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.
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.