Unwrapping the Playboy

“Maybe this isn't such a good idea,” Kullen told her.

His voice strained as if every fiber in his being was at war with itself, with the intense desire for fulfillment.

“Why?” she whispered, afraid of what she was feeling. And even more afraid
not
to be feeling it.

“Because,” he told her honestly, since this was no time for lies or half-truths, “holding you like this makes me remember how much I wanted you.”

“‘Wanted?'” she repeated. There was a ribbon of sorrow in her voice, as if she regretted what might have been but no longer was. Regretted a loss of something she had never been allowed to experience. “Does that mean you don't anymore?”

Kullen felt her breath gliding along his neck. Felt his gut tighten into a tight, tight knot.

He could barely breathe. She literally did take his breath away.

Kullen hardly remembered the precise moment his control shattered.

 

Dear Reader,

If you've been around me for any length of time, you might have noticed a pattern forming. I begin a series by setting limits for myself. Three books, four books, five books. All the series I plot have a finite number. Once I'm in the world I created, I can't say goodbye. Matchmaking Mamas was supposed to be about three lifelong best friends meddling in their daughters' lives in order to find the perfect match for them. Three friends, three daughters, ta-dum, end of story. Well, not quite. One of the friends has a son in addition to a daughter…and then, there are those handy relatives, who also need to find true love.

So, you see, I can't seem to help myself. I'm a compulsive storyteller and there's nothing I love more than a sequel. I know I should try to find a local branch of storytellers anonymous to join, and I would—if I wasn't having so much fun.

As always, I thank you for reading and with all my heart, I wish you someone to love who loves you back.

Love,

Marie Ferrarella

UNWRAPPING THE PLAYBOY
MARIE FERRARELLA

Selected Books by Marie Ferrarella

Silhouette Special Edition

°
Mother in Training
#1785

Romancing the Teacher
#1826

§§
Remodeling the Bachelor
#1845

§§
Taming the Playboy
#1856

§§
Capturing the Millionaire
#1863

°°
Falling for the M.D.
#1873

~
Diamond in the Rough
#1910

~
The Bride with No Name
#1917

~
Mistletoe and Miracles
#1941

††
Plain Jane and the Playboy
#1946

~
Travis's Appeal
#1958

§
Loving the Right Brother
#1977

The 39-Year-Old Virgin
#1983

~
A Lawman for Christmas
#2006

¤¤
Prescription for Romance
#2017

¶
Doctoring the Single Dad
#2031

¶
Fixed Up with Mr. Right?
#2041

¶
Finding Happily-Ever-After
#2060

¶
Unwrapping the Playboy
#2084

Silhouette Romantic Suspense

The Heart of a Ruler
#1412

*
The Woman Who Wasn't There
#1415

*
Cavanaugh Watch
#1431

†
Her Lawman on Call
#1451

†
Diagnosis: Danger
#1460

My Spy
#1472

†
Her Sworn Protector
#1491

*
Cavanaugh Heat
#1499

†
A Doctor's Secret
#1503

†
Secret Agent Affair
#1511

*
Protecting His Witness
#1515

Colton's Secret Service
#1528

The Heiress's 2-Week Affair
#1556

*
Cavanaugh Pride
#1571

*
Becoming a Cavanaugh
#1575

The Agent's Secret Baby
#1580

*
The Cavanaugh Code
#1587

*
In Bed with the Badge
#1596

*
Cavanaugh Judgment
#1612

Colton by Marriage
#1616

*
Cavanaugh Reunion
#1623

 

MARIE FERRARELLA

This
USA TODAY
bestselling and RITA
®
Award-winning author has written more than two hundred books for Silhouette Books and Harlequin Books, some under the name of Marie Nicole. Her romances are beloved by fans worldwide. Visit her website at www.marieferrarella.com.

To Charlie,
who had my heart
from the moment he walked into
my second-period English class
when I was fourteen

Chapter One

“K
ullen, you need a woman in your life.”

