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Authors: Catherine Bybee

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Seduced by Sunday (9 page)

BOOK: Seduced by Sunday
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Val noticed that Jim hadn’t let go of Meg’s hand. His back teeth ground together.

“You’re a blues fan?”

“I grew up with all kinds of music. Blues stuck. Soulful, music with purpose . . . worthy of singing.”

Val found himself pushing between them, felt a smile when Jim let loose Meg’s hand.

“You’re a singer?”

“Yes. No . . .” Meg glanced at Val, quickly looked away. “I work in an office.”

Jim tilted his head. “But you sing.”

“Not like you.”

Jim smiled.

Something popped, and all three of them looked at the grill. “Mini-me isn’t here, Masini . . . you might want to get that.”

Jim shoved him, laughed.

Val pulled the meat from the grill in record time to save their lunch.

“Cooking skills?” Meg asked.

Val shoveled lunch on a ready platter. “And I’m not wearing a tie.”

Meg lifted the plate full of food and grinned. “When you’re in shorts and barefoot, we’ll talk.”

Jim let loose a laugh. “This one has your number, Val.”

“Jim freaking Lewis,” Meg mumbled as she walked away. “What are the odds?”

Meg got it . . . really got what it was to have crazy fans meet their icons. Jim Lewis had been a part of her life since she played the first notes on the piano. Sure, he was shorter, rounder, and a whole lot grittier than she’d pictured him to be, but it was Jim Lewis.

And he knew Val.

She licked her lips. Val might not be in serious island casual, but the flowing silk shirt and relaxed pants were a far cry from the stuffy shirt and tie she’d seen him in from day one. He’d even managed to skip a shave, and damn if that wasn’t sexy as all get-out.

“Bring that over here.” Mrs. Masini waved her to a table laden with food.

Meg placed the platter of barbecued ribs and chicken onto the center of the table.

“Perfetto
. Gabi, tell Luna to bring the fruit and we can eat.”

“Yes, Mama.” Gabi winked at Meg and disappeared into the private villa.

The far north side of the island held Val Masini’s private space. Meg couldn’t help but wonder if the vast ocean in front of his home was where clothing-optional swimming took place.

Only a handful of guests milled about the tropical, lush garden where the invitation-only lunch was taking place. The space could have taken on a hundred guests without feeling crowded.

“It’s beautiful, yes?” Mrs. Masini asked.

“I haven’t seen a space on this island that isn’t,” Meg told her.

The older woman smiled. “Valentino works hard to make that magic.”

Meg found her gaze moving to Val, he caught her eyes for a nanosecond before she turned away. “Does he ever take a break?”

Mrs. Masini shrugged. “This is his break. He cooks a meal instead of depending on his chef once a week.”

Meg noticed a table full of side dishes and carbonated beverages and a few bottles of wine chilling in a bucket. “Something tells me Val didn’t make all this.”

Val’s mom laughed. “He grills.” She dipped her finger into the side of the ribs, licked it off. “A master at the grill, my boy.”

“Bragging on your son?” Jim moved beside Meg and placed an instant smile on her face.

“I’m just expressing his culinary skills.” Mrs. Masini met Meg’s eyes and held them. “Do you cook?”

Meg thought of the microwave at home, the freezer full of instant meals. “Depends on what you consider cooking.”

Jim laughed and Val joined them.

“Any wife of mine doesn’t need to cook,” Jim offered.

Mrs. Masini frowned.

Jim laughed.

Meg felt her cheeks fill with heat and Val said, “Maybe if you found a wife that cooked, you’d still be married to one of them.”

Jim slapped a meaty palm to Val’s back. “I might have to try that.”

“What’s all this talk of wives? Is there another Mrs. Lewis close at hand?” Mrs. Masini asked.

Meg’s personal icon draped a hand over her shoulders and pulled her close. “You didn’t hear? Meg loves me, and she sings. It’s meant to be.”

The man flirted with style; Meg had to give him that.

“Is that right?” Mrs. Masini had an actual twinkle at the corner of her eye. “What is Meg’s last name?”

Jim glanced at the sky, leaned in close. “What’s your last name?”

“Rosenthal.”

Jim retreated with a playful smile. “Jewish? That might not work.”

“Said the black kettle to the Jewish pot.”

Jim pulled her against him again. “We can piss off all kinds of people with the union.” The man was joking, but damn if it wasn’t fun to be a part of a joke with Jim freaking Lewis.

“My mother is Catholic.”

That had Jim pulling away only to laugh. “Our children would be so messed up.”

“You’re too old to give her children,” Val said with a frown.

“I’m told that a healthy man can have sperm produce children until death.” Meg found Val’s eyes and held them.

Gabi made her way back to the party and asked, “What’s this about children and death?”

“Nothing,
tesoro
. Jim is just a shameless flirt and found an audience with poor Miss Rosenthal,” Mrs. Masini said.

“Call me Meg.”

Mrs. Masini patted her hand and Meg noticed Val frown.

“Did he call you his future wife?” Gabi asked.

“He did.”

Gabi rolled her eyes. “You need a new line.”

Val pulled away and encouraged all his guests to eat.

Meg found herself sitting beside Gabi and Mrs. Masini.

Jim and Val spoke with several guests, their laughter carrying over the courtyard.

“You really don’t cook?” Mrs. Masini asked halfway through their meal.

“Is a microwave considered cooking?”

Gabi winced. “You didn’t just say that.”

Mrs. Masini dropped her fork. “How will you find a husband if you don’t cook?”

Meg thought of her database full of prospective husbands. “Well . . .”

“You must know how to cook something.”

“Spaghetti.”

Mrs. Masini’s face lit up.

