Ouch. Regina remembered how deftly Susana had stolen Joe right out from under her. Suddenly she was glad Susana had.
“Trust me,” Susana said. “Trust him. Trust yourself. And your feelings. For once. He loves you. Sometimes feelings can be smarter than you are.”
Susana should know. That’s the way she’d always operated.
And everybody loves her, said a little voice.
By the time the dishes were finished, Nico had read Gina several fairy tales about princesses while she’d stared up at him with big, awed eyes.
“Read Cinderella again,” Gina begged when the women came out of the kitchen.
“He’s already read it three times,” her father said.
“Then that’s enough,” Susana said. “He has to take Regina home. She’s going to have a baby, and she needs her rest.”
Three whole times? He’d read Cinderella three whole times.
“We do have to go,” Regina agreed, trying to act like she wasn’t the least bit impressed with his talent with children or jealous if he happened to smile at Susana.
“I was having so much fun I didn’t realize how late it was,” Nico said. “I hope we didn’t overstay our welcome.”
“Oh, no! No! We loved having you!” her parents and sister gushed.
“I’m going to marry a prince—just like you!” Gina cried. “And live in a castle!”
“Big hug,” Nico whispered, kneeling, and the little girl ran into his arms. “When you’re all grown-up, I’ll introduce you to lots of princes.”
When Gina finally released him, he stood up and put his arm around Regina, and for a moment it seemed almost possible that he would be at her side always, that they would have a real marriage.
When he headed toward the door, her family followed them down the sidewalk. Their goodbyes were so warm, her fantasy that they could be a real couple and have a real future persisted a little longer.
At the limousine, her daddy embraced her and wouldn’t let her go for several long moments. “I’m so happy for you,” he said. “So proud of you.”
They smiled at each other in the silvery dark. For the first time since Susana’s birth, Regina felt a closeness to him that was almost a completeness.
And she had Nico to thank! Nico, of all people—the enemy!
The two men shook hands. Her mother kissed Nico’s cheek.
It was so wrong.
They’re all so happy and I’m so happy! But this marriage isn’t real! I should tell them now! Tonight! That it won’t last a year. I really should tell them!
But, of course, she didn’t because she didn’t want to, and all too soon she was alone with Nico in the dark, silent limousine again.
“I thought that went well,” Nico said a few minutes later as the long car slipped through the silent dark.
“Doesn’t it bother you at all that you’ll break their hearts?”
“I don’t intend to break anybody’s heart. That’s your specialty.”
“I don’t want to break anybody’s heart,” she whispered.
To that he said nothing.
“You didn’t have to be so nice to them, you know. Especially so nice to the children.”
“Was that so bad? Do you really think everything I do is to hurt you?”
“After tonight, they’ll never understand how awful you are. They’ll always be on your side.”
“Stop being a lawyer. What if there aren’t any sides?”
“There are always sides.”
“No. Not always. Two people can become one.”
“Not us,” she whispered.
As though he were very tired, he leaned back and shut his eyes, seemingly weary of fighting her.
Was he right? Did there always have to be sides? Could two people as different as they were, two families as different as theirs were, live in harmony for the rest of their lives?
She remembered the golden, hazy perfection of Ravello. The pink sunsets, the sea breezes.
What if they could? What if…
When she glanced at him and saw the blue-black highlights gleaming in the lock of hair that fell over his brow, she felt a dangerous softening in her heart.
Chiseled profile, olive skin, black hair, sensual lips. Did he have to be so incredibly handsome? To act so nice, at least, when he wasn’t furious? She marveled at his patience, reading Cinderella to Gina three times.
Suddenly, Regina wondered where he was staying tonight. The intoxicating memory of him standing naked and as glorious as a well-endowed god or Michelangelo’s David in her hotel room came back to her.
When the limousine stopped, he let her out and walked her to her front porch. Without a word, he took her key and deftly unlocked her door. She crossed her threshold and then stopped without inviting him in. She was surprised and disappointed when he didn’t assume he had the right to follow her inside. Hesitating, she flipped on the light in her foyer and noted the deep shadows under his eyes.