Bound by Their Nine-Month Scandal
Her revelation: “I’m pregnant.”
His demand: “Marry me…”
Painfully insecure and media-shy heiress Pia Montero is duty bound to marry well. And illegitimate Angelo Navarro is completely unsuitable husband material. Yet this irresistible Spanish tech titan seduces Pia with a night of bliss…that leaves her pregnant! Pia can’t afford a scandal, but Angelo wants to publicly claim his heir. Now, to control the headlines, Pia must step into the spotlight—with the wedding of the century!
Discover the intense passion of this surprise pregnancy romance!
The print edition of this book begins shipping on October 22, 2019
The digital edition begins downloading on November 1, 2019
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"Happiness is a fleeting thing. A moment. Not a state of being.”
— Angelo, Bound by Their Nine-Month Scandal
Pia has been a very unassuming character in the back of my mind a long time. She turned up at her brother’s wedding in The Consequence He Must Claim, but didn’t even have any lines. I got a little more serious about giving her a story when I wrote her other brother’s romance, The Maid’s Spanish Secret, but she was still firmly off the page.
I didn’t realize until I finally tried to write her story that she’s a massive introvert. She grew up in a family of scientists and is one herself, hates that her mother wants her to be an accomplished hostess, and most of all feels a tremendous duty to save the family reputation after her brother’s blow it with their secret baby scandals.
I wasn’t sure where I would go with her story, but at the end of her brother’s book, I made reference to a ball. I figured made it a masked ball and Pia–for once–feels emboldened. When she has the opportunity to take a selfish hour with an intriguing man, she does.
And along comes scandal number three for the family. Wait, there’s more. Not only does she not know the name of her lover, when she does find him, he’s the most inappropriate man for a family trying to stay this side of respectable.
Angelo, however, is the most perfect man for her. Of course, it takes roughly two hundred pages for them to figure that out, but I hope you enjoy watching how they get there.
Note: All of my books stand alone, but if you like to read connected books in order, these ones go like this:
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Bound by Their Nine-Month Scandal
Pia Montero feared her sister-in-law’s masquerade ball would be interminable and it was, but not for the reason she anticipated.
The October evening was cool, but dry. Guests had embraced the chance to cast off tuxedoes and backless couture for something more exciting. Women twirled in overblown gowns with bell skirts, elaborate wigs and feathered headdresses. Men stalked in colorful brocade jackets with epaulettes and lace cuffs and short pants with stockings. Some even wore the traje de luces of a bullfighter with horned masks.
The masks were works of art. A few had cat ears and bird beaks, some covered an entire face, others were part of a jester hat with bells dangling from the cockscomb. Some were made from hand-blown Venetian glass, others were made of lace or satin and adorned with feathers and flowers, beads and sequins.
There were prizes for best costumes, but Pia had chosen to forfeit. She wore an understated gown in indigo topped with a purple velvet jacket. Her mask was a conservative cat’s-eye in molded silk painted with musical notes and roses, ideal for blending in.
She wished now that she’d chosen a full facemask as she watched a gold-lipped, cherry-blossom porcelain canvas swirl by. It would have allowed her to hide her thoughts behind a physical mask, rather than maintaining the aloof expression she had practiced in the mirror at boarding school, back when she’d been hiding hurt feelings over everything, most especially being noticed.
Even when girls had stuck up for her back then, saying, “She’s shy. Leave her alone,” Pia had blushed and burned behind her breastbone, wishing herself into a hole in the ground because someone had looked at her.
Misery did not love company, as it turned out. She’d been lonely her entire childhood, too awkward to make friends and ridiculously smart, which made her an academic rival, bookish and superior on top of the rest.
Her saving grace was her bloodline. She came from Spain’s aristocracy. Her parents were the Duque and Duquesa of Castellon, her father an innovator in industrial metals who became a well-respected, elected member of parliament once his sons were old enough to take the reins on what was now a multi-national corporation.
Pia was also reasonably attractive—not that she played it up. She eschewed make-up and designer wear, seeing little point in trying to attract a boyfriend when her mother would ultimately assign her a husband.
Which La Reina Montero was trying to do right now, turning a perfectly tolerable evening into something Pia struggled to bear.
“I’d prefer to wait until January, after I’ve defended my dissertation,” Pia said and braced herself, but it still stung when she received the expected tsk of tested tolerance.
