She bit into the cracker. “You know what’s odd? I took two months off, which is unheard of at the firm, and came over here to think about my life. Only, this is the first time I’ve slowed down long enough to do it. Suddenly, I don’t want to go home. I’m sick and tired of who I was there. It’s like my real life is a weird dream that makes zero sense. I feel good, right now, right here, with you—which is crazy.”
“I feel exactly the same way. It’s incredibly easy being with you. Why is that, I wonder?”
He stared at her so long, she looked shyly away.
“I bet you tell that to all your clients.”
Damn. “I don’t,” he said.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
He sat back abruptly in his chair and took a long breath.
“Okay, I’m going to ask you a personal question,” she said. “You don’t have to answer. But in your real life, I mean, when you’re not working as a gigolo…”
The word bit. He ran a hand through his hair.
“I mean…do gigolos ever fall in love?”
“Yes. I was married. I fell in love with my wife.”
“Did you work while you were with her?”
“I was faithful to her in all ways, if that’s what you’re asking. Until she died.”
“She died? Oh, I’m sorry.”
“Two years ago today.” He broke off, unable to go on.
When she reached for his hand, he gripped hers tightly.
“In a car wreck. She was pregnant. I didn’t know about the baby until the doctor, who tried to save her, told me.”
“I’m so, so very sorry,” she whispered.
“We honeymooned in Ravello. I come here every year on the anniversary of her death. My grandmother lives here, so I visit her, too. She’s been very worried about me. The rest of my family wants me to forget my wife, to think of the future.”
“But you’re not ready.”
“My mother lost my father a few years ago. She didn’t allow her grief to overwhelm her, so she doesn’t understand me.”
“I suppose everyone’s different, or maybe it’s different when you’re younger. I guess when you’re older, you’ve been through more. Hey, don’t listen to me. I don’t know what I’m talking about. Only, maybe you have a right to your feelings.”
“I came here with my cousin to try to remember the good times. Only, my gra…er…my friend, my client, saw you and pointed you out to me.”
He brought Regina’s hand to his lips. “Your smile was so beautiful. For the first time since my wife’s death, I feel almost at peace with the past, with her death. My mother keeps telling me that she’s dead and I’m alive. I didn’t really understand what she meant, until I saw you.”
“I’m glad you’re feeling better.” She stroked his hand lightly. “Maybe you were lucky to have had her, even though her loss has been so painful. I’m almost jealous in a way. I don’t think I’ve ever been truly in love. Not like that. In fact, before I came here, I was about to give up on men.”
“I find that very difficult to believe.”
“All my relationships, I mean the serious, real kind, not like this, always just fizzled out.”
He continued to hold her hand, waiting.
“So that’s why I’m here with you, I guess…a gigolo.”
He felt a muscle tick along his jawline. “Do you have to keep harping on my…er…career?”
“I keep forgetting that it makes you uncomfortable.”
The tension remained with him.
“I could never pay you enough for what you’ve done for me, and all we’ve done is talk,” she said.
“They do say confession is good for the soul.”
He got up and walked back into the bedroom. He stood before the chest where she’d propped the painting. Frowning, he lifted the picture.
“Do you like it?” she asked.
“Very much. It reminds me of a beach I once knew near my grandmother’s house. It’s always been quite wonderful being with her. She’s been something of a black sheep and forbidden to me, by my mother. Her daughter. My mother is as proper as her mother was scandalous.”
“Do they know that you’re a gigolo?”
“No.” He set the picture back down.
“Would they disapprove?”
“My grandmother approves of love, in all its many forms.”
“You didn’t include your mother in that last statement,” Regina said.
They ate, and when they were done, Nico took her by the hand and led her to the bed. Slowly he removed her robe again. As it fell, her hand found the zipper of his jeans.