Our baby. The phrase echoed in her heart.
“Or her,” he corrected.
“If you think I’m going to let you take over my life and my unborn child’s life…even for a year…”
“This isn’t my fault, you know. You’re the one who hired me to be your stud.”
“I most certainly did not!”
“You bought that dress, wore that flower, acted like a sad, lonely American woman in need of a gigolo.”
The awful G-word gonged like a rusty bell. “I did not!”
“I felt sorry for you,” he finished brutally.
“Sorry for me?” She drew a sharp, horrified breath.
“And all the time, you had this plan because you’re so damned insecure.”
“I did not! I am not!”
“I don’t believe you, Miss Tomei. As I said before, your entire life has been about climbing some imaginary ladder.” He picked up her phone and began to read aloud from a little black notebook. “Five-five-five, six-four-five…”
He punched in the familiar-sounding string of numbers and waited.
Suddenly, she realized he’d dialed her parents’ number and listened in horror when he smiled and said, “Mr. Tomei?”
“Don’t you dare!” she screamed. “He doesn’t know about any of this!”
“Excuse me, sir.” Nico put his hand over the phone. “Then it’s time he found out. From what I hear, he’s crazy about his other grandchildren.”
“You can’t just barge in here—”
She took a deep breath to steady herself. Somehow, Nico knew that she’d always wanted her father to think she was special, and that she’d failed, and tonight Nico was determined to destroy her and make her father hate her forever.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, even over the telephone. I am Prince Nico Romano.” He said all of his numerous names, which Regina knew she would never be able to remember, even if she stayed married to him for a whole damned year. “Yes, a real prince. Yes, we do own a castle. More than one, actually.”
Her father, an avid golf fan, who didn’t keep up with the lives of celebrities, didn’t have a clue who Nico was, no matter how much had been written about him in the tabloids. Nico’s voice was low and respectful as he explained who he was, but with every word Regina felt an immense pressure building inside her head until she was nearly sure invisible flames had to be spewing out of her mouth and ears. Otherwise, she would have exploded.
He was going to tell her father! He was determined to ruin her life forever!
“I have only recently learned that your daughter is pregnant with my child.”
Oh, my God! He’d said the P-word! Daddy!
I will be the bad daughter forever now! Thanks to you, Prince…no…Principe Don Nico Carlo Giovanni Romano! Even if I do become Principessa Donna Regina Carina Romano di Tomei!
How had she remembered all those names?
Rage must have sharpened her memory.
Time spun backward. Regina was suddenly three years old again. She’d just dropped a jar of peanut butter her father had forbidden her to touch onto the floor. The shattering glass had awakened Susana in her crib, and she’d started crying. Her father had gone to get the baby before returning to the kitchen. Then, as he’d cradled Susana lovingly in his arms, he’d called Regina all sorts of horrid names. Or, in her shame, she’d imagined that he had.
Regina shut her eyes against the awful memory and sagged against the wall. Prince Nico paused and shot her a significant look. Not wanting him to see her vulnerability, she stood up taller and straighter and drew in a calming breath. And then another.
“No, I’m not a sperm donor. I met your daughter in Italy. Love at first sight.”
Love. For a second, all she registered was Nico’s chiseled male beauty and the intense blue of his eyes. Her entire being blazed. Some incredibly stupid part of her almost believed he was telling the truth, that he’d truly found something rare and beautiful in their brief affair, as she had.
No, she hadn’t! And it was impossible that he had, either! He was furious with her. As she was with him—due to his absolutely despicable, totally unforgivable, arrogant behavior of the past five minutes. He was manipulating her and her father. She couldn’t possibly ever love such a man!
“You know how it is when something like that catches you by surprise.” Nico’s white smile flashed.
Why had the devil given him the sexiest smile in the universe?
She squeezed her eyes shut and fought against the memory of their passion. Surely that had been the devil’s work, as well.
“Yes, sir. It was like being hit with a thunderbolt.”