Power...it's a heady drug.
Vanessa Warren is America's favorite rebel. Daughter and granddaughter of US Presidents and sister to a future one, her family connections and notoriety are seen as leverage for manipulating the White House—if she's captured.
One little lie leads to a whole lot of trouble.
Reclusive international resort developer, Dominic Varga, needs a date to ward off his matchmaking parents. When he persuades the notorious Vanessa Warren to play his girlfriend for the night, he has no idea he's stepped into the crosshairs of kidnappers who will do anything—destroy everything—to get to her.
One true thing...
Trapped in a rapidly escalating international terror plot, Dominic and Vanessa's lie becomes the only real thing in the midst of betrayals, conspiracies, and murder. As their world falls apart, they suddenly only have each other to rely on against ruthless people who will stop at nothing to achieve their goal. Who can they trust? Who is behind the plot—her own family, a political rival of her family's, or a terrorist organization? How far will the kidnappers go—what will they be willing to sacrifice—to control the power of the White House? Is there anywhere in the world where they can find safety?
Paperback coming soon
Read the first chapter below the graphic...
"Not necessity, not desire—no, the love of power is the demon of men. Let them have everything—health, food, a place to live, entertainment—they are and remain unhappy and low-spirited: for the demon waits and waits and will be satisfied." Friedrich Nietzsche
The tabloids had it all wrong—Eric hadn't fallen overboard, she'd pushed the jerk and had enjoyed watching his arrogance transform to terror as he'd fallen head over heels into the Mediterranean Sea.
"For someone who wants to be taken seriously, this kind of drama undermines you every step of the way." Cleo stormed around the room waving her arms above her gray head while her long red skirt flowed around her legs.
Vanessa leaned against the wall and tried hard to give a damn what the paparazzi said. She'd fled to Europe for some semblance of a life of her own and, for the most part, had succeeded. She'd attended art school in Paris before building a home in a small bungalow in the French countryside to work on her sculptures. She'd distanced herself from her famous American family as much as she could, but as the daughter and granddaughter of American presidents, anonymity eluded her.
Politics bored her to tears, but now that her oldest brother had chosen to run for president himself, the press wanted to know more about his notorious sister who had once blatantly given the public the finger from the front steps of the White House.
Worse than a few headlines, threats had started arriving with increased frequency, trapping her in a bubble of scrutiny and security that felt more and more like a trap.
"Aren't you a little too old to be acting like the spoiled heiress?" Cleo faced her, hands on her hips and a frown on her narrow lips. "You're thirty-one years-old—"
"I know exactly how old I am."
"You're not invincible, Vanessa."
"I never claimed to be." She pushed away from the wall and stared out the windows that looked out onto the streets of Barcelona, Spain. "I'm not going to let anyone ruin this moment for me. What don't you understand about that?" She looked over her shoulder at the one woman who had become closer to her than her own mother while growing up in Washington DC. "This exhibit is more important to me than some actor taking a plunge off the side of a yacht. It's not like he died. The last I heard, he is recuperating with a few models back in New York."
"Is also doing fine. Didn't Christopher's poll numbers go up? Isn't that all that maters? Whenever I do something outrageous, the Warrens get some free press." She rolled her shoulders back and sighed. "Can we drop this?"
"You know we can't. You never should have been on that yacht to begin with—"
"I have a life here, Cleo. Friends. It was Michelle's birthday, what was I supposed to do? Say no because my keepers wouldn't let me out of their sight? As you just pointed out, I'm very much grown."
"That's not what I meant." Cleo softened her approach and stepped toward her. "Vanessa—"
"I know what you meant, I just don't want to hear it." She bit her lower lip and pushed her hands through her hair.
She'd hoped that some of the attention would fall away when her father had finished his second term as president, but she couldn't travel far enough to escape the bratty image she'd created when she was too young to know better. Wild parties with even wilder men, most of whom were actors on the A-list that drew the very crowd she'd claimed to despise. Friends had called her out on her boldness, accused her of wanting the notoriety more than she'd admit. So she'd run from them, too, only to find herself in Europe on the arm of a playboy or two who invariably broke her unbreakable heart. As a result, she'd become an American Princess that people adored for her irreverent spirit and wandering ways.
Somehow she'd fallen into the trap of her own creation.
