Authors: Catherine Mann
Tags: #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Adult, #Mistresses, #Man Of The Month, #Princes
When she sat on the pool edge and kicked her feet through the water, he thought of those long legs wrapped around him.
Seeing her sip a glass of lemonade made him ache to taste the tart fruit on her lips.
The way she cleaned her glasses with a gust of breath fogging the frames made him think of her panting in his ear as he brought her to completion.
Romancing his way back into her good graces was easier said than done. And the goal of it all made each day on this island easier to bear.
And after they returned to Galveston? He would face that then. Right now, he had more of his father’s past to deal with.
“Tony?” Bracing her hand against the dash as the rutted road challenged even the quality shock absorbers, she looked so right sitting in the seat next to him. “You still haven’t told me who we’re picking up. Your brothers, perhaps?”
Steering the SUV under the arch of palm trees lining both sides of the road, he searched for the right words to prepare Shannon for something he’d never shared with a soul. “You’re on the right track.” His hands gripped the steering wheel tighter. “My sister. Half sister, actually. Eloisa.”
“A sister? I didn’t know….”
“Neither does the press.” His half sister had stayed under the radar, growing up with her mother and stepfather in Pensacola, Florida. Only recently had Eloisa reestablished contact with their father. “She’s coming here to regroup, troubleshoot. Prepare. Now that the Medina secret is out, her story will also be revealed soon enough.”
“May I ask what that story might be?”
“Of course.” He focused on the two-lane road, a convenient excuse to make sure she didn’t see any anger pushing past his boundaries. “My father had a relationship with her mother after arriving in the U.S., which resulted in Eloisa. She’s in her mid-twenties now.”
Shannon’s eyes went wide behind her glasses.
“Yeah, I know.” Turning, he drove from the jungle road onto a waterside route leading to the ferry station. “That’s a tight timeline between when we left San Rinaldo and the hookup.” Tight timeline in regard to his mother’s death.
“That must have been confusing for you. Kolby barely remembers his father and it’s been tough for him to accept you. And we haven’t had to deal with adding another child to the mix.”
A child? With Shannon? An image of a dark-haired baby—his baby—in her arms blindsided him, derailing his thoughts away from his father in a flash. His foot slid off the accelerator. Shaking free of the image was easier said than done as it grew roots in his mind—Kolby stepping into the picture until a family portrait took shape.
God, just last week he’d been thinking how he knew nothing about kids. She was the one hinting at marriage, not him. Although she said the opposite until he didn’t know what was up.
Things with Shannon weren’t as simple as he’d planned at the outset. “My father’s affair was his own business.”
“Okay, then.” She pulled her glasses off and fogged them with her breath. She dried them with the hem of her dress. “Do you and your sister get along?”
He hauled his eyes from Shannon’s glasses before he swerved off onto the beach. Or pulled onto the nearest side road and to hell with making it to the airstrip on time.
“I’ve only met her once before.” When Tony was a teenager. His father had gone all out on that lone visit with his seven-year-old daughter. Tony didn’t resent Eloisa. It wasn’t her fault, after all. In fact, he grew even more pissed off at his father. Enrique had responsibilities to his daughter. If he wanted to stay out of her life, then fine. Do so. But half measures were bull.
Yet wasn’t that what he’d been offering Shannon? Half measures?
Self-realization sucked. “She’s come here on her own since then. She and Duarte have even met up a few times, which in a roundabout way brought on the media mess.”
“How so?” She slid her glasses back in place.
“Our sister married into a high-profile family. Eloisa’s husband is the son of an ambassador and brother to a senator. He’s a Landis.”
She sat up straighter at the mention of America’s political royalty. Talk about irony.
Tony slowed for a fuel truck to pass. “The Landis name naturally comes with media attention.” He accelerated into the parking lot alongside the ferry station, the boat already close to shore. An airplane was parked on the distant airstrip. “Her husband—Jonah—likes to keep a low profile, but that’s just not possible.”
“Duarte was delivering one of our father’s messages, which put him on a collision course with a press camera. We’re still trying to figure out how the Global Intruder made the connection. Although, it’s a moot point now. Every stray photo of all of us has been unearthed, every detail of our pasts.”