Pia’s brothers were chemical engineers, both unmarried until they were thirty, but Pia’s accelerated study pace and soon to be achieved doctorate only ‘wasted her best years.’
“These things take time,” her mother insisted. “Signal your interest. Was that the Estrada heir?”
Please no. Sebastián was decent enough, but he talked non-stop.
“His outgoing nature would balance your introversion. You’ll have to work on that so you can host galas like this.”
Say it louder, Mother.
“Perhaps if we go into the marquis, we can match names to the silent auction bids.” La Reina tilted away her mask, which was mounted on a stick like a lorgnette. “I shouldn’t have agreed to anything so childish as a masked ball. Very inconvenient.”
“Most people seem to be enjoying themselves,” Pia said mildly, noting laughter and noises of surprise as they approached the bustling tent where guests mingled while perusing the fundraising items.
Ever the observer of animal behavior, especially human, Pia considered why a disguise would instill such high spirits. Was it the nostalgia of youthful play? She wouldn’t know. Her childhood had been so rigid as to be a form of conditioned adulthood.
“Poppy is doing well.” La Reina acknowledged her new daughter-in-law with reluctant approval as she glanced over the bids for rare vintage wines, antique jewelry, spa packages and VIP tickets to shows on Broadway and London’s West End.
Did the masks reduce caution and provoke a willingness to take risks, Pia wondered? Similar to the way social media provided a removal from face-to-face interactions, thereby emboldening people to behave more freely?
Pia certainly felt at liberty to stare more openly. From behind the screen of her mask, she watched a couple debate a bid for a certain item. The woman protested it was too extravagant while the man insisted he loved her and wanted her to have it.
Pia was fascinated by interactions like that. They reminded her of the tenderness and indulgence that existed between her older brothers and their wives. They had both started their marriages in scandal, but had turned it into something meaningful, making her yearn for something like it for herself—as she repaired the family name by way of a low-drama, civilized marriage that was more a contracted merger with a dynasty of equal rank and prestige.
She bit back a sigh. Taking up the mantle of duty wasn’t a sacrifice, she assured herself. It was a sensible course of action that benefited everyone, including herself. Her few attempts at dating had been failures, something the perfectionist in her loathed. Love and passion were foreign concepts. She wouldn’t recognize either if she tripped over them.
She turned from spying on the couple and ran straight into a man setting down a pencil.
Physically the impact was light. With wistfulness blanketing her, however, the collision felt monumental. Life-altering.
His opera cloak opened like dark wings that threatened to engulf her as his hands came up to grasp her upper arms and steady her.
Their masks had caused this, her confused mind quickly deduced. They interfered with peripheral vision. She wasn’t clumsy or blind and doubted he was, either. He was too vital and controlled.
She recognized those traits in him instinctively, even though she wasn’t usually sensitive to such things. Or sensual either, but she found herself taking in non-visual elements even more swiftly than the sight of him. The heat of his body radiated around her. The strength in his hands was both gentle and firm. The scent of fresh air and orange blossoms clung to his clothing as though he’d arrived from a long walk through the grove, not from the stale air of a car.
Who was he?
His black tricorn hat had simple white trim. She glanced down to his black-on-black brocade vest over a black shirt, his snug black pants tucked into tall black boots.
A pirate, she thought, and looked back to his porcelain mask, white, blank and angular. It cast a shadow onto his stubbled jaw, his beard as black as the short hair beneath his hat.
She couldn’t tell what color his eyes were, but as he looked straight into hers, her pulse shot up with the race of a prey animal. She held that inscrutable stare, arms in his talon-like grip, skin too tight to contain the soar of emotion that rose in her.
Most people skipped past her in favor of more interesting folk, which she preferred. Sustained eye contact was never comfortable, but her mask gave her the confidence to stare back. Stare and stare while her whole body tingled in the most startling and intriguing way.
Sexual attraction? He possessed the attributes that typically drew female interest—height and broad shoulders, a firm physique and a strong jaw. She was stunned to learn she was human enough to react to those signals. In fact, as the seconds ticked by, the flutter within her grew unbearable.
“Excuse me.” Someone spoke behind her, jolting her from her spell.
A woman wanted to place a bid on Poppy’s framed, black and white photo.
