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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 watergate 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 himsoaking 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 minuteswhenever 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 coffeeand 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 whilethe 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 colourthe 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 himsomething she'd never meant to do. She should tell him the truth at once.
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 expressionas 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.'
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 knowthe 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 youshe 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 Salvatorethe man who had thrown her out onto the streets ofVenice 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 wonderfulotherwise 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 weeksby 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 websitehe 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.