Rich Rugged & Royal

His Heir, Her Honor

posted on January 6, 2011 by Catherine Mann

“Rich, Rugged and Royal” Book 3
By Catherine Mann

“Cover the family jewels, gentlemen,” Lilah Anderson called into the men’s locker room at St. Mary’s Hospital. “Female coming through.”

High heels clicking on tile, Lilah charged past a male nurse yanking on scrubs and an anesthesiologist wrestling with a too small towel, barely registering the flash of male flank here, masculine chest there. Smothered coughs and chuckles echoed around her in the steamy tiled area, but she remained undeterred.

Completely focused on locating him.

No one dared stop her on her way past benches and lockers. As chief administrator of Tacoma’s leading surgical facility, she could have any of them fired faster than someone could say “Who dropped the soap?”

Her only problem? A particularly stubborn employee seemed determined to avoid her every attempt to speak with him over the past couple of weeks. Therefore, she’d chosen the one place she could be certain of having Dr. Carlos Medina’s complete attention – a public shower.

The stall tactics would end here and now. And speaking of stalls…

Lilah stepped deeper into the swell of steam puffing around a cream colored plastic curtain. His secretary, Wanda, had warned that he couldn’t be reached since he was washing up after a lengthy surgery. He would be exhausted and cranky.

Not deterred in the least, Lilah saw this as the perfect opportunity she’d been seeking to corner him. She’d grown up with two brothers, and she would have been left out of everything if she didn’t occasionally invade their male inner sanctums. She eyed the line of showers.

Three of the five were in use. The first sported a shadowy, short and round male figure. Not Carlos.

From the second, a balding head peeked around the industrial curtain with shocked green eyes. Also not her surgeon in question.

She nodded to the head of pediatrics. “Good afternoon, Jim.”

Jim ducked back into his stall, which left her to focus on the third tiled cubicle. She marched forward, heels tapping almost as fast as her heart.

Stopping, she planted her feet and checked first. Through the plastic folds, she studied the lean outline standing under the spray, scrubbing his hands over his head. Without even pulling aside the curtain, she knew that body well, intimately so.

She’d found him, Carlos Medina – doctor, lover and as if the guy didn’t already have enough going for him, he was also the eldest son of a former European monarch. His princely pedigree, however, didn’t impress her. Long before she knew about his royal roots, she’d been drawn to his brilliance, his compassion for his patients…

And a backside that looked damn fine in scrubs. Or wearing nothing at all. Definitely not what she needed to think about right now.

Lilah gathered her nerve as firmly as she clenched the curtain and swept it aside, metal rings clink, clink, clinking along the rod.

A wall of steam rolled out, momentarily clouding her vision until the mist dispersed and exposed an eyeful of mouth wateringly magnificent man. Water sluiced down Carlos’s naked body turned sideways, revealing long lean muscles flexing and bunching. And heaven help her, she had a perfect view of the curve of his taut butt.

Beads of moisture clung to his bronzed skin, arms and legs sprinkled with dark hair. No tan lines marked him since he spent most of his time indoors either in surgery or asleep. But his natural olive coloring gave him an all over tanned look, as if he’d bared himself unabashedly to the sun.

Turning his head toward her in a slow, deliberate move, not even a whisper of surprise showed on Carlos’s face. His eyes shone nearly black… heavy lidded… darkly enigmatic. She couldn’t suppress a shiver of desire as his intense gaze held hers. Her stomach knotted with a traitorous ache that could only serve to distract her from her mission today.

He raised one thick eyebrow, slashing upward into his forehead. “Yes?”

His subtle Spanish accent saturated the lone syllable like the steam in the air, so hot she felt the urge to ditch the jacket on her power suit.

In the next stall, water shut off in a hurry as the head of pediatrics made a hasty departure from the locker room. Others lingered, backs studiously turned as they retrieved clothing.

Lilah tugged her jacket more firmly in place. “I need to talk to you.”

