Authors: Catherine Mann
Tags: #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Adult, #Mistresses, #Man Of The Month, #Princes
Shannon wanted to reach across the limousine to him, but Tony had emotionally checked out the moment the ferry docked. Of course he’d been Mr. Manners while leaving the ferry and stepping into the Mercedes limo.
Watch your step… Need help?
However, the smiles grew darker by the minute.
Maybe it was her own gloomy thoughts tainting her perceptions. At least Kolby seemed unaffected by their moods, keeping his nose pressed to the window the whole winding way to the pristine mansion.
Who wouldn’t stare at the trees and the wildlife and finally, the palatial residence? White stucco with a clay tiled roof, arches and opulence ten times over, the place was the size of some hotels or convention centers. Except no hotel she’d stayed in sported guards armed with machine guns.
What should have made her feel safer only served to remind her money and power didn’t come without burdens. To think, Tony had grown up with little or no exposure to the real world. It was a miracle he’d turned out normal.
If you could call a billionaire prince with a penchant for surfing “normal.”
The limousine slowed, easing past a towering marble fountain with a “welcome” pineapple on top—and wasn’t that ironic in light of all those guards? Once the vehicle stopped, more uniformed security appeared from out of nowhere to open the limo. Some kind of servant—a butler perhaps—stood at the top of the stairs. While Tony had insisted he wanted nothing to do with his birthplace, he seemed completely at ease in this surreal world. For the first time, the truth really sunk in.
The stunningly handsome—stoically silent—man walking beside her had royal blood singing through his veins.
“Tony?” She touched his elbow.
“After you,” he said, simply gesturing ahead to the double doors sweeping open.
Scooping Kolby onto her hip, she took comfort in his sturdy little body and forged ahead. Inside.
The cavernous circular hall sported gold gilded archways leading to open rooms. Two staircases stretched up either side, meeting in the middle. And, uh, stop the world, was that a Picasso on the wall?
Her canvas sneakers squeaked against marble floors as more arches ushered her deeper into the mansion. And while she vowed money didn’t matter, she still wished she’d packed different shoes. Shannon straightened the straps on Kolby’s favorite striped overalls, the ones he swore choo-choo drivers wore. She’d been so frazzled when she’d tossed clothes into a couple of overnight bags, picking things that would make him happy.
Just ahead, French doors opened on to a veranda that overlooked the ocean. Tony turned at the last minute, guiding her toward what appeared to be a library. Books filled three walls, interspersed with windows and a sliding brass ladder. Mosaic tiles swirled outward on the floor, the ceiling filled with frescos of globes and conquistadors. The smell of fresh citrus hung in the air, and not just because of the open windows. A tall potted orange tree nestled in one corner beneath a wide skylight.
An older man slept in a wingback by the dormant fireplace. Two large brown dogs—some kind of Ridgeback breed, perhaps?—lounged to his left and right.
Tony’s father. A no-kidding king.
Either age or illness had taken a toll, dimming the family resemblance. But in spite of his nap, he wasn’t going gently into that good night. No slippers and robe for this meeting. He wore a simple black suit with an ascot rather than a tie, his silver hair slicked back. Frailty and his pasty pallor made her want to comfort him.
Then his eyes snapped open. The sharp gleam in his coal dark eyes stopped her short.
Holy Sean Connery, the guy might be old but he hadn’t lost his edge.
Enrique Medina spoke in English but his accent was still unmistakably Spanish. And perhaps a bit thick with emotion? Or was that just wishful thinking on her part for Tony’s sake?
“Hello, Papa.” Tony palmed her back between her shoulder blades. “This is Shannon and her son Kolby.”
The aging monarch nodded in her direction. “Welcome, to you and to your son.”
“Thank you for your hospitality and your help, sir.” She didn’t dare wade into the whole
waters. Simplicity seemed safest.
Toying with a pocket watch in his hand, Enrique continued, “If not for my family, you would not need my assistance.”
Tony’s fingers twitched against her back. “Hopefully we won’t have to impose upon you for long. Shannon and her son only need a place to lay low until this blows over.”
“It won’t blow over,” Enrique said simply.
Tony didn’t. “Poor choice of words. Until things calm down.”
“Of course.” He nodded regally before shifting his attention her way. “I am glad to have you here, my dear. You brought Tony home, so you have already won favor with me.” He smiled and for the first time, she saw the family resemblance clearly.