“As in jar sauce and boiled bag pasta.”

Mrs. Masini’s face fell.

Gabi groaned. “Let me say this now . . . run, Meg.”

“Pasta isn’t something that comes from a bag.” Mrs. Masini’s voice took on the quality of a Mom-Demon. Her low voice wasn’t something a mere mortal could ignore.

“In my house—”

“Jewish father, Catholic mother . . . I heard.” Mrs. Masini waved a hand in the air. “To find the right man, you must know how to cook at least one meal properly.”

“I’m really not looking for the right—”

“Enough!”

Some people might say they felt the weight of the world coming down, but never had Meg felt it before. The determination in Mrs. Masini’s voice, her words, and the sheer distress hovering over Gabi’s face made Meg squirm.

“Tomorrow you will meet me here, in Val’s kitchen.”

Meg started to shake her head.

Mrs. Masini narrowed her eyes and waved a hand in the air. “Jimmy!”

Meg glanced at Gabi, who looked across the lawn. Jim Lewis nodded and moved toward them, Val at his side. Once the men were at Mrs. Masini’s side, she relaxed in her chair and offered a casual smile.

“Yes, ma’am?”

“You’re singing tonight, yes?”

“Val asked if I would.”

Mrs. Masini waved a hand in the air. Her eyes never left Meg’s. “You will sing something with Miss Rosenthal.”

Meg’s mouth dropped.

“You said you sing,” Mrs. Masini reminded Meg.

There were no words. “But . . .”

“You sing with Mr. Lewis, and tomorrow you will return here so I can teach you how to cook one meal properly.”

Having grown up with a combination of Jewish guilt and a hefty dose of Hail Marys, Meg knew when a parent was going to win.

“Mama, if Margaret doesn’t want to—” Val started.

Meg lifted her hand. “Zip it, Masini.” The opportunity to sing with Jim Lewis was simply too great to pass up. Only Meg wanted one tiny change in the contract. “On one condition.”

All eyes were on her.

“Someone records it.”

Jim lifted a brow.

“Just us,” Meg said. “If we suck, you take the video. If not, I keep it for my grandchildren.”

“Don’t you mean
our
grandchildren?” Jim asked, laughing.

Val rolled his eyes, Gabi laughed, and Mrs. Masini waited.

“Deal?” Meg asked.

Chapter Seven

Who was the woman who’d taken over Margaret’s body? The fun-loving, laughing, flirting woman was nothing like the person Val painted when he’d read her first letter of request to come to the island. She had his mother and sister rapt before the lunch plates were taken away.

Then there was Jim. If the man weren’t thirty years older than Margaret, Val might be worried.

The sun was pushing past noon and most of his guests had left when Val felt his phone vibrate.

Carol knew not to disturb him during his afternoon off. Not that Val ever felt as if he were truly off. Owning the island resort had always been a full-time job. Even when he left the Keys, he never truly left his job.

Val checked caller ID and excused himself to answer Carol’s call.

“Sorry to disturb you, Mr. Masini.”

“My guess is you would have avoided it if you could. What can I do for you?”

“We have a little situation.”

Val instantly thought of the pictures in his e-mail the last two days and held his breath.

“Which is?”

“It appears Mr. Wolfe is requesting a guest join him and Miss Rosenthal.”

“Requesting?”

Carol cleared he throat. “He is returning from Key West with a Mr. Ryder Gerard. The two of them are en route now. Captain Stephan is waiting for your orders.”

There had been times when his guests had “unexpected” additions to their party . . . and yes, more than one would pick up a stray in Key West. But Michael Wolfe? And with the pictures showing up daily in his in-box?

Val moved his gaze to Margaret, heard her laugh at something Jim was saying. What did she know about this Ryder Gerard? How could she have eaten lunch with him and his family and say nothing of the new arrival?

“Run a quick check . . . find out where the man lives.”

“I’m already working on it.”

“Tell Stephan to circle the island until I know this man isn’t a plant.”

“Yes, sir.”

Val hung up the phone and approached his family.

Margaret met his gaze and her laughter faded. Michael wasn’t sleeping off an evening of drink. He was wandering off island. Suspicion of the woman and the man made Val’s blood boil. So much for trust and depending on her.

“Someone doesn’t look very happy.”

Val ignored his sister’s comment and directed his attention to Margaret. “Can I have a word with you?”

Margaret pushed away from the table and walked to his side.

On instinct, he took hold of Margaret’s elbow and led her away from anyone who might overhear them.

“Why do I feel like I’m being led to the principal’s office?” she asked.

Val found no humor in her voice. “Who is Ryder Gerard?” he asked without any prompt.

“Excuse me?”

He stopped walking, turned toward her.

Margaret pulled out of his grip, making him realize that he held her a little too tight.

“Seems your
friend with benefits
is requesting another guest join your party.”

She blinked a few times until his words sank in. “He is?”

“Don’t play coy with me, Margaret. Michael isn’t sleeping anything off in your rooms.”

She crossed her arms over her chest, her eyes sharp points of accusation. “I don’t play, Mr. Masini. Michael was in our villa when I left to join you here. If he left once I was gone, that’s news to me. It’s not like he can send me a text to tell me where he is.”

“I suppose next you’re going to tell me that Mr. Wolfe said nothing to you about bringing a friend to join you.”

She lifted her chin. “Seems you’ve already accused me of lying, Mr. Masini. To serve what purpose? I’m the one who arranged our stay here. Michael knows you have a background check for every guest. He understands why better than most of the people here. If he is asking for someone to join us, my guess is he has a good reason and that person is as trustworthy as your mother.”

BOOK: Seduced by Sunday
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