“I’ll Want A DNA Test.”
“Of course,” she said.
“I’ll take care of it tomorrow.”
“What?” She shook her head, looked at him and
asked, “Don’t you have to wait until we’re back in
“No, I’m not going to wait. I want this question
settled as quickly as possible.” He continued to
eat, as though what they were discussing wasn’t
affecting him in the slightest. “We dock at Cabo in
the morning. You and I will go ashore, find a lab
and have them fax the findings to the lab in San
“We will?” She hadn’t planned on spending a lot
of time with Nick, after all. She’d come on board
only to tell him about the twins, and frankly, she’d
thought he wouldn’t want anything more to do
with her after that. Instead, he’d moved her into
his suite and now was proposing that they spend
even more time together.
“Until this is taken care of to my satisfaction,”
Nick told her softly, “I’m not letting you out of my
sight. The two of us are going to be joined at the
hip. So you might as well start getting used to it.”
w!” Jenna Baker hopped on her right foot and
clutched at the bruised toes on her left one. Shooting a
furious glare at the bolted-down table in her so-tiny-
that-claustrophobics-would-die cabin, she called down
silent curses on the head of the man who was the reason
for this cruise from hell.
His image rose up in her mind, and just for a second
Jenna enjoyed the nearly instant wash of heat that
whipped through her. But the heat was gone a moment
later, to be replaced by a cold fury.
Better all around if she concentrated on
ticular emotion. After all, unlike every other passenger
she hadn’t come aboard the
floating orgy to party. She was here for a reason. A
damn good one.
While her aching toes throbbed in concert with her
heartbeat, Jenna cautiously stood on both feet and took
the step and a half that brought her to a minuscule
closet. She’d already hung up her clothes, and the few
outfits she’d brought with her looked crowded in the
narrow wardrobe. Snatching a pale yellow blouse off
the attached-to-the-rod hanger, she carried it to the
bathroom, just another step away.
It was the size of an airplane bathroom, only it also
contained a shower stall designed to fit pygmies. In
fact, the opening of the sliding door was so slender,
Jenna had slapped one arm across her breasts when
leaving the shower, half-afraid she’d scrape her nipples
“Really nice, Nick,” she muttered, “when you up-
graded this old boat and turned it into your flagship, you
might have put a little extra thought into those people
living in the owner’s penthouse on the top
But she told herself that was typical enough. She’d
known what Nick was like even before she’d met him
on that sultry summer night more than a year ago. He
was a man devoted to seeing his cruise line become the
premier one in the world. He did what he had to do
when he had to do it. And he didn’t make apologies for
She’d been working for him when she met him. An
assistant cruise director on one of the other cruise ships
in the Falcon line. She’d loved the job, loved the idea
of travel and stupidly, had fallen in love with the boss.
All because of a romantic moonlight encounter and
Nick’s undeniable charm.
Jenna had known darn well that the boss would never
get involved with an employee. So when the sexy, gor-
geous Nick Falco had stumbled across her on the
Pavilion Deck and assumed she was a guest, she hadn’t
corrected him. She should have and she knew it, but
what woman wouldn’t have been swept away by a
chiseled jaw, ice-blue eyes and thick black hair that just
tempted a woman to tangle her fingers in it?
She sighed a little, set her hands on the sides of the
soapdish-size sink and remembered how it had been
from the first moment he’d touched her.
and simple. Her skin had sizzled, her blood had sung
and her heart had beaten so frantically, it had been
hard to breathe. He’d swept her into a dance, there in
the starlight, with the Hawaiian breeze caressing them
and the music from the deck below floating on the air
like a sigh.
One dance became two, and the feel of his arms
around her had seduced Jenna into a lie that had come
back to haunt her not a week later. She fell into an
affair. A blistering, over-the-top sexual affair that had
rocked her soul even as it battered her heart.
And when, one week into that affair, Nick had dis-
covered from someone else that she actually worked for
him, he’d broken it off, refused to hear her out, and once
they were back in port, he’d fired her.
The sting of that…dismissal felt as fresh as the day
it had happened.
“Oh, God. What am I doing here?” She blew out a
breath as her stomach began to twist and ripple with the
nerves that had been shivering through her for months.
If there were any other way to do this, she would have.
After all, it wasn’t as if she were looking forward to
seeing Nick again.
Gritting her teeth, she lifted her chin, turned sharply
and cracked her elbow into the doorjamb. Wincing, she
stared into her reflection in the slim rectangular mirror
and said, “You’re here because it’s the right thing. The
thing. Besides, it’s not like he left you any choice.”
She had to talk to the man and it wasn’t exactly easy
to get access to him. Since he lived aboard the flagship
of his cruise line, she couldn’t confront him on dry
land. And the few times he was in port in San Pedro,
California, he locked himself up in a penthouse apart-
ment with tighter security than the White House. When
she couldn’t talk to him in person, she’d tried phone
calls. And when they failed, she’d taken to e-mailing
him. At least twice a week for the last six months, she’d
sent him e-mails that he apparently deleted without
opening. The man was being so impossible, Jenna’d
finally been forced to make a reservation on
and take a cruise she didn’t want and couldn’t
She hadn’t been on board a ship in more than a year
and so even the slight rolling sensation of the big cruise
liner made her knees a little rubbery. There was a time
when she’d loved being on ship. When she’d enjoyed
the adventure of a job that was never the same two days
in a row. When she’d awakened every morning to a new
view out her porthole.
“Of course,” she admitted wryly, “that was when I
a porthole.” Now she was so far belowdecks, in the
cheapest cabin she’d been able to find, she had no
window at all and it felt as though she’d been sealed up
in the bowels of the ship. She was forced to keep a light
on at all times, because otherwise, the dark was so com-
plete, it was like being inside a vacuum. No sensory input
Weird and strangely unsettling.
Maybe if she’d been able to get some sleep, she’d feel
different. But she’d been jolted out of bed late the night
before by the horrific clank and groan of the anchor chain
being lifted. It had sounded as if the ship itself was being
torn apart by giant hands, and once that image had planted
itself in her brain, she hadn’t been able to sleep again.
“All because of Nick,” she told the woman in the
glass and was gratified to see her nod in agreement.
“Mr. Gazillionaire, too busy, too important to answer
his e-mail.” Did he even remember her? Did he look at
her name on the e-mail address and wonder who the
heck she was? She frowned into the mirror, then shook
her head. “No. He didn’t forget. He knows who I am.
He’s not reading the e-mails on purpose, just to make
me crazy. He couldn’t have forgotten that week.”
Despite the way it had ended, that one week with
Nick Falco had turned Jenna’s life around and upside
down. It was simply impossible that she was the only
one affected that strongly.
“So instead, he’s being Mr. Smooth and Charming,”
she said. “Probably romancing some other silly woman,
who, like me, won’t notice until it’s too late that he’s
That was a lie.
The truth was, she thought with an inner groan, he
any woman’s fantasy. Tall, gorgeous, with
thick, black hair, pale blue eyes and a smile that was
both charming and wicked, Nick Falco was enough to
make a woman’s toes curl even
she knew what
kind of lover he was.
Jenna let her forehead thunk against the mirror.
“Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea,” she whispered
as her insides fisted and other parts of her heated up just
on the strength of memories alone.
She closed her eyes as vivid mental images churned
through her mind—nights with Nick, dancing on the
Pavilion Deck beneath an awning of stars. A late-night
picnic, alone on the bow of the ship, with the night
crowded close. Dining on his balcony, sipping cham-
pagne, spilling a few drops and Nick licking them from
the valley between her breasts. Lying in his bed,
wrapped in his arms, his whispers promising tantaliz-
What did it say about her that simply the memories
of that man could still elicit a shiver of want in her, more
than a year later? Jenna didn’t think she really wanted
an answer to that question. She hadn’t boarded this ship
for the sake of lust or for what had once been. Sex
wasn’t part of the equation this time and she was just
going to have to find a way to deal with her past while
fighting for her future. So, deliberately, she dismissed
the tantalizing images from her mind in favor of her
reality. Opening her eyes, she stared into the mirror and
steeled herself for what was to come.
The past had brought her here, but she had no inten-
tion of stirring up old passions.
Her life was different now. She wasn’t at loose ends,
looking for adventure. She was a woman with a pur-
pose, and Nick was going to listen to her whether he
wanted to or not.
“Too busy to answer his e-mail, is he?” she muttered.
“Thinks if he ignores me long enough I’ll simply dis-
appear? Well, then, he’s got quite the surprise coming,
She brushed her teeth, slapped some makeup on and
ran a brush through her long, straight, light brown hair
before braiding it into a single thick rope that lay
against her back. Inching sideways out the bathroom
door, she carefully made her way to the built-in dresser
underneath a television bolted high on the wall. She
grabbed a pair of white shorts, tugged them on and then
tucked the ends of her yellow shirt into the waistband.
She stepped into a pair of sandals, grabbed her purse
and checked to make sure the sealed, small blue
envelope was still inside. Then she took the two steps
to her cabin door.
She opened her door, stepped into the stingy
hallway and bumped into a room service waiter.
“My fault,” he insisted, hoisting the tray he carried
high enough that Jenna could duck under it and slip past
him. “These older hallways just weren’t made for a lot
of foot traffic.” He glanced up and down the short hall,
then back to Jenna. “Even with the ship’s refit, there are
sections that—” He stopped, as if remembering he was
an employee of the Falcon Line and really shouldn’t be
dissing the ship.
“Guess not.” Jenna smiled back at the guy. He looked
about twenty and had the shine of excitement in his
eyes. She was willing to bet this was his first cruise. “So,
do you like working for Falcon Cruises?”
He lowered the tray to chest level, shrugged and said,
“It’s my first day, but so far, yeah. I really do. But…”
He stopped, turned a look over his shoulder at the dimly
lit hall as if making sure no one could overhear him.
Jenna could have reassured him. There were only
five cabins down here in the belly of the ship and only
hers and the one across the hall from her were occupied.
“But?” she prompted.
“It’s a little creepy down here, don’t you think? I
mean, you can hear the water battering against the hull
and it’s so…dark.”
