Sam’s dick chose that moment to shrink to the size of a peanut. Sam pushed up into a kneeling position, pulled out of her, and slid to the edge of the bed. When he’d tossed the condom, he turned back to Francesca.
She lay on her back, her mouth swollen, her skin flushed. She was gorgeous. Sexy as hell. And quite possibly crazy. Damn.
He knew better than to make love this soon. He’d given that up nearly a decade before. He preferred to get to know a woman before getting into her pants, and with good reason.
Francesca bit her lower lip. “That came out wrong. I mean I know you didn’t propose or anything.”
“Okay.” That was a step in the right direction.
He stood and grabbed her panties, bra, and dress, then tossed them to her. He collected his jeans and pulled them on, not looking at her until she slipped into her dress and started on the buttons.
When she’d secured the front of her dress, she sank back on the mattress. “This was really great,” she told him, motioning vaguely to the bed, then to him. “I haven’t been with anyone in a while and…” She stopped and sighed. “So my sisters made me promise…” She stopped again.
He was still wary enough not to approach the bed. “You said you didn’t want to get married.”
She brightened. “That’s right. I don’t.” She smiled. “What I mean by that is I’m not looking to get involved.” She shook her head. “I’m not really into the whole romance-marriage thing. I was married once, and I didn’t like it. After Todd died, I tried dating some, but guys always want to take things to the next level. Does that sound too horrible?”
“No.” Some of his wariness eased. “You think because I slept with you I’ll want to marry you?”
She covered her face with her hands. “That sounds so horrible.” She dropped her hands to her sides and looked at him. “It’s just that I gave up on the whole male-female thing because it was such a pain. I’m guilted enough by my family. They want my sisters and me to settle down and have dozens of babies. I live with the guilt because I can’t seem to let it go, but it’s not enough to make me do what they want. I have my school and a great career just a couple of years away. Until recently, that’s been enough. It’s just I sort of miss, well, um…” She cleared her throat and shifted on the bed.
He got it immediately. “Sex,” he said with a grin.
“That would be it, yes.”
His wariness faded completely, and he mentally apologized for thinking she was crazy.
“You don’t want to get involved with me,” he said.
“You’re very nice,” she told him. “A really great guy.”
He chuckled and moved closer to the bed. “Be honest.”
“Okay, I don’t want hearts, flowers, or forever.”
“Uh-huh.” He sat next to her and took her hand. “But you wouldn’t mind a little slap and tickle.”
Her eyes widened. “I don’t think I’d like any slapping.”
“Only if I get to do it to you.”
He grinned. “No way. I’m the dominant male around here.”
She angled toward him. “I’m sorry I blurted out the marriage thing. The sex was so good and then I panicked.”
“Me, too. I thought you’d gone postal.”
She chuckled. “No. I was overwhelmed by my physical response is all.”
He touched her face. Beautiful, responsive, and not interested in forever. And honest. The one quality he valued above all others.
“I’m into serial monogamy myself,” he said as he cupped her cheek. “No plans to get married.”
“Sure. I didn’t like my experience, either.”
She drew in a breath. “Okay. At the risk of moving too fast, would you be open to a monogamous sexual relationship with no emotional ties?”
He didn’t have to think twice. Not when the woman in question was as appealing as this one. “Absolutely.”
Francesca thought her experience with Sam had peaked with her orgasms, but maybe she’d been a little hasty in her judgment. Was it possible to have everything she wanted and nothing she didn’t?
“We’ll see each other when we want,” he said. “Good conversation, lots of laughs, and plenty of time in bed. When one or both of us want to end it, we will. No expectations. No hard feelings. Deal?”
She felt wicked. She felt excited. God was probably going to punish her, and if the Grands ever found out, they’d have her hide. But it would be worth it.
When Francesca arrived at the hacienda for brunch the following morning, she had a bad feeling that everyone was going to guess something was going on with her. She felt radiant, her skin was glowing, and she just couldn’t seem to stop grinning.
Not that it was all her fault. After striking their deal, she and Sam had spent the entire night making love. They’d crept downstairs about midnight to grab something to eat and then had retreated to the quiet, sensual darkness of his bedroom.
