still make stupid decisions on the spur of the moment.’

Colour ran up in a hot, betraying flush beneath her fine skin. She knew exactly what he was getting at. ‘Shut up!’ she hissed back.

‘And you still blush like a furnace around me...in spite of your advanced years,’ Alessio chided with lazy enjoyment at her embarrassment. ‘And, in spite of my advanced years, you still turn me on hard and fast. Now isn’t that fascinating?’

Daisy couldn’t believe he had said that. The tip of her tongue stole out in a swift flick to moisten her lower lip. Involuntarily she connected with eyes that now blazed passionate gold, his ebony lashes low on his lingering scrutiny. The heavy silence stretched like a rubber band pulled too taut for safety.

‘If this is your idea of a joke...’ she began unevenly.

Alessio surveyed her with slumbrous intensity and a slow, devastating smile curved his mouth. ‘Don’t be pious. You’re feeling the same thing I’m feeling right now.’

Her breath was trapped in her throat. Daisy could not tear her bemused eyes from the potent lure of his. And it was not an unfamiliar sensation that was creeping over her, she registered in dizzy disbelief; it was an old but never forgotten sensation of quite incredible excitement. The whole atmosphere had a wild, electric charge. Her heartbeat was thundering in her eardrums, her whole body stretched and tight with every nerve-ending ready to leap.