Page 110 of The Amalfi Bride

And he hated her for trapping him. She didn’t want to beg for anyone’s love ever again as she’d begged for her father’s.

On a strangled sob she ran out of the wine shop and flung herself back into the car. She sank down onto the soft leather, hugging herself in the dark. Much to her surprise, Nico came at once and found her huddled there, feeling as desperate and needy as the lost child she’d once been.

“Are you all right?”

No! I’m not all right! How can you even ask?

“I’m fine.”

“Fine? You look unhappy.”

“Are you happy? Are you?”

When she looked away, he leaned close enough for her to smell his tangy aftershave. Lemons. She remembered the lemon grove outside the farmhouse.

Then his knuckles brushed her cheekbone, causing her heart to race, causing her to hope.

“Are you going to be sick again?” His voice was gentle.

Startled by his concern and even more by his nearness and touch, she jumped away to a far corner of the limo.

“No! I’m not sick! I told you I’m fine. I’m perfectly happy. Perfectly, perfectly happy, you big, domineering idiot! What could possibly be wrong? I love being forced into a marriage of convenience by a man who feels superior to me, a man who hates me and will hate me forever. Whose entire family will hate me forever.” She put her hands over her face and began to sob wildly.

Even to her own ears, her words and tears sounded a bit over the top. But drama-queenery ran in her blood on both sides of her family. The trait had come in handy more times than not in the courtroom although she had been chastised by more than one judge. Not that she was faking this. She felt frightened, wild.

The bleakness that flared in his eyes tore at her heart and instantly stopped her weeping.

“I don’t hate you,” he said, his tone so low and broken she squeezed her lashes tightly against her cheeks for fear she might burst into tears and humiliate herself all over again.

Was he unhappy, too? Did he grieve for what they had lost, as she did?

Absurd thought.

A wistful moan escaped her lips. For one crazy moment, she wanted to throw herself into his arms and beg his forgiveness. She wanted to trace her fingers through his inky hair and comfort him, to press herself against his wide chest and to find solace herself. She wanted to kiss his brow, his eyelids, his lips. Almost, she could taste him, she wanted him so much.

The last thing she’d ever wanted to do was make him unhappy.

But doubt made her certain he would reject her. So, instead of embracing him or even touching his face as he’d touched hers, or lifting her lips, she turned away, sitting as stiff and rigid as a flagpole, her body language conveying unforgivness.

“I’ll be right back,” he muttered, his low tone weary now.

The door closed gently. She was aware of him standing there for a moment, as if he were puzzled or worried, but when she finally looked at him, she was disappointed to see his tall, broad-shouldered body striding purposefully through the shop’s doors to complete his purchase.

When he returned, he placed the wine bottles on their sides on the opposite seat. She felt his eyes on her face, but her emotions were still so raw she refused to look at him. She was glad at first that he did not attempt conversation. Then, perversely, she wanted him to say something, anything. Maybe then she could find a way to apologize for the scene she had just made. If he didn’t begin, she couldn’t. She was so overwrought, she lacked the wisdom to know where or how to start. Once again, an increasingly awkward silence built between them while she sat wrapped in her own misery, and acutely aware of his. If only she could think of something to alter their unhappy state, but she couldn’t.

When the limousine braked, and they walked up to the front door, her heart drummed double-time with dread at the prospect of the evening ahead of them.

When Nico rang the bell, he turned. With an effort, he forced himself to speak. “This will be easier if you smile and act happy.”

“Easier for you, you mean! Aristocrats spend their lives putting on a show for the world. That’s what you do! Well, maybe it’s not what I do!”

No sooner had she finished speaking than she wanted to bite her tongue off.

“You’re a bride, remember. Your family will only be hurt and worried if they know the whole truth. Is that really what you want? I thought you wanted to please your father.”

Her father! Oh, God! What did Nico care about her family or her relationship with her father? Still, she caught something in his controlled tone that made her heart beat even faster.

What if he did care a little?

Suddenly she longed to be back in Italy, skimming across the water in his tender as he pointed out the palazzos and villas and told her stories about his friends and fabled ancestors who lived or had lived in them. She wanted to cling to him again as they entered that secret, hidden, pirate grotto.

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