“Which fortunately are quite wide.” She paused. “Okay. I see. I understand. I wish you the best. Now, will you take me to my hotel?”
“Just so you understand what is expected of me and why. If I don’t marry DonnaViola, I betray my family.”
“I said I understood. But that’s it. Don’t pretend you’re a good guy. Not when you lied to me.”
Thankfully he didn’t remind her she’d thought she’d been hiring a gigolo.
When he started the car, the gates opened as if by magic. Again, she was aware of unfriendly eyes watching her depart.
“Like I said, at first, I thought you knew who I was, that maybe you were a fortune hunter,” he said.
“That’s so lame.”
“It’s happened before.”
“American tourists recognize you and chase you?”
“Yes. The paparazzi chase me, too.”
“And do you always accommodate them as you did me? The other women, I mean?”
He muttered something under his breath. Then he lifted his chin and stared at the road coldly. He drove back to her hotel silently and slowly, but somehow his carefulness stung her like a deliberate insult.
“Well, do you accommodate them?” she goaded.
He flinched. Good. She’d gotten to him.
“No,” he said, grinding the word between his teeth. “Damn it, no!”
“Then why did you decide to go slumming with me?”
He jerked the car into a driveway on the side of the narrow road just as a bus whipped past them so fast their little car rattled violently. Then he turned and pulled her roughly into his arms.
“I wanted you. I had to have you. I didn’t care about anything else. I’d felt so horrible for so long and there you were—so sweet and adorable. I thought we’d have one night.”
“Why is this happening?”
“Hell if I know why. Hell if I know. Do you think I wanted it to? Damn it, now I want a lifetime. And I can’t have it.”
Before she could say anything, his mouth came down on hers, searing, punishing. His large hands spanned the back of her waist, his palms burning through her thin cotton T-shirt as he pressed her curves against the hard contours of his body.
At the first taste of his lips, her anger left her. So did her pride. Her heart thudded slowly, painfully. Then her arms climbed his neck and hung on for dear life.
Yes, for dear life because he was life itself. Because he was everything.
She had no idea how long they sat there on the side of the road while trucks and buses roared past them. Finally, he got control of himself again and gave a hard jerk out of her arms only to gaze back at her in shock.
She was as thoroughly shaken as he. She saw that his hands trembled as he started the Fiat. Somehow that made her feel a little better. So, he wasn’t a total bastard after all.
When he reached the hotel, he cut the engine. Before he could get out and come around to her side, she flung her door open and raced to the hotel. She’d left her key at the desk, so Nico was able to catch up to her at the elevator.
“Go! Just go! Marry your princess! Or principessa! Do whatever! Be happy!”
She punched a golden button on the wall and two gold elevator doors opened. She stepped inside.
The doors closed.
She punched the number to her floor. When she got out, she stepped onto a belvedere and saw him three stories below talking to the same short, plump man she’d seen him with that first night. His cousin, Massimo, she thought. His genie.
They looked up and saw her. Nico’s blue eyes blazed. His dark brows lifted.
A single glance was enough to cut her heart in two.
To hell with him!
She gave a little cry and ran to her room.
N ico paced Simonetta’s deck with a vengeance. Massimo watched him with exasperation and amusement while sipping Pinot Grigio. Then Nico saw a flash of white on shore.
He grabbed his binoculars and ran to the railing to stare at the slim brunette in a white sundress with a flower in her hair. She had suddenly materialized on the seaside bench as if she were a supernatural being.
Massimo laughed. “Naturally. You two are like a pair of brainless magnets in heat.”
“Don’t laugh, Cousin.”
“The paparazzi will love this.”
“They haven’t been around much since Simonetta’s funeral. I’ve been too damn dull.”
“Worse than dull. Dead.”
Nico set down the binoculars and rushed to the stern of Simonetta. He hopped into his sleek, black tender and began throwing off the lines, which Massimo caught with one hand, careful not to spill his wine.
“Do you want a ride to shore?” Nico started the engine.