Winter Wedding for the Prince(6)

By: Barbara Wallace

“I did tell you.”

“After the fact.”

What was she talking about? “You were the first person I told.”

The car slowed as she looked at him again. “I was?”

“Of course.” He thought she knew that. “I told you how much your support meant to me.”

“I know, but I didn’t think...” Was that pink creeping into her cheeks? It was hard to tell, the driver’s side being in shadow. “I’m sorry I snapped.”

“I am sorry for prying. It was rude of me.” He still would like to know, however. It was protectiveness as much as curiosity. To make sure she chose better this time around. While he didn’t know much about her marriage, beyond the fact it had ended badly, he did know her ex enough to dislike him. Back when Christina was alive, Fredo and Rosa had attended a handful of state dinners. Armando found the man to be a narcissistic bore. He’d decided the man had to be a closet romantic or something, because how else could he have won a woman as soft and gentle as Rosa?

Then again, maybe Armando’s first impression was right, since she’d divorced him. That Rosa, for her part, refused to talk about the man said as much.

“The answer is no,” Rosa said, shaking him from his thoughts. “I’m not dating.”

“At all?” He wasn’t sure why he felt relieved at her answer. Perhaps because he feared a serious relationship might cause her to leave her job. “Surely you’ve had offers, though.”

Again, she gave a strange laugh, although this one had less bite than the other. “Not as many as you would think. In case you didn’t realize, my job eats up most of my time.”

Was that truly the reason? The undercurrent in her laugh made him wonder. “Is that your way of hinting you need time off?” he asked. If so, it would be the first. Usually she had no trouble speaking up.

Another reason to question the excuse.

Rosa shook her head. “Not at all. At least not right now.”

They’d reached the point in the highway where they had to choose whether to take the mountain pass or the longer, more circuitous route. Armando gave a slight smile as she turned onto the longer route. By mutual agreement, they hadn’t driven the mountain road in three years. Feeling a warmth spreading across his chest, he reached over and gave her hand a grateful squeeze. Her eyes widened a little, but she smiled nonetheless.

“The truth is,” she said, after he’d lifted his hand, “I haven’t had a lot of interest in dating. I’m still working on getting to know myself again.”

What an odd thing to say. Then again, maybe it wasn’t so odd. Certainly he wasn’t the same man following Christina’s death, the hole caused by her absence impossible to repair. No doubt, Rosa’s divorce left a similar wound.

She’d also lost a sibling. Sometimes, in his selfishness, he forgot that Rosa had suffered as much loss as he had. The idea that she might have been hurting as bad as he made his conscience sting that much more.

“Aren’t we a pair,” he mused out loud. “Three years removed, and we’re still struggling to move forward without our spouses. What do you think that says about us?”

“Well, in your case, I’d say it’s because you have a singular heart.”

“I would think the same could be said for you.”

“Hardly,” she replied with a bark. “Do not insult my sister by even mentioning our marriages in the same breath. Fredo isn’t fit to carry Christina’s water.”

On that they agreed, but to hear her say so with such forcefulness surprised him nevertheless. Usually when the topic of her former husband came up, she pretended the man didn’t exist.

“What did he do to you? Fredo,” he asked. Had he been unfaithful? Armando couldn’t believe anyone married to Rosa would want to stray, but Fredo was a boor.

She shot him a look before changing lanes. “Who says Fredo did anything?”

The defensiveness in her tone. “Did he?”

“Water under the bridge,” was her only reply. “My marriage is over, and I’m better off for it. Let’s just leave things at that.”

“Fine.” Today wasn’t the day to press for details and start an argument. That didn’t mean he wasn’t still curious, however, or that he wouldn’t try again another time.

* * *

Rosa kept one eye on the rearview mirror as she moved from lane to lane. What had she been thinking bringing Fredo’s name into the mix in the first place? Her marriage—or rather, her role in it—was her greatest shame; she would rather pretend it never happened than admit her own pathetic behavior. Especially to Armando, whose pain and loss far outweighed hers. To hear him now, trying to equate the two...

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