She was flushed and golden, but her beauty did not move him. Yes, she was as exquisitely formed as any of the cold marble masterpieces that graced the palazzo. When they married, heads would turn. The world would applaud them as a glittering, fairytale couple.
Viola smiled at him, a shy, uncertain smile. So, she was human after all. Too bad for her. Too bad for him. He did not want to hurt another woman.
The mother of his children, his all-important heirs? He remembered Cara’s perspiring, satiated body beneath his in the limousine, her shining eyes adoring him.
The shadows in the room darkened. He got up and strode to the windows, where he watched a pair of swans swimming together on their distant pool.
Swans mated for life. He found he could not tear his gaze from them.
His mother’s chair creaked. She got up and led Viola to him.
Like a robot, he forced himself to turn and smile politely at the two women, to take Viola’s hand. But instead of bringing the slender hand to his lips as he’d intended, he dropped it and turned back to watch the swans.
The glass door opened, and Tiberio announced that the photographers had arrived. His mother had told Nico earlier that pictures of him with Viola were necessary to quell the rumors about his mysterious romance.
“We must give the masses their fairy tale,” she had said, the corner of her lips lifting. She didn’t like the media, but she was not above manipulating the press any time it suited her interests.
Nico took Viola’s hand in his again. “Shall we go?”
Watching, his mother smiled.
With a frown, Regina closed the file on her antique desk, then looked out the window of her lavish suite in the offices of Merrit, Riley & Whitt, her mind a world away. Seven stories beneath her, white diamonds danced on the emerald surface of TownLake and flickered like silver medallions in the pecan trees. She saw a tall dark man on the red jogging trail, holding hands with a slim brunette who seemed to be looking up at him lovingly.
Regina squeezed her eyes shut and tried hard not to think about Nico.
She’d buried herself in work ever since she’d returned from Italy, her goal to forget Nico. But visions of his mouth, eyes and handsome dark face wouldn’t vanish at her command. Now, she returned to her computer keyboard and saw that she’d received fifty-two e-mails in the two hours she’d spent reading the Hewit complaint. Most of them were from Black Boar.
Frowning again, she picked up the Hewit file. The complaint against Black Boar, an immense oil and gas drilling company that Regina’s firm had represented on numerous previous occasions, seemed too legitimate to discard.
RebeccaHewit had worked for Black Boar for twelve years. A methodical person, she’d carefully collected dozens of memos and documents that proved Black Boar was recklessly pouring carcinogenic toxins into a municipal water supply. While still on the job, RebeccaHewit had told management to change its ways or she’d blow the whistle.
Black Boar had fired her. When Hewit didn’t disappear quietly, Black Boar’s corporate attorneys had made threatening calls. RebeccaHewit had recorded them all. She’d spent the past six years collecting incriminating evidence, keeping a detailed diary, and printing and saving damaging e-mails.
Regina flipped through the formal complaint slowly. She even replayed one of the taped copies of a telephone threat. Black Boar’s henchmen sounded rough, scary. Rebecca had grit. Maybe because her little girl had leukemia.
Just yesterday, Regina had watched her niece, Gina, play in her backyard kiddie pool, immersed in gallons of water.
Nobody except Black Boar executives and a few corrupt, local officials probably had any idea what Black Boar was up to.
Black Boar had to be stopped.
Not your job, sweetheart. You’re on the other side. You’re one of the bad guys.
Ever since middle school, Regina had known where she wanted to go. She’d made a plan, and she’d stuck to it. Valedictorian, National Merit Scholarship, RiceUniversity, University of TexasLawSchool, Law Review. And those weren’t all her honors.
Landing this job at Merrit, Riley & Whitt, the hottest firm in Austin, a year ago had been sweet. And she was still here, climbing the ladder, even dreaming that someday, maybe even before she was forty, she’d make partner.
The Hewit file burned her hand, and she dropped it.
Her plan didn’t matter. None of the ambitions that had driven her so long mattered. She simply couldn’t do this.
Why? What was wrong with her?
She was shaking when she picked up the file again, but when her hand finally steadied, she charged out of her office and down the hall to talk to Robert Riley, Sr., the man she’d once believed would be her father-in-law.