Regina tried to imagine sharing Christmases and Easters with such a formidable mother-in-law. What would they talk about or do together? What sort of grandmother would she make? What sort of expectations for her grandchildren would she impose on their mother, the commoner?
Nico held her while the big black car sped along the Amalfi Drive
. The limousine swept past spectacular views of mountains and sea. Normally, Regina would have had her nose pressed against the glass window like a puppy. Today, she was too aware of Nico and the short time she had left with him. Burying her head against his shoulder, she snuggled closer. She loved him so much she ached.
“I just wish we’d had today to make more memories together,” she said aloud.
“We have the backseat of the limousine.”
She focused on the square shape of the driver’s head and cap. “But the chauffeur…”
“For a lawyer, you don’t get around much.”
“I’m in Italy.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
Nico pressed a button, and a little wall went up between them and the driver. Door locks snapped.
“The windows are tinted,” Nico said. “Our privacy is complete, tesorina.”
The next thing she knew she was flat on her back and naked beneath him, and, as always, the sex was much more than sex. Oh, the gifts to her soul he bestowed with every kiss.
Once they reached the airport, she would never see him again. To say they made the most of what little time they had left would not be saying nearly enough.
M assimo walked Regina through the airport and helped her with her electronic ticket and bags. On their way to security, they passed a newsstand. A close-up of Nico’s angry face, his hands raised to shield Regina from the cameras leaped out at her. His name was splashed across the front pages of two tabloids in twoinch headlines.
Regina’s heart sank. She approached a counter to buy a paper, but Massimo laid a warning hand on her shoulder. “Let me,” he said.
After she’d boarded the plane, alone with her hoard of newsprint, she devoured the photographs of all the beautiful women with whom Nico’s name had been linked. So many women. Then Regina read the articles, and each story chipped away at her self-confidence. Had she really been so special to him?
In the past, she’d read about celebrities, but reading about Nico and seeing her own blurred picture was entirely different. If Nico’s mother had made her feel totally unsuitable, the lurid coverage of his numerous romances reinforced that point for her on a deeper level. His other women were so beautiful, so famous. Could she, who was so bad at love, possibly have held his attention for much longer?
Fame, status and glamour are supposed to bring status and happiness, not to threaten or diminish it. Regina’s hands shook as she closed and refolded the newspapers.
The flight attendant came up and asked her if she would like a drink.
She shook her head and wiped at her eyes. “No, thank you.”
“He’s so darling, no?” the woman said, her gaze on Nico’s picture. “Every woman in Italy…we all love him, and they say he has a big heart….” She leaned closer. “And a big you-know-what to love all the women in Italy, no? A flight attendant I know says she spent three days in Portofino with him once. And they never leave her hotel. They eat strawberries and chocolate and they drink champagne.”
“Three days…lucky girl.” Regina turned away. Her throat worked as she swallowed.
She wasn’t crying.
Nico sat with Viola, or rather as far as possible from her as he could, in the west wing of the palazzo, and thought that he’d never liked this grand room because the long French windows let in more shadow than sun. He looked past Viola’s lovely blond head, past all the precious furniture and tapestries, to the simple glass door that led to the marble staircase, a dramatic and rather terrible renovation in the eighteenth century.
He had only to arise from the crescent-shaped sofa and fly to that door and then down those pale, stone stairs to escape this impossible interview that his mother had insisted upon as soon as he’d returned from Rome. He imagined streaking back to Rome on the autostrada in his red Alpha Romeo. He would be willing to fly any way he could, even coach, just so long as it got him to the States. To Austin, Texas.
His mother cleared her throat, and the sound snapped him back to his reality. For one final second, he saw Cara’s face in his mind’s eye, her dark hair, her dark, glistening eyes when he’d told her goodbye. At the vision, a jolt of white-hot pain hit him.
With an effort, Nico forced his attention to Viola.
Viola. Beautiful Viola. Marriage. Duty.