The only way she’d been able to drag herself from his presence was the realization that if she didn’t show up for her weekly brunch with her family, the Grands would set the FBI on her trail. And she couldn’t very well bring Sam with her. The sight of her in the company of an eligible man would fill the house with the sound of wedding bells. Something neither of them wanted.
Francesca climbed out of her truck and headed for the back door of the big Spanish-style house. It was early June, which meant every form of plant life was lush, green, and growing. Tall trees provided shade over the rear of the house. The vegetable garden by the garage soaked up the bright sunshine. In the distance acres and acres of vines rustled and danced in the light breeze.
The flowers on the grapevines had dried up, while the small pea-sized grapes had appeared. From what she had seen on her drive up to the hacienda, they were going to have a banner year. But there was still a lot of time left until harvest, and Brenna would be happy to tell her all the things that could go wrong between now and then.
The back door burst open. “Francesca!”
She glanced up and smiled as Grandma Tessa held out her arms. “Come, child. We have missed you.”
Francesca ran toward the house and up the three steps, then hugged her grandmother close. “How are you? Feeling all right?”
“I’m old, eh? Things don’t work as well as they used to, but I’m here. That’s enough.” She released her granddaughter, reached up, and pinched her cheek. “Still a pretty girl. But you’re not so young anymore. You need to be married, Francesca. You need bambinos. It is time.”
Normally she found the family pressure a little exasperating, but today nothing could puncture her good mood. “Before I’m too old, right?”
“Single women over thirty,” her grandmother said knowingly. “I read. Easier for you to be taken by aliens than find a man. You only have three years, Francesca. Don’t waste them.”
Francesca laughed. Her cheek stung from Grandma Tessa’s enthusiasm, but the pain was as familiar as the entreaty that she marry and produce offspring. Over the past three years the hints had become much less subtle. Fresh off the success of her older sister’s engagement, the family had increased the pressure.
If she mentioned Sam, they would get off her back about finding a man. Of course, they would also want to meet him and find out if a wedding date had been set. Knowledge of her “no commitment” agreement with him would send both grandmothers scuttling for their rosaries and force her parents to have a long talk with her. Better to play along.
“Talk to her,” Grandma Tessa said as they entered the open and airy kitchen.
Grammy M-Mary-Margaret O’Shea to the rest of the world and Francesca’s maternal grandmother-glanced up from the dough she’d rolled out on the granite counter.
“Francesca! My darlin’ girl.” She wiped her hands on the apron she wore.
Francesca walked over for another hug-this one without a cheek pinch-and bent down to embrace the tiny woman.
“Grandma Tessa wants me to get married again,” Francesca said with mock surprise. “What do you think?”
Grammy M shook her head, causing her white curls to bounce. “You’re supposed to be respectin’ your elders, young lady, not makin’ fun of them. We want you to be happy.”
“You want me pregnant.” Francesca snatched a scone from a cooling rack.
“Married and pregnant,” Grandma Tessa corrected.
Grammy M grinned, her blue eyes dancing with humor. “Oh, I don’t know, Tessa. I’m thinkin’ we could probably find it in our hearts to forgive Francesca if she found herself with a wee one in the oven.”
Francesca chuckled, but didn’t even try to get in the middle of that conversation. Instead she broke the still-steaming scone in half and took a small bite. The firm, golden-brown crust gave way to a soft, perfectly baked, orange-flavored center that made her mouth water even as it dissolved on her tongue.
“Amazing,” she breathed. “Grammy M, we’re going to have to try another scone lesson. I want to be able to do this at home.”
Her maternal grandmother gazed at her fondly before shaking her head and returned to the dough she’d rolled out.
“You’re a lovely girl, but you don’t have much success in the kitchen.”
“I took that cake-decorating class a couple of years ago.”
“Your father nearly choked to death on that piece he ate,” Grandma Tessa reminded her.
Francesca knew they were right. She was a disaster when it came to cooking, although she continued to take classes. Mostly because despite a degree in psychology, she couldn’t seem to talk herself out of the guilt she felt for not caving to family expectations about marriage and kids. So she substituted a quest for excellence in the domestic arts.
“The flowers on the cake were pretty.”
“That they were,” Grammy M agreed. “And you make a lovely radish rose.”
Francesca took another bite of scone, then crossed to the cupboards above the dishwasher and grabbed a glass. “Is this your way of telling me my cooking has style but no substance? I was thinking of taking a class on Chinese cooking this summer.”
