Authors: Jennifer Lewis
Tags: #Contemporary romance
“It’s lovely.” She glanced around. Was there a bedroom?
And was it good or bad if there was?
“It’s unchanged since 1933, when the original owner was shot dead by his lover.”
Sam gasped. “Why’d she shoot him?”
“He slept with his wife.”
She laughed. “I can see how a mistress would find that offensive.”
Already they’d crossed the room and entered a large, high-ceilinged chamber with a grand, four-poster bed. Rich gold draperies glowed in the light from another jewel-toned Tiffany lamp.
He lifted the arm of an old Victrola phonograph and placed it on the record. The mellow tones of a big band orchestra swelled from the brass horn.
His sensual gaze rested on her mouth. “I love your smile.”
“Thanks, I love it, too. I haven’t used it enough lately.”
His eyes fixed on hers for a second, stalling her breath. Her lips buzzed with sensation. Had she really kissed him?
He stepped toward her and placed his glass on the polished sideboard.
Her insides trembled with long-forgotten desire. Anticipation mingled with fear as she watched his mouth, watched his eyes caress her body with their soft gaze.
Was he going to kiss her again?
Her answer came as his lips closed over hers in a swift motion that stole her breath.
ouis DuLac had kissed a lot of women.
He’d run his fingers over a lot of smooth skin and stared into a lot of desire-darkened eyes.
But this was a first.
He’d never met a woman whose every glance and movement resonated with passion and intensity that threatened to make sparks in the air.
She was blond and blue-eyed, his mystery woman. She was slight, frail even, her limbs so thin his grandmother would have pinched them, clucked, and brought her some food.
Which, of course, is pretty much what he did.
“Why are you smiling?” Her mouth was pink from kissing, pursed with slight shyness.
“You’d be smiling, too, if you enjoyed this view.”
She lay naked, half hidden under the crisp sheets, her body softly illuminated in the ruby glow of a nearby lamp. Small, high breasts gave her a girlish aspect, but the far distance he glimpsed in her eyes spoke of a thousand lifetimes lived.
He almost regretted bringing her here.
Her rosy nipple thickened between his thumb and finger. Her heart beat visibly just below her rib cage, and he saw its pace pick up as he trailed his fingers down below her belly button.
Her thighs writhed under their thin cover. Her arousal was palpable, a primal hunger crouching below the surface. He could see it in the glitter of her dark pupils, in the silver sheen of her skin. He could taste it in the hunger of her kiss and feel it in the heat pulsing through her slender limbs.
The scent of her drove him half-crazy. Some expensive French concoction, no doubt, but mingled with the fresh, clean smell of her skin and hair, it was perfect.
Louis flicked his practiced tongue over her sensitive nerve endings and, through narrowed eyes, watched her hips buck slightly.
He deepened his exploration with fingers and tongue. Her fine gold hair splayed on the pillow and her eyes slid closed as she gave herself over to sensation. He was gratified to see her draw deep, unhurried breaths while he pleasured her.
Her fingertips pushed into his hair and along his neck as he licked her until her hips shuddered. Then he stopped and pulled back.
Her eyes flicked open in—dismay? He smiled. “No hurry. We have all night.”
Or did they? He had no idea if she had somewhere to be. Someone to meet.
No wedding band. He’d checked. That didn’t mean much these days, but it reduced the chance of him ending up like the bar’s original owner.
She raised herself up on her elbows, eyes shining. “I want to kiss you.” Her voice was soft and sweet, her request so simple and innocent, it belied the fact that she’d removed her clothes with the candor of a practiced call girl.
She certainly wasn’t that.
But she was a mystery.
One moment shy and awkward, the next polished and witty. Dressed in her fine clothes, she reeked of wealth and privilege. But the Louboutin shoes and John Galliano dress didn’t hide the ragged emotional edge of a hungry waif. You didn’t have to be psychic to see she was burdened with a sadness so huge that it threatened to suck oxygen from the air.
He shouldn’t have brought her here.
