Page 17 of The Amalfi Bride

He brought Regina’s hand to his lips. “Your smile was so beautiful. For the first time since my wife’s death, I feel almost at peace with the past, with her death. My mother keeps telling me that she’s dead and I’m alive. I didn’t really understand what she meant, until I saw you.”

“I’m glad you’re feeling better.” She stroked his hand lightly. “Maybe you were lucky to have had her, even though her loss has been so painful. I’m almost jealous in a way. I don’t think I’ve ever been truly in love. Not like that. In fact, before I came here, I was about to give up on men.”

“I find that very difficult to believe.”

“All my relationships, I mean the serious, real kind, not like this, always just fizzled out.”

He continued to hold her hand, waiting.

“So that’s why I’m here with you, I guess…a gigolo.”

He felt a muscle tick along his jawline. “Do you have to keep harping on my…er…career?”

“I keep forgetting that it makes you uncomfortable.”

The tension remained with him.

“I could never pay you enough for what you’ve done for me, and all we’ve done is talk,” she said.

“They do say confession is good for the soul.”

He got up and walked back into the bedroom. He stood before the chest where she’d propped the painting. Frowning, he lifted the picture.

“Do you like it?” she asked.

“Very much. It reminds me of a beach I once knew near my grandmother’s house. It’s always been quite wonderful being with her. She’s been something of a black sheep and forbidden to me, by my mother. Her daughter. My mother is as proper as her mother was scandalous.”

“Do they know that you’re a gigolo?”

“No.” He set the picture back down.

“Would they disapprove?”

“My grandmother approves of love, in all its many forms.”

“You didn’t include your mother in that last statement,” Regina said.

“No.”

They ate, and when they were done, Nico took her by the hand and led her to the bed. Slowly he removed her robe again. As it fell, her hand found the zipper of his jeans.

Suddenly she was tearing his clothes off and kissing him all over. He was huge. When he grew even larger, she laughed in delight.

“Cara, you’re getting me so excited I can’t remember your plan. Wasn’t I supposed to massage you and make love to you slowly?”

“Forget my plan. I don’t have a plan.”

A rush of powerful feelings swept him. He took her in his arms and carried her to bed. Within seconds their bodies moved together in an ancient, timeless rhythm. When he entered her, he felt the most powerful, pleasurable connection to a woman in all his life.

For a long moment, he held her close, celebrating that first glorious wonder of being with her. Then his breath started coming in harsh, rapid gasps. He gripped her waist, pressing himself closer and plunged again and again.

“Faster,” she murmured, her breathing as out of control as his. “Yes. Yes. Yes.”

“I should slow down.”

“No!” she whispered in a low, frantic tone. “Faster.”

After they exploded together, she fell back against the bed, her body damp all over. He collapsed beside her, heavily exhausted.

“I’ll never be able to stand or to walk again,” she whispered. Then she began to laugh and to sob and to cling to him. “You’re really, really good.”

“You’re incredible, tesorina.”

“Does that mean we can do it again?”

Five

T he thick black straps of the backpack cut into Regina’s shoulders after their climb from the sea. The pack, which had felt light hours ago when they’d started their circuitous, uphill hike on a bougainvillea-shaded cobblestone path, felt as heavy as lead now. The dull pain throbbing in her lower back sharpened with every step.

Nico had offered to carry the pack. Why had she insisted on wearing it?

“Stop! I’ve got to rest.” Her legs were shaking from the vertical climb, and she was gasping as she sank down against a low stone wall and stared at the breathtaking view of cliffs towering above the blue water. She pressed her hand into her spine.

“Didn’t I tell you, you should let me carry this?” He lifted the backpack from her shoulders and set it on the dusty ground. “Do you want to go back to the hotel?”

“No.” Not that going back to the hotel would be a bad thing.

After making love for hours and sleeping all night in each other’s arms, she would surely have slept until noon if she hadn’t heard him calling room service. After making the call, he’d rolled over and pulled her back into her arms, nuzzling her throat and lips with his mouth and tongue until she’d been fully awake.

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