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“Don’t do this. Don’t always do this. He loves you,” Susana whispered. “I know he does. I told you, I can tell.” “You are so naive. Look at this room. Do we…do I belong here?” “You could. I could if Joe had grown up here. Why are you always so cynical, so ready to believe nobody can love you? Why? When you are so gifted and talented?” “Why is loving so easy for you?” “Maybe because I always had you to protect me and to look up to. I felt safe and happy, protected. Trust me on this. It will work out, even here, in this place, if you love him, too. Do you love him?” “Yes. But I have always been unlucky in love.” “The past doesn’t matter. Not if this is true love. If you really love him and commit, you will do whatever it takes to make him happy, and he will do the same for you. You’ll see.” “I wish I could believe you. Daddy was so proud today.” “Yes. He was great until he drank all that champagne and had to go to bed with a headache. Mama is very upset to have missed the dancing.” “And it’s all based on a lie.” “Don’t say that. Don’t even think it.” “I can’t help myself. I’m so afraid. Where is Nico? It’s late.” Susana glanced at her watch. “Oh! You’re right! I need to go check on the twins and Gina and see how Daddy’s doing. But I hate to leave you like this. I know how your mind works when you get in a mood like this.” “I’ll be fine.” “You’re sure?” Trembling all over, Regina nodded bravely. They hugged. Susana let her go and then looked up at her, giggling. “My big sister, the princess!” Alone in the red rooms again, anxiety swept Regina. She began to pace. One minute she felt on fire. In the next, the blood drained from her face and hands, and she was freezing. Then she caught fire all over again. Terrified, she ran out onto the balcony. When her eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, she saw a tall, dark figure in the moonlight, staring up at her. She leaned over the railing. “Nico?” Was he as frightened as she was? He turned away, and she cried his name again. “Nico! Come to me!” When he turned back, she slid the transparent robe off her shoulders and let it fall in a swish of silk to the stone floor. “No!” he yelled. “Don’t!” “You’d better come up here then before I strip for the whole world to see! Even the paparazzi!” He was running toward the palazzo even before she tore off her nightgown and flung it at him. Nineteen N ico raced toward the red rooms like a wild man. What had she thought? Tearing off that filmy thing with the light behind her? Anyone could have seen her. Photographed her. Why didn’t she care that the paparazzi were everywhere? The mere memory of her slim body, so clearly revealed, made his heart pound faster. He felt like a beast, driven by a savage hunger. When he banged on the doors to the red suite, and she didn’t answer, he kicked the door open and strode inside. Alone in the silent, dark room, all he heard was the harsh rasping of his own breathing. Then she glided out of the shadows into the moonlight. Except for the gardenia in her hair, she was naked. Slim and curvaceous, she was more beautiful than a goddess from some ancient myth. He closed his eyes, clenched his fists, fighting the all-consuming fire burning inside him. “Nico?” she said softly. “I wanted you to come. I waited and waited.” “Were you going to show yourself to the whole world? You’re mine. Only mine.” He moved toward her with the swiftness of a jungle beast. Seizing her, he picked her up and carried her to the bed. “Mine,” he said fiercely. “Always and forever, Nico, my darling.” Her eyes were blazing as he stripped, flinging his formal clothes to the floor without a care. “You win.” She was staring at his erection. “I know.” She smiled up at him. Then she tried to speak again, but his mouth covered hers in a hard, punishing kiss. His hands and lips roamed her silky limbs. Then her body began to twist and writhe beneath his, and nothing mattered, not even his anger. Nothing mattered except being inside her, claiming her for all time. He made love to her in different positions, in the bed, on the floor, against the wall. And every time, she gave herself to him utterly, and her sweetness and eagerness obliterated every dark emotion and left only love. Who was she really? The upstart his mother believed her to be, the American who’d ensnared him with her sexual powers because she preferred a prince to a sperm donor? Did he care?
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