“I don’t give a damn about that. Call me as soon as you know something.”
Nico hung up. Not that he’d quit trying to call her himself.
Not that she didn’t consume his every thought that night and throughout the next day.
“When are you going to announce your engagement?”
Nico dropped his fork, looked up from his omelet and frowned at the regal woman sitting beneath her peach-colored umbrella just outside the pink walls of her favorite palazzo. His favorite, too.
He felt like he was in a prison, and his mother and the generations before her were his jailers. Her black silk suit fit her exquisite figure like a glove; her perfectly groomed hair gleamed like spun gold. Now that things were going her way she looked young and lovely and quite serene.
He wanted to stand up, seize control of his destiny and tell her what to do, which was the way he always acted in business. And in that arena, in the space of a decade, he’d made his family richer than they’d ever imagined. He’d done so by working hard and by following his gut instinct.
Why was it that, when it came to marriage and lineage, he let her run him?
Maybe because she had a thousand years of tradition on her side.
“Can’t you think of something besides my marriage?” Nico said, his tone clipped.
He hadn’t touched his omelet. Usually he ate a huge breakfast. Now he had no appetite.
He stood up and tossed his napkin down. “I have an early appointment.”
“But, Nico, darling, you didn’t eat anything.”
When he saw the hurt on her face, he felt guilty. She was only doing what she’d been taught was the right thing to do, what the generations before her had believed to be right. Modern ideas of democracy and romantic love meant nothing to her.
“I apologize,” he said. Then he stalked off the terrace and into the palazzo.
Later, at his office, he regretted his rudeness to her, but the mounting pressure about his romance with Viola, his mother’s stubborn ambition for him in all arenas, and his genuine concern about Cara had him feeling disturbed.
He’d thought he could give her up. Damn it, he’d tried.
As the hours passed and he attended to his routine business duties and appointments with no further word from Massimo, he grew even edgier, snapping out commands, hanging up too abruptly on important people, even a French financial minister, whom he had to ring back with an apology.
At eleven that night, when he was beside himself, pacing in his bedroom, Massimo finally rang.
“You’re not going to like this,” his cousin said.
“Is Cara all right?”
Nico splashed Scotch into a crystal glass, waiting for an answer that didn’t come.
“Damn it, Massimo? Is she?”
“Yes. And no.”
Nico ground his teeth. “And?” He gulped the Scotch.
“She’s pregnant. Saw the doctor yesterday.”
“Pregnant?” He began to cough and spit Scotch.
“Who’s the lucky father?” His strangled voice was barely audible.
“Not sure. Apparently, before she met you, she told everybody she wanted to have a baby on her own, to be a single mother of choice.”
“What the hell is that?”
“Some crazy American-women idea. Her parents weren’t for it. Her father went into quite a sulk when he found out she’d bought eight vials of sperm from a sperm bank. So, she broke her appointment to be inseminated, took a leave of absence, and flew to Italy.”
And tried to seduce a gigolo.
A hard band closed around Nico’s lungs.
“Did she get pregnant in Italy? Or after Italy? How far along is she?”
“The detective couldn’t say. He’s happy to keep digging though. Likes the money. It was getting late, so I thought I should call—”
“Thanks. I’ll let you know,” Nico mumbled a few more questions. Then he jotted Cara’s full name and address and all her phone numbers in a little black notebook and slammed his phone shut.
For a long moment, he stared at the phone numbers, not really seeing them as he considered calling one of them on the long shot she’d answer.
No, she was a lawyer. Better to show up without giving her any warning. That way she wouldn’t have time to build up her defense.
Pregnant? Vials of sperm?
Had she known who he was and set him up?
He went to the tall window of his bedroom. In the moonlight, he could see the swans gliding peacefully together on their glimmering pond.
Was he the father? Why had she called him yesterday? To inform him? To blackmail him?
Had her parents pressured her into giving up on the sperm-donor idea? Had they talked her into getting pregnant the old-fashioned way? Had that been the real purpose of her vacation? Her real purpose in that bar?