Authors: Catherine Mann
Tags: #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Adult, #Mistresses, #Man Of The Month, #Princes
Staying well clear of him, she’d said she was ready to return to shore. She hadn’t spoken another word since. Had he blown a whole week’s worth of working past her boundaries only to wreck it in one afternoon? Problem was, he still didn’t know what had set her off.
She stroked a smudge of sand from his faded yellow board. “Is it all right to leave them here so far from where we started?”
They’d drifted at least a mile from the SUV. “I’ll buy new ones. I’m a filthy rich prince, remember?”
Yeah, sexual frustration was making him a little cranky, and he suspected no amount of walking would take the edge off. Worse yet, she didn’t even rise to the bait of his crabby words full of reminders of why they’d broken up in the first place.
Fine. Who the hell knew what she needed?
He started west and she glided alongside him. The wind picked up, rustling the trees and sweeping a layer of sand around his ankles.
“What?” Tony looked fast. “Did you step on something? Are you getting chilly?”
Shaking her head, she pointed toward the trees, branches and leaves sweeping apart to reveal the small stone chapel. “Why didn’t I notice that when we drove here?”
“We approached the beach from a different angle.”
“It’s gorgeous.” Her eyes were wide and curious.
“No need to look so surprised. I told you that we lived here 24/7. My father outfitted the island with everything we would need, from a small medical clinic to that church.” He took in the white stone church, mission bell over the front doors. It wasn’t large, but big enough to accommodate everyone here. His older brother had told him once it was the only thing on the island built to resemble a part of their old life.
“Were you an altar server?”
Her voice pulled him back to the present.
“With a short-lived tenure.” He glanced down at her, so damn glad she was talking to him again. “I couldn’t sit still and the priest frowned on an altar server bringing a bag of books and Legos to keep himself entertained during the service.”
“Legos?” She started walking again. “Really?”
“Every Sunday as I sat out in the congregation. I would have brought more, but the nanny confiscated my squirt gun.”
“Don’t be giving Kolby any ideas.” She elbowed him lightly, then as if realizing what she’d done, picked up her pace.
Hell no, he wasn’t losing ground that fast. “The nanny didn’t find my knife though.”
Her mouth dropped open. “You brought a knife to church?”
“I carved my initials under the pew. Wanna go see if they’re still there?”
She eyed the church, then shook her head. “What’s all this about today? The surfing and then stories about Legos?”
Why? He hadn’t stopped to consider the reasons, just acting on instinct to keep up with the crazy, out-of-control relationship with Shannon. But he didn’t do things without a reason.
His gut had pointed him in this direction because… “So that you remember there’s a man in here.” He thumped his chest. “As well as a filthy rich prince.”
But no matter what he said or how far he got from this place, the Medina heritage coursed through his veins. Regardless of how many times he changed his name or started over, he was still Antonio Medina. And Shannon had made it clear time and time again, she didn’t want that kind of life. Finally, he heard her.
Eyeing the plate of
trufas con cognac
and small cups of
she debated whether to go for the brandy truffles or cold custard with caramel on top…. She picked one of each and dropped into a seat at the steel table.
Silence bounced and echoed in the cavernous kitchen. She was sleepy and cranky and edgy. And it was all Tony’s fault for tormenting her with charming stories and sexy encounters on the water—then shutting her out. She nipped an edge of the liqueur-flavored chocolate. Amazing. Sighing, she sagged back in the chair.
Since returning from their surfing outing, he’d kept his distance. She’d thought they were getting closer on a deeper level when he’d shared about his sister and even the Lego, then, wham. He’d turned into the perfect—distant—host at the stilted family dinner.
Not that she’d been able to eat a bite.
Now, she was hungry, in spite of the fact she’d finished off the truffle. She spooned a scoop of custard into her mouth, although she suspected no amount of gourmet pastries would satisfy the craving gnawing her inside.
When she’d started dating Tony, she’d taken a careful, calculated risk because her hormones had been hollering for him and she’d been a long, long time without sex. Okay, so her hormones hadn’t been shouting for just any man. Only Tony. A problem that didn’t seem to have abated in the least.
“Ah, hell.” Tony’s low curse startled her upright in her seat.
Filling the archway, he studied her cautiously. He wore jeans and an open button-down that appeared hastily tossed on. He fastened two buttons in the middle, slowly shielding the cut of his six-pack abs.
Cool custard melted in her mouth, her senses singing. But her heart was aching and confused. She toyed with the neck of her robe nervously. The blue peignoir set covered her from neck to toes, but the loose-fitting chiffon and lace brushed sensual decadence against her skin. The froufrou little kitten heels to match had seemed over-the-top in her room, but now felt sexy and fun.