“A telephone conversation would have saved my coworkers some embarrassment.” He spoke softly as always, never raising his voice as if he knew innately that people would hang on his every word.

“What I have to say isn’t for an impersonal call.” And wasn’t that the understatement of the year? What she needed to tell him also wasn’t for the curious ears behind her, but she would have Carlos alone soon.

All alone?

Static-like awareness popped along her nerves until the hair on her arms rose. And was that an answering spark lighting his dark eyes? Then he blinked away any hint of emotion.

“It does not get much more personal than this, boss lady.” He turned off the shower. “Could you pass me that towel?”

She snagged the white cotton draped on a hook, hospital name and logo stamped along the bottom. She pitched the towel to him rather than risk an accidental touch. As he looped it around his waist, she couldn’t resist staring for a stolen second.

Water soaked his hair even blacker, shiny and swept back from his face. Every hard and hunky angle of his aristocratic cheekbones and nose was revealed. Dark brows slashed just over brown eyes that rarely carried humor, but turned lava lush when he made love to her.

Pivoting, his back to her for the first time, he snagged his shampoo. Her eyes quickly left his slim hips and taut butt, drawn more to the scars along his lower back. In the four years she’d known him, he’d chalked up his permanent limp to a teenage riding accident. The one time she’d pressed him further, the first time she’d seen those scars, he’d brushed aside further questions with distracting kisses along her bare skin.

While she was a lawyer and not a doctor, her tenure working at the hospital – and flat out common sense – clued her in that he’d suffered a major physical trauma.

Toiletries bag tucked under his arm, he leaned toward her. His shoulders, then his eyes, drew her in until the rest of the space faded away. She swallowed hard.

He stared back, unblinking, unflinching. “Let’s make this quick.”

“Your charm never ceases to impress me.”

“If you’re looking for charm, you hired the wrong man four years ago.” He’d been thirty-six then to her thirty-one, a lifetime ago. “I’ve spent most of the day repairing the spine of a seven year old Afghani girl injured by a roadside bomb. I’m beat.”

Unwanted sympathy whispered through her. Of course he was exhausted from the drawn out, tragic surgery. Even when he caved to his pride and used a chair during extended operations, the toll it took on him was always evident. But she couldn’t afford to weaken now.

They’d been friends for years only to have him turn into a cold jackass because of an impulsive one night stand together after a Christmas fundraiser. It wasn’t like she’d dropped a wedding planner in his lap five seconds after the third orgasm waned.

Yep, three. Her toes curled inside her pumps at just the memory of each shimmering release.

The sex had been amazing. Beyond amazing actually, and after that impulsive hook-up, she’d envisioned them transitioning into a relationship of friends with kick-ass benefits. A nerve tingling, safe option. But he’d pulled away as fast as he’d pulled on his pants the next morning. He was cold, withdrawn and painfully polite.

But she wasn’t backing down. “I don’t have the time for niceties. I’m just here to say my piece. So grab some clothes and let’s talk.”

He ducked his head until his voice heated her ear. “You’re not the type to create a scene. Let’s set up a time to talk when you’re calmer. This is already awkward enough.”

Her nose twitched at his fresh washed scent. Yes, she’d chosen an unconventional route for her confrontation, but Carlos Medina’s tenacious – stubborn – reputation was legendary. She felt confident the hospital board would cut her a little slack for her scene. And if they didn’t? Then so be it. Sometimes a woman had to make a stand.

This was her time. She couldn’t afford to wait much longer.

“I’m not setting up an appointment. I’m not delaying this conversation.” She lowered her voice, although after from the sound of retreating footsteps behind her there must not be many people left. “We talk. Today. The only matter up for discussion is whether we chat right here in front of everyone or if we speak in an office. And believe me, if we stay here, it’s going to get a lot more awkward very quickly…”

His Thirty-Day Fiancee

posted on October 21, 2010 by Catherine Mann

“Rich, Rugged & Royal” book 2
Silhouette Desire, January 2011

Chapter One

Catching a royal was tough. But catching an elusive Medina was damn near impossible.

