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Tall, Dark & Handsome: The Infamous Italian's Secret Baby / Pregnant by the Millionaire / Liam's Secret Son

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CHAPTER THREE

‘YOU do not feel a woman’s usual need to cry at weddings?’

Bella’s back stiffened at the softly taunting sound of Gabriel’s voice directly behind her as she stood with all the other wedding guests outside the church, watching the bride and groom as they posed for numerous photographs.

Hard as Bella had tried to find a reason for Toby and herself not to attend the wedding today, including a headache for herself and possible signs of a fever for Toby, ultimately she had had no choice but to concede defeat when her father had declared them both fit and well. Other than throwing herself down a flight of stairs, Bella knew she had lost that particular battle! The most she had been able to hope for was that Gabriel Danti would heed her advice from last night and just stay away from her.

The fact that he was standing behind her now showed that he hadn’t!

Bella had seen him when she and the rest of her family arrived for the wedding an hour or so ago, seated in a pew further down the church. Sitting next to him was a silver-haired man whose height and facial likeness to Gabriel indicated that this was probably his father, the aristocratic Cristo Danti.

Her heart had given a jolt as she watched the two Italians unobserved before glancing down at the small boy fidgeting on the pew beside her, instantly recognising how like his father and grandfather Toby was.

As Claudia had also innocently noted the previous evening when she remarked that Gabriel reminded her of someone…!

Thank goodness Toby had disappeared with his adored uncle Liam once the service was over, and was even now playing beneath an oak tree further down the churchyard, with the group of children who had gone out for pizza the evening before.

A fact Bella took note of before she slowly turned to face Gabriel, her response to how handsome he looked in a tailored dark suit and snowy white shirt hidden behind a deliberately neutral expression as she rather wickedly responded to his comment about women usually crying at weddings. ‘I’d only cry in sympathy, I’m afraid!’

Gabriel gave an appreciative smile as his hooded gaze swept admiringly over her in the knee-length dress that fitted smoothly over the curves of her slender body, a silk flower pinned behind her left ear and holding back the long length of her dark hair.

She looked cool and beautiful—and utterly self-con-tained.

It was an assurance that Gabriel perversely wanted to shatter. ‘Perhaps that is because no man has so far asked you to become his bride?’ he taunted.

Delicate colour warmed her cheeks at the intended insult. ‘What on earth makes you assume that, Gabriel?’ she retorted. ‘Maybe I’ve simply chosen not to marry because I’m only too aware of how fickle a man’s interest can be?’ she added sweetly.

Gabriel’s mouth thinned at her riposte. ‘Perhaps you have been—meeting the wrong men…?’

‘Perhaps I have.’ Her gaze was openly challenging now as it met his.

Enjoyable as it was, this constant bickering with Bella would not do, Gabriel recognised ruefully. It was his cousin’s wedding day, an entirely inappropriate time for open dissent between two of her guests.

Bella had obviously come to the same conclusion. ‘If you’ll excuse me, Gabriel? I have to rejoin my family—’ She looked up at Gabriel with sharp enquiry as the fingers he had placed about her arm prevented her from leaving.

A nerve pulsed in his jaw as he looked down at her. ‘We need to talk, Bella.’

‘We talked yesterday evening, Gabriel—for all the good it did either of us!’ she exclaimed.

‘Exactly,’ he agreed. ‘We cannot possibly continue this estrangement between us, when our two families are now united—’

Bella’s unamused laugh cut him off. ‘My cousin is now married to your cousin—that hardly makes our families united!’ she pointed out impatiently. ‘In fact, I can’t think of another occasion when the two of us will ever have to meet again!’

It was what Bella fervently hoped, at least. At the moment she would just think herself lucky if she could get through the rest of today without this whole situation blowing up in her face.

It really was unfortunate that her father happened to be a doctor, and as such perfectly able to dismiss the illnesses Bella had imagined earlier for both herself and Toby. Although, her previously mythical headache was rapidly becoming a reality during this latest conversation with Gabriel!