The black satin lining of the man’s cloak disappeared as he dropped his hands from touching her. The noise around them rushed back, breaking her ears.
Pia moved out of the way. When she looked back, the man was leaving the tent.
Still trying to catch her breath, she moved to the bidding sheet where he’d left his pencil. She knew all the names on the list and none of those men had ever provoked a reaction like that in her.
At the bottom, in a bold scratch, was a promise to quadruple the final bid. It was signed, ‘Anonymous.’
“How does this work?” Pia pointed to it as her mother finished speaking to someone and caught up to her. Pia’s hand was trembling and she quickly tucked it into the folds of her skirt.
“It happens occasionally,” her mother dismissed. “When a man wants to purchase something to surprise his wife.”
Or didn’t want his wife to know at all, Pia surmised. She wasn’t a cynic by nature, but nor was she naïve about the unsavory side of arranged marriages.
“He’ll leave his details with the auctioneer,” her mother continued. “It’s a risky move that becomes expensive. Other guests will drive up the bid to punish the pre-empting of their obtaining the item for themselves.”
“The price one pays, I suppose.” Pia’s witticism was lost on La Reina.
“This is one of the paintings from the attic,” La Reina said. “A modest artist. Deceased, which always helps with value, but not the sort of investment I would expect to inspire such a tactic.”
Pia studied the portrait. The young woman’s expression was somber. Light fell on the side of her round features, highlighting her youth and vulnerability.
“Do you know who she is?” Pia picked up the card.
“Hanging pictures of family is sentimental.” Her mother plucked the card from her hand and set it back on its small easel. “Displaying strangers in your home is gauche.”
“The final bid is sewn up,” Pia pointed out. “I was merely curious.”
“We have other priorities.”
A husband. Right. Pia bit back a whimper.
Angelo Navarro nursed a drink as he clocked the rounds of the security detail, picking his moment for the second half of his mission.
He could have sent an agent to bid on the portrait, but along with not trusting anyone else with the task—loose lips and all that—the opportunity to slip onto the estate undetected had been far too convenient and tempting.
He hadn’t expected such a bombardment of emotions in visiting his birthplace, though. Anger and contempt gripped him. Fury and injustice and a thirst for vengeance that burned arid and unquenchable in the pit of his belly.
These people prancing like circus clowns, making grand gestures with extravagant bids to benefit victims of violence, were the same ones who had ignored a young woman’s agonizing situation. They hadn’t interfered when her child was taken from her and had continued to revere her persecutors.
Angelo felt no compunction whatsoever in infiltrating this private fundraiser with the intention of retrieving what his mother had stolen. Or been given. He’d never been clear on how she had obtained the jewelry or exactly which pieces had gone missing. That part didn’t matter. He would have happily gone to his grave with the knowledge that she’d fought back in her own way.
When this chance to add a fresh blow arose, however, he couldn’t resist it.
Did it make him as soulless as his father that he was willing to commit a criminal act to continue her retaliation? So he could show his half-brothers how it felt to be toyed with and abandoned to poverty?
The thought didn’t stop him. He casually made his way to the corner of the house, waited for the guard’s attention to turn, and slipped into the dark beyond.
He came up against a ‘Family Only’ sign on the first step of the spiral staircase and smirked with irony as he slipped past it to climb to the rooftop patio.
The stairs gave a nostalgically familiar creak as he reached the top—where he discovered someone had arrived ahead of him.
The sound and light from the party were blocked by the rise of the west wing of the house, casting the space into deep shadow. He could only see a silhouette and the lighter shadow of her mask as she turned from gazing across the moonlit Mediterranean. Even so, he recognized her as the woman who had careened into him as he was bidding on the portrait of his mother.
For one second as he’d steadied her, he had forgotten everything—his thirst to punish, his purpose in coming here. Something in her uninspired costume gave him the impression she didn’t belong here any more than he did. That she was hiding in plain sight. His male interest had been so piqued, he had nearly asked her to dance.
“Oh.” The lilt in her voice told him she identified him from their brief encounter as well, which also told him she had found it as profound as he had.
“Were you expecting someone else?” He adjusted his mask to peer harder into the shadows. The rickety bench where his mother used to read to him was gone, replaced by a dark shape that suggested a comfortable, L-shaped sectional.