Teeth chattering, photojournalist Kate Harper inched along the third story ledge leading to Prince Duarte Medina’s living quarters. The planked exterior of his Martha’s Vineyard resort offered precious little to grapple hold of as she felt her way across in the dark, but she’d never been one to admit defeat.

Come hell or high water, she would nab her top dollar picture. Her sister’s future teetered even more precariously than Kate’s balance on the twelve inch beam.

Wind whipped in off the harbor, slapping her mossy green Dolce and Gabbana knockoff around her legs. Her Popsicle cold toes curled along the wooden ridge since she’d ditched her heels on the balcony next door before climbing out.

Wrangling a ticket to the Fortune 500 mogul’s rehearsal dinner for his son hadn’t been easy, but she’d managed by promising a dimwit dilettante to run a tabloid piece on her ex in exchange for the woman’s invitation. Once in, however, Kate was on her own to dodge security, locate Prince Duarte, and nab the shot.

The mini-cams embedded in her earrings were about to tear her darn earlobes in half. She’d transformed a couple of old button cameras into what looked like gold and emerald earrings.

The lighthouse swooped a dim beam over her through the cottony-thick fog, klaxon wailing every twenty seconds and temporarily drowning out the sound of wedding party guests mingling on the first floor. She scooched closer to the prince’s balcony.

Kate stretched her leg further, further still until… Pay dirt. Her pounding heart threatened to pop a seam on her size-too-small satin gown. She grabbed the railing fast and swung her leg over.

A hand clamped around her wrist. A strong hand. A male hand.

She yelped as another hand grabbed her ankle and hauled, grip strong on her arm and calf. His fingers seared her freezing skin just over her anklet made by her sister. A good luck charm to match the earrings. She sure hoped it helped.

A swift yank sent her tumbling over onto the balcony. Her dress twisted around her thighs and hopefully not higher. She scrambled for firm footing, her arms flailing as her gown slid back into place. She landed hard against a wall.

No, wait. Walls didn’t have crisp chest hair and defined muscles and smell of musky perspiration. Under normal circumstances, she’d have been more than a little turned on. If she wasn’t so focused on her sister’s future.

Kate peeked… and found a broad male torso an inch from her nose. A black shirt or robe hung open exposing darkly tanned skin and brown hair. Her fingers clenched in the coarse fabric. Some kind of karate work-out clothes?

Good God, did Medina actually hire ninjas for protection like monarchs in movies? Hell, how would she even know what royals did or didn’t do?

Kate looked up the strong column of the ninja’s neck, the tensed line of his square jaw in need of a shave. Then holy crap, she met the same coal black eyes she’d been planning to photograph.

“You’re not a ninja,” she blurted.

“And you are not much of an acrobat.” Prince Duarte Medina didn’t smile, much less say cheese.

“Not since I flunked out of kinder-gym twenty years ago.” This was the strangest conversation ever, but at least he hadn’t pitched her over the railing yet.

He also didn’t let go of her arms. The restrained strength of his callused fingers sparked an unwelcome shiver of awareness along her chilled skin.

He glanced down at her bare feet. “Booted for a balance beam infraction?”

“Actually, I broke another kid’s nose.”

She’d tripped the nasty little boy after he’d called her sister a moron.

Kate fingered her earring. She had to snap her pictures and punch out. This was an opportunity more rare than a red diamond.

The Medina Monarchy had pretty much fallen off the map twenty-seven years ago after King Enrique Medina was deposed in a coup that left his wife dead. For decades rumors swirled that the old widower had walled up with his three sons in an Argentinean fortress. After a while, people stopped wondering about the Medinas at all. Until she’d felt the journalistic twitch to research an individual in the background of a photo she’d taken. That twitch had led to her news story which popped the top off a genie bottle. She’d exposed the secret lives of three now-grown princes who were hiding in plain sight in the United States.

