Authors: Catherine Mann
Tags: #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Adult, #Mistresses, #Man Of The Month, #Princes
More than anything he wanted to gather her up and tell her everything would be okay. He wouldn’t allow anything less. But he also wouldn’t make shallow promises.
Twenty-seven years ago, when they’d been leaving San Rinaldo on a moonless night, his father had assured them everything would be fine. They would be reunited soon.
His father had been so very wrong.
Tony focused on what he could assure. “A lot has happened in a few hours. We need to take a step back for damage assessment tonight at my home, where there are security gates, alarms, guards watching and surveillance cameras.”
“And after tonight?”
“We’ll let the press think we are a couple, still deep in that affair.” He indulged himself in one lengthy, heated eye-stroke of her slim, supple body. “Then we’ll stage a more public breakup later, on our terms, when we’ve prepared a backup plan.”
She exhaled a shaky breath. “That makes sense.”
“Meanwhile, my number one priority is shielding you and Kolby.” He sifted through options, eliminating one idea after another until he was left with only a single alternative.
Her hand fell to rest on her sleeping son’s head. “How do you intend to do that?”
“By taking you to the safest place I know.” A place he’d vowed never to return. “Tomorrow, we’re going to visit my father.”
Resisting Tony had been tough enough this past week just knowing he was in the same town. How much more difficult would it be with him in the same house for one night much less days on end? God, she wanted to run. She bit the inside of her lip to keep from blurting out something she would regret later. Sorting through her options could take more time than they appeared to have.
Kolby wriggled restlessly, hugging his comfort blanket tighter. Needing a moment to collect her thoughts and her resolve, she scooped up her son.
“Tony, we’ll have to put this discussion on hold.” She cradled her child closer and angled down the hall, ever aware of a certain looming prince at her back. “Keep the lights off, please.”
Shadows playing tag on the ceiling, she lowered Kolby into the red caboose bed they’d picked out together when she moved into the apartment. She’d been trying so hard to make up for all her son had lost. As if there was some way to compensate for the loss of his father, the loss of security. Shannon pressed a kiss to his forehead, inhaling his precious baby-shampoo smell.
When she turned back, she found Tony waiting in the doorway, determination stamped on his square jaw. Well, she could be mighty resolute too, especially when it came to her son. Shannon closed the curtains before she left the room and stepped into the narrow hall.
She shut the door quietly behind her. “You have to know your suggestion is outrageous.”
“The whole situation is outrageous, which calls for extraordinary measures.”
“Hiding out with a king? That’s definitely what I would call extraordinary.” She pulled off her glasses and pinched the bridge of her nose.
Before Nolan’s death she’d worn contacts, but couldn’t afford the extra expense now. How much longer until she would grow accustomed to glasses again?
She stared at Tony, his face clear up close, everything in the distance blurred. “Do you honestly think I would want to expose myself, not to mention Kolby, to more scrutiny by going to your father’s? Why not just hide out at your place as we originally discussed?”
God, had she just agreed to stay with him indefinitely?
“My house is secure, up to a point. People will figure out where I live and they’ll deduce that you’re with me. There’s only one place I can think of where no one can get to us.”
Frustration buzzed in her brain. “Seems like their telephoto lenses reach everywhere.”
“The press still hasn’t located my father’s home after years of trying.”
But she thought… “Doesn’t he live in Argentina?”
He studied her silently, the wheels almost visibly turning in his broad forehead. Finally, he shook his head quickly.
“No. We only stopped off there to reorganize after escaping San Rinaldo.” He adjusted his watch, the only nervous habit she’d ever observed in him. “My father did set up a compound there and paid a small, trusted group of individuals to make it look inhabited. Most of them also escaped San Rinaldo with us. People assumed we were there with them.”
What extreme lengths and expense their father had gone to. But then wasn’t she willing to do anything to protect Kolby? She felt a surprise connection to the old king she’d never met. “Why are you telling me this much if it’s such a closely guarded secret?”
He cupped her shoulder, his touch heavy and familiar,
. “Because it’s that important I persuade you.”
Resisting the urge to lean into him was tougher with each stroke of his thumb against the sensitive curve of her neck. “Where
he live then?”
