When he saw all the fancy clothes strewn about her aunt’s bedroom, he laughed.
“You’re overthinking this. It’s hot. The sun is bright and burning. Braid your hair. Wear sunglasses. Pack a bathing suit and sunscreen and shorts.”
“But won’t we go out at night?”
“Throw in a dress.”
“You’re a man. Which means you think you know everything even when you’re clueless.”
She ordered him to wait in the garden while she finished, and he did. Only, he drove her mad by yelling, “Are you ready yet?” about every ten minutes.
And she drove him mad by yelling back, “You’re not helping.”
Finally they were in his car jammed in between all the other cars and trucks clogging the highway that went south to the Riviera.
“Looks like everybody and his dog is going to Cannes,” Remy said.
Despite the traffic the drive down was fun. They talked and laughed and sang along with the radio.
“I usually hate the drive,” he said. “But with a proper mistress to amuse me, it’s not half bad.”
She didn’t admit that she’d never had half so much fun in a car with anyone. Before she knew it, the gates of his magnificent, rustic, limestone, hilltop villa swung open, and a guard in a brown uniform waved them inside.
They drove past a swimming pool and sunbathing terraces. Then Remy braked in front of the villa, and a servant came running out to help them unpack. No sooner had their luggage been placed on racks in the grandest suite of the villa than Remy led her from room to room as eagerly as a boy, showing her dazzling, panoramic views of a city that reminded her a little of Waikiki.
Holding her hand, he named the glittering hotels and beaches. Then he pointed out the palm trees, crystal-blue water and distant islands. He was so attentive and the surroundings so beautiful she felt like pinching herself to make sure it was real.
But it wasn’t real. They were playing a game. Why was it becoming so hard to remember that he didn’t really care about her? And that she couldn’t let herself be foolish enough to care, either?
“The villa is yours?” she asked, pulling her hand free of his.
“The family’s. We share it.”
“Have you brought other women here?” she asked, and then steeled herself for his answer.
“You mean other mistresses? Real mistresses?” His dark eyes flashed. “Jealous?”
“Sorry for the questions. None of my business.”
“Would it be so terrible if we treated each other like real human beings?”
When she couldn’t answer, he watched her for a long moment. “Right. You could never care about a man like me who’s done all the terrible things I’ve done.”
“Which is good,” she said with false gaiety, “because my heart is safe with such a man.”
She tried to move away toward a window, but he seized her hand and pulled her closer. “Is it?”
In vain she struggled to twist free of him.
“Is that all that matters to you—being safe?” He took her hand and lifted it to his lips. “Why did you ask me to make you your mistress if you didn’t want a little danger?”
At his dark look or maybe because his kisses against her wrist made her heart leap, she began to tremble. When he stopped kissing her and watched her face as if hanging on her next words, she wondered what he was hoping for—that she’d prove herself to be a little idiot and beg him to love her?
She stiffened and said nothing.
“All right, I’ll stop,” he said.
A gloom fell over him and he was silent for a while. Not that he let his bad mood linger for long. As if determined to make her happy, he took her hand and showed her the rest of the house, and when they returned to the bedroom, he pulled her into his arms again.
“Those other women…you should forget them. I have. They don’t matter to me anymore. In fact, that life matters less and less to me. You matter. More than I bargained for.”
“I—I can’t let myself believe that.”
“Why the hell not?”
“You’re a comte. Those other women, they were so beautiful. Céline is even more beautiful.”
“Chérie, haven’t I taught you anything? You are a darling, precious woman. Sexier than hell, too. You don’t fake anything. You’re just you. Your hair doesn’t come out of a bottle. When you laugh or kiss or hold me, you mean it.”
“My nails are fake.”
“You’re real.” He pulled her closer and held her fiercely, his dark eyes blazing, his heart thudding, and soon her own heart beat with equal violence.
In spite of her jealousy of those beautiful women both in his past and in his future, she began to burn for him with a consuming need that was all too real.