Maybe it was the morning sickness blurring her senses, but the whole, horrible affair didn’t seem real to Regina now.
I’ll wake up, she thought, back in Texas…where I belong.
She heard a sound and turned. Gloriana, in the same smartly tailored white suit she’d worn to the wedding, stood there.
Wasn’t there some rule that a mother-in-law’s outfit should not compete with the bride’s?
Her blue eyes were huge and luminous and filled with profound grief. She couldn’t have looked sadder if she’d buried Nico.
“People are asking where you are. You’re upsetting Nico.” As always, her voice was pleasant and well modulated.
“How long will it take me to learn that appearances are everything?”
“I should think you would want to be at the reception in your moment of triumph.”
“You would think that.”
“You caught him when he was weak, grief stricken.”
So that was what she thought.
“He is not in love with you. When he comes to his senses, he’ll hate you. This marriage is a huge step down for him. You’re not even from a princely family, much less a royal one, as he is. You are not even rich. Who are you? An attorney, who was fired for incompetency? How many languages do you speak?”
“I love him.”
“I hope, for his sake, that you do.”
“We both love him. At least we have that in common.”
“No, I love him. Someday, soon, you’ll know how deep a mother’s love is. I want what’s best for him.” She drew a deep breath. “All I ask is that you at least pretend you love him. Don’t hurt him any more than you already have.”
“You must teach me how to pretend.”
Where this conversation would have gone would always be a mystery because Nico appeared. His mother whirled, her lovely face instantly serene.
“I will leave you to enjoy your bride,” she said in a sweet, false tone.
“No time for that—yet. I was looking for both of you. More pictures need to be taken.”
“So many pictures? I feel a little like a movie star,” Regina said, wishing only to be alone with him.
“These are for the newspapers and television. They won’t take long.”
After more photographs, Regina stood beside Nico on a balcony and watched a fireworks display in their honor while flashbulbs flickered constantly beneath them.
“The media circus has begun.” Nico turned. “Smile at me, tesorina, they want the fairy tale.”
So do I.
She smiled up at him and he brought her hand to his lips.
“Why so fast?” the reporters demanded of anyone who would answer questions.
“Who is this Signorina Regina Carina Tomei?”
“Where did she come from?”
“How did they meet?”
“Why did he marry her?”
Lucy left frantic messages for Regina. Reporters were camped outside her door, demanding to know every intimate detail of her friend’s recent vacation in Italy.
“Tell me what to tell them!” Lucy cried in her final message. “I get contractions every time the phone rings!”
So, this is my life. I’m a princess now. Regina felt wonder as she watched streamers of orange fire blossom against a black sky and drizzle bits of gold to earth in her honor.
Nico leaned closer and grasped her hand tightly in his. “You were a planner. Of all the men in the world, why did you pick me? Why me?” His voice was dark and urgent.
“I didn’t pick you. I just…” I just couldn’t resist you.
Ribbons of white curled against the sky.
“You knew who I was, didn’t you?” he persisted.
She shook her head.
“I’ve always been wanted because I’m a Romano and the heir to all this.”
“I didn’t know who you were.”
“But you’re a plotter and a planner.”
“What if you could believe that I didn’t plan any of this?” she said. “That it simply happened, like you once told me?”
“What if?” he whispered, his eyes devouring her.
“I didn’t know who you were. I swear.”
Regina was wearing a filmy nightgown and a transparent robe that she’d bought in Portofino for her wedding night. Every time she glanced at the great bed and its red satin spread, she trembled.
“I will leave you to wait for him alone if you want me to,” Susana said. “Maybe he knows I’m with you. Maybe that’s why he hasn’t come.”
Susana headed toward the door.
“No! Stay! There’s something I must tell you—a secret.”
Susana ran to her. “This is like a fairy tale.”
“No. I can’t bear for you to think that.” Regina hesitated. “He didn’t want to marry me. He wanted to marry Viola. He plans to divorce me in a year.”