Authors: Marie Ferrarella
Temptation tightened his gut to the point that he had no breath of his own. The breath he drew in was hers.
The spoonâand dessertâwere forgotten, as was decorum. Her eyes seemed to hypnotize him, turning him into someone he didn't recognize. Someone with longings that were being unleashed.
Like a man trapped in a dream, Marcos saw himself sliding his fingers around her face, framing it.
Wanting nothing more in life than to kiss her.
His breath stopped again.
As did hers.
Welcome to the newest installment of the Fortunes saga. We're back in Red Rock, Texas, where we get to meet another tall, dark and handsome member of the Mendoza family. Marcos Mendoza, once an exciting bad boy, has settled down to make something of his life and is running Red for his aunt and uncle, Maria and Jose Mendoza. Then Fate throws a monkey wrench into the works in the guise of Wendy Fortune, the youngest child of the Atlanta branch of the Fortune family. At first glance, Wendy comes across as a spoiled little rich girl, accustomed to getting her way and being indulged.
To his dismay, he finds that Wendy, left on her own to experiment in the kitchen, can create absolutely heavenly desserts, and more patrons are appearing at the restaurant's door. But Wendy's popularity is not the worst of Marcos's problems. He finds himself strongly attracted to the woman, and as days go by, Marcos feels that his bachelor days are numbered.
I hope you enjoy this latest installment of the family saga. I thank you for taking the time to read it and, as always, from the bottom of my heart I wish you someone to love who loves you back.
Special thanks and acknowledgment to Marie Ferrarella for her contribution to The Fortunes of Texas: Lostâ¦and Found.
Mother in Training
Romancing the Teacher
Remodeling the Bachelor
Taming the Playboy
Capturing the Millionaire
Falling for the M.D.
Diamond in the Rough
The Bride with No Name
Mistletoe and Miracles
Plain Jane and the Playboy
Loving the Right Brother
The 39-Year-Old Virgin
A Lawman for Christmas
Prescription for Romance
â â â
Doctoring the Single Dad
â â â
â â â
Fixed Up with Mr. Right?
â â â
â â â
â â â
â â â
Unwrapping the Playboy
Fortune's Just Desserts
The Heart of a Ruler
The Woman Who Wasn't There
Her Lawman on Call
Her Sworn Protector
A Doctor's Secret
Secret Agent Affair
Protecting His Witness
Colton's Secret Service
The Heiress's 2-Week Affair
Becoming a Cavanaugh
The Agent's Secret Baby
The Cavanaugh Code
In Bed with the Badge
Colton by Marriage
In His Protective Custody
Pocketful of Rainbows
The Sheriff's Christmas Surprise
Ramona and the Renegade
The Doctor's Forever Family
bestselling and RITA
Award-winning author has written more than two hundred books for Harlequin Books and Silhouette Books, some under the name Marie Nicole. Her romances are beloved by fans worldwide. Visit her website at www.marieferrarella.com.
To Kate Ellie Conrad Welcome to the world, little one
arcos Mendoza knew better than to allow his anger to show on his face. Especially in front of people who were more than familyâthey were his employers.
But there was no denying that he was angry. After proving over and over again to his aunt and uncle, MarÃa and JosÃ© Mendoza, that he had the business savvy to run Red, their wildly successful restaurant in Red Rock, Texas, his opinion had been completely discounted. Worse, it had been ignored to the point that neither one of them had even
him for it.
If they had, he would have gladly told them that
hiring Wendy Fortune was as bad an idea as serving their loyal patrons five-day-old salmon.
Never mind that the twenty-one-year-old heiress was as beautiful as a Texas June sunrise, that she had long brown hair, sparkling brown eyes and a figure that could make a grown man babble like a two-year-old when it was set off to its best advantage. Marcos knew a flirt when he saw one, and this barely-out-of-her-teens woman was a flirt with a capital F-L. She was also trouble.
He was well acquainted with her type.
Marcos had to admitâsilentlyâthat a woman as attractive as Wendy would have definitely piqued his interest on an after-hours, social level. But as a non-productive member of his crew, well, that was an entirely different matter.
He'd been exposed to her type more than once and was well aware of the ingrained flaws that were as much a part of someone like Wendy Fortune as her high cheekbones and her expressive eyes.
The youngest sibling of the Atlanta branch of the Fortune family wasn't born with a silver spoon in her mouthâshe'd had an entire place setting.
He keenly resented being saddled with this fluff of an employee just because her parents were friends with his aunt and uncle and had asked the pair to indulge them with this one favor. The productive rhythm at Red was being threatened because the senior Fortunes were desperate to teach their college-dropout daughter some kind of work ethic.
Let her be a dead weight somewhere else. Not in my restaurant,
he thought grudgingly.
