15

“Sam, would you help me for a second?” Colleen asked.

“Sure.” He followed her into the kitchen, where she put him to work washing tomatoes for the salad.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do with all the vegetables we have in the garden this year,” she said as she peeled zucchini. “I hope you don’t mind if we send you and Kelly home with a few pounds of our bounty. We’re being overrun.”

Sam held up the tomato he was washing. “Only if you send them with instructions for preparing them. Otherwise this is about all I can handle.”

Colleen Marcelli, stylishly dressed in light-colored pants and a coordinating short-sleeved shirt, raised her eyebrows. “I thought Francesca could take care of that for you.”

He thought of his recent warning from Brenna and held in a grin. “She’s not at my house all that often, but when she is, I rarely put her to work in the kitchen. After all she’s done to help me out with Kelly, I think it would show a lack of gratitude.”

“I know Francesca enjoys spending time with your daughter very much. She’s always liked children. Then I suppose most women do.”

He thought of his ex-wife. But then Tanya wasn’t like most women.

Colleen finished with the zucchini and went to work on several red and yellow peppers. “You never remarried.”

“No, ma’am.”

Francesca’s mother smiled at him. “I’m prying, I know. It’s just…” She sighed. “I worry about my children. Francesca is very special. She deserves a world of happiness. Sometimes life gives us situations that at first don’t seem ideal, but over time we come to see that it all worked out for the best.”

Sam stared at her. When had he lost track of the conversation? “Mrs. Marcelli-”

“Colleen,” she said with a smile. “Please.”

“All right. Colleen. I think Francesca’s great and I want her to be happy, as well.”

“There’s also Kelly. Being an only child can be so-”

“Mom!”

Sam looked up and saw Francesca standing in the doorway to the kitchen. Her eyes were flashing with temper.

“What are you doing?” she demanded.

Colleen ducked her head. “Sam and I were just talking.”

“Then it’s time for the conversation to be over.” Francesca turned to him. “Come on. Let’s take Kelly for a walk.”

Sam wiped his hands on a paper towel and followed her out of the room. He didn’t know what was going on, but there were enough undercurrents to float a ship in this place. He hadn’t noticed them at the party. Was that because there’d been such a large crowd around, or had something happened in the past few weeks? Something other than the mystery brother. Something he didn’t know about?

* * *

Nightmare didn’t begin to describe dinner, Francesca thought when the meal was finally finished and the family moved into the living room. The family matchmaking had abandoned anything remotely subtle and risen right to hard sell. While Sam had laughed off most of the more obvious comments, she’d sensed his confusion as to the intensity of the attack. Her family was keeping her secret, but only just. If she didn’t want the Grands to break out the yarn and start knitting receiving blankets in front of Sam, she was going to have to come clean and soon.

All decisions for another time, she thought, forcing her attention to the situation at hand. At dinner Sam had said he had news about the long-lost Marcelli son. Everyone gathered to hear what Sam had to say. They all watched as he opened the folder he’d set on the wood coffee table.

“I’ve found him,” he said, addressing his words to her parents.

Her mother gasped and clutched her husband’s hands. “So soon?”

“His name is Joe Larson. He was taken in by Cynthia and Joseph Larson when he was four days old. They lived in San Diego.”

Francesca listened as Sam sketched out her brother’s life. Where he went to elementary school, that he had no other siblings.

“His adoptive parents were killed when Joe was twelve.”

Francesca froze. Her parents gasped, her mother began to cry, as did the Grands.

“He was alone?” Grandma Tessa asked.

Sam consulted his notes. “No other family members stepped forward. He went into foster care.”

Her mother covered her face with her hands. “No. That’s not right. It can’t be right. Why wouldn’t they tell me?”

Sam didn’t answer, but Francesca already knew the truth. When the baby had been given away, all rights and responsibilities had been lost. The state would have placed him with strangers rather than returning him to the mother who had decided she wasn’t interested in raising her child.

Grandma Tessa pulled her rosary from her pocket and began to finger the beads. Grandpa Lorenzo paled. Sam continued to read from his report.