Her window of opportunity to grab an up close picture was short. Already paparazzi from every corner of the globe were scrambling for a photo op now that news of her initial find leaked like water through a crumbling sandcastle.

But somehow, she’d beaten them all because Duarte Medina was really here. In the flesh. In front of her. And so much hotter up close. She swayed and couldn’t even blame it on vertigo.

He scooped her up, apparently sporting real strength to go with those ninja workout clothes.

“Come inside.” His voice rumbled with the barest hint of an exotic accent, the bedroom sort of inflection perfect for voiceovers in commercials that would convince a woman to buy anything if he came with it. “You need to get out of this cold before you pass out.”

So he could call security to lock her up? Her angle with the earring cameras wasn’t great but she hoped she’d snagged some workable shots while she jostled around in his arms.

“Uh, thanks for the save.” Should she call him Prince Duarte or Your Majesty?

Coming into this, she’d envisioned getting her photos on the sly and hadn’t thought to brush up on protocol when confronted with a prince in karate pajamas. A very hot, swarthy prince carrying her inside to his suite.

Now that she studied his face inches from hers, his ancestry was unmistakable. The Medina monarchy had originated on the small island of San Rinaldo off the coast of Spain. And in the crackling air moment she could see his bold Mediterranean heritage as clearly as his leanly handsome arrogance. With fog rolling along the rocky shore at his back through the open balcony doors, she could envision him reigning over his native land. In fact it was difficult to remember at all that he’d lived for so many years in the United States.

He set her on her feet again, her toes sinking for miles into the plush carpet. The whole room spoke of understated wealth and power from the pristine white sofas, to the mahogany antique armoire, to a mammoth four poster bed with posts as thick as tree trunks.

A bed? She tried to swallow. Her throat was too dry.

Duarte smiled tightly, heavy lidded eyes assessing. “Ramon has really outdone himself this time.”

“Ramon?” Her editor’s name was Harold. “I’m not sure what you mean.” But she would play along if it meant staying put a few minutes more. To get her pictures of course.

“The father of the bride has a reputation for supplying the best, uh,” his pulse beat slowly along his bronzed neck, “companionship to woo his business associates, but you surpass them all in originality.”

“Companionship?” Shock stunned her silent. He couldn’t be implying what she thought.

“I assume he paid you well, given the whole elaborate entrance.” His upper lip curled with a hint of disdain.

Paid companionship. Ah hell. He thought she was a high priced call girl. Or at least she hoped he thought high priced. Well she wasn’t going that far for her sister, but maybe she could scavenge another angle for the story by sticking around just a question or two longer.

Kate placed a tentative hand on his shoulder. No way was she touching the ripped muscles of his bared chest. “How many times has he so generously gifted you?”

His smoky dark eyes steamed over the tops of her breasts darn near spilling out of the wretched thrift store dress. “I have never availed myself of – how shall we say? – paid services.”

“Not even once?” Maybe she could inch just her pinky past his open neckline. A good journalist would ask, of course.

“Never.” His hard tone left no room for doubt.

She held back her sigh of relief and let herself savor the heat of his skin under her touch. Sheesh, just her pinky for crying out loud.

Her fingers curled. “Oh, uh… just oh.”

“I am a gentleman, after all. And as such, I can’t simply send you back onto the balcony. Stay while I make arrangements to slip you out.” He palmed low on her waist. “Would you like a drink?”

Her stomach squeezed into an even tighter ball of anticipation inside her too-tight dress. Why was she this hyped up over an assignment? This was her job, one she was well trained to do. Thoughts of her days as a photojournalist for news magazines bombarded her. Days when her assignments ranged from a montage of a Jerusalem pilgrimage to the aftermath of an earthquake in Indonesia.

Now, she worked for the

She stifled a hysterical laugh. God, what had she sunk to? And what choice did she have with a shrinking newspaper industry? She had no other job skills and plenty of bills piling up faster than loaded celebrities cleared lines of coke.

