Regina leaned over and whispered in his ear. “Can’t we go now?”
Before he could answer, Gina brought a storybook and laid it on his lap.
He laughed. “How can I resist your niece?”
“Read!” Gina commanded.
“Oh, dear, she’s got your bossiness,” he whispered into Regina’s ear. Aloud, he said, “Why don’t I read to her while you help your mother clean up in the kitchen?”
“I can do that later,” Sabrina said.
But Nico insisted on playing with the children while Regina helped Sabrina in the kitchen, and, thereby, he won her sister and her mother even more completely. Although he did not go so far as to change a diaper, he did feed each twin part of a bottle, and he burped them, too.
“Can you believe it?” Susana said in the kitchen as Sabrina hand-washed and Regina and Susana dried. “He can tell the twins apart. He even called them by their names. Nobody else has ever been able to do that. I can’t believe he’s a famous prince. I even saw him on television.”
“Then you should know he was about to announce his engagement to a princess,” Regina whispered. “Only I got pregnant and ruined his life.”
“Don’t do that! Why do you always do that?”
“Always do what?”
“Doubt yourself. Overthink stuff.”
“I don’t always doubt myself,” Regina snapped.
“Okay. You’re right, as always. You’re a lawyer. Everything’s got to be logical and go along with some plan or list you’ve made. I learned a long time ago not to argue with you when you’re in lawyer mode. But this man loves you.”
Susana spoke with all-knowing, completely exasperating confidence.
“You couldn’t possibly know that.”
“Maybe you made straight A’s, but I was the one who was good with men…and feelings.”
Ouch. Regina remembered how deftly Susana had stolen Joe right out from under her. Suddenly she was glad Susana had.
“Trust me,” Susana said. “Trust him. Trust yourself. And your feelings. For once. He loves you. Sometimes feelings can be smarter than you are.”
Susana should know. That’s the way she’d always operated.
And everybody loves her, said a little voice.
By the time the dishes were finished, Nico had read Gina several fairy tales about princesses while she’d stared up at him with big, awed eyes.
“Read Cinderella again,” Gina begged when the women came out of the kitchen.
“He’s already read it three times,” her father said.
“Then that’s enough,” Susana said. “He has to take Regina home. She’s going to have a baby, and she needs her rest.”
Three whole times? He’d read Cinderella three whole times.
“We do have to go,” Regina agreed, trying to act like she wasn’t the least bit impressed with his talent with children or jealous if he happened to smile at Susana.
“I was having so much fun I didn’t realize how late it was,” Nico said. “I hope we didn’t overstay our welcome.”
“Oh, no! No! We loved having you!” her parents and sister gushed.
“I’m going to marry a prince—just like you!” Gina cried. “And live in a castle!”
“Big hug,” Nico whispered, kneeling, and the little girl ran into his arms. “When you’re all grown-up, I’ll introduce you to lots of princes.”
When Gina finally released him, he stood up and put his arm around Regina, and for a moment it seemed almost possible that he would be at her side always, that they would have a real marriage.
When he headed toward the door, her family followed them down the sidewalk. Their goodbyes were so warm, her fantasy that they could be a real couple and have a real future persisted a little longer.
At the limousine, her daddy embraced her and wouldn’t let her go for several long moments. “I’m so happy for you,” he said. “So proud of you.”
They smiled at each other in the silvery dark. For the first time since Susana’s birth, Regina felt a closeness to him that was almost a completeness.
And she had Nico to thank! Nico, of all people—the enemy!
The two men shook hands. Her mother kissed Nico’s cheek.
It was so wrong.
They’re all so happy and I’m so happy! But this marriage isn’t real! I should tell them now! Tonight! That it won’t last a year. I really should tell them!
But, of course, she didn’t because she didn’t want to, and all too soon she was alone with Nico in the dark, silent limousine again.
“I thought that went well,” Nico said a few minutes later as the long car slipped through the silent dark.