She was too fragile, too slender and delicate, too dangerously close to some verge he knew nothing about.
He had a strange feeling that, in unlocking her mysteries, he’d open a Pandora’s box that would unleash chaos on his world.
But he couldn’t stop.
am awoke with a start.
She blinked, searching for the familiar night-light in her room, but finding only blackness. A brush of warm skin against her elbow reassured her that she slept next to her husband...
She sat up, heart pounding. Images plucked at her mind: flashing honey-gold eyes, strong and sensuous hands, a wickedly seductive smile.
The sound of breathing was just audible in the thick darkness. She heard a car drive by outside. Why was it so quiet?
She was in New Orleans. In a strange man’s bed.
Her breath caught in her throat. Her thighs were sticky and her insides still pulsed with the stray echoes of arousal.
with this man lying beside her.
She didn’t even know his name, or anything about him, but she’d stripped naked and dived into his bed like a...like a...
Her eyes adjusted to the point where she could make out the shapes of furniture in the thin moonlight sneaking through a crack in the heavy drapes. She eased herself to the edge of the bed, dipped her legs over the side and felt for the floor.
Cool wood on the soles of her feet shocked her more fully awake.
What was she thinking?
She wasn’t thinking, that was the problem. At least he didn’t know who she was. Or she hoped he didn’t.
She could see the headlines already.
Gold-Digging Tramp Back on the Prowl.
Of course they wouldn’t be far wrong. Her husband dead less than six months, and already she lay naked in the arms of a handsome stranger.
Was she insane? Like, really, truly crazy?
She’d had her doubts lately, but this was different.
Fear propelled her into action. She glanced back at the bed and saw the shape of him outlined by white sheets, still apparently asleep. She needed to get out of here before he woke up.
Heart thundering and pain lancing her temples, she groped around for her clothes. Luckily, since she’d removed them herself, she knew they were on a chair near the bed. She struggled into her underwear, then slid the dress over her head.
Carrying her sandals in her hand, she crept toward the looming dark outline of the door.
She didn’t feel crazy. She felt dangerously sane, as she turned the ornate brass knob with painstaking care not to make even a single click. She pulled back on the heavy wood door, praying that it wouldn’t creak.
A glance over her shoulder reassured her that he was still asleep.
Her knees trembled for a moment when she remembered the feel of his hands on her skin. How gentle his touch was, how careful, and then how hungry and naked and...human she’d felt in his arms.
She hadn’t felt like that in a long time.
Sam swallowed hard and stepped over the threshold. She closed the door behind her with the same agonizing slowness. She wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or sad when it slid into place without even a click, and she left her handsome stranger behind, still deep in dreamland.
Was he dreaming about her?
She walked over an air-conditioning register, and the cool breeze shot up her dress. Her aroused flesh tingled and her nipples tightened. Shimmers of awareness still crept over her skin.
The sensation of intense arousal was raw and uncomfortable. Unfamiliar and unsettling. An unsteady ache settled in her chest.
She picked her way carefully across the floor, avoiding the fine old furniture and priceless lamps.
Almost there. But relief didn’t come even as she released a heavy bolt and opened the door to the hallway. First, she’d be leaving this man’s door unlocked, which, in a city with a high crime rate, might have any number of consequences.
But that wasn’t it.
There was an uglier word for what she’d done.
She’d betrayed her husband. Betrayed her vows to him and all the promises she’d made before and after. She’d betrayed her purpose here in New Orleans, which was to find his missing son and heir and bring him home to the family.
And she’d betrayed herself. She’d prided herself on her stoicism. On her steady attention to duty and the fact that she wasn’t a foolish girl anymore.
Only to find out tonight that in fact she was so “easy”—or desperate—that she’d go home with the first man to gaze into her eyes.
She snuck along the empty corridor, through a heavy, bolted door, and into the silent bar. There might be another way out, but she didn’t want to take the time to find it.
She tiptoed through the cavernous space, so recently filled with sensual music and laughter, now empty and silent.