“I can’t tell you that much,” he said, still touching and God, it made her mad that she didn’t pull away.
“Yet you expect me to just pack up my child and follow you there.” She gripped his wrist and moved away his seductive touch.
“I detect a note of skepticism in your voice.” He shoved his hands in his pockets.
“A note? Try a whole freaking symphony, Tony.” The sense of betrayal swelled inside her again, larger and larger until it pushed bitter words out. “Why should I trust you? Especially now?”
“Because you don’t have anyone else or they would have already been helping you.”
The reality deflated her. She only had a set of in-laws who didn’t want anything to do with her or Kolby since they blamed her for their son’s downfall. She was truly alone.
“How long would we be there?”
“Just until my attorneys can arrange for a restraining order against certain media personnel. I realize that restraining orders don’t always work, but having one will give us a stronger legal case if we need it. It’s one thing to stalk, but it’s another to stalk and violate a restraining order. And I’ll want to make sure you have top-of-the-line security installed at your new home. That should take about a week, two at the most.”
Shannon fidgeted with her glasses. “How would we get there?”
“By plane.” He thumbed the face of his watch clean again.
That meant it must be far away. “Forget it. You are not going to isolate me that way, cut me off from the world. It’s the equivalent of kidnapping me and my son.”
“Not if you agree to go along.” He edged closer, the stretch of his hard muscled shoulders blocking out the light filtering from the living area. “People in the military get on planes all the time without knowing their destination.”
She tipped her chin upward, their faces inches apart. Close enough to feel his heat. Close enough to kiss.
Too close for her own good. “Last time I checked, I wasn’t wearing a uniform.” Her voice cracked ever so slightly. “I didn’t sign on for this.”
“I know, Shanny….” He stroked a lock of her hair intimately. “I
sorry for all this is putting you through, and I will do my best to make the next week as easy for you as possible.”
The sincerity of his apology soothed the ragged edges of her nerves. It had been a long week without him. She’d been surprised by how much she had missed his spontaneous dates and late-night calls. His bold kisses and intimate caresses. She couldn’t lie to herself about how much he affected her on both an emotional and physical level. Otherwise this mess with his revealed past wouldn’t hurt her so deeply.
Her hand clenched around her glasses. He gently slid them from her hand and hooked them on the front of her shirt. The familiarity of the gesture kicked her heart rate up a notch.
Swaying toward him, she flattened her hands to his chest, not sure if she wanted to push him away or pull him nearer. Thick longing filled the sliver of space between them. An answering awareness widened his pupils, pushing and thinning the dark brown of his eyes.
He lowered his head closer, closer still until his mouth hovered over hers. Heated breaths washed over her, stirring even hotter memories and warm languid longing. She’d thought the pain of Nolan’s deceit had left her numb for life…until she saw Tony.
The sound of her son calling out from his room jolted her back to reality. And not only her. Tony’s face went from seductive to intent in a heartbeat. He pulled the door open just as Kolby ran through and into his mother’s arms.
“Mama, Mama, Mama…” He buried his face in her neck. “Monster in my window!”
He barked over his shoulder, “Stay in the hall while I take a look.”
It could be nothing, but he’d been taught at a young age the importance of never letting down his guard. Adrenaline firing, he jerked the window open and scanned the tiny patch of yard.
Nothing. Just a Big Wheel lying on its side and a swing dangling lazily from a lone tree.
Maybe it was only a nightmare. This whole blast from the past had him seeing bogeymen from his own childhood, too. Tony pushed the window down again and pulled the curtains together.
Shannon stood in the door, her son tucked against her. “I could have sworn I closed the curtains.”
Kolby peeked up. “I opened ’em when I heard-ed the noise.”
And maybe this kid’s nightmare was every bit as real as his own had been. On the off chance the boy was right, he had to check. “I’m going outside. The guard will stay here with you.”
She cupped the back of her child’s head. “I already warned the guard. I wasn’t leaving you to take care of the ‘monster’ by yourself.”
Dread kinked cold and tight in his gut. What if something had happened to her when she had stepped outside to speak to the guard? He held in the angry words, not wanting to upset her son.