She’d been thinking the same thing only moments
before and still she said, “Well, it’s got to be better than
crew quarters, right? I mean, I used to work on ships
and we were always on the lowest deck.”
“Not us,” he said, “crew quarters are one deck up
“Fabulous,” Jenna muttered, thinking that even the
for Nick Falco were getting more
sleep on this cruise than she was.
The door opened and a fortyish woman in a robe
poked her head out and smiled. “Oh, thank God,” the
older blonde said. “I heard voices out here and I was
half-afraid the ship was haunted.”
“No, ma’am.” The waiter stiffened to attention as if
just remembering what he’d come below for. He shot
Jenna a hopeful look, clearly asking that she not rat him
out for standing around having a conversation. “I’ve got
breakfast for two here, as you requested.”
“Great,” the blonde said, opening the door wider.
“Just…” She stopped. “I have no idea where you can
put it. Find a place, okay?”
While the waiter disappeared into the cabin, the
blonde stuck out one hand to Jenna. “Hi, I’m Mary
Curran. My husband, Joe, and I are on vacation.”
“Jenna Baker,” she said, shaking the other woman’s
hand. “Maybe I’ll see you abovedecks?”
“Won’t see much of me down here, I can tell you,”
Mary admitted with a shudder as she tightened the sash
on her blue terry-cloth robe. “Way too creepy, but—”
she shrugged “—the important thing is, we’re on a
cruise. We only have to sleep here, after all, and I intend
to get our money’s worth out of this trip.”
“Funny,” Jenna said with a smile. “I was just telling
myself the same thing.”
She left Mary to her breakfast and headed for the
elevator that would carry her up and out of the darkness.
She clutched the envelope that she would have deliv-
ered to Nick and steeled herself for the day to come. The
elevator lurched into motion and she tapped her foot as
she rose from the bowels of the ship. What she needed
now was some air, lots of coffee and a pastry or two.
Then, later, after Nick had read her letter, she would be
ready. Ready to face the beast. To beard the lion in his
den. To look into Nick’s pale blue eyes and demand that
he do the right thing.
“Or,” Jenna swore as the doors shushed open and she
stepped into the sunlight and tipped her face up to the
sky, “I will
make him pay.”
“The sound system for the stage on the Calypso
Deck has a hiccup or two, but the techs say they’ll have
it fixed before showtime.”
“Good.” Nick Falco sat back in his maroon leather
chair and folded his hands atop his belly as he listened
to his assistant, Teresa Hogan, rattle off her daily report.
It was only late morning and together they’d already
handled a half-dozen crises. “I don’t want any major
issues,” he told her. “I know this is the shakedown
cruise, but I don’t want our passengers feeling like
they’re guinea pigs.”
“They won’t. The ship’s looking good and you know
it,” Teresa said with a confident smile. “We’ve got a few
minor glitches, but nothing we can’t handle. If there were
real trouble, we never would have left port last night.”
“I know,” he said, glancing over his shoulder at the
white caps dancing across the surface of the ocean. “Just
make sure we stay one step ahead of any of those glitches.”
“Don’t I always?”
“Yeah,” he said with a nod of approval. “You do.”
Teresa was in her late fifties, had short, dark hair,
sharp green eyes and the organizational skills of a field
general. She took crap from no one, Nick included, and
had the loyalty and tenacity of a hungry pit bull. She’d
been with him for eight years—ever since her husband
had died and she’d come looking for a job that would
give her adventure.
She’d gotten it. And she’d also become Nick’s
trusted right arm.
“The master chef on the Paradise Deck is complain-
ing about the new Vikings,” she was saying, flipping
through the papers attached to her ever present clipboard.
Nick snorted. “Most expensive stoves on the planet
and there’s something wrong with them?”
She smirked a little. “According to Chef Michele,”
Teresa said, “ze stove is not hot enough.”
Not a full day out at sea and already he was getting
flak from temperamental artistes. “Tell him as long as
ze heat is hot, he should do what I’m paying him to do.”
One of Nick’s eyebrows lifted. “Then why tell me at
“You’re the boss.”
“Nice of you to remember that occasionally,” he said,
and sat forward, rolling his chair closer to the desk
where a small mountain of personal correspondence
waited for his attention.
Ignoring that jibe, Teresa checked her papers again
and said, “The captain says the weather outlook is great
and we’re making all speed to Cabo. Should be there
by ten in the morning tomorrow.”
“That’s good.” Nick picked up the first envelope on
the stack in front of him. Idly, he tapped the edge of it
against his desk as Teresa talked. And while she ran
down the list of problems, complaints and compliments,
he let his gaze shift around his office. Here on the
Splendor Deck, just one deck below the bridge, the
views were tremendous. Which was why he’d wanted
both his office and his luxurious owner’s suite on this
deck. He’d insisted on lots of glass. He liked the wide
spread of the ocean all around him. Gave him a sense
of freedom even while he was working.
There were comfortable chairs, low-slung tables and
a fully stocked wet bar across the room. The few paint-
ings hanging on the dark blue walls were bright splotches
of color, and the gleaming wood floors shone in sunlight
that was only partially dimmed by the tinted glass.
This was the ship’s maiden voyage under the Falcon
name. Nick had bought it from a competitor who was
going out of business, and over the past six months had
had it completely refitted and refurbished to be the
queen of his own cruise line.
her, and so far she was living up to her name.
He’d gotten reports from his employees on the reac-
tion from the passengers as they’d boarded the day
before in the L.A. port of San Pedro. Though most of
the guests on board were young and looking to party,
even they had been impressed with the ship’s luxurious
decor and overall feel.
Nick had purchased his first ship ten years before,
and had quickly built the Falcon Line into the primary
party destination in the world.
to take that reputation and enhance it. His passengers
wanted fun. Excitement. A two-week-long party. And
he was going to see that they got it.
He hired only the best chefs, the hottest bands and
the greatest lounge acts. His employees were young
and attractive—his mind shifted tracks around that
thought and instantly, he was reminded of one former
employee in particular. A woman he’d let get under his
skin until the night he’d discovered her lies. He hadn’t
seen or spoken to her since, but he was a hell of a lot
more careful these days about who he got involved with.
“Are you even listening to me?”
Nick cleared his thoughts instantly, half-irritated that
he was still thinking about Jenna Baker more than a year
since he’d last seen her. He glanced up at Teresa and
gave her a smile that should have charmed her. “Guess
not. Why don’t we take care of the rest of this business
“Sure,” she said, and checked her wristwatch. “I’ve got
an appointment on the Verandah Deck. One of the cruise
directors has a problem with the karaoke machine.”
“Fine. Handle it.” He turned his attention to the stack
of hand-delivered correspondence on his desk and just
managed to stifle a sigh. Never failed. Every cruise,
Nick was inundated with invitations from female pas-
sengers to join them for dinner or private parties or for
drinks in the moonlight.
“Oh,” Teresa said, handing over a pale blue envelope.
“One of the stewards gave me this on my way in.” She
smiled as she handed it over. “Yet another lonely lady
looking for companionship? Seems you’re still the
world’s favorite love god.”
Nick knew she was just giving him a hard time—like
always—yet this time her words dug at him. Shifting
uncomfortably in his chair, he thought about it, tried to
figure out why. He was no monk, God knew. And over
the years he’d accepted a lot of invitations from women
who didn’t expect anything more than a good time and
But damned if he could bring himself to get inter-
ested in the latest flurry of one-night-stand invitations,
either. The cards and letters had been sitting on his desk
since early this morning and he hadn’t bothered to open
one yet. He knew what he’d find when he started going
Panties. Cabin keys. Sexy photos designed to tempt.
And not a damned one of them would mean any-
thing to him.
Hell, what did that say about him? Laughing silently
at himself, Nick acknowledged that he really didn’t
want to know. Maybe he’d been spending too much
time working lately. Maybe what he needed was just
what these ladies were offering. He’d go through the
batch of invites, pick out the most intriguing one and
spend a few relaxing hours with a willing woman.
Just what the doctor ordered.
Teresa was still holding the envelope out to him and
there was confusion in her eyes. He didn’t want her ask-
ing any questions, so he took the envelope and idly slid
his finger under the seal. Deliberately giving her a grin
and a wink, he said, “You think it’s easy being the
dream of millions?”
Now Teresa snorted and, shaking her head, mutter-
ing something about delusional males, she left the
When she was gone, he sat back and thoughtfully
looked at the letter in his hand. Pale blue envelope, tidy
handwriting. Too small to hold a pair of lacy thong
panties. Too narrow to be hiding away a photo. Just the
right size for a cabin key card though.
“Well, then,” he said softly, “let’s see who you are.
Hope you included a photo of yourself. I don’t do blind
Chuckling, Nick pulled the card from the envelope
and glanced down at it. There was a photo all right.
Laughter died instantly as he looked at the picture of
two babies with black hair and pale blue eyes.
“What the hell?” Even while his brain started racing
and his heartbeat stuttered in his chest, he read the
scrawled message beneath the photo:
“Congratulations, Daddy. It’s twins.”
he wasn’t ready to give up the sun.
Jenna set her coffee cup down on the glass-topped
table, turned her face to the sky and let the warm, late-
morning sunshine pour over her like a blessing. Despite
the fact that there were people around her, laughing,
talking, diving into the pool, sending walls of water up
in splashing waves, she felt alone in the light. And she
really wasn’t ready to sink back into the belly of the ship.
But she’d sent her note to Nick. And she’d told him
where to find her. In that tiny, less-than-closet-size
cabin. So she’d better be there when he arrived. With a
sigh, she stood, slung her bag over her left shoulder and
threaded her way through the crowds lounging on the
Someone touched her arm and Jenna stopped.
“Leaving already?” Mary Curran was smiling at her,
and Jenna returned that smile with one of her own.
“Yeah. I have to get back down to my cabin. I um, have
to meet someone there.” At least, she was fairly certain
Nick would show up. But what if he didn’t? What if he
didn’t care about the fact that he was the father of her twin
sons? What if he dismissed her note as easily as he’d
deleted all of her attempts at e-mail communication?
