Authors: Catherine Mann
Tags: #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Adult, #Mistresses, #Man Of The Month, #Princes
How strange to have such complete panoramic peace during such a tumultuous time. The balcony offered an unending view of the sea, unlike the other side with barrier islands. The temperature felt much the same as in Galveston, humid and in the seventies.
She should make the most of the quiet to regain her footing. Instead, she kept looking at the door leading into Tony’s suite and wondering why she hadn’t seen him yet.
Her morning had been hectic and more than a little overwhelming learning her way around the mansion with Alys. As much as she needed to resist Tony, she’d missed having his big comforting presence at her side while she explored the never-ending rooms packed nonchalantly with priceless art and antiques.
And they’d only toured half of the home and grounds.
Afterward, Alys had introduced two women on hand for sitter and nanny duties. Shannon had been taken aback by the notion of turning her son over to total strangers, although she had to confess, the guard assigned to shadow Kolby reassured her. She’d been shown letters of recommendation and résumés for each individual. Still, Shannon had spent the rest of the morning getting to know each person in case she needed to call on their help.
Interestingly, none of the king’s employees gave away the island’s location despite subtle questions about traveling back to their homes. Everyone on Enrique’s payroll seemed to understand the importance of discretion, as well as seeing to her every need. Including delivering a closet full of clothes that just happened to fit. Not that she’d caved to temptation yet and tried any of it on. A gust rolling off the ocean teased the well-washed cotton of her sundress around her legs as she stood on the balcony.
The click of double doors opening one suite down snapped her from her reverie. She didn’t even need to look over her shoulder to verify who’d stepped outside. She knew the sound of his footsteps, recognized the scent of him on the breeze.
His Italian loafers stopped alongside her feet in simple pink and brown striped flip-flops.
Not ones from the new stash.
Leaning into her line of sight, he rested his elbows on the iron rail. “Sorry not to have checked in on you sooner. My father and I spent the morning troubleshooting on a conference call with my brothers and our attorneys.”
Of course. That made sense. “Any news?”
“More of the same. Hopefully we can start damage control with some valid info leaked to the press to turn the tide. There’s just so much out there.” He shook his head sharply then forced a smile. “Enough of that. I missed you at lunch.”
“Kolby and I ate in our suite.” The scent of Tony’s sandalwood aftershave had her curling her toes. “His table manners aren’t up to royal standards.”
“You don’t have to hide in your rooms. There’s no court or ceremony here.” Still, he wore khakis and a monogrammed blue button-down rolled up at the sleeves rather than the jeans and shorts most everyday folks would wear on a beach vacation.
And he looked mighty fine in every starched inch of fabric.
“Formality or not, there are priceless antiques and art all easily within a child’s reach.” She trailed her fingers along the iron balustrade. “This place is a lot to absorb. We need time. Although I hope life returns to normal sooner rather than later.”
Could she simply pick up where she’d left off? Things hadn’t been so great then, given her nearly bankrupt account and her fight with Tony over more than money, over her very independence. Yet hadn’t she been considering resuming the affair just last night?
Sometimes it was tough to tell if her hormones or her heart had control these days.
He extended his hand. “You’re right. Let’s slow things down. Would you like to go for a walk?”
“But Kolby might wake up and ask for m—”
“One of the nannies can watch over him and call us the second his eyes open. Come on. I’ll update you on the wackiest of the internet buzz.” A half grin tipped one side of his tanned face. “Apparently one source thinks the Medinas have a space station and I’ve taken you to the mother ship.”
Laughter bubbled, surprising her, and she just let it roll free with the wind tearing in from the shore. God, how she needed it after the stressful past couple of days—a stressful week for that matter, since she had broken off her relationship with Tony. “Lead the way, my alien lover.”
His smile widened, reaching his eyes for the first time since their ferry had pulled up to the island. The power outshone the world around her until she barely noticed the opulent surroundings on their way through the mansion to the beach.
The October sun high in the sky was blinding and warm, hotter than when she’d been on the balcony, inching up toward eighty degrees perhaps. Her mind started churning with possible locations. Could they be in Mexico or South America? Or were they still in the States? California or—
“We’re off the coast of Florida.”
Glancing up sharply, she swallowed hard, not realizing until that moment how deeply the secrecy had weighed on her. “Thank you.”
He waved aside her gratitude. “You would have figured it out on your own in a couple of days.”
Maybe, but given the secrecy of Enrique’s employees, she wasn’t as certain. “So, what about more of those wacky internet rumors?”