Kolby wriggled, peeking up from her neck. “Whatsa matter with you?”
“Shhh…Kolby.” She pressed a quick silencing kiss to his forehead. “That’s a rude question.”
“It’s an honest question. I do not mind the boy.” The king shifted his attention to her son. “I have been ill. My legs are not strong enough to walk.”
“I’m sorry.” Kolby eyed the wheelchair folded up and tucked discreetly alongside the fireplace. “You musta been bery sick.”
“Thank you. I have good doctors.”
“You got germs?”
A smile tugged at the stern face. “No, child. You and your mother cannot catch my germs.”
“That’s good.” He stuffed his tiny fists into his pockets. “Don’t like washin’ my hands.”
Enrique laughed low before his hand fell to rest on one dog’s head. “Do you like animals?”
“Yep.” Kolby squirmed downward until Shannon had no choice but to release him before he pitched out of her arms. “Want a dog.”
Such a simple, painfully normal wish and she couldn’t afford to supply it. From the pet deposit required at her apartment complex to the vet bills… It was out of her budget. Guilt tweaked again over all she couldn’t give her child.
Yet hadn’t Tony been denied so much even with such wealth? He’d lost his home, his mother and gained a gilded prison. Whispers of sympathy for a motherless boy growing up isolated from the world softened her heart when she most needed to hold strong.
Enrique motioned Kolby closer. “You may pet my dog. Come closer and I will introduce you to Benito and Diablo. They are very well trained and will not hurt you.”
Kolby didn’t even hesitate. Any reservations her son felt about Tony certainly didn’t extend to King Enrique—or his dogs. Diablo sniffed the tiny, extended hand.
A cleared throat startled Shannon from her thoughts. She glanced over her shoulder and found a young woman waiting in the archway. In her late twenties, wearing a Chanel suit, she obviously wasn’t the housekeeper.
But she was stunning with her black hair sleeked back in a simple clasp. She wore strappy heels instead of sneakers. God, it felt silly to be envious of someone she didn’t know, and honestly, she only coveted the pretty red shoes.
“Alys,” the older man commanded, “enter. Come meet my son and his guests. This is my assistant, Alys Reyes de la Cortez. She will show you to your quarters.”
Shannon resisted the urge to jump to conclusions. It wasn’t any of her business who Enrique Medina chose for his staff and she shouldn’t judge a person by their appearance. The woman was probably a rocket scientist, and Shannon wouldn’t trade one single sticky hug from her son for all the high-end clothes on the planet.
Not that she was jealous of the gorgeous female with immaculate clothes, who fit perfectly into Tony’s world. After all, he hadn’t spared more than a passing glance at the woman.
Still, she wished she’d packed a pair of pumps.
More like a luxury condominium within the mansion. She sunk her toes into the Persian rug until her chipped pink polish disappeared in the apricot and gray pattern. She and Kolby had separate bedrooms off a sitting area with an eating space stocked more fully than most kitchens. The balcony was as large as some yards.
Had the fresh-cut flowers been placed in here just for her? She dipped her face into the crystal vase of lisianthus with blooms that resembled blue roses and softened the gray tones in the decor.
After Alys had walked them up the lengthy stairs to their suite, Kolby had run from room to room for fifteen minutes before winding down and falling asleep in an exhausted heap under the covers. He hadn’t even noticed the toy box at the end of his sleigh bed yet, he’d been so curious about their new digs. Tony had given them space while she unpacked, leaving for his quarters with a simple goodbye and another of those smiles that didn’t reach his eyes.
The quiet echoed around her, leaving her hyperaware of other sounds…a ticking grandfather clock in the hall…the crashing ocean outside… Trailing her fingers along the camelback sofa, she looked through the double doors, moonlight casting shadows along her balcony. Her feet drew her closer until the shadows took shape into the broad shoulders of a man leaning on the railing.
Tony? He felt like a safe haven in an upside down day. But how had he gotten there without her noticing his arrival?
Their balconies must connect, which meant someone had planned for them to have access to each other’s rooms. Had he been waiting for her? Anticipation hummed through her at the notion of having him all to herself.