“Of my past?” Her face drained of color.
“I’m afraid so.”
All the more reason for her to stay on the island. Her husband’s illegal dealings, even his suicide, had hit the headlines again this morning, thanks to muckrakers looking for more scandal connected to the Medina story. He would only be able to shield Shannon from that for so long. She had a right to know.
“I’ve grown complacent this week.” She pressed a hand to her stomach. “My poor in-laws.”
The SUV idled in the parking spot, the ferry already preparing to dock. He didn’t have much time left alone with her.
Tony skimmed back her silky blond hair. “I’m sorry all this has come up again. And I hate it that I can’t do more to fix things for you.”
Turning toward his touch, she rested her face in his hand. “You’ve helped this week.”
He wanted to kiss her, burned to recline the seats and explore the hint of cleavage in her scoop-necked dress. And damned if that wasn’t exactly what he planned to do.
Slanting his mouth over her, he caught her gasp and took full advantage of her parted lips with a determined sweep of his tongue. Need for her pumped through his veins, fast-tracked blood from his head to his groin until he could only feel, smell, taste undiluted
. Her gasp quickly turned to a sigh as she melted against him, the curves of her breasts pressed to his chest, her fingernails digging deeply into his forearms as she urged him closer.
He was more than happy to accommodate.
It had been so long, too long since they’d had sex before their argument over his damned money. Nearly fourteen days that seemed like fourteen years since he’d had his hands on her this way, fully and unrestrained, tunneling under her clothes, reacquainting himself with the perfection of her soft skin and perfect curves. She fit against him with a rightness he knew extended even further with their clothes off. A hitch in her throat, the flush rising on the exposed curve of her breasts keyed him in to her rising need, as if he couldn’t already tell by the way she nearly crawled across the seat to get closer.
Shannon wanted sex with him every bit as much as he wanted her. But that required privacy, not a parking lot in clear view of the approaching ferry.
Holding back now was the right move, even if it was killing him.
“Come on. Time to meet my sister.” He slid out of her arms and the SUV and around to her door before she could shuffle her purse from her lap to her shoulder.
He opened the door and she smiled her thanks without speaking, yet another thing he appreciated about her. She sensed when he didn’t want to talk anymore. He’d shared things with women over the years, but until her, he’d never found one with whom he could share silence.
The lapping waves, the squawk of gulls, the endless stretch of water centered him, steadying his steps and reminding him how to keep his balance in a rocky world.
Resting his head on Shannon’s back, he waited while the ferry finished docking. His sister and her husband stood at the railing. Eloisa’s husband hooked an arm around her shoulders, the couple talking intently.
Eloisa might not be a carbon copy of their father, but she carried an air of something unmistakably Medina about her. His father had once said she looked like their grandmother. Tony wouldn’t know, since he couldn’t remember his grandparents who’d all died before he was born.
The loudspeaker blared with the boat captain announcing their arrival. Disembarking, the couple stayed close together, his brother-in-law broadcasting a protective air. Jonah was the unconventional Landis, according to the papers. If so, they should get along just fine.
The couple stepped from the boat to the dock, and up close Eloisa didn’t appear nearly as calm as from a distance. Lines of strain showed in her eyes.
“Welcome,” Tony said. “Eloisa, Jonah, this is Shannon Crawford, and I’m—”
“Antonio, I know.” His sister spoke softly, reserved. “I recognize you both from the papers.”
He’d met Eloisa once as a child when she’d visited the island. She’d come back recently, but he’d been long gone by then.
They were strangers and relatives. Awkward, to say the least.
Jonah Landis stepped up. “Glad you could accommodate our request for a visit so quickly.”
“Damage control is important.”
Eloisa simply took his hand, searching his face. “How’s our father?”
“Not well.” Had Shannon just stepped closer to him? Tony kept his eyes forward, knowing in his gut he would see sympathy in her eyes. “He says his doctors are doing all they can.”
Blinking back tears, Eloisa stood straighter with a willowy strength. “I barely know him, but I can’t envision a world without him in it. Sounds crazy, I’m sure.”
