Authors: Jennifer Lewis
Tags: #Contemporary romance
Squinting against the sudden brightness, Sam followed him outside. The entire bayou was aflame with gold and copper. Rich dark reds and purples hung in the trees, the water shimmered and glimmered as its black depths reflected the last rays of sun with diamond brightness.
“I challenge you to find anything more beautiful than that in the whole world.” Louis gazed out at the jeweled waterscape before them.
He turned to her, and a laugh escaped. “It is magic, and it’s going to work its magic on you. The old voodoo everyone talks about. It’s going to flood your imagination with beauty until it overflows and you just can’t keep it locked up anymore.” Sam tried to suppress a giggle, but it came out anyway. She imagined attacking her dull life with a brush loaded with bright golden-yellow paint.
Not that she’d know where to begin.
“I couldn’t paint this. I don’t have the skills. I always wanted to take a class, but somehow it just never happened.”
“So start tomorrow.”
“For one thing, I’m too old.”
Louis snorted. “Unless you’ve had some really fine plastic surgery, I wouldn’t put you a day over thirty.”
A flash of vain pride swelled inside her, and she cursed herself for it. “I’m thirty-one.”
“See? You’re practically a kid.”
“I’m not. I’m a widow with a large charitable trust to manage. It’s an important responsibility.”
“And I admire you for taking it on, but trust me, there is absolutely enough time, both in your day and in the rest of your life, for you to paint.”
“What if I stink at it?”
“That kind of thinking keeps people glued to their TVs watching other people live while they wonder what real living would be like. You’re not going to do that. You’ve got a decade or two of living to catch up on, from the sound of things.”
Sam looked out at the bright palette of colors shimmering around her. Suddenly the world felt rich and heavy with possibilities.
Louis leaned over the railing. “I’ve got a friend in New York, Margo, who teaches at Pratt Institute. I’ll give her a call and she’ll help you get started.”
Excitement crackled through Sam. Could it really be that easy? To just pick up a brush and get started? “I might need a good supply of nude male models.”
Louis grinned. “I can see your imagination’s up and running.”
“Once again, I can see you have an unsettling amount of insight into me.”
He shrugged. “Someone’s got to set you free.”
“I am free. I make my own decisions.”
“Do you? Or are you going to unwittingly start looking for another father figure to tell you what to do?”
Irritation prickled over her. “Seriously, Tarrant was not a father figure.”
“I’m just calling it the way I see it.” He opened the door to the cabin. “We’d better go back in before the bugs start biting.” Sam followed him into the dimly lit space.
Although she hated to admit it, her previous partners had all been at least ten years older.
She’d always felt older than her peers. With her strict and easily angered parents, she hadn’t had the opportunity to be a moody teenager. One time, she’d broken a vase while dancing around the room to the radio, and she’d eaten only cold cereal with water for a week as a punishment.
Her mother had pointed out that in addition to making her more careful in the future, it would slim her down for the upcoming teen pageant she was entered in.
She’d learned to toe every line like an infantry recruit out of sheer self-preservation. She’d never even attempted to do anything wild and irresponsible.
Like sleeping with a man she’d just met.
Sam knew Tarrant had wed her because she’d refused to sleep with him until they were married.
He’d said that was so audacious that he fell instantly in love with her. They were married a week later.
Louis was the only man she’d ever slept with that she wasn’t married to.
The final fiery rays of the setting sun licked around him, setting her imagination aflame with how sensational he’d look and feel if he were naked in her arms. Right now.
God help her, she wanted to sleep with him again.
“I need to go back.
problem.” Louis moved back inside and closed up his sofa.
Sam stared at him. He was just going to agree and take her back without a fight? Her heart sank a little.
She followed him in. It was almost dark and she felt disoriented. Louis closed her bed and ushered her to the door.
Didn’t he want her to stay?
Goose bumps rose on her skin at the thought of leaving the comfortable cedar-scented haven for the dark and murky swamp.
