Page 6 of The Amalfi Bride

“I ate a late lunch,” she said.

“So did I,” he murmured.

He leaned closer. He slid one hand around her waist. His other hand lifted her fingertips to his sensually curved mouth, and he kissed each long nail and fingertip, lingering a little on the tips of her nails. Then he stared into her eyes. Everything he did was infinitely gentle. Somehow, nothing he did seemed faked or practiced, and long after he’d let her fingers go, the pit of her stomach felt hollow.

When she lowered her hand to the ceramic table again, she sighed. Good. She wasn’t ready for the serious kissing to start. Not in public, anyway.

He leaned closer and traced her mouth with his fingertip, flooding her with more erotic heat. His eyes followed the path of his finger. He swallowed hard. So did she. The girls, who were watching, giggled again.

“Che bella,” he whispered, scooting his chair back a little.

He wasn’t subtle. But what had she expected? He was a gigolo. Not to mention Italian. This was a business relationship. She should applaud his talent and his professionalism. Instead, she was so caught up in what he was doing it was hard to remember this wasn’t real.

He held up his hand for the check. Before she could rummage in her purse, he threw a wad of euros on the table, cupped her elbow and escorted her out of the bar. She was acutely aware that, when he’d stood up, everybody stopped talking. Even the music stopped. When he turned at the door to wave to the bartender, a final burst of girlish giggles saluted them.

He’d paid, no doubt, for appearances’ sake.

He was one classy gigolo.

Remembering the Maserati, and the Ferrari and the yacht, Simonetta, where he’d spent the night, she began to wonder if she had enough cash in her purse.

If she didn’t, would he take a credit card or at least escort her to the nearest ATM if they finished at a late hour?

Then she remembered he was one classy gigolo.

Of course, he would!

Two

R egina stepped out of the shower, dried herself with a warm towel and put on the hotel’s thick, white fluffy robe as Nico had suggested. Her damp hair felt heavy and soft about her shoulders as she left the bathroom. Picking up her cell phone, she padded through the bedroom and then out onto her private belvedere to wait for Nico, who had left her suite to take a phone call.

Nico. She gulped in a breath of warm humid air. Trying not to think about him and what they were about to do, she looked down at the quaint town and its lush gardens. Nevertheless, her hands were shaking as she punched in her friend Lucy’s number back in Austin.

Surely, heaven couldn’t best Ravello. The jewel-like, medieval village seemed to hang suspended from its mountainside over the AmalfiCoast. The views from Regina’s hotel, formerly a fourteenth-century palazzo with crumbling, vine-covered walls and Moorish arches, were breathtaking even now when the shadows were lengthening.

Flowers perfumed the balmy sea breezes. The bees were gone, and the church bells were ringing. Cliffs and villas alike seemed to tumble to a dark, turquoise sea.

Not that she was all that interested in the white yachts or Simonetta or the sparkling water or even the palazzos. She was too consumed with excitement and fear.

“Pick up, Lucy,” she whispered, tapping a bare foot with impatience on the sun-warmed stones. She could hardly stand feeling so alone and uncertain.

“Pick up!”

Pacing while she waited, she spotted Nico four floors beneath her. He was also striding back and forth on a terrace near the aqua pool, looking just as impatient and upset as she felt.

Did he want to be with her, or did he hate his work and dread the time he’d be spending with her? Or was it his conversation that had him on edge?

She wished his phone hadn’t rung. She wished he’d look up and wave reassuringly, but his dark head was bent over the phone, and he seemed so absorbed she wondered if he’d forgotten her existence.

His cell phone had buzzed just after he’d ordered champagne, strawberries and an assortment of cheeses, and had suggested they get into the hotel’s white, fluffy bathrobes and enjoy a drink on her balcony. When he’d recognized the caller’s name in the little blue window on his phone, he’d frowned. Then he’d cupped Regina’s chin, kissed her on the forehead, and apologized because the call was too important to ignore. He’d answered the phone with a smile and endearments in Italian and had excused himself, which had made Regina curious about the caller’s identity, and a little jealous.

Was it a woman? A client? Whoever it was, the call was very important to him.

Just as Regina was worrying that her attraction to Nico might be heading toward an obsession—something she’d never experienced before in her orderly, controlled life—Lucy finally answered, her voice breathless.

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