Authors: Jennifer Lewis
Tags: #Contemporary romance
No. Not sexy. She was not at all aware of this man’s sex appeal. Besides, the loose-cut cotton totally concealed the thick, strong muscles of his arms and chest. And his powerful thighs. She could see a hint of his slim waist and flat belly, but really, she wasn’t at all interested.
She sucked in a breath. “Shall we get going?”
Louis held out his arm to take hers, then whipped it back as if stung. “Follow me,” he murmured.
He was taking this no-touching thing seriously. Good.
Sam nursed her untouched arm. She’d instinctively lifted it an inch or two and it hung there in midair for a moment before she plastered it back to her side.
Excellent. Much better this way. She held her chin high as she marched out of the hotel lobby two steps behind him.
He pulled open the passenger door of a sleek, pale-yellow, open-topped sports car parked next to the sidewalk outside. He stood aside, so as to avoid any accidental brushing of skin, while she climbed in and sat on the tan glove-leather seat.
“What a beautiful Jaguar. How old is it?” Sam stroked the polished dashboard. Maybe she just needed to touch
“It’s a 1967 XKE. It belonged to my grandfather.”
“And it still runs?”
“It was his baby. He saved her for special occasions, and I do the same.” He flashed her a golden glance before walking around to the driver’s side.
A special occasion. “Where are we going?”
He settled behind the sporty wheel. “You’ll see. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.”
Sam fumbled with her seat belt, and tried not to notice that her nipples were almost painfully sensitive as she brought the strap over them.
Remain calm. Keep focused on your goal.
She snuck a glance sideways to see if he looked like Tarrant. Maybe he wasn’t Tarrant’s son at all?
But on close inspection, she could see Tarrant’s determined jaw. His high cheekbones. The lofty carriage of a man with limitless confidence.
She sank into her seat, her breath shallow. How had she not noticed last night?
Louis’s features were more generous, his mouth wider and quicker to smile than Tarrant’s. His eyes were a totally different color with a more catlike shape. And his smooth brown skin made a mockery of the freckly tan that Tarrant so painstakingly cultivated to hide his natural pallor.
There was no avoiding the fact that Louis DuLac was a breathtakingly handsome man.
What a terrible shame Tarrant would never meet him.
A rush of emotion threatened to get the better of her and she reached into her pocket for a tissue.
“I was just thinking how it’s awful that you’ll never meet your father.”
“I don’t know who my father is.”
The admission didn’t seem to faze him at all. Louis DuLac was obviously comfortable with himself, and didn’t need to cling to anyone else for support.
She wished she had that kind of strength.
“And you don’t know who my father is, either,” he continued. He shot her a bright smile. “Does it matter? I’m the same person either way.”
“You don’t want to know, do you?”
“What are you afraid of?” She stared at him, trying to distract herself from his good looks.
“Afraid?” He flashed an aggressive glance at her and laughed. “I’m not afraid of anything.”
“I don’t believe you. You must be afraid of something. Snakes? Spiders? The dark?”
“Three of my favorite things.” A smile settled over his mouth as he watched the road. The city streets had leafed out into a lush suburb.
“Then you have nothing to lose by learning who your father is.” She smiled and tossed her hair.
He’d backed himself into a corner.
“You’re tricky.” He shot a glance at her.
“I’m smarter than I look.”
“You certainly always look very smart. Didn’t I tell you to dress casual?”
“This is casual. It’s Calvin Klein.” She raised an eyebrow.
“Did you buy it today?”
“I might have. Or I might have had it for years.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “Don’t flatter yourself that I bought it to impress you.”
“That wouldn’t flatter me at all. I don’t want to be impressed.” He kept his gaze on the road.
“What do you want?” Nothing like getting to the bottom of things. Especially since there was no touching involved.
Though, maybe she was flattering herself by thinking he wanted to touch her again.
“I want you to be yourself. Take it easy. Feel the wind in your hair.”
If only she knew who that was. She’d grown so used to trying to please everyone else she wasn’t sure who was in there under all the smiles and smart outfits.
