Authors: Catherine Mann
Tags: #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Adult, #Mistresses, #Man Of The Month, #Princes
Medina Monarchy Exposed!
Sure enough, she still stood with her back to him. He wouldn’t have much time. He had to talk to her before she finished tapping in her order or tabulating a bill.
Tony shot to his feet, his chair scraping loudly in the silence as Vernon’s friends all checked their messages. Reaching for the brass handle, he kept his eyes locked on the woman who turned him inside out with one touch of her hand on his bare flesh, the simple brush of her hair across his chest until he forgot about staying on guard. Foreboding crept up his spine. His instincts had served him well over the years—steering him through multimillion-dollar business decisions, even warning him of a frayed shrimp net inching closer to snag his feet.
And before all that? The extra sense had powered his stride as he’d raced through the woods, running from rebels overthrowing San Rinaldo’s government. Rebels who hadn’t thought twice about shooting at kids, even a five-year-old.
Or murdering their mother.
The Medina cover was about more than privacy. It was about safety. While his family had relocated to a U.S. island after the coup, they could never let down their guard. And damn it all, he’d selfishly put Shannon in the crosshairs simply because he had to have her in his bed.
Tony clasped her shoulders and turned her around. Only to stop short.
Her beautiful blue eyes wide with horror said it all. And if he’d been in doubt? The cell phone clutched in Shannon’s hand told him the rest.
She already knew.
The internet rumor her son’s babysitter had read over the phone had to be a media mistake. As did the five follow-up articles she’d found in her own ten-second search with her cell’s internet service.
The blogosphere could bloom toxic fiction in minutes, right? People could say whatever they wanted, make a fortune off click-throughs and then retract the erroneous story the next day. Tony’s touch on her shoulders was so familiar and stirring he simply couldn’t be a stranger. Even now her body warmed at the feel of his hands until she swayed.
But then hadn’t she made the very same mistake with her dead husband, buying into his facade because she
it to be true?
Damn it, Tony wasn’t Nolan. All of this would be explained away and she could go back to her toe-curling affair with Tony. Except they were already in the middle of a fight over trying to give her money—an offer that made her skin crawl. And if he was actually a prince?
She swallowed hysterical laughter. Well, he’d told her that he had money to burn and it could very well be he’d meant that on a scale far grander than she could have ever imagined.
“Breathe,” her ex-lover commanded.
“Okay, okay, okay,” she chanted on each gasp of air, tapping her glasses more firmly in place in hopes the dots in front of her eyes would fade. “I’m okay.”
Now that her vision cleared she had a better view of her place at the center of the restaurant’s attention. And when had Tony started edging her toward the door? Impending doom welled inside her as she realized the local media would soon descend.
“Good, steady now, in and out.” His voice didn’t sound any different.
But it also didn’t sound Texan. Or southern. Or even northern for that matter, as if he’d worked to stamp out any sense of regionality from himself. She tried to focus on the timbre that so thoroughly strummed her senses when they made love.
“Tony, please say we’re going to laugh over this misunderstanding later.”
He didn’t answer. His square jaw was set and serious as he looked over her shoulder, scanning. She found no signs of her carefree lover, even though her fingers carried the memory of how his dark hair curled around her fingers. His wealth and power had been undeniable from the start in his clothes and lifestyle, but most of all in his proud carriage. Now she took new note of his aristocratic jaw and cheekbones. Such a damn handsome and charming man. She’d allowed herself to be wowed. Seduced by his smile.
She’d barely come to grips with dating a rich guy, given all the bad baggage that brought up of her dead husband. A crooked sleaze. She’d been dazzled by Nolan’s glitzy world, learning too late it was financed by a Ponzi scheme.
The guilt of those destroyed lives squeezed the breath from her lungs all over again. If not for her son, she might very well have curled inside herself and given up after Nolan took his own life. But she would hold strong for Kolby.
“Answer me,” she demanded, hoping.
“This isn’t the place to talk.”
Not reassuring and, oh God, why did Tony still have the power to hurt her? Anger punched through the pain. “How long does it take to say
He slid an arm around her shoulders, tucking her to his side. “Let’s find somewhere more private.”
“Tell me now.” She pulled back from the lure of his familiar scent, minty patchouli and sandalwood, the smell of exotic pleasures.
