Authors: Catherine Mann
Tags: #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Adult, #Mistresses, #Man Of The Month, #Princes
Was he willing to go that far to protect her?
She turned away fast, her hands raised as she raced back into the sitting area. “Tony—Antonio—I can’t talk to you, look at you, risk kissing you again. I need to go to bed. To sleep. Alone.”
“Then what do you want from me?”
“To end this craziness. To stop thinking about you all the time.”
All the time?
He homed in on her words, an obvious slip on her part because while she’d been receptive and enthusiastic in bed, she’d given him precious little encouragement once they had their clothes back on again. Their fight over his simple offer of money still stung. Why did she have to reject his attempt to help?
She paced, restlessly lining up her shoes beside the sofa, scooping Kolby’s tiny train from a table, lingering to rearrange the blue flowers. “You’ve said you feel the same. Who the hell wants to be consumed by this kind of ache all the time? It’s damned inconvenient, especially when it can’t lead anywhere. It’s not like you were looking for marriage.”
“That wasn’t my intention when we started seeing each other.” Yet somehow the thought had popped into his head out there on the patio. Sure, it had shocked the crap out of him at first. Still left him reeling. Although not so much that he was willing to reject the idea outright. “But since you’ve brought it up—”
Her hands shot up in front of her, between them. “Uh-uh, no sirree. You were the one to mention the
“Fine, then. The marriage issue is out there, on the table for discussion. Let’s talk it through.”
She stopped cold. “This isn’t some kind of business merger. We’re talking about our lives here, and not just ours. I don’t have the luxury of making another mistake. I already screwed up once before, big time. My son’s well-being depends on my decisions.”
“And I’m a bad choice because?”
“Do not play with my feelings. Damn it, Tony.” She jabbed him in the chest with one finger. “You know I’m attracted to you. If you keep this up, I’ll probably cave and we’ll have sex. We probably would have on the plane if the steward and my son hadn’t been around. But I would have been sorry the minute the orgasm chilled and is that really how you want it to be between us? To have me waking up regretting it every time?”
With images of the two of them joining the mile-high club fast-tracking from his brain to his groin, he seriously considered saying to hell with regrets. Let this insanity between them play out, wherever it took them.
Her bed was only a few steps away, offering a clear and tempting place to sink inside her. He would sweep away her clothes and the covers— His gaze hooked on the afghan draped along the end corner of the mattress.
Damn. Who had put that there? Could his father be deliberately jabbing him with reminders of their life as a family in hopes of drawing him back into the fold? Of course Enrique would, manipulative old cuss that he was.
That familiar silver blanket sucker punched him back to reality. He would recognize the one-of-a-kind afghan anywhere. His mother had knitted it for him just before she’d been killed, and he’d kept it with him like a shield during the whole hellish escape from San Rinaldo. Good God, he shouldn’t have had to ask her why he was a bad choice. He knew the reason well.
Tony stumbled back, away from the memories and away from this woman who saw too much with her perceptive gray-blue eyes.
“You’re right, Shannon. We’re both too exhausted to make any more decisions today. Sleep well.” His voice as raw as his memory-riddled gut, he left.
One second she’d been ready to climb back into Tony’s arms and bed, the next they’d been talking about marriage. And didn’t that still stun her numb with thoughts of how horribly things had ended with Nolan?
But only seconds after bringing up the marriage issue, Tony had emotionally checked out on her again. At least he’d prevented them from making a mistake. It was a mistake, right?
Eyeing her big—empty—four-poster bed, she suddenly wasn’t one bit sleepy. Tony overwhelmed her as much as the wealth. She walked into her bedroom, studying the Picasso over her headboard, this one from the artist’s rose period, a harlequin clown in oranges and pinks. She’d counted three works already by this artist alone, including some leggy elephant painting in Kolby’s room.
She’d hidden the crayons and markers.
Laughing at the absurdity of it all, she fingered a folded cashmere afghan draped over the corner of the mattress. So whispery soft and strangely worn in the middle of this immaculately opulent decor. The pewter-colored yarn complemented the apricot and gray tones well enough, but she wondered where it had come from. She tugged it from the bed and shook it out.