Time for a diversionary tactic. “Where are we going?”
“My very favorite place.”
ouis decided not to tell her that his favorite place was well-stocked with snakes and spiders, and that it was most magical after dark.
He glanced sideways at Sam. Fresh and pretty, her pale gold hair tossed in the breeze. She didn’t fuss over it and try to fix it like some women. He liked that.
“You’re looking more relaxed already.”
“It’s beautiful here.”
They’d left the city limits and headed out into the bayou on Belle Chasse. The air was warm and Sam had taken off her jacket. The wind pressed her textured cotton top to her skin, tracing her girlish curves.
It was okay to look, as long as he didn’t touch.
Louis felt a bit like a kid in a toy store who’d already spent his whole allowance. He could look at all the pretty, shiny things, but he couldn’t take them home.
At least not yet.
“Just last night, you were naked in my arms.”
She swung her head around to look at him. Panic shone in her eyes. “I’ve never done that before.”
“Had sex?” He raised an eyebrow. Couldn’t resist teasing.
She shot him a scolding look. “Had sex with a man I just met.”
“I hope it was a memorable first.” He glanced at the road, reluctant to take his eyes off her face. “I’ll certainly never forget it.”
Her neck turned pink. A very pretty pink that made him want to layer kisses over it.
She didn’t say anything.
“A guy could feel quite rejected by your silence.”
She flicked her hair back. “I did say we weren’t going to do anything tonight.”
“And we’re not. No touching at all.” He slid his fingers over the wheel, as if taking out his desire to fondle on the punched chestnut leather. “But no one said anything about no reminiscing. That was a beautiful night.”
“I don’t know what came over me last night,” she said, her words slow and careful. “But I do know that it won’t happen again.”
As they drew close to the shed where he kept his boat, Louis wondered what on earth he was thinking when he came up with the crazy idea of bringing her here.
This was his special place. His sanctuary away from all the drama and intrigue of his everyday world.
The mysterious Samantha had closed up like a snail pulling into its shell. She wasn’t rude, exactly, but his questions about her life were met with brief, colorless answers that told him nothing about her.
She was going to hate it here. There weren’t any boutiques or musicians or celebrities and her high heels would sink into the wet ground. He should have taken her to La Ronde, as she’d expected.
Or not taken her anywhere at all, as she’d have clearly preferred.
“Where are we?” She peered around when they pulled up in front of the boathouse.
“The middle of nowhere.” He jumped out of the car. The air was clear and cooler already, the sun sinking below the shiny, wet horizon. “Are you nervous?”
“It does occur to me that I know very little about you.” She glanced around. He saw her notice that the road ended only a hundred yards or so away.
The boat shed was the only structure visible among the messy web of canals and grassy land that stretched out as far as the eye could see.
She opened her car door. “But you’ve got an honest face.”
He laughed. “That’s a first.”
She stepped out onto the road. “Is this where we’re having dinner?” Doubt hovered around the edges of her question.
“We’ve got a little farther to go, but we’re bringing dinner with us.” He unlatched the XKE’s tiny trunk and pulled out the wicker picnic basket. His friends teased him for not using a plastic Igloo ice chest that would actually keep the champagne cold, but both his lovely old car and this beautiful woman deserved a bit more style than that.
She smiled. “A picnic.”
“Is that okay?”
“I haven’t had a picnic in...I don’t know when I last had a picnic.”
Maybe almost as long ago as you last had sex.
He didn’t say it. But she had bottled-up fire and hunger inside her that must have taken years to accumulate. Maybe she’d never even had sex with her late husband.
The man she believed to be his father.
“We’re going out on my boat.” He ushered her into the dim, cool boat shed, restored and painted to look just as it had when his great-grandfather first erected it to house his beloved shrimp boat.
Louis’s handmade reproduction of the old Lafitte skiff rested lightly on its rails, polished wood shining in the sunset glow that snuck in through the open doors out to the water.
Samantha’s silence made him glance sideways. She stood, frowning at the boat. “I can’t swim.”
