Authors: Jennifer Lewis
Tags: #Contemporary romance
Until last night.
Okay, so maybe he had the right to be a little cocky.
His honey-toned eyes gazed at her from under thick black lashes that were wasted on a man.
The nerve! He was flirting with her.
She flicked an imaginary crumb off her lap. “I’m sure you’re not quite as perfect as you’d like to think you are.”
“Probably not, but you’d have to get to know me better to find out.” He raised a brow.
“If it turns out that you’re my husband’s son, then I hope we’ll become very close.”
“And if it turns out I’m not, you’ll cast me aside like a used Ziploc bag?”
A smile tugged at his sensual mouth. Sam blinked.
What if he wasn’t Tarrant’s son?
Then it was okay to have slept with him. She could even sleep with him again.
A thick sensation swelled inside her and her nipples tingled. She’d never felt
like last night. Every millimeter of her body had come alive with pleasure. A stray throb of memory stirred inside her.
Sam dragged herself back to the present. “I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
Louis made a show of looking around. The sunset shone like spilled champagne over the wide, shimmering swamp.
“I don’t see any bridge. Just a boat, with a man and a woman in it.”
Sam glanced around. There really was nothing out there. They’d motored far away from the boathouse and there wasn’t a visible structure anywhere. Just sky and bayou, with the sun hovering at the horizon like a cherry floating in a cocktail.
“It’s going to get dark any minute.”
“Won’t we get lost? Or eaten alive by bugs?”
“You’re not worried about alligators?” He cocked his head.
Sam shivered. “Thanks for reminding me. Shouldn’t we be getting back?”
“We could. Or we could spend the night here.” He inclined his head. A wooden structure appeared among the grasses like a mushroom sprouting. A tiny cottage of some sort, on stilts that raised it over the swamp.
“What is it?”
“My granddad’s fishing retreat. I renovated it a couple of years ago. It’s a lot more high-tech than it looks. I’m embarrassed to say that there’s even solar-powered air-conditioning.” He shot her a wry smile.
She stiffened. “I’m not sleeping here. You need to take me back to the city.”
“Why? It’s a beautiful night. You already agreed to spend the evening with me, so I know you don’t have anywhere to go. I’ve proved to you that I can keep my hands off you, and I promise to keep them to myself all night long.”
He held up his hands and examined them, as if making sure they were going to behave. “Don’t you trust me?”
“I don’t have any...stuff with me. Makeup remover. That kind of thing.”
“What happens if you don’t take your makeup off?” He looked genuinely interested.
Sam hesitated. “I have no idea. I’ve never tried.”
“Then maybe it’s time you did. You said you wanted to step outside your comfort zone, didn’t you? And really, you can trust me.”
Sam rubbed her arm. She felt chilly, though the air was still warm.
“Or maybe it’s yourself you don’t trust.” He squinted against the sun’s rays, looking unbearably handsome. Somehow the fact that he knew it didn’t diminish his appeal at all.
“It’s peaceful here. No TV, no radio, no Internet. No outside world.” The boat had somehow sidled up alongside the building, and he cut the engine.
Water lapped against the wooden stilts holding the structure above the shimmering water. The pinkish cedar looked fresh and new, and she could smell its pungent scent, crisp and inviting amid the fecund funk of the bayou.
The boat rocked in the water. Could it hurt to go inside for just a minute?
“Take a look. See what you think. If you don’t like it, we’ll head back.”
“Okay.” She could hardly believe she’d agreed, but suddenly she had to see what Louis DuLac’s special place looked like inside.
She could tell it was special. Even from the boat, she could make out images of cranes carved right into the wood of the corner boards and the door, which gave the building a Japanese feel. Steps came down right to the water, each riser carved in a distinct shape, almost like stepping stones.
She hesitated, wondering how to get from the yawing boat onto the solid wood of the steps.
“Since you don’t want me to give you a hand up, I’ll pull the boat up close to the steps, and you can grab on to the railing.
Louis leaned forward and grabbed the railing himself, then tugged the boat alongside it with the sheer strength of his body. His powerful thighs braced to hold the boat steady. “Go ahead.”
