Abby awoke the next morning to a pounding headache. She’d resorted to drinking far too much red wine during dinner with Dante. She couldn’t think of any other way to get through the meal. Dante hadn’t seemed to notice anything was amiss. He’d been attentive and now she wondered if she’d read the situation correctly, for he’d acted almost lovingly. They’d danced most of the night away before he brought her home and made passionate love to her all night. No wonder she was tired.
She opened her eyes. Dante must have drawn back the curtains when he left, for sunlight streamed in the room and she immediately squinted against the glare. Her stomach protested when she tried to sit up. She only just made it to the bathroom before being sick. Serves you right for overindulging, she scolded herself.
Dante thought she’d been celebrating the news that he’d talked Nana into staying in Italy. He’d kindly given her grandmother one of the cottages on the estate. Nana was so excited, planning the move of her possessions over here, that when Abby had gotten home late yesterday afternoon, Nana hadn’t even asked her about the doctor’s visit. She’d have no such luck today. She cleaned her teeth and rinsed her mouth out. How much should she tell her grandmother? She showered and dressed, taking her time, trying to delay the inevitable. Finally she sneaked from the bedroom and made her way toward the study. Pietro spied her.
“Would you like some breakfast, Contessa? Rachele can whip you up an omelet.”
Abby put her hand to her stomach. The thought of food made her stomach churn. “Just some tea would be lovely, thank you, Pietro.” She hesitated at the study door. “Can you tell my grandmother I need to work for a few hours? I’ll see her this afternoon.”
Pietro shrugged. “She left with Katarina, early in the morning. They are over at the cottage, measuring I believe.”
She shouldn’t feel such relief, but she did. Good, she had time to herself. She needed to think. Her life was fast approaching a catastrophe of hurricane proportions. She needed some space to decide how to survive it.
Dante read the report in front of him five times, yet not a word sank in.
Abby filled his thoughts.
He couldn’t concentrate on business. All he kept picturing was the satisfied woman he’d left in his bed this morning. A woman who melted beneath him, who drove him crazy with her little sighs and moans, a woman who was becoming a necessity in his life.
He flung the pen he’d been holding onto the desk and swore violently. He was going soft and it was all her fault. Why couldn’t she resent him for forcing her into his bed? Her eagerness to fulfill her role was beginning to undo him. He’d tried to stay immune to her appeal. Previously he’d scented the danger she could become. Only now, in the years she’d been away, had he let himself forget the power she exerted over him.
It was back in force. His body craved hers. Each time he made love to her, he seemed to want her more. He tried to be rational and tell himself this was purely about getting her pregnant, but he lied. It had taken her less than a few weeks to restore all his past weaknesses. He couldn’t wait to get home from work and see her smile a welcome at him, or hear her laugh about something that had occurred at the villa. When they’d originally married, he’d purposely made himself work late at least three times a week to prove to himself that he was not falling under her spell. Since her return, he hadn’t stayed late once.
Abby sensed this time he was different, their relationship was different, more mature. He ran his hand through his hair. This time she did not understand that keeping emotional distance between them was for the best. He was protecting her. He didn’t want to see her get hurt. Yet here he was letting her fall in love with him all over again.
He’d let Abby sleep in this morning. She’d looked exhausted lying on her side, her hand tucked under her pale and drawn face. He’d really wanted to wake her up and make love to her again, but she deserved a rest after he’d kept her up all night. God, he couldn’t seem to get enough of her.
He finally admitted that making love with Abby had nothing to do with begetting a child. He wanted her with an all-consuming passion that scared him. Each time he made love to her, a little bit of his fortress crumbled. The way she touched him, looked at him, loved him, made tender feelings creep inside his heart.
She was different from the girl he’d married. Different in a good way. She was an intelligent, vibrant woman who had attracted a lot of male attention last night. He’d been the envy of every man in the restaurant. When they walked in, the men followed her every movement with their eyes. He’d liked the feeling when she’d put her hand in his and had let him lead her to their table.
She’s mine, he wanted to scream. He’d let his possessive stare say it for him.
He pushed his chair back and sighed. He wasn’t going to get much work done today. He wondered if she was awake yet. They could go for a picnic lunch in the vineyards and make love in the olive grove down by the pond all afternoon. For God’s sake, what was wrong with him? He pulled his chair back toward his desk, picked up the report, and tried to concentrate. He hadn’t read more than the first paragraph again when there was a knock on the door.
