‘Yes, very beautiful,’ he cut across her in a harsh voice.
Of course she was. Nell experienced a spasm of sympathy for the woman he eventually did marry. It would be tough for that woman to know she was being compared to the memory of his tragic lost love.
How could you compete with a ghost?
‘Any other things I should know?’ She stopped abruptly, her wide eyes flying to his face. ‘Do you have any children?’ As she spoke an image flashed into Nell’s head of Luiz, his dark hair attractively mussed, playing rough-and-tumble games with a dark-eyed boy. Or maybe he had a little girl who reminded him of her mother?
Luiz’s jaw tightened as she stared bleakly ahead. When Rosa had wanted children he had refused, saying there would be plenty of time, only there hadn’t been. And now there never would be children. How could he have with another woman what he had denied the only woman he had ever loved?
An awkward pause followed his flat rebuttal.
‘But do you have a serious relationship… I’m not being nosy—’
His sardonic tone made her flush. ‘No, I’m not. I’d just like fair warning if there’s a jealous girlfriend somewhere who’s likely to appear wanting to scratch my eyes out.’
‘I do not encourage jealousy.’ He was no monk, he had physical appetites, but separating out emotion from sex eased his guilt.
She gave a dry little laugh. For a sophisticated man that was an incredibly naïve comment. ‘Looking like you do, you don’t need to encourage it.’ Nell closed her eyes and bit her imprudent tongue; the censor area of her brain appeared to have shut down.
‘Thank you, Nell.’
‘No need to thank me. It wasn’t a compliment, just a statement of fact, and it can’t be news. You must know you’re dropdead—good-looking.’ Her hasty amendment drew an amused rumble of laughter from him. ‘Though,’ she added, gritting her teeth, ‘just for the record, my personal taste doesn’t run to mean, moody and macho.’
‘I must take exception. I am considered by some to have a very even, sunny temperament,’ he said straight-faced.
Nell fought off a smile and grunted. ‘At least you have a sense of humour. That’s something.’
‘You can relax. There is no one likely to appear with a prior claim—I’m all yours.’
Nell’s treacherous stomach flipped. ‘Aren’t I the lucky one?’
As she absently touched the ring on her finger and thought about the woman who might one day wear it for real she experienced a confusing rush of tangled emotions.
‘Your wife—she must have had very slim fingers.’
His jaw tautened. People never mentioned her name in his presence and now she was the main topic of conversation. ‘Rosa never wore that ring.’
‘Of course not,’ Nell muttered, feeling stupid. Obviously he would never taint the memory of his lost love by allowing another woman to wear it.
‘She did not care for antique jewellery,’ he said shortly.
Nell’s eyes widened. ‘Oh!’ Her glance moved over the pink rose diamond surrounded by rubies—some reject! ‘Is this very old?’
‘It’s been in the family a long time. My grandmother’s twin sister Domenica was the last family member to wear it. Her fiancé was British.’
‘Really!’ It must be marvellous to have a family history that stretched back generations. ‘Did they move to England?’ she asked, wondering about the woman who had once worn this ring for real.
Luiz shook his head. ‘No, her fiancé was killed in World War Two and she remained single.’
Like you, Nell thought. She looked down at the ring, a wave of sadness lapping over her. ‘That’s so sad!’ she said gruffly.
‘Are you crying?’
He sounded astonished and no wonder—no doubt he thought it was ludicrous to be so affected by a tragedy that occurred so long ago. She sniffed and lifted her chin.
‘No, of course not!’ she denied stoutly.
‘You just have something in your eye.’
‘Funny man. I’m laughing on the inside,’ she promised him. ‘Why don’t you just keep your eyes on the road?’
Yes, why don’t you, Luiz? seconded the voice in his head.
LUIZ drove on expecting the car to stop at any minute. In the periphery of his vision he was conscious of Nell’s head lolling forward like a rag doll every few minutes, the intervals between her snapping upright getting longer and longer.
‘Go to sleep if you’re tired.’
She scrubbed a hand across her gritty eyes and yawned. ‘I’m not tired.’