How could it be otherwise when she still had absolutely no idea how she was going to prevent Toby and Gabriel from coming face to face at some time during the wedding reception? If that should happen Bella had no idea what Gabriel’s reaction would be…After his rejection of her, there was no way she was going to risk Toby being rejected, too, and Gabriel’s menacing looks did nothing to calm her fears.

She glanced past Gabriel now as she easily recognised the sound of her young son’s giggle, knowing the reason for his joyful laughter as she saw that Liam was tickling him.

Toby was a happy child, totally secure in the adoration of his mother and his indulgent grandparents, as well as his doting aunt and uncle. And Bella wished for him to remain that way.

The last three days had shown her how close the members of the Danti family were, how much they valued and loved their children. She literally quailed at the thought of what Gabriel might do if he were to ever realise that Toby was the result of their single night together five years ago, and how much of his young son’s life he’d already missed out on…

‘I really do have to go, Gabriel.’ Her gaze avoided meeting his now as she stepped away from him to release herself from his hold on her arm.

Gabriel watched Bella with frowning intensity as she walked away from him, that frown turning to a scowl as he heard the softness of her laughter as she was surrounded by the group of laughing children, some of them the offspring of his own cousins, the likeness to Bella of the tallest of the group making him easily recognisable as her brother Liam.

How strange it was that the people she had talked of so affectionately five years ago—her parents, her sister Claudia and her brother Liam—should now be a reality to him.

‘A friend of yours…?’

Gabriel’s smile stayed in place as he turned to face his father, revealing none of his inner concern as he saw the unhealthy grey pallor to the older man’s face. ‘I doubt Bella would think so,’ he answered wryly.

‘Bella?’ Cristo raised silver brows before he glanced across to where Bella was now walking down the pathway chatting with her brother and another of the children.

‘Isabella Scott. I met her yesterday evening at Dahlia’s party,’ Gabriel enlarged.

Again, he could have added. But didn’t, knowing that to do so would only arouse his father’s insatiable curiosity.

Cristo was the patriarch of the Danti family, and, at sixty-five and ill in health, he had begun to make definite murmurings about Gabriel marrying and producing children to continue the dynasty that Gabriel’s great-grandfather had begun with the vineyards in Italy a hundred years ago, and which each succeeding generation had added to. It was Gabriel’s own grandfather who had instigated the planting of the vineyards in America seventy years ago.

Gabriel had taken over the running of the California vineyards four years ago, after his father suffered a minor heart attack. But, at the age of thirty-three, unhappily for his father, Gabriel as yet felt no inclination to marry and produce the heirs necessary to continue that dynasty.

As a consequence, Cristo tended to look at every woman Gabriel so much as spoke to as a possible mother to his grandchildren.

How Bella Scott would have laughed if she had known Cristo had briefly considered her for that role!

Bella began to breathe a little easier once the wedding breakfast and speeches were over, and the guests began to wander through to the adjoining room where the evening’s dancing was to begin and the socialising to continue. Giving her an ideal opportunity, she hoped, in which to excuse herself and Toby.

Her luck in keeping Toby well away from Gabriel had held during the reception, with Gabriel and his father seated at a dining-table on the furthest side of the room from where Bella sat with her own family.

Dahlia’s family being Italian, there were a lot of children present, and the happy couple had chosen to seat all the children at four tables separate from their parents, both allowing the children the freedom to be themselves, and the parents to eat their meal in peace and enjoy socialising with the other adults. This arrangement had also made it impossible to know which children belonged to which parents.

Or, in Bella’s case, which parent…

Taking a quick mental note of Gabriel’s presence on the other side of the reception room, Bella made her excuses to her own family before slowly making her way towards the door where Dahlia and Brian stood greeting the last of their evening guests, her intention to collect Toby from where he was running riot with the other children, before making—hopefully!—an unnoticed exit.

‘You are leaving so soon, Bella?’

