Authors: Jennifer Lewis
Tags: #Contemporary romance
His gruff tone underlined his reluctance. Sam felt a momentary stab of guilt at making him undermine his principles, but really, who would he tell anyway?
They passed the rest of the drive chatting about music and movies. Careful conversation. Witty, but guarded, like two acquaintances at a party.
Which was what they were. She didn’t know him, and he didn’t know her. Not after one night. Or even two.
He parked near her hotel. Nervous energy fluttered through her. He opened her door and stood aside with mock deference to her insistence on no touching.
Her body ached at the lack of even conventional contact.
“Good night,” she said, her voice shaking. She glanced at the brightly lit entrance of the hotel. They stood in the muted glow of a vintage streetlamp.
“It was a good night. And I think a good-night peck on the cheek would only be polite.”
Sam hesitated. Swallowed. Her rules were a bit silly, rude even. And he’d been so understanding and wonderful about it. Surely just a little, tiny, goodbye type of kiss wouldn’t be so bad?
Anxiety and excitement snaked through her. He stepped forward and she instinctively tilted her chin.
An electric sensation zapped her as his cheek brushed hers.
Before she could stop, her lips found his.
Hot relief rushed through her when their mouths met and mingled. Her arms found their way around his waist and her fingers buried themselves in his cotton shirt, gripping the sturdy muscle underneath.
Louis’s arms closed around her back, soft and reassuring. He kissed her tenderly, with restraint, even as passion snapped and sizzled in the air around them.
When they finally parted, disentangling their limbs with agonizing reluctance, her whole body throbbed and tingled with painful arousal.
“I’m not sure that was such a great idea,” she rasped.
Louis didn’t say anything. He just looked at her, his expression—pained. His arousal was visible even in the dim glow from the streetlight.
She could tell he was thinking,
If it weren’t for your neurotic reluctance, we’d spend the night in each other’s arms the way you know we both want to.
But she couldn’t.
“Um. The test. What time is good tomorrow?”
Louis raised an eyebrow, then blew out a hard breath. “Let’s get it over with. The earlier the better.”
“The lab opens at nine.”
“I’ll pick you up here.”
“Great.” She managed a fake smile and practically ran for the bright sanctuary of the hotel lobby. She didn’t dare look back. She knew he was standing there, looking after her.
Waiting for her to weaken and run back into his arms.
Her hands trembled as she pulled her key card from her pocket. She stepped into the glittering, polished interior of the elevator and the doors closed, leaving her alone.
Phew. She’d done it. He’d agreed to take the test and she’d managed the entire evening without any inappropriate contact.
Except that kiss.
But really, it was just a kiss. Practically a peck on the cheek.
A sound escaped her mouth. A snort of disbelief. Her whole body still stung with stray energy that snuck over her skin and along her nerves, from her lips to her fingers and toes and everywhere in between.
She stepped out into the silent, carpeted hallway and shivered in the air-conditioning. She fumbled with the key in the lock, but managed to open the door and step into her luxurious suite with its magnificent scrolled bed and five-hundred-count sheets.
Oh, Tarrant. Why did you have to die and leave me?
The familiar lament rang through her mind. It hurt so much to go to bed by herself every night, the cold sheets a reminder that she had no one to comfort her. No one to hold her. No one to mutter and sigh over the day’s mundane events or admire the silly new lingerie she’d bought just to make him smile.
Louis might do all those things, if she’d let him.
But for how long? A week? A month?
Then he’d be off to Paris or Milan and the busy whirl of his life. Back to all the other women he no doubt charmed and delighted just like her.
She and Louis were the same age and while she’d been married three times, he’d never taken the plunge once.
That should tell you something.
Even if he wasn’t potentially her stepson, there was no possibility of a lasting relationship.
He was exactly what she didn’t need. Another opportunity for the papers to fill their pages with humiliating gossip and innuendo.
But that didn’t stop her from clutching the sheets around her and wishing with every ounce of hope she had left that he wasn’t Tarrant’s son after all.