Living in France had mellowed her and she'd hoped that the public would allow her a fresh start as an artist whose success or failure depended solely on merit. But her world consisted of wealthy and equally notorious friends who drew attention wherever they went, no matter how elaborate their schemes to outwit the paparazzi. Her normal was everyone else's abnormal. She'd grown up in the spotlight sitting on the laps of presidents and hosting Easter egg hunts in the White House Rose Garden. Even after she'd rebelled against the attention, the spotlight found her in the most remote of places.
But then a few months ago her charmed life had started unraveling.
Kidnapping chatter...that's what they called it. With both her father and grandfather heavily into global humanitarian rights and her brother now on a quest for the Oval Office, terrorist activity had zeroed in on her as the weak link. She'd been summoned home to Massachusetts to stay with family, safely tucked away where the Secret Service could protect her. No one had cared that she'd had the chance of her lifetime within her grasp.
Her sculptures were on display in Barcelona and she'd signed a contract to work as a restorer at the museum for six months. If it worked out, maybe they would extend her stay. Her fingers would touch the creation of geniuses, an opportunity no artist could resist.
"No one is going to hurt me, Cleo. I'm not a part of that world of theirs anymore. What leverage could I possibly be to anyone? I'm an artist." She looked at her scarred hands that had been sliced by the tools of her trade, not exactly a pampered socialite anymore with a flawless manicure.
Her art meant more to her than anything—she had even asked her best friends to stay away from the event so that nothing took away from its importance. Today, she didn't want terrorist threats, silly scandals, or famous friends overshadowing her art. Succeed or fail, she would do it on her own.
"You don't mind the perks of your notoriety when it suits you, do you? Yachts, famous actors in your bed, trust fund money supporting your hobby...don't be a hypocrite, Vanessa."
With a laugh, she nodded without looking away from the magnificent view of sweeping cathedral spires, buildings tiled in colorful mosaics all banked by the blue Mediterranean Sea. "You got me there. Nailed it. I'm not denying anything you've said, not one word of it. I'm letting them follow me around, aren't I? Hell, I even agreed to them remodeling my home for their security, am staying in this hotel of your choosing...what more do you want?"
Sick of being schooled like a girl, she turned her back on Cleo and walked past the two Secret Service agents who stood at the door. She slammed the door and stormed down the hallway, conscious of the men in black following her.
Stress ran high between all of them, a tangible force that pulsated like a living thing.
She needed out.
Growing up under constant scrutiny had instilled a few skills in her that most young women never learned. One of her greatest accomplishments was the ability to slip a tail, especially when she'd purposely hired a few shady people to stash things like motorcycles in obscure alleys around the city.
She shoved long, auburn hair under a helmet before glancing over her shoulder to make sure her shadows hadn't found her. Satisfied, but knowing they'd locate her in time, she gunned the motorcycle and cruised down the alley. With Barcelona traffic working to her advantage, she darted into the fray and headed out of the city as fast as she could.
Dust tossed behind the wheel of the motorcycle as it sped along the hills along the outskirts of the city. Vanessa focused her eyes on the narrow road ahead and concentrated on only one thing: escape.
Floral scents floated through the air, ripe and sweet. Palm trees swayed in front of manicured lawns behind elaborate iron gated driveways. Twists and turns through the hills made for a hair-raising drive. Alone on the country road, freedom pumped through her heart and soul.
Nerves jumped beneath her skin despite the rush of the motorcycle beneath her and the serenity of the surroundings. She knew this moment was as fleeting as a snowflake in spring.
A yellow Fiat angled hood first from the ditch in the distance. Its driver kicked the tire and smacked the door with his fist.
She stopped the motorcycle with a roar of the engine and a cloud of dust. Her grin transformed into a full-fledged smile when the man coughed and waved his hand in front of his face as if warding off a horde of stinging bees.
“Damn it. What the hell?” he cursed in English.
American, she surmised by the accent. A really sexy, dirty, and angry American. Her gaze travelled over the ripped jeans and tattered T-shirt covering a hard body that made her squirm on the motorcycle seat.
“Car trouble?” She removed the sunglasses and tucked them into the collar of her T-shirt.
“Observant, aren’t you?” He rubbed dust from his face before turning to meet her gaze.