Sam climbed shakily to her feet. She leaned out of the boat to grab the railing. True to his promise, Louis held the boat flush against the steps while she pulled herself up onto them.
Apprehension prickled along her spine as she stood there on the steps of the only structure visible for miles around. If he turned the boat around and left, she’d be stranded.
But he lashed the boat to a stilt with expert ease. “Go on in, it’s unlocked.”
“You just leave it open?”
He shrugged. “If someone’s determined enough, they’ll get in anyway.”
Sam pushed open the smooth door, with its lovely square carving of two cranes amid tall grasses.
“Oh, goodness.” It was beautiful. Dark golden light filled the space, streaming through a wide window on the opposite side that framed the sunset. Considering the warmth of the afternoon, the interior was wonderfully cool and comfortable.
The plank floor invited her feet to step inside. The single room smelled of fresh, new wood. The scent of new beginnings.
Louis came in behind her and hesitated. She shifted aside, giving
room to pass without touching her. Her skin tingled as he eased into the space, sliding by her
close enough to touch, but not quite. His male scent mingled with the fresh aroma of cedar to push her senses into overdrive.
She watched as he flipped a latch on the paneled wall and pulled down something like a Murphy bed. It opened to a low sofa, Japanese style, with a patterned covering of dark purple and gray. He pulled a couple of cushions out of the cavity in the wall where the sofa had been. “Take a load off.”
Sam eased herself down onto the sofa. Its cushiony soft surface felt blissful after the hard bench of the boat. Louis moved across the room and pulled down an identical sofa on the other side. “See? No touching required. His and hers.”
‘This place is amazing. What else is hidden in these walls?”
Louis beamed with what looked like pride as he pulled open another paneled cabinet to reveal the interior of a fridge, stocked with drinks. “What can I get you?”
“Oh, my.” Sam stretched out on the cushioned surface. Her muscles crackled as tension slipped from them. “This does feel good. Maybe a soda water.”
The delicious whoosh of the soda bottle cap popping off made her mouth water. She took the bottle and again their fingers almost touched, but not quite. She could swear she’d felt a snap of electrical current right at the tip of her fingers.
She smiled. He smiled back. A warm sensation stirred in her belly.
Get a grip, Sam. You’re probably the fourth woman he’s brought here this week.
“This is quite the romantic hideaway. I’m guessing it gets a lot of use,” she said drily. She took a sip of her soda water. The bubbles crackled over her tongue.
“I come here a lot.” He looked steadily at her. “More all the time.”
A prick of jealousy stuck her somewhere uncomfortable.
“But you’re the first woman I’ve ever brought here.”
“What?” A weird shiver sprang across her skin.
“This is where I come to be alone. Don’t get me wrong, I like people. I love the hustle and bustle of my restaurants and organizing events and bringing people together. That’s been my whole life.”
He turned to look out the window. The sun was now a slim chip of glowing amber, resting delicately above the dark purple horizon. “Maybe I’m getting older or something.” He looked at her, humor shining in his eyes. “Who am I kidding? Of course I’m getting older. But lately, I find I need to step off the carousel and reconnect with nature. With myself.”
He frowned, as if embarrassed by his confession. “And I thought you might like to do that, too.”
A very strange sensation rose inside Sam. She absolutely believed him. He’d chosen her, out of all the women in the world—a good percentage of whom would no doubt be willingly at his disposal—to share his special place with.
Without the promise of even a touch, let alone a kiss.
That touched her somewhere far more powerful and vulnerable than her skin.
She covered her confusion with a sip of her drink. She wondered if she should say something, but Louis didn’t seem to expect her to. He’d brought in the picnic basket and he opened it and unloaded some supplies into the small fridge. “We have fruit and cheese if you’re hungry, and there’s plenty of bread left. If you like, we could catch some shrimp. There’s a grill out on the deck.”
Sam laughed. ‘That’s self-sufficient! Let’s leave the shrimp alone, though. They deserve some peace and quiet, too. How did you come to build way out here?”
