Honeymoon with a prince (royal scandals) (page 4)

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And one of the few places he could go to be treated like one of the family. Arealfamily.

“You are too thin.” She poked his side and frowned. “What did you eat? Why did you not ask me to send you food, eh?”

“It wouldn’t taste the same once it sat in a mail room. Besides, the best part of coming here is the company. Speaking of which” —he stepped back and gave her a waggle of his brows— “you look smashing.”

“You flatter me because you wish to change the subject. You are too thin.”

“I’m perfectly fine. Better shape than ever. But if you’re concerned…well, I’m always ready to eat. I even brought a friend if you’re able to serve an early meal. But” —he held up a warning finger— “I haven’t mentioned who I am and I’m fairly certain she doesn’t know. So please, call me Massimo. No titles, no deference. Capiche?” 

Giulia treated him to an exaggerated eye roll, the head motion causing a few strands of hair to shake loose from her gray bun. “You bad boy. What did you do? Pick up a pretty tourist girl from the beach?” She cupped her hands in front of her chest, fingernails together, then swayed them back and forth. “One with a body made for the men? Like mine, when I was young and wild?”

“As a matter of fact…yes.”

Giulia’s eyes widened in shock before she shook her head and patted his chest. “Massimo, Massimo, so unlike you! More like your brother Prince Alessandro. Or Prince Stefano, before he found his Megan. The whole country talks about him, you know.” 

“So I’ve been told.” 

There was a spark in Giulia’s eyes that indicated she wanted to hear the inside scoop on Stefano’s relationship. While a lot had happened with Stefano while Massimo was away, Massimo wasn’t in the mood to discuss details he didn’t know, anyway. He’d rather get back to the mesmerizing woman waiting in the dining room, who knew nothing of famine, of grief, or of his famous relatives…at least in that they were related tohim. 

Pretending he didn’t catch Giulia’s hint, he gestured toward her loaded countertops and asked, “I assume this means we can eat, even though it’s early?”

“You can always eat at my place. Go.” She shooed him out of the kitchen. “Guillermo brought in some beautiful sea bass this afternoon. I’ll be out with today’s menu in a moment.”

“Mind if I raid the wine cellar while we wait? Or grab that bottle of Prosecco I saw on the sideboard?”

Her eyes fairly twinkled in merriment. “As long as you don’t mind it on your bill, do whatever you like to impress your lady friend. Who am I to say no?”

Chapter Three

“What’s the story, Gaspare? Should I be worried?” Kelly reached down to scratch the dog’s dark head. She’d probably need to wash her hands again before dinner, but petting Gaspare thrilled the dog at the same time it gave her an outlet for her nerves.

What in the world had she been thinking, going out to dinner with a stranger?

Then again, he’d given her no reason to worry. Yet.

Massimo had waited patiently by his car while she went to the villa to change—she’d peeked out from behind the curtains to see if he was still there while she’d tossed her bikini and towel into the bathroom and selected a clean sundress from her suitcase—and he didn’t seem threatening, despite having shoulders and arms that could crush her if he put his mind to it. He’d even taken the time to pull a thermos from his car and pour water for the dog. A man who had no sense of responsibility—or who had no heart—wouldn’t have thought to do that. And a man who’d wanted nothing more than sex likely wouldn’t have brought her to a place like Giulia’s.

She studied the trattoria as she continued to run a hand through Gaspare’s coat in lazy strokes. Describing the place as a home hadn’t been far off the mark. There were only six tables in the dining room, all of them made of sturdy, timeworn wood. Two of the tables were situated on either side of a stone fireplace that looked as if it enjoyed frequent use while the other four tables—including the one where she now sat—ran along the window. Another two tables, each constructed of metal hefty enough to withstand the elements, occupied a narrow stone patio outside. She stood for a better look and immediately sucked in a deep breath. Good thing she wasn’t afraid of heights, given the drop not far from the patio’s edge. Construction on the trattoria must have been nerve-wracking, given its position hundreds of feet above the Mediterranean, though with a marvelous visual payoff. The island’s capital city of Cateri sprawled in the distance, beyond the crazy curves they’d navigated on the way from the beach. Closer in, trees and brush clung to the hillsides over the water, birds swooped along the coast, and boats of every description passed on the water far below.

“That’s a long way down, Gaspare,” she told him. “Not sure I’d want to eat out there on a windy day.” A misplaced napkin could fly forever.

“We can sit out and enjoy our aperitivo,” Massimo’s accented voice came from behind her. Before she could turn, he reached around her to offer a narrow flute filled with sparkling wine. “Giulia happened to have a fabulous Prosecco ready and waiting, and I do I owe you a drink.”

She accepted the glass with a smile, amazed she hadn’t heard him approach. Perhaps quiet movement became ingrained during his military training. “Will I be safe out there?”

A wry smile lifted the edge of his mouth, making him seem completely trustworthy, yet utterly dangerous to her self-control at the same time. “Perfectly,” he assured her. “As long as one glass of Prosecco doesn’t turn into four.”

