The Salvatore Marriage Deal Natalie Rivers Ëèòàãåíò HarperCollins EUR The ruthless Italian tycoon and his pregnant mistress. . . Powerful and arrogant, Vito Salvatore thinks Lily Chase is different from the women he normally beds. But when she tells him she's pregnant, he calls her a gold digger and throws her out!A marriage by arrangement! But now Vito needs a Salvatore heir. So he'll take Lily as his convenient bride! Summer’s here, and to get you in the mood we’ve got some sizzling reads for you this month! So relax and enjoy…a scandalous proposal in Bought for Revenge, Bedded for Pleasure by Emma Darcy; a virgin bride in Virgin: Wedded at the Italian’s Convenience by Diana Hamilton; a billionaire’s bargain in The Billionaire’s Blackmailed Bride by Jacqueline Baird; a sexy Spaniard in Spanish Billionaire, Innocent Wife by Kate Walker; and an Italian’s marriage ultimatum in The Salvatore Marriage Deal by Natalie Rivers. And be sure to read The Greek Tycoon’s Baby Bargain, the first book in Sharon Kendrick’s brilliant new duet, GREEK BILLIONAIRES’ BRIDES. Plus, two new authors bring you their dazzling debuts—Natalie Anderson with His Mistress by Arrangement, and Anne Oliver with Marriage at the Millionaire’s Command. Don’t miss out! We’d love to hear what you think about Presents. E-mail us at Presents@hmb.co.uk or join in the discussions at www.iheartpresents.com and www.sensationalromance.blogspot.com, where you’ll also find more information about books and authors! Relax and enjoy our fabulous series about couples whose passion ends in pregnancies… sometimes unexpected! Share the surprises, emotions, drama and suspense as our parents-to-be come to terms with the prospect of bringing a new baby into the world. All will discover that the business of making babies brings with it the most special love of all…. Delivered only by Harlequin Presents Natalie Rivers THE SALVATORE MARRIAGE DEAL TORONTO • NEW YORK • LONDON AMSTERDAM • PARIS • SYDNEY • HAMBURG STOCKHOLM • ATHENS • TOKYO • MILAN • MADRID PRAGUE • WARSAW • BUDAPEST • AUCKLAND All about the author… Natalie Rivers NATALIE RIVERS grew up in the Sussex countryside. As a child, she always loved to lose herself in a good book, or in games that gave free rein to her imagination. She went to Sheffield University, where she met her husband in the first week of term. It was love at first sight, and they have been together ever since—moving to London after graduating, then getting married and having two wonderful children. After university Natalie worked in a lab at a medical-research charity, and later retrained to be a primary-school teacher. Now she is lucky enough to be able to combine her two favorite occupations—being a full-time mum and writing passionate romances. For my editor, Sally Williamson CONTENTS CHAPTER ONE CHAPTER TWO CHAPTER THREE CHAPTER FOUR CHAPTER FIVE CHAPTER SIX CHAPTER SEVEN CHAPTER EIGHT CHAPTER NINE CHAPTER TEN CHAPTER ELEVEN CHAPTER TWELVE EPILOGUE CHAPTER ONE LILY shivered in the back of the water taxi as it travelled carefully along the foggy Venetian canal. The cold and damp seeped through her suede jacket, chilling her to the bone, but she was grateful for the fresh air. It was warmer inside the polished wooden cabin of the taxi, but it was stuffy, and the movement of the boat made her feel queasy. These days everything made her feel queasy, but at least now she knew why. She was pregnant. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Pregnant. How was she going to tell Vito? She’d been living with him for five months, and during that time he’d been the most amazing, attentive lover she could have imagined. But she’d always known that as far as he was concerned it was only a temporary arrangement. From the start Vito had promised her complete exclusivity and, in return for his fidelity, he’d demanded the same from her. But he’d always made it plain that there was no future for the relationship. There would be no long-term commitment, and categorically no children. But now she was eight weeks pregnant. The stomach bug that she’d thought was taking a long time to clear up was actually morning sickness. And presumably the same stomach bug was responsible for the failure of the Pill. She shivered again and looked at her watch. Vito would be waiting at the palazzo for her, wanting to know what the doctor had said. She glanced up as the taxi passed under a familiar arched bridge. In only a few minutes she’d be home. Suddenly, despite her apprehension about telling Vito her news, she couldn’t wait to be with him. A baby might not have been his plan right now, but she hadn’t got pregnant deliberately. Vito would understand. He was a rich and powerful man, used to things going exactly the way he wanted, but he wasn’t unreasonable. He might be surprised, shocked even, but after he had time to absorb her news she was sure that everything would be all right. She’d always wanted a family, and now that she thought about it she couldn’t think of anyone she’d rather have as the father of her children. He was a successful and influential businessman, but she’d also seen the loving, tender side of him. He wouldn’t reject his own baby just because it was unplanned. It was eerily quiet as the taxi stopped at the water-gate entrance of the palazzo. The fog muffled the sounds of the city, and all Lily could hear was the lap of the water against the marble steps. She paid the driver and gratefully accepted his hand as she climbed unsteadily out of the boat. Then she made her way upstairs, where Vito was coming out of his study to greet her. Her breath caught in her throat, and she hesitated on the top stair, just staring at him—soaking up the absolute masculine perfection of Vito Salvatore, her lover. Over six-feet tall and broad shouldered, he carried himself with the physical grace and power of an athlete. His black hair was slightly wavy, and it was brushed back from his strong forehead to reveal his breathtakingly handsome face. She’d often wondered if she’d ever get over how amazing he was. It didn’t matter whether he’d been away on business for a few days or whether they’d just been in different rooms for a few minutes—whenever she laid eyes on him after they’d been apart, her heart fluttered and excitement coiled through her. After knowing him for ten months and living with him for the past five months, she was still overwhelmed by the pure thrill of being with him. ‘You have returned at last.’ Vito caught her with his blue eyes as he closed the distance between them and swept her into his embrace. ‘Hmm.’ Lily snuggled against his strong chest, pressing her face against his velvety-soft black cashmere sweater. She breathed deeply, drawing his scent into her lungs. Safe in his arms, she felt so much better. The nausea she’d suffered in the water taxi was already a distant memory. ‘I tried to call you,’ Vito said, lifting her face gently for a lingering kiss. ‘But then I found your phone in the bedroom.’ ‘Sorry.’ Lily looked up into his gorgeous face. As always his kiss had the power to make all thoughts fly out of her mind. ‘I forgot to charge it.’ ‘Are you all right?’ Vito asked, catching her hands in his. ‘You’re so pale and cold. Come and sit down. Would you like a warm drink?’ ‘I’m fine,’ Lily replied, letting Vito lead her into his study. ‘A glass of cold water would be lovely.’ She smoothed her fingers over her hair, suddenly apprehensive again. Now she knew why she’d gone off tea and coffee—and in a minute she’d have to tell Vito. ‘I thought Carlo was taking you to your appointment,’ Vito said, looking over his shoulder at her as he dropped ice cubes into a glass and poured mineral water from a frosted bottle. ‘I don’t like you taking public taxis, especially when you aren’t feeling well.’ ‘I was all right,’ Lily reassured him. ‘I thought I might want to walk a while—the fresh air makes me feel better.’ ‘Still, if I’d known you were going to dismiss Carlo I would have accompanied you myself,’ Vito said, slipping his arm around her waist and guiding her over to a sofa by the window. ‘I don’t know how you persuaded me not to cancel my meeting.’ Lily ran her hand over her long blonde hair again as she sat down. The humidity of the fog had made it frizz. It was absurd to worry about what she looked like at a time like this, but somehow the enormity of the situation suddenly made it easier to focus on smaller things. ‘What did the doctor say?’ Vito asked, looking at Lily with concern. Her heart-shaped face really was incredibly pale, and there were dark smudges of fatigue under her expressive hazel eyes. ‘Do you need antibiotics?’ ‘No,’ Lily said. She was smoothing her hands over her hair. Vito recognised the nervous gesture. Since they’d been together he’d grown used to her body language, but he couldn’t imagine why she was anxious now. ‘Then what is it?’ Fear that there might be something seriously wrong suddenly sliced through him like the blade of a knife. He dropped to his knee beside her, and took her chilly hands in his. The thought of Lily ill was unbearable. ‘What did the doctor say?’ he pressed. ‘Do you have to go back for tests?’ ‘No.’ Lily hesitated, looking at his expression. His black brows were drawn down with concern, creating two vertical creases between his eyes. She was close enough to wonder at their amazing colour—the incredible vibrancy of sky-blue that made her feel like summer had come, rather than the cold and damp of early spring that still felt like winter. But she’d worried him—something she’d never meant to do. She should tell him the truth at once. ‘I’m pregnant.’ Lily could not have prepared for what happened next. She’d anticipated surprise, maybe even displeasure. But she’d never expected the sudden dramatic change in his expression—as if cold steel-shutters had dropped down over his features. Nor the brutal finality of his words. ‘Pack your things.’ He jerked abruptly to his feet, letting her hand fall from his fingers as if he could no longer bear to touch her. ‘And get out of my house.’ CHAPTER TWO LILY opened her eyes and looked groggily at the clock. Damn! She was late. ‘Aren’t you up yet?’ Anna said, already smartly dressed for work, walking across the open-plan lounge to the kitchen area of her flat. ‘I thought you had that presentation this morning. You know—the big make-or-break one.’ ‘Yes, it’s at nine o’clock.’ Lily pushed herself up into a sitting position on the sofa. She was so grateful to her friend for letting her stay since Vito had thrown her out, but this sofa wasn’t exactly the most comfortable place she’d ever slept. ‘Oh dear, you look awful,’ Anna said. ‘I thought morning sickness was only supposed to last the first few months.’ ‘So did I.’ Lily moved and breathed slowly in an attempt to keep her stomach calm. ‘Here,’ Anna said, placing a glass of milk on the coffee table. ‘Good luck this morning,’ she added, already halfway to the front door. Lily picked up the milk and took a careful sip. It was cool and comforting, and within a couple of minutes she felt her stomach start to settle enough for her to manage a quick shower and get ready for work. Thank goodness for Anna, who’d remembered one of her colleagues talking about how milk had worked wonders for the nausea she’d suffered from during pregnancy. Forty-five minutes later Lily climbed out of a black cab she could ill afford, and hesitated on the wide London pavement, staring up at the imposing steel-and-glass building that was the home of L&G Enterprises. It was a subsidiary of the Salvatore empire, and a menacing shiver ran down her spine at the thought that Vito might be inside. But if she’d really thought, even for a moment, that there was any chance of him being anywhere near, she would never have agreed to make the presentation today. She took a deep breath, gripped her heavy briefcase tightly, and walked into the building. A long blonde coil of her curly hair was bouncing in front of her eyes, so she tucked it back forcefully behind her ear. She’d been so late that there hadn’t been time to straighten and style her hair properly. She’d settled for pulling it back tightly into a twist at the nape of her neck, but it was already showing signs of breaking free. It was important she did well this morning. So far she hadn’t managed to find the permanent job she desperately needed. But, if luck was on her side today, this could be the break she needed. She’d approached her old boss at the computer-software company she’d been working for when she’d met Vito, and as a personal favour he’d been prepared to offer her a chance. If she could sell his company’s web-conferencing system to L&G Enterprises, he’d give her a commission and find her a permanent job. ‘But didn’t Suzy Smith set up the pitch?’ Lily had asked, thinking of the flamboyant brunette who’d willingly stepped into her shoes when she’d handed in her notice so that she could move to Venice to be with Vito. ‘She did,’ Mike, her old boss, had conceded. ‘But honestly, Lily, she won’t be able to cut it. L&G are a notoriously hard sell. Trust me, Suzy will be glad to hand this one over to you—she even tried to persuade me to take it on.’ ‘Why don’t you?’ Lily had smiled wryly, realising she was halfway to talking herself out of this job opportunity. ‘Because you’re better,’ Mike had said truthfully. He might be a computer genius, and was making a success of his small business, but sales spiel was not his greatest strength. ‘You know your stuff,’ he’d continued, pulling out all the necessary files and information for the presentation. ‘And you won’t let those stuck-up executives throw you off your stride.’ And now here she was, walking into a company owned by Vito Salvatore—the man who had thrown her out onto the streets of Venice like a piece of trash because she’d made the mistake of accidentally getting pregnant. Six long weeks had passed since that awful day in March, but Lily was still in shock over the way he had treated her. Although at the time she’d hardly dared to believe her luck at being with such a wonderful man, she really had thought everything was going well with him. Until she’d discovered in the most appalling way that he wasn’t really so wonderful—otherwise how could he have tossed her aside right when she’d needed his support? With a determined effort she pushed memories of Vito and the way he had treated her to the back of her mind. Focussing her thoughts on the task in hand, she walked briskly up to Reception, and gave her name and the name of the company she represented. That was the only way she’d got through the last six weeks—by refusing to think about the brutal way Vito had betrayed her and their unborn child She had no choice. She had to keep it together because she needed to find a job. Then she could make a home for herself and the baby. ‘We’ve been expecting you.’ The receptionist spoke without smiling, and handed Lily a visitor’s badge. ‘Samuel will escort you up to the meeting room.’ ‘Thank you.’ Lily smiled brightly and pinned the badge onto the jacket of her ivory linen-suit. Then she glanced round to see a sullen-faced young man she presumed was Samuel walking across the lobby towards her. He gave no sign of wanting to engage in small talk, so she followed him silently to the elevator and up to the executive floor, where he showed her to the room that had been booked for her presentation. Vito had described L&G Enterprises to her as one of his smaller business interests, but there was nothing small about the glass-walled executive meeting-room that she found herself in. This certainly wasn’t going to be a cosy pitch, she thought, looking at a vast smoked-glass table surrounded by black-leather chairs. She had just finished setting up when she heard a voice behind her. ‘Ms Smith, I assume?’ Lily plastered a bright smile on her face and spun round to see a short, balding man dressed in a dark suit. She recognised him from his photograph on the company website—he was the head of Corporate Communications. ‘It’s Lily Chase, actually,’ she said, holding out her hand to him. ‘I’m very pleased to meet you, Mr D’Ambrosio.’ ‘Decided to send in the big guns, did they?’ D’Ambrosio asked. He let his beady eyes slide over her in assessment, and held onto her hand for far too long. ‘You could say that.’ Lily smiled. One of the most important rules in sales was always to appear bursting with confidence, even if it sometimes went against the grain. She retrieved her hand and resisted the urge to rub it vigorously on her straight skirt. ‘L&G Enterprises is potentially a very important customer, and it was felt that I have the necessary experience to explain our product fully.’ ‘Hmm.’ D’Ambrosio looked unimpressed. ‘Let’s get started,’ he said, sitting down at the immense glass table as another group of suited people came in. One of them, a woman wearing scarily high heels, was talking on her mobile phone in a loud, insistent voice. Another, a young man in his twenties, sat down, opened his laptop and started scrolling through his emails. Lily looked at the assembled executives, wondering if she should let the woman finish her phone call before she started. They were an arrogant bunch, and she’d long since learned not to expect much common courtesy from this type of person—if she didn’t catch their attention quickly, it wouldn’t be long before they were all talking on their mobile phones or looking at their laptops. ‘What are you waiting for?’ D’Ambrosio barked. ‘We haven’t got all day.’ Lily straightened her shoulders, smiled brightly, and started her pitch. Vito Salvatore strode through the building in a thunderous mood. He couldn’t get his recent visit to his grandfather out of his mind. Giovanni Salvatore had always been such a force in his life—a formidable head of the family, an important role model and, most importantly, a dependable father figure when Vito’s parents had died in an accident. But now he was a sick old man, clinging tenaciously to the last months of his life. ‘Make me happy before I die, Vito,’ Giovanni had said. ‘Nonno, you know I would do anything for you.’ Vito had sat beside him and had taken his grandfather’s frail hand in his own. It shocked him to feel the weakness of his grip, feel the constant tremor in his fingers. ‘Let me know my name will continue.’ Vito had squeezed his grandfather’s hand in reassurance, but he hadn’t been able to speak. He’d known what was being asked of him—but how could he promise something that was never going to happen? ‘You’re thirty-two years old. It’s time to settle down,’ Giovanni had urged, fixing him with a surprisingly sharp stare. ‘You run through women like there’s no tomorrow, but you need to stop and think about the future. My days are numbered. Before I die I want to know my great-grandchild is on the way.’ Vito had stood up and turned to look down out of the high-arched window at the many boats on the Grand Canal below. His grandfather was a stubborn old dog. Even as his health declined he’d refused to leave the baroque palazzo in one of the busiest parts of Venice. It had been his home for more than seventy-five years, and he’d declared the constant noise of tourist and business traffic beneath his windows didn’t bother him—what would finish him off would be putting him out to pasture in one of the family’s rural estates on the Veneto plain. And in truth Vito liked having him in the city where he could oversee the care he was receiving. He only hoped that he would be able to live out his days at home. Certainly his fortune would cover the necessary costs of medical professionals to attend him. ‘Everything will be all right, Nonno,’ he’d said, turning to place an affectionate kiss on the old man’s cheek. How could Vito break his heart by telling him that the Salvatore line would stop with him? He pushed the memory aside and continued to stride along the carpeted corridors of the executive floor, unaware of how his expression was scattering employees in front of him. He wasn’t in the mood to deal with the directors of L&G Enterprises, but nevertheless he would attend the board meeting. Suddenly he stopped in his tracks and stared through the glass wall of the meeting room. He could not believe his eyes. Lily Chase. Seeing her standing there felt like a sledgehammer blow to the guts. Her betrayal was still a fresh wound and, as he looked at her, he could almost feel her twisting the knife. His heart started to thud furiously beneath his ribs, and he clenched his fists at his sides. No one betrayed Vito Salvatore and got away with it—but that was exactly what Lily Chase had managed to do. The night he’d discovered what she had done, he’d been so shocked that he had simply thrown her out. It was so much less than she’d deserved. And now, as if to rub further salt into his wounds, it was obvious that she’d fallen on her feet. Because here she was, bold as brass, coolly making a presentation to his communications team—as if she didn’t have a care in the world. And as if she had nothing to fear from him. He looked her up and down, automatically checking for signs of pregnancy, but there was no evidence of her condition yet. If anything she’d lost weight, making her look incredibly thin. The linen suit she was wearing was unflatteringly loose and baggy, and her hair was tied back in an uncompromisingly severe style. But, even though she wasn’t looking her best, he simply couldn’t take his eyes off her. With her light-blonde hair and her pale clothing she stood out like a beacon against the dark-suited executives in their dark and gloomy conference room. Why had she done it? The question thrust itself forcefully into his mind. He gritted his teeth, trying not to let his thoughts continue down that path. He was always in control. He was the one who called the shots, in his private life as well as in business. All the women in his life understood how it was. Nothing permanent. No strings attached. But always absolute fidelity on both sides while it lasted. Up until the blow Lily had dealt him, that had never been an issue. He was man enough for any woman. Or so he’d thought. He stared at her through dangerously narrowed eyes, watching her behind the glass. It only took a moment to figure out she’d gone back to her old job, selling web-conferencing software. Although she looked pale and tired, she appeared calm and in control of the meeting, but he knew she was punching above her weight with this lot. He didn’t like the head of Corporate Communications at L&G, and he knew he’d never invest in a new system, even though it was exactly what was needed to bring the company into the twenty-first century. Why had Lily been unfaithful to him? The question hammered persistently in his head. Things had been good between them, both in and out of the bedroom. The time they’d spent together had been a wonderful counterpoint to the cut and thrust of his business life. And the sex…The sex had been nothing short of incredible. She’d given him her virginity—something he’d considered a truly special gift. But that just made it all the more shocking that she’d fallen into another man’s bed so quickly. The thought of Lily with another man was unbearable. A vein throbbed in his temple and he surged forward, opening the door into the meeting room with a crash. Lily looked up in shock. Suddenly she couldn’t breathe. Her worst nightmare had come true—Vito was here. ‘What…?’ D’Ambrosio started to bluster at the interruption, but the second he realised it was his Venetian boss he fell silent. Lily dragged a shallow breath into her lungs and felt her heart jolt back into life after the shock of seeing Vito. It began to beat painfully hard as she stared at him. She’d missed him so much—but he’d hurt her so badly. Looking at him produced a physical ache in her chest. She longed to dash across the room and lose herself in the warm strength of his embrace—but she knew there was no warmth there any more. He’d made that clear when he’d thrown her away. Despite the pain of seeing him, her eyes roamed urgently over his body as he stood in the doorway. He looked absolutely magnificent. His hand-tailored suit fit him to perfection, but did nothing to conceal his raw, masculine power. She recalled the athletic strength of his lean body only too well. Remembered exactly how it felt to be held close to his hard-muscled form. But now she shuddered as she saw how intense his expression was. His bronzed skin was pulled taut across his high, slashing cheekbones, and a muscle was pulsing on his strong angular jawline. And his blue eyes were fixed on her, in a way that made her blood run cold. She looked straight back, matching his gaze with her own. An icy shiver skittered down her spine as she recognised the steely anger in his eyes. Apart from her final day in Venice, he had never looked at her like that. It was a nasty reminder of how brutally he had ended things between them. ‘Tell me why L&G Enterprises should invest in your product.’ Vito spoke suddenly. Lily gripped her shaking hands together tightly and stared at Vito in surprise. She hadn’t expected that. She’d thought he would throw her out, or perhaps call Security to do his dirty work for him. She didn’t know what game he was playing, but she had no choice but to play along. She certainly wasn’t going to turn tail and run from him. Suddenly a strong smell of coffee assailed her nostrils and a wave of nausea washed over her. She looked down to see a steaming lake of black coffee spreading across the smoked-glass table from D’Ambrosio towards her laptop computer. Vito’s dramatic arrival had obviously startled him into spilling his drink, but he was making no move to clean it up. He looked at her, and with a shock Lily realised he was expecting her to do it. God, he was arrogant! But now, with Vito standing there staring at her, she had more to worry about than D’Ambrosio’s spilt coffee. She took a deep breath, inadvertently pulling the sickening smell of coffee deep into her lungs, and moved her laptop to one side. Then, looking straight at Vito, she began to speak. Her voice rang out amazingly clear and steady in the ominous silence of the meeting room as she concentrated on delivering the presentation she had previously prepared. ‘…and so this new system will give you the very best in web conferencing, saving your business both time and money, not to mention freeing you from the annoyance of using an outdated system that frequently fails to perform according to basic requirements.’ Lily finished her spiel and continued to match Vito’s gaze. She knew it was pointless. Mike had been right—L&G was a hard sell. But now Vito had arrived it was more than hard—it was impossible. The room was deathly silent as everyone waited for Vito to speak and, out of nowhere, her thoughts suddenly turned to her unborn baby. Vito’s child. It still hardly seemed real. Some of the time she almost forgot she was pregnant for a few minutes. But then, even if the nagging nausea wasn’t enough to remind her, the constant worry over getting a job so that she could provide for her baby slammed the reality home. She remembered all the warnings her mother had given her about men, and now she was in exactly the same situation as her mother had once been—ruthlessly cast aside because she’d made the mistake of getting pregnant. Lily’s father had refused to acknowledge her, and had even threatened her mother if she ever revealed their relationship. He had his own ‘real’ family to protect—a wife and two daughters living in a lovely suburban home. Lily and her mother hadn’t been good enough. They’d been a potential embarrassment, always to remain hidden far away in the countryside where they couldn’t do any damage to his impeccable reputation. Lily knew her father was a first-class hypocrite and, as she’d grown older, she’d told herself she’d been better off without him. But it had been tough growing up without a father. Her mother had found it hard to cope, and that had made life difficult and unsettled for Lily. ‘We will take your web-conferencing system on three-months-trial basis.’ Vito broke the silence abruptly. ‘D’Ambrosio, clean up here. Then take Ms Chase’s equipment up to my office.’ ‘But…’ For a second D’Ambrosio looked annoyed by his boss’s snap decision, but then he recovered himself and jumped to his feet. ‘Of course, it would be a pleasure to do business with you,’ he said, holding out his hand to Lily almost desperately. ‘Your company’s system really does sound very impressive. We’ll get it all arranged—my people will meet your people, and…’ In other circumstances, witnessing D’Ambrosio’s turnaround from obnoxious to obsequious might have been amusing, but at that moment Vito turned his eyes onto Lily with a penetrating look that made the breath catch in her throat. ‘Ms Chase, you will accompany me to my suite.’ His voice rolled down her spine like thunder, setting her insides quaking. He’d never spoken to her like that before. ‘I…I should make arrangements with Mr D’Ambrosio,’ Lily prevaricated. Part of her longed to go with Vito, but the sensible part of her mind told her to keep well away from him. He was not the man she’d thought she knew—the tender lover who’d taken care of her and made her feel safe. This was a very different man—a heartless beast who’d thrown her out of his house one horrible cold night in March. That night had turned into an escalating nightmare. The airport had closed early because of the fog, leaving her no escape and nowhere to go. ‘Come with me.’ His words were nothing short of a command, and Lily found herself moving forward even before Vito’s hand closed around her arm. She gasped as he made contact, and her step faltered. It felt like an electric shock had jolted through her. She turned shakily to look up into his face. Any hope that still flickered in her heart was extinguished as his hostile gaze knifed through her. The anger that glinted in his blue eyes was so cold and relentless that it felt like shards of ice were piercing her soul. She wanted to get away, but there was no way out. She wanted to bolt for the door—willingly sacrifice the sale and her potential job—but Vito had her arm. The glacial touch of his gaze ravaged her like a blizzard, but heat from his hand was steadily burning through the sleeve of her linen jacket, spreading insistently through her chilled veins, making her acutely aware of every single inch of her body. It only took seconds to reach his private elevator and, before she knew it, he’d pulled her inside with him. She exhaled with an involuntary whoosh as the doors closed, cutting them off from the rest of the world, enclosing them in a space that suddenly seemed too small to contain Vito. The sheer power of his presence was pressing out in all directions, bouncing off the mirrored walls of the elevator, becoming increasingly magnified with every moment that passed. It felt like she was trapped inside a capsule with him, in a place that was completely saturated by his powerful presence. The air that flowed around his body, slipping underneath his designer clothes and sliding across his firm bronze skin, was moving sensuously over her too. Every breath she took was laced with his achingly familiar scent, setting her nerves alight, making the tiny space they shared more real and vibrant than the world outside. His fingers still pressed into her arm, but from the way her heart was racing and her skin tingling it was as if his touch extended way beyond that. It was more like he was running his hands all over her naked body. And in a distant part of her mind she was aware of the elevator travelling up, further away from the outside world. Further away from escape. Then suddenly the mirrored doors slid open and he stepped forwards, taking her with him. She blinked in surprise as he let go of her arm, momentarily disorientated by her new surroundings, and stared around at the cavernous space she found herself in. ‘What is this place?’ she asked, saying the first words that came into her mind. The floor was covered in a luxurious light-grey carpet, but there was no furniture apart from one imposing desk which was set to the side near the floor-to-ceiling plate-glass windows. ‘The penthouse suite,’ Vito responded shortly. ‘I have no use for it—it’s being converted.’ She glanced around again, slowly regaining a little equilibrium as she put some distance between herself and Vito. She couldn’t believe how powerfully her body had responded merely from being confined in a small space with him. As she looked about, she noticed the marks where furniture had once stood, and shadows on the wall where pictures had been removed. It was a soulless space, like a home that had been gutted. It didn’t seem right that she was in this bleak place with Vito. In her mind her time with him was associated with his palazzo in Venice, or even just going out and about with him. It wasn’t the level of comfort and luxury that was missing—it was simply being together. Being with Vito had always felt like being home. Now she had no home. ‘Where are you living?’ Vito asked, snapping her out of her thoughts. ‘London,’ Lily replied briefly. After the way he’d treated her, she didn’t see any reason to let him know how unsettled her situation was. ‘Alone?’ he probed. ‘That’s none of your business.’ He was standing only a few feet away from her, and she met his hard blue gaze with her own. She didn’t want him to think that he intimidated her, even though she was feeling very shaky and uncertain. And she was sure he’d seen how being close to him in the elevator had affected her. ‘The baby’s father.’ He spoke through gritted teeth. ‘Are you living with him?’ For the second time that morning, Lily’s heart skipped a beat. Vito’s words didn’t make sense. He couldn’t really mean what she thought he did—could he? ‘What are you talking about?’ she gasped, laying her hand protectively against her still-flat stomach. ‘I know it wasn’t planned—but of course you are the father.’ He was staring at her from beneath black brows, but the morning light flooding in from the massive windows caught his eyes, making them look almost metallic. For a moment she hardly recognised him. This really couldn’t be the man she’d lived with for five wonderful months of her life. ‘Don’t bother with your lies,’ Vito said. ‘Just tell me if you are in contact with the father. Does he know you are pregnant?’ ‘You’ve made a mistake,’ Lily said, still struggling to process the implications of what he was saying. ‘You know I’ve only ever been with you.’ ‘I may have been your first lover,’ Vito said. ‘But I wasn’t your only lover.’ ‘But why do you think that?’ Lily gasped. ‘I don’t understand. Did somebody tell you something about me?’ ‘Just tell me if the father knows,’ Vito grated. ‘You are the father!’ Lily cried. ‘There’s no one else and there never has been.’ His eyes pinned her for a moment longer, as if he was assessing a cold, emotionless business situation. ‘From that, I take it that he doesn’t know—or maybe he doesn’t want to know,’ Vito said. ‘Whatever the case, from now on, as far as the world is concerned, the child you are carrying is mine.’ ‘It is yours.’ Lily said hollowly. She felt like she was banging her head against a brick wall. Still holding her with his cold blue stare, Vito nodded once. The decisive movement of his head was strangely unnerving. ‘We will be married immediately,’ he announced. CHAPTER THREE ‘MARRIED?’ Lily echoed, staring at him in utter shock. She couldn’t believe what she’d heard. ‘If that’s some kind of cruel joke, I’m not falling for it.’ ‘It’s no joke.’ Vito sounded completely serious, and was looking at her with the hard expression she was starting to get horribly used to. ‘We will be married at once.’ ‘How can you even ask me that?’ Lily gasped. Six weeks ago she would have accepted willingly. A proposal from Vito would have been like a dream come true—but not any more. Now it was more like a nightmare. ‘After the way you’ve treated me, I’d be mad to marry you.’ ‘I’m not asking,’ Vito said. ‘I’m telling you that we will be married. And, as far as the world is concerned, the baby you are carrying is mine. He or she will be brought up as the Salvatore heir.’ Lily’s head was spinning and her stomach churning. With every passing second, Vito seemed more and more like a stranger. Her mother, Ellen, had warned her how men could easily change. She’d had personal experience of it. Lily’s father had gone from adoring lover to threatening brute overnight, when Ellen had told him that she was pregnant. That was when Ellen had found out that Reggie had been married all along. He’d already had a wife and two children, and was steadily working his way up the hierarchy of his father-in-law’s accountancy firm. Despite the sweet words of his seduction, he’d never been interested in anything more than a fling with Ellen. Her pregnancy had come as a wake-up call to him. He’d had too much at stake. If his wife, or her father, had discovered his infidelity Reggie could have lost everything—his family, his professional status and, most importantly to him, the prospect of taking over a successful business when his father-in-law retired. To protect himself, Reggie had set Ellen up in a tiny country cottage. He’d paid her rent and had made measly maintenance payments for Lily, but it was based on the strict understanding that Ellen could never reveal herself or her illegitimate child to his family. ‘Look, I don’t know what game you’re playing with me.’ Lily put her hands on her hips and met Vito’s gaze straight on. Her childhood had been blighted by her father’s duplicity, and suddenly she felt she’d had enough of dishonesty and secrets to last a lifetime. ‘But, whatever you’re playing at, I don’t have time for it. If you want to buy the web-conferencing system, that’s good—I need the commission to get myself a flat. If you don’t want it, that’s fine too. Just let me leave so I can get on with my life. I have to go find a permanent job.’ She had to get a job so that she could provide for her baby. She couldn’t let herself end up like her mother. Or in a situation that was even more financially precarious. Ellen had been devastated when Reggie had showed his true nature. To find herself blackmailed into silence by the man she’d fallen in love with had been unbearable. But with no one to turn to for help, and a baby to consider, she had reluctantly accepted his financial support. Then, as the years had gone by, she had become increasingly dependent on it. With her trust in people and her confidence in herself eroded, she’d found it impossible to find a job that fitted around caring for Lily. Eventually she’d found solace working as a volunteer at the local hospice. She’d poured all her energy and love into craft projects to bring enjoyment and satisfaction to the terminally ill patients. Lily loved her mother dearly, even though her childhood had been extremely difficult. She knew it would break her heart if she found out that Lily was pregnant and alone. Whatever happened, she had to protect Ellen from the truth—at least until she was settled. And the first thing she needed to do was find work, so that her future seemed more secure—financially at least. ‘You haven’t listened to a word I’ve said.’ Vito looked so cold and unmoving, standing there, that Lily felt a sense of foreboding creep over her. ‘You don’t need a job, or a flat.’ ‘I heard you talking, but you haven’t said anything that made sense,’ she retorted, struggling to shake off the uneasy feeling. She decided to tell him the truth about her current circumstances after all, to try and reason with him. ‘I need a job and somewhere to live, because since you threw me out I’ve been sleeping on my friend’s sofa.’ ‘You need a husband to provide for you and the baby,’ Vito said. ‘And I am offering far more than just that.’ ‘We’re not living in the dark ages!’ Lily gasped. His expression was forbidding, but she ploughed on regardless. ‘What are you offering that’s so great? Money? Of course it would be great to have a rich husband—but, if I can’t have a husband who truly loves and wants his child and me, then I’d rather be on my own.’ ‘Is that really true?’ Vito asked. ‘Bringing up an illegitimate child on your own isn’t easy.’ ‘I never said it was.’ Lily knew only too well how tough her mother had found it. It had been very hard on her too, living with someone prone to depression and panic, someone who had been only truly happy when she’d lost herself in an art project. ‘Think about your child,’ Vito pressed. ‘How can you consider denying him or her the possibility of growing up the Salvatore heir?’ ‘You’re crazy.’ Lily lifted her hand to touch her blonde hair in an exasperated gesture. ‘First you accuse me of being unfaithful and deny that this is your baby—then you want to marry me and make the child your heir. What am I supposed to think? It just doesn’t seem real.’ She looked up into his blue eyes, and suddenly the way he was looking at her sent a prickle of sensual awareness skittering across her skin. It was as if they were back in the elevator again, trapped in a tiny space that was buzzing with the supercharged electricity that was flowing between them. ‘This is real.’ He stepped forward, covering the space that separated them in two strides. He still wasn’t even touching her—but she knew exactly what he was talking about. Sexual attraction. A wave of heat was swelling through her body, setting all her nerve endings on fire. Deep down she wanted him to touch her again, wanted to feel his hands moving all over her. ‘Maybe it’s real,’ Lily said, horrified by how husky her voice suddenly sounded as his gaze swept suggestively over her body. ‘But it’s just hormones—it doesn’t mean anything.’ ‘Your virginity meant something to me,’ Vito grated. His eyes looked impossibly dark, and a muscle started pulsing on his jawline. ‘Until I found out it was meaningless to you—how quick you were to give your body to someone else.’ Suddenly an expression that was almost savage ripped across his features and he seized her, bringing his mouth down forcefully on hers. Lily’s heart lurched and she reeled in shock as he kissed her, but he had her firmly in his powerful grip. He had never been rough with her before, but her body was responding immediately, hot desire for him building inside her. Despite the feeble protests her mind was trying to exert, the tension in her muscles yielded until she was pliant in his arms. He pulled her tight against him, so that she could feel the wonderfully familiar heat of his body burning through her linen suit. Her lips softened and opened beneath his, allowing his tongue to sweep inside. Oh! How she had missed him—how she had longed to be close to him again. It wasn’t just the physical intimacy that she craved, although she was kissing him back with a fervency that was making her head spin. She’d missed the amazing relationship that she’d thought they had together. She’d missed him so badly. His hands were holding her head now, tilting it backwards as he plundered her mouth in a kiss that delved into the very depths of her spiralling desire for him. He had released his grip on her body, but she continued to press herself against him, revelling in the pure masculine power she could feel radiating from his hard form. Her arms snaked around his back, slipping inside his jacket. Then, almost of their own volition, her hands started to tug at his shirt. She longed to feel his skin under her fingertips, feel his muscles flex and ripple under her palms. Suddenly she realised what she was doing. ‘Stop!’ With a monumental effort of will, she broke away from his kiss and forced herself to take a step back from him. ‘This isn’t what I want,’ she gasped, walking shakily across to the huge plate-glass window that overlooked the City of London. ‘What do you want?’ he asked abruptly. ‘I want things back the way they were.’ She was suddenly too emotional to guard what she was saying. ‘Then you should have thought twice before cheating on me,’ Vito grated. ‘I never cheated on you!’ Lily cried. ‘But it doesn’t make any difference now.’ ‘Of course it does—it changed everything!’ Vito said. ‘But our relationship…Nothing was how it seemed anyway.’ She felt tears prick her eyes revealingly, and she looked down so that he wouldn’t see. ‘You weren’t the man I thought you were, or you would never have believed lies about me. You would never have accused me so horribly of something I didn’t do.’ She turned away and stared out of the window, but instead she saw her reflection staring back—wide eyed and lost, wearing a crumpled linen suit. Her hair was escaping in wild curls from the tightly pulled-back style she’d tried to impose on it that morning, when she hadn’t had time to do it properly—but there was nothing she could do to fix that now. She smoothed her hands automatically over her creased jacket, then took a deep, steadying breath before turning back to face him. ‘I’m leaving now.’ She was proud at how level her voice sounded, despite the turmoil she was feeling inside. ‘No. You’re not leaving.’ Vito’s voice was cold as stone. ‘You haven’t thought this through yet.’ ‘There’s nothing to think about,’ Lily said. ‘You’ve made it very clear what your opinion of me is. Why would I marry you?’ ‘For your child’s sake,’ he said. ‘Do you want your child to grow up illegitimate? Without a father?’ He walked forward and put his hands on her upper arms, holding her in place to emphasise the importance of his words. ‘Do you want your baby to be somebody’s dirty little secret?’ Lily stood stock-still and stared up at Vito. A horrible feeling of nausea was rising up through her, and his hands felt like cold inhuman restraints. ‘Why would you say such a horrible thing?’ Her voice trembled with emotion as she spoke. Vito’s words were too close to the bone. Too close to her own insecurities about her childhood. ‘Because you know what that would be like for your child,’ he said. ‘All your life, you’ve known what it’s like to be Reggie Morton’s dirty little secret.’ She stared at Vito in horror. For a moment she forgot to breathe. Her heart forgot to beat. Then all at once she had to escape—get out of there as fast as she could. She whirled away from Vito automatically, her hands flying up in alarm as she swayed against the window. Her mind was spinning as her gaze plummeted dizzyingly down into the street far below. They were so high up that nothing looked real—tiny stick-figures, toy cars and model trees were hazy images that were almost out of sight. It was like she was in some kind of awful nightmare. Then suddenly her vision blurred and she felt herself start to fall into blackness. ‘Lily!’ Vito’s voice cut through the haze, dragging her back to the harsh reality of her situation. Hands like steel gripped her arms to prevent her from falling, then virtually lifted her away to the huge leather chair by the desk. ‘Lily.’ Vito dropped down onto one knee in front of her. For a moment she almost made the mistake of thinking he was concerned about her—then as her eyes came into focus she saw that his expression was just as cold as before. He had simply adopted the best position to get a good look at her. And probably to make sure she was looking at him, paying proper attention to what he had to say. ‘You’re extremely pale,’ he said. ‘Have you eaten today?’ ‘Of course I’m pale.’ Lily spoke through gritted teeth. Her stomach was churning horribly, and she really thought there was a danger that she might be sick. ‘I’ve had a lot of nasty shocks this morning.’ ‘Have you eaten?’ he insisted. ‘What would make you feel better?’ ‘Getting away from you.’ She stood up so quickly that Vito rocked back on his heels, but the rapid movement was a mistake. A wave of nausea rolled through her again, and she clung to the desk for support, feeling her head start to spin. ‘Sit down,’ Vito barked. ‘I’m not letting you leave so that you can faint in the street—if you even get that far.’ One hand was on her shoulder, pressing her back into the chair, and the other snatched up the phone on his desk. Lily only half listened as he reeled off a list of instructions—but she understood that he was ordering food and drink. She closed her eyes, breathing deeply. As much as she thought she hated Vito right then, she couldn’t bear to disgrace herself by being sick in front of him. She already felt vulnerable enough, and that would just be the final humiliation on what was already turning out to be the worst day of her life so far. Only a few minutes seemed to pass before she heard the elevator doors open, followed by Vito’s quiet footfall on the thick grey carpet as he returned across the room. She opened her eyes to see him setting a tray down on the desk. ‘Drink this,’ he instructed, holding out a large glass of iced water. She took the water silently, unable to speak for a moment, as the memory of him preparing iced water for her on her last day in Venice flashed through her mind. He might not be the tender, concerned lover she had believed him to be—but he still knew what she liked. In fact, apparently he knew more about her than she had realised, as she thought about the heartless way he had thrown her troubled childhood in her face. ‘You snooped into my background.’ She looked at him accusingly, expecting to see at least a hint of embarrassment pass across his shuttered features. But there was nothing. He appeared as unmoved as ever. ‘Of course I did. You were living with me—a thorough background-check was mandatory.’ His voice was matter-of-fact. ‘You had potential access to all kinds of sensitive material.’ Lily looked at him in disgust. It would never have occurred to her to pry into his life like that. She knew he’d been married before; that was common knowledge. But she’d never poked around, trying to discover why his marriage had ended. ‘Perhaps I should have run a background-check on you.’ Lily took a sip of icy-cold water. It was making her stomach feel a little better—but the rest of her was still a mess of unpleasant emotions. ‘I might have found out in time what kind of man I was getting involved with.’ She pushed a coil of blonde hair out of her eyes and looked away from him distractedly. She couldn’t believe how things were turning out, and her mind was a horrible whirl of conflicting thoughts. She should never have come to L&G Enterprises that morning. She’d known Vito held controlling shares in the company. But he also had many other business interests in London. She’d thought, if he was even in the city, what were the chances that he’d be right there in the building? That he’d walk into her presentation? Maybe a tiny part of her deep down inside had longed to see him again, despite the unforgivable way he had treated her, but she could never have guessed that things would end up like this. That Vito, the man she’d once foolishly believed she was falling in love with, would rub her nose in the humiliating misery of her childhood. And then propose to her. ‘Being someone’s dirty little secret is not a pleasant position to be in.’ Vito’s voice was cold and unfeeling as he broke the silence. ‘Don’t make your child suffer the same fate. You don’t need to make the same choices as your mother.’ ‘You’re the one making it dirty!’ Lily responded hotly, her gaze flashing back to his impossibly inexpressive face. ‘And leave my mother out of it—she’s happy living in the countryside, working with the hospice patients.’ ‘But you’re not happy,’ Vito said blandly. ‘And your childhood was far from happy.’ ‘You don’t know anything about my childhood,’ Lily threw back at him. ‘I know that your father refused to acknowledge you,’ he said. ‘That he paid your mother off to keep her quiet. That you’ve never met him or your two half-sisters, and that it seems unlikely that you ever will. Unless you’re prepared to let your mother lose her home and income, just to satisfy your curiosity about the man who didn’t want you.’ ‘Why would I want to meet my father?’ Lily responded automatically, despite the way she was reeling under the onslaught of Vito’s words. ‘He’s nothing to me.’ ‘You mean you’re nothing to him.’ Vito turned away to select a Danish pastry from the tray on his desk. Lily gripped her glass of iced water dangerously tightly and stared at him angrily. ‘You are utterly vile,’ she said, looking at the plate in his hand, because suddenly she couldn’t bring herself to meet his gaze. How could he eat at a time like this? Did dishing out heartless comments over something so important to her really mean so little to him that he thought he’d combine it with a light snack? She’d spent a lifetime trying not to think about the way her father had discarded her. And she didn’t want to think about it now. She could have searched for him, tried to make him acknowledge her. But she’d always known no good would have come of that. And, in any case, she would never, ever have done anything to cause her mother distress. ‘Here, eat this.’ Vito removed the glass of water from her grip and handed her the pastry on a highly glazed black plate. So it hadn’t been for him after all. ‘I’m not hungry,’ Lily said mutinously, trying to pass the plate back. ‘Nevertheless, you must eat,’ Vito said. ‘You’ll feel better if you boost your blood-sugar level. You really are exceptionally pale, even for you.’ ‘Even for me?’ Lily snapped. ‘Don’t act like you know me. You may know my secret—a way you can coerce me into doing what you want. But that’s not really knowing someone.’ ‘It’s not coercion,’ Vito said. ‘I’m merely helping you to recognise the full implications of trying to go it alone with an illegitimate child. In fact, it’s more of a reminder, really—after all, you know from first-hand experience what it can be like.’ ‘It wasn’t as bad as you’re making it sound,’ Lily protested. But in her heart she knew it had been pretty tough—constantly dealing with her mother’s depression and her own sense of abandonment and disappointment. She hated the thought of her baby growing up without a father, feeling unwanted and worthless. ‘Don’t you want to protect your child?’ Vito asked. ‘Marry me, and he or she will be free of the misery that blighted your childhood.’ ‘My childhood wasn’t miserable,’ Lily insisted. She could hear the doubt in her own voice, but suddenly it felt disloyal to her mum even to let herself think it. ‘As my heir, your baby will have every opportunity,’ Vito continued. ‘And you won’t experience the difficulties that your mother faced on her own.’ ‘I don’t know,’ Lily said. Vito’s proposal was totally unexpected and overwhelming. She didn’t know what to think any more. ‘I don’t know what to say.’ Two months ago she would have been unimaginably happy to have Vito propose to her. Now things were different. It was clear he didn’t love her. He didn’t even trust her. But he was offering her a chance for her child—and wasn’t that the most important thing to consider now? How could she deny her child the life Vito could give it? ‘You do know what to say,’ Vito said. ‘You must agree to marry me. And, in the circumstances, we must arrange the wedding for as soon as possible. We’ll fly back to Venice this afternoon.’ He looked at her, sitting so stiffly on the high-backed leather chair, and he thought that she had been right when she’d said he didn’t know her. He didn’t. The sweet, innocent girl he’d thought she was would never have taken a lover and then tried to pass off another man’s child as his. She didn’t even look the same as the eager yet tentative lover he had shared his home with for nearly half a year. Her defensive body-language was completely new to him, and the amount of weight she’d lost made her appear all bony angles beneath her ill-fitting linen suit. The dark smudges of exhaustion beneath her hazel eyes emphasised their size, making them look extremely large in her painfully thin face. And she was wearing her hair in a strange style that all through their five months together he had never before seen. But, even though her appearance had changed, the powerful attraction he felt for her had not diminished one jot. It was the same as the first time he’d laid eyes on her; she’d been standing up in front of another group of executives in another of his companies, pitching an earlier version of the computer software she’d been selling today. He’d walked into that meeting too—with no thought in his head other than the fact that he must find out who she was. It had suddenly been imperative that he invited her to dinner, got to know her…took her to bed. And the urgent desire that had stormed his body back then was still surging through his veins like molten lava. He wanted to haul her to her feet and kiss her until the rigid tension in her body melted away. He knew it would—he’d felt the way she’d responded to him earlier. Despite her protests he knew she still wanted him as much as he wanted her. He wanted to run his hands all over her body, until she was soft and pliant against him. He wanted to release the clip at the nape of her neck and let her hair fly out in crazy curls. It had been only at the end of their most passionate love-making sessions that he’d seen her hair in its natural, untamed state. She’d always spent ages straightening it and smoothing it down into sleek, sophisticated styles. He liked it when it was wild. It made him think of rampant sex. ‘Even if I agree, I can’t be ready to travel this afternoon.’ Lily’s voice startled him out of his thoughts. ‘There are things I must do, people I have to tell.’ ‘Of course you can be ready. Leave all the technical details to me. Once we arrive in Venice, you may call anyone you need, to inform them of your change of address.’ Vito suppressed a grim smile of satisfaction at her imminent agreement. He hadn’t allowed himself to consider the possibility that she might refuse his offer of marriage. The fact that she had been unfaithful to him, and subsequently denied it, had proved him very wrong in his original assessment of her personality. However, he did know what her childhood had been like. And he was confident that his frank reminders of how their uncertain situation had impacted on Lily and her mother would be enough to bring her round to accepting his proposal. He knew he’d hurt her feelings when he’d thrown her out, but he was sure her maternal instinct to protect her child’s future would win out in the end. ‘No, I need to—’ Lily began. ‘Presumably the equipment you brought with you for your presentation belongs to the company you were working for.’ Vito picked up the phone to make a call. ‘I’ll have it returned by courier.’ He had her in his grasp. All that was left to do was to make the arrangements as quickly as possible. Then he would tell his grandfather the news the old man had been hoping to hear for years: the Salvatore family name was to continue. His grandfather would end his days happy, believing there was a new Salvatore heir. Then afterwards, when Lily was no longer of any use to him, Vito would exact revenge on her by ridding himself of her. And the baby. A swift divorce, and his life would soon be back to normal. Lily, and the proof of her infidelity, would no longer have any part of it. ‘But I can’t just disappear off to Italy,’ Lily said. ‘People will worry about me.’ ‘A short announcement that we are reunited and about to be married should deal with that,’ Vito replied. ‘They’ll never believe it,’ Lily said, wondering how her independent friend, Anna, would react to her decision to marry Vito purely to ensure security and stability for her child. How would she explain that she couldn’t bear the thought of her baby enduring a childhood as tough as hers? ‘Everyone knows how badly you treated me—they won’t be fooled by any story I tell them.’ Or at least Anna wouldn’t, she thought. Somehow she’d never really got round to telling her mother any details about how she came to be back in London. ‘No.’ The word cut through the air like steel. ‘No one must ever know this is anything other than a normal marriage.’ ‘But…’ Lily faltered as he took her hands and pulled her abruptly to her feet. She was standing directly in front of him, and she could feel the intensity radiating off him. Her heart jolted nervously in her chest. He was utterly serious. ‘No one will ever know.’ Vito’s voice throbbed and his eyes blazed. ‘You will make them all believe that it is a normal marriage, that the child you are carrying is mine. If you fail to do this, I will cast you and the baby out.’ Lily stared at him numbly. She just couldn’t let her baby go through what she had experienced growing up. Vito’s words ‘dirty little secret’ rang in her mind. He had been agonisingly accurate in his assessment of what her childhood had been like. Living with a mother who was depressed and frequently plagued by worries and self-doubts had been tough. Having very little money, no father figure at home, and, on top of everything else, dealing with spiteful taunts from other children had been a constant grind. But realising that her own father didn’t want to meet her—probably wished she’d never even been born—had quite simply been heartbreaking. She couldn’t let her child grow up never knowing its father—and she knew for sure that this baby was Vito’s. She had to agree. For the sake of her unborn baby she had to agree to marry Vito. CHAPTER FOUR LILY placed the large vase of blue cornflowers on the table. She put her handwritten note to Anna beside them and stood back, biting her lip in consternation. She didn’t want to disappear out of her friend’s life as abruptly as she’d arrived, but she had a plane to catch, and couldn’t be there to explain in person. Besides, she had a terrible fear that if she talked to her friend face to face she would almost certainly break down and tell her everything. The future of her unborn baby depended on her playing out the charade that Vito was demanding. She couldn’t allow herself to fall at the first hurdle. The cornflowers were gorgeous, and she knew they were Anna’s favourites. She’d spotted them outside a florist on the way back to the flat, and decided at once that she must buy a huge bunch for her friend. Vito’s driver had tried to pay for them, but Lily was having none of that. From her time in Venice she was used to his assistants popping up beside her, cash or credit card in hand. But these flowers were a gift for a dear friend, a friend who’d been there for her in a time of trouble. She wasn’t going to let it be sullied by allowing Vito to pay for it. She might have agreed to marry him, but she wasn’t letting him buy her off. Lily looked round the flat that had been her home for six weeks. It wasn’t really home, but she’d been so grateful for Anna’s comforting presence. There would be no one to comfort her in Venice. It hadn’t taken her long to pack—she’d been travelling light since leaving Venice. She turned away and started carrying her bags down to the waiting limousine. The driver hurried to help her, and in hardly any time her belongings were stowed in the boot. She stood on the pavement, staring at the keys in her hand, suddenly reluctant to go despite the fact that she must. ‘Would you like me to take them?’ the driver politely enquired. ‘Is there a trusted neighbour I can leave them with? Or should I drop them through the letter box?’ Lily blinked and stared at him for a moment. All of Vito’s staff were honest and ready to help with anything. But this was a task she had to do herself. ‘No, thank you.’ Lily smiled at him as warmly as she could, but she knew it couldn’t look very convincing. She was utterly exhausted and felt sick to her stomach. ‘I’ll just be a moment.’ She made her way wearily back up the two flights of stairs and let herself into the flat one last time. She placed the keys on the table next to her note and the vase of cornflowers, then walked back out and pulled the door shut behind her. She pushed it automatically, just to check the lock had caught, and suddenly she felt locked out of her own life. As her fingers fell from the unyielding door, she knew she was saying goodbye to her freedom. A few hours later she was sitting next to Vito as their plane circled the city of Venice, coming in to land across the water at the edge of the lagoon. It looked so different from the city she had flown away from six weeks ago, the day after she’d told Vito she was pregnant. By morning most of the fog had lifted, allowing the airport to reopen, but the city had still looked eerily colourless, and the wide expanse of water had been a pale, metallic grey. Now the sun was shining brightly, low in the western sky, and the water of the lagoon was a luxuriant blue, tinged with the gold of the approaching sunset. The island of Venice itself looked amazing from the air—like a perfect miniature replica dropped into the open space of the lagoon. Famous landmarks stood out with incredible clarity, and for a moment Lily almost felt like she’d never left. Except now everything was different. ‘Do you feel well enough to walk down to the water?’ She heard Vito speak beside her, and she turned to look at him in surprise. It really wasn’t very far down to the pier where his personal boat would be waiting for them. They’d always made their way on foot in the past. ‘I’d like to walk,’ she replied. ‘Thank you for asking.’ She was still wearing the high-heeled shoes she’d worn for her presentation, and her feet were starting to ache, but after the flight she could definitely do with some fresh air. It wasn’t long before they were zipping across the water towards the city. Lily loved being out on the lagoon, and she’d always been entranced by the idea that she was travelling across the water to arrive at the city in the same way people had for more than a thousand years. Then, all too soon, they were winding their way through the maze of Venetian canals, approaching the water gate of Vito’s gothic palazzo. Êîíåö îçíàêîìèòåëüíîãî ôðàãìåíòà. Òåêñò ïðåäîñòàâëåí ÎÎÎ «ËèòÐåñ». Ïðî÷èòàéòå ýòó êíèãó öåëèêîì, êóïèâ ïîëíóþ ëåãàëüíóþ âåðñèþ (https://www.litres.ru/pages/biblio_book/?art=39925426&lfrom=390579938) íà ËèòÐåñ. Áåçîïàñíî îïëàòèòü êíèãó ìîæíî áàíêîâñêîé êàðòîé Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, ñî ñ÷åòà ìîáèëüíîãî òåëåôîíà, ñ ïëàòåæíîãî òåðìèíàëà, â ñàëîíå ÌÒÑ èëè Ñâÿçíîé, ÷åðåç PayPal, WebMoney, ßíäåêñ.Äåíüãè, QIWI Êîøåëåê, áîíóñíûìè êàðòàìè èëè äðóãèì óäîáíûì Âàì ñïîñîáîì.