The blanket rippled in front of her, a little larger than a lap quilt, not quite long enough for a single bed. Turning in a circle she wrapped the filmy cover around her and padded back out to the balcony. She hugged the cashmere wrap tighter and curled up in a padded lounger, letting the ocean wind soothe her face still warm from Tony’s touch.
Was it her imagination or could she smell hints of him even on the blanket? Or was he that firmly in her senses as well as her thoughts? What was it about Tony that reached to her in ways Nolan never had? She’d responded to her husband’s touch, found completion, content with her life right up to the point of betrayal.
But Tony… Shannon hugged the blanket tighter. She hadn’t been hinting at marriage, damn it. Just the thought of giving over her life so completely again scared her to her toes.
So where did that leave her? Seriously considering becoming exactly what the media labeled her—a monarch’s mistress.
Finally, Shannon had settled for the night. Thank God. Much longer and his willpower would have given out. He would have gone back into her room and picked up where they’d left off before he’d caught sight of the damn blanket.
This place screwed with his head, so much so he’d actually brought up marriage, for crying out loud. It was like there were rogue waves from his past curling up everywhere and knocking him off balance. The sooner he could take care of business with his father the sooner he could return to Galveston with Shannon, back to familiar ground where he stood a better chance at reconciling with her.
Staying out of her bed for now was definitely the wiser choice. He walked down the corridor, away from her and that blanket full of memories. He needed his focus sharp for the upcoming meeting with his father. This time, he would face the old man alone.
Charging down the hall, he barely registered the familiar antique wooden benches tucked here, a strategic table and guard posted there. Odd how quickly he slid right back into the surroundings even after so long away. And even stranger that his father hadn’t changed a thing.
The day had been one helluva ride, and it wasn’t over yet. Enrique had been with his nurse for the past hour, but should be ready to receive him now.
Tony rounded the corner and nodded to the sentinel outside the open door to Enrique’s personal quarters. The space was made for a man, no feminine touches to soften the room full of browns and tans, leather and wood. Enrique saved his Salvador Dali collection for himself, a trio of the surrealist’s “soft watches” melting over landscapes.
The old guy had become more obsessed with history after his had been stolen from him.
Enrique waited in his wheelchair, wearing a heavy blue robe and years of worries.
“Sit,” his father ordered, pointing to his old favored chair.
When Tony didn’t jump at his command, Enrique sighed heavily and muttered under his breath in Spanish. “Have a seat,” he continued in his native tongue. “We need to talk,
They did, and Tony had to admit he was curious—concerned—about his father’s health. Knowing might not have brought him home sooner, but now that he was here, he couldn’t ignore the gaunt angles and sallow pallor. “How sick are you really?” Tony continued in Spanish, having spoken both languages equally once they’d left San Rinaldo. “No sugar coating it. I deserve the truth.”
“And you would have heard it earlier if you had returned when I first requested.”
His father had never
anything in his life. The stubborn old cuss had been willing to die alone rather than actually admit how ill he was.
Of course Antonio had been just as stubborn about ignoring the demands to show his face on the island. “I am here now.”
“You and your brothers have stirred up trouble.” A great big
I told you so
was packed into that statement.
“Do you have insights as to how this leaked? How did that reporter identify Duarte?” His middle brother wasn’t exactly a social guy.
“Nobody knows, but my people are still looking into it. I thought you would be the one to expose us,” his father said wryly. “You always were the impetuous one. Yet you’ve behaved decisively and wisely. You have protected those close to you. Well done.”
“I am past needing your approval, but I thank you for your help.”
“Fair enough, and I’m well aware that you would not have accepted that help if Shannon Crawford was not involved. I would be glad to see one of my sons settled and married before I die.”
His gut pitched much like a boat tossed by a wave. “Your illness is that bad?” An uneasy silence settled, his father’s rattling breaths growing louder and louder. “Should I call a nurse?”
