Pregnancy of Revenge(55)

By: Jacqueline Baird

'Bare is beautiful, but I thought something to reflect your sparkle, Charlotte.' With his free hand he withdrew a handful of jewels from his pocket.

'I don't need—' she began stiffly.

'Quiet, cara . Indulge me, because I do need.' Deftly he fastened a magnificent sapphire and diamond pendant around her neck.

Charlie gasped and lifted her hand to touch the jewels but Jake caught it and slipped a matching bracelet on her wrist. 'I don't want...'

'You do want,' Jake drawled with dry mockery. 'But you don't want to admit as much.' And before she could grasp his meaning, he had lifted her hand and slipped an equally fabulous diamond and sapphire ring on the third finger of her left hand to rest snugly against her wedding band.

'There, that is better.' He cupped her shoulders, his dark eyes roving over her with obvious satisfaction. 'No one this evening will be in any doubt you are my much-adored wife.' He drew her against him to press a swift kiss on the tip of her nose. 'Come, we must leave now or our guests will think we have deserted them.'

Free from the mesmerising effect of his dark eyes, Charlie's first thought was to remove the jewellery.

'Don't even think about it,' Jake commanded, reading her mind.

'If you think you can buy me, forget it. I am not for sale,' Charlie snapped back.

'I realised that some time ago,' Jake said with a wry smile and, clasping her hand in his, he linked his long fingers through hers. Together they left the house and got into the waiting car.

'What did you mean, meet our guests?' She belatedly remembered his other comment, when Jake slid into the back seat of the limousine beside her. 'I thought we were going out for dinner.'

'And so we are.' As the car sped through the evening traffic towards Portofino Jake explained it was by way of being a wedding reception for his friends and business acquaintances who had not been able to make the original service in England.

The thought of being on display before all his friends filled her with trepidation and she didn't offer a word for the rest of the drive to the restaurant. But she was intensely aware of Jake at her side. She had been in a state of nervous tension all day, and his thigh brushing lightly against hers was not helping at all.

Charlie heaved a sigh of relief when the car stopped and she slid from the seat the moment the chauffeur opened the door. But her relief was short-lived as Jake took her arm and led her up the massive stone steps of an elegant old building that belonged to another era, and into a marble entrance hall.

It was almost eight when they entered the dining room, and Charlie's eyes widened in shock as a trio of musicians stationed on a raised dais in one corner of the room immediately struck up with 'Here Comes the Bride', followed by an almighty cheer from all the assembled guests.

Blushing furiously, she was grateful of Jake's supporting arm as he introduced her to the elderly couple that stepped forward to meet them. They were his foster-parents, Mr and Mrs Lasio, and, seeing them hug Jake and then smile at her, she was struck by the underlying sadness in their eyes. It made her realise that Jake's reaction to the death of their daughter was not that extreme after all. And when they wished her a long and happy marriage with obvious sincerity, she felt incredibly guilty on her father's behalf.

'Don't worry. They don't know,' Jake murmured, accurately reading her thoughts, and, taking her arm, he led her to another group. The next half-hour was a blur of names and faces to Charlie as Jake introduced her to the hundred people that were his close friends and business colleagues.

She met Paulo Bruno, the doctor's son, and his wife Stephanie, and they did register with Charlie because within seconds of meeting them they were congratulating her on her marriage and her pregnancy.

Charlie coloured to the roots of her hair, and spared Jake a quick angry glance. She caught the faint gleam of amusement in his dark eyes, and realized he didn't give a damn who knew she was pregnant.

'This is Italy, cara,' he stated with a shrug of his broad shoulders. 'The prospect of a child is something to be celebrated at the earliest opportunity, not something to hide.' His dark eyes slid down to the barely perceptible swell of her tummy beneath the cleverly constructed slight A-line shape of her gown. 'But you do it well,' he added mockingly.

'You're impossible. And I need the bathroom,' she hissed, but not softly enough.