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She’d asked him to play like a pirate and ravage her. “I want to make love to you. Will that count? I don’t want to hurt you or ravage you.” But he’d held her down as she’d secretly wished. Only he’d made love to her as if he’d cherished her. “If only happiness was like a switch that one could turn on and off at will,” she said, remembering the dark sea cave where he’d dropped the anchor and how silent it had been when he’d cut the engine. She remembered lying with him in the darkness, wrapped in his arms while the boat rocked them like a cradle. “If only.” His tight voice was even gloomier than hers. “I feel like I’m being kidnapped by a man I don’t even know.” “I feel trapped, too.” “I never wanted to make you so—” She swallowed the word unhappy, because at that exact moment, her father threw open the door, extended his arms and hugged Nico fiercely. Then he embraced her and kissed her on each cheek, which was his usual greeting for Susana. Behind her father, the house was brilliantly lit and redolent with the sweetness of cut flowers and chopped basil from her mother’s flower beds. Gina’s piping voice could be heard in the backyard. Her father shook Nico’s hand and pulled him inside. Constantin Tomei didn’t really understand who Nico was or who his family was or the vastness in social rank and position that separated them. He did not act the least bit awed by the expensive bottles of wine or by the fact that Nico was a prince. Being Italian, he took the wine, appreciated the gift for what it was, a sharing of the vine rooted in an ancient communion between guest and host. Not that Nico wasn’t perceived as a guest of honor. All the usual clutter, her father’s newspapers, her mother’s photograph albums and cookbooks had vanished into hiding places, into laundry baskets in the garage probably. The kitchen floor even looked freshly waxed. Regina could smell olive oil and tomatoes and cheeses bubbling on the stove. A screen door banged. She heard her mother and Susana and the children laughing in the kitchen. Wreathed in smiles, her mother took off her apron and came to the door. Since she never read celebrity magazines and mostly watched cooking shows on those rare occasions when she found the time to watch television, she treated Nico as if he were her equal, too. With many more gracious thank-yous, she accepted the wines Nico had selected when Constantin handed them to her, one for each course, before scurrying back to her domain to stir her pots. Her mother wasn’t a measurer. She simply bought the best available ingredients or grew them and then let them guide her. Much of what she cooked was too simple to be a recipe, but infinitely superior because of her talents. “Well, he’s a catch. No doubt about that,” her father said, plucking a halved fig off a platter and nibbling on it when he caught her alone. He and Nico had drunk wine together alone in the den behind closed doors for half an hour by that time and were already great friends, or at least, amiable companions. “He has a fine mind. We discussed golf and the war.” “The war?” “World War II. Told me all about what Hitler did to his family. He lost a lot of castles. Then we discussed the wedding.” “The wedding?” “Yours. He insists his family must pay for it. He says it has to be a very private affair, managed by his staff. He’s going to send a jet for us so that we can attend your wedding. He wants me to console your mother because she won’t be allowed to plan it. That won’t be easy. You know how she is.” All this, her wedding, he’d discussed with her father. Instead of her. “Well, you’re a sly one. Sperm donor! Gave me a few more gray hairs! Blamed your mother for spoiling you! Ha! Then you went to Italy and snagged yourself a real prince. Well, you had us all worried there for a while.” His tone was affectionate, indulgent even. “I did not snag him.” “You did well, daughter. He’s a good man, and I think he’s strong enough to deal with you.” Strong enough? As if she were a problem? “I can’t believe…” Her father swallowed the last of his fig and beamed jovially as he patted her on the waist, the way he often patted Susana, who found them like that when she came in to tell them dinner was on the table. “I’m going to marry a prince, too,” Gina announced when everybody had gathered around the table and were serving themselves. You could have heard a pin drop as the little girl picked up a piece of ricotta cheese with her fingers, placed it squarely in the middle of her spoon and then, smiling brightly, lifted the utensil with the poorly balanced food to her mouth.
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