Authors: Catherine Mann
Tags: #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Adult, #Mistresses, #Man Of The Month, #Princes
Since the window shades were closed, she had no idea whether they were close to land or water. So where were they? Once airborne, she’d felt the plane turn, but quickly lost any sense of whether they were going north or south, east or west. Although north was unlikely given he’d told her to pack for warm weather.
How far had they traveled? Tough to tell since she’d napped and she had no idea how fast this aircraft could travel. She’d been swept away into a world beyond anything she’d experienced, from the discreet impeccable service to the sleeping quarters already made up for her and Kolby on arrival. Questions about her food preferences had resulted in a five-star meal.
Shannon pressed a hand to her jittery stomach. God, she hoped she’d made the right decision. At least her son seemed oblivious to all the turmoil around them.
The cabin steward guided Kolby toward the galley kitchen with the promise of a snack and a video. As they walked toward the back, he dragged his tiny fingers along the white leather seats. At least his hands were clean.
But she would have to make a point of keeping sharp objects out of Kolby’s reach. She shuddered at the image of a silver taped
on the luxury upholstery.
Her eyes shifted to the man filling the deep seat across from her couch. Wearing gray pants and a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, he focused intently on the laptop screen in front of him, seemingly oblivious to anyone around him.
She hated the claustrophobic feeling of needing his help, not to mention all the money hiding out entailed. Dependence made her vulnerable, something she’d sworn would never happen again. Yet here she was, entrusting her whole life to a man, a man who’d lied to her.
However, with her child’s well-being at stake, she couldn’t afford to say no.
More information would help settle the apprehension plucking at her nerves like heart strings. Any information, since apparently everything she knew about him outside of the bedroom was false. She hadn’t even known he owned the restaurant where she worked.
Of course it seemed silly to worry about being branded as the type who sleeps with the boss. Having an affair with a drop-dead sexy prince trumped any other gossip. “How long has it been since you saw your father?”
Tony looked up from his laptop slowly. “I left the island when I was eighteen.”
“Island?” Her hand grazed the covered window as she envisioned water below. “I thought you left San Rinaldo as a young boy.”
“We did.” He closed the computer and pivoted the chair toward her, stretching his legs until his feet stopped intimately close to hers. “I was five at the time. We relocated to another island about a month after we escaped.”
She scrunched her toes in her gym shoes. Her scuffed canvas was worlds away from his polished loafers and a private plane. And regardless of how hot he looked, she wouldn’t be seduced by the trappings of his wealth.
Forcing her mind back on his words rather than his body, she drew her legs away from him. Was the island on the east coast or west coast? Provided Enrique Medina’s compound was even near the U.S. “Your father chose an island so you and your brothers would feel at home in your new place?”
He looked at her over the white tulips centered on the cherry coffee table. “My father chose an island because it was easier to secure.”
Gulp. “Oh. Right.”
That took the temperature down more than a few degrees. She picked at the piping on the sofa.
Music drifted from the back of the plane, the sound of a new cartoon starting. She glanced down the walkway. Kolby was buckled into a seat, munching on some kind of crackers while watching the movie, mesmerized. Most likely by the whopping big flat screen.
Back to her questions. “How much of you is real and what’s a part of the new identity?”
“My age and birthday are real.” He tucked the laptop into an oversized briefcase monogrammed with the Castillo Shipping Corporation logo. “Even my name is technically correct, as I told you before. Castillo comes from my mother’s family tree. I took it as my own when I turned eighteen.”
Resting her elbow on the back of the sofa, she propped her head in her palm, trying her darnedest to act as casual as he appeared. “What does your father think of all you’ve accomplished since leaving?”
“I wouldn’t know.” He reclined, folding his hands over his stomach, drawing her eyes and memories to his rock-hard abs.
Her toes curled again until they cracked inside her canvas sneakers. “What does he think of us coming now?”
“You’ll have to ask him.” His jaw flexed.
“Did you even tell him about the extra guests?” She resisted the urge to smooth the strain away from the bunched tendons in his neck. How odd to think of comforting him when she still had so many reservations about the trip herself.
“I told his lawyer to inform him. His staff will make preparations. Kolby will have whatever he needs.”
Who was this coolly factual man a hand stretch away? She almost wondered if she’d imagined carefree Tony…except he’d told her that he liked to surf. She clung to that everyday image and dug deeper.
“Sounds like you and your father aren’t close. Or is that just the way royalty communicates?” If so, how sad was that?
He didn’t answer, the drone of the engines mingling with the cartoon and the rush of recycled air through the vents. While she wanted her son to grow up independent with a life of his own, she also planned to forge a bond closer than cold communications exchanged between lawyers and assistants.