A small, hard knot formed in the pit of her stomach.
She’d like to see him try, that’s all. They were on a ship
in the middle of the ocean. How was he going to escape
her? Nope. Come what may, she was going to have her
say. She was going to face him down, at last, and tell
him what she’d come to say.
“Oh God, honey.” Mary grimaced and gave a
dramatic shudder. “Do you really want to have a con-
versation down in the pit?”
Jenna laughed. “The pit?”
“That’s what my husband, Joe, christened it in the
middle of the night when he nearly broke his shin trying
to get to the bathroom.”
Grinning, Jenna said, “I guess the name fits all right.
But yeah. I have to do it there. It’s too private to be done
Mary’s eyes warmed as she looked at Jenna and said,
“Well, then, go do whatever it is you have to do. Maybe
I’ll see you back in the sunshine later?”
Jenna nodded. She knew how cruise passengers
tended to bond together. She’d seen it herself in the time
she’d actually worked for Falcon Cruises. Friendships
formed fast and furiously. People who were in rela-
tively tight quarters—stuck on a ship in the middle of
the ocean—tended to get to know each other more
quickly than they might on dry land.
Shipboard romances happened, sure—just look what
had happened to her. But more often, it was other
kinds of relationships that bloomed and took hold. And
right about now, Jenna decided, she could use a friendly
“You bet,” she said, giving Mary a wide smile. “How
about margaritas on the Calypso Deck? About five?”
Delighted, Mary beamed at her. “I’ll be there.”
As Jenna walked toward the elevator, she told herself
that after her upcoming chat with Nick, she was prob-
ably going to
a margarita or two.
Nick jolted to his feet so fast, his desk chair shot
backward, the wheels whirring against the wood floor
until the chair slammed into the glass wall behind him.
“Is this a
Nick held the pale blue card in one tight fist and
stared down at two tiny faces. The babies were identi-
cal except for their expressions. One looked into the
camera and grinned, displaying a lot of gum and one
deep dimple. The other was watching the picture taker
with a serious, almost thoughtful look on his face.
And they both looked a hell of a lot like
In an instant, emotions he could hardly name raced
through him. Anger, frustration, confusion and back to
anger again. How the hell could he be a father? Nobody
he knew had been pregnant. This couldn’t be happen-
ing. He glanced up at the empty office as if half expect-
ing someone to jump out, shout, “You’ve just been
punk’d,” and let him off the hook. But there were no
cameras. There was no joke.
This was someone’s idea of serious.
Well, hell, he told himself, it wasn’t the first time
some woman had tried to slap him with a paternity suit.
But it was for damn sure the first time the gauntlet had
been thrown down in such an imaginative way.
“Who, though?” He grabbed the envelope up, but
only his name was scrawled across the front in a small,
feminine hand. Turning over the card he still held, he
saw more of that writing:
“We need to talk. Come to cabin 2A on the Riviera
“Riviera Deck.” Though he hated like hell to admit
it, he wasn’t sure which deck that was. He had a lot of
ships in his line and this was his first sail on this par-
ticular one. Though he meant to make
his home, he hadn’t had the chance yet to explore it
from stem to stern as he did all the ships that carried
For now, he stalked across the room to the framed
set of detailed ship plans hanging on the far wall of his
office. He’d had one done for each of the ships in his
line. He liked looking at them, liked knowing that he
was familiar with every inch of every ship. Liked know-
ing that he’d succeeded in creating the dream he’d
started more than ten years before.
But at the moment, Nick wasn’t thinking of his
cruise line or of business at all. Now all he wanted to
do was find the woman who’d sent him this card so
he could assure himself that this was all some sort of
Narrowing his pale blue eyes, he ran one finger down
the decks until he found the one he was looking for.
Then he frowned. According to this, the Riviera Deck
“What the hell is going on?” Tucking the card with
the pictures of the babies into the breast pocket of his
white, short-sleeved shirt, he half turned toward the
office door and bellowed,
The door flew open a few seconds later and his
assistant rushed in, eyes wide in stunned surprise.
“Geez, what’s wrong? Are we on fire or something?”
He ignored the attempt at humor, as well as the look
of puzzlement on her face. Stabbing one finger against
the glass-covered ship plans, he said only, “Look at this.”
She hurried across the room, glanced at the plans, then
shifted a look at him. “What exactly am I looking at?”
“This.” He tapped his finger against the lowest deck
on the diagram. “The Riviera Deck.”
“There are people staying down there.”
Pleased that she’d caught on so fast, Nick said,
“When the ship came out of refit ready for passengers,
I said specifically that those lower cabins weren’t to
“Yeah, you did, boss.” She actually winced, whipped
out her PDA and punched a few keys. “I’ll do some
checking. Find out what happened.”
“You do that,” he said, irritated as hell that someone,
somewhere, hadn’t paid attention to him. “For right
now, though, find out how many of those cabins are
While Teresa worked her electronic wizardry, Nick
looked back at the framed plans and shook his head.
Those lower cabins were too old, too small to be used
on one of his ships. Sure, they’d undergone some refur-
bishing during the refit, but having them and using them
were two different things. Those cabins, small and dark
and cramped, weren’t the kind of image Nick wanted
associated with his cruise line.
“Boss?” Teresa looked at him. “According to the
registry, only two of the five cabins are being used.”
“That’s something, anyway. Who’s down there?”
“1A is occupied by a Joe and Mary Curran.”
He didn’t know any Currans and besides, the card
had come from whoever was in the only other occupied
cabin on that deck.
So he waited.
“2A is…” Teresa’s voice trailed off and Nick watched
as his usually unflappable assistant chewed at her
That couldn’t be good.
“What is it?” When she didn’t answer right away, he
demanded, “Just tell me who’s in the other cabin.”
“Jenna,” Teresa said and blew out a breath. “Jenna
Baker’s in 2A, Nick.”
Nick made record time getting down to the Riviera
Deck, and by the time he reached it, he’d already made
the decision to close up this deck permanently. Damned
if he’d house his paying guests in what amounted to
little more than steerage.
Stepping off the elevator, he hit his head on a low cross
beam and muttered a curse. The creaks and groans of the
big ship as it pushed through the waves echoed through
the narrow passageway like ghosts howling. The sound
of the water against the hull was a crushing heartbeat and
it was so damned dark in the abbreviated hallway, even
the lights in the wall sconces barely made a dent in the
blackness. And the hall itself was so narrow he practically
had to traverse it sideways. True, it was good business to
make sure you provided less expensive rooms, but he’d
deal with that another way. He’d be damned if his pas-
sengers would leave a cruise blinking at the sun like bats.
With his head pounding, his temper straining on a
tight leash, he stopped in front of 2A, took a breath and
raised his right fist to knock. Before he could, the
narrow door was wrenched open and there she stood.
She shouldn’t have still been able to affect him. He’d
had her after all. Had her and then let her go more than
a year ago. So why then was he suddenly struck by the
turquoise-blue of her eyes? Why did that tight, firm
mouth make him want to kiss her until her lips eased
apart and let him back in? Why did the fact that she
looked furious make his blood steam in his veins? What
the hell did
have to be mad about?
“I heard you in the hall,” she said.
“Good ears,” he conceded. “Considering all the other
noises down here.”
A brief, tight smile curved her mouth. “Yeah, it’s
lovely living in the belly of the beast. When they raise
anchor it’s like a symphony.”
He hadn’t considered that, but he was willing to bet
the noise was horrific. Just another reason to seal up
these rooms and never use them again. However, that was
for another time. What he wanted now were answers.
“Good one,” he said. “That’s why you’re here, then?
To talk about the ship?”
“You know why I’m here.”
He lifted one hand to the doorjamb and leaned in
toward her. “I know what you’d like me to think. The
question is, why? Why now? What’re you after, Jenna?”
“I’m not going to talk about this in the hall.”
“Fine.” He stepped inside, moving past her, but the
quarters were so cramped, their chests brushed together
and he could almost feel his skin sizzle.
It had been like that from the beginning. The moment
he’d touched her that first night in the moonlight, he’d
felt a slam of something that was damn near molten
sliding through him. And it seemed that time hadn’t
eased it back any.
He got a grip on his hormones, took two steps until
he was at the side of a bed built for a sixth-grader, then
turned around to glare at her. God, the cabin was so
small it felt as though the walls were closing in on him
and, truth to tell, they wouldn’t have far to move. He
felt as if he should be slouching to avoid skimming the
top of his head along the ceiling. Every light in the
cabin was on and it still looked like twilight.
But Nick wasn’t here for the ambience and there
was nothing he could do about the rooms at the mo-
ment. Now all he wanted was an explanation. He waited
for her to shut the door, sealing the two of them into the
tiny cracker box of a room before he said, “What’s the
game this time, Jenna?”
“This isn’t a game, Nick,” she said, folding her arms
over her chest. “It wasn’t a game then, either.”
“Right.” He laughed and tried not to breathe deep.
The scent of her was already inside him, the tiny room
making him even more aware of it than he would have
been ordinarily. “You didn’t
to lie to me. You had
Her features tightened. “Do we really have to go
over the old argument again?”
He thought about it for a moment, then shook his
head. He didn’t want to look at the past. Hell. He didn’t
want to be here
“No, we don’t. So why don’t you
just say what it is you have to say so we can be done.”
“Always the charmer,” she quipped.
He shifted from one foot to the other and banged his
elbow on the wall. “Jenna…”
“Fine. You got my note?”
He reached into the pocket of his shirt, pulled out the
card, glanced at the pictures of the babies, then handed
it to her. “Yeah. I got it. Now how about you explain
She looked down at those two tiny faces and he saw
her lips curve slightly even as her eyes warmed. But that
moment passed quickly as she lifted her gaze to him and
skewered him with it. “I would have thought the word
was fairly self-explanatory.”
“Fine.” Jenna walked across the tiny room, bumped
Nick out of her way with a nudge from her hip that had
him hitting the wall and then bent down to drag a
suitcase out from under her bed. The fact that she could
his gaze on her butt while she did it only
She would not pay any attention to the rush of heat
she felt just being close to him again. She would cer-
tainly not acknowledge the jump and stutter of her heart-
beat, and if certain other of her body parts were warm
and tingling, she wasn’t going to admit to that, either.
