Who wouldn’t fall for him? His looks, his manners, his elegance, his abilities in bed and on the dance floor; not to mention the title, the yacht and the palazzos. Or his size. For centuries, his kind had been groomed from birth to charm, rule and seduce.
He would forget her in a week, and then he would court and marry his princess and make blue-blooded babies with oversize ding-dongs. If Regina were wise, she would look at their little adventure as a unique vacation experience, something to chat about with her friend Lucy or her sister Susana over a lingering lunch. Maybe she could even brag a little about the appendage.
Regina bit her lip and swallowed hard. The day that had dawned like a golden dream now felt cold and empty.
Nico set the phone in its cradle. “I’ve arranged for a car and a driver. We leave by a private entrance in five minutes.”
In less time than that, the phone rang again. When he hung up, he took her arm to lead the way. At the door, she stopped. Then she ran back and seized the painting of the little boy playing in the sand.
“Leave it,” he said.
“I’ll carry it on the plane.”
Regina scanned the tapestries, paintings and antiques and tried to act as if she wasn’t the least bit intimidated by the opulent grandeur of the beautiful salon. In truth, she felt like a naughty little girl who’d run away from a paid tour and had gotten lost in the grand palazzo and would be found and scolded for such mischief.
Where was Nico? Why didn’t he come? Had he forgotten she even existed?
His regal mother in her silk designer suit and exquisite pearls had gone through the motions of behaving graciously to Regina, greeting the limousine with a frozen smile. She’d even extended an icy hand to Regina and had offered tea, which Regina had desired but politely refused, not wanting to put the princess to more trouble. The princess had pursed her lips. The next moment, Regina had been asked if she would be a dear and wait while the princess and Nico discussed “the situation” alone. When Regina had nodded, a tall, imperious man in a stiff, black suit that emphasized his height and gauntness, introduced to her as Tiberio Abruzzi, had whisked her out of the way and escorted her here.
Glancing at her watch every five seconds, Regina tried to sit as still as one of the marble statues. She really tried, but the brocade chair was stiff and she’d been here nearly an hour. And she didn’t have a clue about what was going on.
Every time she turned toward the door, her gaze met Abruzzi’s forbidding black eyes. His face was shaped like a skull, his skin white as a cadaver. Was he as old as the castle, or rather, the palazzo?
Definitely, he’d been ordered to watch her. Thus, she’d sat as still as she could for as long as she could with her hands folded neatly across her lap.
Then like a toddler restrained too long, she burst out of her chair. The ancient chair groaned, and when she began to pace the parquet floor, Abruzzi’s brooding gaze followed her as it seemed the painted eyes of Nico’s ancestors did, as well. Feeling selfconscious, she walked the length of the golden oak-and-porcelain-filled Gothic sitting room and then retraced her steps.
She stopped in front of a portrait of a staid, elderly man in red velvet, who had a particularly disquieting stare. A cardinal? One of Nico’s predecessors? Had he been painted by one of the old masters? When she moved closer to inspect the artist’s signature, Abruzzi stepped closer.
Warned, she jumped back from the painting, and like a shadow, he receded to his former place. Afraid that the glittering antique glass-and-gem-studded snuff boxes on all the little tables were worth a fortune, Regina steered clear of them as she continued walking.
Feeling trapped and out of place in such dazzling surroundings, she stepped to a tall window and looked out at the lush, sloping lawns. Two white swans gliding serenely on a dark pool caught her attention.
How she envied them their beautiful garden. Was it only yesterday that Nico had brought her here and told her who he really was and all that was expected of him?
Not wanting to dwell on any of that, she went back to her chair and sank down again onto the hard little cushion. No sooner had the spindly wooden legs made a cracking sound again than she wanted to spring to her feet once more.
Instead, she tilted her head back and stared up at the ornate ceiling, where a profusion of angels swirled in colorful, painted robes.
When had it been painted? What story had been in the artist’s mind? Beneath the ceiling, a chandelier from a later period blazed like ten thousand diamonds. Not that she had the slightest idea what period that might be.
Nico had probably been taught from birth the value of all these items. No doubt he appreciated their artistic worth. He was accustomed to fine things, fine homes. He knew famous people.