She had counted her chickens far too early, Bella acknowledged with a sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach, looking up to see Gabriel Danti’s challenging expression as he blocked her progress to the door. ‘I have a headache,’ she excused tightly.

He raised a mocking eyebrow. ‘Weddings really do not agree with you, do they?’

‘It’s only the prospect of ever having to attend one of my own that I’m allergic to,’ she assured him dryly.

Gabriel gave an appreciative smile. He had watched narrow-eyed as Bella made slow but determined progress down the room as she took her leave of several of the other guests, easily guessing that it was her intention to leave early.

It amused him to challenge that departure. ‘I trust my own presence has not added to your—discomfort?’

‘Not at all.’ Those violet-coloured eyes gazed steadily into his. ‘My headache is probably a delayed reaction to jet lag.’

‘Of course,’ Gabriel drawled. ‘My father expressed a wish earlier to be introduced to you,’ he added not quite truthfully.

No doubt his father would enjoy the introduction, and would draw his own—erroneous—conclusions about it, but he certainly hadn’t asked for it.

‘Your father?’Bella looked startled by the suggestion. ‘Oh, I don’t think so, Gabriel—I mean—what would be the point?’ she concluded, obviously flustered.

Gabriel studied her beneath hooded lids. ‘Politeness, perhaps?’ he suggested blandly. ‘He is, after all, now the uncle-in-law of your cousin.’

Bella didn’t look convinced by that argument. ‘As I told you earlier, it’s doubtful that any of us will ever meet up again after today.’

He raised dark brows. ‘Not even at the christening of Dahlia and Brian’s first child?’

Bella hadn’t thought of that! This situation really was getting extremely complicated. So much so that she wasn’t sure how much longer Gabriel would remain in ignorance of the fact that she had a small son—or, more crucially, that he had one, too!

Nevertheless, she didn’t feel able to make that explanation right now, so…‘That’s probably years away,’ she dismissed sharply. ‘Who knows what any of us will be doing then?’

Personally, Bella was thinking of emigrating to Tasmania!

She tried again. ‘I really do have to go, Gabriel—’

‘Perhaps, as you obviously do not feel inclined to meet my father this evening, you and your family might like to visit the Danti vineyards tomorrow?’

Bella froze, a frown on her brow as she turned to look up at Gabriel with uncertain eyes. ‘Why are you doing this?’ she asked.

‘I merely asked if you and your family would care to come to the Danti vineyards tomorrow,’ he reiterated.

‘You didn’t “merely ask” anything, Gabriel, and you know it,’ she argued. ‘Just as you know that you are the very last man I wish to spend any more time with!’ She was trying not to breathe hard, hoping to conceal the worst of her agitation from him.

‘The very last man?’ he repeated softly, eyes narrowed suspiciously. ‘Why is that, Bella? What did I do to merit such a distinction? Or perhaps it is my scars that you now find so repulsive?’ he added harshly.

‘I’m insulted that you believe me to be so shallow,’ Bella snapped to hide the fact that she had made yet another mistake where this man was concerned.

Yet when had she ever done anything else…?

Toby hadn’t been a mistake!

Bella had been stunned five years ago, and not a little frightened, when she’d realised she was pregnant. But that shock and fear had quickly given way to the wonder of the new life growing inside her. Her parents’ support, as well as that of Claudia and Liam, had also helped. Especially in the early months when Bella had wondered what she was going to do, how she was going to cope, and especially how she would be able to earn a living once she had a small baby to care for.

Again her parents had been wonderful, insisting that Bella remain living at home with them during her pregnancy, and for some time after Toby was born, by which time Bella had been earning enough money to be able to support them both.

Her parents’ attitude to her pregnancy was doubly admirable when Bella considered that they had done all of that without her ever telling them, or their insisting, on knowing the name of her baby’s father…

But how long would they remain in ignorance of his identity if Gabriel went ahead with his intention of inviting her family to the Danti vineyards tomorrow?

