“I can’t make RebeccaHewit go away. I can’t represent Black Boar.”
Robert didn’t open the file when she thrust it at him. He did listen patiently, at least, for nearly a full minute, before smiling paternally, indulgently.
“I don’t like the way Italy affected you. You’re different.”
“Read the file.”
“I don’t need to. But you need to take a long lunch and think this over. Very carefully.”
She barged ahead with the rest of her speech anyway.
The sky was still ablaze in a magical way, as was the sea. But long shadows were creeping across the Amalfi shore.
Nico strode past the kiosk selling tabloids that ran front-page stories about his developing romance with Viola and saw only the beach and the empty bench under the lemon tree.
He stopped. He’d had a long day at the office, and he was tired and in no mood to see Viola.
He was still staring at Regina’s bench when a woman in veils driving a red Maserati much too fast screeched to a stop behind him. She tapped her horn mischievously just to startle him.
“Damn.” Nico spun on his heel. “Someday you’ll give me a heart attack doing that.”
“You won’t be the first man. But never with a car.” She winked at him. “Nico. My precious little love.”
As always, his grandmother spoke to him in French. Since her mother had been French, it was her favorite language.
“Grand-mère,” he said, smiling when he saw that the veils blowing about her papery, blue-veined skin were pink. “Aren’t you too old for pink?”
She smiled wickedly, her face crinkling in all sorts of places it shouldn’t have.
“Old. Awful word. Someday you’ll know just how cruel it is. All my life people have tried to tell me how to live.”
“Tried and failed.”
“Thank goodness.” She laughed. “I did listen to them when I was too young to know better…as you are now trying. And I failed. I think you have my genes.”
How beautiful she still was, he thought, even if her skin, which had seen too much of the Mediterranean sun and had known the caresses of so many younger lovers, was as dry as parchment. Like a faded movie star, she had the painted brows and lips of another age, but beneath the makeup, her eyes were young and bright and shone with all the love for him that filled her generous heart.
“Get in,” she commanded. “I’ve been trying to call you. Of course, all your mother’s dreadful people told me you weren’t in. Gloriana even came to the phone and told me herself.”
His mother, her daughter, did not approve of his relationship with his scandalous grandmother, the artist who’d divorced her royal prince, but doing so only after she’d done her duty and had produced heirs.
“So, my magic gardenia failed, and you gave up the beautiful American girl,” she said as she sped along the narrow road, her focus on him instead of the traffic.
His eyes on the oncoming bus that was taking more than half of the road, he said nothing.
Fortunately, the bus stopped. Grand-mère swerved at the last second, too, missing it on her side and missing the low rock wall on his, but by mere inches. “I was hoping you wouldn’t give her up,” she said, not the least bit perturbed.
As soon as the danger was past, she was whipping around the curves again, tailgating within a millimeter, oblivious to everything except their conversation, as usual.
“Grand-mère, you should let me drive.”
Her hands tightened possessively on the wheel. “I’ll drive. Back to your girl….”
He made a silent vow to never get in Grand-mère’s red death trap again unless he could drive. But he’d fight that battle on some other day.
“You know what my life is, what is expected,” he said.
“Other people’s expectations.”
“The life I lead would have made her miserable.”
“And you think she is happy without you?”
“Happier,” he said. “Why did you sell her that painting of me, the painting you’d always promised me, and then point her out to me and tell me what you’d done? If you hadn’t pointed her out—”
“A wicked little voice told me to do it, the same voice that tells me what to paint, what to buy for my shop, and who to love next. I am a slave to the voice.”
“It was wrong of you to meddle. Very wrong.”
“Are you sure, my precious little love?”
“You’ve made us both unhappy. Viola, too.”
“We make our own happiness in this world. The choice is yours, my love.”
“No. I have a duty—”