Shannon unlocked and pushed open the doors to the patio filled with topiaries, ferns and flowering cacti. A swift ocean breeze rolled over her, lifting her hair and fluttering her shirt along her skin in whispery caresses. God, she was tired and emotional and so not in the right frame of mind to be anywhere near Tony. She should go to bed instead of staring at his sinfully sexy body just calling to her to rest her cheek on his back and wrap her arms around his waist. Her fingers fanned against her legs as she remembered the feel of him, so much more intense with his sandalwood scent riding the wind.
Need pooled warm and languid and low, diluting her already fading resistance.
His shoulders bunched under his starched white shirt a second before he glanced over his shoulder, his eyes haunted. Then they cleared. “Is Kolby asleep?”
“Yes, and thank you for all the preparations. The toys, the food…the flowers.”
“All a part of the Medina welcome package.”
“Perhaps.” But she’d noticed a few too many of their favorites for the choices to have been coincidental. She moved forward hesitantly, the tiles cool against the bottoms of her feet. “This is all…something else.”
“Leaving San Rinaldo, we had to downsize.” He gave her another of those dry smiles.
More sympathy slid over her frustration at his secrets. “Thank you for bringing us here. I know it wasn’t easy for you.”
“I’m the reason you have to hide out in the first place until we line up protection for you. Seems only fair I should do everything in my power to make this right.”
Her husband had never tried to fix any of his mistakes, hadn’t even apologized after his arrest in the face of irrefutable evidence. She couldn’t help but appreciate the way Tony took responsibility. And he cared enough to smooth the way for her.
“What about you?” She joined him at the swirled iron railing. “You wouldn’t have come here if it weren’t for me. What do you hope to accomplish for yourself?”
“Don’t worry about me.” He leaned back on his elbows, white shirt stretching open at the collar to reveal the strong column of his neck. “I always look out for myself.”
“Then what are you gaining?”
“More time with you, at least until the restraining order is in place.” The heat of his eyes broadcast his intent just before he reached for her. “I’ve always been clear about how much I want to be with you, even on that first date when you wouldn’t kiss me good-night.”
“Is that why you chased me? Because I said no?”
“But you didn’t keep saying no and still, here I am turned on as hell by the sound of your voice.” He plucked her glasses off, set them aside and cradled her face in his palms. “The feel of your skin.”
While he owned an empire with corporate offices that took up a bayside block, his skin still carried the calluses of the dockworker and sailor he’d been during his early adulthood. He was a man who certainly knew how to work with his hands. The rasp as he lightly caressed her cheekbones reminded her of the sweet abrasion when he explored farther.
He combed through along her scalp, strands slithering across his fingers. “The feel of your hair.”
A moan slipped past her lips along with his name, “Tony…”
“Antonio,” he reminded her. “I want to hear you say my name, know who’s here with you.”
And in this moment, in his eyes, he was that foreign prince, less accessible than her Tony, but no less exciting and infinitely as irresistible, so she whispered, “Antonio.”
His touch was gentle, his mouth firm against hers. She parted her lips under his and invited in the familiar sweep, taste and pure sensation. Clutching his elbows, she swayed, her breasts tingling, pulling tight. Before she could think or stop herself, she brushed slightly from side to side, increasing the sweet pleasure of his hard chest teasing her. His hard thigh between her legs.
She stepped backward.
And tugged him with her.
Toward the open French doors leading into her bedroom, her body overriding her brain as it always seemed to do around Tony. She squeezed her legs together tighter against the firm pressure of his muscled thigh, so close, too close. She wanted,
to feel him move inside her first.
Sinking her fingernails deeper, she ached to ask him to stay with her, to help her forget the worries waiting at home. “Antonio—”
“I know.” He eased his mouth from hers, his chin scraping along her jaw as he nuzzled her hair and inhaled. “We need to stop.”
Stop? She almost shrieked in frustration. “But I thought… I mean, you’re here and usually when we let things go this far, we finish.”
“You’re ready to resume our affair?”
Affair. Not just one night, one satisfaction, but a relationship with implications and complications. Her brain raced to catch up after being put on idle while her body took over. God, what had she almost done? A few kisses along with a well-placed thigh, and she was ready to throw herself back in his bed.
Planting her hands on his chest, she stepped away. “I can’t deny that I miss you and I want you, but I have no desire to be labeled a Medina mistress.”
His eyebrows shot up toward his hairline. “Are you saying you want to get married?”