Her hands shook. She pressed them against the steel topped table. “Don’t mind me. I’m just indulging in a midnight feeding frenzy. I highly recommend the custard cups in the back right corner of the refrigerator.”
He hesitated in the archway as if making up his mind, then walked deeper into the kitchen, passing her without touching. “I was thinking in terms of something more substantial, like a sandwich.”
“Are princes allowed to make their own snacks?”
“Who’s going to tell me no?” He kicked the fridge closed, his hands full of deli meat, cheese and lettuce, a jar of spread tucked under his elbow.
“Good point.” She swirled another spoonful. “I hope the cook doesn’t mind I’ve been foraging around. I actually used the stove, too, when I cooked a late night snack for Kolby. He woke up hungry.”
Tony glanced over from his sandwich prep. “Is he okay?”
“Just a little homesick.” Her eyes took in the sight of the Tony she remembered, a man who wore jeans low-slung on his hips. And rumpled hair…she enjoyed the disobedient swirls in his hair most.
“I’m sorry for that.” His shoulders tensed under the loose chambray.
“Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate how everyone has gone out of their way for him. The gourmet kid cuisine makes meals an adventure. I wish I had thought to tell him rolled tortillas are snakes and caterpillars.” Pasta was called worms or a nest. “I’m even becoming addicted to Nutella crepes. But sometimes, a kid just needs the familiar feel of home.”
“I understand.” His sandwich piled high on a plate, he took a seat—across from her rather than beside as he would have in the past.
“Of course you do.” She clenched her hands together to keep from reaching out to him. “Well, I’ll have to make sure the cook knows I tried to put everything back where I found it.”
“He’s more likely to be upset that you called him a cook rather than a chef.”
“Ah, a chef. Right. All those nuances between your world and mine.” How surreal to be having a conversation with a prince over a totally plebian hoagie.
Tony swiped at his mouth with a linen napkin and draped it over his knee again. “You ran in a pretty high-finance world with your husband.”
Her husband’s dirty money.
She shoved away the custard bowl. Thoughts of the media regurgitating that mess for public consumption made her nauseated. She wasn’t close to her in-laws, but they would suffer hearing their precious son’s reputation smeared again.
And God help them all if her own secrets were somehow discovered.
Best to lie low and keep to herself. Although she was finding it increasingly difficult to imagine how she would restart her life. Even if she was able to renew her teaching credentials, who was going to want to hire the infamous Medina Mistress who’d once been married to a crook? When this mess was over, she would have to dig deep to figure out how to recreate a life for herself and Kolby.
Could Tony be having second thoughts about their relationship? His strict code of honor would dictate he take care of her until the media storm passed, but she didn’t want to be his duty.
They’d dated. They’d had sex. But she only just realized how much of their relationship had been superficial as they both dodged discussing deeper, darker parts of their past.
Still, she wasn’t ready to plunge into the murkiest of waters that made up her life with Nolan. She wasn’t even sure right now if Tony would want to hear.
But regardless of how things turned out between them, she needed him to understand the real her. “I didn’t grow up with all those trappings of Nolan’s world. My dad was a high school science teacher and a coach. My mom was the elementary school secretary. We had enough money, but we were by no means wealthy.” She hesitated, realizing…“You probably already know all of that.”
“Why would you think so?” he asked, although he hadn’t denied what she said.
“If you’ve had to be so worried about security and your identity, it makes sense you or your lawyer or some security team you’ve hired would vet people in your life.”
“That would be the wise thing to do.”
“And you’re a smart man.”
“I haven’t always acted wisely around you.”
“You’ve been a perfect gentleman this week and you know it,” she said, as close as she could come to hinting that she ached for his touch, his mouth on her body, the familiar rise of pleasure and release he could bring.
Tony shrugged and tore into his sandwich again, a grandfather clock tolling once in the background.
“Kolby thinks we’re on vacation.”
“Good.” He finished chewing, tendons in his strong neck flexing. “That’s how he should remember this time in his life.”
“It’s unreal how you and your father have shielded him from the tension in your relationship.”
“Obviously not well enough to fool you.” His boldly handsome face gave nothing away.
“I know some about your history, and it’s tough to miss how little the two of you talk. Your father’s an interesting man.” She’d enjoyed after-dinner discussions with Enrique and Eloisa about current events and the latest book they’d read.
The old king may have isolated himself from the world, but he’d certainly stayed abreast with the latest news. The discussions had been enlightening on a number of levels, such as how the old king wasn’t as clipped and curt with his daughter as he was with Tony.
Tony stared at the last half of his snack, tucking a straggly piece of lettuce back inside. “What did you make for Kolby?”