He understood too well. Making peace was hard as hell, yet somehow she seemed to have managed.
Jonah clapped him on the back. “Well, my new bro, I need to grab Eloisa’s bags and meet you at the car.”
A Landis who carried his own luggage? Tony liked the unpretentious guy already.
And wasn’t that one of the things he liked most about Shannon? Her down-to-earth ways in spite of her wealthy lifestyle with her husband. She seemed completely unimpressed with the Medina money, much less his defunct title.
For the first time he considered she might be right. She may be better off without the strain of his messed-up family.
Which made him a selfish bastard for pursuing her. But he couldn’t seem to pull back now when his world had been rocked on its foundation. The sailor in him recognized the only port in the storm, and right now, only a de la Renta dress separated him from what he wanted—needed—more than anything.
However, he needed to choose his time and place carefully with the private island growing more crowded by the minute.
The beach road took them all the way to the edge of the shoreline. He shifted the car in Park, his legs flexing in black board shorts as he left the car silently. He’d been quiet for the whole drive, and she didn’t feel the need to fill the moment with aimless babbling. Being together and quiet had an appeal all its own.
Tugging on the edge of the white cover-up, she eyed the secluded stretch of beach. Could this be the end of the “romancing” and the shift back to intimacy? Her stomach fluttered faster.
She stepped from the car before he could open her door. Wind ruffled his hair and whipped his shorts, low slung on his hips. She knew his body well but still the muscled hardness hitched her breath in her throat. Bronzed and toned—smart, rich and royal to boot. Life had handed him an amazing hand, and yet he still chose to work insane hours. In fact, she’d spent more time with him this past week than during the months they’d dated in Galveston.
And everything she learned confused her more than solving questions.
She jammed her hands in the pockets of her cover-up. “Are you going to tell me why we’re here?”
“Over there.” He pointed to a cluster of palm trees with surfboards propped and waiting.
“You’re kidding, right? Tony, I don’t surf, and the water must be cold.”
“You’ll warm up. The waves aren’t high enough today for surfing. But there’re still some things even a beginner can do.” He peeled off his T-shirt and she realized she was staring, damn it. “You won’t break anything. Trust me.”
He extended a hand.
Trust? Easier said than done. She eyed the boards and looked back at him. They were on the island, she reminded herself, removed from real life. And bottom line, while she wasn’t sure she trusted him with her heart, she totally trusted him with her body. He wouldn’t let anything happen to her.
Decision made, she whipped her cover-up over her head, revealing her crocheted swimsuit. His eyes flamed over her before he took her cover-up and tossed it in the SUV along with his T-shirt. He closed his hands around hers in a warm steady grip and started toward the boards.
She eyed the pair propped against trees—obviously set up in advance for their outing. One shiny and new, bright white with tropical flowers around the edges. The other was simpler, just yellow, faded from time and use. She looked at the water again, starting to have second—
“Hey.” He squeezed her hand. “We’re just going to paddle out. Nothing too adventurous today, but I think you’re going to find even slow and steady has some unexpected thrills.”
And didn’t that send her heart double timing?
Thank goodness he moved quickly. Mere minutes later she was on her stomach, on the board, paddling away from shore to…nowhere. Nothing but aqua blue waters blending into a paler sky. Mild waves rolled beneath her but somehow never lifted her high enough to be scary, more of a gentle rocking. The chilly water turned to a neutral sluice over her body, soothing her into becoming one with the ocean.
One stroke at a time she let go of goals and racing to the finish line. Her life had been on fast-paced frenetic since Nolan died. Now, for the first time in longer than she could remember, she was able to unwind, almost hypnotized by the dip, dip, dip of her hands and Tony’s into the water.
Tension she hadn’t even realized kinked her muscles began to ease. Somehow, Tony must have known. She turned her head to thank him and found him staring back at her.
She threaded her fingers through the water, sun baking her back. “It’s so quiet out here.”
“I thought you would appreciate the time away.”
“You were right.” She slowed her paddling and just floated. “You’ve given over a lot of your time to make sure Kolby and I stayed entertained. Don’t you need to get back to work?”