Dragging the suitcase out, she went to lift it, but
Nick was there first, pushing her fingers aside to hoist
the bag onto the bed. If her skin was humming from that
one idle touch, he didn’t have to know it, did he?
She unzipped the bag, pulled out a blue leather scrap-
book and handed it to him. “Here. Take a look. Then
we’ll talk more.”
The book seemed tiny in his big, tanned hands. He
barely glanced at it before shooting a hard look at her
again. “What’s this about?”
“Look at it, Nick.”
He did. The moment she’d been waiting so long for
stretched out as the seconds ticked past. She held her
breath and watched his face, the changing expressions
written there as he flipped through the pages of pictures
she’d scrapbooked specifically for this purpose. It was
a chronicle of sorts. Of her life since losing her job, dis-
covering she was pregnant and then the birth of the
twins. In twenty hand-decorated pages, she’d brought
him up to speed on the last year and a half of her life.
Up to speed on his sons. The children he’d created
and had never met.
The only reason she was here, visiting a man who’d
shattered her heart without a backward glance.
When he was finished, his gaze lifted to hers and she
could have sworn she saw icicles in his eyes.
“I’m supposed to believe that I’m the father of
“Take another look at them, Nick. They both look
just like you.”
He did, but his features remained twisted into a cynical
expression even while his eyes flashed with banked
emotion. “Lots of people have black hair and blue eyes.”
“Not all of them have dimples in their left cheek.”
She reached out, flipped to a specific page and pointed.
“Both of your sons do. Just like yours.”
He ran one finger over the picture of the boys as if
he could somehow touch them with the motion, and that
small action touched something in Jenna. For one brief
instant, Nick Falco looked almost…vulnerable.
It didn’t last long, though. His mouth worked as if
he were trying to bite back words fighting desperately
to get out. Finally, as if coming to some inner decision,
he nodded, blew out a breath and said, “For the sake of
argument, let’s say they are mine.”
“So why didn’t you tell me before? Why the hell
would you wait until they’re, what…?”
“Four months old.”
He looked at the pictures again, closed the book and
held on to it in one tight fist. “Four months old and you
didn’t think I should know?”
So much for the tiny kernel of warmth she’d almost
“You’re amazing. You ignore me for months and
now you’re upset that I didn’t contact you?”
“What’re you talking about?”
Jenna shook her head and silently thanked heaven that
she’d been smart enough to not only keep a log of every
e-mail she’d ever sent him, but had thought to print them
all out and bring them along. Dipping back into the
suitcase, she whipped a thick manila envelope out and laid
it atop the scrapbook he was still holding. “There. E-mails.
Every one I sent you. They’re all dated. You can see that
I sent one at least once a week. Sometimes twice. I’ve been
trying to get hold of you for more than a year, Nick.”
He opened the envelope as she talked, and flipped
quickly through the printouts.
“I—” He frowned down at the stack of papers.
She took advantage of his momentary speechless-
ness. “I’ve been trying to reach you since I first found
out I was pregnant, Nick.”
“How was I supposed to know that
is what you
were trying to tell me?”
“You might have read one or two of them,” Jenna
pointed out and managed to hide the hurt in her voice.
He scowled at her. “How the hell could I have
guessed you were trying to tell me I was a father? I just
thought you were after money.”
She hissed in a breath as the insult of that slapped at
her. Bubbling with fury, Jenna really had to fight the
urge to give him a swift kick. How like Nick to assume
that any woman who was with him was only in it for
what she could get from him. But then, he’d spent most
of the past ten years surrounding himself with the very
users he’d suspected her of being. People who wanted
to be seen with him because he was one of the world’s
most eligible billionaires. Those hangers-on wanted to
be in his inner circle because that’s where the excite-
ment was and it made them feel important, to be a part
of Nick’s world.
All Jenna had wanted was his arms around her. His
kiss. His whispers in the middle of the night. Naturally,
he hadn’t believed her.
Now things were different. He had responsibilities
that she was here to see he stood up to. After all, she
hadn’t come here for herself. She’d come for her kids.
“I wasn’t interested in your money back then, Nick.
But things have changed and now, I
she said and saw sparks flare in his icy eyes. “It’s called
child support, Nick. And your sons deserve it.”
He stared at her. “Child support.”
“That’s right.” She lifted her chin even higher. “If I
only had myself to think about, I wouldn’t be here,
believe me. So don’t worry, I’m not here to take advan-
tage of you. I’m not looking for a huge chunk of the
Falco bank account.”
“Is that right?”
“That’s right. I started my own business and it’s
doing fine,” she said, a hint of pride slipping into her
tone while she spoke. “But twins make every expense
doubled and I just can’t do it all on my own.” Lifting her
gaze to meet his, she said, “When you never responded
to my e-mails, I told myself you didn’t deserve to know
your babies. And if I weren’t feeling a little desperate
I wouldn’t be here at all. Trust me, if you think I’m
enjoying being here like this, you’re crazy.”
“So you would have hidden them from me?” His
voice was low, soft and just a little dangerous.
Jenna wasn’t worried. Nick might be an arrogant,
self-satisfied jerk, but physically dangerous to her or
any other woman, he wasn’t. “If you mean would I hide
the fact that their father couldn’t care less about them
from my sons…then, yes. That’s just what I’ll do.”
“If they are my sons,” he whispered, “no one will
keep me from them.”
A flicker of uneasiness sputtered in Jenna’s chest, but
she told herself not to react. Physical threats meant
nothing, but the thought of him challenging her for
custody of their children did. Even as she considered it,
though, she let the worry dissipate. Babies weren’t part
of Nick’s world, and no matter what he said at the
moment, he would never give up the life he had for one
that included double diaper duty.
“Nick, we both know you have no interest in being
“You have no idea what I do or don’t care about,
Jenna.” He moved in close, taking that one small step
that brought his body flush to hers. Jenna hadn’t been
prepared for the move and sucked in a gulp of air as his
chest pressed into hers.
She looked up into his eyes and felt her knees wobble
a little at the intensity of his stare. He cupped her cheek
in one hand, and the heat of his skin seeped into hers,
causing a flush of warmth that slid through her like
“I promise you, though,” he murmured, dipping his
head in as if he were going to kiss her and stopping just
a breath away from her lips, “you will find out.”
he ducked her head and slapped his hand away and even
contact felt too damn good. Nick stepped back and
away from her, which, in that cabin, meant that he was
halfway out the door. So once he felt as though he could
look at her without wanting to wrap his hands in her hair
and pull her mouth to his, he shifted his gaze to hers.
“I don’t have the time to go through this right now.”
She smirked at him, folded her arms over her chest
in a classic defensive posture. “Oh, sure, worlds to
conquer, women to seduce. Busy, busy.”
“Clever as ever, I see.” He didn’t even want to admit
to himself how much he’d missed that smart mouth of
hers. Always a retort. Always a dig, putting him in his
place, deflating his ego before it had a chance to expand.
There weren’t many people like Jenna in his life.
Mostly, those he knew were too busy kissing his ass to
argue with him. Everyone but Teresa, that is. And of
course, Jenna. But she wasn’t a part of his life anymore.
“We’ll have dinner tonight. My suite.”
“I don’t think so.”
“You came here to talk to me, right?”
“So we’ll talk. Seven o’clock.”
Before she could argue, stall or whatever else might
come into her too-quick mind, he opened the door and
left her cabin. He took a breath in the dark hall, then
headed for the elevator that would take him out of the
bowels of the ship back into the light.
By five o’clock, she was more than ready to meet
Mary for margaritas.
Jenna’d left her tiny, hideous, airless cabin only a few
minutes after Nick had. Frankly, his presence had been
practically imprinted on the minuscule space and had
made the cabin seem even smaller than it actually was.
And she hadn’t thought that would have been possible.
But he’d shaken her more than she’d thought he
would. Just being near him again had awakened feelings
and emotions she’d trained herself more than a year ago
to ignore. Now they were back and she wasn’t sure how
to handle them. After all, it wasn’t as if she had a lot of
experience with this sort of thing. Before Nick, there’d
been only one other man in her life, and he hadn’t come
close to affecting her in the way Nick had. Of course,
since Nick, the only men in her life preferred drooling
on her shoulder to slow dances in the dark.
Just thinking about her boys brought an ache to
Jenna’s heart. She’d never left them before, and though
she knew the twins were in good hands, she hated not
being with them.
“But I’m on this boat for their sakes,” she reminded
With that thought in mind, her gaze swept the interior
of Captain Jack’s Bar and Lounge. Like everywhere
else on this ship, Nick hadn’t skimped. The walls were
pale wood that gleamed in the light glinting down on
the crowd from overhead chandeliers shaped like ship’s
wheels. The bar was a slinky curve of pale wood with
a granite top the color of molten honey.
Conversations flowed in a low rumble of sound that
was punctuated by the occasional clink of crystal or a
high-pitched laugh. First day at sea and already the
party had begun.
Well, for everyone but Jenna. She hadn’t exactly
been in celebration mode after Nick left her cabin.
In fact, Jenna’d spent most of the day lying on a
chaise on the Verandah Deck, trying to get lost in the
book she’d picked up in the gift shop. But she couldn’t
concentrate on the words long enough to make any
progress. Time and again, her thoughts had returned to
Nick. His face. His eyes. The cool dismissal on his face
when he’d first seen the pictures of their sons.
She didn’t know what was coming next, and the
worry over it had gnawed at her insides all day. Which
was why she’d decided to keep her margarita date with
Mary. Jenna had spent too much time alone today, with
too much time for thinking. What she needed now was
some distraction. A little tequila-flavored relaxation
sounded great. Especially since she had dinner with
Nick to look forward to.
“Oh God,” she whispered as her stomach fisted into
A woman’s voice called out to her, and Jenna turned
in that direction. She spotted Mary, standing up at one of
the tables along the wall, waving and smiling at her. Grate-
fully Jenna headed her way, threading a path through the
milling crowd. When she reached the table, she slid onto
a chair and smiled at the margarita already waiting for her.