Tony—Antonio—Prince Medina—whoever the hell he was—ducked his head closer to hers. “Shannon, do you really want to talk here where anyone can listen? The world’s going to intrude on our town soon enough.”
Tears burned behind her eyes, the room going blurry even with her glasses on. “Okay, we’ll find a quiet place to discuss this.”
He backed her toward the kitchen. Her legs and his synched up in step, her hips following his instinctively, as if they’d danced together often…and more. Eyes and whispers followed them the entire way. Did everyone already know? Cell phones sang from pockets and vibrated on tabletops as if Galveston quivered on the verge of an earthquake.
No one approached them outright, but fragments drifted from their huddled discussions.
“Could Tony Castillo be—”
“—With that waitress—”
The buzz increased like a swarm of locusts closing in on the Texas landscape. On her life.
Tony growled lowly, “There’s nowhere here we can speak privately. I need to get you out of Vernon’s.”
His muscled arm locked her tighter, guiding her through a swishing door, past a string of chefs all immobile and gawking. He shouldered out a side door and she had no choice but to follow.
Outside, the late-day sun kissed his bronzed face, bringing his deeply tanned features into sharper focus. She’d always known there was something strikingly foreign about him. But she’d believed his story of dead parents, bookkeepers who’d emigrated from South America. Her own parents had died in a car accident before she’d graduated from college. She’d thought they’d at least shared similar childhoods.
Now? She was sure of nothing except how her body still betrayed her with the urge to lean into his hard-muscled strength, to escape into the pleasure she knew he could bring.
“I need to let management know I’m leaving. I can’t lose this job.” Tips were best in the evening and she needed every penny. She couldn’t afford the time it would take to get her teaching credentials current again—if she could even find a music-teaching position with cutbacks in the arts.
And there weren’t too many people out there in search of private oboe lessons.
“I know the owner, remember?” He unlocked his car, the remote chirp-chirping.
“Of course. What was I thinking? You have connections.” She stifled a fresh bout of hysterical laughter.
Would she even be able to work again if the Medina rumor was true? It had been tough enough finding a job when others associated her with her dead husband. Sure, she’d been cleared of any wrongdoing, but many still believed she must have known about Nolan’s illegal schemes.
There hadn’t even been a trial for her to state her side. Once her husband had made bail, he’d been dead within twenty-four hours.
Tony cursed low and harsh, sailor-style swearing he usually curbed around her and Kolby. She looked around, saw nothing… Then she heard the thundering footsteps a second before the small cluster of people rounded the corner with cameras and microphones.
Swearing again, Tony yanked open the passenger door to his Escalade. He lifted her inside easily, as if she weighed nothing more than the tray of fried gator appetizers she’d carried earlier.
Seconds later he slid behind the wheel and slammed the door a hair’s breadth ahead of the reporters. Fists pounded on the tinted windows. Locks auto-clicked. Shannon sagged in the leather seat with relief.
The hefty SUV rocked from the force of the mob. Her heart rate ramped again. If this was the life of the rich and famous, she wanted no part.
Shifting into Reverse then forward, Tony drove, slow but steady. People peeled away. At least one reporter fell on his butt but everyone appeared unharmed.
So much for playing chicken with Tony. She would be wise to remember that.
He guided the Escalade through the historic district a hint over the speed limit, fast enough to put space between them and the media hounds. Panting in the aftermath, she still braced a hand on the dash, her other gripping the leather seat. Yet Tony hadn’t even broken a sweat.
His hands stayed steady on the wheel, his expensive watch glinting from the French cuffs of his shirt. Restored brick buildings zipped by her window. A young couple dressed for an evening out stepped off the curb, then back sharply. While the whole idea of being hunted by the paparazzi scared her to her roots, right here in the SUV with Tony, she felt safe.
Safe enough for the anger and betrayal to come bubbling to the surface. She’d been mad at him since their fight last weekend over his continued insistence on giving her money. But those feelings were nothing compared to the rage that coursed through her now. “We’re alone. Talk to me.”
“It’s complicated.” He glanced in the rearview mirror. Normal traffic tooled along the narrow street. “What do you want to know?”
She forced herself to say the words that would drive a permanent wedge between her and the one man she’d dared let into her life again.
