How wonderful. She opened the gate and wandered like a child in a land of enchantment for an hour or more, forgetting her restlessness and feeling that she was useless, as she explored the terraced gardens and ochre-colored villas that dotted the cliffs above the sea.
Only when she became thoroughly lost did she notice the time. She sat down on a low rock and pulled out her cell phone, which she must have switched off. When she turned it on, she saw that Nico had called her at least five or six times.
When she rang him, his voice was terse and cold. “Where are you?”
“I don’t know. I was walking in the garden. I found a little gate and a shepherd’s trail that led down the cliffs. I didn’t think. I’m afraid I’m lost.”
For a long moment he didn’t speak. “I’ve been worried sick.” He asked her to describe her whereabouts.
Five minutes later, he was loping down the steep path toward her. When he saw her, he stopped and sucked in air.
She took three faltering steps up the mountain toward him.
“I thought you’d left me,” he said.
“I’m sorry if I worried you.”
A long silence followed her statement. He stood very still. How lonely he looked, she suddenly thought, her heart going to him. Did he need her then, just a little?
Or was she only imagining that he did?
Who was he really, this prince she was marrying?
This handsome stranger?
A dazed Princess Donna Regina Carina Tomei di Romano sat in the red rooms alone staring at the glittering band of diamonds on her left hand. She still wore the simple white suit she’d been married in, as well as the little hat with its short veil.
She had married a man she hardly knew.
The private ceremony in the magnificent Salon d’Or with her family and Nico’s royal mother watching had been awful, simply awful, at least for her. Because of her morning sickness, Regina’s voice had been inaudible to all but Nico, who’d leaned close to hear.
Well, now he was trapped, and so was she. And the whole world was watching, waiting for the first sign of a crack in one of her glass slippers.
The palazzo had notified the press immediately after the ceremony. A trusted journalist, who’d agreed to allow Gloriana final approval of his article, wanted to write Regina’s “Cinderella story.” Gloriana had personally granted him a private interview with Regina on the terrace.
Unfortunately, his first two questions had made Regina too sick to complete the interview.
Question number one: “Was Prince Nico’s ‘good friend’ Princess Viola on the guest list?”
“The ceremony was small and private. We simply couldn’t invite everybody,” she’d whispered, wondering why she had to do this on her wedding day.
“And quite sudden, I understand.” He’d leaned closer, scribbling furiously.
“I—I…Yes. I suppose it seemed sudden.”
“Why the hurry?” When his eyes bored into her, Regina’s stomach had rolled.
“I—I don’t feel—” She’d arisen and run. Now, she was terrified that she’d given away her secret pregnancy.
Her wedding ring and the red wallpaper blurred. Feeling dreadful about her first failure with a journalist, she walked to her balcony and watched the swans on their placid pool.
Well, at least the ceremony was over.
For Regina, the hasty preparations, the wedding, her family’s joyous arrival, which had infected the palazzo with gaiety, had all passed as if in a dream.
Only yesterday, Princess Viola’s staff had announced that there was nothing to the rumors of marriage regarding herself and Prince Nico Romano, that they had always been and would continue to be just “good friends.” When Nico had been asked to comment, he’d been unavailable.
Nico’s “good friend” had not attended the marriage of Prince Nico Romano to Signorina Regina Carina Tomei, which had taken place in the magnificent Salon d’Or in the midst of a sea of lilies, roses and orchids.
To Regina, the civil ceremony had felt cold and rushed. Nico’s mother hadn’t smiled during the ceremony nor during the celebratory reception afterward for one hundred people.
Nico’s mood had been equally severe during both events. He’d said all the right words, slipped the ring on her finger, but his lips had felt stiff and cool after doing so.
Only little Gina, and Regina’s father and Nico’s grandmother, who’d enjoyed causing a stir by upsetting her daughter, had acted happy. Seconds before the wedding, the old lady had arrived unannounced in green veils and wearing so much gold she’d looked like a Gypsy.
Regina’s father had been flushed with pride as he’d led her down the grand staircase. He hadn’t been the least bit intimidated by the palazzo or by Nico’s mother or even by his older sister, Principessa Carolina, who’d flown in from Madrid, demanding to know why she hadn’t been told about the wedding sooner.