His eyes shifted to the shuttered window beside her head. “I didn’t want to live on a secluded island any longer. So I left. He disagreed. We haven’t resolved the issue.”
Such simple words for so deep a breach where attorneys handled
communiqués between them. The lack of communication went beyond distant to estrangement. This wasn’t a family just fractured by location. Something far deeper was wrong.
Tucking back into his line of sight, she pressed ahead. This man had already left such a deep imprint on her life, she knew she wouldn’t forget him. “What have your lawyers told your father about Kolby and me? What did they tell your dad about our relationship?”
“Relationship?” He pinned her with his dark eyes, the intensity of his look—of him—reaching past the tulips as tangibly as if he’d taken that broad hand and caressed her. He was such a big man with the gentlest of touches.
And he was thorough. God, how he was thorough.
Her heart pounded in her ear like a tympani solo, hollow and so loud it drowned out the engines.
“Tony?” she asked. She
“I let him know that we’re a couple. And that you’re a widow with a son.”
It was one thing to carry on a secret affair with him. Another to openly acknowledge to people—to family—that they were a couple.
She pressed hard against her collarbone, her pulse pushing a syncopated beat against her fingertips. “Why not tell your father the truth? That we broke up but the press won’t believe it.”
“Who says it’s not the truth? We slept together just a week ago. Seems like less than that to me, because I swear I can still catch a whiff of your scent on my skin.” He leaned closer and thumbed her wrist.
Her fingers curled as the heat of his touch spread farther. “But about last weekend—”
“Shanny.” He tapped her lips once, then traced her rounded sigh. “We may have argued, but when I’m in the room with you, my hand still gravitates to your back by instinct.”
Her heart drummed faster until she couldn’t have responded even if she tried. But she wasn’t trying, too caught up in the sound of him, the desire in his every word.
“The pull between us is that strong, Shannon, whether I’m deep inside you or just listening to you across a room.” A half smile kicked a dimple into one cheek. “Why do you think I call you late at night?”
She glanced quickly at the video area checking to make sure her son and the steward where still engrossed in Disney, then she whispered, “Because you’d finished work?”
“You know better. Just the sound of you on the other end of the line sends me rock—”
“Stop, please.” She pressed her fingers to his mouth. “You’re only hurting us both.”
Nipping her fingers lightly first, he linked his hand with hers. “We have problems, without a doubt, and you have reason to be mad. But the drive to be together hasn’t eased one bit. Can you deny it? Because if you can, then that is it. I’ll keep my distance.”
Opening her mouth, she formed the words that would slice that last tie to the relationship they’d forged over the past few months. She fully intended to tell him they were through…. But nothing came out. Not one word.
Slowly, he pulled back. “We’re almost there.”
Almost where? Back together? Her mind scrambled to keep up with him, damn tough when he kept jumbling her brain. She was a flipping magna cum laude graduate. She resented feeling like a bimbo at the mercy of her libido. But how her libido sang arias around this man…
He shoved to his feet and walked away. Just like that, he cut their conversation short as if they both hadn’t been sinking deep into a sensual awareness that had brought them both such intense pleasure in the past. She tracked the lines of his broad shoulders, down to his trim waist and taut butt showcased so perfectly in tailored pants.
Her fingers dug deep into the sofa with restraint. He stopped by Kolby and slid up the window covering.
“Take a look, kiddo, we’re almost there.” Tony pointed at the clear glass toward the pristine sky.
As in they’d arrived there, at his father’s island. She’d been so caught up in the sensual draw of undiluted Tony that she’d temporarily forgotten about flying away to a mystery location.
Scrambling down the sofa, she straightened her glasses and stared out the window, hungry for a peek at their future—temporary—home. And yes, curious as hell about the place where Tony had grown up. Sure enough, an island stretched in the distance, nestled in miles and miles of sparkling ocean. Palm trees spiked from the lush landscape. A dozen or so small outbuildings dotted a semicircle around a larger structure.
The white mansion faced the ocean in a
shape, constructed around a large courtyard with a pool. She barely registered Kolby’s “oohs” and “aahs” since she was pretty much overwhelmed by the sight herself.
Details were spotty but she would get an up-close view soon enough of the place Tony had called home for most of his youth. Even from a distance she couldn’t miss the grand scale of the sprawling estate, the unmistakable sort that housed royalty.
The plane banked, lining up with a thin islet alongside the larger island. A single strip of concrete marked the private runway. As they neared, a ferryboat came into focus. To ride from the airport to the main island? They sure were serious about security.
The intercom system crackled a second before the steward announced, “We’re about to begin our descent to our destination. Please return to your seats and secure your lap belts. Thank you, and we hope you had a pleasant flight.”
