Page 64 of The Amalfi Bride

Somehow, the friend’s departure seemed significant.

Not wanting to think about that, she concentrated on the glittering rings of condensation on the ceramic table from her wineglass.

Rule number one: smart women traveling alone in foreign countries do not pick up strange men, no matter how handsome or friendly or desirable they seem. In particular, women don’t pick them up in a bar, even one with whitewashed walls, cascading bougainvillea and lots of sunshine and tourists.

She told herself to grab her camera, get up and walk away! No! Run! She should run like she had last night. She had no idea what sort of person he was.

What if he was a gigolo or, worse, a serial killer?

Her mind returned to the G-word.

A gigolo? Was the blond fellow a pimp? Did gigolos even have pimps? She could write a brief on what she didn’t know about gigolos and their business plans.

Regina frowned as she remembered the older woman with the platinum hair, loud makeup and trailing orange veils with whom she’d seen him yesterday in the red Maserati convertible. The woman had caught Regina’s attention because she’d spotted the car in front of Illusions earlier.

The driver had been the same elderly shopkeeper who’d sold her the cross, the sentimental little painting of the black-haired boy playing in the sand, the scandalous pink-and-black lace underwear she was wearing now, her skimpy new dress and, of course, the darling white sandals to match.

Yesterday afternoon, when the older lady had dropped him off at the beach near the mooring of the immense white yacht called Simonetta, Regina hadn’t thought much about her kissing his dark cheeks so many times. Nor had she wondered why the older lady had been so reluctant to let him go. When the woman had spotted Regina watching them, she’d recognized her and had waved, beaming. When he’d looked at Regina, he’d acted startled and had broken off the embrace.

Suddenly, the little scene took on a darker, more lurid meaning. A gigolo?

And what about that diamond the size of an ice cube on the finger of the regal, middle-aged woman in the black Ferrari with him today? She, too, had driven him to the same beach and had kissed his cheeks almost as ardently as the other, older woman. Only the second woman had had a more commanding air, summoning him back to the Ferrari twice.

Now, the stranger’s eyes on Regina’s bare skin felt like fire. She wished she’d put on something that was more her.

Regina’s usual attire back in Austin, Texas, tended to be dull, predictable suits that covered her up, which were appropriate when a young woman was an attorney and made her living in courtrooms.

How ironic that his elderly mistress or client, or whoever the woman was, had sold Regina her revealing white sundress. The same woman had talked her into taking the clips out of her hair, too.

“You very lovely, signorina. With wavy hair down. You need flower in your hair. Special flower from magic bush. Then you get boyfriend for sure. Come. I show you.”

Was it so obvious Regina had no lover? No boyfriend?

With orange veils trailing behind a body that was still voluptuous and hidden bells jingling, the woman had led Regina out of the shop down a cobblestone path to a courtyard with a marble statue of Cupid and a thick bush ablaze with gardenias.

“This bush blooms all year. Pick one every day you are here, if you like. And I promise, a miracle will happen. Prometto.” Her dark blue eyes had twinkled like a fairy godmother’s.

Delighted, Regina had picked one yesterday. Then, this morning, she had gone back for another.

The gulf had a mirror finish; the sinking sun was turning to apricot the villas and hotels that perched precariously on the cliffs. Soon the coast would be magically suffused by the soft, slow twilight she’d come to love.

For as long as she could remember, Regina had wanted to visit the AmalfiCoast. Leaning down, she picked up her list of sights and notes. She should be admiring the mountains trembling steeply above the sea instead of devouring a man who could be a sexual professional.

You probably couldn’t even afford him.

Oh, my God!

If he was a gigolo, he obviously thought she could afford him. Why else was he eating her up with his dark blue eyes?

Her throat went so dry that she gulped more chardonnay.

Gigolos were losers who preyed on older, lonely women; definitely not part of her life plan. She should be shocked to the core by her train of thought.

Afford him? She should indict him!

In Austin, she had a reputation for being prim and proper and…and well, bossy. Not that she was. Nobody, not even her family, understood how strongly she had to focus to accomplish her goals.

“You’re a control freak and frigid!” Bobby had accused after she’d stunned them both, herself and him, by rejecting his marriage proposal.

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