Authors: Jennifer Lewis
Tags: #Contemporary romance
“I’m beginning to think I have no idea what I might do, so I’d better barricade myself in my hotel room and hope for the best.” She managed a bright smile.
“It might be more fun if you barricade me in there with you.”
She shot him a warning look. “Please take the test. You won’t regret it.”
The plea in her eyes won him over.
At that moment, he decided to take her damn test. For reasons he didn’t care to examine, he wanted to make the lovely Samantha Hardcastle happy. Something about her snuck right under his skin and grabbed him where it hurt.
He’d take her test and if he did regret it, it wouldn’t be the first or last regret of his life.
Still, he wasn’t going to give up his DNA without the promise of a second date. “You join me for dinner, I’ll take your test. Deal?”
She blinked. Her mouth moved, but no words came out. She looked panic-stricken.
Louis didn’t like the nasty feeling in his gut that came from a woman apparently desperate enough to avoid him that she’d refuse a fine dinner with him at his own five-star restaurant. “The food’s good.”
“I’m sure it is.”
“And the company’s all right, too.”
She swallowed. Twisted her big ring. Suddenly she stood. “I have to go. Do you have a number where I can reach you?”
He scribbled his cell number on a piece of monogrammed notepaper. A warm sense of satisfaction and anticipation crept through him. Her resistance had only inflamed his desire.
She’d call. And she’d eat dinner with him.
And as far as he was concerned, that was just the beginning.
dived out Louis DuLac’s front door into the street. Thank heaven she didn’t have a car waiting, because she needed to walk. Tension strung her muscles tight and vibrated along her nerves.
So, she’d found Tarrant’s missing son.
And slept with him.
Shame soaked through her like acid. Part of her wanted to fly back to New York and never see Louis DuLac again.
But then she’d have failed everyone. Dominic, Tarrant’s first son, was thrilled that a world-class restaurateur might be his brother.
Dominic had owned his own chain of gourmet markets before joining Hardcastle Enterprises. His newfound half brother Amado owned a fine vineyard. Just based on his occupation, they were sure Louis would turn out to be one of Tarrant’s sons.
It had never crossed her mind to look up a picture of him and see what he looked like. If she’d done that she might have recognized him when she stumbled blindly into his own bar with him.
Everyone knew she was in New Orleans to look for him. Fiona, Tarrant’s daughter, had exclaimed that she traveled to Milan at least once a year to shop and always ate at Louis DuLac’s restaurant there.
They’d all been excited about her trip down here to find him.
And she’d promised Tarrant.
She drew in a long breath of sticky, humid air. Why did Louis have to insist on dinner as a condition for taking the test?
Then again, why not? If he were her stepson, it would no doubt be the first of many family dinners she hoped to enjoy.
Unless she’d destroyed that possibility forever with her foolish behavior last night.
Maybe she could get him to promise that they’d never mention their indiscretion to anyone.
It would be their secret that he’d run his lips over her skin until it tingled with arousal. That he’d kissed her breathless and whispered erotic suggestions in her ear. That he’d licked and sucked her almost to the point of madness, then made love to her until she cried out with joy.
And that she’d run out on him without a word.
Her skin heated and her insides roiled with an agonizing jumble of passion and humiliation.
She marched along Royal Street, not sure where she was going. Adrenaline crackled through her, propelling her feet forward.
She turned a corner, then edged around a crowd gathered to listen to a sidewalk guitarist.
The bluesy music combined with the hot air, the sounds of laughter and a spicy food smell wafting from somewhere turned the whole city into an exotic cocktail of temptation.
As she stood waiting to cross the street, a sign in a window opposite her caught her eye.
asked the scrolled letters, painted on a white board.
Palmistry and spiritual consultations.
Yeah, that’s just what I need,
Sam muttered sarcastically under her breath. Yet the sign arrested her gaze. The simple black letters beckoned her to look closer.
She paused and frowned.
She did need advice. Should she take Louis up on his offer of dinner in exchange for the DNA test? Or should she run back to New York with her tail between her legs and forget she ever met him?
She stared at the sign from the opposite sidewalk.