Her grip tightened on the handlebars at the intensity burning in his chocolate-colored eyes. Ebony hair fell in waves across his forehead and over his ears. A blotch of grease smeared across his left cheekbone and a drop of blood dotted the corner of his mouth. Various layers of dirt and oil stained the front of his T-shirt. Bronzed arms folded across his chest when she continued staring.
She smiled wider, gaze moving down the length of his long, jean-encased legs. He crossed his booted feet, leaned back against the side of the tiny car and returned the scrutiny.
“Need a ride?” All the warnings she had ever heard about strange men came shouting from the recesses of her mind along with echoes of her conversation with Cleo about kidnappers and terrorists. She ignored them. “Looks like you’ve had a bad morning, or is it the ending to a good night?”
He smiled then, erasing the brooding expression from his face.
“Your lip is bleeding.”
“Must have bit it.” He rubbed the back of his hand across his lips and shook his head. Looking over his shoulder at the bent-up frame of the car, he grimaced. “Piece of junk.”
His frown deepened when he met her gaze. "I didn't think I'd need it so left it at home. I mistakenly assumed this would be quick."
She chewed the inside of her lip while she contemplated his dirty appearance and weighed her options. Her conversation with Cleo fresh in her mind, she looked around at the desolate countryside for kidnappers waiting to toss her into a van. Not seeing anything more threatening than a cloud, she returned her attention to the handsome man covered in dirt.
"You don't need to bother with me. I can walk. It's only a few miles and the time alone might do me good." He flashed her a smile that felt more genuine than any she'd seen in a long time. "I can burn off my aggravation."
“I can give you a ride if you need one. I don't mind.”
He shoved both hands into the back pockets of his jeans and glanced between her, the empty road and the car. "You don't need to do that."
"No, I don't suppose I do."
He squinted at her as if trying to decide if she were the dangerous one.
She smiled at the idea. "You coming or not? I'm sort of on a mission."
"The fast and furious kind."
"Well...if you're scared...I understand."
"Did your mother tell you not to take rides from strangers?"
Curiosity flashed across his face before he answered, "I'm not known for following my mother's advice."
"Me either, sounds like we're soul mates." She adjusted her stance on the bike, amused that she could shock this stranger with her comments.
"Did Pam send you?" He squinted and glanced around them as if waiting for someone to pop up and share the joke.
She leaned forward over the handlebars, naughtiness snapping in her heart and lightening her mood. "No one sends me anywhere. Are you getting on or not?"
Again, he looked between her, the bike, the broken down car, and the quiet road.
Not used to men hesitating to take her up on any kind of offer, she laughed out loud at his hesitation.
Muttering beneath his breath, he leaned through the open door of the car, retrieved a leather bag that he slung diagonally across shoulder and chest before slamming the door closed.
He glanced at her with a crooked grin on his dirty face. "My morning can't get any worse." He walked toward the bike, gaze drifting over her face and down the length of jean-clad legs. “I need to go about five more miles up the road. Sure you’ve got the time? Won’t your husband be wondering where you’ve gotten off to this early in the morning?”
“Oh, I’ve got people wondering where I’ve gotten off to, but none of them are a husband. I’m Vanessa.” She extended her hand to him and laughed at his raised eyebrows.
“Dominic, but my friends call me Nic.”
Hands connected, smiles froze. Heat. Sizzle. Zap.
"Nice to meet you, Nic." Fantasies of what he'd look like naked sprang to mind, much to her surprise. She'd met more than her fair share of good-looking men, but rarely had a simple handshake stirred a wild-mad-dance of desire in her gut.
“What are you doing out this way so early in the morning?” he asked.
“Riding my bike.” She yanked free from his touch and slipped the sunglasses back in place.
By the way his eyes devoured her face—rather than the motorcycle—she assumed the compliment. “It gets me where I need to go.”
“I bet it does.”
“I don’t have much time before I need to be back in Barcelona. Get on, Nic.” She patted the seat behind her. Inexplicable sensations of expectation crackled through her nervous system like a million fireworks exploding at once.
“How do you know I’m not some bandit who’s been waiting to waylay an innocent citizen on this lonely stretch of road?” He narrowed his dark eyes at her. A trace of a smile curved his lips.
“Innocent citizen? What gave you the impression of innocence?”
“I’m going to get you dirty.”
“I like getting dirty every now and then.”
“My luck has definitely improved.” In one move he was behind her, hands moving from the back of the bike to her hips then off again. “Keep going up the road until you get to a sign saying Villa Varga. It’ll be on the left.”