But he became more determined by the second to persuade her and the child to leave Galveston with him. “Let’s hope it was nothing but a tree branch. Right, kiddo?”
Tony started toward the door just as his iPhone rang. He glanced at the ID and saw the guard’s number. He thumbed the speaker phone button. “Yes?”
“Got him,” the guard said. “A teenager from the next complex over was trying to snap some pictures on his cell phone. I’ve already called the police.”
A sigh shuddered through Shannon, and she hugged her son closer, and God, how Tony wanted to comfort her.
However, the business of taking care of her safety came first. “Keep me posted if there are any red flags when they interview the trespasser. Good work. Thanks.”
He tucked his phone back into his jacket, his heart almost hammering out of his chest at the close call. This could have been worse. He knew too well from past experience how bad it could have been.
And apparently so did Shannon. Her wide blue eyes blinked erratically as she looked from corner to corner, searching shadows.
To hell with giving her distance. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders until she leaned on him ever so slightly. The soft press of her against him felt damn right in a day gone wrong.
Then she squeezed her eyes closed and straightened. “Okay, you win.”
“We’ll go to your home tonight.”
A hollow victory, since fear rather than desire motivated her, but he wasn’t going to argue. “And tomorrow?”
“We’ll discuss that in morning. Right now, just take us to your house.”
The imposing size of the three-story structure washed over Shannon every time they drove through the scrolled iron gates. How Kolby could sleep through all of this boggled her mind, but when they’d convinced him the “monster” was gone—thanks to the guard—Kolby had been all yawns again. Once strapped into the car seat in the back of Tony’s Escalade, her son had been out like a light in five minutes.
If only her own worries could be as easily shaken off. She had to think logically, but fears for Kolby nagged her. Nolan had stolen so much more than money. He’d robbed her of the ability to feel safe, just before he took the coward’s way out.
Two acres of manicured lawn stretched ahead of her in the moonlight. The estate was intimidating during the day, and all the more ominously gothic at night with shadowy edges encroaching. It was one thing to visit the place for a date.
It was another to take shelter here, to pack suitcases and accept his help.
She’d lived in a large house with Nolan, four thousand square feet, but she could have fit two of those homes inside Tony’s place. In the courtyard, a concrete horse fountain was illuminated, glowing in front of the burgundy stucco house with brown trim so dark it was almost black. His home showcased the Spanish architecture prevalent in Texas. Knowing his true heritage now, she could see why he would have been drawn to this area.
Silently he guided the SUV into the garage, finally safe and secure from the outside world. For how long?
He unstrapped Kolby from the seat and she didn’t argue. Her son was still sleeping anyway. The way Tony’s big hands managed the small buckles and shuffled the sleeping child onto his shoulder with such competence touched her heart as firmly as any hothouse full of roses.
Trailing him with a backpack of toy trains and trucks, she dimly registered the house that had grown familiar after their dates to restaurants, movies and the most amazing concerts. Her soul, so starved for music, gobbled up every note.
Her first dinner at his home had been a five-course catered meal with a violinist. She could almost hear the echoing strains bouncing lightly off the high-beamed ceiling, down to the marble floor, swirling along the inlay pattern to twine around her.
Binding her closer to him. They hadn’t had sex that night, but she’d known then it was inevitable.
That first time, Tony had been thoughtful enough to send out to a different restaurant than his favored Vernon’s, guessing accurately that when a person worked eight hours a day in one eating establishment, the food there lost its allure.
He’d opted for Italian cuisine. The meal and music and elegance had been so far removed from paper plate dinners of nuggets and fries. While she adored her son and treasured every second with him, she couldn’t help but be wooed by grown-up time to herself.
Limited time as she’d never spent the night here. Until now.
She followed Tony up the circular staircase, hand on the crafted iron banister. The sight of her son sleeping so limp and relaxed against Tony brought a lump to her throat again.
The tenderness she felt seeing him hold her child reminded her how special this new man in her life was. She’d chosen him so carefully after Nolan had died, seeing Tony’s innate strength and honor. Was she really ready to throw that away?