“Joe went into the Navy after high school. They tapped him for OCS right away. Officer Candidate School. A year after graduating, he entered Navy Seal training. That’s what he does now. He’s a Seal.”

“Is there a picture?” her mother asked.

Sam reached forward and pulled it out, then passed it to her. She studied the photo for nearly a minute, before closing her eyes.

Francesca took the picture. A man in his late twenties stared back at her. She saw the likeness immediately, the blending of Irish and Italian features. He favored his father’s side more than his mother’s. He was good-looking. A stranger who was her brother.

Brenna stared over her shoulder. “He’s really one of us,” she said quietly.

“Was there any doubt?” Francesca asked.

“I was hoping for some,” her sister admitted.

“You’ll want to confirm the relationship with a DNA test,” Sam said, “but it wasn’t a difficult trail to follow. He’s the missing Marcelli.”

“We’ll need to get in touch with him right away,” Grandpa Lorenzo said as he took the picture. “Tell him who he is. He has a history here. A heritage.”

“An inheritance,” Brenna muttered.

The old man nodded.

“I don’t know,” her mother murmured. “It’s been so long. He must hate us.”

“He won’t,” her husband told her.

“Whatever he’s feeling, this is going to be a shock,” Francesca said, unable to imagine finding out she had an entire family somewhere. “Joe Larson has lived his life for thirty years without knowing about us. He’ll need time to absorb everything. You can’t just spring it on him. This needs to be planned out.”

“There’s no time,” Grandpa Lorenzo said. “He’s family. That’s what matters.”

Brenna stood and left without saying anything. Francesca watched her go. For Brenna, the arrival of a long-lost son was the death of a dream.

“Francesca is right,” her mother said. “When I was sixteen I listened to all of you and did what you said. What I should have done was listened to my heart. This time Marco and I decide.”

“He’s not just your son,” Grandpa Lorenzo said. “He’s my grandson. He could be my heir.”

“No.”

Colleen and Marco rose to their feet.

“You’ll stay out of it,” Colleen said firmly. “We’ll decide what we want to do.”

She brushed away her tears and turned to Sam. “Thank you for finding him.”

“I was happy to help. I’ll leave the contact information here,” he said as he dropped a card into the folder and handed it to her.

Kelly shifted next to her father. Francesca turned her attention to the girl and gave her a smile. “You okay?” she asked as her parents left the room.

Grandpa Lorenzo was still muttering. The Grands alternately hugged each other and wiped away tears.

“It’s really weird,” Kelly said. “I feel bad for everybody.”

“Families are complicated,” Francesca agreed.

“Do you think he’s going to like finding out he has a family?”

“I don’t know. I hope so.”

“Are you happy about all this?”

“I think this information is going to change a lot of lives,” Francesca said.

Kelly nodded. “Like when Tanya sent me to live with my dad.” She glanced at Sam, who had risen and was talking with Lorenzo. “It was weird at first, but it’s better now.”

“I’m glad,” Francesca said and meant it more than the girl could know. If Sam could adjust to life with Kelly, maybe he wouldn’t freak out at the thought of having a second child. Or was that just wishful thinking?

Sam touched Kelly’s shoulder. “Ready to head home?”

Kelly nodded and rose. “I want to say good-bye to the Grands and Katie.”

As Kelly crossed to be with the rest of the family, Sam moved close to Francesca.

“How’re you doing?” he asked.

“Fine. We’re all in shock.” She looked at him. “I’m sorry about tonight. I know my entire family went crazy with the matchmaking thing.”

“I survived.” He lowered his voice. “At the risk of facing a shotgun wedding, what are your plans for this weekend? I thought we could spend some quality time together.” He leaned close. “Kelly and I are going to the beach Saturday afternoon, then she’s staying at a friend’s house for the night. I thought we could have a sleepover, too.”

Francesca studied his face, the crinkles by his tawny eyes, his easy smile. She was still trying to recover from his “shotgun wedding” remark. He had no idea how close he had skated to the truth.

A few more days, she thought. She would be with him a few more days. Next week she was watching Kelly, and that Friday, just over a week from now, she would tell Sam about the baby. It was past time.

“I’d like to spend the night,” she told him with a smile, even as she knew it might be their last time together. “But only if I get to sleep on top.”