“I wasn’t expecting anyone.”
That was good news. On many levels.
“Did you follow me?” she asked.
“No.” He would like to think he would have timed things differently if he had known she was up here, but he wasn’t sure. Nor was he as dismayed as he ought to be that she was now an obstacle to his goal.
“Did youinvite someone to join you?” she asked, vaguely appalled.
He should have said, Yes. She sounded so uncomfortable at intruding, she probably would have hurried away, but something in him balked at letting her think he was involved with anyone.
He heard himself say a throaty and inviting, “Not yet.”
Her silhouette grew more alert. The air crackled between them.
“Who are you?” Her voice sharpened and her mask tilted as she cocked her head.
It struck him that he couldn’t tell her. Damn.
“I think the purpose of a night like this is to maintain the mystery.”
“And telling me would identify you as the buyer of that portrait you bid on so generously. And anonymously.”
“True.” The peril he was in began to impact him. She could place him with the painting and here on the rooftop. Maybe she didn’t know his name, but there was a chance she could find out.
Dare he linger? Was it worth the risk?
He couldn’t tell whether this rooftop patio had been repaved or the old bricks pulled up and reset, exposing the hidey-hole he had discovered as a child. He doubted his half-brothers had ever found it. If they had, they wouldn’t have been so sly in their the sale of this estate. There was every chance the new owners had found the treasure, though, and kept the contents without mentioning it. Angelo had very little faith in humanity, particularly those who sat like cream on the top of society without having worked to get there.
He couldn’t leave until he knew for sure. He had come this far and decided to wait her out.
He joined her at the wall. The last time he’d been here, he’d barely been tall enough to peer over. His distant memory of that time was swept away by the breeze off the water and the woman’s voice beside him.
“If you didn’t follow me or come to meet someone, why are you here?”
“Curiosity.” It wasn’t a complete lie. He was definitely intrigued by her. “You?”
“The nature of happiness. Whether it’s a goal worth pursuing when there are no guarantees I’ll find it. That it would come at the expense of others if I did.”
“Nothing too heavy, then,” he drawled. Her hand was close to his on the wall, pale and ringless. “In my experience, happiness is a fleeting thing. A moment. Not a state of being.”
“And if a moment is all you have?”
His scalp prickled beneath his hat. He turned his head and tucked his chin, trying to see through the dark and the holes in his mask to read her expression, but it was impossible.
“Regret is also a moment. A choice not to seize happiness when it presents itself.”
“I would regret if I didn’t take a chance,” she agreed with a nod of contemplation.
“What kind of chance?”
She let a couple of seconds tick by with crushing silence, then said in a thicker voice, “An overture. Letting my interest in someone be known.” Her hand was curled into a tense fist, but unfurled, her pinkie finger splaying toward him.
His stomach knotted. “Are you married?”
“No.” Through the rush of relief in his ears, he heard her add, “But obligations to do so loom. And I don’t want to risk making a fool of myself when I don’t know if he’s even—”
“He is,” he cut in. His chest felt tight and his throat could barely form words. “He’s interested.”
Pia’s heart was pounding so hard, she ought to have hammered down the walls around her.
“Do you know who I am?” she asked faintly.
“No.” If he did, he would be treating her differently. With kid gloves, because of her family’s influence. There would be no intimate questions about whether she was meeting someone or an encouragement to act impulsively.
It was enormously refreshing to not carry the weight of history and expectation, which had been the nature of her dilemma when she came up here. That ever-so-brief moment with him in the marquis had sent her into a spiral of doubt about duty to family versus selfish pursuits.
“Are you married?” she asked.
“I’m not involved with anyone. But a moment is all I have, too.” His velvety timber was layered with regret.
She kept trying to place his voice, certain she would remember if she’d heard him before.
“I don’t even know what I want except to not let this moment pass without…”
“Seizing it?” he suggested.
“Stealing it,” she said wryly, finding the idea deeply seductive. It was the best of both worlds. She could briefly shed mousy, dutiful Pia Montero without giving her up for good. It was safe.
“Strangers in the night.” He held out a hand as if inviting her to dance.
Her hand went into his even though the music was a distant drone without a discernable tempo.
He was too compelling to resist, though. It wasn’t the outfit, either. She understood that some animals were innately dominant. He was one of them and he ought to send her scurrying, but she was too fascinated. Utterly riveted by him and her reaction to his air of supremacy.
