“The principessa is very beautiful,” his mother said.
“Like a jewel with icy fire.”
“Without power and money, Nico, titles are meaningless. She has much to recommend her.”
“So you’ve told me—countless times.”
“You are a prince.”
“A lamentable fact that overly complicates my life.”
“With great privilege comes responsibility. You must marry well and behave responsibly to remain a prince. You must think of your children, of future generations. Our position has never been more fragile than it is in these modern times. Love, if one is lucky, comes after marriage. You loved Simonetta, didn’t you?”
“I was lucky. Lightning will not strike twice in the same place.” Annoyed by his mother, he drew a long breath. Somehow, he resisted the impulse to snap the phone shut. “Please, let’s not talk about Simonetta.”
“My poor tesorino.”
His mother believed grief and all emotions were luxuries for people like them. After World War II, the Romanos had lost ten castles and nearly a million acres to the Russians. The family had prospered since the war by marrying well and diversifying their business interests. They had vast holdings in the Americas, many of which Nico managed.
Still, Viola’s family had fared better in the past century and was much richer than his. His mother had begun courting Viola’s parents at Simonetta’s funeral.
“I understand that the match with Viola would be an exceedingly advantageous one for the family,” he said. “But does everything really have to be about money?”
“Of course not, tesorino. But Viola is very beautiful, is she not? She is not an ogre. You will fall in love with her.”
Nico frowned. As always, his mother had the worst possible timing. Because of Cara, he wished now he’d been more evasive on the subject of Viola when they’d lunched today at the family’s summer palazzo.
He had no taste for marriage. It was too soon. Two hellish years ago he’d lost not only Simonetta but their unborn son, as well, when the brakes of her car had failed, and she and her chauffeur had plunged off the side of a cliff on the French Riviera.
His and Simonetta’s marriage had been arranged, also, and because Nico had resented having to marry her, he hadn’t realized he’d come to love her in the last months of her life.
Because of his willful stubbornness, their happiness had been too brief.
This time of year filled him with memories and regrets. He’d made her unhappy far longer than he’d made her happy. If only he could go back and make it up to her. But it was too late. His mother was right, in a way. Somehow, he had to find a way to move on.
Inadvertently, his gaze shot to the tall brunette standing high above him on her belvedere.
Guarda, che bella!
She was nothing like his shy, innocent Simonetta. Still, Cara was incredibly exciting. When Grand-mère, naughty Grand-mère, had dropped him off at the beach yesterday afternoon so he could take the tender out to his yacht, Simonetta, to brood, she’d pointed out the girl reading on the bench under the lemon trees. The instant Nico had seen Cara in that short sundress, she’d made him forget his grief. He’d changed his mind about going straight to his yacht.
Simonetta had been small and blond. Cara was tall, dark, more mature and self-assured. Or, at least, he’d thought so at first when she’d set down her book and taken off her glasses to study him.
He’d liked the way Cara’s rich brown hair fell in glossy waves down her slim back. He’d liked the way her coffee-colored eyes burned him, even at a distance. The gardenia in her dark hair was more beautiful than a jewel.
She’d looked excited, as if she were mesmerized by him, too. Simonetta had been so shy in the beginning, so virginal in his bed that he’d found her sometimes childlike. Never had she looked at him with desire as blatant as Cara had shown, even in that first moment. Something told him he wouldn’t have to waste time wooing this woman, that she was already his.
He’d imagined Cara had found out he was staying aboard Simonetta and had been waiting for him. He was used to being chased by celebrity hounds and aggressive fortune hunters, who were after his title and money and a few seconds of fame. Usually he avoided such women.
But Cara had made him forget, so he’d made an exception and had followed her into the bar when she’d run. He’d known he was right about her because she’d left her book on the bench for him to find and return, which he’d done. Then, much to his surprise, after smiling at him and blushing and taking her book, she’d run and vanished into thin air.
Now that he’d found her again, he was in no mood to dwell on his family responsibilities regarding Viola. He wanted to forget Simonetta and Viola. At least for tonight.