Again his voice was cool and deliberately businesslike.
When he hung up, Regina lay against her pillows, feeling more mixed up than ever, but pleased that he’d called and so early. As if he were impatient.
How quickly time brings, if not happiness exactly, acceptance and hope.
All of a sudden, her sleepless night hit her. Pulling her little clock out from under the pillow, she set the alarm to go off in two hours. When she lay down again, she fell instantly and blissfully asleep.
She dreamed of Italy. Again she was lying with Nico in the bottom of his tender in that cool, dark cave that smelled of dank sea things. The water was lapping against the sides of the boat as rhythmically as his warm body drove into hers. And all she knew was that she wanted to be with him forever.
E ven though the rain had slowed to a drizzle, the wipers were still slashing the windshield at their highest setting. Nico drove through the tall gates. As he braked the Alpha Romeo in front of the palazzo, Regina sat up straighter.
As if on cue, a horde of whispering servants rushed out of the beautiful pink house.
“Who are they?”
“I told Mother no fuss,” Nico said.
A single glance from Abruzzi, the same gaunt, balding gentleman who’d stood guard over Regina not so long ago, soon had everybody lined up in the rain. Each stood as stiffly as a martinet on either side of the granite stairs.
“Oh, no! Why is he making them do that? They’ll be soaked!”
Sudden queasiness climbed her throat. Gasping for air, she rolled down her window. There’d been too many long miles, too many narrow, winding roads. And now this.
After she’d gulped in a few breaths and managed a smile, Nico cupped her chin, lifting it.
“Are you all right?” His face was creased with worry.
“I think so.”
Harried-looking men and women in black business attire, obviously secretaries, accountants and administrators, rushed out and stood above the maids and cooks, housemen and chauffeurs.
“I’m sorry, but maybe it’s for the best,” he said. “You had to meet them sometime. The rain will be our excuse for cutting the introductions short.”
“My mother doesn’t even have a maid. My father mows the lawn.”
Nico got out quickly and ran around the front of the car to help her out.
Bone weary from the overnight flight and the long drive from Rome, Regina clung to him throughout the introductions.
Their plane had touched down at Fumichino at ten in the morning in black skies and heavy rain. Due to bad traffic and more storms, not to mention several accidents on the autostrada, they hadn’t reached the Amalfi Coast until five.
No sooner had they greeted the staff, and everyone was inside drying themselves off, than Massimo appeared, his plump, tanned face wreathed in smiles. He greeted them warmly, embracing Regina even, before leading them down an elaborately appointed gallery to Gloriana’s high-ceilinged, ornate study.
Looking formidable in royal-blue silk and huge diamonds, the princess neither smiled nor rose from her Louis XIV desk when they entered. Her calm blue eyes passed over Regina as if she were a ghost and totally invisible.
With a little pucker between her painted brows the princess focused entirely on Nico. “I need to talk to you. Alone. It’s most pressing.”
“Tiberio and Massimo will show Miss Tomei to her suite, the red rooms, so that she can rest. The poor dear looks exhausted.”
So, she had seen the ghost, her future daughter-in-law, after all.
Tiberio Abruzzi materialized as if by magic. The princess nodded at Massimo, who rushed toward the man. Abruzzi turned to Regina, his stern glance ordering her to follow—at once.
Regina seized Nico’s hand and clung.
He squeezed her fingers and then released them. “You’ll be all right. I won’t be long. I promise. I will come for you shortly before dinner, which is at seven.”
Feeling abandoned somehow and overwhelmed by the palazzo again, she lifted her cheek, hoping for some scrap of affection. When his lips brushed her cheek, a wild, tumultuous heat flooded her.
Slowly she lifted her chin. Then she followed Massimo, who walked with her a short way and then turned her over to Abruzzi. After that, she had to race to keep up with the tall servant as he sped silently through the many halls and galleries to the red rooms.
An hour later, she was still alone trying to feel at home in the gorgeous, gilded bedroom that had been assigned to her. She forced herself to study the furniture, the crystal, the brocade curtains, and each of the old masters hanging on the red-satin wallpaper. If she were to live here, she must grow used to the beauty of these delightful rooms and objects; she must learn to take them as her due.