“There should be laws against what you did to me. All your miserable life, you’ve been out to prove you were somebody.”
“How do you know—”
“Is that why you ditched the sperm-donor plan, why you wanted to catch a prince?”
“I—I want you to leave! Now! I—I called you because I thought you were a reasonable person and I wanted to tell you, just to let you know. But now I know who you really are—a total, arrogant bastard.”
“As I know who you really are.”
“But I’m not what you think and you are what I—”
“All your life, you’ve felt like an outsider. Your sister was the one everybody loved. You’ve fought and scraped to climb out of some imaginary gutter. You didn’t care who you hurt.”
Who had talked to him?
“I don’t need you. I can raise my baby without you or anybody else.”
“But you’re not going to because I won’t allow it. You’re going to marry me. For a year. So I can stake my legal claim to my son.”
“I hate you.”
His eyes flashed with equal passion. “Surely we can stand each other for a year.”
“Are you out of your mind?”
“Yes, and it’s your fault.” His tone was low and was so maddeningly calm she wanted to slap him, wanted to yank tufts of his thick black hair from his scalp. “After the year is over, you can do what you want.”
“My life is here.”
“Not for the next year. No child of mine is going to be a bastard.”
“My child, too!”
“If you don’t agree to marriage on my terms, I’ll fight you for custody. My family is very powerful. Don’t force me to lean on you. Believe me, it will not be a pleasant experience.”
She tried to swallow. She’d been the legal lackey representing wealthy people and corporations too long not to know the power of big money. He was right. He could crush her.
“So, you will marry me, and fast,” he said. “You can seek a divorce when our child is three months old. After our divorce, I will want to see him as often as possible.”
“Him? How can you keep saying our baby is a boy?”
Our baby. The phrase echoed in her heart.
“Or her,” he corrected.
“If you think I’m going to let you take over my life and my unborn child’s life…even for a year…”
“This isn’t my fault, you know. You’re the one who hired me to be your stud.”
“I most certainly did not!”
“You bought that dress, wore that flower, acted like a sad, lonely American woman in need of a gigolo.”
The awful G-word gonged like a rusty bell. “I did not!”
“I felt sorry for you,” he finished brutally.
“Sorry for me?” She drew a sharp, horrified breath.
“And all the time, you had this plan because you’re so damned insecure.”
“I did not! I am not!”
“I don’t believe you, Miss Tomei. As I said before, your entire life has been about climbing some imaginary ladder.” He picked up her phone and began to read aloud from a little black notebook. “Five-five-five, six-four-five…”
He punched in the familiar-sounding string of numbers and waited.
Suddenly, she realized he’d dialed her parents’ number and listened in horror when he smiled and said, “Mr. Tomei?”
“Don’t you dare!” she screamed. “He doesn’t know about any of this!”
“Excuse me, sir.” Nico put his hand over the phone. “Then it’s time he found out. From what I hear, he’s crazy about his other grandchildren.”
“You can’t just barge in here—”
She took a deep breath to steady herself. Somehow, Nico knew that she’d always wanted her father to think she was special, and that she’d failed, and tonight Nico was determined to destroy her and make her father hate her forever.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, even over the telephone. I am Prince Nico Romano.” He said all of his numerous names, which Regina knew she would never be able to remember, even if she stayed married to him for a whole damned year. “Yes, a real prince. Yes, we do own a castle. More than one, actually.”
Her father, an avid golf fan, who didn’t keep up with the lives of celebrities, didn’t have a clue who Nico was, no matter how much had been written about him in the tabloids. Nico’s voice was low and respectful as he explained who he was, but with every word Regina felt an immense pressure building inside her head until she was nearly sure invisible flames had to be spewing out of her mouth and ears. Otherwise, she would have exploded.