Of course she was nervous, damn it. This photo was about more than staying in the media game. It was about finding enough cash fast to make sure her special needs sister wasn’t booted out of her assisted living facility. Jennifer had an adult body with a child’s mind. She needed protecting and Kate was all she had left keeping her from becoming an adult ward of the state.

Too bad Kate was only a couple of rent payments away from bankruptcy court.

The prince’s hand slid up her spine, clasping the back of her neck. Her traitorous body tingled.

She needed a moment to regroup – away from this guy’s surprise allure – if she hoped to get the information she needed. “Is there a powder room nearby where I can freshen up while you pour the drinks? When I leave your suite, I shouldn’t look like I climbed around outside the balcony.”

“Oh course. I’ll show you the way.”

Not what she had in mind. But she’d kept her cool during a mortar attack before. She could handle this. “Just point, please. I’ve got good internal navigational skills.”

“I imagine you’re good at a great many things.” His breath heated over her neck as he dipped his head closer to speak. “I may have never had use for offers such as yours before, but I have to confess, there is something captivating about you.”

Oh boy.

His warm breath grazed her exposed shoulder, his lips so close to touching her skin without closing that final whisper for connection. Her breasts beaded against the already snug bodice of her gown. She pushed her heels deeper into the carpet to keep her balance. Her anklet rubbed against her other leg. Her good luck charm from Jennifer. Remember Jennifer.

“About that bathroom?” Frantically, she looked around the bedroom suite with too many tall, paneled doors, all closed.

“Right over here.” His words heated over her neck, raising goosebumps along her arms.

“Uh, but…” Was that breathy gasp hers? “I prefer to hit the head solo.”

“Of course.” He stopped just at her earlobe as if to share a secret.

Had he touched her? She couldn’t even tell, given her senses were a-swirl from the phantom caresses of steamy exhales. He cupped the other side of her head. Hunger gnawed deep within her as she ached to lean into his cradling touch.

Then he backed away, his hand teasing a tempting trail and his black workout clothes rustling a lethal whisper. “Just through that door, Ms. Kate Harper.”

Duarte gestured right, both of her earrings dangling from between his fingers…

The Maverick Prince

posted on August 23, 2010 by Catherine Mann

“I’m not going away with you.”

“This isn’t going to die down.” He kept his voice even and low, reasonable. The stakes were too important for all of them. “The reporters will swarm you by morning, if not sooner. Your friends will sell photos of the two of us together.”

“Then we’re through, you and I.”

“Do you honestly think anyone’s going to believe the breakup is for real? The timing will seem too convenient.”

“We ended things last weekend.”

Like hell. “Tell that to the papers and see if they believe you. Pleading a breakup isn’t going to buy you any kind of freedom fromt heir interest.”

She studied him through narrowed eyes. “How do I know you’re not just using this as an excuse to get back together?”

Was he? An hour ago, he would have done anything to get into her bed again.

Tycoon Takes A Wife

posted on February 10, 2010 by Catherine Mann

The Tycoon Takes a Wife
by Catherine Mann
Silhouette Desire, May 2010

Pensacola, Florida: Present Day

“Congratulations to the bride to be, my little princess!”

The toast from the father of the bride drifted from the deck of the paddleboat, carried by the muggy Pensacola breeze to Eloisa Taylor back on the dock. Eloisa sat dipping her aching feet in the Florida Gulf waters, tired to the roots of her ponytail from helping plan her half sister’s engagement party. Her stepfather had gone all out for Audrey, far more than a tax collector in a cubicle could afford, but nothing was too good for his “little princess.” Still he’d had to settle for a Monday night booking to make the gala affordable.

The echo of clinking glasses mingled with the lap of waves against her feet. Dinner was done, the crowd so well fed no one would miss her. She was good at that, helping people and keeping a low profile.

