‘It’s never been that. The old and wealthy men have always had their young and beautiful companions with them on San Felipe,’ she mocked.
That was what her mother had been for Salvatore Accardi—the nubile young accessory. And in recent years with the two Princes in charge? Beautiful and ambitious and hopeful women had been visiting in droves. Bella was just giving them a place to display themselves.
Antonio’s eyes gleamed but then he glanced over her shoulder and his expression became as remote as ever.
‘You are not out of place here.’ He bowed formally. ‘I hope you enjoy your evening.’
That was it? No heat? No words with hidden meaning or secret smile? Nothing. Disappointment deepened as he walked away.
It was all over for him.
Well, she wasn’t letting him see how that hurt. She’d stay, she’d ‘schmooze’ and show both Salvatore and Antonio she was made of stronger stuff than either of them realised.
To her surprise it wasn’t dreadful. People talked to her. Complimented her on her past career and asked about the club. She became aware of Salvatore Accardi talking loudly on the other side of the room about the degeneration of inner-city San Felipe, but she wasn’t going to engage. She knew people were watching.
Antonio was watching. But he needn’t worry, she wasn’t going to cause a scene. Despite what he thought, she’d not chosen to set up her business in San Felipe so she could exact some kind of patricidal revenge on Salvatore. Life wasn’t that simple. She’d come here because it was the one place she could. And it was the one place she actually enjoyed being, other than the stage.
But Salvatore Accardi’s voice was drowned out when a ruddy-cheeked older man arrived late and walked straight over to Prince Antonio and greeted him with an etiquette-breaching booming voice.
‘Please pass on my congratulations to your brother Prince Eduardo on the birth of his daughter,’ the man gushed loudly as he beamed at Antonio.
‘Thank you.’ Antonio nodded intently, seeming aware of the sudden interest from all those standing near. He lifted his head and spoke clearly. ‘It is very exciting for us. I am informed she’s very determined to maintain her own schedule and refuses to fall in with her parents’ request that she sleep at night.’ He paused as everyone chuckled, a small smile lightening his features. ‘So I am confident she will make a wonderfully stubborn Crown Princess in the future.’
There was the tiniest silence before a woman ventured another question.
‘Will we get to meet the little Princess soon?’
Antonio’s expression tightened and he paused before replying. ‘Princess Sapphire is very young and this time in her life is very precious and private for her parents. I’m sure you’ll all agree.’ He softened his words with another glimmer of that rare smile and absolutely everyone in the vicinity completely agreed.
But Bella watched as that small smile faded from his eyes and her heart smote. With masterful PR skills, he’d offered just a hint of something personal about the new baby Princess to satisfy public curiosity while protecting her privacy. But at the same time his words had underlined his own abdication from any family or personal life of his own. He had no intention or desire to marry and provide an heir of his own. His niece would one day take the throne.
Until then he would be alone. Because he was the Heartbroken Prince.
Her heart thumping unaccountably quickly, Bella turned towards a waiter to ask for a glass of sparkling water. But as she turned her gaze hit upon the man who didn’t just deny his role in her existence, but who’d chosen to denigrate and torment her mother and her.
Salvatore Accardi was looking right at her with such undisguised loathing she stumbled. Her lungs malfunctioned. She straightened but couldn’t turn away.
Salvatore Accardi could. With a final condescending appraisal, he muttered something indecipherable to the person next to him and deliberately turned his back on her.
It was the most public of rejections and yet probably—hopefully—no one would have noticed.
Except she’d noticed and she was so humiliated that not even years of experience controlling her emotions as she faced huge crowds could help her stop the blush from spreading like a sudden rash over her skin. She glanced at others in the group, unable to resist the curiosity—had anyone seen?