Authors: Jennifer Lewis
Tags: #Contemporary romance
But humor glittered in his gaze. “How did you know where I live? We never even exchanged names. I think the least you could do is introduce yourself.”
Sam’s mind whirled. “I—I’m Samantha Hardcastle.”
The smile faded from his eyes. “What?”
“Samantha Hardcastle, I came here to find my husband’s son. His name is Louis DuLac and this must be the wrong address so I’m not sure what happened, but—”
“It’s not the wrong address.” His features grew hard and he gazed at her through narrowed eyes. “I’m Louis DuLac.” Sam’s knees almost gave out. If he hadn’t been holding her wrist she might have plunged backward down the stairs.
“But you can’t be.” The words fell from her lips, dazed and barely coherent. “It’s impossible.”
“Impossible or not, come in.”
This time his words were a command rather than an invitation. He still held a gentle yet firm grip on her wrist.
“Oh, boy.” Sam felt herself struggling for breath.
was Louis DuLac? “You’re my husband’s…oh, no.” Her heart sank right down in her chest as her rib cage closed around it like a fist.
“I confess I don’t know exactly what’s going on here, but this time I plan to get to the bottom of it.” He studied her face with a slight frown. “You’re not going anywhere until you come in and tell me what’s going on.”
Sam gulped. Her body was screaming at her to turn and run—to save herself—but her brain struggled to behave in a more civilized manner. She owed him that. He hadn’t done anything wrong at all, even if she had. She put one foot in front of the other and moved toward the doorway.
He didn’t let go of her wrist until she’d stepped inside the threshold and he’d closed the door behind her.
“You’re really Louis DuLac?” The surprise in her voice seemed to amuse him.
“Have been since the day I was born.”
“Maybe there’s another Louis DuLac. It could be quite a common name.”
He turned. Crossed his arms over his chest. He wore a pale blue shirt with crisp cuffs and collar. “And I’ve just figured out who you are, Samantha Hardcastle. I’ve been ignoring your letters and phone calls for months.”
Sam inhaled. “Why?”
“Why don’t you come up to my office and we’ll talk.”
“I really don’t think I should.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t tear your clothes off.” He gazed at her through narrowed eyes.
Was that mischief or malice that glittered in their depths?
Sam felt her face redden. She’d torn her own clothes off last night, if she remembered correctly. She deserved his scorn.
“It’s up one floor.” He led the way up a wide, polished staircase with an elaborate carved handrail.
The cool air-conditioned interior contrasted starkly with the already hot and humid morning air outside. Fine antiques decorated the large space in a minimalist and appealingly modern fashion. A pleasant smell of lavender enhanced the calm and ordered atmosphere.
“Do you live alone?” Her question popped out before she could consider its implications.
He turned, frowning. “Yes, in case you’re worried that I was cheating on my wife last night, let me reassure you that I am single and unattached with no existing obligations.”
“That’s not what I meant.” Or was it? Her pulse jackhammered under her skin. “I was just wondering.”
“Wonder away. Curiosity’s no crime.” A mischievous half smile slid across his mouth for a split second, then vanished. “My study. Please come in.”
Sam walked past him into a large, high-ceilinged room with a massive walnut desk at its center. The walls were painted sky-blue, topped by ornate white cornices that hung like clouds near the ceiling. “This is a spectacular house.”
“Thanks. I inherited it from my grandparents. I’ve been fixing it up room by room.” He glanced at the chiseled cornice with obvious pride.
Then his attention snapped back to her. “Please, take a seat.” His accusatory gaze undermined the smooth politeness of his request. “And why don’t you tell me
what you’re doing here?”
ouis leaned back in his armchair, wove his fingers together and rested them on the desk. The blonde had some explaining to do.
First, she’d driven him half-wild in bed, then snuck out in the middle of the night without a by-your-leave.
Second, she was apparently the crackpot sending him all these strange messages about a long-lost father wanting to welcome him back to his bosom.
She balanced precariously on the edge of her chair, pulse visible at her slender throat, light wisps of hair fluttering in the breeze from the air-conditioning.