He stopped at the first bedroom, a suite decorated in hunter green with vintage maps framed on the walls. Striding through the sitting area to the next door, he flipped back the brocade spread and set her son in the middle of the high bed.
Quietly, she put a chair on either side as a makeshift bed rail, then tucked the covers over his shoulders. She kissed his little forehead and inhaled his baby-fresh scent. Her child.
The enormity of how their lives had changed tonight swelled inside her, pushing stinging tears to the surface. Tony’s hand fell to rest on her shoulder and she leaned back….
She jolted away. How easily she fell into old habits around him. “I didn’t mean…”
“I know.” His hand fell away and tucked into his pocket. “I’ll carry up your bags in a minute. I gave the house staff the night off.”
She followed him, just to keep their conversation soft, not because she wasn’t ready to say good-night. “I thought you trusted them.”
“I do. To a point. It’s also easier for security to protect the house with fewer people inside.” He gestured into the sitting area. “I heard what you said about feeling cut off from the world going to my father’s and I understand.”
His empathy slipped past her defenses when they were already on shaky ground being here in his house again. Remembering all the times they’d made love under this very roof, she could almost smell the bath salts from last weekend. And with him being so understanding on top of everything else…
He’d lied. She needed to remember that.
“I realize I have to do what’s right for Kolby.” She sagged onto the striped sofa, her legs folding from an emotional and exhausting night. “It scares the hell out of me how close a random teenager already got to my child, and we’re only a couple of hours into this mess. It makes me ill to think about what someone with resources could do.”
“My brothers and I have attorneys. They’ll look into pressing charges against the teen.” He sat beside her with a casual familiarity of lovers.
Remember the fight. Not the bath salts. She inched toward the armrest. “Let me know what the attorneys’ fees are, please.”
“They’re on retainer. Those lawyers also help us communicate with each other. My attorney will know we’re going to see my father if you’re worried about making sure someone is aware of your plans.”
Someone under his employ, all of this bought with Tony’s money that she’d rejected a few short days ago. And she couldn’t think of any other way. “You trust this man, your lawyer?”
“I have to.” The surety in his voice left little room for doubt. “There are some transactions that can’t be avoided no matter how much we want to sever ties with the past.”
A darker note in his voice niggled at her. “Are you talking about yourself now?”
He shrugged, broad shoulders rippling the fabric of his fine suit.
Nuh-uh. She wasn’t giving up that easily. She’d trusted so much of her life to this man, only to find he’d misled her.
Now she needed something tangible, something honest from him to hold on to. Something to let her know if that honor and strength she’d perceived in him was real. “You said you didn’t want to break off our relationship. If that’s true, this would be a really good time to open up a little.”
Angling toward her, Tony’s knee pressed against hers, his eyes heating to molten dark. “Are you saying we’re good again?”
“I’m saying…” She cleared her throat that had suddenly gone cottony dry. “Maybe I could see my way clear to forgiving you if I knew more about you.”
He straightened, his eyes sharp. “What do you want to know?”
“Do you surf?”
What the hell?
She watched the walls come up in his eyes. She could almost feel him distancing himself from her. “Tony, I’m not sure how sharing a
moment is going to make things all better here.”
“But have you ever been surfing?” He gestured, his hands riding imaginary waves. “The Atlantic doesn’t offer as wild a ride as the Pacific, but it gets the job done, especially in Spain. Something to do with the atmospheric pressure coming down from the U.K. I still remember the swells tubing.” He curled his fingers around into the cresting circle of a wave.
” She tried to merge the image of the sleek business shark with the vision of him carefree on a board. And instead an image emerged of his abandon when making love. Her breasts tingled and tightened, awash in the sensation of sea spray and Tony all over her skin.
“I’ve always been fascinated with waves.”
“Even when you were in San Rinaldo.” The picture of him began to make more sense. “It’s an island country, right?”
She’d always thought the nautical art on his walls was tied into his shipping empire. Now she realized the affinity for such pieces came from living on an island. So much about him made sense.
His surfing hand soared to rest on the gold flecked globe beside the sofa. Was it her imagination or was the gloss dimmer over the coast of Spain? As if he’d rubbed his finger along that area more often, taking away the sheen over time.
