There was no logic to explain the reason her desire for him began to feel like a pulsing, all-consuming need. The simple truth was she could not be around him for long without loving him and wanting him, even when knowing he could be as bad tempered as an angry skunk.
She thought about going in to check on him, hoping he’d notice her in her sheer nightgown. Instead, she pulled back the sheets and climbed into bed, her heart beating faster and faster.
She turned out the light and waited breathlessly. The little clock on her bedside table ticked and ticked and ticked, and in the dark she began to count those maddening passing seconds. Finally, crazed, she grabbed the clock and stuffed it under a pillow.
Should she go to him? Should she try to explain again? Her mind whirled, caught in one of those tangled loops.
Hours later, when she was only half awake, she started at what she thought were heavy footsteps in the hall. Her heart thudding, her mind blurred with exhaustion, she looked up and saw a shadowy, wide-shouldered figure looming in her doorway.
Her eyes snapped open. Her heart thundered.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.” He leaned against the doorjamb and combed his thick hair with his fingers. “The Scotch must have hit me pretty hard. I fell asleep. I’ll be going to my hotel now.” His husky voice sounded infinitely weary.
“I know you must have had a long day. You don’t have—”
“I’ll call you. First thing tomorrow.”
His manner was cool, businesslike. Final. Abruptly, he turned on his heel.
She heard her front door close softly and the limousine drive away.
“It already is…tomorrow.”
Filled with conflict and doubts, she lay tossing and turning. Would he come back? Or was he finished with her?
She was still awake when the sky turned rosy and the phone rang.
“I’ve chartered a jet,” Nico said. “We leave after lunch. I spoke to my mother an hour ago.”
Again his voice was cool and deliberately businesslike.
When he hung up, Regina lay against her pillows, feeling more mixed up than ever, but pleased that he’d called and so early. As if he were impatient.
How quickly time brings, if not happiness exactly, acceptance and hope.
All of a sudden, her sleepless night hit her. Pulling her little clock out from under the pillow, she set the alarm to go off in two hours. When she lay down again, she fell instantly and blissfully asleep.
She dreamed of Italy. Again she was lying with Nico in the bottom of his tender in that cool, dark cave that smelled of dank sea things. The water was lapping against the sides of the boat as rhythmically as his warm body drove into hers. And all she knew was that she wanted to be with him forever.
E ven though the rain had slowed to a drizzle, the wipers were still slashing the windshield at their highest setting. Nico drove through the tall gates. As he braked the Alpha Romeo in front of the palazzo, Regina sat up straighter.
As if on cue, a horde of whispering servants rushed out of the beautiful pink house.
“Who are they?”
“I told Mother no fuss,” Nico said.
A single glance from Abruzzi, the same gaunt, balding gentleman who’d stood guard over Regina not so long ago, soon had everybody lined up in the rain. Each stood as stiffly as a martinet on either side of the granite stairs.
“Oh, no! Why is he making them do that? They’ll be soaked!”
Sudden queasiness climbed her throat. Gasping for air, she rolled down her window. There’d been too many long miles, too many narrow, winding roads. And now this.
After she’d gulped in a few breaths and managed a smile, Nico cupped her chin, lifting it.
“Are you all right?” His face was creased with worry.
“I think so.”
Harried-looking men and women in black business attire, obviously secretaries, accountants and administrators, rushed out and stood above the maids and cooks, housemen and chauffeurs.
“I’m sorry, but maybe it’s for the best,” he said. “You had to meet them sometime. The rain will be our excuse for cutting the introductions short.”
“My mother doesn’t even have a maid. My father mows the lawn.”
Nico got out quickly and ran around the front of the car to help her out.
Bone weary from the overnight flight and the long drive from Rome, Regina clung to him throughout the introductions.
Their plane had touched down at Fumichino at ten in the morning in black skies and heavy rain. Due to bad traffic and more storms, not to mention several accidents on the autostrada, they hadn’t reached the Amalfi Coast until five.
No sooner had they greeted the staff, and everyone was inside drying themselves off, than Massimo appeared, his plump, tanned face wreathed in smiles. He greeted them warmly, embracing Regina even, before leading them down an elaborately appointed gallery to Gloriana’s high-ceilinged, ornate study.