“My granddad owned the land.” Louis popped the cap off a second bottle of soda water. She watched his powerful neck swell as he took a swig. “Or at least it used to be land.” He smiled ruefully. “It’s been underwater for as long as I can remember, but he said it used to be dry and that you could walk out here from the road.”
“That’s hard to imagine.”
“I like it better like this. Somehow a destination seems more worthwhile if there’s a bit of a journey to get there.”
“I guess you’d have to have that perspective if you have restaurants all over the world and travel a lot.”
“I grew up traveling. My mom’s a musician, so I went with her on tour every summer.”
“That must have been fun.”
“Fun, exhausting, confusing, exciting. A little bit of everything. Made me who I am, though. I make friends easily and I can settle in pretty much anywhere at a moment’s notice. One of my friends teases me that the whole reason I opened my restaurants is so I can have a roomful of friends to drop in on in any city I visit.”
“That’s a nice idea.”
Louis chuckled. “I think she might just be right.”
Sam’s smile faltered at the mention of a “she.” Which was ridiculous. How on earth could she be jealous of some woman she’d never even heard of who probably really was only a friend?
Especially when she had no real personal relationship with him
Other than being the first woman invited to his special place.
And having spent one night in his bed.
The memory of his strong arms around her assaulted her like an anxiety attack. He’d rolled up his sleeves and she could see his powerful forearms clearly, even in the dusky gloom. The exertion of their journey had rendered him rather rumpled and he looked more boyish and innocent than he had yesterday.
She probably looked pretty rumpled, too, though she managed to resist peeking down at her clothes to check. Lord knew what this humidity was doing to her hair.
Then again, maybe she also looked cute and girlish.
She tried not to giggle. Suddenly she felt like a teenager.
For the first time in her life, she was alone, in a sexually charged situation—let’s face it, the sexual tension was so thick in the air she could smell it even over all the cedar—with a man her own age.
bet you’re a painter.” Louis’s low voice jarred her out of her contemplation.
“You mean, painting pictures?”
He nodded. “When you look at things you seem to linger and take in all the elements of the image in front of your eyes.”
Sam blinked. Her heart started pounding. “I, uh, used to paint...a little.”
“What did you paint?”
“Landscapes, flowers, that kind of thing. Nothing at all serious or important.”
“In whose opinion? One of your not-so-nice ex-husbands?” She swallowed. “Well, yes. Tarrant always said I should paint, though. He offered to set up a studio for me in our house.”
“But?” He cocked his head.
“I was too busy.” She shrugged. “Being his wife was a fulltime job.”
“All the ladies’ lunches, the pedicure appointments, the charity fund-raising meetings, the gala evenings.” His voice trailed off.
Sam flushed. He’d reduced her whole busy life to a dismissive sentence. She lifted her chin. “Exactly.”
“Now that you’re alone, you could make the time.” “Maybe I don’t want to.” She fiddled with her ring.
“Afraid to see what might pop out of your imagination with no one to tell you what to do?”
“I’m not sure I even have an imagination anymore.”
“Of course you do.” Louis narrowed his eyes. “It’s just been lying dormant, letting ideas and fantasies and dreams stockpile in there, waiting for the moment you choose to set them free.”
Sam frowned. Her mind felt as blank and lusterless as an unprimed canvas. Something she never could have imagined when she was a teenager with a million dreams. “I don’t think so.”
Undeterred, Louis leaned forward, a gleam in his eyes. “If you could paint something right now, anything, what would it be?”
The warm glow of the last rays of sunset picked out the smooth, strong planes of his face, molding them like a fine statue. How magnificent he’d look standing there, nude, with those coppery rays chiseling the sturdy musculature of his body.
Uh-oh. Her imagination appeared to be working after all.
“Come on. Anything.”
“The sunset, maybe,” she said, hesitant, afraid to meet the pull of his gaze.
“Then let’s go look at it.” He rose to his feet and stepped toward her, then stopped, as if he’d just remembered that invisible glass wall between them. Sam’s skin tingled once again at the absence of natural contact.
He pushed open a door in the wall, and the room flooded with light like thick golden honey. “There’s a deck out here. Come on.”