Nervous. As well she should be.
She twisted a big gold ring on one of her long, elegantly manicured fingers. “I came here to find you. To New Orleans, I mean. You haven’t returned my calls or letters.”
“And you thought it might be a good idea to sleep with me first?” He couldn’t figure that part out.
“I had no idea who you were!” A flush of color spread from her sharp collarbone up her neck. “I didn’t intend to sleep with anyone, least of all...” She swallowed hard.
His mind boggled. “What makes you think I’m your husband’s son?”
husband. He died six months ago.” Grief, still sharp, was evident in the suddenly taut lines of her face.
Pity surged through him. “I’m sorry.”
“When he found out he was dying, we decided to try and find the children he’d fathered. We hired a researcher and gave her all the information he had. We then tracked down the individuals indicated in the research and administered DNA tests to see if they really were related. We found his sons Dominic and Amado this way.”
“And how did your research lead to me?”
“Your mother is Bijou DuLac.”
“I am aware of that, yes.”
“She had an affair with Tarrant—my late husband.”
“In Paris?” His mother had lived in Paris since before he was born.
“In New York. She was visiting the city for a series of concerts. They spent a month together, then she moved back to Paris. According to our researcher, she gave birth to a son exactly eight months later. We believe you’re that son.”
Something hot and uncomfortable slid down his spine.
“I am my mother’s only child, so if she had a son, it’s me.” He couldn’t keep the edge out of his voice.
Who were these people sitting in offices analyzing his existence?
He’d never known who his father was and he’d gotten along just fine without that knowledge. He certainly didn’t need someone shoving a parent—a dead one, at that—down his throat now that he was long past needing one.
He cocked his head. “My mother told me I was born of the chance meeting between a double bass and a saxophone.”
Samantha Hardcastle blinked. “Which one was she?”
He laughed. “I don’t know. She didn’t say.”
Her expression softened and the sparkle in her eyes reminded him of how she’d looked last night. Beautiful. So feminine and alive.
Right now she wore a cool, mint-green dress with short sleeves and a scooped neck. Fresh and edible as a mint julep.
He leaned toward her. “I don’t know if I’m the person you’re looking for, but I’m glad that your search brought you back. It was rude of you to sneak out without a goodbye kiss.”
Maybe he’d hoped to see a pretty flush of color light her cheeks, or a flutter of remorseful eyelashes. Instead, the shine left her eyes and her mouth tightened.
“I’m so sorry.” She looked down, twisting her hands in her lap. “I don’t know what to say. What a terrible thing. It should never have happened.”
Her voice shook and he saw her hands tremble. He wanted to take her in his arms.
But she’d just told him that the night she’d spent in his bed was regrettable.
He wanted to be mad, but she looked like she was about to cry.
“You’re lucky my feelings aren’t easily hurt.” He managed to keep his tone light. “Women don’t usually look back on a night in my bed like they screwed up and spent a night in jail.”
“I had no idea who you were.” She stared at him, blue eyes wide and brimming with tears.
“You still have no idea who I am. We didn’t do all that much talking. But I’ll start. I was born in Paris and grew up both there and here in New Orleans. I own six five-star restaurants and when the mood is right I play a little guitar.” He narrowed his eyes. “But maybe you did know all that?”
She gulped. “All except the guitar.”
“Thing is, I don’t know anything at all about you. Maybe we should correct that.”
She drew in a shaky breath, which had the unfortunate effect of filling the bodice of her minty dress with her perky breasts. His pants grew tight.
“Have you heard of Tarrant Hardcastle?”
“Of course. I’ve eaten at The Moon in New York. It even inspired the name of my newest restaurant.”
“La Ronde,” she murmured.
“You have done your research.”
“It’s supposed to be the best new restaurant in New Orleans.”
“In the world,” he challenged.
Still no smile.
“I’m...I was his third wife. He has a daughter from a previous marriage, but after he was diagnosed with cancer, he told me about a woman who’d tried to sue him for paternity decades ago. He said he’d been wondering about the child—a boy—and what happened to him. Once he got a sense of his own mortality, I think he became obsessed with finding an heir.”