“We’re telling you that if you want to win a man’s heart, come by and pick up some ravioli,” Grandma Tessa said cheerfully. “I always have them in the freezer, along with a nice, thick meat sauce.”
Winning a man’s heart was not a place she wanted to go. “Did Mia’s flight get off all right?” she asked to change the subject.
“You just missed her call to say she’d arrived in Washington,” Grammy M said. “I know she’ll enjoy her language course, but we’ll all be missin’ havin’ her around.”
“I’m sure she’ll miss us, too,” Francesca said, then remembered Mia’s plans to hang out with congressional aides. Somehow under those circumstances, she thought her very pretty little sister might be too busy to be homesick.
She reached for another scone, only to have her hand slapped by Grandma Tessa. “Brenna’s out in the vineyards, so you’ll have to set the table yourself. Wash your hands first.”
Francesca laughed. “Yes, ma’am.”
Her grandmother turned to stare at her. Dark eyebrows drew together as Grandma Tessa tried to look fierce.
“I love you both very much,” Francesca said impulsively, hugging the Grands before moving into the hallway and the bathroom tucked under the stairs.
“Use the good china,” Grandma Tessa called after her.
“You’ve been on your own a long time, dear,” her mother said, gazing at her intently.
Colleen O’Shea Marcelli was a petite woman with attractive features, dark hair, and a fashionable dress sense. Even at a casual brunch she looked well put together enough to be in a photo shoot. Francesca had slipped on a sleeveless summer dress because Marcelli daughters weren’t allowed to wear shorts or pants to dinners or any meal on Sunday. While her mother shopped at expensive boutiques that specialized in designer originals, Francesca favored the extra-reduced racks at outlet stores and the occasional castoffs from Brenna, the only one of her sisters to be within two inches of her height.
Across the large table Brenna and her grandfather talked about the coming harvest. The Grands chatted about which movie they would head out to see later, while her father, Marco Marcelli nodded at everything his wife said. Which meant her parents had planned their attack in advance.
“Five years,” her mother said. “Francesca, your devotion to Todd’s memory is a credit to your marriage, but you’re still a young woman. Are you going to mourn him for the rest of your life?”
Francesca thought about pointing out that her grandmother had informed her she was reaching the age of no return, at least in the marriage market.
For the thousandth time she thought about coming clean and simply confessing that nothing about being married appealed to her. Her marriage to Todd had been a disaster. The on-the-surface successful banker hadn’t been interested in an actual person for a wife. Instead he’d wanted only arm candy. His premature death in a car accident had led her to discover that their lavish lifestyle had been financed by credit, not income. She’d been left with plenty of debt, which had forced her to sell everything. In the end she’d walked away, not richer but wiser.
Brenna had married Jeff and had spent the next nine years of her life supporting him through medical school, internships, and residencies. She’s given up her true love-the winery-to be a good wife. Her reward? Jeff dumped her for someone younger. Yes, their parents were happy, and Grandpa Lorenzo and Grandma Tessa had been married for generations, but that wasn’t enough to convince her. As far as she was concerned, love was highly overrated and marriage wasn’t in her future.
Not that her parents would understand. Which meant they had the “why don’t you find a nice boy and settle down” conversation at least twice a month.
“I’m not mourning Todd,” she said truthfully and thought of making love with Sam the previous night. Mourning had been the last thing on her mind. Still, she wouldn’t mind skipping the lecture.
She drew in a breath. “You’re right. I do need to start going out.”
Silence descended on the table. Everyone turned to stare at her, even Brenna, who raised her eyebrows and placed her hand on her chest in mock surprise. Francesca shot her a warning look.
Grandpa Lorenzo, still tall and powerful despite his seventy-plus years, pounded on the table. “About time you realized that, young lady. You’re the prettiest of my granddaughters. When I think about all those years you’ve wasted going to college when you could have been getting married and having babies.”
Francesca was used to the lecture, but even after all this time the words stung.
Brenna’s eyes flashed with temper. She turned to her grandfather. “At some point you’re going to have to realize we’re in a new century, Grandpa. Women don’t need men to make them feel whole anymore. We’re fine on our own.”
“If you’d spent a little more time paying attention to your husband, maybe he wouldn’t have left you,” the old man shot back.