He held the door open. Their arms almost brushed as she passed him and the tiny hairs on her skin stood up as if trying to reach out and touch him.
He latched the door, eased by her on the steps—so close she could feel the heat from his skin—and jumped lightly down into the boat moored off to one side. “Stay there, I’ll bring it right under the steps for you.”
Sam hesitated. Surely if she stepped down, the boat could rock and she’d lose her footing? Night creatures chattered and chirped in the bayou all around. Louis crouched in the boat, looking at her, his expression unreadable in the deep dusk.
It would all be so easy if she could just take his hand to steady herself while she stepped down.
But she’d made the rules so she had to stick to them. She sucked in a shaky breath. One, two, three, she launched herself forward and managed to land one foot on the wooden floor of the skiff. The other foot, however, caught on the rim of the boat and she lost her balance and stumbled forward.
“Whoa!” Louis caught her in his arms before she could plummet to the hard wood.
Her body collided with his in what felt like slow motion. First, her hands crashed into his chest, then somehow slid under his armpits to grab around his waist.
Louis almost lost his balance, too, as she fell into him on the uneven surface.
Her breasts crushed against hard muscle before she finally came to rest, sprawled over him like a car wrapped around a lamppost.
“Whoops,” she murmured. A hot shiver of desire flashed through her at the feel of his hard muscle under her.
Her pelvis rested awkwardly on his. A sudden thickening beneath his zipper aroused feverish memories that made her insides start to throb.
Sam sprang back, her face heating. “I’m so sorry.”
“I’m not,” he croaked. “I’m just sorry you’re on this no-touching kick. Unless this is your way of telling me you didn’t really mean it?”
Even in the semi-darkness, she saw a wicked gleam in his eye.
Heat crept through her like fire along a fuse. Her breasts felt heavy, and her skin stung with awareness.
She scrambled backward, her hands pressed to his hard chest and belly as she peeled herself off his strong body with painful regret.
“I meant it.”
I wish I didn’t, but I did.
“Just think, I might take this DNA test and you’ll find out I’m not related to your husband.”
Sam blinked. “It’s a possibility.”
A very attractive one.
He cocked his head. “Then things would be different.” His smooth voice caressed her in the near darkness.
“Very different. But for now, let’s just get back, okay?”
In less than five minutes, she was clambering out of the boat onto dry land and back into his vintage car. Her legs felt hollow and her chest strangely empty.
Even if he wasn’t Tarrant’s son, she’d still only been widowed six months. It was far too soon for any kind of... affair.
And hadn’t she promised herself she was done with all that stuff? Three husbands were enough for one lifetime. She planned to devote herself to managing Tarrant’s charities.
And get a nice cat.
“Buckle in.” He slid in beside her. Painful awareness of his body only inches from hers made her fight not to squirm in her seat. He was so healthy and strong and young and...sexy.
Different from Tarrant.
Guilt tightened her gut again. Her love for Tarrant had been based on so much more than mere physical attraction. He was a handsome man, of course, but older and unwell. The appeal was more cerebral. Spiritual, even. She’d wanted to help him.
To save him.
And in a small way she had, at least for a time.
Finding his two long-lost sons had awakened something in him that made him better able to handle his own mortality. He had a sense of the future, a conviction that he’d left behind a legacy more powerful than bricks and mortar and money in the bank.
And Louis could well be a part of that legacy.
“You will take the DNA test, won’t you?”
“Of course. I promised I’d take it if you had dinner with me. You held up your part of the bargain, so I wouldn’t be a gentleman if I didn’t hold up mine.” He turned to her and she could see his appealing grin in the light reflected from the headlights.
The sun had disappeared, leaving them shrouded in darkness. A cool breeze whipped her hair as they drove along the winding, lonely road through the bayou country.
“Thank you. I appreciate it.” Although it was obvious he wasn’t a man used to taking orders, he’d literally obeyed every single one of her stipulations.
An odd feeling snuck through her. She wasn’t used to that kind of respect from a man. Much as she’d cared for Tarrant, he made all the rules and everyone else fell into line. A pattern she was familiar—even somewhat comfortable with—from her first two marriages.