Kullen Manetti smiled at his widowed mother across the small table at Vesuvius.

Not bad. This had to be a new record. Theresa Manetti had managed to go through the main course before she'd brought up the subject. His lack of a better half was, after all, one of his mother's top-ten topics whenever they spent more than a few moments in each other's company.

Since his sister, Kate, had succumbed some six months ago to the charms of one bank manager by the name of Jackson Wainwright, leaving him the last man standing and holding down the “single” fort in their small group of second-generation friends, his unwedded state had become his mother's number one favorite topic.

But his mother, bless her, had just missed one very obvious point with her comment.

“Mom, I have lots of women in my life,” Kullen reminded her.

Theresa's blue eyes narrowed just a bit as she stuck to her guns. In the last year, she and her best friends, Maizie and Cecilia, had arranged successful pairings for their three stubbornly single, career-obsessed daughters. Theresa had become far more confident about her abilities and her judgment than she'd been prior to this venture.

Granted, she did run her own business and had for a number of years. But on the home front, she was the quietest and shyest of the threesome, women she'd been friends with ever since they'd met—and bonded—in the third grade.

Maizie, a self-starting real estate broker, had spear-headed what she had initially referred to as Operation: Matchmaking Mamas. Cecilia had been the one who'd backed her wholeheartedly despite veiling her enthusiasm with a bit of sarcasm. But then Cecilia had always been a tad sarcastic.

As for Theresa, her way was to cross her fingers and fervently pray. On occasion, she would say something—completely unobtrusively—about wishing she could see her son and daughter settle down. Both Kate and Kullen were lawyers at what had once been their father's top-flight family law firm. For all intents and purposes, Kate had been married monastically to her work for quite some time, while Kullen, equally as sharp, had somehow managed to be successful while still systematically enjoying the company of every attractive, unattached
woman in a fifty-mile radius. He had no qualms about branching to outlying areas once his immediate supply was exhausted. No relationship—if it actually could be called that—went beyond a few weeks. Six weeks was the limit and those, in Kullen's opinion, were considered to be long term, as well as exceedingly rare.

It hurt Theresa's heart that her handsome, successful, dynamic son had no desire to find that one special woman who promised to turn his world on its ear and make him want to be—please, God—monogamous. “A
decent
woman in your life,” Theresa now qualified firmly.

Beaming, Kullen leaned in closer. “Ah, well, for that I have you,” he told her, brushing a quick kiss on his mother's temple. “And Kate. And, of course, those delightfully charming, probing friends of yours, Maizie and Cecilia.”

His mother, he knew, got together with the latter two at least once a week to play poker—allegedly. What they did, in actuality, was strategize. Now that Kate, Nikki and Jewel were spoken for, he imagined that the women were pressed for a new project. Well, much as he loved his mother and her friends—women he had thought were his aunts for the first ten years of his life—their next project sure as hell wasn't going to be him.

Theresa drew up her small frame and sat schoolgirl straight in her chair as she scrutinized her firstborn. Kullen was tall, dark and handsome, just as his father had been. Except that Kullen's features were finer, chiseled. Almost aristocratic in appearance. That he got from her. His wandering eye, well, that was anyone's guess.

“Kullen—”

He knew that tone. Knew, too, that it was in his best interest to cut her off as quickly as possible before she built up a full head of steam. He didn't want to end this pleasant lunch on a sour note. These days, the pace of his life had picked up, especially since one of the senior partners, Ronald Simmons, had retired last month. Consequently, he didn't get the opportunity to visit with his mother as often as he liked.

All things considered, he really did enjoy his mother's company. Theresa Manetti was kind, sympathetic and giving and he loved her for it. In true selfless-mother fashion, she put her family before herself.

His father, Kullen thought and not for the first time, had been an exceedingly lucky man. Unfortunately, Anthony Manetti had been far too consumed with his work to notice just how lucky he was. From its very inception, the family law firm, then known as Manetti, Rothchild and Simmons, had been his father's life, and it wasn't until he and then Kate had joined the firm that Anthony Manetti had taken real notice of either one of them.