The night was warm and they’d left the balcony doors open. Night creatures serenaded them with soft music, while their rapid breathing provided counterpoint and rhythm.

She stood with Sam in his bedroom. They’d made it that far without ravishing each other, but she had a feeling they couldn’t hold out much longer.

The hand cupping her cheek moved slightly as long fingers stroked her skin. She wrapped her arms around his waist. His hard back muscles rippled at her touch. She moved her hands up and down, feeling his strength, the hard planes of his body.

She returned her attention to the still-chaste kiss. He’d kept the contact light, so it was up to her to entice him. She licked his lower lip. Instantly he groaned. She licked his lip again. He groaned. When he opened for her, she swept inside, eager to explore, to play, to excite. Anticipation swelled. Heat ignited in her belly before spiraling out and settling between her legs. When her tongue touched his, sparks flared. His taste, his warmth, the way he moved with her, the way they moved together. The opening moves of their sensual dance left her trembling and hungry.

He raised his other hand to her face and cupped her jaw. Suddenly he was back in charge. He deepened the kiss before closing his lips around her tongue and sucking gently. Pressure started between her legs, and her breasts began to ache.

She arched against him, wanting to be closer. She could feel the dampness of her swelling, the heat of her rising passion. Sam broke their kiss only to nibble his way along her jaw toward her ear. He licked the outside curve before sucking on the sensitive skin just below her lobe. His hands moved to her breasts.

“We’re both way too dressed,” he breathed.

“I agree. We should do something about that.”

He kissed her collarbone just as his thumbs brushed over her tight nipples. She gasped. He cupped her breasts, squeezing gently. Her head fell back.

“In a second,” he whispered. “I don’t want to stop kissing you just yet.”

His fingers circled her curves, then his thumbs flicked against her nipples again, and fire shot through her.

“Hell,” he muttered.

With one swift, fluid move, he pulled his polo shirt free of his jeans and tugged it over his head. “Touch me,” he said, taking her hands in his and placing them on his skin.

He was warm. The light dusting of hair tickled her palms and made her fingers tingle. While she explored hard, male contours, he went to work on the buttons down the front of her dress. Just as she had discovered the pleasure of stroking him from shoulder to waist, he pulled her dress over her arms. She straightened and the garment fell to the floor.

She stood there in bra and panties, along with her sandals, which she quickly kicked away. Sam skimmed his hands down to her breasts and cupped them. She sought out his erection. He was hard, long, and he flexed into her touch. She explored the length of him, then rubbed her thumb over the tip. He groaned, then kissed her deeply.

“Bed,” Sam mumbled against her mouth.

He started urging her to step backward. As she complied, he moved his hands around to her back and expertly unfastened her bra. The garment fell away.

He broke their kiss and lowered his head to take her nipple in his mouth. Warm, damp heat surrounded her. Rational thought fled. She came to a stop and cupped his head to hold him in place.

Tension flooded her. Heat made the balls of her feet burn and her toes curl. As he licked and sucked on one breast, he used his hands on the other. Dual pleasure swept through her. She whispered his name, then spoke it louder. He shifted mouth and fingers so her other breast now received his kisses. The ache between her legs intensified to actual pain. Heat spiraled. Need grew. Tension flared higher and higher. His fingers moved back and forth in a rhythm that made her head spin.

Sam straightened and kicked off his shoes. Before she knew what was happening, he’d pulled off her panties and shed his jeans. His briefs went with them. They were naked in a heartbeat.

She barely had a second to anticipate how great it was going to be, when she found herself being lowered into a sitting position on the bed. Somehow her legs were apart and his hand was easing between them. He kissed her and slipped inside of her at the same moment.

Tongue and finger in perfect synchronization. He withdrew once, twice, then a contraction began deep inside of her. As always with him, her orgasm exploded with little warning and incredible intensity. She couldn’t control it or herself. She clung to him. He shifted slightly and brushed his thumb deep into her wetness until he found that one swollen point of need. He circled it once and she was lost.