“Hope you don’t mind. I ordered one for you as soon
as I got here,” Mary told her, taking a big gulp of her
own oversize drink.
“Mind?” Jenna said, reaching for her frosty glass,
“Are you kidding? This is fabulous.” When she’d taken
a long, deep gulp of the icy drink, she sat back and
looked at her new friend.
Mary was practically bouncing in her seat, and her
eyes were shining with excitement. Her blond hair
looked wind tousled and her skin was a pale red, as if
she’d had plenty of sun today. “I’ve been looking for
you all over this ship,” she said, grinning like a loon. “I
had to see you. Find out where they put you.”
Jenna blinked and shook her head. “What do you
mean? Put me? Where
Mary stretched one hand out and grabbed Jenna’s for
a quick squeeze. “Oh my God. You haven’t been back
down to the pit all day, have you?”
“No way,” Jenna said on a sigh. “After my meeting,
I came topside and I’ve been putting off going back
down by hanging out on the Verandah Deck.”
“So you don’t know.”
“Know what?” Jenna was beginning to think that
maybe Mary had had a few margaritas too many.
“What’re you talking about?”
“It’s the most incredible thing. I really can’t believe
it myself and I’ve seen it.” She slapped one hand to her
pale blue blouse and groaned like she was in the midst
of an orgasm.
“Mary…what is going on?”
“Right, right.” The blonde picked up her drink, took a
big gulp and said, “It happened early this afternoon. Joe
and I were up on the Promenade, you know, looking at
all the shops. Well,” she admitted, “I was looking, Joe was
being dragged reluctantly along behind me. And when we
came out of the Crystal Candle—which you should really
check out, they have some amazing stuff in there—”
Jenna wondered if there was a way to get Mary to
stay on track long enough to tell her what was happen-
ing. But probably not, so she took a sip of her drink and
prepared to wait it out. She didn’t have to wait long.
“When we came out,” Mary was saying, “there was
a ship steward waiting for us. He said, ‘Mr. and Mrs.
Curran?’ all official-sounding and for a second I
wondered what we’d done wrong, but we hadn’t done
anything and so Joe says, ‘What’s this about?’ and the
steward only told us to go with him.”
Her new friend grinned. “I’m getting to it. Really. It’s
just that it’s all so incredible—right.” She waved one
hand to let Jenna know she was back on track, then she
went right back to her story. “The steward takes us up
to the owner’s suite—you know, Nick Falco?”
“Yeah,” Jenna murmured. “I know who he is.”
“Who in the English-speaking world doesn’t?” Mary
said on a laugh, then continued. “So we’re standing there
in the middle of a suite that looks like a palace or some-
thing and Nick Falco himself comes up to us, introduces
about our cabin in the pit.”
“What?” Jenna just stared at the other woman, not
sure what to make of all this.
“I know! I was completely floored, let me tell you.
I was almost speechless and Joe can tell you that that
almost never happens.” She paused for another gulp of
her drink and when she finished it, held up one hand for
the waitress to bring another. “So there we are and Mr.
Falco’s being so nice and so sincere about how he feels
so badly about the state of the rooms on the Riviera
Deck—and can you believe how badly misnamed that
deck is?—and he
on upgrading us.”
“Seriously upgrading,” Mary said as she thanked the
waitress for her fresh margarita. She waited until the
server had disappeared with her empty glass before
continuing. “So I’m happy, because hey, that tiny cabin
is just so hideous. And I’m expecting a middle-grade
cabin with maybe a porthole, which would be
that’s not what we got.”
“It’s not?” Jenna set her glass down onto the table
and watched as Mary’s eyes actually sparkled even
harder than they had been.
“Oh, no. Mr. Falco said that most of the cabins were
already full, which is how we got stuck in those tiny ones
in the first place. So he moved us into a
“It’s on the Splendor Deck. The same level as Mr.
Falco’s himself. And Jenna, our suite is amazing! It’s
bigger than my
Plus, he said our entire cruise is
on him. He’s refunding what we paid for that hideous
cabin and insisting that we pay
on this trip.”
“Wow.” Nick had always taken great pride in keeping
his passengers happy, but this was…well, to use Mary’s
Cruise passengers usually looked for-
ward to a bill at the end of a cruise that could amount
to several hundred dollars. Oh, the food and accommo-
dations were taken care of when you rented your cabin.
But incidentals could really pile up on a person if they
weren’t paying attention.
By doing this, Nick had given Mary and her husband
a cruising experience that most people would never
know. Maybe there was more heart to the man than
she’d once believed.
“He’s just so nice,” Mary was saying, stirring her
slender straw through the icy confection of her marga-
rita. “Somehow, I thought a man that rich and that
famous and that playboylike would be sort of…I don’t
know, snotty. But he wasn’t at all. He was really thought-
ful and kind, and I can’t believe this is all really happen-
“It’s terrific, Mary,” Jenna said sincerely. Even if she
and Nick had their problems, she could respect and
admire him for what he’d done for these people.
“I’m really hoping your upgrade will have you some-
where near us, Jenna. Maybe you should go and see a
steward about it, find out where they’re moving you.”
“Oh,” Jenna said with a shake of her head, “I don’t
think I’ll be moving.” She couldn’t see Nick doing her
any favors. Not with the hostility that had been spilled
between them only a few hours ago. And though she
was happy for Mary and her husband, Jenna wasn’t
looking forward to being the only resident on the lowest
deck of the ship. Now it would not only be small and
dark, but small and dark and creepy.
“Of course you will,” Mary countered. “They wouldn’t
move us and
you. That wouldn’t make any sense at
Jenna just smiled. She wasn’t about to go into her
past history with Nick at the moment. So there was
nothing she could really say to her new friend, other
than, “I’ll find out when I go downstairs to change. I’ve
got a dinner appointment in about,” she checked her
wristwatch, “an hour and a half. So let’s just have our
drinks and you can tell me all about your new suite
before I have to leave.”
Mary frowned briefly, then shrugged. “Okay, but if
you haven’t been upgraded, I’m going to be really upset.”
“Don’t be.” Jenna smiled and, to distract her, asked,
“Do you have a balcony?”
“Two!” Mary crowed a little, grinned like a kid on
Christmas morning and said, “Joe and I are going to
have dinner on one of them tonight. Out under the
stars…mmm. Time for a little romance now that we’re
out of the pit!”
As Mary talked about the plans she and her husband
had made for a night of seduction, Jenna smiled. She
wished her friend well, but as for herself, she’d tried
romance and had gotten bitten in the butt for her trouble.
Nope, she was through with the hearts-and-flowers
thing. All she wanted now was Nick’s assurance that he
would do the right thing and allow her to raise her sons
the way she wanted to.
Her cabin was locked.
“What the—” Jenna slid her key card into the slot,
whipped it out again and…nothing. The red light on the
lock still shone as if it was taunting her. She knew it
wouldn’t do any good, but still, she grabbed the door
handle and twisted it hard before shaking it, as if she
could somehow convince the damn thing to open for
But nothing changed.
She glanced over her shoulder at what had been the
Curran cabin, but no help would be found there. The
happy couple were comfortably ensconced in their
floating palace. “Which is all fine and good for
Jenna muttered. “But what about
Giving up, she turned around, leaned back against
her closed door and looked up and down the narrow,
dark corridor. This was just great. Alone in the pit. No
way to call for help. She’d have to go back topside and
find a ship phone.
“Perfect. Just perfect.” Her head was a little swimmy
from the margaritas and her stomach was twisted in
knots of expectation over the upcoming dinner with
Nick, and now she couldn’t even take a shower and
change clothes. “This is going so well.”
She stabbed the elevator button and when the door
opened instantly, she stepped inside. The Muzak pump-
ing through the speakers was a simply hideous orches-
tral rendition of “Stairway to Heaven” and didn’t do a
thing to calm her down.
Jenna exited onto the Promenade Deck and was in-
stantly swallowed by the crowd of passengers wander-
ing around the shops. The lobby area was done in glass
and wood with a skylight installed in the domed ceiling
overhead that displayed a blue summer sky studded
with white, puffy clouds.
But she wasn’t exactly on a sightseeing mission. She
plowed through the crowd to a booth where one of Nick’s
employees stood ready to help passengers with answers
to their questions. The man in the red shirt and white
slacks wearing a name tag that read Jeff gave Jenna a
welcoming smile as he asked, “How can I help you?”
She tried not to take her frustration out on him. After
all, he was trying to help. “Hi, I’m Jenna Baker, and I’m
in cabin 2A on the Riviera deck and—”
“Jenna Baker?” he interrupted her quickly,
frowned a little, then checked a clipboard on the desk
in front of him.
“Yes,” she said, attempting to draw his attention back
to her. “I just came from my cabin and my key card
didn’t work, so—”
“Ms. Baker,” he said, his attitude changing from flir-
tatious and friendly to crisp professionalism. “There’s
a notation here asking that you be escorted to the
Where Mary’s new cabin was. So Nick had upgraded
Jenna, as well? Unexpected and frankly, a relief. A suite
would be much more comfortable than the closet she’d
But… “All of my things are still in my cabin, so I
really need to get in there to pack and—”
“No, ma’am,” Jeff said quickly, smiling again. “Your
cabin was packed up by the staff and your luggage has
already been moved. If you’ll just take that elevator—”
he paused to point at a bank of elevators opposite them
“—to the Splendor Deck, you’ll be met and directed to
your new cabin.”
Strange. She didn’t know how she felt about some-
one else rooting through her things, but if it meant she
could get into a shower, change clothes and get ready
for her meeting with Nick, then she’d go with it. “Okay
then, and, um, thanks.”
“It’s a pleasure, Ms. Baker. I hope you enjoy your
stay with Falcon Cruises.”
“Uh-huh.” She waved distractedly and headed for the
elevators. Not much chance of her enjoying her cruise
when she was here to do battle with the King of Cruise
Lines. Nope, the most she could hope for was getting
out of the pit and into a nicer cabin courtesy of one
Mr. Nick Falco.