Putting together this engagement party had been bittersweet, forcing her to think about her own vows. Uncelebrated. Unknown even to her family. Thank God for the quickie divorce that had extracted her from her impulsive midnight marriage almost as fast as she’d entered it.

Usually she managed to smother those recollections, but how could she not think about it now with Audrey’s happily-ever-after tossed in her face 24/7? Not to mention the cryptic voice message she’d received this morning with his voice. Jonah. Even a year after hearing it last, she still recognized the sexy bass.

Eloisa. It’s me. We have to talk.

She swept her wind-whipped ponytail from her face, shivering from the phantom feel of his hand stroking her face. A year ago, she’d indulged herself in checking out the heritage of her real father. A summer indulgence had led her to one totally wrong man with a high-profile life that threatened her carefully protected world. Threatened secrets she held close and deep.

Eloisa blinked back the memories of Jonah, too many given how little time she’d spent with him. They were history now since she’d divorced him. Not that their twenty-four-hour marriage counted in her mind. She should ignore the call and block his number. Or at least wait until after her sister’s “I do” was in the past before contacting him again.

A fish plopped in the distance, sailboat lines clinking against masts. The rhythmic, familiar sounds soothed her. She soaked up the other sounds of home, greedily gathering every bit of comfort she could find. Emerald-green waters reflected a pregnant moon. Wind rustled through palm trees.

An engine growled softly in the distance.

So much for a late-night solitary moment. She shook dry one foot, then the other and glanced over her shoulder. A limo rolled closer. Late arriving guests? Really late since after-dinner dancing was well underway.

Reaching for her sandals she watched the long black stretch of machine inching beside the waterway. The shape of the sleek vehicle wasn’t your average wedding limo. The distinctive grille glinted in the moonlight, advertising the approach of an exclusive Rolls-Royce. Tinted windows sealed off the passengers from view, but left her feeling like a butterfly pinned to the board of a science project. The private area should be safe. Yet, was anywhere totally secure, especially in the dark?

Goose bumps stung along her skin and her mouth went dry. She yanked on her shoes, chiding herself for being silly. But still, Audrey’s fiancé was reputed to have some shady connections. Her stepdad could only see power and dollar signs, apparently unconcerned with the crooked path that money took.

Not that any of those questionable contacts had cause to hurt her. All the same, she should return to the floating party barge.

Eloisa jumped to her feet.

The limo sped up.

She swallowed hard, wishing she’d taken a self-defense class along the way to earning her library studies degree.

Okay, no need to go all paranoid. She forced her hands to stay loose and started walking. Only about thirty yards ahead, and she would alert the crew member at the gangway. Then she could lose herself in the crowd of dancers under the strings of white lights. The engine grew louder behind her. Eloisa strode longer, faster.

Each breath felt heavier, the salt in the air stinging her over-sensitive pores. Her low heel caught between planks on the boardwalk. She lurched forward just as the car stopped in front of her.

A back door swung wide—not even waiting for the chauffeur—and blocked her getaway. She couldn’t continue ahead, only sideways into the car or into the water. Or she could back up, which would take her farther from the boat. Frantically she searched for help. Would any of those seventy-five potential witnesses in party finery whooping it up to an old Kool and the Gang song notice or hear her?

One black-clad leg swung out of the limo, the rest of the man still hidden. However that Ferragamo python loafer was enough to send her heart skittering. She’d only met one man who favored those, and she hated how she still remembered the look and brand.

She backed away, one plank at a time, assessing the man as he angled out. She hoped, prayed for some sign to let her off the hook. Gray hair? A beer belly?

Anything non-Jonah.

But no such luck. The hard-muscled guy wore all black, a dark suit jacket, the top button of his shirt undone and tie loose. He wore his brown hair almost shoulder length and swept back from his face to reveal a strong, square jaw.

A jaw far more familiar than any shoes. Nerves danced in her stomach far faster than even the partiers gyrating to the live band on the boat.

