Regina closed her eyes. Did he suck her fingertips, too? They did look perfect together.
Her stomach knotted. He didn’t even know her name.
“I mean Cara. Regina’s my real name. I—I shouldn’t have called. I’ll call back at a better time.”
“I’ll call back. Sleep well.” She hung up. She shut her eyes again. “Sleep well, my darling.”
Viola? He’d expected Viola.
How quickly we forget.
Wide-awake now and in a hellish mood because Cara had sounded so lost, Nico rang her back as fast as he could. When he got her voice mail, he cursed vividly.
She’d called him. Then she’d turned off her phone.
But she’d sounded scared. He had to talk to her, so he left a message, demanding that she call him at once.
He held the phone in his palm for an hour. When she didn’t call, he began to feel crazed as the uncertainty in her tone grew in his mind. Something was wrong.
He called her again and again, leaving more messages demanding that she call him. Then he paced his gilded bedroom until two like a caged cat.
Her voice had sounded strange. He had to find out what was wrong, as soon as possible. Despite the late hour, he rang Massimo.
“Can this possibly wait? I’m in a bar. With the most gorgeous signorina.”
“Sorry to disturb you. You have to help me check up on Cara.”
“Cara!” Massimo groaned.
“She called and hung up on me. Now she won’t take my calls. I’m worried about her.”
“She’s fine,” Massimo said, sounding bored and distracted. There was a lot of music and laughter in the background.
“I have to know that for sure.”
“It’s the middle of the night, and the signorina is touching me in places I won’t discuss on a cell phone.”
“It’s not the middle of the night in Texas. Hire detectives. Keep me and the family’s name out of it. No scandal, but do whatever it takes.”
“If she doesn’t want to talk to you—”
“I don’t give a damn about that. Call me as soon as you know something.”
Nico hung up. Not that he’d quit trying to call her himself.
Not that she didn’t consume his every thought that night and throughout the next day.
“When are you going to announce your engagement?”
Nico dropped his fork, looked up from his omelet and frowned at the regal woman sitting beneath her peach-colored umbrella just outside the pink walls of her favorite palazzo. His favorite, too.
He felt like he was in a prison, and his mother and the generations before her were his jailers. Her black silk suit fit her exquisite figure like a glove; her perfectly groomed hair gleamed like spun gold. Now that things were going her way she looked young and lovely and quite serene.
He wanted to stand up, seize control of his destiny and tell her what to do, which was the way he always acted in business. And in that arena, in the space of a decade, he’d made his family richer than they’d ever imagined. He’d done so by working hard and by following his gut instinct.
Why was it that, when it came to marriage and lineage, he let her run him?
Maybe because she had a thousand years of tradition on her side.
“Can’t you think of something besides my marriage?” Nico said, his tone clipped.
He hadn’t touched his omelet. Usually he ate a huge breakfast. Now he had no appetite.
He stood up and tossed his napkin down. “I have an early appointment.”
“But, Nico, darling, you didn’t eat anything.”
When he saw the hurt on her face, he felt guilty. She was only doing what she’d been taught was the right thing to do, what the generations before her had believed to be right. Modern ideas of democracy and romantic love meant nothing to her.
“I apologize,” he said. Then he stalked off the terrace and into the palazzo.
Later, at his office, he regretted his rudeness to her, but the mounting pressure about his romance with Viola, his mother’s stubborn ambition for him in all arenas, and his genuine concern about Cara had him feeling disturbed.
He’d thought he could give her up. Damn it, he’d tried.
As the hours passed and he attended to his routine business duties and appointments with no further word from Massimo, he grew even edgier, snapping out commands, hanging up too abruptly on important people, even a French financial minister, whom he had to ring back with an apology.
At eleven that night, when he was beside himself, pacing in his bedroom, Massimo finally rang.
“You’re not going to like this,” his cousin said.
“Is Cara all right?”