Like a spark set to gasoline, their roar was an explosion.
“Get back, you little fool!” Jumping in front of her, Nico slammed the door.
“Are you all right?” he demanded distractedly.
She placed her hand gently on his arm.
Furious, he jerked free of her and strode to the phone and rang security.
“Paparazzi! Get someone up here! Fast! Get rid of them!”
T he hot chocolate and omelets never came and were forgotten. Regina had lost her appetite, so what did it matter? Nothing mattered except that the paparazzi had found them and that Nico was upset.
If only he would stop pacing back and forth.
“Grab your things. I’ve got to get you out of here before these jackals swarm the gates.”
“Haven’t they already?”
“This is nothing,” he said.
Too agitated to fold clothes and pack them with tissue, she opened drawers and dumped the contents into her suitcase.
“No,” he said, pausing in the middle of the room. “On second thought, I’ll send Massimo up to do this. We need to get you out of this mess, if we can.”
When she tried to pick up one small suitcase, his hand covered hers, and he forced her to put it down.
“Trust me. I’ll take care of you. Massimo is on the family payroll.”
Nico rang someone and rattled more high-speed, impatient Italian. She could catch only a word here and there, but she surmised, by his friendlier tone, that he’d called his cousin Massimo.
What had happened to the romantic mood after their shower? Suddenly her beloved Nico was not only a prince but a furious stranger.
She’d known him—what? All of two days.
He was an Italian prince who’d been indiscreet with a young woman. This probably wasn’t the first time.
Why hadn’t she thought of this before? What she felt for him was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But how many times had this happened to him? How many other women had lost their hearts to him?
Who wouldn’t fall for him? His looks, his manners, his elegance, his abilities in bed and on the dance floor; not to mention the title, the yacht and the palazzos. Or his size. For centuries, his kind had been groomed from birth to charm, rule and seduce.
He would forget her in a week, and then he would court and marry his princess and make blue-blooded babies with oversize ding-dongs. If Regina were wise, she would look at their little adventure as a unique vacation experience, something to chat about with her friend Lucy or her sister Susana over a lingering lunch. Maybe she could even brag a little about the appendage.
Regina bit her lip and swallowed hard. The day that had dawned like a golden dream now felt cold and empty.
Nico set the phone in its cradle. “I’ve arranged for a car and a driver. We leave by a private entrance in five minutes.”
In less time than that, the phone rang again. When he hung up, he took her arm to lead the way. At the door, she stopped. Then she ran back and seized the painting of the little boy playing in the sand.
“Leave it,” he said.
“I’ll carry it on the plane.”
Regina scanned the tapestries, paintings and antiques and tried to act as if she wasn’t the least bit intimidated by the opulent grandeur of the beautiful salon. In truth, she felt like a naughty little girl who’d run away from a paid tour and had gotten lost in the grand palazzo and would be found and scolded for such mischief.
Where was Nico? Why didn’t he come? Had he forgotten she even existed?
His regal mother in her silk designer suit and exquisite pearls had gone through the motions of behaving graciously to Regina, greeting the limousine with a frozen smile. She’d even extended an icy hand to Regina and had offered tea, which Regina had desired but politely refused, not wanting to put the princess to more trouble. The princess had pursed her lips. The next moment, Regina had been asked if she would be a dear and wait while the princess and Nico discussed “the situation” alone. When Regina had nodded, a tall, imperious man in a stiff, black suit that emphasized his height and gauntness, introduced to her as Tiberio Abruzzi, had whisked her out of the way and escorted her here.
Glancing at her watch every five seconds, Regina tried to sit as still as one of the marble statues. She really tried, but the brocade chair was stiff and she’d been here nearly an hour. And she didn’t have a clue about what was going on.
Every time she turned toward the door, her gaze met Abruzzi’s forbidding black eyes. His face was shaped like a skull, his skin white as a cadaver. Was he as old as the castle, or rather, the palazzo?
Definitely, he’d been ordered to watch her. Thus, she’d sat as still as she could for as long as she could with her hands folded neatly across her lap.