“Do you really want to discuss that?”
“I guess not.” She slid off her flip-flops and curled her toes in the warm sand. “Thank you for all the clothes for me and for Kolby, the toys, too. We’ll enjoy them while we’re here. But you know we can’t keep them.”
“Don’t be a buzz kill.” He tapped her nose just below the bridge of her glasses. “My father’s staff ordered everything. I had nothing to do with it. If it’ll make you happy, we’ll donate the lot to Goodwill after you leave.”
“How did he get everything here so fast?” She strode into the tide, her shoes dangling from her fingers.
“Does it matter?” He slid off his shoes and socks and joined her, just into the water’s reach.
With the more casual and familiar Tony returning, some of the tension left her shoulders. “I guess not. The toys are awesome, of course, but Kolby enjoys the dogs most. They seem incredibly well trained.”
“They are. My father will have his trainers working with the dogs to bond with your son so they will protect him as well if need be while you are here.”
She shivered in spite of the bold beams of sunshine overhead. “Can’t a dog just be a pet?”
“Things aren’t that simple for us.” He looked away, down the coast at an osprey spreading its wings and diving downward.
How many times had he watched the birds as a child and wanted to fly away, too? She understood well the need to escape a golden cage. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be.” He rejected her sympathy outright.
Pride iced his clipped words, and she searched for a safer subject.
Her eyes settled on the rippling crests of foam frosting the gray-blue shore. “Is this where you used to surf?”
“Actually, the cove is pretty calm.” He pointed ahead to an outcropping packed with palm trees. “The best spot is about a mile and a half down. Or at least it was. Who knows after so many years?”
“You really had free rein to run around the island.” She stepped onto a sandbar that fingered out into the water. As a mother, she had a tough time picturing her child exploring this junglelike beach at will.
“Once I was a teenager, pretty much. After I was through with schooling for the day, of course.” A green turtle popped his head from the water, legs poking from the shell as he swam out and slapped up the beach. “Although sometimes we even had class out here.”
“A field trip to the beach? What fun teachers you had.”
“Of course.” The stark difference in their upbringings wrapped around her like seaweed lapping at her ankles. She tried to shake free of the clammy negativity. “Surfing was your P.E.?”
“Technically, we had what you would call phys ed, but it was more of a health class with martial arts training.”
During her couple of years teaching high school band and chorus before she’d met Nolan, some of her students went to karate lessons. But they’d gone to a gym full of other students, rather than attending in seclusion with only two brothers for company. “It’s so surreal to think you never went to prom, or had an after-school job or played on a basketball team.”
“We had games here…but you’re right in that there was no stadium of classmates and parents. No cheerleaders.” He winked and smiled, but she sensed he was using levity as a diversion.
How often had he done that in the past and she’d missed out hearing his real thoughts or feelings because she wanted things to be uncomplicated?
Shannon squeezed his bulging forearm. “You would have been a good football player with your size.”
“Soccer.” His bicep twitched under her touch. “I’m from Europe, remember?”
“Of course.” Unlikely she would ever forget his roots now that she knew. And she wanted to learn more about this strong-jawed man who thought to order a miniature motorized Jeep for her son—and then give credit to his father.
She tucked her hand into the crook of his arm as she swished through the ebbs and flow of the tidewaters. “So you still think of yourself as being from Europe? Even though you were only five when you came to the U.S.?”
His eyebrows pinched together. “I never really thought of this as the U.S. even though I know how close we are.”
“I can understand that. Everything here is such a mix of cultures.” While the staff spoke English to her, she’d heard Spanish spoken by some. Books and magazines and even instructions on labels were a mix of English, Spanish and some French. “You mentioned thinking this was still San Rinaldo when you got here.”
“Only at first. My father told us otherwise.”
What difficult conversations those must have been between father and sons. So much to learn and adjust to so young. “We’ve both lost a lot, you and I. I wonder if I sensed that on some level, if that’s what drew us to each other.”
He slid an arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer while they kicked through the surf. “Don’t kid yourself. I was attracted to how hot you looked walking away in that slim black skirt. And then when you glanced over your shoulder with those prim glasses and do-me eyes.” He whistled long and low. “I was toast from the get-go.”
Trying not to smile, her skin heating all the same, she elbowed him lightly. “Cro-Magnon.”
“Hey, I’m a red-blooded male and you’re sexy.” He traced the cat-eye edge of her glasses. “You’re also entirely too serious at the moment. Life will kick us in the ass all on its own soon enough. We’re going to just enjoy the moment, remember? No more buzz kills.”
