CHAPTER 8

About a half hour later, Lucio finished the last of his espresso. The sun had set, leaving the backyard in shadows. Ginger knew the boys would be busting through the front door at any minute and she was fidgety. She could barely look at Lucio sitting there, across from her at the outdoor patio table, his dark eyes penetrating her soul, his long and muscular body stretched out in one of her wrought-iron chairs.

I really wish you didn’t have to go, she told him, her voice sounding embarrassingly breathless.

I don’t want to go, but I think it’s best if I don’t force my presence on your sons. I don’t want them to feel threatened in any way.

She sighed, knowing she should be grateful that Lucio was concerned about her sons’ well-being. He was a sweet man. So kind. So understanding. So why did she want to scream?

Because if she didn’t get his naked sex-panther body in her bed in the next five minutes she’d die.

No! Keep it together, Ginger. She ran a hand across her forehead in angst. How horrible would it be for her sons to come home and hear her squealing and panting in pleasure, behind her locked bedroom door? Because that’s what she’d be doingno question about it. With Lucio Montevez, there would be plenty of squealing and panting involved.

She began to perspire. Another hot flash, no doubt.

We have plenty of time, bonita. Lucio brushed his fingertip down her forearm. We will take our time with each other, savor each other. The next time your sons are staying with their father, we will spend the entire day togetherthe entire weekend. We will start this right.

Naked. Hot and thoroughly naked and pushing up against her, nudging hard into her body.

Ginger let out a desperate little squeak.

I am impatient, too, Lucio said, cradling her hand. But how many times have we gotten started only to have to stop? The Host! If that happens one more time I think I will explode!

Ginger swallowed. Tell me about it. I’m afraid if that happens again something will break and it will never work right again.

Lucio laughed. The sound of his laughter was one of the most joyous things Ginger had ever heard. She wanted to wrap herself up in his laugh and roll around in it. Naked.

Stop!

She groaned in exasperation as she got up from the patio table. Maybe you should just go. She gathered the demitasse cups and saucers and they rattled around in her unsteady grip. This is torture. I’m coming unglued.

Ginger headed into the house, Lucio following. He held open the French doors for her, and she could feel the energy zapping from his body into hers, the way it did whenever he was close. And he was very close at that moment. Inches from her back. This was crazy, she thought. She walked faster. She reached the kitchen counter. He was still right behind her.

She set the dishes in the sink. He was on her. Up against her. She felt his hands cup her hips, then slide across her belly, his palms and fingers cradling her. She felt him, hard and long and pressing up against her bottom.

I will say good night, then. He whispered into her ear. I cannot have you tonight, but I want you to think of me as you fall asleep. I want you to dream of me. Can you do that, Genevieve?

Sure, she squeaked. I’ll give it a try.

He chuckled into her ear, and the movement of his body caused his erection to jump around on her butt. She could do nothing but lean her head back onto his shoulder in surrender. Her knees were wobbly again. Swooning was inevitable. The only thing that kept her upright was the pressure of his hands against her lower belly, and the support of his body behind her.

I want you to dream of me being all over you, pelirroja. I’m going to gather you up, eat you, slurp you, kiss you, nibble on you, get my fingers and tongue up inside you.

She mewled.

Then I’m going to take you, Genevieve.

Her knees began to give out. His hands caught her, grabbing hold of her breasts, and she slid lower.

Ohmigod, she breathed.

The phone rang.

Lucio helped her regain her footing. Ginger somehow managed to stumble to the cordless phone on the kitchen table. Her eyes flashed to Lucio as she picked it up and answered.

Hello?

Mom, it’s Jason.

Hey, honey. She turned away from Lucio’s dark stare. She couldn’t take its intensityboth her breath and heartbeat were erratic. Is everything okay with your dad?

He’s passed out in bed.

My God, is he breathing?

Snoring.

Oh. That’s good.

So we were wondering, do you think we could stay over here tonight with him?

Ginger spun around, catching Lucio staring at her ass. She didn’t mind. Not one bit.

Mom?

Uh-huh?

Is that okay? I know it’s supposed to be your night, but Josh and I figured Dad should have someone with him. He’s blubbering about some chick who dumped him.

Ginger’s eyes went wide in comprehension. The boys weren’t coming back tonight! She and Lucio were free to’

Mom?

