Page 37 of The Amalfi Bride

“So, my magic gardenia failed, and you gave up the beautiful American girl,” she said as she sped along the narrow road, her focus on him instead of the traffic.

His eyes on the oncoming bus that was taking more than half of the road, he said nothing.

Fortunately, the bus stopped. Grand-mère swerved at the last second, too, missing it on her side and missing the low rock wall on his, but by mere inches. “I was hoping you wouldn’t give her up,” she said, not the least bit perturbed.

As soon as the danger was past, she was whipping around the curves again, tailgating within a millimeter, oblivious to everything except their conversation, as usual.

“Grand-mère, you should let me drive.”

Her hands tightened possessively on the wheel. “I’ll drive. Back to your girl….”

He made a silent vow to never get in Grand-mère’s red death trap again unless he could drive. But he’d fight that battle on some other day.

“You know what my life is, what is expected,” he said.

“Other people’s expectations.”

“The life I lead would have made her miserable.”

“And you think she is happy without you?”

“Happier,” he said. “Why did you sell her that painting of me, the painting you’d always promised me, and then point her out to me and tell me what you’d done? If you hadn’t pointed her out—”

“A wicked little voice told me to do it, the same voice that tells me what to paint, what to buy for my shop, and who to love next. I am a slave to the voice.”

“It was wrong of you to meddle. Very wrong.”

“Are you sure, my precious little love?”

“You’ve made us both unhappy. Viola, too.”

“We make our own happiness in this world. The choice is yours, my love.”

“No. I have a duty—”

“But are you suited to your duties and to this life any better than I was? I have watched you suffer these past two years. I only wanted you to be happy again. You don’t have to give in to your mother. She was an extremely difficult child, you know. Quite dull. Never took to painting or anything the least bit interesting. Just sat in her corner and put beautiful clothes on her dolls. She isn’t like you, you know. Do you remember how wild you were when you were little? You are meant to know grand passion, as I have. You will make Viola miserable.”

“You shouldn’t have meddled. It was a wicked voice.”

“But I did. What is done is done. And cannot be undone. If it weren’t for the wicked, life would be very dull, indeed.”

She’d made a loop, and they were back at the beach and the lemon trees where she’d picked him up. She said goodbye and kissed him many times. He got out of the Maserati and strode toward his tender and tried to forget what she’d said.

A minute later, he was motoring toward his yacht. He secured the tender and jumped aboard Simonetta.

When he looked back at the beach, he remembered the night he’d brought Cara here.

Would she haunt him forever?

In his stateroom, he chose a bottle of his finest whiskey and poured himself half a glass. As he lifted the glass, his cell phone materialized in his other hand.

Who the hell did he intend to call? Massimo? No. Viola?

As he gulped from the glass, savoring its fire, he found Cara’s saved number on his phone. Then he punched a button.

Not knowing what he’d say if she answered, only knowing that he had to hear her voice, he waited.

“Hello.” Her voice, pure and sweet.

What the hell was all that background noise?

Babies were crying. Then a high-pitched, energetic voice chirped loudly, “Can I have another cookie, Aunt Reggie? Pl-e-e-e-e-z!”

He’d read somewhere that one three-year-old could make more noise than two hundred civilized adults.

“Just a minute, sweetheart. Sorry. So sorry about that! Hello! Hello!”

Even though she sounded like she was next door, he felt the ocean and all the distance between them.

“It’s me. Nico. I had to know if you arrived home safely.”

“I called Massimo weeks ago. Didn’t he tell you?”

“Yes. I wanted to hear it from you.”

“I’m okay.” She sounded a little lost. “Working hard. Babysitting for my sister today. It’s Saturday, you know.”

Babies screamed. Then a toddler shouted, “Aunt Reggie. Aunt Reggie!”

“Oops! Oh, no! Not the whole plate of cookies, sweetheart! You will turn into a Teletubby if you eat all that! Nico, it’s a circus here. Could you hang on a sec? I’ve got to go!”

Nico heard more noise and what sounded like a crash.

“Hello!” a little girl yelled merrily.

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