Kate, Kullen knew, had had it particularly hard because, on top of being a perfectionist, their late father had been a chauvinist. Until his dying day, Anthony Manetti believed that anyone of the female gender—outside of a few outstanding women in world politics—was not as mentally equipped as a man in any field. Especially the law. He demanded twice as much from Kate just to put her on equal footing with the other junior lawyers in the firm.

Too bad, Dad. You had the devotion of two good
women and you never even knew it,
Kullen thought, even as he verbally headed his mother off at the pass.

“Really, Mom, I would think that you and your ladies would be far more interested in tackling your own lives, or if you must, gang up on poor, lonely Cousin Kennon.”

Like his sister and her two friends, his cousin Kennon was one of those exceedingly busy career women—she had her own decorating business—who maintained that they were far too preoccupied to invest themselves in a relationship. In his opinion, Kennon was perfect for his mother's next project.

He was not.

On the contrary, he, Kullen Manetti, was having a lot of fun and absolutely none of his so-called
dalliances
—his mother's word—were serious. Which was just the way he liked it.

This way, nothing got bruised. Not his ego, not his heart.

Both had been painfully battered once before, and it was more than enough for him. But it had happened so long ago and now felt like something he'd read about in a book or seen in a movie. Not real heartbreak.

Except that it was real.

But he'd been another person then. Naive and dumb. He liked himself better now: sharp, successful, with more than enough phone numbers of eligible young women.

Theresa tilted her head ever so slightly—a habit that Kate had picked up—and repeated with a smattering of confusion, “Our own lives?”

“Yes, last time I checked, neither you, Maizie or
Cecilia were making any plans to walk down that flower-laden aisle—or even check into a hotel,” he added with a mischievous, wicked wink, then asked, “Or have you been holding out on me?”

When he looked like that—especially with that grin—Kullen reminded her of Anthony the very first time she'd ever seen him, Theresa thought as a wave of affection washed over her. Back then, Anthony hadn't been so driven. Before life took over, Anthony Manetti had been romantic and fun, in addition to heart-stoppingly good-looking.

She missed both men terribly—the boyishly charming man Anthony had initially been and the dynamic, brilliant man he became. She just wished he hadn't left her out of the second phase. In retrospect, their time together had been much too short. Anthony had been—and always would be—the one true love of her life.

“No, I'm not ‘holding out' on you, Kullen. Being married to your father was enough for me,” Theresa told her son. “I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I
had
my happiness.” She knew that Maizie and Cecilia felt the same way about their late husbands. “It's the kind of happiness I want for your sister—and for you.”

There was humor in his magnetic blue eyes as Kullen replied, “Oh, I'm happy, Mom.”

Her son dated women whose IQ's rivaled those of three-day-old blueberry muffins and they both knew it. Gorgeous or not, the whole lot of them were what her generation had referred to as bimbos.

“Genuinely happy,” Theresa emphasized. She tried to word it tactfully. “It's the difference between gorging yourself on a box of chocolates and having something
substantial to eat that's nutritious and good for you. One does nothing but give you excess, artery-clogging fat, the other makes you healthy and strong, able to live your life to the fullest.”

Kullen laughed, shaking his head. “Trust you to fall back on food analogies.”

While Maizie had her own real estate company and Cecilia ran a high-end cleaning service, his mother had created an enterprise from her own outstanding talent. A masterful chef, his mother owned her catering business. The woman could make a feast out of a discarded old shoe and have people begging for more.

However, he had no intentions of his mother making
anything
out of him, least of all a candidate for a blind date.

“No offense, Mom, but I'm not a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy. I've got a sweet tooth and chocolates suit my needs just fine.” He looked at her with affection, knowing that she said what she did out of love and he couldn't really fault her for it. But he did have to be honest with her. “And I don't intend to change anytime soon.”