Lucio swept his eyes up the front of her body, taking his time, then locked his gaze with hers. He smiled at her, sliding one hand into a front jeans pocket.

Oh, yeah, Ginger whispered into the phone.

Is everything all right? You sound kind of weird.

Lucio took a few steps toward her. She leaned back against the stove.

Everything’s fine, she said. Great.

Okay, so we’ll see you tomorrow?

Sure. See you tomorrow.

Lucio immediately got itthe rules had just changed. His smile disappeared. His gaze darkened and his eyelids lowered to half-mast. He began to advance toward her, with a purpose. He was stalking her, his body coiled and ready, her own personal sexual panther about to move in for the kill.

The next time you see Lucio, would you ask him when I can start as his assistant?

Ginger gulped. Absolutely, she managed, not sure for how many more seconds she’d be capable of speech. The pit of her stomach ached with need. She tingled between her legs. Her nipples were hard and poking at the fabric of her blouse. She’d begun to pant. She decided she might as well have been wearing a nametag that said, hello, my name is ginger and i’m in heat.

Are you working out on the treadmill, Mom?

Huh? Ginger began to slide her bottom across the front of the stove, along the edge of the countertop, then around the corner into the dining room. She took a few steps backward, holding the phone to her ear with a shaky hand.

Are you exercising? You sound out of breath.

Yeah. That’s great, honey. I love you guys and I’ll see you both tomorrow. Click. She blindly tossed the phone behind her in the vicinity of the dining room table.

?Donde esta tu cuarto? Lucio asked, his voice calm and low.

Ginger blinked. Where’s my what?

He chuckled softly, stepping closer still. Your bedroom. Where is it?

Upstairs, she said, hoping she’d remembered the layout of her home accurately.

Are you ready for me?

Her breath was coming way too fast now. She figured her heartbeat might be within the normal range for a hummingbird but not a human being. She couldn’t answer.

Lucio’s grin widened. Do you want me, Genevieve? If you do not, just say so, and I will go.

She swallowed. I want you bad, she said.

Lucio nodded. He held out his hand to her.

It didn’t take long for Ginger to realize that Lucio’s approach to sex was as foreign as his accent.

After all that heavy breathing and teasing and stalking downstairs, when they’d gotten upstairs he seemed distant. He’d told her to wait a moment and keep her clothes on, then disappeared into the master bath. That had been ten minutes ago. The whole time, Ginger had been sitting on the edge of the bed, wondering what was going on.

She heard water running and cabinet doors opening and closing, which indicated Lucio was taking a shower. There wasn’t anything wrong with a man wanting to be clean before sex, she figured. She couldn’t exactly fault him for having impeccable hygiene. Maybe it was a Spanish thing, though she’d never heard that Europeans were fanatical about personal cleanliness. But it did make her feel strange, just sitting there on the edge of her bed, waiting, fully clothed, her pulse restored to normal, the moment gone.

Lucio?

Just another minute, please. Do not move, mi amor.

Ginger looked around her bedroom, feeling like a little girl who’d been put in the corner. What are you doing in there?

The bathroom door opened a crack. You can come in now.

Ginger got up from the bed and walked across the room. He held the door open for her and she immediately saw what he’d been up to.

The Jacuzzi tub was filling with warm water and bubbles. The lights were off and every candle she’d stored in the linen closet was lit, its flickering reflected on the wall of mirrors over the double sink. The blinds were drawn.

Oh, Ginger breathed.

Lucio chuckled, coming nearer. What did you think I was doing in here, bonita?

I wasn’t sure, Ginger said, embarrassed. Suddenly, she didn’t feel like much of a seductress. She felt silly. Unsure of herself. It had been so long since anyone had gone to this much trouble to set the scene for her that it felt like overkill.

She looked around the bathroom, worrying she was in over her head. Maybe her initial hesitation had been wisemaybe she didn’t have room in her life for a man who would, at best, end up disappointing her or, at worst, break her heart into pieces.

Please do not do this, Lucio said, suddenly pressing against her arm.

Do what?

Do not second-guess us before we even start. His breath was warm on the side of her neck. There is only one thing I ask of you tonight. Can you give me this one thing?

Ginger gasped at the feel of Lucio’s lips on her throat, warm and soft. She involuntarily raised her chin to give him complete access. Depends on the thing, she whispered.