Morning sunlight sparkled off the sidewalks and windows as Sam and Louis walked the few blocks from the hotel to the lab. She was glad of the excuse to wear large, dark glasses that hid her emotions.
She noticed with a start that they paused to wait for a car to pass at exactly the same spot where she’d seen the sign for
Madame Ayida ~ Palmistry and spiritual consultations.
The black letters danced in front of her eyes.
“I went to that fortune-teller yesterday.” She pointed to the sign. “Madame Ayida. What she told me made me decide to have dinner with you so you’d agree to the test.”
“I owe Madame Ayida a debt of gratitude.”
“She told me to follow my heart.” Sam frowned as she remembered the gravity in the young woman’s voice.
“That’s good advice. Did your heart tell you to keep your hands off me, or did it tell you to kiss me?”
Sam brushed away his question with a laugh. “She also said I had to choose between two roads, one familiar and one strange, and that the choice would determine the rest of my life.”
Louis looked at her. Sunlight glittered in his eyes and the force of his gaze made her belly quiver.
She bit her lip. “Do you think fate is determined in advance by forces we can’t control or do you think we create our own destiny?”
“Definitely the latter. Every decision you make shapes your life.”
“Sometimes I feel like I’m on a roller coaster and the best I can do is hang on. Every plan I make gets derailed.” She sighed. “I used to think I just made the wrong choices in the first place, but since Tarrant died, I don’t feel in control at all. I feel I could have saved him, somehow. That I should have.”
He frowned. “I guess you’re right that we have no control over some things. I don’t have any control over who my father is.”
Louis had a strange expression in his eyes. “I have a funny feeling the tests are going to tell you what you want to hear.”
Sam froze. He assumed that she wanted to find out he was the missing heir she sought.
But he was wrong.
“You never know. You don’t look all that much like him.”
“I take after my mother.”
“You do. I looked up her album covers last night. She’s very beautiful.” Tarrant’s former lovers so far were all dark, bold-featured women. Sam felt a bit drab and colorless by comparison.
Or maybe just jealous.
After watching some videos online, she now realized that Tarrant had kept some of Bijou DuLac’s music in the rotation on their bedroom stereo. He’d never mentioned that she was likely the mother of one of his children.
A joy Sam would never personally experience.
The familiar hollow emptiness inside her opened up like a sudden chasm. Sam kept her eyes dead ahead, hoping Louis wouldn’t look at her until she got her emotions under control.
“My mom would throw an opera-diva-style tantrum if she knew I was about to take this test.”
“She wouldn’t want you to know who your father is?”
“She’d see it as irrelevant. She can’t stand looking at the past, or even toward the future. She’s big on living in the present. Enjoy each day as you meet it head-on, all the ones behind you are irrelevant, and the ones ahead are an adventure you’ll greet when you come to it.”
“I get the sense you share her philosophy.”
“I do. And I’ve had a pretty damn good life so far, so it’s working for me.”
Sam’s skin prickled as they walked past Madame Ayida’s storefront. “How do you feel about finding out who your father is?”
“I guess it’s an adventure I’ll greet when I come to it.” He flashed her a mischievous grin.
They both grew quiet when they reached the door of the lab. A smiling redheaded nurse bustled out to the reception desk to greet them. Sam explained that they needed to collect Louis’s DNA and have the results sent to both of them. She didn’t bother to explain they’d then be compared to Tarrant’s data at the company labs in New York.
She nodded sympathetically. “Of course.” She looked at Louis. “And if the results prove you’re the father, you be sure to make your payments on time, unlike my louse of an ex-husband.” She turned to wink at Sam.
Sam cringed. “Oh, it’s not like that at all.”
The redhead shuffled through some papers. “You think he’s the father of your child, right? That’s why you need the results, too.”
“No. We think he’s my husband’s son.”
The nurse glanced up, and squinted at Louis. Then back at Sam, who felt heat rising to her face.
Louis looked totally unruffled. If anything, she saw a gleam of humor in his eye.
Why did she feel the need to explain?
Sam waited in the lobby while Louis went into the back to have his cheek swabbed for cells. The nurse’s unprofessional behavior left her rattled. Why did people have to butt into someone else’s personal business?
