Maybe that was for the best.
“Isn’t it a lovely morning,” Gloriana said to Nico. “All the dark clouds gone and our glorious Amalfi sun shining so brightly.”
“Yes.” Regina nodded even though she knew she had not been addressed. “The terrace has such breathtaking views of the water and cliffs.”
“It does indeed,” Gloriana said. “How lovely to see you again, my dear.” Her words were polite, but her blue eyes, so like her son’s, were colder than polar ice chips. “I do hope the flight wasn’t too tiring and that you rested well. For the baby’s sake.”
Regina’s throat went dry.
Nerves, she hoped. Not morning sickness.
Hot bile climbed her throat. Near panic, she fought to swallow.
Feeling more miserable by the second, she forced a smile. When her mouth twisted, Nico’s hand closed over hers.
Then a manservant brought a cart brimming with fruit and cheeses and all kinds of breads including buttery, rich croissants, Regina’s favorite. Tiberio Abruzzi, who was standing behind the man and his cart, stared down his nose at her and asked in a lofty tone what the signorina would like.
Regina’s gaze flicked across luscious thick white lumps of buffalo mozzarella, to raw eggs, omelet makings and then to thick slabs of ham.
“I—I’m not hungry.” Clammy with sweat, she sank back in her chair as the awful stuff in her throat bubbled higher.
Terrified of embarrassing herself before Nico, she tried to swallow. But it was hopeless.
Her chair scraped the table as she stood up. Not knowing where a restroom was, she bolted. Behind her, china shattered and the principessa gasped. Regina barely made it to the nearest hedge before she was on the ground losing the contents of whatever she’d managed to eat on the plane.
She flung herself toward the palazzo, desperate to escape them all, even Nico. A violent cramp shot through her stomach, and she realized she was going to be sick again. There would be no escape. Weakly she stumbled back to the hedge and fell to her knees a second time.
Even before she finished, she felt strong arms around her, supporting her and then Nico was lifting her, holding her tightly because her knees were so rubbery she couldn’t stand.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“Don’t apologize. Don’t ever apologize,” Nico said.
She caught the citrusy tang of his aftershave, usually a pleasant scent. She swallowed again because she so longed to stay in his arms, but that faint fruity odor ruined it.
“Your aftershave…lemons…awful. I’m sorry.” Feeling fuzzy, she fell to her knees again. Only this time, her stomach was empty, so she only had the dry heaves.
Nico’s face was lined and grim as he led her back to her room.
“I don’t want to make you unhappy,” she whispered when she was sitting down on a little chair in the shade of her balcony as Nico applied a cold towel to her face. Abruzzi stood just inside the door, awaiting further instructions.
“You don’t want to marry me,” she whispered. “You must let me go. For both our sakes. For your mother’s sake. For the baby’s sake.”
“Hush. Hush. When you feel better, we’ll talk. Abruzzi suggested crackers and bananas and some cottage cheese. He said that’s all his wife could eat when she was pregnant. Do you think you could eat that?”
She nodded, not wanting to displease him or the terrifying Abruzzi. Then she shook her head miserably.
“No. No crackers.”
Abruzzi’s stern face fell.
“Ice cream,” she said, craving it suddenly. “Chocolate ice cream. Lots of chocolate ice cream…please.”
Abruzzi beamed with delight. “Gelato, chocolate, signorina, for the baby!” His black eyes came alive as he raced away to do her bidding.
When he brought two heaping bowls, she began eat small spoonfuls. Nico asked if he could leave her briefly to shower.
“So you won’t keep wrinkling your nose and rushing to the nearest bush because I smell like lemons.”
“Don’t even say the word.”
He laughed and was gone. When he returned, the bowls of ice cream were gone, and she was feeling much better.
“It’s not too late, to change your mind about marrying me,” she whispered when he sat down beside her on her balcony.
“I want to marry you.”
“But ours won’t be a real marriage, if we’re already planning to divorce.”
His brows shot together. “Cara, nobody must know this isn’t a real marriage. Nobody. We who live here say the palazzo has ears in every wall. Rumors start so easily, and, if the media hears even a hint of such things, they can cause great unhappiness. Even my family, Massimo especially, has difficulty keeping secrets. We Italians are extroverts. All we do is talk. I don’t want our child’s birth surrounded by unnecessary scandal. Do you understand?”