Her mother wasn’t a measurer. She simply bought the best available ingredients or grew them and then let them guide her. Much of what she cooked was too simple to be a recipe, but infinitely superior because of her talents.
“Well, he’s a catch. No doubt about that,” her father said, plucking a halved fig off a platter and nibbling on it when he caught her alone. He and Nico had drunk wine together alone in the den behind closed doors for half an hour by that time and were already great friends, or at least, amiable companions.
“He has a fine mind. We discussed golf and the war.”
“World War II. Told me all about what Hitler did to his family. He lost a lot of castles. Then we discussed the wedding.”
“Yours. He insists his family must pay for it. He says it has to be a very private affair, managed by his staff. He’s going to send a jet for us so that we can attend your wedding. He wants me to console your mother because she won’t be allowed to plan it. That won’t be easy. You know how she is.”
All this, her wedding, he’d discussed with her father. Instead of her.
“Well, you’re a sly one. Sperm donor! Gave me a few more gray hairs! Blamed your mother for spoiling you! Ha! Then you went to Italy and snagged yourself a real prince. Well, you had us all worried there for a while.” His tone was affectionate, indulgent even.
“I did not snag him.”
“You did well, daughter. He’s a good man, and I think he’s strong enough to deal with you.”
Strong enough? As if she were a problem?
“I can’t believe…”
Her father swallowed the last of his fig and beamed jovially as he patted her on the waist, the way he often patted Susana, who found them like that when she came in to tell them dinner was on the table.
“I’m going to marry a prince, too,” Gina announced when everybody had gathered around the table and were serving themselves.
You could have heard a pin drop as the little girl picked up a piece of ricotta cheese with her fingers, placed it squarely in the middle of her spoon and then, smiling brightly, lifted the utensil with the poorly balanced food to her mouth.
Regina was holding her breath when the cheese toppled onto the floor.
Gina was about to dive for it when her grandmother grabbed her tiara and said, “Leave it there, darling.”
Gina looked at her grandmother and then wisely grabbed her tiara and placed it back on her head. She picked up her fork and stabbed a piece of cheese.
“When she heard a prince was coming, she had to wear her blue princess costume,” Susana said, smiling at Nico as if she recognized him.
Susana read the tabloids occasionally. If she was in the grocery store and a lurid headline caught her attention, she would thumb through the magazine. If she failed to find the story and read it before the checker finished, she would often buy it.
“Aunt Reggie gave me my princess costume!” Gina piped as the ricotta fell off the fork onto her plate.
“Since you’re so much like your aunt, I’m sure you’ll marry a prince, too,” Nico said, “if you decide you want to.”
“I’ve never cooked for a prince before,” Sabrina said. “You probably have a chef.”
“More than one. When you come to the palazzo for our wedding, you must give them all lessons.” Nico took Regina’s hand and squeezed it, but when her furious gaze rose to his, he looked down at the table, his inky lashes sweeping his dark cheeks.
Smooth. He was too smooth, too sure of his charm. And he should be. He had the carved profile of an ancient emperor. He was probably related to emperors. He’d won her when he’d stared at her on that bench, and he’d won her family in less than an hour.
He was probably kin to emperors. This shouldn’t be happening! Their worlds were too different. She remembered his palazzo with its gilded antique furnishings.
He’d invaded her family’s simple home and had conquered them. Regina was suddenly so mad at the power he had over her that she tried to kick him under the table. When her toe struck the table leg between them, she gasped and bit back a cry of anguish.
He glanced her way, his blue gaze tender.
Pretend tenderness, she thought.
Noting Nico’s concern and his daughter’s flushed cheeks, Constantin smiled indulgently at them both. “Ah, young love.” He met his wife’s eyes. “The baked peppers with ricotta and basil are delicious.”
“So are the fried zucchini flowers and lemon chicken,” Nico said. “You’re not eating, darling? More morning sickness?” Again his eyes were ablaze with a disturbing tenderness that could unravel her.