Awareness pricked her skin like thorns beneath the thin T-shirt that separated his body from hers. She straightened her spine and maneuvered the motorcycle back onto the road.
It had been awhile since a stranger had had this kind of effect on her. At thirty-one, she knew she was too young to be jaded, but that’s how she felt more often than not. Most of the men she met wanted the status of being seen with the Vanessa Warren, but this one had no idea who she was or the wealth and power her name carried.
His hands moved to her hips when she increased the speed. Squeezed.
She smiled against the wind slapping her face and leaned into it as she sped down the curving, dusty road. She heard him laugh against her back, hands linking in front of her waist.
She wanted to ride all day, keep going far past the horizon, disappear to a place where no one knew her name, enjoy the simplicity of a moment.
Dominic smiled and held onto the woman situated between his legs, closed his eyes and savored the feel of her hips between his thighs. Hands around her waist and her butt snug against his hips, he indulged in a fantasy or two about this good Samaritan who'd come to his rescue.
Control yourself, Dominic, he chastised himself. You're reacting like some horny virgin who's never touched a woman before.
He tightened his grip on her hips. But for the next ten minutes or so, who could blame him for enjoying the ride?
He opened his eyes and stared at the toned arms steering the bike. When she hunched forward, he could see the shape of her back molding into a thin waist encased in faded jeans. He wondered what color hair went with the stormy-gray-blue eyes he had seen before the sunglasses had been put back in place. Her eyes, dimples and a smile that could melt the Arctic Circle—and the fact that she drove a motorcycle as fast as he had back in his teenage days—both intrigued and excited him.
He hadn't been intrigued by a woman—by any other human being actually—in a very long time. Work consumed his every thought, drove him to do more, be more. Keep moving. Keep building. Keep creating. He'd spent more time in Spain than anywhere in the past decade, though, but couldn't bring himself to call it home. He preferred not having ties to anywhere. A man without a country, a soulless drifter without loyalty or allegiance.
Trees heavy with spring foliage arched over the entrance to the Villa Varga. The sign was new, but the villa was not. He had bought the property to restore it into an exclusive resort. Dilapidated stone walls crumbled onto a gravel drive and framed fields that stretched for miles. Vanessa maneuvered the motorcycle over ruts and skirted a few stones without mishap, slowing the bike only as much as needed to prevent catastrophe.
She stopped in front of the windowless building with chipped shudders and rusted railings protruding around the terrace. "You live here? It doesn't look very safe."
“I stay in a room in the back that’s not so…airy.” He stayed put, hands around her waist and looked at the scaffolding partially covering the walls. In his mind, he saw what it would become, not what it was.
Rose bushes overgrown from lack of care lined the walkway leading to the entrance. A truck piled with ladders and forms blocked the view of the greenhouse. Voices and the sound of hammers echoed to them from the hollows of the building.
“You’re working here?”
“It’s going to be a resort one day. Use your imagination.”
“I can see it.” She unwound her long limbs from the bike, stretched her arms behind her back and then pulled off the helmet. Hair the color of autumn leaves cascaded down her shoulders. Sunlight shimmered in the highlights, turning them gold when she moved toward the entrance, helmet dangling from her fingertips.
When he didn’t follow, she turned, a grin twisting her lips. “Show me around for a minute? Or will you get into trouble?"
“I'm living dangerously this morning.” Ah, she thinks I’m an employee rather than the boss, this could be fun. “We’ll take a quick look inside, but we’re in the process of tearing down a few walls so it’s not too stable, stay close to me.”
“It’s going to be a resort? Varga… I’ve heard the name before. Yes, they own the hotel where I'm staying in the city.” She flung the helmet back to the motorcycle without taking her eyes from the structure towering above her. “Good taste. The developer must be artistic to visualize what this place could be with a little work.”
“He’s got great vision.” Dominic watched her take the steps two at a time and grinned at the view. “So you think you see the potential of this place, do you?”
“I’ve been known to be creative.”
Creative? Why do I think everything she says sounds sexual? He rubbed dirty, sweaty palms against his hips and coached himself to relax. What is wrong with me? I'm acting like a creep who's been locked away in a monastery his entire life.
Temptation ripped at his gut at the sway of her hips. Fascination sparked his mind when she remarked on the architecture and trailed her fingers over the old stone. Not trusting himself to speak, he led her to the main corridor.