“No worries there.” It amused her that his answer addressed both of her safety concerns: the astonishing drop to the sea and the company.

He moved to a glass door beyond the row of tables and paused to regard Gaspare, whose eyes were now closed. “We’ll let him nap.”

They exited to the patio, and once again, Massimo held out a chair for her. The motion gave her a flashback to Ted doing the same thing when they’d dined at one of Dallas’s fancy hotel restaurants. He’d always gone out of his way to impress her, sending oversized bouquets of flowers to her at work, nabbing front-row seats to concerts and sporting events, and—his favorite—taking her to high-profile restaurants.

 Well, she’d been impressed. So had all her friends. Now she knew better. He’d done it all for the sake of appearances. He’d won her heart, he’d won over her friends and family, and she’d sworn never again to be swayed by fake chivalry.

Yet when Massimo pulled out the chair for her, it was different. There was no showmanship about it, no apparent attempt to impress her. Rather, the movement seemed habit to him, as unconscious as breathing or walking. 

It threw her off-balance. 

Massimo set his Prosecco on the table and turned his gaze toward Cateri. “I love the view from here. You see the city, you feel its energy, but you don’t need to be a part of it. You can relax, enjoy a good glass of wine, and breathe the sea air.”

She looked past him, toward the city, and nodded her agreement, but found her attention drifting back to Massimo himself. Now that his face was partially turned, she could study him more closely. His white shirt set off his smooth olive skin and brownish-green eyes in a way that had likely driven more than one woman mad with want. The collar was open just enough to give her a glimpse of the base of his throat. Somehow, he seemed sexier now than he had standing before her on the beach in only his swim trunks and the thin white shirt that emphasized his torso more than it hid it. And that view had been plenty sexy.

She was about to comment on a bright blue fishing boat gliding toward Cateri when the patio door opened and a short woman with graying hair piled into a loose bun came out carrying a tray of vegetables, crackers, olives, and cheeses. After she greeted them in Italian and set the appetizers and two small plates before them, she turned to Kelly and introduced herself as Giulia. “Here are today’s menus,” she said, pulling two narrow laminated pages from the front pocket of her apron and handing one to each of them. “We also have fresh sea bass served with a light basil cream sauce and grilled tomatoes.”

“Caught today,” Massimo said with a wink. 

“By my husband, Guillermo.” Pride filled the older woman’s voice. “Our other special today is ravioli stuffed with spinach and goat cheese.” To Kelly she added, “All our pasta is made by hand from my great-great-grandmother’s recipe. No big machines, no shortcuts. Best pasta on the whole island. And the goat cheese comes from a family farm down the street. All natural.”

Kelly’s stomach rumbled at the descriptions on the handwritten menu. Each looked divine, like a dish one might be served at a luxury resort’s fanciest restaurant, yet the prices were surprisingly reasonable. “I think I want everything.”

“Then have what you want today and come back tomorrow for another dish. This one” —she actually pinched Massimo’s cheek— “always returns for my food. He knows where to find the best. And sometimes, he prepares it himself.”

“No!” Kelly couldn’t imagine this man in a kitchen, at least not one the size of the kitchen in her Dallas apartment. He’d barely fit.

“It is true!” Giulia laughed as if expecting Kelly’s stunned reaction. “He begged me so many times for the secret to my tiramisu, I finally taught him. Better than listening to a grown man beg, yes?” 

“I have never begged,” Massimo retorted, and Kelly had to agree. She couldn’t picture it.

“Wait until you see what I have for dessert tonight. You will beg.”

Massimo shook his head while Giulia turned to Kelly and asked if she had any questions about the menu. 

“None at all. The sea bass is very tempting, but after your description, I have to try the homemade ravioli.”

“In that case, I’ll take the sea bass,” Massimo said without bothering to peruse the menu. “We can try each other’s dishes that way.”

“Wonderful!” Giulia took their menus and urged them to enjoy the patio as long as they liked. “Watch the sunset while you wait and help yourselves to more wine. Massimo knows where to find it. And this” —she pointed to one of the cheeses on the tray— “is Massimo’s favorite. So you must try it.”

His face lit as he looked at the tray. “The Roncal?” 

Her hand flew to her heart. “You think I would forget? I keep it just for you.”

“And I’m very grateful.”

“She’s wonderful,” Kelly commented once Giulia departed for the kitchen. She took a long, decadent sip of her Prosecco and leaned back in her chair. “This is exactly why I came to Sarcaccia.”

“For Giulia?” Massimo raised an eyebrow and shot her a dimple-inducing smile. Man, but she loved dimples, and she hadn’t noticed his until just this moment. He was probably so used to being forceful, the way he was on the beach, that it took awhile for him to relax enough to let them appear. Sitting this close allowed her to see other details she’d missed before. A tiny white scar ran from the edge of his left eye to his hairline. And his eyes—while she’d certainly noticed the color and shape—she now realized weren’t quite identical. The right appeared slightly larger than the left, as if he were deep in thought and about to squint with one eye. Oddly, she found the minor imperfection reassuring. It made him all the more human.

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