Lucio’s chuckle vibrated against her neck. His hands moved into her hair. His mouth continued its exploration of her throat, collarbone, shoulder somehow he’d already begun to remove her blouse. He was good at this, she thought. Too good

Do not fight it. Just enjoy it. That is all I ask.

Ginger lowered her chin and grabbed Lucio’s face, bringing him to eye level. When their gazes locked, she was startled by the complexity she saw theretenderness and passion. Desire and caution.

Lucio

She let her eyes drop to his lips, full and parted and revealing a hint of straight, white teeth. She watched as his tongue slowly emerged, spreading a sheen of moisture to prepare for the kiss she knew was on its way.

I am going to make love to you, Genevieve, he whispered. His hands touched the bare skin of her upper arms. He stroked her. He gripped her. His fingers slid down her forearms and moved to her hips. The instant his mouth clamped onto hers, she heard her jeans unzip. She felt the air hit the bare skin of her bottom, her thighs, her calves. Her pants and underwear were already on the floor.

He kept kissing her. Her mouth opened to him. Her muscles loosened. Her eyes closed. Lucio deftly unsnapped the front closure of her bra. It, too, was gone.

Somewhere in the recesses of her brain, Ginger acknowledged that her transformation had been seamlessin less than a minute she’d gone from silly and awkward to desperate and naked.

How does he do that? Ginger marveled at his skill. It usually took her a while to warm up. Not with Lucio.

He slid his lips off hers, continuing to kiss down her chin, her throat, to her sternum. She braced her hands in his thick hair as he got to his knees, sliding his tongue across her nipples on the way, down the center of her belly, teasing her belly button and the crest of her mound. When he nudged her thighs open, she worried she might fall. She was about to mention this possibility when Lucio gently clamped his teeth onto her outer lips, and gave a delicate pull. The only sound she was able to produce was, Mmmmgggghhh.

Lucio’s hands clasped at her bottom, and he pulled her closer to his face. She had a flashback to the lawn at Rick’s ranch, the night she’d said out loud that her pussy belonged to Lucio. It was true, she realized. Shockingly, she’d been dead on the money. How had she known? At that point she hadn’t even said three words to the man, and it sure wasn’t as if she went around saying she belonged to every guy she met. In fact, she’d never felt that way, certainly not with Larry. It occurred to Ginger that with Larry, she’d only allowed him to borrow parts of her body. And that was if he’d jumped through the appropriate hoops. And if she felt like it.

But not here. Not with Lucio. This was something new. It was something very simple and powerful.

She was his, and they both knew it.

After a few moments of licking and juicing her up, Lucio rose from his knees. Holding her hand, he took a step toward the tub and turned off the water. He swished his hand through the bubbles and looked up at her, smiling.

He let go of her hand and sat down on the wide ledge that surrounded the Jacuzzi, stretching out his legs. He leaned his head against the wall, still smiling, and began to study her at his leisure.

Ginger knew what he wanted. She stood completely still, the candlelight on her skin, her mind in a sex stupor, her body parts humming. She displayed herself for him as his eyes consumed her from her toes to her shoulders. His smile began to soften as his eyes grew pensive. Eventually, he sighed and shook his head.

Genevieve, he whispered. You are exquisite.

She sucked in a quick breath.

Lucio’s dark eyes returned to her face. You are beautiful, mi amor. You are a queen. You are what every man dreams of. Lucio lowered his chin, and in the light his eyes danced. He looked like a devilish little boy.

Come. He patted the edge of the tub. Come in and relax. Feel the warm water against your skin.

As Ginger approached the tub, Lucio stood, holding her elbow as she climbed in. He steadied her as she lowered herself into the bubbles, the hot water sending an immediate wave of deep relief through her muscles.

There you go, he said, making sure she was safely situated, her back against the curved wall of the deep tub. Lucio bent down and pulled her hair up to the back of her head, gave it a twist, and secured it in place with a clip he must have found in the drawer. Ginger had to laugh. This man didn’t miss a thing! Next, he placed a decadent, wet kiss on her lips. When he pulled away, it left her stretching out her neck for more.

I have something for you, guapa, Lucio said, stepping back. It is not perfect, but it is all for you.

With that, he crossed his arms in front of his body and whipped his shirt over his head. He let it fall from his left hand, flicking it atop Ginger’s pile of discarded clothing.