Tarps lined the marble floor. A stained glass dome of roses allowed colored sunlight to illuminate the dust of the foyer.
“Nic! Where the hell have you been?” A man the size of a linebacker with shaggy blond hair covered with gray dust appeared to his side.
“One minute, Vanessa. I need to talk to Mike.” By the sympathetic expression in her eyes, he knew she thought he was in trouble. Grinning at the idea, he pulled Mike a fair distance from her. “I couldn't get Pam's car to budge. We'll need to tow it later. I must have left my cellphone around here somewhere. I’m going to show Vanessa around and then I’ll meet you in the greenhouse.”
“One of the potential investors for the Dubai property arrived early for your meeting. Pam’s having a nervous breakdown that you’re not here, despite the fact that she’s the one who managed to crash her car in the—"
“Tell her I’m here and to start the meeting without me, that's why I sent her back with my car. Remind her of that. You and she can handle things for a few minutes, I’m sure. Remember that I have my reservations about Dubai, not sure it's the right move to make for the Varga brand so be evasive until I get there.”
"Pam's in a mood, some trouble is also brewing in the city—"
"I'll deal with it later," he said between clenched teeth, annoyed at the interruption.
"Fifteen minutes." He turned his back on his foreman and watched Vanessa peek beneath a tarp along one of the walls. She smiled at the mural he’d uncovered last week.
“Who is that? She looks familiar.” Mike squinted in her direction and rubbed his chin. “I know I’ve seen her before…She's an actress or something.”
"Is she?" Nic frowned, not liking that idea at all.
"She's definitely someone, I'm just drawing a blank."
“She saved my ass from having to walk back here. I’m giving her a quick tour before she heads back to Barcelona, people are expecting her. An actress, huh?” He squinted at her profile and, for the first time in his life, wished he paid attention to anything beyond a blueprint.
“Take your time. I’ll tell Pam I haven’t seen you yet.” Mike winked and disappeared behind more tarps draped over an arching doorway.
“How many bedrooms?” she asked, looking up the curving staircase.
“Bedrooms?” Damn it, he ached to pull her against him and crush his mouth over hers. Maybe he just wanted to see if she was real, he didn't know, but the compulsion grew stronger by the second.
Maybe I have sunstroke? Is that possible so early in the morning?
He doubted it.
“If this is going to be a resort, there must be a lot of rooms. How many?”
He followed her gaze toward the staircase. “Fourteen, more of a boutique experience. Personal attention for every guest. Seclusion for those who don’t want to be bothered by the masses. Exclusive spa.”
“Isn’t it tragic that people require seclusion and protection from the masses?” Head bent, she traced her fingers along the mahogany rail of the staircase and walked through the tarp Mike had disappeared through moments ago. "Price of fame, they say. What they don't realize is that sometimes people are famous for reasons out of their control, for some fame was never a choice—a good lifestyle, sure, but not without some cons thrown in with the pros."
He wondered at the sadness that had crept into her voice and the wistful expression on her face. For someone whose resorts catered to the rich and famous, he should really make it a point to know who's-who, but the truth was he didn't really give a damn. He relied on other people like Pam to do the schmoozing. “Where are you from, Vanessa?”
“Originally?” She bit her lip, the wild confidence of earlier transitioning into modesty when she met his gaze.
“Yeah, originally.” He leaned against a dusty wall and crossed his ankles, not anxious to hurry the tour.
"Born in Massachusetts, raised in DC."
"Spain by way of France." She looked away from his gaze and lifted another tarp. "I'm renovating a place in town...while staying at the hotel...so I guess that makes me a local for at least a little while. I'm going to be working at the museum doing art restoration."
"You're a painter?" Relief surged through him that she wasn't some Hollywood type with paparazzi skulking in the bushes.
“A sculptress. I have an exhibit later today actually, which is one reason people are probably having fits right now wondering where the hell I am.” She shook her hands at her sides as if ridding her body of excess energy. "It's probably going to be a spectacle, nothing like I envisioned at all." She grimaced and looked him in the eye. "Sorry. That sounds negative. It's an honor. I'm grateful to be here."
"No, you don't sound negative or ungrateful. If you were, you'd be back in the city soaking up all the attention instead of running away to the countryside for some peace." He frowned at the way she'd automatically covered her authentic feeling with a canned response. "Are you nervous about the exhibit?"