Could it hurt to ask?
She checked for traffic and crossed the road, and her legs seemed to march to the door of their own accord. Next she was turning the brass handle.
If talking to yourself was the first sign of madness, surely asking someone called Madame Ayida for advice was the second.
Nevertheless, Sam stepped through the door into a small, curtained foyer. “Hello,” she called. “Anyone here?”
“Madame Ayida is always ready to help you,” came a voice from the far side of the curtain. Black velvet, as clichéd as the name. Probably Madame Ayida was taking a break from the rigors of touring with the circus.
The curtain lifted and Sam found herself staring into a pair of dark brown eyes. “Please, come in and sit down.”
Sam obeyed. Instead of the mole-covered crone she’d anticipated, Madame Ayida was young and pretty, with dark brown skin and a wide smile. A yellow silk scarf covered her hair in a strangely reassuring fairground touch.
“I don’t really know why I’m here.” Sam followed the garbled words with a breathy laugh.
“That is not unusual,” said Madame Ayida. She had a slight accent, but Sam couldn’t put her finger on it. “Together we will discover the reason for your visit.”
Sam lowered herself gingerly into the single gold-painted chair opposite Madame Ayida at a small, wood table with a scarred top and scuffed legs. “So, um, do you read my palm, or what?” She glanced around. There was no sign of a crystal ball or tarot cards.
“If you like.” Madame Ayida smiled enigmatically.
Sam held out her hand, suddenly embarrassed by her shiny manicure and big gold ring.
Madame Ayida closed soft fingers around her hand and lifted it for examination. Sam’s heart fluttered in the long silence.
“A long life, but not without heartache,” murmured Madame Ayida at last, her gaze lowered.
“That’s for sure.” Sam tried to keep her tone light. “Twice divorced and once widowed. Please, tell me it gets better.” Madame Ayida looked up, compassion in her eyes. “You’re at a crossroads.” She lowered her lashes, studying Sam’s palm. “There’s a risk that you’ll make a terrible mistake.”
An image of Louis’s naked body, glistening with a sheen of perspiration, flashed into her mind. “I think I might have already made it.”
“No.” Madame Ayida shook her head slowly. “You’re facing a choice and you haven’t made it yet.”
Sam’s throat tightened.
Madame Ayida looked down at her hand, her forehead puckered with worry. “A difficult decision. I see a familiar road and one that is strange.”
Sam frowned. There wasn’t any sign of familiar roads in her life right now. If there was, she’d put her foot on it right away.
“Neither will be easy.” Madame Ayida smoothed a forefinger over Sam’s lifeline.
“Oh, great. Story of my life.” Sam forced a laugh. “Then I guess it doesn’t matter much which way I go.”
“Oh, it does.” Madame Ayida’s eyes fixed on hers, dark pupils wide in the dim light. She seemed to look right through Sam and into some other realm beyond. “This choice will determine the course of the rest of your life.”
“No pressure, then.” Sam stared at her palm. It was hard to even make out the lines in the gloomy storefront. Probably Madame Ayida was making this up off the top of her head.
Those wide, intense eyes refocused and stared directly at Sam, making her breath catch at the bottom of her lungs.
follow your heart.”
Sam shivered, which was strange since the room must be at least eighty-five degrees.
Something in Madame Ayida’s voice reached right into her mind and echoed there.
But how could she follow her heart when she wasn’t even sure she could find all the broken pieces? Tarrant’s death had left her feeling so empty and cold. Sometimes she felt like her future had shriveled up and died with him.
“You belong with the living, not with the dead.” Madame Ayida’s soft voice penetrated her consciousness.
Sam blinked, startled. Had this strange young woman read her thoughts? “This terrible mistake you spoke of, how can I avoid it?”
“Listen to your heart.” Madame Ayida’s soft fingers palpated her palm for a second, as if Sam’s heart might be found there and resuscitated.
Her blood pumped so hard she could almost hear it.
She had the chance to bring another member of Tarrant’s family home to meet his siblings. Would her terrible mistake be squandering that opportunity just to salvage her own pride?
What was left of her heart pounded in her chest. It seemed to beg her not to blow the chance to bring Louis into the family.