She distantly noted that she would have to tell her mother to find her a good-natured beta-male so she wouldn’t be so completely overwhelmed by the simple act of being held in a man’s arms.
This was biology, she told herself through the fog of her deepening attraction. She was reacting to a chemistry that didn’t come from the mix of beakers, but from the scent of pheromones off skin. Receptive male meets receptive female. The pseudo-erotic nature of their disguised identities and their clandestine meeting on an unlit rooftop exaggerated the excitement.
But even as her head tried to explain it and dismiss it, her body grew pliant and her feet shuffled closer into his sphere. She wasn’t acting like herself, but she would never have an encounter like this again, when she could besomeone else, free of commitment and the constraints of being Pia Montero. When her physical appearance and other shackles of identity were so absent she was nothing but the energy of pure, universal womanhood.
And he was all man.
“I want to kiss you,” he said in a voice that rumbled deep in his chest.
Her pulse skipped. It was only a kiss. She wanted to feel his mouth, to experiencehim. “I want that, too.”
Magnetic attraction pulled her more than his arms as she followed him into the shadow of the chimney. She couldn’t discern his features at all as he slipped his mask up, knocking his hat away.
His arms encircled her and his mouth brushed against her cheek, seeking and finding hers.
An electric current jolted through her at first contact, leaving her tense and waiting when he drew back slightly, his breath catching the way hers had.
She wasn’t great at kissing. It was yet another of those human interactions that usually eluded her, but as his mouth returned, she discovered she liked kissing. His lips settled firmly across hers, flooding her with incredible heat, smooth and unhurried. As if they had all the time in the world for stolen kisses.
Her hand found his stubbled cheek and she enjoyed the abrasion against her palm as much as the lazy play of his mouth against hers. He teased her like that a few times, deepening the kiss with incremental degrees until she was parting her lips to catch at his, wanting more. Tongue darting out on instinct, practically begging for more.
With a growl in his throat, he settled into a hot kiss of intense passion, something she recognized with a fresh jolt of surprise and excitement. Then she lost the ability to observe what was happening to her as his strong arms pulled her into a world of pure sensual pleasure. The strength and safety of his embrace was all that held her together as she shuddered under an onslaught of pleasure so intense, a helpless noise throbbed in her throat.
“Stop?” he whispered against her lips.
“Never. This is…” Overwhelming. Glorious. Essential.
She touched the back of his head, brought him back into the kiss and tried to give him the same sort of pleasure she was receiving. Offered all of herself, completely open to whatever he needed. She had never experienced anything so extraordinary.
He made another noise, this one more unfettered, as though he was slipping whatever sort of control he held himself under—which perversely thrilled her. His hands stroked firmly through the layers of her velvet jacket and full skirt, molding her form, lighting a fire under her skin, sending a heavy ache into her loins.
“I’ve never felt like this,” she told him in a rasp of need, burrowing her hands beneath his cloak, into the heat beneath his vest. She had never been so forward, seeking so compulsively to touch a man, take in his textures and musculature.
He swore. “Me, either.” His hand cupped the back of her neck and his breath pooled hotly against her throat. “But this can’t happen.” He scraped his teeth against her nape, making her nipples pinch into sharp sensitivity. “I can’t start something. I was never here.”
“Neither was I,” she said with a choke of rusty laughter. “Keep going.”
Her greedy hands went down to his butt. She had never done such a thing, never realized that the hard flex of his glutes could offer such a thrill as she squeezed.
He did the same to her, his strength pulling her so close she felt the shape of his erection through his trousers and the velvet of her dress, against her belly. Her brain distantly processed his arousal as potentially alarming, but her body fairly melted under a hot flush of desire.
“Yes. Like that,” she said in an agonized whisper. She had never been more thrilled by anything in her life.
He muttered something about wrong time and place, but he pressed her beneath him onto the lounger, his cloak falling heavily around them. He kissed across her bare collarbone, whiskers abrading her skin. When his hand sought beneath her, she arched so he could lower her zipper and loosen her bodice.
She was braless and he groaned with gratitude as he cupped her naked breast and lightly scoured her skin with his stubbled cheek before he closed his mouth over her nipple.