He looked up to see Elena enter with a frown on her face.
“Dante, can you get Abby to call me? I have to discuss the operating costs for On the Shelf. Without them, I can’t make head or tail of the profit and loss, and you told me to ensure the business doesn’t go into the red.”
It was Dante’s turn to frown. He put down the report he’d been holding. “Why haven’t you asked Peter or Colin? They’re running the store.”
“I’ve got the store’s cost, but I need the online side. It’s the biggest contributor to profit, but I’m unsure what percentage of the costs it represents.”
“Abby’s been running the online side while Colin and Peter have concentrated on the brick-and-mortar store.” Elena suddenly noticed the furious look on his face. “That’s the arrangement Abby made. I thought you knew.”
“I’ll get Abby to call you.”
“Thanks. I’ll be able to finish the report once I have the numbers.” Elena walked to the door. “You know, we should look at her online model. It might stop some of the bleeding at Books 4 Less.” With that parting shot, Elena exited his office and closed the door behind her.
The pencil in his hand snapped. Fury flooded him, refortifying the walls around his heart. Why hadn’t she told him she was still working? Was she only pretending to be building a life with him, when in reality she was waiting for her grandmother to get well, and then she’d leave again?
Dante felt as if an earthquake had tilted his building and he could hardly stand. He forced himself to his feet. He’d let her softness fool him once more. She’d purposely hidden her ongoing involvement in her business, just as she’d hidden the fact that she’d started taking birth control pills when they’d first married.
His stomach clenched with anguish. What else had she lied about? Was she back on contraceptives? Was her eagerness in his bed all an act? Did she have any intention of giving him a child? He tried to get his breathing under control even though he was seething inside. A picture of Abby’s grandmother lying in the hospital bed flooded his mind. Exactly what lengths would Abby have gone to in order to help the one person she loved most in this world?
He let out a howl of anguish. He knew. He knew because he would go to any lengths to help or protect the ones he loved, even her. Especially her. Because he—God—his legs began to buckle and he almost fell to his knees—he loved her. Of all the idiotic things—he’d fallen in love with a devious, scheming, lying… He thumped the desk. He couldn’t think past his fury.
“I’m out for the rest of the day,” he barked at his PA as he left the office.
He gunned the Porsche, the angry growl of the engine matching his darkening mood, and raced into the manic traffic heading for the villa. He was going to search her rooms and everything she owned—and if he found the evidence of her betrayal—then he’d throw her out himself.
“Thank you for the tea,” Abby said to Rachele as she put the large teapot on the table. “You’ve learned to make the best tea of any Italian I know.” Abby hadn’t eaten yet and she was beginning to feel a bit light-headed. “If you wouldn’t mind, could I have a sandwich to go with my tea?”
Rachele smiled. “Si. You missed breakfast. Are you all right? You look a bit pale.”
“Self-inflicted queasiness. I drank too much last night.”
Rachele winked. “Are you sure that’s all it is? Maybe a little bambino is on its way.”
The cup in her hand crashed to the desk, soaking all her papers. Luckily her laptop was pushed to the side.
Rachele hurried over. “I’m sorry, Abby. Here, let me wipe it up.”
Abby lifted her soaked papers and held them over the garbage bin while Rachele raced to the kitchen for some dishcloths.
A bambino? She felt the loss swamp her like a dark invading evil. No, she wanted to scream at Rachele. It’s unlikely to be a bambino. She tried to keep the tears from welling. She swallowed them back down like a child taking a spoonful of awful medicine.
A movement in the doorway caught her eye. “Hurry, Rachele, it’s about to leak off the blotter and it will stain Dante’s antique desk.”
“We can’t have that, can we? For then he’d know you’ve been using his study.”
Dante. She glanced up at his harsh tone, a welcoming smile dying on her lips. He looked stormy. Furious. She looked at his face and then at the dripping papers in her hand. “I can explain.”
He took two strides toward her and tore the soaking pages from her hand. They partially disintegrated in his hands, leaving her holding a ripped corner.
He glared at her, his hand covered in tea-soaked paper. “I just bet you can explain. But this time, I’m not going to believe you.”
“Calm down.” For once in her life, she was going to make him listen to her. She wasn’t nineteen and she wouldn’t run away because she’d been told off.