“You’re right.” Who knew how much longer she would have with Tony before this mess blew up in her face? “Let’s go back to talking about surfing and high school dances. You so would have been the bad boy.”
“And I’ll bet you were a good girl. Did you wear those studious glasses even then?”
“Since I was in the eighth grade.” She’d hated how her nose would sweat in the heat when she’d marched during football games. “I was a dedicated musician with no time for boys.”
“I want to enjoy this beautiful ocean and a day with absolutely nothing to do.” She bolted ahead, kicking through the tide, not sure how to balance her impulsive need for Tony with her practical side that demanded she stay on guard.
Footsteps splashed behind her a second before Tony scooped her up. And she let him.
The warm heat of his shoulder under her cheek, the steady pump of his heart against her side had her curling her arms around his neck. “You’re getting us all wet.”
His eyes fell to her shirt. His heart thumped faster. “Are you having fun?”
“Yes, I am.” She toyed with the springy curls at the nape of his neck. “You always make sure of that, whether it’s an opera or a walk by the beach.”
“You deserve to have more fun in your life.” He held her against his chest with a familiarity she couldn’t deny. “I would make things easier for you. You know that.”
“And you know where I stand on that subject.” She cupped his face, his stubble so dark and thick that he wore a perpetual five o’clock shadow. “This—your protection, the trip, the clothes and toys—it’s already much more than I’m comfortable taking.”
She needed to be clear on that before she even considered letting him closer again.
He eased her to her feet with a lingering glide of her body down his. “We should go back.”
The desire in his eyes glinted unmistakably in the afternoon sun. Yet, he pulled away.
Her lips hungered and her breasts ached—and
was walking away again, in spite of all he’d said about how much he wanted her. This man confused the hell out of her.
Could her time here already be almost over?
Sipping freshly squeezed lemonade—although the drink tasted far too amazing for such a simple name—she savored the tart taste. Of course everything seemed sharper, crisper as tension seeped from her bones. The concerns of the world felt forever away while the sun warmed her skin and the waves provided a soothing sound track to her days.
And she had Tony to thank for it all. She’d never known there were so many entertainment options on an island. Of course Enrique Medina had spared no expense in building his compound.
A movie screening room with all the latest films piped in for private viewing.
Three different dining rooms for everything from family style to white-tie.
Rec room, gym, indoor and outdoor swimming pools.
She could still hear Kolby’s squeal of delight over the stable of horses and ponies.
Throughout it all, Tony had been at her side with tantalizing brushes of his strong body against hers. All the while his rich chocolate brown eyes reminded Shannon that the next move was up to her. Not that they stood a chance at finding privacy today. The grounds buzzed with activity, and today, no sign of Tony.
Behind her, the doors snicked open. Tony? Her heart stuttered a quick syncopation as she glanced back.
Alys walked toward her, high heels clicking on the tiled veranda as she angled past two guards comparing notes on their twin BlackBerry phones. Shannon forced herself to keep the smile in place. It would be rude to frown in disappointment, especially after how helpful the woman had been.
Too bad the disappointment wasn’t as easy to hide from herself. No doubt about it, Tony was working his way back into her life.
The king’s assistant stopped at the fully stocked outdoor bar and poured a glass of lemonade from the crystal pitcher.
Shannon thumbed the condensation on the cold glass. “Is there something you need?”
“Antonio wanted me to find you, and I have.” She tapped her silver BlackBerry attached to the waistband of her linen skirt. Ever crisp with her power suit and French manicure. As usual the elegant woman didn’t have a wrinkle in sight, much less wince over working in heels all day. “He’ll be out shortly. He’s finishing up a meeting with his father.”
“I should get Kolby.” She swung her feet to the side. How silly to be glad she’d caved and used some of the new clothes. She had worn everything she brought with her twice and while the laundry service easily kept up with her limited wardrobe, she’d begun to feel a little ungrateful not to wear at least a few of the things that someone had gone to a lot of trouble to provide. Shannon smoothed the de la Renta scoop-necked dress, the fabric so decadently soft it caressed her skin with every move.
“No need to stop the boy’s fun just yet. Antonio is on his way.” Alys perched on the edge of the lounger, glass on her knee.
Shannon rubbed the hem of her dress between two fingers much like Kolby with his blanket when he needed soothing. “I hear you’re the one who ordered all the new clothes. Thank you.”
Alys saw to everything else in this smoothly run place. “No need for thanks. It’s my job.”
“You have excellent taste.” She tugged the hem back over her knees.