“Lorenzo!” Grandma Tessa said, and looked sympathetically at Brenna. “We know you were a good girl. We should never have let you marry that ex-husband of yours. You need a nice Italian boy. My cousin, Marie, has a grandson who lives in Chicago.”
Brenna shook her head. “No, Grandma. No relatives, or friends of relatives. I’m not even legally divorced yet. Give me a break on this, okay?”
Grandma Tessa didn’t look ready to back down. Francesca understood exactly what her sister was feeling. While she loved her family, they really knew how to get on her nerves. She decided to give them both a break.
“Have Katie and Zach set a wedding date yet?” she asked.
That got everyone’s attention. Her mother reminded her about the family meeting later in the week to get the event planned. The Grands started arguing over the menu, and Grandpa Lorenzo threw out several possible wine suggestions.
Brenna picked up a bottle of Marcelli Wines Chardonnay and poured herself another glass. She held out the bottle.
“Make mine a double,” Francesca murmured so only her sister could hear. When Brenna had filled her glass as well, they raised them to each other.
“To surviving our family,” Brenna whispered. “May God save me from Cousin Marie’s grandson.”
“International oil brokers with families and death threats should not be allowed to travel for pleasure,” Sam said wearily as he tossed a file folder onto his desk.
Jason reached forward and picked up the papers. “You’re kidding.”
“Not even close. He called yesterday.”
Jason flipped through the pages, then put the folder back on Sam’s desk. “Africa?”
“Safari. His daughter is something of an animal lover. This is part of her birthday present.”
“Couldn’t he just buy her a bike?”
Sam grinned. “That’s not how the rich and powerful do things.”
“Then get the kid a bike store. Africa?” The big man’s dark eyes narrowed. “They’re not going to stick to the tourist spots are they? Rich and powerful types like the unusual and out-of-the-way. Right?”
Sam nodded. “We’re talking about camping in the wilderness, visiting native villages.”
“I hate the outdoors,” Jason muttered. “Why can’t they vacation in Monaco? I could really get into Monaco.”
“Guess you’re going to have to go there on your own time.”
Jason scowled. “So tell me why I volunteered for this job?”
“Because you love a challenge. Want to change your mind?”
Jason picked up the folder again. “Africa. We’re talking ticks and leeches. I hate slimy things.”
“That’s the jungle. You’re going to be on the savannah.”
“Great. So I only have to worry about malaria.”
“You might see a lion.”
Jason’s scowl deepened. “Hate cats, too.”
Sam chuckled. “They’re leaving in September. You have that long to put together the team. He’s letting you pick them all. His regular protection is going on vacation.”
“Bet they’re not planning to hang out with ticks.” Jason sighed. “At least I don’t have to worry about some pantyass European bodyguards.” He slammed the folder shut. “Hell, I’ve got to get shots, don’t I?”
“There’s a list in the back.”
Before Jason could complain any more, a familiar uneven footfall sounded in the hallway. Step, clunk, slide. Step, clunk, slide.
“You didn’t tell me the old man was here,” Jason said.
“I didn’t know. It’s Sunday.” His grandfather never came in on the weekend, although he still made regular appearances during the week.
“It’s Sunday, for God’s sake,” Gabriel Reese announced from the entrance to Sam’s office. “Why aren’t you all in church?”
Jason rose to his feet and nodded at the older man. “Afternoon, sir.”
“Jason. Is my grandson making you work on Sunday?”
“Good man. I’m the one who told Sam about you. Did he ever tell you that?”
Jason grinned. “Yes, sir.”
Sam motioned to the second chair in front of his desk. “Have a seat, Gabriel. Do you want something to drink?”
“Whiskey, but don’t bother telling me it’s too early in the day. I’ll wait until I get home.” He braced his arms on his cane and slowly sank into the seat. “You’ve always been a good man in business, Samuel, but a real pain in the ass when it comes to my health.”
“I don’t want you dying on me.”
“I don’t plan to die on anyone,” Gabriel snapped. “I’ll be alone in my bed. That’s how men should die.”
Sam got up and crossed to the coffeepot on the small cart in the corner. He poured some in a mug, added generous amounts of sugar and cream, and carried it to his grandfather.
Gabriel took a sip, then eyed Jason, who had finally returned to his chair. “Heard you were going to Africa. Wish I were young enough to take your place.”