Tony pulled away from the window and smiled at her again. Except now, the grin didn’t reach his eyes. Her stomach fluttered, but this time with apprehension rather than arousal.
Would the island hold the answers she needed to put Tony in her past? Or would it only break her heart all over again?
Just ahead, a black skimmer glided across the water, dipping its bill into the surface. With each lap of the waves against the hull, Tony closed off insidious emotions before they could take root inside him and focused on the shore.
An osprey circled over its nest. Palm trees lined the beach with only a small white stucco building and a two-lane road. Until you looked closer and saw the guard tower.
When he’d come to this island off the coast of St. Augustine at five, there were times he’d believed they were home…that his father had moved them to another part of San Rinaldo. In the darkest nights, he’d woken in a cold sweat, certain the soldiers in camouflage were going to cut through the bars on his windows and take him. Other nights he imagined they’d already taken him and the bars locked him in prison.
On the worst of nights, he’d thought his mother was still alive, only to see her die all over again.
Shannon’s hand slid over his elbow, her touch tentative, her eyes wary. “How long did I sleep on the plane?”
“A while.” He smiled to reassure her, but the feeling didn’t come from his gut. Damn, but he wished the past week had never happened. He would pull her soft body against him and forget about everything else.
Wind streaked her hair across her face. “Oh, right. If you tell me, I might get a sense of how far away we are from Galveston. I might guess where we are. Being cut off from the world is still freaking me out just a little.”
“I understand, and I’ll to do my best to set things right as soon as possible.” He wanted nothing more than to get off this island and return to the life he’d built, the life he chose. The only thing that made coming back here palatable was having Shannon by his side. And that rocked the deck under his feet, realizing she held so much influence over his life.
“Although, I have to admit,” she conceded as she tucked her son closer, “this place is so much more than I expected.”
Her gaze seemed to track the herons picking their way along the shore, sea oats bowing at every gust. Her grayish-blue eyes glinted with the first hints of excitement. She must not have noticed the security cameras tucked in trees and the guard on the dock, a gun strapped within easy reach.
Tony gripped the rail tighter. “There’s no way to prepare a person.”
Kolby squealed, pitching forward in his mother’s arms.
“Whoa…” Tony snagged the kid by the back of his striped overalls. “Steady there.”
A hand pressed to her chest, Shannon struggled for breath. “Thank God you moved so fast. I can’t believe I looked away. There’s just so much to see, so many distractions.”
The little guy scowled at Tony. “Down.”
“Buddy,” Tony stated as he shook his head, “sometime you’re going to have to like me.”
“Name’s not buddy,” Kolby insisted, bottom lip out.
“You’re right. I’m just trying to make friends here.” Because he intended to use this time to persuade Shannon breaking up had been a crappy idea. He wondered how much the child understood. Since he didn’t know how else to approach him, he opted for straight up honesty. “I like your mom, so it’s important that you like me.”
Shannon’s gasp teased his ear like a fresh trickle of wind off the water. As much as he wanted to turn toward her, he kept his attention on the boy.
Kolby clenched Tony’s shirt. “Does you like
“Uh, sure.” The question caught him off guard. He hadn’t thought about it other than knowing it was important to win the son over for Shannon’s sake. “What do you like?”
“Not you.” He popped his bottom lip back in. “Down, pwease.”
Shannon caught her son as he leaned toward her. Confusion puckering her brow, her eyes held Tony’s for a second before she pointed over the side. “Is that what you wanted to see, sweetie?”
A dolphin zipped alongside the ferry. The fin sliced through the water, then submerged again.
Clapping his tiny hands, Kolby chanted, “Yes, yes, yes.”
Again, Shannon saw beauty. He saw something entirely different. The dolphins provided port security. His father had gotten the idea from his own military service, cutting-edge stuff back then. The island was a minikingdom and money wasn’t an object. Except this kingdom had substantially fewer subjects.
Tony wondered again if the secluded surroundings growing up could have played into his lousy track record with relationships as an adult. There hadn’t been any teenage dating rituals for practice. And after he left, he’d been careful with relationships, never letting anything get too complicated. Work and a full social life kept him happy.
But the child in front of him made things problematic in a way he hadn’t foreseen.
For years he’d been pissed off at his father for the way they’d had to live. And here he was doing the same to Kolby. The kid was entertained for the moment, but that would end fast for sure.
Protectiveness for both the mother and son seared his veins. He wouldn’t let anything from the Medina past mark their future. Even if that meant he had to reclaim the very identity he’d worked his entire adulthood to shed.
The ferry slid against the dock. They’d arrived at the island.
And Prince Antonio Medina was back.