“His daughter wasn’t good enough?”
“She’s young, and probably not cut out for running a luxury retail empire. God knows I’m not cut out for it, either, so I encouraged him to begin the search. Then he recalled other incidents—such as his affair with your mother—and we began to suspect that he might have a whole network of heirs out there.”
“Don’t judge him too harshly.”
“I can’t judge him at all. Apparently I’m no better than he is, though at least we used a condom, so we didn’t make any heirs.”
She blinked rapidly and color flooded her cheeks. “I’m so ashamed. Honestly, I can’t even wrap my mind about it. That I slept with my husband’s son.” Her throat dried on the last word and it came out as a strangled sob.
“Calm down. For all we know I’m the result of a different one of my mother’s many lovers. Let’s not kid ourselves that we live in a kind of world where people mate for life, like swans.”
Sam hesitated, probably taken aback by his bluntness. “Did your mother ever marry?”
“No. She said slavery was over and she wasn’t going to chain herself to a man for any reason, ever.”
Her pretty blue eyes widened. “She sounds like a character.”
“She was a very unconventional mother, let’s put it that way. She showed me how to live my life without being cramped by other people’s expectations.”
She nodded, looking thoughtful.
“So, a little thing like accidentally sleeping with my stepmother doesn’t put a hitch in my stride.”
Her mouth flew open, then snapped shut.
“But as we’ve already established, we don’t actually know if you’re my stepmother or not, so why don’t we just assume you’re not.” He wove his fingers together and mastered his features in a pleasant smile.
“Will you take a DNA test?” The words rushed out.
Louis hesitated, his flesh crawled at the thought of someone spreading his genes out on a laboratory table and delving into them in search of whatever mysterious information was hidden there.
His father. Sure, he’d wondered who he came from. If there was someone out there walking around with the same unusual eye color or with his feeling for music or his passion for food?
As a kid, being hustled from one country to another and allowed to do things most parents would never permit, he’d dreamed of a traditional father who’d pat him on the head and be there for him no matter what.
Mercifully, he got over it.
“Why take a test now? What good would that do? If the man you think is my father is already dead, there’s no point.” He narrowed his eyes. “Unless you’re planning to snap off a chunk of the Hardcastle empire and hand it to me on a gold platter.”
Her face was strangely impassive. Was that part of the plan?
“And you can shelve that idea because I’ve already made all the money I’ll ever need and I have my hands full with my six restaurants and coaching the Little League team.”
“Will you take the test anyway?”
Her question, deadly serious, knocked him off-kilter.
“Why? What does it matter if I’m his son or not?”
“Maybe it doesn’t matter, maybe it does.” She shrugged her slim shoulders inside her mint-green dress. Her calm voice was thoroughly undermined by the intense look in her eyes. It mattered to
“Maybe it would make you feel better if I take the test and we can determine that I’m not your stepson.” He found the whole thing rather funny. Maybe the situation was just too ludicrous to take seriously. What in the world was his supposed father doing married to a woman young enough to be his daughter, anyway?
“There’s a lab a few blocks away. We could walk over there right now. It’s totally painless and only takes a minute. They swab a few cells from inside your mouth.”
“Something tells me you’re not going to quit until I agree.”
A smile tugged at her pretty mouth. “Just say yes.”
DNA. A father.
He sucked in a breath. The prospect of actually knowing who his father was sent prickles of energy dancing along his nerves.
Family came with obligations, expectations. People could disappoint or could let you down. “What if I prefer being rootless and freewheeling?”
“Taking a test won’t change that.” She’d already picked up her clutch purse off the floor. Apparently, she’d declared victory and was ready to head for the lab.
His pride and a more primal instinct fought back. “I’ll think about it.” He cocked his head. “Maybe we could discuss it some more over dinner tonight. Have you eaten at my restaurant, La Ronde?”
She swallowed. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“You think I might seduce you again?” He lifted a brow. Her cheeks paled. Ouch. “Or maybe you’re worried you might seduce me.”