He pivoted on his heel, facing her full on, the moonlight glinting off the chestnut hints in his wavy hair. Sunglasses shielded his eyes from her. Shades at night? For a low profile or ego?

Regardless, she knew. Her ex-husband wasn’t content with just calling and leaving a message. No, not Jonah. The powerful international scion she’d divorced a year ago had returned.

Jonah Landis whipped off his sunglasses, glanced at his watch and grinned. “Sorry I’m late. Have we missed the party?”

To hell with any party. Jonah Landis wanted to find out why Eloisa hadn’t told him the entire truth when she’d demanded a divorce a year ago. He also wanted to know why his passionate lover had so dispassionately cut him off.

The stunned look on Eloisa’s face as she stopped cold on the dock would have been priceless if he wasn’t so damn mad over the secret she’d kept from him, a secret that he’d only just found out was gumming up the works on their divorce decree.

Of course when he’d met her in Madrid a year ago, he’d been distracted by the instantaneous, mind-blowing chemistry between them. And looking at her now, seeing her quiet elegance, he figured he could cut himself some slack on missing details that could have clued him in—like how much she’d fit into her Spanish surroundings.

The woman was a walking distraction.

Wind molded her tan silk dress around her body. The dimly lit night played tricks with his vision until she looked nearly naked, clothed only in shifting shadows.

Had she known that when she chose the dress? Likely not. Eloisa seemed oblivious to her allure, which only served to enhance her appeal.

Her sleek dark hair was slicked back in a severe ponytail that gave her already exotic brown eyes a tug. Without so much as lip gloss, she relegated most models to the shadows.

Once he had her name on the dotted line of divorce papers—official ones this time—he would have nothing to do with her ever again. That had been the plan anyway. He didn’t need round two of her hot-cold treatment. So he’d misread the signs, hadn’t realized she was drunk during the “I do” part. That didn’t mean she had to slap his face and fall off the planet. He was over Eloisa.

Or so he’d thought. Then he’d seen her and felt that impact all over again, that kick-in-the-gut effect he’d thought must have been exaggerated by his memory.

He tamped back the attraction and focused on seeing this through. He needed her signature and for some reason he refused to leave it up to lawyers. Maybe it had something to do with closure.

Eloisa inched her heel from between the planks and set both feet as firmly as her delicate jaw. “What are you doing here?”

“I came to accompany you to your sister’s engagement party.” He hooked an elbow on the open limo door, the chauffeur waiting up front as he’d been instructed earlier. “Can’t have my wife going stag.”

“Shhh!” Lurching toward him, she patted the air in front of his face, stopping just shy of touching his mouth. “I am not your wife.”

He clasped her hand, thumb rubbing over her bare ring finger. “Damn, I must have hallucinated that whole wedding ceremony in Madrid.”

Eloisa yanked her hand away and rubbed her palm against her leg. “You’re arguing semantics.”

“If you would prefer to skip the party, we could grab a bite to eat and talk about those semantics.” He watched the glide of her hand up and down her thigh, remembering well the creamy, soft texture under his mouth as he’d tasted his way up.

She stared at him silently until he met her eyes again. “You’re kidding, right?”

“Climb into the car and see.”

She glanced back at the boat, then at him again, her long ponytail fanning to rest along her shoulder. “I’m not so sure that’s a good idea.”

“Afraid I’ll kidnap you?”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” She laughed nervously as if she’d considered just that.

“Then what’s holding you back? Unless you want to continue this conversation right here.” He nodded toward the boat full of partyers. “I thought you wanted me to be quiet.”

She looked back over her shoulder again, and while it appeared no one noticed them, who knew how long that would hold? Not that he gave a damn what anyone thought, unlike his enigmatic wife. He’d learned a long time ago he had two choices in this world. Let others rule his life or take charge.

The second option won hands down.

He cocked an eyebrow and waited.

“Fine,” she bit out between gritted teeth.

She eyed him angrily as she angled past and slid into the car without even brushing against him. Eloisa settled into the leather seat.

