Page 109 of The Amalfi Bride

It had been exactly like that. Was he mocking her?

“Yes, I would like to meet Susana and the children.”

Regina’s throat tightened with grief and rage and some wild, unnamed emotion that made her feel faint and lost, almost sick again. Nico’s sweet lies had exposed that awful, barren place that would be her heart if he really hated her forever.

How humiliating to still want him! To still love him!

With a choked cry, Regina ran to her bedroom, locked her door, tore off her robe and began yanking clothing out of her closet in an attempt to find something to wear.

Through the thin walls, she heard the rest of the conversation.

“I would like to meet all of you as I hope to ask you formally for her hand in marriage.”

“Bastard,” she breathed. Then she threw a hanger at the wall.

Then Nico hung up, strode to the door and yelled through it. “You’d better hurry. Your father has most graciously invited us to dinner.”

“Damn you,” she muttered in a low, inaudible voice.

“Tonight. Seven o’clock. I told him I’d buy wine. You have fifteen minutes. Do you need any help?”

Like a child having a tantrum, she tossed the outfits she didn’t want to wear into a heap on the floor. Then she stomped up and down on them.

“Fifteen minutes,” he repeated. “If you’re not dressed, you’ll go naked. Your choice.”

One glance in the mirror at her nude body and her pale unmade-up face had her gulping in air at a frantic pace. For one second, she entertained the notion of marching into the living room stark naked.

What if she kissed him? Or grabbed his big member? Would his arrogant fury explode into something entirely different? If she threw her arms around him, would he pick her up and carry her to the bedroom? Would sex burn away the hate and open the door to love?

But what if he turned away in disgust?

Shaking, she sank down on the little velvet stool in front of her vanity to apply her makeup.

Why couldn’t she have been dressed and gorgeous when he’d arrived instead of being pale and wet headed and wearing her oldest robe? With an effort, she began to concentrate on making the most of her limited time. She even curled her lashes and was pleased with her reflection when she twirled in front of her mirror after he knocked on her door ten minutes later.

Not that wanting to be especially beautiful tonight meant anything. It didn’t. But when she opened her door and waltzed into the hall in her low-cut swirly green dress and heels, with her shining hair curling about her face, it pleased her no end when his eyes stalled on her red mouth and then again her breasts. She heard the sharp intake of his breath and fought the urge to smile.

For a long time, she couldn’t breathe, either.

Slowly he raised his eyes, but the power of speech had left him, too.

“Ready?” she managed, feeling almost as beautiful as the exquisite Principessa Donna Viola.

Fourteen

R egina’s triumph was short-lived. Her beauty, indeed everything about her, seemed to annoy the hell out of him. His face was colder than ever as he stomped out of her house and led her to the car.

She was pregnant, and, therefore, he felt trapped. Her thoughts began to circle around and around, buzzing in a negative loop. By the time she latched her seat belt in the limo, her mood was blacker than his. Nor did being whisked, against her will, through the darkening streets in his luxurious car toward her parents’ house improve her mood.

Her family! Why did he have to compound this disaster by dragging them into it?

Nico stopped to buy wine, and, at first, she felt relief at being able to wander through the aisles while he was occupied at the cash register with the clerk. Then she passed a row of brightly colored labels of Italian wines. Instantly, the familiar names and pictures of the wineries took her back to Tuscany where she’d visited her grandmother and then to the Amalfi Coast, which, because of him, had been a dream.

Images of mountains and sea, the cypress-lined roads, the cerulean skies, the flavor of lush dark olives and the sweetness of winter pears in vino noble seared her. Most of all, she remembered him in that sunlit bar, him on Simonetta. Last of all, she remembered her desolation at the airport after she’d made love to him for hours.

Massimo had led her away and, with every step, she’d thought, Why am I leaving this perfect place and this perfect man?

For an instant longer, she remained in that lost dream. Again, she felt the cold, stone wall of the deserted farmhouse against her body and Nico’s hard warmth surging against hers; his mouth and tongue all over her, and then her own wild abandon as he’d brought her to climax. Sex with other men had never come close. It was as if she were able to be with him on levels that were not possible with anyone else.


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