Page 113 of The Amalfi Bride

“Bottle time,” Susana said, as mother and grandmother galloped toward the cribs.

Thus, Nico and Regina were left to do the honors of clearing the table and preparing the final course. He made a pot of coffee while she ladled mascarpone custard over sliced pears on crystal plates.

“You probably never did anything like this in your life,” she said.

“I’ll ignore that and carry the desserts to the table.”

“Okay, I’ll be blunt,” she said when he returned for the last two plates. “I want you out of this kitchen and out of my life.”

“You’re going to have to get used to me, you know.”

She was so angry she wanted to scream. When she picked up a spatula, he grabbed it and set it down on the counter.

“You can’t just take over somebody’s life,” she said.

“Then why did you deliberately become pregnant with my child?”

“I didn’t.”

He stared into her eyes longer than she could bear it.

“I swear I didn’t! And you don’t have to marry me!”

Without saying anything, he picked up the last two plates. With a sinking heart, she watched him walk into the dining room, sit down and begin joking with her family as if their exchange had never occurred, as if this were a normal evening.

Normal? His being here, his ordinariness with her family, their acceptance of him was driving her crazy.

Did he intend to win them and break their hearts? Was he that cruel? Or was he just being a man and insensitive and blind as a result?

Except for Regina’s nervous tension, the dessert and coffee went as smoothly as dinner. If she grew increasingly silent, everybody was too thrilled by him and the thought of a wedding in a castle to care.

Conversation flowed on all sides of her without the least difficulty. Her mother graciously accepted the fact that she would not be allowed to plan her daughter’s wedding. It was almost as if Regina’s family had been expecting her pregnancy and this marriage and were overjoyed by them.

Who were these people? She’d never mentioned Nico to any of them. How could he just pop into their lives without any warning, take over, and be so totally accepted?

Why couldn’t they have ever accepted her this easily? Who she was? Why had she had to work so hard for the slightest praise? When she felt her thoughts heading into one of those negative loops, she put on the brakes. Her family and Nico either loved one another or they deserved Oscars, and that was just the way it was.

Later, when they were all laughing together in the living room while she stood in a dark corner, feeling left out, Nico got up, put his arms around her and led her to the couch, where he pulled her down beside him, so that she was in the heart of the family circle. He took her hand in his again and held on tight, ignoring her every attempt to pull free. And the truth was, under different circumstances, she might have enjoyed herself.

Regina leaned over and whispered in his ear. “Can’t we go now?”

Before he could answer, Gina brought a storybook and laid it on his lap.

He laughed. “How can I resist your niece?”

“Read!” Gina commanded.

“Oh, dear, she’s got your bossiness,” he whispered into Regina’s ear. Aloud, he said, “Why don’t I read to her while you help your mother clean up in the kitchen?”

“I can do that later,” Sabrina said.

But Nico insisted on playing with the children while Regina helped Sabrina in the kitchen, and, thereby, he won her sister and her mother even more completely. Although he did not go so far as to change a diaper, he did feed each twin part of a bottle, and he burped them, too.

“Can you believe it?” Susana said in the kitchen as Sabrina hand-washed and Regina and Susana dried. “He can tell the twins apart. He even called them by their names. Nobody else has ever been able to do that. I can’t believe he’s a famous prince. I even saw him on television.”

“Then you should know he was about to announce his engagement to a princess,” Regina whispered. “Only I got pregnant and ruined his life.”

“Don’t do that! Why do you always do that?”

“Always do what?”

“Doubt yourself. Overthink stuff.”

“I don’t always doubt myself,” Regina snapped.

“Okay. You’re right, as always. You’re a lawyer. Everything’s got to be logical and go along with some plan or list you’ve made. I learned a long time ago not to argue with you when you’re in lawyer mode. But this man loves you.”

Susana spoke with all-knowing, completely exasperating confidence.

“You couldn’t possibly know that.”

“Maybe you made straight A’s, but I was the one who was good with men…and feelings.”

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