Or his assistant? He wasn’t sure what Alys Reyes de la Cortez was doing here, but she was definitely different from the older staff of San Rinaldo natives Enrique normally hired.
“I may be old and sick, but I don’t need to be tucked into bed like a child.” His chin tipped.
“I’m not here to fight with you.”
“Of course not. You’re here for my help.”
And he had the feeling his father wasn’t going to let him forget it. They’d never gotten along well and apparently that hadn’t changed. He started to rise. “If that’s all then, I will turn in.”
“Wait.” His father polished his eighteen-karat gold pocket watch with his thumb. “My assistance comes at a price.”
Shocked at the calculating tone, Tony sank back into his chair. “You can’t be serious.”
“I am. Completely.”
He should have suspected and prepared himself. “What do you want?”
“I want you to stay for the month while you wait for the new safety measures to be implemented.”
“Here? That’s all?” He made it sound offhand but already he could feel the claustrophobia wrap around his throat and tighten. The Dali art mocked him with just how slippery time could be, a life that ended in a flash or a moment that extended forever.
“Is it so strange I want to see what kind of man you have matured into?”
Given Enrique had expected Tony to break their cover, he must not have had high expectations for his youngest son. And that pissed him off. “If I don’t agree? You’ll do what? Feed Shannon and her son to the lions?”
“Her son can stay. I would never sacrifice a child’s safety. The mother will have to go.”
He couldn’t be serious. Tony studied his father for some sign Enrique was bluffing…but the old guy didn’t have a “tell.” And his father hadn’t hesitated to trust his own wife’s safety to others. What would stop him from sending Shannon off with a guard and a good-luck wish?
“She would never leave without her child.” Like his mother. Tony restrained a wince.
“That is not my problem. Are you truly that unwilling to spend a month here?”
“What if the restraining order comes through sooner?”
“I would ask you to stay as a thanks for my assistance. I have risked a lot for you in granting her access to the island.”
True enough, or so it would feel to Enrique with his near agoraphobic need to stay isolated from the world.
“And there are no other conditions?”
A salt and pepper eyebrow arched. “Do you want a contract?”
“Do you? If Shannon decides to leave by the weekend, I could simply go, too. What’s the worst you can do? Cut me out of the will?” He hadn’t taken a penny of his father’s money.
“You always were the most amusing of my sons. I have missed that.”
“I’m not laughing.”
His father’s smile faded and he tucked the watch into a pocket, chain jingling to a rest. “Your word is sufficient. You may not want any part of me and my little world here, but you are a Medina. You are my son. Your honor is not in question.”
“Fair enough. If you’re willing to accept my word, then a month it is.” Now that the decision was made, he wondered why his father had chosen that length of time. “What’s your prognosis?”
“My liver is failing,” Enrique said simply without any hint of self-pity. “Because of the living conditions when I was on the run, I caught hepatitis. It has taken a toll over the years.”
Thinking back, Tony tried to remember if his father had been sick when they’d reunited in South America before relocating to the island…but he only recalled his father being coolly determined. “I didn’t know. I’m sorry.”
“You were a child. You did not need to be informed of everything.”
He hadn’t been told much of
in those days, but even if he had, he wasn’t sure he would have heard. His grief for his mother had been deep and dark. That, he remembered well. “How much longer do you have?”
“I am not going to kick off in the next thirty days.”
“That isn’t what I meant.”
“I know.” His father smiled, creases digging deep. “I have a sense of humor, too.”
What had his father been like before this place? Before the coup? Tony would never know because time was melting away like images in the Dali paintings on the wall.
While he had some memories of his mother from that time, he had almost none of his father until Enrique had met up with them in South America. The strongest memory he had of Enrique in San Rinaldo? When his father gathered his family to discuss the evacuation plan. Enrique had pressed his pocket watch into Tony’s hands and promised to reclaim it. But even at five, Tony had known his father was saying goodbye for what could have been the last time. Now, Enrique wanted him back to say goodbye for the last time again.
How damned ironic. He’d brought Shannon to this place because she needed him. And now he could only think of how much he needed to be with her.