Her entire body shook as her release overwhelmed her. Her legs opened wider, her breath stopped, her head fell back. Every muscle in her body tightened, then relaxed in rhythmic surrender. Hot pleasure rolled through her until her mind went blank and she could do nothing but accept and feel.

She opened her eyes to find Sam watching her. He smiled.

“God, you’re so amazing,” he said before kissing her mouth, her cheeks, her nose, her eyelids. “I’m shaking. I want you so damn much and I want it to be good, but how the hell am I supposed to hold back after watching that?”

“No one said you had to.”

“I have a reputation to uphold,” he reminded her as he reached for his jeans and pulled out a condom. “I wouldn’t want to disappoint you.”

She shifted back on the bed and held open her arms. “Sam, that’s not physically possible. You just have to show up and I’m ready. Flash that at me”-she stroked his erection-“and I’m three quarters of the way there.”

“You’re pretty easy,” he said, slipping on the condom. “It’s one of your best qualities.”

She was still chuckling as he knelt between her thighs and slipped inside her.

Her body stretched to accommodate the familiar length and breadth of him. He stroked her breasts, then gently squeezed her nipples with his thumbs and forefingers.

“I want you to come for me again,” he said, his voice low and husky.

She opened her eyes and found him watching her. “If you insist.”

“I do.”

He dropped one hand to her stomach, them moved lower. Once again he moved his thumb deeper, slipped it between their bodies.

“Don’t close your eyes,” he whispered. “Watch what we’re doing for as long as you can.”

Watch?

She lowered her head slightly. They were both naked, he was inside of her and touching her, and she could see it all. He found the one place designed for pleasure and began to slowly circle it. At the same time, he withdrew, then entered her again.

She could see and feel all at the same time. In and out. Slowly, except for his thumb which moved faster and faster. Her breathing increased. The combined sensations were irresistible. Her muscles began to tense.

“Yes,” he breathed. “Come for me, Francesca.”

She raised her gaze to his face and saw he was watching as well-what they were doing and her. He leaned forward and kissed her. At the same moment his thumb brushed over her most sensitive place and he plunged inside of her.

It was too much. No, it wasn’t enough and then it was and then the contractions began again. She clung to him all through the whirlwind of sensation. At some point his hands settled on her hips as he drove himself into her again and again. She felt him stiffen and knew he was close. The realization was just erotic enough to make her climax one last time, surrounding him with a pulsing massage that sent him over the edge.

They held on to each other until they were both still and their breathing had slowed.

“I screamed,” she said when she finally gathered the strength to open her eyes.

Sam smiled. “I know.”

They slept, they awoke sometime in the night, made love, and slept again. Francesca got up sometime before dawn.

She pulled on her clothes and crossed to the balcony doors that still stood open. From there she could see to the ocean, and to the horizon. It was still dark, although there were hints of gray at the edges of the sky.

Behind her Sam lay sprawled across the bed. She’d had to slide out from under the arm he’d rested across her belly. He’d been warm and relaxed. The powerful man relaxed in sleep.

Awake he was many things. Strong, gentle, caring, seductive. When he smiled at her…

Brenna’s words came back to haunt her. That the reason she hadn’t told Sam about the baby was that she was afraid of what he would say. And the reason she was afraid was because he mattered.

While she’d been busy enjoying her first ever adult sex-only affair, and helping him with his daughter and enjoying his company, had she really allowed herself to fall for him? Was love a possibility?

No, she thought firmly. There was no way she would ever allow the rules to change like that. She hadn’t wanted the complication. She’d wanted something easy. Fun. A diversion, nothing more.

Only this was a lot more, and now there was a baby to think about.

She turned and watched Sam sleep. She’d promised herself she would tell Sam and she would. Friday. Six more days. Just six. And then… then she didn’t know what was going to happen.

“You wanted to see me, boss?” Jason asked as he entered Sam’s office.

Sam nodded at the leather club chair in front of his desk. “Have a seat. I’ve been on the phone with a couple of clients finalizing holiday party plans.”

Jason sighed. “It’s July. Even the department stores don’t have their Christmas decorations up yet.”

“You know we book up early.”

Jason nodded. “What seems to be popular this year?”

“The usual. Aspen, London, Paris.”