She could just imagine the newspaper headlines if this little story got out.
Louis emerged with a guarded expression on his face, and they didn’t talk at all until they were back out on the street.
“I have to go catch a plane,” she said quietly to forestall any suggestions he might tempt her with.
Or maybe she was flattering herself that he’d try.
“I’m flying to Paris myself. Big party at my restaurant there tomorrow. A lot of my oldest friends will be there.”
Sam tried to ignore a twinge of jealousy. “Sounds like fun. I hope you have a wonderful time.”
He looked at her, golden eyes shining with wary appreciation. “Thank you. I’ll call you and we can talk when the results come in.”
There was no suggestion of even the faintest peck on the cheek. No doubt Louis was also aware that any contact between them might explode into a conflagration neither of them could handle right now.
Sam managed a cheery wave that later seemed forced and phony, but it was the best she could do. Then she hurried away down the sidewalk, heart pounding, wondering if she’d ever see Louis again.
am knew the results were due today, so she deliberately lingered in bed, away from the prying eyes of the household. Still, she gulped when her phone rang. Her hand shook as she reached for it.
“Sam, guess what?” Bella’s cheery voice sent her pulse into overdrive. Bella ran the Hardcastle lab and was personally overseeing the DNA-test analysis.
“What?” she croaked.
“It’s a match! Isn’t that great? You found another of Tarrant’s sons.”
“Oh, fantastic.” Her voice seemed to echo in a hollow cavern. “Are you sure?”
She’d almost convinced herself Louis wasn’t related. That he was just another one of the billions of people walking the face of the earth who had no relationship with Tarrant Hardcastle.
That he could be simply...hers.
“The results are incontrovertible. Nearly a hundred percent. Which is hardly surprising considering that Louis DuLac is a successful restaurant entrepreneur. Isn’t it funny that all three of Tarrant’s sons are movers and shakers in the same field? Dominic in food retail, Amado in the wine business and now Louis with an international chain of restaurants. I guess it proves the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, even if the tree wasn’t actively involved in its development.”
“Yeah. Strange.” Sam swallowed. Her heart bumped painfully against her ribs. “Well, that is great news.” She tried to inject enthusiasm into her voice, which only made it waver.
It was over. All over.
Well, the self-indulgent stage of their relationship was. No more flirtatious glances or kisses or passionate embraces. The next stage, where she was his cheerful but sexless stepmother—that was just beginning.
She slid a little deeper under the covers. “I’ll call and tell him myself.”
“May I speak to Louis DuLac, please?”
Pleasure flooded Louis’s body at the sound of Sam’s voice. Her formal tones brought a smile to his lips.
“Speaking.” He sat in his New Orleans restaurant, going over some orders before the early-lunchtime crowd started to arrive. The ceiling fan wafted air over his skin, which heated at the memory of Sam’s sparkling blue eyes and lithe body.
“Great. It’s Samantha.” Again the clipped voice. As if they were business acquaintances. Like he’d never held her in his arms and made love to her all night long.
“I know. Hi, Sam.” He let a hint of flirtation slide into his voice.
“You’re Tarrant’s son. I just heard the results of the analysis. There’s no doubt at all, you’re definitely his.” The barrage of words ended abruptly.
No words came to his tongue.
He had a father.
He blew out a snort. Of course he had a father; everyone did. Hard to be born without one. Still. A real person, who probably shared traits with him that he’d never even noticed in himself.
“Are you there?” Sam’s voice jerked him out of the strange rash of thoughts.
“Sure, I’m here. It’s taking a while to sink in.”
“Isn’t it wonderful?” Her voice rang with false cheer.
“Yeah, I guess so.” She’d wanted so badly for him to be the son she sought. Or did she? Now that they’d been intimate, everything was complicated.
“I’m thrilled.” Her voice reached such a high note that it actually cracked. “It’s just what I was hoping for. You must come to New York as soon as possible. Your brother Dominic is anxious to meet you, and so is your sister, Fiona. Amado told me he can fly up from Argentina anytime.”