“Are you a part of that lost royal family, the one everybody thought was hiding in Argentina?”
The Cadillac’s finely tuned engine hummed in the silence. Lights clicked on automatically with the setting sun, the dash glowing.
His knuckles went white on the steering wheel, his jaw flexing before he nodded tightly. “The rumors on the internet are correct.”
And she’d thought her heart couldn’t break again.
Her pride had been stung over Tony’s offer to give her money, but she would have gotten over it. She would have stuck to her guns about paying her own way, of course. But
It was still too huge to wrap her brain around. She’d slept with a prince, let him into her home, her body, and considered letting him into her heart. His deception burned deep.
How could she have missed the truth so completely, buying into his stories about working on a shrimp boat as a teen? She’d assumed his tattoo and the closed over pierced earlobe were parts of an everyman past that seduced her as fully as his caresses.
“Your name isn’t even Tony Castillo.” Oh God. She pressed the back of her hand against her mouth, suddenly nauseated because she didn’t even know the name of the guy she’d been sleeping with.
“Technically, it could be.”
Shannon slammed her fists against the leather seat instead of reaching for him as she ached to do. “I’m not interested in technically. Actually, I’m not interested in people who lie to me. Can I even trust that you’re really thirty-two years old?”
“It isn’t just my decision to share specific details. I have other family members to consider. But if it’s any consolation, I really am thirty-two. Are you really twenty-nine?”
“I’m not in a joking mood.” Shivering, she thumbed her bare ring finger where once a three-carat diamond had rested. After Nolan’s funeral, she’d taken it off and sold it along with everything else to pay off the mountain of debt. “I should have known you were too good to be true.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Who makes millions by thirty-two?”
He cocked an arrogant eyebrow. “Did you just call me a moocher?”
“Well, excuse me if that was rude, but I’m not exactly at my best tonight.”
His arms bulged beneath his Italian suit—she’d had to look up the exclusive Garaceni label after she’d seen the coat hanging on his bedpost.
Tony looked even more amazing out of the clothes, his tanned and muscled body eclipsing any high-end wardrobe. And the smiles he brought to her life, his uninhibited laughter were just what she needed most.
How quiet her world had been without him this week. “Sorry to have hurt your feelings, pal. Or should I say, Your Majesty? Since according to some of those stories I’m ‘His Majesty’s mistress.’”
“Actually, it would be ‘Your Highness.’” His signature smile tipped his mouth, but with a bitter edge. “Majesty is for the king.”
How could he be so flippant? “Actually, you can take your title and stuff it where the sun—”
“I get the picture.” He guided the Escalade over the Galveston Island Causeway, waves moving darkly below. “You’ll need time to calm down so we can discuss how to handle this.”
“You don’t understand. There’s no calming down. You lied to me on a fundamental level. Once we made l—” she stumbled over the next word, images of him moving over her, inside her, stealing her words and breath until her stomach churned as fast as the waters below “—after we went to bed together, you should have told me. Unless the sex didn’t mean anything special to you. I guess if you had to tell every woman you slept with, there would be no secret.”
“Stop!” He sliced the air with his hand. His gleaming Patek Philippe watch contrasted with scarred knuckles, from his sailing days he’d once told her. “That’s not true and not the point here. You were safer not knowing.”
“Oh, it’s for my own good.” She wrapped her arms around herself, a shield from the hurt.
“How much do you know about my family’s history?”
She bit back the urge to snap at him. Curiosity reined in her temper. “Not much. Just that there was a king of some small country near Spain, I think, before he was overthrown in a coup. His family has been hiding out to avoid the paparazzi hoopla.”
“Hoopla? This might suck, but that’s the least of my worries. There are people out there who tried to kill my family and succeeded in murdering my mother. There are people who stand to gain a lot in the way of money and power if the Medinas are wiped off the planet.”
Her heart ached for all he had lost. Even now, she wanted to press her mouth to his and forget this whole insane mess. To grasp that shimmering connection she’d discovered with him the first time they’d made love in a frenzied tangle at his Galveston Bay mansion.
“Well, believe it, Shannon. There’s a big bad world outside your corner of Texas. Right now, some of the worst will start focusing on me, my family and anyone who’s close to us. Whether you like it or not, I’ll do whatever it takes to keep you and Kolby protected.”