“You lied to me.” His words were said in such a low tone she almost didn’t hear them.
“Oh for goodness’ sake. I haven’t lied. You never bothered to ask me about my work.” She faced him, and all the anger that had been pent up inside from the last two days exploded. “What did you expect me to do with my time? Sit around pining for you until you came home and dragged me to bed?”
Rachele gave a discreet cough from the door.
He reached for Abby’s hand and pulled her toward the door. “Rachele, clear up this mess,” he said coldly as he dragged Abby to the master bedroom. He pushed her into the room ahead of him and slammed the door shut behind him. “What else have you lied to me about?”
Her stomach lodged somewhere in the vicinity of her toes. Her heart was sinking like a dead weight. Her lips appeared stuck as if superglued together. Oh God. He knows.
He moved to her dresser and pulled out a drawer, dumping the contents on the bed. “Are you on the pill?”
Relief flooded her. He thought she was taking contraceptives. He moved and pulled out the next drawer.
“Stop! You’re making a huge mess. I am not taking contraceptives.”
He dropped the second drawer on the floor with a crash and raked a hand through his hair. “And I should simply believe you? You lied about wanting a baby before.”
“Nonsense. If you’d only listened to me, gotten to know me properly four years ago, none of this would have happened. I could have had a child by now.” She almost screamed in frustrated anger. “I want children.” She gulped back a sob, knowing that was now unlikely. “Back then, did you think for just one minute that maybe I was afraid to have a child?”
He said nothing. His nostrils flared, his chest rising and falling hard.
“I was nineteen and unsure of myself. I didn’t think I could cope. You worked all the time, every minute of the day. I barely saw you. Late nights at work, trips away…” She sank down defeated on the edge of the bed. “That’s why I wanted a job. I wanted to work for you, with you, then at least I’d see you.” She looked up at him, willing him to see the love in her gaze. “I wanted to be with you. That was all.”
His facial expression softened. “You wanted to be with me? That’s why you wanted to become an employee of the Lombardi Group. You didn’t really want a career?” He stared at the mess he’d made then slowly turned to look at her. “Why didn’t you tell me this back then?”
“Because I was young and stupid. I was too scared to tell you how I felt in case you didn’t love me.” She tried to laugh it off. “And I would’ve been right.” Her head lowered and she looked at the floor. “You didn’t love me.”
He moved quietly and kneeled at her feet. He took her hand and placed a kiss on her palm. “It would seem we both had some growing up to do while we were apart. I’ve been an idiot.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about the online side of my business. I wanted to but there never seemed to be an appropriate time, what with Nana and then you taking me to bed every minute of the day.” She cupped his cheek. “You must want this child pretty badly.”
A flicker of unease floated across his pupils and then disappeared. A sensual smile curved his lips, making her heart flutter and her body heat.
“It couldn’t simply be because I find you irresistible, mio fiore.”
He was changing the subject. Yet when he ran his thumb over her bottom lip, she didn’t seem to care. He stood up and held out his hand. “Come. It’s a beautiful afternoon. Let’s get a picnic basket from Rachele and head into the vineyard to our sycamore tree—”
“—down by the pond,” she finished, a rush of scintillating memories assailing her.
“You remember.” He pulled her against him. “Making love to you in the sunshine is one of my fondest memories. Let’s go make some more.”
She rose on tiptoes and pressed a teasing kiss to his lips. “You change out of your suit and I’ll go get Rachele to pack us some food.”
He patted her bottom as she moved around him. “And wine, Abby. We’ll celebrate a new beginning.”
Abby made her way downstairs, her feet growing heavier with each step. She should tell him the truth about her condition, but she didn’t want to spoil this moment. Finally they’d both acted like mature adults. They’d spoken the truth to each other, something that there hadn’t been a lot of in their past relationship. He hadn’t exactly pledged his undying love to her, but she’d seen feelings for her in his eyes. He felt something. She wanted the chance to find out what those feelings were before she brought his world crashing down around him.
Besides, the doctor said she might be capable of conceiving. They wouldn’t know until they operated. Why spoil such a day with unknowns? When she had the concrete truth, then she’d tell him. Perhaps by then he’d tell her why having children required such urgency. Her heart faltered and she almost missed the bottom step.
Now more than ever she was petrified of what he would say.