Fame, status and glamour are supposed to bring status and happiness, not to threaten or diminish it. Regina’s hands shook as she closed and refolded the newspapers.
The flight attendant came up and asked her if she would like a drink.
She shook her head and wiped at her eyes. “No, thank you.”
“He’s so darling, no?” the woman said, her gaze on Nico’s picture. “Every woman in Italy…we all love him, and they say he has a big heart….” She leaned closer. “And a big you-know-what to love all the women in Italy, no? A flight attendant I know says she spent three days in Portofino with him once. And they never leave her hotel. They eat strawberries and chocolate and they drink champagne.”
“Three days…lucky girl.” Regina turned away. Her throat worked as she swallowed.
She wasn’t crying.
Nico sat with Viola, or rather as far as possible from her as he could, in the west wing of the palazzo, and thought that he’d never liked this grand room because the long French windows let in more shadow than sun. He looked past Viola’s lovely blond head, past all the precious furniture and tapestries, to the simple glass door that led to the marble staircase, a dramatic and rather terrible renovation in the eighteenth century.
He had only to arise from the crescent-shaped sofa and fly to that door and then down those pale, stone stairs to escape this impossible interview that his mother had insisted upon as soon as he’d returned from Rome. He imagined streaking back to Rome on the autostrada in his red Alpha Romeo. He would be willing to fly any way he could, even coach, just so long as it got him to the States. To Austin, Texas.
His mother cleared her throat, and the sound snapped him back to his reality. For one final second, he saw Cara’s face in his mind’s eye, her dark hair, her dark, glistening eyes when he’d told her goodbye. At the vision, a jolt of white-hot pain hit him.
With an effort, Nico forced his attention to Viola.
Viola. Beautiful Viola. Marriage. Duty.
She was flushed and golden, but her beauty did not move him. Yes, she was as exquisitely formed as any of the cold marble masterpieces that graced the palazzo. When they married, heads would turn. The world would applaud them as a glittering, fairytale couple.
Viola smiled at him, a shy, uncertain smile. So, she was human after all. Too bad for her. Too bad for him. He did not want to hurt another woman.
The mother of his children, his all-important heirs? He remembered Cara’s perspiring, satiated body beneath his in the limousine, her shining eyes adoring him.
The shadows in the room darkened. He got up and strode to the windows, where he watched a pair of swans swimming together on their distant pool.
Swans mated for life. He found he could not tear his gaze from them.
His mother’s chair creaked. She got up and led Viola to him.
Like a robot, he forced himself to turn and smile politely at the two women, to take Viola’s hand. But instead of bringing the slender hand to his lips as he’d intended, he dropped it and turned back to watch the swans.
The glass door opened, and Tiberio announced that the photographers had arrived. His mother had told Nico earlier that pictures of him with Viola were necessary to quell the rumors about his mysterious romance.
“We must give the masses their fairy tale,” she had said, the corner of her lips lifting. She didn’t like the media, but she was not above manipulating the press any time it suited her interests.
Nico took Viola’s hand in his again. “Shall we go?”
Watching, his mother smiled.
With a frown, Regina closed the file on her antique desk, then looked out the window of her lavish suite in the offices of Merrit, Riley & Whitt, her mind a world away. Seven stories beneath her, white diamonds danced on the emerald surface of TownLake and flickered like silver medallions in the pecan trees. She saw a tall dark man on the red jogging trail, holding hands with a slim brunette who seemed to be looking up at him lovingly.
Regina squeezed her eyes shut and tried hard not to think about Nico.
She’d buried herself in work ever since she’d returned from Italy, her goal to forget Nico. But visions of his mouth, eyes and handsome dark face wouldn’t vanish at her command. Now, she returned to her computer keyboard and saw that she’d received fifty-two e-mails in the two hours she’d spent reading the Hewit complaint. Most of them were from Black Boar.
Frowning again, she picked up the Hewit file. The complaint against Black Boar, an immense oil and gas drilling company that Regina’s firm had represented on numerous previous occasions, seemed too legitimate to discard.