“You won’t have to. This boat is the smoothest ride ever made and there’s not a wave to be found on these waters.” Fear glimmered in her eyes. He wanted to put his arm around her and reassure her. To whisper that he’d take great care of her and he wouldn’t let anything hurt or even scare her. But he’d promised no touching.
“If you’re not comfortable on the boat, we’ll come right back. We can always eat in here.”
Samantha bit her lip, a girlish gesture. “No.” She sucked in a breath. “I’d like to go on the boat. I’m trying to step outside my comfort zone more often.”
“An admirable thing to do.” He held out his hand to take hers. She looked at it, then up at him.
He dropped his hand to his side. It prickled with the frustrated desire to touch her. “Old habits die hard.”
He managed to resist offering to help her into the boat. She climbed on while it was mounted on the rails, then he removed his shoes, lowered the boat and its precious cargo gently into the water and climbed in himself.
Sam laughed at his soaked pants. “You’re all wet.”
“I’ll dry. It’s refreshing. You can go for a dip if you like.” She glanced over the rim of the boat into the dark, glittering water. “No, thanks. I don’t want to go that far outside my comfort zone. Is it deep?”
“Not very. A lot of this was solid ground a few years ago. The water levels keep rising. Every year I’m closer to owning oceanfront property.”
“This is nicer than the ocean. It’s so quiet. And I love the sound the grasses make, like they’re whispering secrets to each other.” Her blue eyes shone with pleasure.
Louis felt a knot form in his gut. This was
why he’d brought her here.
Already he could see the tension slipping out of her shoulders and her hands spreading out over the wood gunwale as she relaxed into the boat.
The late afternoon sun shone on her skin and picked out flecks of sparkling gold in her hair.
Momentarily sorry that it would drown out the gossip of the grasses, he started the engine and guided the boat into a wide canal, where water shimmered among the grasses on either side. “You could open the basket for us.”
She unlatched the leather buckle and reached in. “Goodness, what beautiful dishes. Are they silver?”
“My great-great-grandfather was a silversmith. I like them for picnics because they don’t break.”
She nodded, a smile flickering across her lips. “Tarrant would approve.”
Louis’s shoulders tightened at the mention of the strange man’s name. “He liked nice things?”
“Only the best.” She picked up a plate and he felt a familiar flash of pride as she traced the intricately carved pattern with her fingertip.
“I guess that’s why he chose you.” The words slipped out. He wasn’t looking to flatter her.
She blushed. “I don’t know why he chose me at all. We met at a party I was catering. It was my first night on the job and I spilled white wine all over his pant leg. The other caterers were sure the firm would never be hired again. They got me in such a panic that, when he asked me out while I was mopping him up, I didn’t dare say no.”
“A Cinderella story.”
She laughed. “Yeah. I guess it was. I didn’t have a penny to my name at the time because my second husband wouldn’t let me take anything with me when I walked out.”
“That’s not too nice.”
“He wasn’t. That’s why I left.” She shrugged. “Best thing I ever did. Well, after leaving my first husband.”
“He was a rat, too?”
“Most definitely. Ooh, is this potato salad?” She’d pulled the lid off a crock and dipped her nose down to inhale.
He watched her one tiny dimple deepen at the whiff of Creole mustard. “Great Aunt Emmeline’s recipe.”
“You have a lot of relatives.”
“Maybe that’s why I’m not looking to find any more.” She gave a little pout. She knew he wasn’t serious. “There’s a spoon in the bottom, help yourself. And there’s some andouille sausage in the warmer, and fresh rolls. And champagne, of course, in case we get thirsty.”
eyed the champagne and flashed him a nervous glance. “I think I’d better stay away from that.”
“You’re afraid you might decide it’s okay to touch me after all?” He leaned in, so close he could smell her lovely smooth skin and the natural feminine scent hiding under her elegant perfume.
“No.” She spoke too quickly and he heard a ripple of hesitation in her voice.
The uncertainty hung in the air like smoke.
He felt it creep into his lungs and spread throughout his body as the image of her naked in his bed—just last night—flashed across his mind.
He wanted Sam back in his bed, preferably tonight.