Susana hung up.
Her eyes misting, Regina couldn’t stop thinking about her father and the hole he’d carved in her heart.
Now that I’ve got a new, cute daughter, I don’t need you anymore.
For a long time, she stared at the dark gulf and the huge white yacht in the harbor.
Before Susana, her father had adored her. Regina had worked hard in an attempt to regain her number-one position in paradise. Always, always, she’d had to be a high-achiever, hoping against hope. But it hadn’t worked.
Susana had been charming and flaky, intuitive as she put it, and so adorable that nobody minded her bad grades or lateness. They hadn’t cared when she’d dropped out of college to marry JoeHunt. Or even noticed that she’d stolen Joe from Regina, and Regina had been brokenhearted.
He’d been gifted, too. Law Review. Killer work ethic. He’d been her beloved boyfriend, but the moment he’d set eyes on Susana, the numerous things he’d had in common with Regina hadn’t mattered anymore.
Too bad for Regina that Joe had been the only man she’d ever really loved.
Everybody in the family thought she was over him.
And she’d told herself constantly that she was. Just as she’d told herself that all her orgasms with Bobby had been real, too.
She didn’t want to think about the fact that Nico was tall and dark and looked a little like Joe.
“Did you call Viola?”
Nico frowned. His mother, Principessa Donna Gloriana Lucia Romano—to mention only a few of her illustrious names and only one of her numerous titles—whose close friends called her Glory, was speaking Italian to him over his cell phone and quite rapidly, of course. Not that she liked Italian.
She’d been educated in Paris because her mother, Nico’s grandmother, with whom Princess Gloriana was bitterly estranged, had had a French mother and had preferred all things French.
Both Nico’s grandmother and mother loved the French language more than any other, but he preferred Italian or English, so his mother was humoring him. Because, as always, unlike Grand-mère, who wanted only his happiness, his ambitious mother wanted something from him.
“Not yet,” he said.
“Nico, tesorino, why do you keep putting this off?”
“Maybe it’s my gypsy blood.”
She ignored his comment. She never liked being reminded that their original ancestor had been a gypsy king.
“You did promise to call the Principessa Donna Viola Eugenia di Frezano today when we lunched,” she said. “You did say that you’d court her and that you’d ask for her hand in marriage as soon as possible.”
“I did. And I will. You have instructed me as to my duty for my entire life. Have I ever failed in my duty?”
The silence between them was suddenly filled with tension.
“You know that the two families have already talked, that the marriage is practically arranged.”
Of course, he knew. It would have already happened if he hadn’t been dragging his feet—grieving. His heart was in the grave, as the saying went.
“You know that today marks…”
“I know,” she said, trying to sound sympathetic. “But it’s been two years.”
His family and the family of his intended, Viola, were modern aristocrats with lineages dating back nearly a thousand years. Both families valued influence, power and money above all. Next, they counted culture, pedigree and tradition, not to mention titles—the grander and more illustrious, the better.
Nico’s parents, who’d left much of his upbringing in the hands of countless nannies, tutors and chauffeurs, had taken the time to teach him and his sister that what really mattered was money, power and luxury, in that order. Personal wishes were to be sacrificed to strengthen the family.
A young man’s dalliances with different types of women, even actresses, were regarded as necessary, perhaps even a healthy diversion. Even after marriage, such playing around was tolerated, although not advisable.
But one did not marry just anyone.
“You’re thirty-five,” his mother reminded him again, just as she had this morning when they’d driven along the narrow roads high above the coastline. “It’s time you settled down…again.”
“I did settle down.”
“She’s dead. You’re alive.”
Was he? Every time the paparazzi caught him with another beautiful actress, the tabloids referred to him as the merry widower. But they didn’t know about the guilt that tore at him over his treatment of Simonetta. How could they, when he’d been blind to what was in his heart until a month before Simonetta had died? At her death, love had overflowed inside him until he’d felt as though he were drowning.