He spun the globe. “I thought you didn’t know much about the Medinas.”
“I researched you on Google on my phone while we were driving over.” Concrete info had been sparse compared to all the crazy gossip floating about, but there were some basics. Three sons. A monarch father. A mother who’d been killed as they were escaping. Her heart squeezed thinking of him losing a parent so young, not much older than Kolby.
She pulled a faltering smile. “There weren’t any surfer pictures among the few images that popped up.”
Only a couple of grainy formal family portraits of three young boys with their parents, everyone happy. Some earlier photos of King Enrique looking infinitely regal.
“We scrubbed most pictures after we escaped and regrouped.” His lighthearted smile contrasted with the darker hue deepening his eyes. “The internet wasn’t active in those days.”
The extent of his rebuilding shook her to her shoes. She’d thought she had it rough leaving Louisiana after her husband’s arrest and death. How tragic to have your past wiped away. The enormity of what had happened to his family, of how he’d lived since then, threatened to overwhelm her.
How could she not ache over all he’d been through? “I saw that your mother died when I read up on your past. I’m so sorry.”
He waved away her sympathy. “When we got to…where my father lives now, things were isolated. But at least we still had the ocean. Out on the waves, I could forget about everything else.”
Plowing a hand through his hair, he stared just past her, obviously locked in some deep memories. She sensed she was close, so close to the something she needed to reassure her that placing herself and her son in his care would be wise, even if there weren’t gossip seekers sifting through her trash.
She rested her hand on his arm. “What are you thinking?”
“I thought you might like to learn next spring. Unless you’re already a pro.”
“Not hardly.” Spring was a long way off, a huge commitment she wasn’t anywhere near ready to make to anyone. The thought of climbing on a wave made her stomach knot almost as much as being together that long. “Thanks for the offer, but I’ll pass.”
“Scared?” He skimmed his knuckles over her collarbone, and just that fast the sea-spray feel tingled through her again.
“Hell, yes. Scared of getting hurt.”
His hand stilled just above her thumping heart. Want crackled in the air. Hers? Or his? She wasn’t sure. Probably equal measures from both of them. That had never been in question. And too easily he could draw her in again. Learning more about him wasn’t wise after all, not tonight.
She pulled away, her arms jerky, her whole body out of whack. She needed Tony’s lightness now. Forget about serious peeks into each other’s vulnerable pasts. “No surfing for me. Ever try taking care of a toddler with a broken leg?”
“When did you break your leg?” His eyes narrowed. “Did he hurt you? Your husband?”
How had Tony made that leap so quickly?
“Nolan was a crook and a jerk, but he never raised a hand to me.” She shivered, not liking the new direction their conversation had taken at all. This was supposed to teach her more about him. Not the other way around. “Do we have to drag more baggage into this?”
“If it’s true.”
“I told you. He didn’t abuse me.” Not physically. “Having a criminal for a husband is no picnic. Knowing I missed the signs… Wondering if I let myself be blind to it because I enjoyed the lifestyle… I don’t even know where to start in answering those questions for myself.”
She slumped, suddenly exhausted, any residual adrenaline fizzling out. Her head fell back.
“Knowing you as I do, I find it difficult to believe you would ever choose the easy path.” Tony thumbed just below her eyes where undoubtedly dark circles were all but tattooed on her face. “It’s been a long day. You should get some rest. If you want, I’ll tuck you in,” he said with a playful wink.
She found the old Tony much easier to deal with than the new. “You’re teasing, of course.”
“Maybe…” And just that fast the light in his eyes flamed hotter, intense. “Shanny, I would hold you all night if you would let me. I would make sure no one dared threaten you or your son again.”
And she wanted to let him do just that. But she’d allowed herself to depend on a man before… “If you hold me, we both know I won’t get any rest, and while I’ll have pleasure tonight, I’ll be sorry tomorrow. Don’t you think we have enough wrong between us right now without adding another regret to the mix?”
“Okay….” Tony gave her shoulder a final squeeze and stood. “I’ll back off.”
Shannon pushed to her feet alongside him, her hands fisted at her sides to keep from reaching for him. “I’m still mad over being kept in the dark, but I appreciate all the damage control.”