When the elevator stopped on the Splendor Deck,
Jenna stepped out into a wide, lushly carpeted hallway.
The ceiling was tinted glass, open to the skies but dark
enough to keep people from frying in direct sunlight.
The walls were the color of rich cream and dotted with
paintings of tropical islands, ships at sea and even
simple ocean scenes with whitecaps that looked real
enough to wet your fingers if you reached out to touch
The one thing she didn’t see was someone to tell
her where to go now that she was here. But almost
before that thought formed in her mind, Jenna heard
the sound of footsteps hurrying toward her. She turned
and buried her surprise when she recognized Teresa
Hogan, Nick’s assistant.
“Jenna. It’s good to see you,” the older woman said,
striding to her with long, determined steps. Her smile
looked real, her sharp green eyes were warm and when
she reached out a hand in welcome, Jenna was happy
to take it.
“Nice to see you, too, Teresa.” They’d met during
that magical week with Nick more than a year ago.
Ordinarily, as just an assistant to the cruise director,
Jenna never would have come into contact with the big
boss’s righthand woman. But as the woman having an
affair with Nick, Jenna’d met Teresa almost right away.
Teresa had been friendly enough, until the truth
about Jenna being one of Nick’s employees had come
out. Then the coolly efficient Teresa had drawn a line
in the sand, metaphorically speaking. She chose to
defend Nick and make sure Jenna never had the chance
to get near him again.
At the time, it had made Jenna furious, now she
could understand that loyalty. And even appreciate it in
“How’ve you been?” Jenna smiled as she asked,
determined to keep the friendly tone that Teresa had
“Busy.” The older woman shrugged. “You know the
boss. He keeps us hopping.”
“Yes,” Jenna mused. “He always did.”
A long, uncomfortable moment passed before Teresa
said, “So, you know about the cabins on the Riviera
Deck being sealed.”
“That’s why I’m here,” Jenna said, shooting a glance
up and down the long, empty hallway. “I saw Mary
Curran earlier, she told me she and her husband had
been upgraded. And then I went to my cabin and
couldn’t get in. Jeff at information sent me here.”
“Good.” Teresa nodded and her short, dark hair didn’t
so much as dip with the movement. She pointed behind
Jenna to the end of the wide, plush hall. “The Currans’
suite is right along there. And now if you’ll come with
me, I’ll take you to your new cabin. We can talk as we
They headed off in the opposite direction of the
Currans’. Walking toward the bow of the great ship,
Jenna casually glanced at the artwork as she passed it
and tried to figure out what was going on. Being
escorted by the owner’s assistant seemed unusual.
Shouldn’t a steward have been put in charge of seeing
her to her new accommodations? But did it really mat-
ter? Jenna followed along in Teresa’s wake, hurrying to
keep up with the woman who seemed always to be in
“You can imagine,” Teresa said over her shoulder,
“that Nick was appalled to find out the cabins on the
lowest deck had been rented.”
“Appalled, huh?” Jenna rolled her eyes. Clearly Teresa
was still faithful to the boss. “Then why rent them at all?”
Teresa’s steps hitched a little as she acknowledged,
“It was a mistake. The cabins below were supposed to
have been sealed before leaving port for this maiden
voyage. The person responsible for going against the
boss’s orders was reprimanded.”
“Shot at dawn? Or just fired without references?”
Jenna asked in a low-pitched voice.
Teresa stopped dead and Jenna almost ran right into her.
“Nick doesn’t fire indiscriminately and you know it.”
Teresa lifted her chin pointedly as she moved to protect
her boss. “
lied to him. That’s why you were fired,
A flush stole through her. Yes, she’d lied. She hadn’t
meant to, but that’s what had happened. And she hadn’t
been able to find a way out of the lie once it had begun.
Still, he might have listened to her once the bag was
open and the cat was out.
“He could have let me explain,” Jenna argued and
met that cool green stare steadily.
Just for an instant the harsh planes of Teresa’s ex-
pression softened a bit. She shook her head and blew
out a breath. “Look, Nick’s not perfect—”
“Quite the admission coming from you.”
Teresa smiled tightly. “True. I do defend him. I do
what I can to help him. He’s a good boss. And he’s been
good to me. I’m not saying that how he handled the…
situation with you was right—”
Jenna stopped her, holding up both hands. “You know
what? Never mind. It was more than a year ago. It’s over
and done. And whatever Nick and I had has ended, too.”
Teresa cocked her head to one side and looked at her
thoughtfully. “You really think so, hmm?”
“Trust me on this,” Jenna said as they started walking
again. “Nick is
“If you say so.” Teresa stopped in front of a set of
double doors. Waving one hand at them as if she were
a game show hostess displaying a brand-new refrigera-
tor, she said, “Here we are. Your new quarters. I hope
you like them.”
“I’m sure they’ll be great. Way better than the
Riviera Deck anyway.”
“Oh,” Teresa said with a smile, “that’s certainly a fair
statement. You go on in, your things have been un-
packed. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you again.”
“Okay.” Jenna stood in the hall and watched as
Teresa strode briskly down the long hallway. There was
something going on here, she thought, she just couldn’t
quite puzzle it out yet.
Then she glanced at her wristwatch, saw she had
less than an hour to get ready for her dinner with Nick
and opened the door with the key card Teresa had given
She walked inside, took a deep breath and almost
The room was incredible—huge, and sprawlingly
spacious, with glass walls that displayed a view of the
ocean that stretched out into infinity. The wide blue sky
was splashed with white clouds and the roiling sea re-
flected that deep blue back up at it.
Pale wood floors shone with an old gold gleam and
the furniture scattered around the room looked designed
for comfort. There was a fireplace on one wall, a wet
bar in the corner and what looked to be priceless works
of art dotting the walls. There were vases filled with
glorious arrangements of fresh flowers that scented the
air until she felt as if she were walking in a garden.
“This can’t be my cabin,” Jenna whispered, whip-
ping her head from side to side as she tried to take in
everything at once. “Okay, sure, upgraded to a suite. But
this is the Taj Mahal of suites. There has to be a mistake,
“There’s no mistake,” Nick said as he walked easily
into the room and gave her a smile that even from across
the room was tempting enough to make her gasp. “This
is my suite and it’s where you’ll be staying.”
ou can’t be serious.” Jenna took one instinctive
step back, but couldn’t go anywhere unless she turned,
opened the door and sprinted down that long hallway.
“Damn serious,” he said, and walked toward her like
a man with all the time in the world.
He wore a dark blue, long-sleeved shirt, open at the
collar, sleeves rolled back to his elbows. His black
slacks had a knife-sharp crease in them, and his black
shoes shone. But it was his eyes that held her. That pale
blue gaze fixed on her as if he could see straight through
her. As if he were looking for all of her secrets and
wouldn’t give up the quest until he had them.
“Nick, this is a bad idea,” she said, and silently con-
gratulated herself on keeping her tone even.
“Why’s that?” He spread both hands out and
shrugged. “You came to my boat. You tell me I’m the
father of your children and insist we have to talk. So
now you’re here. We can talk.”
In a floating palace that looked designed for seduc-
tion. Meeting Nick in her tiny cabin hadn’t exactly been
easy, but at least down there, there’d been no distrac-
tions. No easy opulence. No sensory overload of beauty.
This was a bad idea. Jenna knew it. Felt it. And didn’t
have a single clue how to get out of it.
“We shouldn’t be staying together,” she said finally,
and winced because even to her she sounded like a
prissy librarian or something.
“We’ll be staying in the same cabin. Not together.
There’s a difference.” He was so close now all he had
to do was reach out and he could touch her.
If he did, she’d be a goner though, and she knew it.
“What’s the matter, Jenna?” he asked. “Don’t trust
yourself alone with me?”
“Oh, please.” She choked out a half laugh that she
desperately hoped sounded convincing. “Could you get
over yourself for a minute here?”
He gave her a slow smile that dug out the dimple in
his left cheek and lit wicked lights in his eyes. Jenna’s
stomach flip-flopped and her mouth went dry.
“I’m not the one having a problem.”
Did he have to smell so good?
“No problem,” she said, lifting her chin and forcing
herself to look him dead in the eye. “Trust me when I
say all I want from you is what your kids deserve.”
The smile on Nick’s face faded away as her words
slammed home. Was he a father? Were those twin boys
his? He had to know. To do that, he needed some time
with Jenna. He needed to talk to her, figure out what she
was after, make a decision about where to go from here.
Funny, Nick had been waiting all afternoon to enjoy
that look of stunned disbelief on Jenna’s face when she
first walked into his suite and realized that she’d be
staying with him. Payback for how he must have looked
when he’d first seen the photo of the babies she claimed
were his sons. But he hadn’t enjoyed it as much as he’d
thought. Because there were other considerations. Big-
His sons. Nick’s insides twisted into knots that were
beginning to feel almost familiar. Countless times during
the day, he’d looked at the photo of the babies he still
carried in his shirt pocket. Countless times he’d asked
himself if it was really possible that he was a father.
And though he wasn’t prepared to take Jenna’s word
for his paternity, he had to admit that it wasn’t likely
she’d have come here to the ship, signing up for a cruise
if it wasn’t true. Not that he thought she’d have any
qualms about lying—she’d lied to him when she first
met him after all—but
lie was too easily found out.
So he was willing to accept the possibility. Which
left him exactly where?
was the question that had
been circling in his mind all afternoon, and he was no
closer to an answer now than he had been earlier.
He looked her up and down and could admit at least
to himself that she looked damn good to him. Her dark
blond hair was a little windblown, stray tendrils pulling
away from her braid to lay against her face. Her eyes
were wide and gleaming with suspicion, and, strangely
enough, that didn’t do a damn thing to mitigate the at-
traction he felt as he drew in a breath that carried her
scent deep into his lungs.
“I’ll stay here, but I’m not sleeping with you,” she
Nick shook his head and smiled. “Don’t flatter your-
self. I said you’re staying in my suite, not my bed. As
it happens, there are three bedrooms here besides my
own. Your things have been unpacked in one of them.”
