Regina was holding her breath when the cheese toppled onto the floor.
Gina was about to dive for it when her grandmother grabbed her tiara and said, “Leave it there, darling.”
Gina looked at her grandmother and then wisely grabbed her tiara and placed it back on her head. She picked up her fork and stabbed a piece of cheese.
“When she heard a prince was coming, she had to wear her blue princess costume,” Susana said, smiling at Nico as if she recognized him.
Susana read the tabloids occasionally. If she was in the grocery store and a lurid headline caught her attention, she would thumb through the magazine. If she failed to find the story and read it before the checker finished, she would often buy it.
“Aunt Reggie gave me my princess costume!” Gina piped as the ricotta fell off the fork onto her plate.
“Since you’re so much like your aunt, I’m sure you’ll marry a prince, too,” Nico said, “if you decide you want to.”
“I’ve never cooked for a prince before,” Sabrina said. “You probably have a chef.”
“More than one. When you come to the palazzo for our wedding, you must give them all lessons.” Nico took Regina’s hand and squeezed it, but when her furious gaze rose to his, he looked down at the table, his inky lashes sweeping his dark cheeks.
Smooth. He was too smooth, too sure of his charm. And he should be. He had the carved profile of an ancient emperor. He was probably related to emperors. He’d won her when he’d stared at her on that bench, and he’d won her family in less than an hour.
He was probably kin to emperors. This shouldn’t be happening! Their worlds were too different. She remembered his palazzo with its gilded antique furnishings.
He’d invaded her family’s simple home and had conquered them. Regina was suddenly so mad at the power he had over her that she tried to kick him under the table. When her toe struck the table leg between them, she gasped and bit back a cry of anguish.
He glanced her way, his blue gaze tender.
Pretend tenderness, she thought.
Noting Nico’s concern and his daughter’s flushed cheeks, Constantin smiled indulgently at them both. “Ah, young love.” He met his wife’s eyes. “The baked peppers with ricotta and basil are delicious.”
“So are the fried zucchini flowers and lemon chicken,” Nico said. “You’re not eating, darling? More morning sickness?” Again his eyes were ablaze with a disturbing tenderness that could unravel her.
Why did he have to be so good at faking it?
“No! I’m fine!” Her voice was so harsh Susana and Sabrina frowned and shot warning glances her way.
“Try to eat then, dear,” her mother said. “For the baby. Try the cheese.”
Regina stabbed a chunk of ricotta and lifted it to her lips. Satisfied, her mother got up to see about dessert.
When everybody had finished their meal, Regina jumped up and was about to clear the table when her mother raised her hand. “Before we do that, why don’t you tell us how you two met.”
“We—I…” Regina sat back down, unable to find the words.
“On the beach in Amalfi,” Nico said, his eyes softening every time he looked at Regina. “My grandmother owns a shop in Ravello and she met Cara first…and was charmed by her. She’d sold her a dress, a most fetching dress. So, later, when she saw Cara under a lemon tree, she waved at her. I looked over and when Cara looked at me, I couldn’t look away. It was as if—” He stopped. Somehow his silence was riveting. “Nothing like that had ever happened to me before.”
“How romantic,” Susana gushed.
“It was, actually,” he said, looking tenderly at Regina, whose hand lay on the table near him.
When his own larger hand covered hers, she felt a rush of unwanted excitement.
Lacing his fingers through her tense fingers, he brought her hand to his lips. While everyone watched, he kissed her fingertips as he had the first time in the bar. He was very still, his eyes on her face, his earnest gaze a pledge in front of her family.
Regina swallowed, but the sudden lump in her throat refused to go down.
“She swept me off my feet,” he continued, turning her hand and blowing a scorching kiss against her slender blue-veined wrist, a kiss so hot it made the icicles around her heart melt.
The rat! He was only pretending!
Flushing, Regina yanked her hand free. “Everyone finished? Can I take your plates?” Wild with panic, she pushed back from the table and started stacking the plates much too noisily. Nico stood, too, and began to gather the silverware. Susana and Sabrina were about to protest when Dino and David started to howl.