“Me, too,” Jason said glumly.
Sam grinned. “Jason’s concerned about the wildlife. Snakes, leeches. That sort of thing.”
Gabriel nodded solemnly. “Dry socks,” he announced. “That’s the key to a healthy safari. Oh, and plenty of bug spray.”
“Well, hell. Bugs. I didn’t think about them.” Jason eyed Sam. “I want a trip to Monaco when this is over.”
“We’ll have to see what we can do.”
Jason grunted, got to his feet, and said good-bye to both men. When he was gone, Sam leaned back in his chair.
“Elena’s sister called this morning,” Sam said. “She fell, broke her hip, and has to have surgery. Elena will have to go stay with her for a month or so.”
Gabriel shrugged. “What do I care? She’s your housekeeper.”
Sam ignored that. “I can get someone in to clean with no problem,” he told the older man. “Cooking is going to be more of an issue.”
Gabriel scowled. “I’ve been taking care of myself for over sixty years, Sonny. I can manage until my toes curl up.”
“I thought you might like to move in with me until she gets back.”
“Not even on a bet.”
Sam knew that the knee-jerk refusal didn’t mean his grandfather had made up his mind. “We could go cruising for chicks together.”
Gabriel’s scowl faded as the corner of his mouth twitched. “I’m too old for chicks.” His gaze narrowed. “But you’re not. You work too hard.”
“I learned that from you.”
Gabriel gave a snort. “Good answer, but there’s a difference. I had you to go home to. What do you have? Some mouthy housekeeper who doesn’t know her place? Soon you won’t even have her. You’re thirty-four.”
The old man scowled. “You need a woman. When are you going to get married again?”
“When you do,” he told his grandfather.
The old man chuckled. “There’s still some life left in me, Samuel. I just might find someone who strikes my fancy. Then what will you say?”
Gabriel laughed, then pushed himself to his feet. “I’m going to head home. Don’t you work too late.”
Sam thought of Francesca’s promise to be at his place no later than five. Anticipation made him grin. “I won’t.”
This time when Francesca arrived at Sam’s place, the gate was wide open. One part nervous, three parts wild with excitement, she drove onto the property and parked in front of the impressive house.
When she’d turned off the engine, she reached for her oversize tote bag. Sam had asked her to spend the night, which meant dealing with logistics like a toothbrush and fresh undies for the morning. While she didn’t want to show up with a suitcase and scare the man-she’d already done that once in the past twenty-four hours-she didn’t want to be without her stuff.
“You should never have let your subscription to Cosmo lapse,” she told herself as she stepped out of her truck. “They always cover this sort of dilemma.”
She headed for the front door, which opened just before she knocked. Sam grinned.
They stared at each other. His hair was mused, his expression amused. His mouth curved in what Texans would have described as a shit-eating grin. He was a man who knew he was about to get lucky.
She took in the Hawaiian-print shirt, worn jeans, and bare feet, and thought he looked good enough to be a poster boy for sin. She wasn’t sure what he saw when he looked at her, but he liked it enough to pull her close and kiss her senseless.
“This time I really plan to feed you dinner,” he said when he released her. He kissed her again. “But it might be late.”
“Late works for me.”
He drew her into the house and shut the door behind her. “How about some wine?”
“Sure. Get me drunk. So typical.”
He chuckled, put his arm around her, and guided her to the kitchen.
“How was your day?” he asked as he opened a bottle of Marcelli Wines Merlot.
“Good. I drove up to see my family. We have a brunch every Sunday morning. It’s something of a command performance unless you’re out of town. They make me crazy, but I love them. What about you?”
He poured the wine. “I went to work. I don’t usually on Sunday, but I felt restless.” He raised his eyebrows. “Your fault, I believe.”
“Me? What did I do?”
“For one thing there’s that sound you make when you-”
“Okay, then,” she said, cutting him off. She’d been doing her best not to think about the wild abandon she’d displayed in Sam’s bed… and shower. She’d always thought of herself as sexually conservative and not very passionate. Apparently she’d been wrong.
She clutched her wineglass in both hands and mentioned something that had been bothering her. “I hope we didn’t disturb Elena. That would be really embarrassing for me.”