It wasn't as if the Fortunes didn't have a great many other businesses scattered around the state and beyond. He'd heard via the grapevine that their darling daughter had already failed miserably at the Fortune Foundation's office in Red Rock. But why didn't they send her to one of their other places of business? He'd nurtured and babied Red for the last year as if it were a beloved extension of himself. His ultimate goal was to learn all he could about the business end of running a large restaurant and then, one day, to open up a place of his own.
He'd worked hard for his opportunities, Marcos thought dourly. Someone like Wendy, a young woman born to privilege and surely demanding more of the same, couldn't possibly measure up to his standards. Every man had his breaking pointâand he had this uneasy feeling that she was going to be his.
Struggling to keep his intense displeasure under wraps, Marcos faced his aunt and uncle. It wasn't often that they both came in to deliver newsâthey obviously knew this was not going to be received well.
And they were so right, he thought.
He leveled his question at both of them. “What am I supposed to do with her?”
Other than the obvious,
he couldn't help adding silently. Wendy Fortune had “party girl” written all over her. He sincerely doubted that the woman even
knew what it meant to do real work, which was probably why the foundation, created in the memory of the late Ryan Fortune, had sent her packing.
“You put her to work, of course, Marcos,” MarÃa answered, employing her sharp, no-nonsense voice. She was apparently not happy about this arrangement, either, but indicating as much to Marcos would not help. She'd always believed in making the best of any situation. Complaining about it never helped.
This time, Marcos couldn't keep the frown from his lips. “No disrespect intended,
but I do the paperwork on a regular basis and file it away. I have no need for a five-foot-two paperweight.”
MarÃa raised a sharp eyebrow in response to the sarcastic remark. “Very funny, Marcos. If your
and I decide to have a comedy night at the restaurant, I will be sure to ask you to perform.” And then she softened, remembering what it was like to be young and feel that you had no say in anything that directly affected you. “I know we are asking a great deal of you. You have done a wonderful job here with the restaurantâ”
Striking now was his only hope, Marcos thought. “And I'd like to keep it that way.”
“I am sure you do and you will,” JosÃ© told his nephew, an understanding tone weaving through his words. “A man as good as you are at your job will find a way to turn a social butterfly into a hardworking ant,” he said with confidence as he placed a compassionate hand on Marcos's shoulder.
Marcos knew a snow job when he encountered one. “Only saints can perform miracles,
And I am not a saint.”
MarÃa laughed. “We are well aware of that, my dear.”
MarÃa looked at him knowingly. She knew all about Marcos's reputation, both on and off the job. He had an excellent work ethic, but he was also a man who made no secret of the fact that he enjoyed the company of beautiful women.
“You might recall,” she continued, “that your
and I once took a chance on an untried, handsome young man who was more than just a little wild. We were told we should be prepared to be disappointed, but we decided to follow our instincts and not listen to the advice from well-meaning friends.” She gently ran her hand along Marcos's cheek. “And, I'm happy to say, we have
“We would like you to give Wendy the same chance,” JosÃ© told him.
How could he turn them down after that? They had played him.
But before he could say anything, the teeth-jarring sound of a tray meeting a tile floor on the far side of the empty dining area had all three pairs of eyes looking in that direction.
The young woman in the short black pencil skirt and four-inch heels flashed an apologetic smile in re
sponse. With the grace of a ballerina, she bent down to pick up the tray.
“Sorry,” Wendy called.
“She's sorry?” Marcos said under his breath, shaking his head. His dark eyes darted from his aunt to his uncle. “She's not even working here yet and she's already knocking things over. Think of the damage she could do if your hire her.”
“We already have hired her,” JosÃ© corrected him. His tone, although sympathetic, left no room for argument. “She begins work this afternoon.”
The tiny kernel of hope Marcos had been nurturingâthat he could talk his aunt and uncle out of hiring the flighty heiressâdied an ignoble death. Forcing himself to swallow the bitter pill, Marcos inclined his head, resigned.
MarÃa couldn't say that she was encouraged by the look in her nephew's eyes. “I thought Wendy could begin as a waitress.”
“A waitress,” Marcos echoed.
Why don't I just throw all the glasses and plates on the floor and break them now?
“Of course,” he acquiesced in an amiable tone that fooled neither of the two older people. “It's your restaurant.”
“It will work out, Marcos,” MarÃa promised the young man she had become so fond of. “It will just take a little patience, that is all.”
There was patience, and then there was patience, he thought. But he did care a great deal for his aunt and uncle and they
been good to him. So he did
his best to keep from giving voice to his extreme displeasure. Who knew? Maybe he was wrong about this Wendy Fortune.
And, on that same note, maybe pigs would fly. By tonight.
Resigned to making the best of a bad situation, he looked across the room at his newly acquired albatross. His expression was restrained and though he tried, he couldn't keep his displeasure from reaching his dark eyes.
