“The media circus has begun.” Nico turned. “Smile at me, tesorina, they want the fairy tale.”
So do I.
She smiled up at him and he brought her hand to his lips.
“Why so fast?” the reporters demanded of anyone who would answer questions.
“Who is this Signorina Regina Carina Tomei?”
“Where did she come from?”
“How did they meet?”
“Why did he marry her?”
Lucy left frantic messages for Regina. Reporters were camped outside her door, demanding to know every intimate detail of her friend’s recent vacation in Italy.
“Tell me what to tell them!” Lucy cried in her final message. “I get contractions every time the phone rings!”
So, this is my life. I’m a princess now. Regina felt wonder as she watched streamers of orange fire blossom against a black sky and drizzle bits of gold to earth in her honor.
Nico leaned closer and grasped her hand tightly in his. “You were a planner. Of all the men in the world, why did you pick me? Why me?” His voice was dark and urgent.
“I didn’t pick you. I just…” I just couldn’t resist you.
Ribbons of white curled against the sky.
“You knew who I was, didn’t you?” he persisted.
She shook her head.
“I’ve always been wanted because I’m a Romano and the heir to all this.”
“I didn’t know who you were.”
“But you’re a plotter and a planner.”
“What if you could believe that I didn’t plan any of this?” she said. “That it simply happened, like you once told me?”
“What if?” he whispered, his eyes devouring her.
“I didn’t know who you were. I swear.”
Regina was wearing a filmy nightgown and a transparent robe that she’d bought in Portofino for her wedding night. Every time she glanced at the great bed and its red satin spread, she trembled.
“I will leave you to wait for him alone if you want me to,” Susana said. “Maybe he knows I’m with you. Maybe that’s why he hasn’t come.”
Susana headed toward the door.
“No! Stay! There’s something I must tell you—a secret.”
Susana ran to her. “This is like a fairy tale.”
“No. I can’t bear for you to think that.” Regina hesitated. “He didn’t want to marry me. He wanted to marry Viola. He plans to divorce me in a year.”
“Don’t do this. Don’t always do this. He loves you,” Susana whispered. “I know he does. I told you, I can tell.”
“You are so naive. Look at this room. Do we…do I belong here?”
“You could. I could if Joe had grown up here. Why are you always so cynical, so ready to believe nobody can love you? Why? When you are so gifted and talented?”
“Why is loving so easy for you?”
“Maybe because I always had you to protect me and to look up to. I felt safe and happy, protected. Trust me on this. It will work out, even here, in this place, if you love him, too. Do you love him?”
“Yes. But I have always been unlucky in love.”
“The past doesn’t matter. Not if this is true love. If you really love him and commit, you will do whatever it takes to make him happy, and he will do the same for you. You’ll see.”
“I wish I could believe you. Daddy was so proud today.”
“Yes. He was great until he drank all that champagne and had to go to bed with a headache. Mama is very upset to have missed the dancing.”
“And it’s all based on a lie.”
“Don’t say that. Don’t even think it.”
“I can’t help myself. I’m so afraid. Where is Nico? It’s late.”
Susana glanced at her watch. “Oh! You’re right! I need to go check on the twins and Gina and see how Daddy’s doing. But I hate to leave you like this. I know how your mind works when you get in a mood like this.”
“I’ll be fine.”
Trembling all over, Regina nodded bravely.
They hugged. Susana let her go and then looked up at her, giggling. “My big sister, the princess!”
Alone in the red rooms again, anxiety swept Regina. She began to pace. One minute she felt on fire. In the next, the blood drained from her face and hands, and she was freezing. Then she caught fire all over again.
Terrified, she ran out onto the balcony. When her eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, she saw a tall, dark figure in the moonlight, staring up at her.
She leaned over the railing. “Nico?”
Was he as frightened as she was?
He turned away, and she cried his name again. “Nico! Come to me!”