But Louis let her call the shots. He didn’t feel the need to bully her or exert his manly dominance. Yet he exuded natural self-possession. Effortless confidence.
Which of course was how he had managed to get her out in a boat on a swamp in the dark.
“Why are you laughing?” His rich voice trickled into her ear.
“I’m just trying to figure out how you talked me into this.”
“I didn’t talk you into anything. You wanted to come. You just weren’t aware of it at the time.”
“Oh. Is that it?” She chuckled. “I guess you can tell all this because you inherited your grandmother’s psychic abilities. What do I want to do next?”
“Well, you want to come back to my home and spend the night in bed, then wake up early and eat beignets and milky coffee on the riverbank with me, but you’re not going to.”
“I don’t even know what a
“And you’re not going to find out, either, since you have no intention of staying over at my house. Which is a shame, because we’ll both miss out on another wonderful night together.”
The way he said it, soft and wistful, tugged at something deep inside her. “It was a nice night. And so was this. But you do understand, don’t you?”
“I respect your wishes.” He flashed a glance at her. “And I have a feeling you’re not used to that, so I’m hoping it helps my case.” A wicked smile flashed across his mouth.
“Your insight into me is a little frightening, truth be told.”
He looked out into the distance. “Don’t let it worry you. I can see into everyone.” He turned to look at her again, and even in the dark she could see the honeyed shimmer of his eyes. “And in you, I like what I see.”
Sam rubbed her arms as a strange hot-cold feeling cascaded over her.
Why did it feel so good that this almost-stranger liked her? That he cared enough to chase her, and then to respect her wishes?
Maybe she was just relieved that someone could spend the night with her and still want more.
She fiddled with her ring, not sure how he’d react to her next request. “I’d like to come with you to the lab. Then we can arrange to have the results sent to both of us, if you agree.”
“Don’t trust me to tell you my secrets?” He smiled, looking out the windshield. “And there I flattered myself thinking you might be starting to trust me.”
And that’s why I need to know the truth.
Shivers of excitement rippled through her at the possibility that he could be no relation at all. That maybe they could...
am fanned her face, suddenly hot. She was getting way ahead of herself.
What if he was Tarrant’s son?
How on earth would she explain to Tarrant’s daughter, Fiona, that she’d slept with her half brother?
Her insides clenched into a knot at the thought.
Fiona had hated Sam for marrying Tarrant despite being young enough to be his daughter herself. They’d eventually formed an uneasy truce, which had lately warmed into a careful friendship as a result of Sam’s persistent efforts.
A revelation like this could be catastrophic.
She wouldn’t tell her. She couldn’t. Keeping Tarrant’s family together was the
important thing in her life.
Without them she had no one.
“You can come with me. I won’t even put any conditions on it.” He glanced at her, and she tried to ignore the heat that flared inside her, despite her fears. “And you can have them send you the results directly. I don’t have any secrets.”
Sam’s stomach tightened. “Will you keep our...encounter a secret? Just for now, until we know?”
Louis frowned at her. “I don’t go around bragging about my personal business. But it doesn’t sit right with me to be secretive. We don’t have anything to be ashamed of.”
The “we” gave her a strange thrill, followed by a rush of shame. Was she so lonely and desperate that she craved even such a bizarrely inappropriate relationship?
“It’s just that...Tarrant’s daughter. She wouldn’t understand.”
“She wouldn’t understand that two consenting adults can enjoy each other’s company?”
“Not if we’re related.”
Louis laughed. “It’s not like you’re my first cousin, sweetheart. I know you New Yorkers hear all kind of stories about us down here in the deep South, but you and I aren’t related by blood.”
“You know what I mean. It’s taken me a long time to get close to her. Please.” She hated the pleading tone in her voice.
Louis stared out over the wheel. The headlights created twin yellow flares on the road surface. The hum and flutter of nature was almost deafening in the darkness around them. “I won’t say anything.”