Wendy Fortune stood reading the current menu posted behind the hostess desk. She shifted from foot to foot, waiting for this conference that rudelyâin her opinionâexcluded her to finally be over.
What was taking them so long? This was already supposed to have been settled.
She wasn't accustomed to being kept out of thingsâat least, not deliberately and knowingly left out.
The fact that Channing Hurston had lied to her had left her incredibly shell-shocked. She was still trying, in her own way, to recover.
And to regain her ability to trust people. He'd robbed her of that, as well.
Prior to that miserable day, she had gone about her life, blissful in her ignorance that anything was wrong. She had just assumed that Channing, the blond, handsome, Ivy League young man whom she had known forever and had been her escort since
before her debutant ball, would someday be her husband and the father of her children. It was just the way things were supposed to be.
Until the day he'd told her that he was marrying Cynthia Hayes.
What a surprise that had turned out to be, she thought bitterly. Cynthia Hayes. The unimaginative dolt couldn't even pick a woman with initials that were different from his own.
She could just see it all now. Channing and Cynthia would have bland, bland children and a bland, bland existence, hobnobbing with equally bland people and calling it life.
Or some dull facsimile thereof.
It wasn't that Channing had broken her heart with his sudden, unexpected about-face. She'd never been wildly in love with him. What she had been in love with, quite honestly, was the idea of living happily ever after with a Prince Charming type. And Channing Hurston, somewhat empty-headed though he was, had filled that bill. But she wasn't devastated by this unforeseen turn of events.
What she was, she willingly admitted, if only to herself, was humiliated.
It was humiliating to be so publicly dumped. In the circles she traveled in,
was ever private, everything happened before some sort of an audience, no matter how small at the time. And word
spreadâespecially when it was embarrassing.
After suffering such a humiliation, she couldn't
seem to keep her mind on her studiesâso she'd quit college. There seemed to be no point in getting a degree she never intended to use. Her parents, instead of being sympathetic and understanding, announced that they intended to ship her off, sending her from one set of relatives to another because they wanted her to “apply” herself.
They wanted her to “focus.”
Just what did they think she was, a digital camera?
The whole idea was absurd. She didn't need
she was a Fortune. Which meant she had one. Well, okay, not exactly her own private fortune, but the family had money, which, in turn, meant that
And, since she did, why did she need to
herself and work?
Wendy sighed, frustrated.
Still, she supposed she was better off here, in Red Rock, Texas, than back in Atlanta, where everyone would be talking about Channing and Cynthia's upcoming wedding. And how Channing had dumped that poor little rich girl, Wendy Fortune.
There would be no escaping that kind of talk if she was back home right now.
Still, her parents could have let her go on that world cruise, or sent her off to spend a season in Europe. Paris, perhaps.
Yes, Paris, she decided, warming up to the idea. Paris, where she could buy the latest fashions and
arrive back home just in time to attend the wedding. Dressed to the nines to let Channingâand the rest of their society crowdâsee that he had settled for second best.
But instead of Paris, she was here, in Red Rock, for God's sake. Who names their town after a colored stone?
Wendy set her mouth hard. Her parents were decent people who meant well, she supposed, but they just didn't have a clue when it came to the needs of someone with her tastes and sensibilities.
How was she supposed to educate them when she was stuck in this town by their decree?
Wendy abruptly terminated her silent complaints when she saw the tall, dark and gorgeous man the Mendozas were talking to look in her direction and beckon for her to join them.
She wasn't exactly sure why, but for just a second, her breath caught in her throat. The next moment, she came into her own again. The little skip in her pulse was forgotten.
About time they called her over, she thought.
Wendy debated pretending that she hadn't seen the younger Mendoza's gesture in order to keep him waiting. She didn't want the man thinking he could just snap his fingers and she would come running, no matter how incredibly sexy he looked.
With an inward sigh, Wendy slowly made her way over to the three people. As she drew closer, she nodded politely at the older couple.
“You want to see me?” Wendy asked the older pair brightly.
MarÃa decided to impress Marcos's position upon Wendy's young soul. “Marcos has decided to start you out as a waitress, dear.”
The idea terrified her. She hadn't a clue how to wait tables. Were they pulling her leg?
“A waitress,” Wendy repeated, looking from one face to the next and then back again.
to be kidding, right? She wasn't cut out for that kind of job. And it looked like Marcos Mendoza thought the same thing.
Well, she'd be damned if she let herself prove him right.
Unable to hold it in any longer, Marcos threw up his hands in complete exasperation. He leaned in closer to his aunt, whispering into her ear, “I told you this wasn't going to work.”
But rather than finally agree, as he'd fully expected, MarÃa Mendoza patted his arm reassuringly with a look brimming with complete trust.