Jonah tucked himself inside next her, closed the door and tapped the glass window between them and the chauffeur, signaling him to drive. Just drive. He would issue a destination later.

“Where are we going?” she asked as the limo eased into motion, the tinted windows closing them in their own private capsule.

“Where do you want to go? I have a penthouse suite farther down on Pensacola Beach.”

“Of course you do.” Her gaze flicked around the small space, lingering briefly on his computer workstation to her left before moving on to the minibar and the plasma screen TV.

“I see you haven’t changed.” He’d forgotten how prickly she could be about money. Still, it had been refreshing. He’d had plenty of women chase him because of the Landis portfolio and political influence.

He’d never had a female dump him because of it. Of course back then he hadn’t known she had access to money and influence beyond even his family’s reach. Mighty damn impressive.

And confusing since she hadn’t bothered to share that even after they married.

He put a damper on the surge of anger, a dangerous emotion given the edge of desire searing his insides. To prove to himself he could stay in control, he slid two fingers down the length of a sleekly straight lock of her black hair.

Eloisa jerked her head away. “Stop that.” She adjusted the air-conditioning vent nervously until the blast of air ruffled her ponytail. “Enough playing, although you certainly seem to be an expert at recreation. I just want to know why you’re here, now.”

With all he knew about her, she still understood so little about him. “What’s wrong with wanting to see my wife?”

“Ex-wife. We got drunk and ended up married.” She shrugged casually, too much so. “It happens to lots of folks, from pop stars to everyday Joes and Josephines. Just check out the marriage logs in Las Vegas. We made a mistake, but we took steps to fix it the morning after.”

“Do you consider all of it a mistake? Even the part between ‘I do’ and waking up with a hangover?” He couldn’t resist reminding her.

A whisper of attraction smoked through her dark eyes. “I don’t remember.”

“You’re blushing,” he noted with more than a little satisfaction, grateful for the soft glow of a muted overhead light. So he was smug. Sue him. “You remember the good parts all right.”

“Sex is irrelevant.” She sniffed primly.

“Sex? I was talking about the food.” He turned the tables, enjoying the cat-and-mouse game between them. “The mariscada en salsa verde was amazing.” And just that fast, he could all but taste the shellfish casserole in green sauce, the supper she’d shared with him before they had after-dinner drinks. Got hitched. Got naked.

He could see the same memory reflected in her eyes just before her mouth pursed tight.

“You’re a jackass, Jonah.”

“But I’m all yours.” For now at least.

“Not anymore. Remember the morning-after ‘fix’? You’re my ex-jackass.”

If only it were that simple to put this woman in his past. God knows, he’d tried hard enough over the past year to forget about Eloisa Taylor Landis.

Or rather Eloisa Medina Landis?

He’d stumbled upon the glitch in a church registry, a “minor” technicality she’d forgotten to mention, but one that had snarled up their paperwork in Spain. The sense of shock and yeah, even some bitter betrayal rocked through him again.

No question, he needed to put this woman in his past, but this time he would be the one to walk away.

“Now there you’re wrong, Eloisa. That fix got broken along the way.” He picked up a lock of her hair again, keeping his hand off her shoulder.

Lightly he tugged, making his presence felt. A spark of awareness flickered through her eyes, flaming an answering heat inside him. He looked at the simple gold chain around her neck and remembered the jewels he’d once pictured there while she’d slept. Then she woke up and made it clear there would be no summer together. She couldn’t get out of his life fast enough.

Her breath hitched. He reminded himself of his reason for coming here, to end things and leave.

Now he wondered if it might be all the more satisfying to have one last time with Eloisa, to ensure she remembered all they could have had if only she’d been as upfront with him as he’d been with her.

He glided his knuckles up her ponytail to her cheek, gently urging her to face him more fully. “The paper work never made it through. Something to do with you lying about your name.”

Her eyes darted away. “I never lied about my name—”