“I work from the island using my computer and telecoms.” His hair, even darker when wet, was slicked back from his face, his damp skin glinting in the sun. “More and more of business is being conducted that way.”
“Do you ever sleep?”
“Not so much lately, but that has nothing to do with work.” He held her with his eyes locked on her face, no suggestive body sweep, just intense, undiluted Tony.
And she couldn’t help but wonder why he went to so much trouble when they weren’t sleeping together anymore. If his conscience bothered him, he could have assigned guards to watch over her and she wouldn’t have argued for Kolby’s sake. Yet here he was. With her.
“What do you see in me?” She rested her cheek on her folded hands. “I’m not fishing for compliments, honest to God, it’s just we seem so wrong for each other on so many levels. Is it just the challenge, like building your business?”
“Shanny, you take
to a whole ’nother level.”
She flicked water in his face. “I’m being serious here. No joking around, please.”
“Seriously?” He stared out at the horizon for a second as if gathering his thoughts. “Since you brought up the business analogy, let’s run with that. At work you would be someone I want on my team. Your tenacity, your refusal to give up—even your frustrating rejection of my help—impress the hell out of me. You’re an amazing woman, so much so that sometimes I can’t even look away.”
He made her feel strong and special with a few words. After feeling guilty for so long, of wondering if she could hold it all together for Kolby, she welcomed the reassurance coursing through her veins as surely as the current underneath her.
Tony slid from his board and ducked under. She watched through the clear surface as he freed the ankle leash attaching him to his board.
Resurfacing beside her, he stroked the line of her back. “Sit up for a minute.”
“What?” She’d barely heard him, too focused on the feel of his hand low on her waist.
“Sit up on the board and swing your legs over the side.” He held the edge. “I won’t let you fall.”
“But your board’s drifting.” She watched the faded yellow inch away.
“I’ll get it later. Come on.” He palmed her back, helping her balance as finally, she wriggled her way upright.
She bobbled. Stifled a squeal. Then realized what was the worst that could happen? She would be in the water. Big deal. And suddenly the surfboard steadied a little, still rocking but not out of control. The waters lapped around her legs, cool, exciting.
“I did it.” She laughed, sending her voice out into that endlessness.
“Perfect. Now hold still,” he said and somehow slid effortlessly behind her.
Her balance went haywire again for a second, the horizon tilting until she was sure they would both topple over.
“Relax,” he said against her ear. “Out here, it’s not about fighting, it’s the one place you can totally let go.”
The one place
could let go? And suddenly she realized this was about more than getting her to relax. He was sharing something about himself with her. Even a man as driven and successful as himself needed a break from the demands of everyday life. Perhaps because of moments like these he kept it all together rather than letting the tension tighten until it snapped.
She fit herself against him, his legs behind hers as they drifted. Her muscles slowly melted until she leaned into him. The waves curled underneath, his chest wet and bristly against her skin. A new tension coiled inside her, deep in her belly. Her swimsuit suddenly felt too tight against her breasts that swelled and yearned for the brush of the air and Tony’s mouth.
His palms rested on her thighs. His thumbs circled a light massage, close, so close. Water ebbed and flowed over her heated core, waves sweeping tantalizing caresses on her aching flesh. Her head sagged onto his shoulder.
With each undulation of the board, he rocked against her, stirring, growing harder until he pressed fully erect along her spine. Every roll of the board rubbing their bodies against each other had to be as torturous for him as it was for her. His hands moved higher on her legs, nearer to what she needed. Silently. Just as in tune with each other as when they’d been paddling out.
She worried at first that someone might see, but with their backs to the shore and water…she could lose herself in the moment. Already his breaths grew heavier against her ear, nearly as fast as her own.
They could both let go and find completion right here without ever moving. Simply feeling his arousal against her stirred Shannon to a bittersweet edge. And good God, that scared the hell out of her.
The wind chilled, and she recognized the sting of fear all too well. She’d thought she could ride the wave, so to speak, and just have an affair with Tony.
But this utter abandon, the loss of control, the way they were together, it was anything but simple, something she wasn’t sure she was ready to risk.
Scavenging every bit of her quickly dwindling willpower, she grabbed his wrists, moved his hands away…
And dived off the side of the board.