‘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.
She couldn’t help remembering the last time she’d disembarked there. That afternoon the fog had chilled her to the bone, and she’d been worried how Vito would react to her pregnancy. But despite everything she had been optimistic. She could never have predicted the harsh and unfathomable way he would react, initially throwing her out, and then persuading her to return with him to become his wife for reasons she still didn’t fully understand.
She climbed out onto the marble steps soberly. Leaving this palazzo and her life with Vito had been devastating—but returning under such circumstances was equally hard.
‘No doubt you’ll want to rest this evening.’ Vito guided Lily towards the stairs as several members of staff appeared to carry her belongings.
‘I think that would be best,’ Lily responded, suddenly feeling tears prick behind her eyes. Coming back to the place where she’d been so happy was affecting her more than she had expected.
Vito took her up to the grand bedroom she had previously— shared with him, then left without saying a word.
For a moment she stood rooted to the spot, looking round at the room that was so familiar, yet seemed so strange. Then, taking a deep breath, she walked purposefully— across to her luggage to find her wash-kit and nightclothes.
She was tired and emotional, but she wouldn’t give in to it. She wouldn’t let herself think about what she had got herself into. Vito had made her play his game, but she was going to remain strong and positive. She would not let him see any vulnerability.
She reached up and released her hair from the clip at the back of her head. It had been uncomfortable on the plane, but she’d been reluctant to let her hair down in front of Vito. She walked through to the en suite to take a quick shower and get ready for bed.
Although it was dark outside now, it wasn’t really very late. But pregnancy and the stresses of the day had made Lily so tired that she longed for sleep. She had no doubt that Vito would join her later, but with any luck she’d be sound asleep before he made an appearance.
Lily was alone in the bed when she awoke the following. morning. She gazed up at the beautiful painted ceiling and the antique Murano glass chandelier, realising— that she’d actually slept very well. And, more importantly, she felt better than she had for days. Maybe her morning sickness was finally starting to ease.
She sat up cautiously, noticing a glass of iced water had been placed on her bedside table. Beaded with condensation, the water looked enticingly cool, and next to it someone had left a plate of her favourite sweet rolls from a local bakery.
She smiled grimly. Eating before she showered and dressed would help to keep her stomach settled, but it bugged her that for some reason Vito was still demonstrating— how well he thought he knew her, and how he understood her condition. She picked up the glass and took a refreshing sip, rebelliously thinking that perhaps she should inform him that her new preference— was cold milk.
She’d just finished one of the rolls when the door opened and Vito walked in.
As usual he looked absolutely amazing, and was immaculately— groomed, right down to his freshly buffed handmade leather shoes. He was wearing smart trousers and a black cashmere sweater that fitted him perfectly. Somehow the luxuriously soft layer of wool encasing his hard, muscled form emphasised his raw masculine power in a way that made her heart skip a beat.
Lily remembered what it felt like to be enfolded in his arms and held against that sweater. She pushed the thought aside and lifted her eyes to his handsome face.
‘Good, you’re awake.’ He stood at the foot of the bed, letting his eyes run over her in assessment. ‘You look much better than yesterday.’
‘It’s not surprising.’ She returned his gaze steadily, resisting the urge to fidget under his hard stare. She was glad that she was wearing her old, cosy nightshirt with long sleeves and a high neckline. Vito had always hated it. He’d preferred her in the filmy, revealing garments he had seemed to enjoy buying for her. ‘Yesterday was just about the worst day of my life.’
‘There’s someone you need to meet this morning,’ he said, ignoring her jibe. ‘My grandfather has been ill. A visit from us will cheer him up.’
Lily looked at him in startled silence. She’d lived with Vito for five months, but he had never once taken her to visit his grandfather. She’d known that he lived very nearby, and that Vito called in to see him regularly. But she’d understood that, as his lover, it was not part of her role to meet his family.
‘You intend to tell him, don’t you?’ She found her voice at last, the realisation that everything was so different— making her feel really unsettled.
‘Of course, he’s my grandfather. I didn’t bring you here to marry you in secret,’ Vito replied. ‘I thought I made myself very plain on that point.’
‘You did,’ Lily said. ‘It’s just that it was rather a sudden decision. I thought you might take time to reflect on it before things get too complicated to change.’ She folded her arms across her chest, thinking that, once other people knew about their marriage, there would definitely be no going back.
‘The decision has been made,’ Vito said. ‘All that remains is to tell those who are important to us, and to start the ball rolling with the preparations for our wedding.— As I said yesterday, it will be at the earliest opportunity.’
Lily looked away from him, knocked for six by the thought of actually telling people that she was getting married. Her note to Anna certainly hadn’t gone into details like that. She knew her friend would have found such a sudden announcement bewildering, especially after the way Vito had callously thrown her out.
She didn’t want Anna to worry about her, so she’d kept the message simple and upbeat—just saying she’d run into Vito, they’d patched things up between them, and she was returning to Venice with him.
If she was getting married she ought to tell her mother, but she honestly couldn’t bear the thought of sharing her news with her mother, or anyone else she was close to. Although she knew she had to go through with it because it was the best thing for her child, she still had misgivings about the way Vito had treated her. About the way he was continuing to treat her.
How would she manage to keep up the pretence that it was a perfectly normal, happy marriage in front of people who knew her well and cared about her? She simply couldn’t afford to reveal the truth behind the marriage. Vito had made it plain that they must maintain a normal happily-married front. Her child’s future depended on it.
‘We’ll leave as soon as you’re ready,’ Vito said, walking to the door. ‘My grandfather is at his best in the morning. He tends to sleep in the afternoon.’
Lily pushed back the covers, got out of bed and headed for the en suite. Half an hour later, she was sitting at the dressing table, adding the finishing touches to her make-up while she waited for Vito to return.
She was apprehensive about meeting his grandfather,— and had tried to ease her nerves by taking extra care with her appearance. Her hair was freshly washed and straightened, so that it hung down in a sleek blonde curtain well past her shoulder blades. Her make-up was light and natural looking, but the judicious use of blusher had given her a bit of colour in her cheeks.
She had chosen to wear her ivory linen-suit again. It was a bit creased from travelling, but everything else was still packed haphazardly in her bags and was not likely to look any better. She looked in the mirror and decided that, although she might not look very glamorous,— she was perfectly presentable.
The door opened and Vito came into the room.
‘I’m ready to go,’ she said, standing up quickly and reaching for her handbag.
Vito looked at her, picking up small details that were different from the day before. She didn’t look so washed-out and, with her hair brushed down in that shimmering veil halfway down her back, she was starting to look more like the beautiful young woman he’d shared his life with over the winter. But she was still wearing the ill-fitting suit from the day before.
‘I know this outfit isn’t perfect,’ Lily said, as if she’d read his mind. Or maybe, he thought, she’d simply read his expression. Although her shocking act of betrayal had made her a stranger to him, he mustn’t forget that they’d lived together for five months. Undoubtedly she’d got to know him quite well in that time. ‘But I don’t have anything else suitable,’ she added.