At that moment, she decided to accept his invitation to dinner.
She’d find out if he really was Tarrant’s son, and if he was, she’d start over and form a new relationship with him.
One with absolutely no hot, steamy, sweaty sex involved.
She realized she was staring into space. “Thank you. You’ve helped me a lot.”
Madame Ayida smiled enigmatically. “Twenty dollars.”
Sam fumbled in her purse. She was a grown-up. She could handle this. She could put that one accidental night behind her and start over, just as she’d started her life over after each of her failed marriages.
She certainly wasn’t going to make the mistake of falling into bed again with a man who might be her stepson. She didn’t have to worry about that.
She pushed out into the blinding sunlight with a fresh sense of resolve. Madame Ayida might or might not be a rip-off artist, but she’d helped Sam organize her own thoughts, which was probably all these fortune-tellers ever did anyway.
She snapped open her phone, fumbled in her purse for the paper with Louis DuLac’s number on it and dialed with shaking fingers.
His deep greeting made her throat dry, but she managed to blurt out, “I’ll go to dinner with you.”
She could hear his smile widen in the silence.
“Great. I’ll pick you up at six.”
“I’m at the Delacorte.”
“Oh.” Sam frowned, then decided she really didn’t want to know how he knew. She could wear the black Chanel dress with the white trim. That was probably the closest her wardrobe came to resembling a nun’s habit. “Just so you know, we’re not going to...uh...do anything, okay?”
It didn’t make sense, but she could swear she heard silent laughter. “I promise we won’t do anything you don’t want to. I can be a perfect gentleman, when I try.”
Sam heaved a shaky sigh. “Good.” Still, fears nagged at her. “No touching. Like, not even to shake hands.”
“Don’t trust yourself, huh?”
“Not really.” She swallowed and tried not to picture the light shining in those honey-gold eyes.
Better not to touch at all. You never knew what could happen.
Or rather she had some pretty vivid memories of exactly what could happen.
“Well, you can relax. I’ll take good care of you. Be sure to wear something you don’t mind getting dirty.”
“What?” Her question was greeted by the steady sound of a dial tone. Dirty? Weren’t they going to La Ronde? Unless it was under construction, she couldn’t imagine how you could get dirty there. Unless maybe lobster was involved. With a lot of butter.
She closed her phone and put it back into her purse. Maybe not the Chanel, then.
am was already in the dim, quiet lobby of the hotel, seated in a leather chair with her eyes on the door, when Louis arrived. Her skin pricked with a mixture of fear and anticipation. Part of her was terrified to even be in the same room with him.
Another part of her was gloriously relieved to see him again.
She hadn’t blown it. Yet.
There was still a chance to welcome him into the Hardcastle family. As her son. And she was just fine with that.
Or at least she would be if that’s how things worked out.
She rose from the chair, smoothing wrinkles from her hastily purchased Calvin Klein pantsuit. She’d tried for casual elegance, so she’d look okay if they went to a restaurant or if they—
“Hi, Sam.” A wide, warm smile lit up his face. His eyes shone with good humor.
He approached with long, easy strides, as if he intended to put his arm around her and kiss her on the cheek. The way one normally would.
But he slammed to a halt about a foot from her like he’d hit an invisible wall. His smile morphed into a wicked, challenging grin. “See?”
His hands hung by his sides. For a split second, her body ached at the lack of touch.
She bit her lip. “Hi, Louis.”
“You decided to take a chance on dinner.”
Sam glanced around, to make sure no one was in earshot. “I came here with a purpose, and I’m trying to get back on track.”
He studied her for a moment. “Sometimes it’s a good idea to get off the track and reassess.”
Sam shook her head. “Some days it’s all I can do to put one foot in front of the other. A track is reassuring for me right now.”
He nodded slightly. “I won’t derail you.”
The golden glitter in his eyes contradicted his reassuring message. But that was probably just her overactive imagination.
“So, where are we going?” She glanced at his clothes. Khakis and a button-down shirt. Neutral, conservative attire. Yet somehow on hi
the generic outfit looked strangely hip and...