Desire was such a knifing ache in her, she swallowed a cry and arched again, unable to get close enough. She struggled against the confines of her skirt, ground herself against the ridge of his erection, yearning for the pressure of him there. Between. Where she was damp, her pulse throbbing like a signal.
“This is insane.” He lifted his head, looming as a gothic shadow over her, dangerous and fierce, but she wasn’t terrified at all.
“It’s a memory,” she murmured. “A good one.”
His breath cascaded across her cheek in a rasp of disbelief. Agreement. He caught her earlobe in his teeth, sending delicious shivers through her whole body.
When he lifted again to drag her skirt upward, she bent her knee to help, embracing the chill air against her naked thigh and excited by the fabric of his trousers as he settled between her legs.
“I don’t have anything.”
“A condom?” She hadn’t thought of that. This was the point when they ought to stop. She knew that.
“Are you on anything? I don’t have any health issues.”
She wasn’t, but she had thrown supplies in her clutch this evening, thinking her cycle was due and didn’t it always arrive at the least convenient time.
“I’m okay. It’s fine.” She didn’t want to stop. There would never be another moment like this one. She needed him more than she needed air.
His hand cupped her cheek. “Thank you.” It was the growl of an animal loosed from a cage and threatening to consume her. His busy mouth went across her jaw and down her throat and back to her breast while she ran her hands over and over the layers of clothing across his back.
When he stroked his wide hand up her thigh, she got her hands beneath his clothing, too. Found the hot, smooth skin of his waist and the hollow of his spine. She might have tried to work her hand around to open his belt, but his thumb slid inward to graze over the silk between her legs.
She gasped and went very still.
“No?” He froze.
“Yes.” She could barely speak, the yearning in her grew so sharp.
“Mmm.” He did it again and caught her light cries with his kiss, making love to her mouth with his tongue as he teased and caressed and his thumb found its way beneath silk to stroke into slippery heat.
She shuddered as she kissed him back, flagrant and uninhibited, playing her tongue against his and roaming her hands everywhere she could reach, trying to convey how much pleasure he was giving her. Trying to reciprocate it.
“You’re gorgeous,” he told her as he lifted enough to unbuckle and release his fly.
“You can’t see me.” She searched the dark, trying to make out the shadowed features so close to her own, but there was only the black cutout of his silhouette against the blanket of stars above them.
“I see you.” His eyes glittered despite the lack of light, making it seem as though he saw all the way into her soul. “Sensual. Curious. Pensive and courageous enough to steal what you want.” He kissed her with a smile on his lips.
“I’m not courageous at all— Oh.”
He slid her panties to the side and settled his hot, hard, naked flesh against hers.
She throbbed with anticipation. Ached. Knew he was about to ruin her for her husband, not because he would take her virginity, but because no man would ever make her feel this way again. Elemental and beautiful. Free.
“I see power.” She let her fingers move through the short, silky strands of his hair, petting this dangerous wolf who could devour her, but held her in thrall instead. “Self-discipline and patience and intelligence.”
“I’m none of those things. Not right now.” His voice skimmed across her cheek while the crown of him, fierce and hot and hard searched against her damp, untried folds.
“You’re perfect,” she insisted.
The party was a distant soundtrack, her self-control long thrown away.
She had no regrets as she felt the press of him, the pinch and sting of his shape forging into her. She didn’t even care if she orgasmed. She was thrilled enough by this—the act of finding a lover who pleased her. Of choosing him and by extension choosing herself. It was selfishness in the extreme and a moment of physical connection that would always be hers, something she would reach for to soothe the bleak isolation that would continue to be her constant companion through the rest of her life.
He nibbled at her jaw as he rocked his hips, settling himself fully inside her. “You feel incredible.”
“You, too,” she murmured, dazed by the intensity of lying with him this way. Clothed and joined, his weight crushing her lower half while his arms cradled her. His scent was a drug, his lips tender and teasing.
On instinct, she sought his mouth, perhaps looking for reassurance, but it turned passionate quickly. Such a remarkable, glorious feeling to kiss like this while their bodies were locked. She wished they were naked. He was so gloriously, beautifully wonderful.
With a growl, he shifted, braced on an elbow as he withdrew and returned in a slow, testing stroke.
