For a long time, she couldn’t breathe, either.
Slowly he raised his eyes, but the power of speech had left him, too.
“Ready?” she managed, feeling almost as beautiful as the exquisite Principessa Donna Viola.
R egina’s triumph was short-lived. Her beauty, indeed everything about her, seemed to annoy the hell out of him. His face was colder than ever as he stomped out of her house and led her to the car.
She was pregnant, and, therefore, he felt trapped. Her thoughts began to circle around and around, buzzing in a negative loop. By the time she latched her seat belt in the limo, her mood was blacker than his. Nor did being whisked, against her will, through the darkening streets in his luxurious car toward her parents’ house improve her mood.
Her family! Why did he have to compound this disaster by dragging them into it?
Nico stopped to buy wine, and, at first, she felt relief at being able to wander through the aisles while he was occupied at the cash register with the clerk. Then she passed a row of brightly colored labels of Italian wines. Instantly, the familiar names and pictures of the wineries took her back to Tuscany where she’d visited her grandmother and then to the Amalfi Coast, which, because of him, had been a dream.
Images of mountains and sea, the cypress-lined roads, the cerulean skies, the flavor of lush dark olives and the sweetness of winter pears in vino noble seared her. Most of all, she remembered him in that sunlit bar, him on Simonetta. Last of all, she remembered her desolation at the airport after she’d made love to him for hours.
Massimo had led her away and, with every step, she’d thought, Why am I leaving this perfect place and this perfect man?
For an instant longer, she remained in that lost dream. Again, she felt the cold, stone wall of the deserted farmhouse against her body and Nico’s hard warmth surging against hers; his mouth and tongue all over her, and then her own wild abandon as he’d brought her to climax. Sex with other men had never come close. It was as if she were able to be with him on levels that were not possible with anyone else.
And he hated her for trapping him. She didn’t want to beg for anyone’s love ever again as she’d begged for her father’s.
On a strangled sob she ran out of the wine shop and flung herself back into the car. She sank down onto the soft leather, hugging herself in the dark. Much to her surprise, Nico came at once and found her huddled there, feeling as desperate and needy as the lost child she’d once been.
“Are you all right?”
No! I’m not all right! How can you even ask?
“Fine? You look unhappy.”
“Are you happy? Are you?”
When she looked away, he leaned close enough for her to smell his tangy aftershave. Lemons. She remembered the lemon grove outside the farmhouse.
Then his knuckles brushed her cheekbone, causing her heart to race, causing her to hope.
“Are you going to be sick again?” His voice was gentle.
Startled by his concern and even more by his nearness and touch, she jumped away to a far corner of the limo.
“No! I’m not sick! I told you I’m fine. I’m perfectly happy. Perfectly, perfectly happy, you big, domineering idiot! What could possibly be wrong? I love being forced into a marriage of convenience by a man who feels superior to me, a man who hates me and will hate me forever. Whose entire family will hate me forever.” She put her hands over her face and began to sob wildly.
Even to her own ears, her words and tears sounded a bit over the top. But drama-queenery ran in her blood on both sides of her family. The trait had come in handy more times than not in the courtroom although she had been chastised by more than one judge. Not that she was faking this. She felt frightened, wild.
The bleakness that flared in his eyes tore at her heart and instantly stopped her weeping.
“I don’t hate you,” he said, his tone so low and broken she squeezed her lashes tightly against her cheeks for fear she might burst into tears and humiliate herself all over again.
Was he unhappy, too? Did he grieve for what they had lost, as she did?
A wistful moan escaped her lips. For one crazy moment, she wanted to throw herself into his arms and beg his forgiveness. She wanted to trace her fingers through his inky hair and comfort him, to press herself against his wide chest and to find solace herself. She wanted to kiss his brow, his eyelids, his lips. Almost, she could taste him, she wanted him so much.
The last thing she’d ever wanted to do was make him unhappy.
But doubt made her certain he would reject her. So, instead of embracing him or even touching his face as he’d touched hers, or lifting her lips, she turned away, sitting as stiff and rigid as a flagpole, her body language conveying unforgivness.