“I saw your photo online and chose things that would flatter your frame and coloring. It’s fun to shop on someone else’s dime.”
More than a dime had gone into this wardrobe. Her closet sported new additions each morning. Everything from casual jeans and designer blouses to silky dresses and heels to wear for dinner. An assortment of bathing suits to choose from….
And the lingerie. A decadent shiver slid down her spine at the feel of the fine silks and satins against her skin. Although it made her uncomfortable to think of this woman choosing everything.
Alys turned her glass around and around on her knee. “The expense you worry about is nothing to them. They can afford the finest. It would bother them to see you struggling. Now you fit in and that gives the king less to worry about.”
God forbid her tennis shoes should make the king uncomfortable. But saying as much would make her sound ungrateful, so she toyed with her glasses, pulling them off and cleaning them with her napkin even though they were already crystal clear. The dynamics of this place went beyond any household she’d ever seen. Alys seemed more comfortable here than Tony.
Shannon slid her glasses back on. “If you don’t mind my asking, how long have you been working for the king?”
“Only three months.”
How long did she intend to stay? The island was luxurious, but in more of a vacation kind of way. It was so cut off from the world, time seemed to stand still. What kind of life could the woman build in this place?
Abruptly, Alys leaped to her feet. “Here is Antonio now.”
He charged confidently through the door, eyes locked on Shannon. “Thank you for finding her, Alys.”
The assistant backed away. “Of course.” Alys stepped out of hearing range, giving them some privacy.
Forking a hand through his hair—messing up the precise combing from his conference with his father—Tony wore a suit without a tie. The jacket perhaps a nod toward meeting with his father? His smile was carefree, but his shoulders bore the extra tension she’d come to realize accompanied time he had spent with the king.
“How did your meeting go?”
“Don’t want to talk about that.” Tony plucked a lily from the vase on the bar, snapped the stem off and tucked the bloom behind her ear. “Would much rather enjoy the view. The flower is almost as gorgeous as you are.”
The lush perfume filled each breath. “All the fresh flowers are positively decadent.”
“I wish I could take credit, but there’s a hothouse with a supply that’s virtually unlimited.”
Yet another amenity she wouldn’t have guessed, although it certainly explained all the fresh-cut flowers. “Still,” she repeated as she touched the lily tucked in her hair, “I appreciate the gesture.”
“I would make love to you on a bed of flowers if you let me.” He thumbed her earlobe lightly before skimming his knuckles along her collarbone.
How easy it would be to give over to the delicious seduction of his words and his world. Except she’d allowed herself to fall into that trap before.
And of course there was that little technicality that
had been the one holding back all week. “What about thorns?”
He laughed, his hand falling away from her skin and palming her back. “Come on, my practical love. We’re going out.”
Love? She swallowed to dampen her suddenly cottony mouth. “To lunch?”
“To the airstrip.”
Her stomach lurched. This slice of time away was over already? “We’re leaving?”
“Not that lucky, I’m afraid. Your apartment is still staked out with the press and curious royalty groupie types. You may want to consider a gated community on top of the added security measures. I know the cost freaks you out, but give my lawyer another couple of days to work on those restraining orders and we can take it from there. As for where we’re going today, we’re greeting guests and I’d like you to come along.”
They weren’t leaving. Relief sang through her so intensely it gave her pause.
Tony cocked his head to the side. “Would you like to come with me?”
“Uh, yes, I think so.” She struggled to gather her scrambled thoughts and composure. “I just need to settle Kolby.”
Alys cleared her throat a few feet away. “I’ve already notified Miss Delgado, the younger nanny. She’s ordering a picnic lunch and bringing sand toys. Then of course she will watch over him during his naptime if needed. I assume that’s acceptable to you?”
Her son would enjoy that more than a car ride and waiting around for the flight. She was growing quite spoiled having afternoons completely free while Kolby napped safely under a nanny’s watchful care. “Of course. That sounds perfect.”
Shannon smiled her thanks and reached out to touch the woman’s arm. Except Alys wasn’t looking at her. The king’s assistant had her eyes firmly planted elsewhere.
Shock nailed her feet to the tiles. Then a fierce jealousy vibrated through her, a feeling that was most definitely ugly and not her style. She’d thought herself above such a primitive emotion, not to mention Tony hadn’t given the woman any encouragement.
Still, Shannon fought the urge to link her arm with his in a great big “mine” statement. In that unguarded moment, Alys revealed clearly what she hoped to gain from living here.
Alys wanted a Medina man.