Long shadows chased her across the floor as a car drove by outside. She found herself ducking like a criminal, and crawling the rest of the way to the door.
Shame soaked through her. What had brought her to this? She’d thought herself older and wiser and better able to avoid the mistakes she’d made in the past.
The latch on the door was old and heavy, with an unfamiliar mechanism. She struggled with it for a full five minutes, silent sobs rising in her throat, before finally the bolt slid free and tugged the door open.
She waited until the next block to put her shoes on. Even then the pathetic clickety-click of the narrow heels made her feel like a target.
No one around. If they were, she’d be easy prey in her foolishly thin dress and high heels, clutching her expensive purse with far too much cash in it.
Would she find her way back to the hotel and her normal life? Or would she spend eternity wandering the dark, humid streets of a strange city?
She probably deserved the latter.
Still too sleepy to open his eyes, Louis reached out his hand, anticipating contact with warm silky flesh. His fingers found nothing but cold sheets.
His eyes flicked open. Empty sheets.
Louis tried to shake off the sensual fog that had followed him from sleep. He’d dreamed about her. In his dream, she’d been laughing, throwing her head back with abandon, eyes sparkling in the sun.
He propped himself up on one elbow and scanned the room. Her clothes were gone.
He sank back into the sheets, disappointment blooming in his chest.
Not a surprise that she’d vanished, his woman of mystery. For a moment he even wondered if he’d simply imagined her.
She’d never told him her name, or where she was from. He hadn’t asked, mostly because he didn’t think she’d tell him, anyway.
They’d had a wonderful night—no expectations, no obligations, no tearful goodbyes, just a few hours of intense pleasure.
He’d probably never see her again. Which should be fine.
Except that, for reasons he couldn’t put his finger on, it wasn’t.
Sam patted her hair and inhaled deeply as she approached the gates of Louis DuLac’s beautiful French Quarter house for the third time. She’d reached unconsciously for the big gold ring on her middle finger. Tarrant had given it to her for their first anniversary, and she never went anywhere without it. For some reason, she’d forgotten to wear it last night. She’d forgotten almost everything else, too—propriety, duty, common sense. Only a few brief hours ago she’d been in bed with a total stranger.
She inhaled deeply as she stepped under the wrought-iron balcony and reached for the bell.
She was here in New Orleans to find her husband’s unclaimed son and bring him into the family, and she couldn’t let a personal mistake interfere with that goal. Besides, last night was a silly indiscretion born of painful loneliness, and she was going to forgive herself for it.
An old-fashioned chime sounded inside the house. Her heart thudded as she prayed he’d be home. She didn’t want to be turned away yet again and no one ever returned her calls.
No sound reached her from the other side of the door. Apparently even the maid was out today. She rang again. This time she heard feet coming downstairs. A voice talking, “...the terms were good, but the property needs to be completely renovated and if we’re going to open in time for the season, I just don’t have the time to...hold on.”
Something about the voice sounded vaguely familiar, even through the heavy, black-painted door. Her scalp prickled with awareness.
A very uncomfortable awareness.
The door flew open and shock snapped through her as she stood face-to-face with the man from last night.
Bright morning sunlight illuminated his unmistakable chiseled features and glittered in his eyes. Recognition lit his features and a smile started across his mouth. “I’ll call you back,” he said into the phone.
“I—I—I’m sorry, there’s been a mistake,” she stammered, stepping backward.
“Come in.” He stood aside and gestured for her to enter. She peered past him into a dim, cool hallway with a large, ornate mirror on one wall.
“No, I—I can’t. I didn’t mean to—” Her mind froze, and she found herself backing away, glancing over her shoulder so as not to fall down the steps.
He lunged forward and grabbed her wrist. His strong fingers closed around her arm. Her muscles tightened as she instinctively resisted.
He held her firm. “Don’t think you can ring my doorbell then run out on me
Guilt seared her. She had sneaked out of his room without saying goodbye. He must be angry.