Theresa was not discouraged. “Kate felt the same way.”

“Kate wasn't happy,” he reminded her. “I am.” Long since finished with both his dessert and coffee, he moved both aside and leaned in closer to his mother. “Right now, you're batting a thousand, Mom. If you put me into the mix, you're going to see your average drop to five hundred.”

Theresa sighed softly. “It's not even baseball season.”

Kullen's amusement increased. He knew the effort his mother had made just to be knowledgeable about something that was near and dear to his heart, and he loved her for it. Had things turned out differently eight years ago, he might have married someone a lot like her. But then, he'd made a fatal error in judgment.

All ancient history, he reminded himself. He had since discovered that they'd broken the mold when it came to women like his mother. Another reason for him to remain a confirmed bachelor. Why enter a relationship where arguing and discontent lay in wait for him? He was far better off the way he was—free, and happy to be that way.

“It wouldn't drop to five hundred,” his mother said with feeling. When he looked at her with a slightly bemused expression, she went on to say, “You're forgetting Nikki and Jewel.” They were Maizie and Cecilia's daughters, both successfully paired with men who were nothing short of fantastic.

“No, I didn't forget Nikki and Jewel, and even if I did, you'd be here to remind me.” He had no intention of going around and around about this. “Go out a winner, Mom,” he advised. “It's always the best way. That's why the
Seinfeld
cast called it quits after nine seasons. They knew that it was nice to go out on top.” That could
not
win her over. Theresa pressed her lips together, wishing that Kullen would listen to reason. Worrying that something would go wrong in the
very
near future.

“This isn't a TV comedy series,” she told him. “It's your life.”

“Yes,” he agreed pointedly, “it is.” It was his life
and he wasn't about to allow it to get railroaded just to satisfy his mother's dreams and the machinations of her two friends. “And I'm not twelve years old anymore,” he reminded her. At thirty he had long since become his own man.

“If you were,” Theresa folded her hands before her on the table, “we wouldn't be having this conversation. I know enough about the law to know that it's illegal to get married at twelve—in
any
state.”

“We're not having this conversation,” Kullen said with a touch of humor as he rose to his feet. The check had been paid between dessert and coffee. “And I've got to be getting back to the office.” Kullen bent over and kissed her lightly. The faint scent of jasmine, his mother's favorite fragrance, greeted him. “Got a full schedule laid out for this afternoon.”

Theresa suppressed a smile. She knew all about his full schedule for this afternoon. Knew something about it that he didn't. Composing herself, she allowed a smile to enter her voice as she murmured, “My son, the successful lawyer.”

He paused for a moment. If he didn't know better, he would have said she was scheming. “You know, Mom, for some mothers that would be more than enough.”

She couldn't resist answering him on this point. Someday, she mused, he would put all the pieces together. But right now, they would have to remain “pieces” just a tiny bit longer. “I'm not ‘some' mother, Kullen. I'm
your
mother.” He looked at her quizzically. She went a step further. “And as your mother—”

“You have been delightful company,” he told her, cut ting in before the conversation made yet another
U-turn to the subject of his dating. “'Bye. I've really gotta go.”

And with that, he began to make his retreat. But her voice stopped him.

“Kullen—”

Something in his mother's voice caught his attention. He turned around and waited. “Yes?”

Because she was an honest woman, Theresa felt compelled to be up-front with her son. In this case, that would entail telling him that last weekend she had catered a rather large charity luncheon for Anne McCall, Lilli McCall's mother. The conversation got around to their children. When Anne had told her that her daughter was back in Bedford and, coincidentally, was in dire need of a good family lawyer, Theresa's heart had begun to race.

More than anything, Theresa wanted to tell her son that she'd been quick to mention he had become a lawyer and that she'd given his number to a greatly relieved Anne. She very much wanted to tell him that this afternoon he would be seeing Lilli, a woman, she'd discovered quite by accident, that he'd dated briefly in law school.

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