She frowned a little and the flush of color in her
cheeks faded a bit. “Oh.”
“Disappointed?” Nick asked, feeling a quick jolt of
something hot and reckless punch through him.
“Please,” she countered quickly. “You’re not exactly
He frowned at that, but since he didn’t actually be-
lieve her, he let it go.
“I’m actually grateful to be out of that hole at the
bottom of the ship,” she added, glancing around at the
suite before shifting her gaze back to his. “And if
staying here is the price I have to pay for your attention,
One dark eyebrow lifted. “How very brave of you to
put up with such appalling conditions as these.”
“Look,” Jenna told him, “if you don’t mind, it’s been
a long day. So how about you just tell me which room
is mine so I can take a shower. Then we’ll talk.”
“Fine. This way.” He turned, pointed and said,
“Down that hall. First door on the left.”
“My bedroom’s at the end of the hall on the right.”
She stopped, looked back at him over her shoulder
and said, “I’ll make a note.”
“You do that,” he whispered as she left the room,
shoulders squared, chin lifted, steps long and slow, as
if she were being marched to her death.
His gaze dropped to the curve of her behind and
something inside him stirred into life. Something he
hadn’t felt since the last time he’d seen Jenna. Some-
thing he’d thought he was long past.
He still wanted her.
Spinning around, Nick stalked across the room to the
wide bank of windows that displayed an awe-inspiring
view of the sea. His gaze locked on the horizon as he
fought to control the raging tide of lust rising inside him.
She’d turned him inside out more than a year ago. Ever
since, he’d been haunted by memories of their time
together until he wasn’t sure if what he was remember-
ing was real or just fevered imaginings offered by a mind
that couldn’t seem to let go of the woman who’d lied to
him. And Nick wasn’t a man to forget something like
that. Now she was back again. Here, trapped on his
ship in the middle of the ocean with nowhere to go to
Yes, they had plenty to talk about—and if her chil-
dren were indeed his sons, then there were a lot of deci-
sions to be made. But, he told himself as he shoved both
hands into his slacks pockets and smiled faintly at the
sunlight glinting on the vast expanse of the sea, there
would be enough time for him to have her again.
To feel her under him. To lay claim to her body once
more. To drive her past the edge of reason. Then, when
he was satisfied that he’d gotten her out from under his
skin, he’d kick her loose and she’d be out of his life
once and for all. He wouldn’t even allow her to be a
memory this time.
In Neptune’s Garden, the elegant restaurant on the
Splendor Deck, Jenna watched as Nick worked the room.
As the owner of the ship, he wasn’t exactly expected
to mingle with the passengers, but Nick was an execu-
tive like no other. He not only mingled, he seemed to
enjoy himself. And with her arm tucked through his,
Jenna felt like a queen moving through an adoring crowd.
Again and again, as they walked to their table, Nick
stopped to chat with people sitting at the white
linen–covered tables. Making sure they were enjoying
the ship, asking if there was anything they needed and
didn’t have, if there was anything that the crew could
do to make their stay more pleasurable.
Of course the single women on board were more
than anxious to meet the gorgeous, wealthy, eligible
Nick Falco. And the fact that Jenna was on his arm
didn’t dissuade them from flirting desperately.
“It’s a beautiful ship, Mr. Falco,” one woman said
with a sigh as she shook his hand. She tossed her thick
black hair back over her shoulder and licked her lips.
“Thank you,” he said, smiling at her and the two
other women seated with her. “I’m happy you’re en-
joying yourselves. If there’s anything you need, please
be sure to speak to a steward.”
“Oh,” the brunette cooed, “we will. I promise.”
Jenna just managed to keep from rolling her eyes. All
three women were looking at Nick as if he were the first
steak they’d stumbled on after leaving a spa dinner of
spinach leaves and lemon slices. And he was eating it
up, of course.
When he turned to go, he led her on through the
crowd and Jenna swore she could feel the death stare
from those women boring into her back.
“Well, that was tacky,” she murmured.
“The way she practically drooled on you.”
“Ah,” Nick said, flashing a quick grin at her as he
opened his right hand—the hand the brunette had
shaken and clung to. A cabin key card rested in the
center of his palm and the number P230 was scrawled
across the top in ink. “So I’m guessing this makes it
“Oh, for God’s sake,” Jenna snapped, wanting to
spin around and shoot a few daggers at the brunette
with no class. “I was
you. For all she knew I was
His pale blue eyes sparkled and his grin widened
enough that the dimple in his left cheek was a deep cleft.
She tried to pull her hand free of the crook of his arm,
but he held her tight. Frowning, she said, “No. Not
jealous. Just irritated.”
“By her? Or by me?”
“A little of both.” She tipped her head back to look
up at him. “Why didn’t you give the key back to her?”
He looked genuinely surprised at the suggestion.
“Why would I embarrass her in front of her friends?”
Jenna snorted indelicately. “I’m guessing it’s next to
impossible to embarrass a woman like
“This really bothers you.”
It always had, she thought. When she first went to
work for Falcon Cruise Lines, she’d heard all the stories.
About how on every cruise there were women lining up
to take their place in Nick’s bed. He was a player, no
doubt. But for some reason, Jenna had allowed herself to
be swept up in the magic of the moment. She’d somehow
convinced herself that what they’d had together was dif-
ferent from what he found with countless other women.
Apparently, she’d been wrong about a few things.
“One question,” she said, keeping her voice low
enough that no one they passed could possibly overhear.
“Are you planning on using that key?”
He only looked at her for a long moment or two, then
sighing, he stopped a waiter, handed over the key card
and whispered something Jenna didn’t quite catch. Then
he turned to her. “That answer your question?”
“Depends,” she said. “What did you tell him?”
“To return the card to the brunette with my thanks
and my regrets.”
A small puddle of warmth settled in Jenna’s chest
and even though she knew it was foolish, she couldn’t
quite seem to quash it. “Thank you.”
He dipped his head in a faint mockery of a bow. “I
find there’s only one woman I’m interested in talking
to at the moment.”
“Here we are,” he said, interrupting whatever she
would have said as he seated her in the navy blue leather
booth that was kept reserved for him. “Jenna, let’s have
some dinner and get started on that talk you wanted.”
Jenna slid behind the linen-draped table and watched
him as he moved around to take a seat beside her. “All
right, Nick. First let me ask you something, though.”
“All the people you talked to as we came through the
restaurant…all the women you flirted with…” Jenna
shook her head as she looked at him. “You haven’t
changed a bit, have you?”
His features tightened as he looked at her, and in the
flickering light of the single candle in the middle of their
table, his eyes looked just a little dangerous. “Oh, I’ve
changed some,” he told her softly, and the tone of his
voice rippled across her skin like someone had spilled
a glass of ice water on her. “These days I’m a little more
careful who I spend time with. I don’t take a woman’s
word for it anymore when she tells me who she is. Now
I check her out. Don’t want to run across another liar,
Jenna flushed. She felt the heat of it stain her skin
and she was grateful for the dim lighting in the res-
taurant. Folding her hands together in her lap, she
looked at the snowy expanse of the table linen and
said, “Okay, I’m going to say this again. I didn’t set out
to lie to you back then, Nick.”
“So it just happened?”
“Well,” she said, lifting her gaze reluctantly to his,
“Right.” He nodded, gave her a smirk that came no-
where near being a real smile and added, “Couldn’t
figure out a way to tell me that you actually worked
for me, so you just let it slide. Let me think you were
Yes, she had. She’d been swept away by the moon-
light and the most gorgeous man she’d ever seen in her
life. “I never said I was. You assumed I was a passenger.”
“And you said nothing to clear that up.”
True. All true. If she’d simply told the truth, then
their week together never would have happened. She
never would have known what it was like to be in his
arms. Never would have imagined a future of some
kind between them. Never would have gotten pregnant.
Never would have given birth to the two little boys she
couldn’t imagine living without.
Because of that, it was hard to feel guilty about what
“Nick, let’s not rehash the past, all right? I said I
was sorry at the time. I can’t change anything. And you
know, you didn’t exactly act like Prince Charming at the
“You’re blaming me?”
“You wouldn’t even talk to me,” she reminded him.
“You found out the truth and shut me out and down so
fast I was half surprised you didn’t have me thrown
overboard to swim home.”
He shifted uncomfortably, worked his jaw as if
words were clamoring to get out and he was fighting the
impulse to shout them. “What did you expect me to
“All I wanted was to explain myself.”
“There was nothing you could have said.”
“Well,” she said softly, “we’ll never know for sure, will
we?” Then she sighed and said, “We’re not solving any-
thing here, so let’s just let the past go, okay? What
happened, happened. Now we need to talk about what
“Right.” He signaled to a waiter, then looked at her
again. “So let’s talk. Tell me about your sons.”
sons,” she corrected, lifting her chin a little as
if readying to fight.
“That’s yet to be proved to me.”
“Why would I lie?”
“Hmm. Interesting question,” he said. “I could say
you’ve lied before, but then we’ve already agreed not
to talk about the past.”
Jenna wasn’t sure if she wanted to sigh in frustration
or kick him hard under the table. This was so much
more difficult than she’d thought it would be. Somehow,
Jenna had convinced herself that Nick would believe
her. That he would look at the pictures of the babies and
instinctively that these were his sons.
She should have known better.
All around them the clink of fine crystal and the
muted conversations of the other diners provided a
background swell of sound that was more white noise
than anything else. Through the windows lining one
side of the restaurant, the night was black and the sea
endless. The shimmer of colored lights hanging from
the edges of the deck looked almost like a rainbow that
only shone at night.
And beside her, the man who’d haunted her dreams
and forged a new life for her sat waiting, watchful.
As she started to speak, a waiter approached with a
bottle of champagne nestled inside a gleaming silver
bucket. Jenna closed her mouth and bit her lip as the
waiter poured a sip of the frothy wine into a flute and
presented it to Nick for tasting. Approved, the wine
was then poured first for her, then for Nick. Once the
waiter had disappeared into the throng again, Jenna
reached for her champagne and took a sip, hoping to
ease the sudden dryness in her throat.
