“I’ll be right back,” he muttered, his low tone weary now.
The door closed gently. She was aware of him standing there for a moment, as if he were puzzled or worried, but when she finally looked at him, she was disappointed to see his tall, broad-shouldered body striding purposefully through the shop’s doors to complete his purchase.
When he returned, he placed the wine bottles on their sides on the opposite seat. She felt his eyes on her face, but her emotions were still so raw she refused to look at him. She was glad at first that he did not attempt conversation. Then, perversely, she wanted him to say something, anything. Maybe then she could find a way to apologize for the scene she had just made. If he didn’t begin, she couldn’t. She was so overwrought, she lacked the wisdom to know where or how to start. Once again, an increasingly awkward silence built between them while she sat wrapped in her own misery, and acutely aware of his. If only she could think of something to alter their unhappy state, but she couldn’t.
When the limousine braked, and they walked up to the front door, her heart drummed double-time with dread at the prospect of the evening ahead of them.
When Nico rang the bell, he turned. With an effort, he forced himself to speak. “This will be easier if you smile and act happy.”
“Easier for you, you mean! Aristocrats spend their lives putting on a show for the world. That’s what you do! Well, maybe it’s not what I do!”
No sooner had she finished speaking than she wanted to bite her tongue off.
“You’re a bride, remember. Your family will only be hurt and worried if they know the whole truth. Is that really what you want? I thought you wanted to please your father.”
Her father! Oh, God! What did Nico care about her family or her relationship with her father? Still, she caught something in his controlled tone that made her heart beat even faster.
What if he did care a little?
Suddenly she longed to be back in Italy, skimming across the water in his tender as he pointed out the palazzos and villas and told her stories about his friends and fabled ancestors who lived or had lived in them. She wanted to cling to him again as they entered that secret, hidden, pirate grotto.
She’d asked him to play like a pirate and ravage her.
“I want to make love to you. Will that count? I don’t want to hurt you or ravage you.”
But he’d held her down as she’d secretly wished. Only he’d made love to her as if he’d cherished her.
“If only happiness was like a switch that one could turn on and off at will,” she said, remembering the dark sea cave where he’d dropped the anchor and how silent it had been when he’d cut the engine. She remembered lying with him in the darkness, wrapped in his arms while the boat rocked them like a cradle.
“If only.” His tight voice was even gloomier than hers.
“I feel like I’m being kidnapped by a man I don’t even know.”
“I feel trapped, too.”
“I never wanted to make you so—”
She swallowed the word unhappy, because at that exact moment, her father threw open the door, extended his arms and hugged Nico fiercely. Then he embraced her and kissed her on each cheek, which was his usual greeting for Susana.
Behind her father, the house was brilliantly lit and redolent with the sweetness of cut flowers and chopped basil from her mother’s flower beds. Gina’s piping voice could be heard in the backyard.
Her father shook Nico’s hand and pulled him inside. Constantin Tomei didn’t really understand who Nico was or who his family was or the vastness in social rank and position that separated them. He did not act the least bit awed by the expensive bottles of wine or by the fact that Nico was a prince. Being Italian, he took the wine, appreciated the gift for what it was, a sharing of the vine rooted in an ancient communion between guest and host.
Not that Nico wasn’t perceived as a guest of honor.
All the usual clutter, her father’s newspapers, her mother’s photograph albums and cookbooks had vanished into hiding places, into laundry baskets in the garage probably. The kitchen floor even looked freshly waxed. Regina could smell olive oil and tomatoes and cheeses bubbling on the stove. A screen door banged. She heard her mother and Susana and the children laughing in the kitchen.
Wreathed in smiles, her mother took off her apron and came to the door. Since she never read celebrity magazines and mostly watched cooking shows on those rare occasions when she found the time to watch television, she treated Nico as if he were her equal, too. With many more gracious thank-yous, she accepted the wines Nico had selected when Constantin handed them to her, one for each course, before scurrying back to her domain to stir her pots.