"It's my first one," she admitted with a self-conscious grin. "It means a lot."
"I remember when..." He stopped himself from sharing a memory of completing his first hotel, but that would open up a part of his memory he kept locked away under the 'never-to-be-mentioned-again' vault.
"My first...project..." he motioned to the mess around him. "Working with my hands, building something beautiful from something ugly, I understand what you've invested, I'm sounding like an idiot, aren't I?"
She studied him for a long time without saying anything, her unique gray-blue eyes staring into his soul.
"You just lied to me," she said. "You wanted to say something else and then stopped yourself." She shrugged. "It's okay. You don't owe me the truth."
Shocked that she'd been able to read him so well let alone speak to him so bluntly—no one close to him would dare do such a thing—he could only stare.
"These murals are spectacular," she whispered, holding the tarp over her head and twisting to the side to allow the natural light from behind them to filter over the wall. "Please tell me that you're going to restore rather than destroy them. Do you know who the artist might be? How old are they?"
"I don't know yet." He gripped the edge of the tarp and stepped beneath it with her. "Maybe you can help restore them? You said you were working at the museum. If not you, then perhaps you will meet someone who could help us out."
"I'd love to work on something this magnificent." She caught her lower lip between her teeth without taking her gaze from the faded painting of what appeared to be a horse. "I'm better with sculptures, but I could at least do some research on the property for you, if you'd like. Or for Mr. Varga if he's into this sort of thing."
He couldn't stop looking at her profile. "Yeah, he's into this sort of thing."
"Is he a nice guy?"
"Is who a nice guy?"
He laughed and shook his head 'no.' "He has a reputation for being a complete asshole, reclusive and abrupt. A work-a-holic with no life at all. Only a few of his employees actually like him, or at least pretend to."
"A rich prick, in other words?" She met his gaze and smiled. "How many more murals are there?"
"Quite a few, not all will be saved, but we'll do our best." He longed to drop the tarp, press her against the wall, and kiss her breathless.
He cleared his throat and stepped away from her. Did I just call myself an asshole?
“Have I seen you somewhere before? You look familiar. Mike thought he recognized you earlier.”
She stopped snooping, shoved her hands into the back pockets of her jeans, and the smile faded away. "I should go, let you get back to work."
"I'm not done with the tour." His heart did a backflip at the intensity burning in her eyes. "Should I know you?"
"I don't know, should you?" She tilted her head to the side and looked him square in the eye.
He folded his arms across his chest and struggled to think straight. He couldn't explain why she rattled his nerves, but she'd definitely rocked him off center. He'd met famous women before, had created an empire from catering to the elite, and, technically, he probably qualified for that title himself if he cared to admit it, but he felt more comfortable with a tool belt strapped to his waist rather than a socialite draped beneath his arm.
Yet, right now in this moment, he wished like hell he'd paid more attention to the world at large. Who are you? he thought, proud of himself for not blurting out the question.
“How long have you been working here? You’re obviously an American, so why work in Spain? Running from the law or something?”
“It's a complicated answer." He folded his arms across his chest determined to act like he had some common sense.
"My, aren't you mysterious?" She raised an eyebrow, her gaze raking over him with a renewed curiosity that made his skin shiver.
“Follow me.” He didn’t know why he chose to reach for her hand, but damn if her skin didn’t feel good against his palm. “I think we’ve got something here, juice or water…” He opened the mini-fridge that had been plugged into a generator. Beer. Nothing but beer. “Um…”
“Beer sounds good,” she said, peering over his shoulder and grinning.
“It’s nine in the morning.”
He handed her a Heineken. When she opened it with the hem of the wrinkled black T-shirt, he laughed.
“Who are you?” he asked, fascination amplifying by the second. "You're not...normal."
“Forgot my name already? I'm terribly hurt.” Lifting the bottle to her lips, she winked.
“No, I mean…nothing.” What? Am I going to tell her that she intrigues me? That I want to take her to dinner sometime? Get to know her better? I don't date random women who pick me up on motorcycles. Or any other women for that matter.
“Working for the Vargas, you must travel a lot. Where in the States are you from?” She propped her hip against the granite counter top covered in layers of dust and plaster chips. She didn’t seem to care when she looked at him, beer bottle dangling from fingertips, eyes half-closed and assessing.