His question surprised her, but if it kept him talking…
“French toast. It’s one of his favorite comfort foods. He likes for me to cut the toast into slices so he can dip it into the syrup. Independence means a lot, even to a three-year-old.” It meant a lot to adults. She reached for her bowl to scrape the final taste of custard and licked the spoon clean. The caramel taste exploded into her starving senses like music in her mouth.
Pupils widening with awareness until they nearly pushed away his brown irises, Tony stared back at her across the table, intense, aroused. Her body recognized the signs in him well even if he didn’t move so much as an inch closer.
She set the spoon down, the tiny clink echoing in the empty kitchen. “Tony, why are you still awake?”
“I’m a night owl. Some might call me an insomniac.”
“An insomniac? I didn’t know that.” She laughed darkly. “Although how could I since we’ve never spent an entire night together? Have you had the problem long?”
“I’ve always been this way.” He turned the plate around on the table. “My mother tried everything from warm milk to a ‘magic’ blanket before just letting me stay up. She used to cook for me too, late at night.”
“Your mother, the queen, cooked?” She inched to the edge of her chair, leaning on her elbows, hoping to hold his attention and keep him talking.
“She may have been royalty even before she married my father, but there are plenty in Europe with blue blood and little money.” Shadows chased each other across his eyes. “My mother grew up learning the basics of managing her own house. She insisted we boys have run of the kitchen. There were so many everyday places that were off-limits to us for safety reasons, she wanted us to have the normalcy of popping in and out of the kitchen for snacks.”
Like any other child. A child who happened to live in a sixteenth-century castle. She liked his mother, a woman she would never meet but felt so very close to at the moment. “What did she cook for you?”
“It’s a fried egg with a buttered piece of bread on top.” He swirled his hand over his plate as if he could spin an image into reality. “The bread has a hole pinched out of the middle so the egg yolk peeks out like a—”
“Like a Cyclops. I see. My mom called it a Popeye.” And with the memory of a simple egg dish, she felt the connection to Tony spin and gain strength again.
He glanced up, a half smile kicking into his one cheek. “Cyclops appealed to the bloodthirsty little boy in me. Just like Kolby and the caterpillar and snake pasta.”
To hell with distance and waiting for him to reach out, she covered his hand with hers. “Your mother sounds wonderful.”
He nodded briefly. “I believe she was.”
“I have very few memories of her before she…died.” He turned his hand over and stroked hers with his thumb. “The beach. A blanket. Food.”
“Scents do tend to anchor our memories more firmly.”
More shadows drifted through his eyes, darker this time, like storm clouds.
seemed such a benign word to describe the assassination of a young mother, killed because she’d married a king. A vein pulsed visibly in Tony’s temple, faster by the second. He’d dealt with such devastating circumstances in life honorably, while her husband had turned to stealing and finally, to taking the ultimate coward’s way out.
She held herself very still, unthreatening. Her heart ached for him on a whole new and intense level. “What do you remember about when she died? About leaving San Rinaldo?”
“Not much really.” He stayed focused on their connected hands, tracing the veins on her wrist with exaggerated concentration. “I was only five.”
So he’d told her before. But she wasn’t buying his nonchalance. “Traumatic events seem to stick more firmly in our memory. I recall a car accident when I couldn’t have been more than two.” She wouldn’t back down now, not when she was so close to understanding the man behind the smiles and bold gestures. “I still remember the bright red of the Volkswagen bug.”
“You probably saw pictures of the car later,” he said dismissively, then looked up sharply, aggressively full of bravado. The storm clouds churned faster with each throb of the vein on his temple. He stroked up her arm with unmistakable sensual intent. “How much longer are you going to wait before you ask me to kiss you again? Because right now, I’m so on fire for you, I want to test out the sturdiness of that table.”
“Tony, can you even hear yourself?” she asked, frustrated and even a bit insulted by the way he was jerking her around. “One minute you’re Prince Romance and Restraint, the next you’re ignoring me over dinner. Then you’re spilling your guts. Now, you proposition me—and not too suavely, I might add. Quite frankly, you’re giving me emotional whiplash.”
His arms twitched, thick roped muscles bulging against his sleeves with restrained power. “Make no mistake, I have wanted you every second of every day. It’s all I can do not to haul you against me right now and to hell with the dozens of people that might walk in. But today on the water and tonight here, I’m just not sure this crazy life of mine is good enough for you.”
Her body burned in response to his words even as her mind blared a warning. Tony had felt the increasing connection too, and it scared him. So he’d tried to run her off with the crude offer of sex on the table.
Well too damn bad for him, she wasn’t backing down. She’d wanted this,
for too long to turn away.