How wrong he was, Ginger thought. If that wasn’t perfection, nothing on God’s earth could qualify as such. Ginger blinked, peering through a thin veil of steam from the bathwater, enjoying a slow visual tour of this beautiful man’s body. Her hand unconsciously reached under the bubbles so she could touch herself. She’d seen him naked only once before, and most of that was the view of him as he ran into the dining room, still wearing his shoes and socks, clutching his pants and shirt close.

But now, there was no emergency. There was no reason to stop or hide or rush to get dressed before some door flew open somewhere. It was just the two of them. All alone. Two grown-ups with a very adult game under way. And he was unzipping his jeans, a wicked smile playing on his lips as he pulled them down, a pair of clingy boxer briefs going along for the ride. Lucio stepped out of the pants and used a toe to toss them onto the pile.

Ginger saw smooth olive skin. Dark chest hair that disappeared into a fine line slicing down the center of his torso. Maleness everywhere. Muscles that were long and defined in most places, with hard swells on his upper arms, chest, thighs, calves. And there.

Oh.

Heaven.

Help me.

Ginger’s eyes popped wide. Her head fell back against the tub so hard it hurt. She stared. Blinked again. She’d never seen anything like it. Unabashedly, her fingers tweaked her own nipples.

Lucio chuckled. I am not ah, the word circumcised. I am exactly as God made me.

Ginger nearly choked. Remind me to send him a thank-you note, she said.

Lucio laughed. So it is all right with you, yes? Some women have worried it was too large. He shrugged, as if apologizing.

We’re good, she said, still staring.

Just as God made me. In Ginger’s mind she saw how it must have been, Larry and Lucio in heaven before they were born, waiting in the same line, ready to get God’s blessings before they began their earthly stay. Lucio received the Super Deluxe All-Inclusive Adventure Penthouse Package.

Larry got the junior suite.

Lucio’s grin widened. So, I will do, yes?

Ginger nodded, and though she was soaking in a tub of water and her pussy was dripping, her mouth had gone completely dry.

Lucio tilted his head, looking quite serious. Whatever you like about me, know that its only purpose is to bring you pleasure. I am for your pleasure.

Ginger tried to smile, but something profoundly sad had just occurred to her. Most men looked self-conscious standing naked in the middle of a room. Larry most certainly had. It was probably because he was always conscious of himselfto the exclusion of everyone else. Including his wife, the woman he claimed to love.

Not Lucio. He was as elegant and comfortable in his bare skin as he’d been in that stylish suit he’d worn at Josie and Rick’s wedding. Maybe that was because his focus was outside himself. His focus was on her. He’d just said that whatever she liked about his body was for her.

The timing couldn’t have been worse, but Ginger was unable to stop the wave of emotion that hit her. She had been so lonely for so long. Lucio’s sweet spiritthe way he created this sensual setting and offered up his body as a giftit was too much for her.

A sob escaped from her mouth. She turned away from him.

He was in the water in seconds, suds and waves splashing everywhere. He inserted himself between her and the wall of the tub, sliding his legs beneath hers. His arms went around her, and his hot whisper melted into her ear.

Ah, Genevieve, he said. You have much to tell me. I want to hear it all.

She sniffed, embarrassed.

Take all the time you need, mi amor.

I wasted a lot of my life on Larry, she whispered.

Nothing is wasted if you find the lesson in it.

I’ve had so many lessons lately I don’t even know where to begin.

Whatever you need to say will come to you when it is supposed to, and you can share it with me if you like. He nuzzled his rough cheek against her neck. Everything comes when it is supposed to.

Like you did, she said.

Me?

You came to me right on schedule.

Hmm. Lucio’s chest vibrated against her bare back. How do you mean?

Ginger turned on his lap, so that the side of her body rested against his torso. She wrapped an arm around his neck and turned so that she faced him. Water dripped from her arm to his shoulder, and rivulets ran down his chest. Wiping the tears from her face seemed silly.

Do you remember the lady who officiated at Rick and Josie’s wedding? Mrs. Needleman?

Oh, absolutely, Lucio said, grinning. How do you think I knew which guest room was yours? Or that you’d be chatting alone with her that evening? Or that you were unattached? Did you think I was psychic?

Ginger’s mouth fell open. She scooted around the rest of the way, spreading her legs so that she straddled Lucio’s lap. The feel of his erection startled her, and her train of thought was momentarily derailed. Uh what was I saying?