“Chicago, originally. Haven’t been back there in a long time, though.”
"A gypsy, a vagabond? Me, too, or at least that's the idea. I'll probably be back sooner or later. It's inevitable, no matter how much I fight it."
"Why fight it?"
Something unidentifiable flickered in the depths of her eyes. She tilted her head to the side as if captivated by him—as if he were an exhibit in a museum that she thought out of place.
Attraction pulled at him with sharp claws.
“Do you ever get into Barcelona or do you spend all of your time working?” she whispered.
“I’m going to be in town tonight. There's a party I’m being forced to attend.” He tossed the now empty bottle into a nearby trashcan.
“Forced by whom?” She finished her beer and mirrored his action.
“Family. My uncle lives in Italy and the party is being thrown in his honor. Everyone has converged on Barcelona as a way of forcing me to attend—if I won't go to them, they've come to me. It's his ninetieth birthday party. A family shindig loaded with eligible women thanks to my parents.” He wanted to grab another beer, blow off the meeting with the potential investor, sneak her away and get drunk before noon.
This is it, this is the moment everyone's been expecting for years—I've snapped.
His eyes widened with his admission and the corners of her mouth twitched with a suppressed laugh. “Ah, well, if you don't want them coming here and meddling, why won't you go to them?"
"Work..." He motioned to the mess around him and averted his gaze. Suddenly feeling lame and awkward—two things he'd never before associated with himself—he cleared his throat.
"And the matchmaking is a new thing?"
He nodded. Being forthcoming wasn't his style at all—in fact it was the opposite of his style. He suddenly didn't know what to say because every word that came out of his mouth made him sound like an imbecile.
"No wonder you said you don't take your mother's advice. I get it now." She shrugged and turned away. “I know all about family obligations and complicated entanglements. I should probably be going. Sorry about your car and the women lined up to date you.”
He followed her outside and once again marveled at the light playing in the length of her dark auburn hair shaded with hints of caramel from where the sun had worked its magic. Shades of deep brown combined with dark red streaked with gold.
He wanted—well, he wasn’t sure what he wanted—but he knew that he didn’t want her to leave yet. They walked along an empty swimming pool dusted with fallen leaves and debris at its bottom.
“You should get back to work before your boss fires you. Thanks for the tour.” She hesitated at the edge of the empty pool and chewed her lower lip. “I like it here. It's peaceful. Would you mind if I came back? See how much progress you’ve made? I'll find out what I can about the murals. I'm certain someone at the museum either knows or can point me in the right direction.”
“Just ask for Dominic. Someone will find me. I'm always here.”
“I'll do that then, I'll come back.” Head bent, she walked around the edge of a crumbling wall through thigh-high grass covering a broken stone path.
“How long are you going to be staying at the Casa Magnifico?” He caught up to her, his stride matching her own.
“How did you know I was staying at the Casa Magnifico?” She stopped, entire body stiffening as if jolted by electricity.
“You said you were staying at the hotel the Vargas renovated in Barcelona so—"
“Yes, yes, that's right. I'd forgotten I'd mentioned that. Just until the end of the week. I’m doing some renovations of my own on a small house near the museum.” She slipped sunglasses over her eyes. “Nothing as grand as this, though.”
“Thanks for the ride.”
God, I want to kiss her like I've never wanted to kiss anyone. Grab her, kiss her, fall into the grass and touch her.
“Good luck with your art show today.”
“Exhibit.” She closed the distance between them in two strides. “I know I shouldn’t do this, but there are so many things I’ve done that I shouldn’t have. What’s one more?”
She grabbed a fistful of his shirt, stood on tiptoes until they were eye-to-eye and kissed him. Just like that. Sweet. Hot. Fast.
He couldn't breathe, lips vibrated from the kiss, and his entire body hummed with expectation.
Before he could react, she released him and stepped away. Without looking back, she strode to the motorcycle and swung her leg over the seat. She stuffed her hair beneath the helmet and drove away without saying another word.
"Dominic! There you are, we need you," his CEO Pam shouted from behind him. "Where have you been? Who was that?"
"We need to pick up the pace around here, Pam, start uncovering more murals." He kept his gaze locked on the dust flying from behind the motorcycle wheels and smiled at the thought of tracking down a certain art restorer named Vanessa.
Paperback coming soon