“I don’t want to make you unhappy,” she whispered when she was sitting down on a little chair in the shade of her balcony as Nico applied a cold towel to her face. Abruzzi stood just inside the door, awaiting further instructions.
“You don’t want to marry me,” she whispered. “You must let me go. For both our sakes. For your mother’s sake. For the baby’s sake.”
“Hush. Hush. When you feel better, we’ll talk. Abruzzi suggested crackers and bananas and some cottage cheese. He said that’s all his wife could eat when she was pregnant. Do you think you could eat that?”
She nodded, not wanting to displease him or the terrifying Abruzzi. Then she shook her head miserably.
“No. No crackers.”
Abruzzi’s stern face fell.
“Ice cream,” she said, craving it suddenly. “Chocolate ice cream. Lots of chocolate ice cream…please.”
Abruzzi beamed with delight. “Gelato, chocolate, signorina, for the baby!” His black eyes came alive as he raced away to do her bidding.
When he brought two heaping bowls, she began eat small spoonfuls. Nico asked if he could leave her briefly to shower.
“So you won’t keep wrinkling your nose and rushing to the nearest bush because I smell like lemons.”
“Don’t even say the word.”
He laughed and was gone. When he returned, the bowls of ice cream were gone, and she was feeling much better.
“It’s not too late, to change your mind about marrying me,” she whispered when he sat down beside her on her balcony.
“I want to marry you.”
“But ours won’t be a real marriage, if we’re already planning to divorce.”
His brows shot together. “Cara, nobody must know this isn’t a real marriage. Nobody. We who live here say the palazzo has ears in every wall. Rumors start so easily, and, if the media hears even a hint of such things, they can cause great unhappiness. Even my family, Massimo especially, has difficulty keeping secrets. We Italians are extroverts. All we do is talk. I don’t want our child’s birth surrounded by unnecessary scandal. Do you understand?”
“Yes. You’re telling me we’ll live a lie, that we’ll pretend we love each other. I guess I can at least try, since you’re only asking me to do that for a year.”
“Damn it.” His face dark, his voice held a steely note she hated.
“What do you want me to say then?” she asked.
“Kiss me and pretend you mean it.”
She froze. “All right.”
She stood up. So did he. She lifted her lips, standing stiffly, regally.
His eyes narrowed as if something about this whole situation displeased him. Then he leaned forward and caressed her shoulders. Her eyes drifted shut as she waited. Then his mouth found hers and even though his lips barely touched hers, her passion flared to life.
She rose onto her tiptoes and threw her arms around his neck. Then she pressed herself closer, closer, until she could feel his heat and hear the drumbeat of his heart.
He deepened the kiss, and she leaned farther into him, offering herself, offering everything.
He drew back, smiling at her, really smiling at her, for the first time in days. Playfully he kissed the tip of her nose.
“You’re very good at pretending,” he said.
“So are you.”
Eager for more, she pulled his head down to hers again and lost herself in more kisses. He began to say soft, caressing things to her in Italian.
“I love it when you do that.”
He smiled. “I love the language…which melts like kisses and sounds as if it has been writ on satin…syllables which breathe…er…” He struggled for the rest of the line. “Passion.”
“Why, that’s beautiful.”
“Lord Byron, or rather a jumble of Lord Byron. I’m afraid I don’t remember the entire poem.”
“I like it that you can quote poetry. Dante.”
“Memorization is not the loftiest of mental gifts, you know.”
“Don’t belittle yourself,” she said.
“Kissing you is fun. Maybe we should pretend we love each other again,” he said, bringing his mouth closer to hers again.
As he gazed down at her, her heart began to flutter nervously. She wet her lips in anticipation.
Then his mouth found hers again, and his tongue came inside her lips. He groaned. She moved her body against his, rubbing her breasts against his massive chest, wanting to be nearer, nearer, aching to be consumed utterly by him.
“Nico, my darling, darling.”
When more Italian burst from him, her whole body burned with desire.
Was he saying he loved her, or was he only pretending? He took her hand and was leading her into the bedroom, when there was a sound at the door.