Sam’s company provided protection to some of the world’s wealthiest families. When those families decided to entertain, the workload increased as the firm was expected to protect guests, as well.

“We also have three corporations requesting increased security for their senior executives and one former Mafia informant looking to live into his senior years.”

Jason drew his eyebrows together. “Aren’t we having a planning meeting on Friday?”

“Sure.”

“So why are you telling me this now?”

Sam kept his expression neutral. “The Johnsons just phoned about their holiday plans. They plan to travel.”

Jason groaned. “Sam, no. Not another trip to the wilderness. I don’t even have all my shots yet for that African safari. We’re going inside the blue zone. Do you know what that means?”

Trying not to laugh, Sam shook his head.

“The blue zone is African airspace where there isn’t much in the way of traffic control. No one is in charge, so planes have a real good chance of running into each other.”

“Sounds dangerous.”

“It’s hell,” Jason muttered. “Pure hell.”

“The Johnsons don’t want to go to Africa.”

“Where do they want to go?”

“They asked for you specifically. Apparently their youngest adores you.”

“Sam,” Jason growled. “Where are they going?”

“Did you know that winter for us is summer in the southern hemisphere?”

Jason’s dark eyes widened. “Holy shit. Not Antarctica.”

“You can get there by boat.”

“Sam.”

He allowed himself a slight smile. “Monaco, Jason. They’re spending Christmas in Monaco.”

Jason slapped his large hands on Sam’s desk and grinned. “No shit.”

“I know.”

Just then they heard a familiar uneven step in the hallway.

Jason rose to his feet as Gabriel walked into the room. “Morning, sir,” he said, holding out the chair he’d just vacated.

“Jason.” Gabriel nodded. He glowered at Sam, then sank into the chair Jason offered.

“Hallway’s getting longer,” the old man grumbled. “It used to take me only a few steps to get to your office.”

“Morning, Gabriel,” Sam said, ignoring his grandfather’s complaints. He’d made the mistake of offering the use of a wheelchair once before and had nearly had his head chewed off.

“You’re out and about early,” he said instead.

“I’m looking for some information.” His grandfather stared at Jason. “Sit down. You’ll give me a crick in my neck if you just stand there.”

Jason winked at Gabriel. “Yes, sir.”

“My grandson works you too hard.”

“I think so.”

Gabriel muttered something under his breath and turned his attention back to Sam. “There’s a restaurant by the Four Seasons Hotel. Supposed to be a nice place. What do you know about it?”

Sam stared at his grandfather. “You’re eating out? You hate restaurants. Do you want to come stay with Kelly and me for a few days?”

As soon as he issued the invitation, he wanted to call it back. His need to be alone with Francesca grew exponentially every day. Having one more person in the house would only complicate an already difficult situation.

“I’m fine on my own,” Gabriel growled. “Why can’t a man go out to dinner once in a while?”

Jason made a choking sound. When Sam glanced at him, he seemed to be having some kind of spasm.

“You have a problem?” Gabriel snapped.

“No, sir.” Jason cleared his throat and straightened in his chair. “I’m familiar with that restaurant. It’s excellent. What kind of food does the lady like?”

Lady? Sam nearly fell out of his chair. “You have a date?” he asked his grandfather.

“I’m taking Mary-Margaret out for dinner, yes. Not that it’s any business of yours.”

Mary-Margaret? The pieces fell into place. “Grammy M?”

Gabriel glared at him. Sam would have sworn that the old man was blushing.

“She’s a fine figure of a woman,” Gabriel told him. “Been widowed for some time. She makes me laugh. No law against that.”

“None at all,” Sam agreed, more than a little impressed.

“I’m sure you’ll both be pleased by the restaurant,” Jason said.

“Good to know.” Gabriel pushed himself to his feet and leaned heavily on his cane. He headed for the door.

“You two get back to work,” he called over his shoulder.

Sam waited until his grandfather was out of earshot, then leaned back in his chair. “Who would have thought?”

Jason chuckled. “You should see the look on your face.”

“I don’t know what to think about my grandfather dating after all these years. On the other hand, I’m pleased to know the Reese family sports equipment works well into the golden years.”

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