The friction caused an acute stab of pleasure that left ripples of shivery sensations in its wake. She gasped and dug her fingernails into his shoulders, astonished.
He chuckled softly. Roughly.
“That was something, wasn’t it? Perhaps we’re being spared by the gods. If I had met you any other time, I would chain you to my bed forever,” he threatened.
He moved again, making all of her sing. She clutched at him, trying to make sense of the sensations overtaking her, but it was far too engulfing. She found it impossible to think, only feel. There was a sting and heat and a kind of tension she had never experienced. She wanted to absorb herself into his skin, but there were so many barriers. All she could do was hang on as he cast off restraint and moved with more purpose. Their breaths grew more jagged, each stroke making her fight cries of increasing pleasure.
She didn’t know how to communicate to him how dazzling and wonderful this was except to allow animal instinct to overtake her. She licked his throat and offered her hips for the driving force of his. She stroked her hands beneath his shirt against his lower back, encouraging his rough possession while she brazenly sucked at his bottom lip.
And just when she thought she couldn’t rise one more degree of arousal, couldn’t take one more second of this this onslaught of sensation, nature took over again. Climax swept her up into the heavens above them.
He stiffened, tightened his grip on her, stopped breathing exactly as she did. Then he shuddered and ragged cries sounded against her neck while she opened her mouth in a silent scream, all of her world shattering around her, leaving her destroyed, never to be the same again.
Angelo touched a kiss to the top of her spine as he finished zipping her dress.
She let her hair fall and adjusted her mask as she turned to offer her mouth to his.
He took a final, lingering taste of her, trying to memorize the exact plump shape of her lips with the sweep of his tongue. When he drew back he searched through the faint light cast by the party off the far side of the house, aware that he would spend the rest of his life looking for this pointed chin, that wide mouth and elegant forehead framed by this fall of dark hair.
Against his better judgment, he almost asked for her name, but she spoke first.
“We should get back.” There was a creak of misery in her voice. She caught at his hand and pressed his knuckles to the hot pulse in her throat. “Thank you.”
It was an impossible situation. He wasn’t supposed to be here. And much as he was enthralled by her sexually, he didn’t know if he could trust her. It was best to leave this as a torrid, dream-like encounter.
“I’ll go first and distract the guards. They won’t be alarmed I’ve been up here.”
“Because you’re a woman?” Females could be treacherous. His grandmother had been one of the cruelest. But the guards might be tempted to frisk him if they caught him leaving a private area. He appreciated her giving him a clear path of escape.
“Until we meet again,” he said as he replaced his mask and hat.
“In another life,” she said with a melancholy pang in her voice, turning away to begin her descent.
With one ear cocked for voices or a return of her footsteps, he moved into the corner of the patio. He flicked on his cellphone for light and noted that, aside from a thorough cleaning of the moss that took root every winter, the new owners had left the bricks exactly as he remembered them. He only had to move a planter of dormant flowers to expose the familiar, hexagonal brick beneath. He pried it up with the blade of his pocketknife and shone the light in to check for vermin or a nasty spider bite.
The space was dry and empty—except for the tobacco tin. He drew it out and opened it long enough to see the glitter of jewels and the head of a small plastic wolf—one of his own treasures tucked away so his brothers wouldn’t steal it, melt it, or otherwise use it to torment him.
In the distance, the music stopped. A male voice said something about costume judging.
With a well-practiced move, Angelo smoothly set the brick back into place. He slid the tin into the pocket of his cloak as he straightened.
Moments later, as he slipped down the stairs and past the sign that read ‘Family Only,’ his brain quit replaying the most exquisite lovemaking of his life and made the connection.
The guards wouldn’t be alarmed at her presence in a private area because she was family.
He swallowed an imprecation and waited to look at his phone until he had melted past the party perimeter and hiked through the orange grove to his car. It took two swipes to bring up a photo of the new owner of the estate, Rico Montero. Another swipe and there was Rico’s sister, Pia.
Angelo knew that pillowy bottom lip. Intimately. He knew how her vanilla skin tasted. The silk of her hair against his brow still tickled him with sensual memory.
His lover wasn’t a cast-off mistress of a playboy or a daughter of a businessman trying to elevate her circumstances. Her forlorn, It’s a memory. A good one had made him think she lived some sort of deprived existence, but how rough could her life be?