“Not to worry. Her room is downstairs at the opposite end of the house. There’s no way she could have heard. But if it makes you feel any better, she’s not going to be around for a while.”
“Her sister fell and broke her hip. Elena flew out this morning to stay with her for about a month.” He shifted toward her. “So it’s just us. No adult supervision to be had.”
The closer Sam got, the more her heart raced, her breathing quickened, and before he even reached for her, she felt her muscles tensing in anticipation.
She put her wine on the counter and reached for him. “So we can be as bad as we want?”
“You got it. In fact, I’ve been having a very vivid fantasy that involves you, some champagne, and the kitchen counter.”
She shivered with delight. “Count me-”
His mouth claimed hers. Francesca surrendered to his passionate kiss. Her mouth parted and she stroked his tongue with hers. Instantly her breasts swelled, her panties got damp, and her bones turned to al dente pasta.
The hunger returned. Despite the pleasure she’d experienced the night before and this morning, she wanted him again. Touching her. In her. It was as if she’d never experienced lovemaking before being with Sam. It was-
The ringing of the telephone cut through the quiet of the kitchen. Sam barely raised his head.
“The machine will get it,” he murmured as he trailed kisses along her jaw, then down her neck to her collarbone.
“What if it’s one of your women?”
He chuckled. “I don’t have any women right now. No, I take that back. I have you.”
He returned his attention to her mouth. The phone continued to ring three more times. On the fourth she heard Sam’s voice telling the caller to leave a name and number. There was a click, followed by a voice.
“Dammit, Sam, if you’re out of town…” The woman speaking sighed heavily. “It’s Tanya. Again. I’ve already called five times without leaving a message. Now I guess I don’t have a choice. You need to call me right away. It’s an emergency.”
She kept on talking as she gave her number, but Francesca stopped listening. Sam had stiffened and pulled back.
“That’s my ex-wife,” he said. “Why the hell would she be calling?” He glanced at Francesca. “I haven’t heard from her in years. Ten, maybe twelve.”
She gave him a little push toward the phone. “She said it’s an emergency. You should pick up.”
Sam hesitated, not wanting to spoil the moment, then realized it was too late for that. He grabbed the phone. “Tanya, it’s Sam. I’m here.”
“About time,” she said, sounding both frustrated and impatient. “It took me the better part of the morning to find your damn number and then you weren’t there.”
“It’s nice to speak to you, too,” he said sarcastically. “It’s been a long time. How are you doing?”
She exhaled loudly. “Okay-good point. I’m being a bitch and you have no idea why.”
Her nature, he thought grimly.
“The thing is…” she continued. “Oh, crap. I don’t know how to tell you this. It’s been too long. It’s all your mother’s fault. If she-”
“My mother?” Sam interrupted. His mother had died nearly eight years ago. “What does she have to do with anything?”
“Just her usual meddling. I had these plans, Sam. I worked damn hard, and no one is going to take it away from me now.”
“Tanya, I have no idea what you’re talking-”
The doorbell rang. Sam turned toward the front of the house and frowned. He’d closed the gate after Francesca had arrived. How had anyone gotten inside?
“What was that?” Tanya asked. “Oh God, was it the doorbell?”
“Yes. I’ll be right back.”
“Sam, wait.” Tanya’s voice dropped. “I’m going to hang up. In a few minutes you’re going to want to call me back. I just left my number on your machine. I’ll be here.”
With that, the line went dead. Sam stared at the receiver for a second, then set it back on the base. The doorbell rang again.
He turned to Francesca. “I don’t have any idea what’s going on. Tanya didn’t make sense, and I need to get the door.”
She smiled. “I’m fine. Don’t sweat it, Sam.”
She looked calm, content, and too sexy for words. He grabbed her, quickly kissed her, then smiled.
“This won’t take long,” he promised. “Then I’m taking you upstairs and having my way with you.”
He released her and hurried to the front door. He pulled it open, not sure who would be standing there. He didn’t expect to see a girl with red curly hair, freckles, and big green eyes.
Sam glanced from her to the gate, which was still closed. “How’d you get in here?” he asked.
“I climbed.” She shifted her large backpack. “Are you Sam Reese?”
“Yes. Who are you?”
The girl-he didn’t know anything about kids, but he would guess she was in her early teens-squared her shoulders. “I’m Kelly Nash. Your daughter.”