She was about to protest when he shifted into reverse. Tires whirred in the dirt, spitting gravel.
“You scared the hell out of me this morning when you backed up and we nearly got rear-ended. And it was so early, the road was almost empty.”
“I had to back up for that bus,” she muttered.
“One bus. There’ll be traffic now. Besides, like I said, even with the road empty, you scared the hell out of me.”
She’d scared the hell out of herself. Was it her fault that the road was so narrow two cars couldn’t really fit side by side, not to mention trucks and buses?
“Besides, you grind the gears,” he said.
Without another word, she buckled her seat belt. If only they hadn’t quarreled. If only she didn’t feel achingly heartbroken, she might have enjoyed the lovely views and sparkling afternoon.
By the way he drove, she knew he was as enraged as she was. He ignored the scenery, whipped around hairpin curves, tires screaming. He passed a motorcycle with mere inches to spare on her side where a three-foot stone wall was the only thing separating them from a sheer drop to the sea.
Amber sunshine in the trees and deepening shadows made the mountainside a sparkling fairy wonderland. Not that she could enjoy it as cafés, trucks, villas and other cars raced by them at a sickening speed. Far below, fishing boats seemed as small as children’s toys, bobbing in secluded coves.
She stole a glance at Nico’s hard, silent profile. How could she have ever thought he was a gigolo? He looked more like a warrior.
“Stop! Now! And let me drive before you smash us into the mountain!” she cried.
“You’re driving like a maniac.”
“I know what I’m doing.” He spoke between clenched teeth.
He did seem to be skirting danger closely, not recklessly seeking it. She decided he knew what he was doing.
“If you have a wreck, my insurance won’t pay,” she told him.
“Right. With your rich wife’s money.”
His eyes narrowed on the road. “You’re wrong about that.”
He slammed his foot on the accelerator and drove even faster. She covered her eyes with her hands when the whirl of mountains, blue sea, and their mad race on the winding drive carved on the verge of an abyss was more than she could bear. She was, however, peering through her fingers when he whipped past the sign that pointed to the high road that wound up to Ravello.
Forgetting her fear, she turned on him. “Where are we going?”
He said only, “You’ll see,” as the car left the main road, traveled through a wooded hillside and began to climb.
“I want to go to my hotel.”
His glance was quick and unsmiling. “Later. I told you that I had to show you something.”
The Fiat snarled up a steep hill lined with cypress trees and towering hot-pink oleanders on one side and dazzling views of the sapphire Gulf of Salerno on the other. Finally, they reached a tall golden gate that surely stood on the top of the mountain.
“Where are we?” she whispered.
He wrenched the Fiat to a stop and spoke blistering Italian into a little box on his side of the car.
No sooner had he said his name than the gates whooshed open, revealing an immense, opulent, late-Gothic palazzo with Moorish curlicues. The grand palazzo looked out on a park of lush lawns and bright flower beds that had been carved out of the craggy mountainside. Although not all that large, the palazzo was gorgeous. Somehow, Regina knew that men of taste and immense wealth had created it.
“Where are we?” she repeated, both her curiosity and wonder expanding.
Wordlessly, he drove her inside. When the gates clanged behind them, she felt a momentary frisson of panic, terrified she might be trapped in the wonderland forever.
Then she caught her breath because, on closer inspection, the palazzo standing in its sea of green with cliffs on one side and the sea on the other was so beautiful. She had never been anywhere so beautiful.
“Where are we?”
“This is the Palazzo Romano.” He spoke in a low, dead voice. His blue eyes regarded her warily. “It is one of my family’s many ancestral palazzos. A favorite, in fact, even though it is really only a small country home for us.”
“Now you’re telling me you’re rich?”
She scanned the high, pink walls of the palazzo perched on its cliff top promontory and felt eyes, unseen and unfriendly, watching her. She stiffened at the thought that she was being judged inferior in some way and was unwelcome here.
“You mean this is your future wife’s home,” she exclaimed.
“The Palazzo Romano will be her home. Yes. But only when she marries me.”