He knew women could be in an abusive situation without it being apparent to the world, but Pia held a lot of aces. She earned dividends from the family corporation run by her brothers, lived in a small, but elegant house in a very exclusive neighborhood. Her social media page was covered in photos of exotic landscapes.
She came from a family exactly like Angelo’s father and brothers—titled and entitled. Angelo already knew the Montero brothers’ scandalous affairs with vulnerable women, a PA and a housemaid, had been papered over with quickie marriages, the Duque’s political career and the family’s positions of power and wealth left unscathed.
As for Pia, her fine-boned features were even more patrician and elegant without the mask. She was photographed at the occasional gala, her smiles unapproachable, her poses as deliberately nonchalant as a fashion model showing off a runway gown.
That lissome figure had been delightfully supple. He experienced a latent pulse of heat recalling the feel of her writhing beneath him, but she wasn’t his type. He preferred bubbly, outgoing women with real jobs. Ones whose motives and interest in him were crystal clear. He had learned the hard way that his wealth made him a target for the decidedly mercenary of either sex.
He threw his phone onto the passenger seat and pulled away, disgusted with himself for giving into impulse with someone so wrong.
It wasn’t the snobbery of an upstart toward the bastion of old-money or the petulance of being shut out of that privileged life and therefore wanting to tear it down. His contempt went far deeper. Someone must have known what had gone on in that cottage on the Gomez estate all those years ago, but they had chosen to ignore it. They had continued associating with monsters, enabling Angelo’s father and brothers to enjoy a level of status they had no right to. His father should have been jailed and, when the old baron died, Angelo should have received a portion of his estate.
Despite being fourteen and away at boarding school, still grieving his mother’s suicide, Angelo had been abandoned and turned onto the street. Angelo was convinced his brothers had deliberately burned down his mother’s cottage, both for the insurance money and to prevent him returning to live there.
Angelo had scrambled to survive and if his brothers had left him to make his new life, he might have left them to living their old one. Instead, when they realized a cache of jewelry was missing, they had come after Angelo, accusing him and his mother of theft.
Given the way Angelo had been living, his brothers had believed him when he said he didn’t have anything but the shirt on his back, but they had been convinced he knew where the jewelry was hidden.
As he proved tonight, Angelo had had a very good idea where his mother had buried the treasure, but no amount of being knocked around or intimidated had got that secret out of him. Instead, he had bit his split lip and resolved to destroy them, no matter how long it took.
Angelo could have come forward as the baron’s bastard anytime in the last decade and a half, demanding his share of their father’s estate through legal channels. Aside from having no desire to acknowledge that half of his DNA, it would have been expensive. Until the last few years, he hadn’t been able to afford that sort of fight. It also would have turned his mother’s anguish into nothing more than sordid muck-raking in the press. He couldn’t do that to her memory.
Besides, he had perversely enjoyed his brothers’ fruitless search. If they had ever managed to unearth the jewels, he would have staked his claim. It was, after all, compensation his mother had taken with the knowledge she would never be left anything by Angelo’s father beyond the use of a run down cottage.
As far as Angelo was concerned, this tin of jewelry was his inheritance, fair and square.
He might have let his brothers go to their graves thinking the fortune well and truly lost if the masquerade ball hadn’t presented such a perfect opportunity to collect it. If they hadn’t sold the estate in such an underhanded deal and put his mother up for auction as if they were philanthropists for doing so.
They made him sick.
As he reached the field where his helicopter waited, and climbed aboard with the weight of the tin in the pocket of his cloak, he considered when and how he would reveal to them that he did indeed possess what his mother had taken.
He wanted them in the weakest possible position, fully on the ropes, when he dealt this blow. Currently, they were still living off the proceeds of selling the estate to Rico Montero. Those funds would run out quickly, given Darius’s gambling habits and Tomas’s recent divorce. When they began to look hungry, Angelo would tip his hand.
It would drive them crazy. They would want to stake a claim, but doing so would force them to admit their family connection. They would have to admit how Angelo had come to exist and how his mother had got her hands on these diamonds and pearls.
Angelo would enjoy seeing them twist and turn against each other when that happened.
Like every nearly perfect caper, however, there was one witness who could blow the whole thing apart. Pia Montero.
She could place Angelo on the estate this evening.
If she discovered who he was.