“But are you suited to your duties and to this life any better than I was? I have watched you suffer these past two years. I only wanted you to be happy again. You don’t have to give in to your mother. She was an extremely difficult child, you know. Quite dull. Never took to painting or anything the least bit interesting. Just sat in her corner and put beautiful clothes on her dolls. She isn’t like you, you know. Do you remember how wild you were when you were little? You are meant to know grand passion, as I have. You will make Viola miserable.”
“You shouldn’t have meddled. It was a wicked voice.”
“But I did. What is done is done. And cannot be undone. If it weren’t for the wicked, life would be very dull, indeed.”
She’d made a loop, and they were back at the beach and the lemon trees where she’d picked him up. She said goodbye and kissed him many times. He got out of the Maserati and strode toward his tender and tried to forget what she’d said.
A minute later, he was motoring toward his yacht. He secured the tender and jumped aboard Simonetta.
When he looked back at the beach, he remembered the night he’d brought Cara here.
Would she haunt him forever?
In his stateroom, he chose a bottle of his finest whiskey and poured himself half a glass. As he lifted the glass, his cell phone materialized in his other hand.
Who the hell did he intend to call? Massimo? No. Viola?
As he gulped from the glass, savoring its fire, he found Cara’s saved number on his phone. Then he punched a button.
Not knowing what he’d say if she answered, only knowing that he had to hear her voice, he waited.
“Hello.” Her voice, pure and sweet.
What the hell was all that background noise?
Babies were crying. Then a high-pitched, energetic voice chirped loudly, “Can I have another cookie, Aunt Reggie? Pl-e-e-e-e-z!”
He’d read somewhere that one three-year-old could make more noise than two hundred civilized adults.
“Just a minute, sweetheart. Sorry. So sorry about that! Hello! Hello!”
Even though she sounded like she was next door, he felt the ocean and all the distance between them.
“It’s me. Nico. I had to know if you arrived home safely.”
“I called Massimo weeks ago. Didn’t he tell you?”
“Yes. I wanted to hear it from you.”
“I’m okay.” She sounded a little lost. “Working hard. Babysitting for my sister today. It’s Saturday, you know.”
Babies screamed. Then a toddler shouted, “Aunt Reggie. Aunt Reggie!”
“Oops! Oh, no! Not the whole plate of cookies, sweetheart! You will turn into a Teletubby if you eat all that! Nico, it’s a circus here. Could you hang on a sec? I’ve got to go!”
Nico heard more noise and what sounded like a crash.
“Hello!” a little girl yelled merrily.
He heard telephone buttons being punched, no doubt by a stubby-fingered, little hand. Then the line went dead. The toddler had hung up on him.
Maybe it was for the best. Cara had her life. He had his.
He clenched a fist. Feeling bleak and empty, he lifted his glass and drained it. Lucky for him, the whiskey was real, its effects strong.
Or maybe not so lucky.
With his guard down, memories of Cara’s face, body and smiles consumed him. He thought of the recent nights when he’d awakened stiff, hard and throbbing because of his hot, lascivious dreams in which she writhed beneath him or licked him all over with her tongue.
He stared at his phone, but instead of reaching for it again, he got up and poured a second shot of whiskey.
D avid and Dino were both yelling at full volume from their cribs. Regina felt close to tears herself when Gina, who had grabbed the phone away from her to say hi to Nico, snapped it shut.
Was it only yesterday that RobertRiley, Sr., had echoed DonaldTrump’s favorite phrase?
What had Rebecca thought would happen when she’d sashayed into RobertSr.’s office and tossed the Hewit complaint on his desk? After she’d insisted on voicing all of her reservations and objections about the case, he’d ordered coffee. As he stirred in sugar and cream, he’d explained, in the careful, softly modulated tones that one would use with a child, exactly how many hours the firm billed each year to Black Boar.
When she hadn’t backed down, he’d fired her. Just like that. For the first time in her life, she had no plan.
What she did have was a large credit card bill from her trip to Italy and stacks of unpaid bills on her desk. She’d spent half the night on her computer, tweaking her résumé. But she was clueless about what kind of job she might want. What she did know was that as soon as she was near a pay phone, she’d make an anonymous call to Rebecca and recommend a more gifted attorney than the one she had now.