Lucio laughed, spreading his fingers across her lower back, pressing her even closer. You were talking about the strange old lady with the intense eyes.

Yes! You noticed that, too?

Of course.

Well, Ginger continued, she told me about you, just seconds before we met on the walkway and I passed out.

Lucio tilted his head quizzically.

She told me there was a man waiting for me. She told me I could still get lucky if I listened to my heart and not my fear.

One of his eyebrows popped up high on his forehead.

I walked out, and there you were! Ginger shook her head, laughing. And your exact words were, ‘I have been waiting for you.’ And your nickname is ‘Lucky’!

The Host! Lucio let out a surprised laugh.

I’ve wanted to ask you. What does it mean when you say ‘the Host’? You say it a lot.

He shrugged, taking a wet hand and stroking her bare shoulder. It is a Spanish curse, a very foul way of taking God’s name in vain. It’s a bad habit for a Catholic boy to have.

Ginger touched his cheek, then smoothed his dark hair away from his face. Are you a good Catholic boy?

He pursed his delicious lips. I am no longer a boy, and I was never a very good Catholic.

And do you have any other bad habits I should know about?

Not one.

They both laughed, and the sound echoed around the marble bathroom.

Listen, Genevieve, Lucio said, the seriousness in his voice changing the mood instantly. I want to know about you. I want to spend time learning who you are and where you have been and all the things you’ve been doing in the years before I found you.

Ginger smiled. Lucio’s English sounded stilted sometimes, which she found charming. I feel the same about you.

But Lucio suddenly seemed nervous. He raked a hand through his wet hair, water splashing on both of them. It is important that you know I am not skilled at this type of thing. I have never been the kind of man who spends a great deal of time with one woman, in one place. That is what I meant when I told you that I am no good for you.

Ginger wasn’t exactly shocked by this confession. The life he’d described at the dinner table didn’t sound like it lent itself to long-term commitments of any kind. What bothered her was that even as they sat naked together in a Jacuzzi, Lucio felt the need to issue another warning.

Why are you telling me this? she asked, her voice soft.

I say this because I want you to know my intentionsthey are good. Lucio’s eyes filled with worry. I have hurt many women over the years, but I do not want to hurt you, bonita.

Ginger shrugged. Then don’t.

Lucio chuckled in surprise.

Just don’t hurt me. It’s that simple, she said. Ginger brushed her fingers along the rough stubble on Lucio’s chin, studying those dark and liquid eyes. She was aware that, at that moment, her heart was in a shouting match with her fear, and she needed to decide which one she’d listen to. This was her chance to do what Mrs. Needleman had advised. She took a big breath.

Lucio, I don’t think it’s important how we got here. We’re here now. So let’s concentrate on doing everything right this time around. Do you think that’s possible?

Anything is possible, Genevieve.

Good. Now, there’s one little problem you should know about.

Yes?

I don’t think I’d survive another betrayal. The matter-of-fact way the words came out of her mouth surprised Ginger. But why not tell him the truth? The truth was from her heart, too. You were right when you said that I’ve never known a man’s love. I haven’t, Lucio. I was married seventeen years and never managed to feel loved. That’s quite a trick.

Lucio’s dark brows knit together.

And I want that before I get old and die, she whispered. Ginger lowered her gaze and let her forehead rest against his, aware that she wasn’t strong enough to look him in the eye as she finished her thought. I desperately need to be loved for who I am and to love back with the same certainty. Before it’s too late. I really think this is my last chance. If it doesn’t happen now, I’ll be too scared to try again.

Lucio’s hug was everything she neededrock-solid strength and tender care, all inside the shelter of his arms. He pulled her naked flesh close to his and simply hung on to her. The water stilled around them. Their breathing synchronized. She gripped his waist with her thighs and held on tight.

I will make a promise to you, Genevieve, he said, his words delivered carefully, the embrace continuing. I will stay put for as long as possible so that I can get to know you. I will tell you well in advance if I need to leave. I will be truthful with you, and I will be faithful. I will give you the best of what I am.

She nodded softly.

I have never made such a promise to anyone. Ever.

I understand.

I have never wanted to.

Ginger slowly separated from him, straightening as she pulled away. Thank you, Lucio, she whispered.

He chuckled softly, running a finger down the middle of her breasts, then teasing a nipple as it peeked out from the bubbles. There is nothing to thank me for, love. He smiled. Yet.

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