She looked at Gabriel searchingly, easily noting his similarity to Toby: the darkness of his hair, the same facial structure, those dark eyes, the cleft in his chin. But was Bella only seeing those similarities because she knew of Toby’s paternity? Would her parents, her siblings, see them, too?

Claudia had already seen Gabriel’s likeness to ‘someone’, so Bella obviously couldn’t risk it!

‘Okay, Gabriel, I’ll stay long enough for you to introduce me to your father,’ she capitulated suddenly, before turning and preceding him across the room to where Cristo Danti sat in conversation with his sister.

Bella hadn’t completely answered his question about being put off by his scar, Gabriel noted with a scowl as he closely followed her to make sure she didn’t manage to slip away. But there had been no doubting the vehemence of her claim that he was the very last man she wished to spend any more time with.

Interestingly, Gabriel had once felt exactly the same way about Bella…

His father broke off his conversation and stood up at their approach, Gabriel frowning slightly as he noted the increased pallor in his father’s face. The long flight from Italy earlier in the week, and attending Dahlia’s wedding today, had obviously taken more of a toll on his father’s health than was wise.

Gabriel would suggest that the two of them leave, too, once the introductions were over. ‘Papa, may I present Isabella Scott? Bella, my father, Cristo Danti.’

Bella’s breath caught in her throat as she looked up into that stern, aristocratic face that was so much like Gabriel’s. So much like Toby’s, too…

‘Mr Danti,’ she greeted with a coolness she was far from feeling, only her cheeks echoing her inner warmth as the older man took her hand in his before raising it gallantly to his lips.

‘You are well named, Miss Scott,’ Cristo Danti murmured appreciatively as he slowly released her hand.

Bella gave an awkward smile. ‘Thank you.’

‘You are enjoying your stay in San Francisco?’

‘Very much, thank you.’

He nodded. ‘I have always liked San Francisco.’

‘It’s certainly an interesting city,’ Bella came back non-committally, very aware of Gabriel’s broodingly silent presence beside her.

No doubt he was enjoying her discomfort in this stilted conversation with his father. Just as he had enjoyed being able to force this introduction on her in the first place by the veiled threat of inviting her family to the Danti vineyards when she so obviously didn’t want his company at all.

‘It was a beautiful wedding,’ Cristo Danti continued lightly.

‘Bella does not enjoy weddings.’ Gabriel spoke for the first time. Dryly. Dark brows raised mockingly as Bella shot him a frowning glance.

Bella gave him another quelling glance before answering the older man. ‘Dahlia is a lovely bride.’

‘Yes, she is.’ Cristo Danti’s expression was slightly quizzical now as he glanced at his son and then back to Bella. ‘Are you remaining in San Francisco long, Miss Scott?’

‘Just another couple of days. And please call me Bella,’ she invited.

The older man nodded. ‘Perhaps before you leave you might care to—’

‘Mummy, Nanny and Grandad said we’re leaving now!’ Toby complained irritably as he suddenly appeared at her side, the excitement of the last week, and his late night yesterday evening, obviously making him tired and slightly querulous.

Bella froze at the first sound of her son’s voice, like a nocturnal animal caught in the headlights of an oncoming car.

This couldn’t be happening! Not here. Not now!

Bella couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t move. Couldn’t speak.

This was worse than anything she could ever have imagined. Worse than any of the nightmares that had plagued her dreams since she had met Gabriel again yesterday evening.

‘Mummy?’ Gabriel echoed beside her with soft incredulity.

Bella forced herself to move as she slowly turned to look at him, the colour draining from her cheeks as she saw the way he was staring down so intently at Toby.

But it was Cristo Danti, the man standing at Bella’s other side, who broke their frozen tableau as, his breath rasping in his throat, he slowly, but graciously, began to collapse, his eyes remaining wide and disbelieving on Toby as he did so.

As he stared at the little boy who was unmistakeably his grandson…

.

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