“So?” Nick prodded, his voice a low rumble of sound
that seemed to slide inside her. “Tell me about the
“What do you want to know?”
He shot her a look. “Everything.”
Nodding, Jenna took a breath. Normally, she was
more than happy to talk about her sons. She’d even
been known to bore complete strangers in the grocery
store with tales of their exploits. But tonight was dif-
ferent. Important. This was the father of her children.
She had to make him understand that. Believe it. So
choosing her words carefully, she started simply and
said, “Their names are Jacob and Cooper.”
He frowned a little and took a sip of his own cham-
pagne. “Family names?”
“My grandfathers,” she said, just a touch defensively
as if she was prepared to go toe to toe with him to guard
her right to name her sons whatever she wanted.
“That was nice of you,” he said after a second or two
and took the wind out of her sails. “Go on.”
While around them people laughed and talked and
relaxed together, a tight knot of tension coiled about their
table. Jenna’s voice was soft, Nick leaned in closer to hear
her and his nearness made her breath hitch in her chest.
“Jacob’s sunny and happy all the time. He smiles
from the minute he wakes up until the moment I put him
down for the night.” She smiled, too, just thinking of
her babies. “Cooper’s different. He’s more…thought-
ful, I guess. His smiles are rarer and all the more
precious because of it. He’s always watching. Studying.
I’d love to know what he’s thinking most of the time
because even at four months, he seems almost a philoso-
His gaze was locked on her and Jenna could see both
of her sons in Nick’s face. They looked so much like
him, she couldn’t understand how he could doubt even
for a moment that they were his.
“Where are they now?”
“My sister Maxie’s watching them.” And was prob-
ably harried and exhausted. “The boys are crazy about
her and she loves them both to death. They’re fine.”
“Then why did you get tense all of a sudden?”
She blew out a breath, slumped back against the booth
and admitted, “It’s the first time I’ve been away from
them. It feels…wrong, somehow. And I miss them. A lot.”
His eyes narrowed on her and he picked up his glass
for a sip of wine. Watching her over the rim of the glass,
he swallowed, then set the flute back onto the table.
“Can’t be easy, being a single mother.”
“No, it’s not,” she admitted, thinking now about just
how tired she was every night by the time she had the
boys in bed. It had been so long since she’d been awake
past eight o’clock at night that it was odd to her now,
sitting here in a restaurant at nine. This was what it had
been like before, though. When she’d only had herself
to worry about. When she hadn’t had two little boys
depending on her.
God, how had she ever been able to stand the quiet?
The emptiness in her little house? She couldn’t even
imagine being without her sons now.
“But,” she added when he didn’t say anything else,
“along with all the work, a single mom gets all the
perks to herself, too. I don’t have to share the little
moments. I’m the one to see them smile for the first
time. To see them waking up to the world around them.”
“So since you’re not looking to share the good
moments, that means you’re not interested in having
me involved in the twins’ lives,” he said thoughtfully.
“All you really want is child support?”
She stiffened a little. Jenna hadn’t even considered that
Nick might want to be drawn into their sons’ lives. He
wasn’t the hearth-and-home kind of guy. He was the party
man. The guy you dated, but didn’t bring home to mom.
“You and I both know you don’t have any interest in
being a father, Nick.”
“Is that right? And how would you know that?”
He inclined his head at her speechlessness. “Exactly.
You don’t know me any more than I know you.”
“You’re wrong. I know that you’re not the kind of
man to tie himself down in one place. That week we
were together you told me yourself you had no plans to
ever get married and settle down.”
“Who said anything about getting married?”
Jenna sucked in a breath and told herself to slow
down. She was walking through a minefield here. “I
“Forget it,” he said.
Another waiter appeared, this time delivering a
dinner that Nick had clearly ordered earlier. Surprised,
Jenna looked down at the serving of breast of chicken
and fettucine in mushroom sauce before lifting her gaze
to his in question.
“I remembered you liked it,” he said with a shrug.
What was she supposed to do with that? She won-
dered. He pretended to not care anything about her, yet
he remembered more than a year later what her favorite
foods were? Why? Why would he recall something so
Once the waiter was gone, Nick started talking again.
“So answer me this. When you found out you were
pregnant, why’d you go through with it?”
He shrugged. “You were alone. A lot of women in
that position wouldn’t have done what you did. Giving
birth, deciding to raise the babies on her own.”
“They were mine,” she said, as if that explained
everything, and in her mind it did. Never for a moment
had she considered ending her pregnancy. She’d tried
to reach Nick of course, but when she couldn’t, she’d
hunkered down and started building a life for her and
“Only the one about coming on this ship,” she mut-
He smiled faintly, laid his napkin across his lap and,
picking up his knife and fork, sliced into his filet
mignon. “I heard that.”
“I meant you to.” As Jenna used her fork to slide the
fettucine noodles around her plate, she said, “Nick, my
sons are the most important things in the world to me.
I’ll do whatever I have to to make sure they’re safe.”
“Good for you.”
She took a bite of her dinner and, though she could
tell it was cooked to perfection, the delicate sauce and
chicken tasted like sawdust in her mouth.
“I’ll want a DNA test.”
“Of course,” she said. “I’ve already had the boys’
blood tests done at a local lab. You can send your sample
in to them and they’ll do the comparison testing.”
“I’ll take care of it tomorrow.”
“What?” She shook her head, looked at him and
said, “Don’t you have to wait until we’re back in San
“No, I’m not going to wait. I want this question
settled as quickly as possible.” He continued to eat, as
though what they were discussing wasn’t affecting him
in the slightest. “We dock at Cabo in the morning. You
and I will go ashore, find a lab and have them fax the
findings to the lab in San Pedro.”
“We will?” She hadn’t planned on spending a lot of
time with Nick, after all. She’d only come on board to
tell him about the boys and frankly, she’d thought he
wouldn’t want anything more to do with her after that.
Instead, he’d moved her into his suite and now was pro-
posing that they spend even more time together.
“Until this is taken care of to my satisfaction,” Nick
told her softly, “I’m not letting you out of my sight. The
two of us are going to be joined at the hip. So you might
as well start getting used to it.”
nce the ship had docked and most of the passengers
had disembarked for their day of shopping, sailing and
exploring the city of Cabo San Lucas, Nick got busy.
He’d already had Teresa make a few calls, and the lab
at the local hospital was expecting them.
The sun was hot and bright and the scent of the sea
greeted them the moment he and Jenna stepped out on
deck. Ordinarily Nick would have been enjoying this. He
loved this part of cruising. Docking in a port, exploring
the city, revisiting favorite sites, discovering new ones.
But today was different. Today he was on a mission,
so he wasn’t going to notice the relaxed, party atmo-
sphere of Cabo. Just as he wasn’t going to notice the
way Jenna’s pale green sundress clung to her body or
the way her legs looked in those high-heeled sandals.
He had no interest in the fact that her dark blond hair
looked like spilled honey as it flowed down over her
shoulders and he really wasn’t noticing her scent or the
way it seemed to waft its way to him on the slightest
Having her stay in his suite had seemed like a good
idea yesterday. But the knowledge that she was so close,
that she was just down the hall from him, alone in her
bed, had taunted him all night long. Now his eyes felt
gritty, his temper was too close to the surface and his
body was hard and achy.
Way to go, Falcon,
he told himself.
“So where are we going?” she asked as he laid his hand
at the small of her back to guide her down the gangplank
to shore. Damn, just the tips of his fingers against her
spine was enough to make him want to forget all about
this appointment and drag her back to his cabin instead.
Gritting his teeth, he pushed that image out of his mind.
“Teresa called the hospital here,” he muttered. “The
lab’s expecting us. They’ll take a DNA sample, run it
and fax the results to your lab. We should have an an-
swer in a day or two.”
She actually stumbled and he grabbed her arm in an
instinctive move. “That fast?”
“Money talks,” he said with a shrug. He’d learned
long ago that with enough money, a man could accom-
plish anything. Way of the world. And for the first time,
he was damned glad he was rich enough to demand fast
action. Nick wanted this question of paternity settled.
Like now. He couldn’t stop thinking about those babies.
Couldn’t seem to stop looking at the picture she’d given
him of them.
Couldn’t stop wondering how their very existence
was going to affect—change—his life. So he needed to
know if he was going to be a father or if he was simply
going to be suing Jenna Baker for everything she had
for lying to him. Again.
Her heels clicked against the gangway and sounded
like a frantic heartbeat. He wondered if she was nervous.
Wondered if she really was lying and was now worried
about being found out. Had she thought he’d simply
accept her word that her sons belonged to him? Surely
At the bottom of the gangway, a taxi was waiting.
Silently blessing Teresa’s efficiency, Nick opened the
door for Jenna, and when she was inside, slid in after
her. In short, sharp sentences spoken in nearly fluent
Spanish, Nick told the driver where to go.
“I didn’t know you spoke Spanish,” she said as he
settled onto the bench seat beside her.
“There’s a lot about me you don’t know,” he said.
“I guess so.”
Of course, the same could be said about what he
knew of her. He remembered clearly their time together
more than a year before. But in those stolen moments,
he’d been more intent on burying himself inside her
than discovering her thoughts, her hopes, her dreams.
He’d told himself then that there would be plenty of
time for them to discover each other. He couldn’t have
guessed that in one short week he’d find her, want her
and then lose her.
Yet, even with the passion simmering between them,
Nick could recall brief conversations when she’d talked
about her home, her family. He’d thought at the time that
she was different from the other women he knew. That
she was more sincere. That she was more interested in
the man, than she was in what he was. How much
Of course, that little fantasy had been exploded
He dropped into silence again as the cab took off.
He didn’t want to talk to her. Didn’t want to think about
anything but what he was about to do. With a simple
check of his DNA, his life could be altered irrevocably
forever. His chest was tight and his mind was racing.
Cabo was no more than a colorful blur outside his win-
dow as they headed for the lab and a date with destiny.
In a few seconds the cab was swallowed by the
bustling port city. At the dock and on the main drive that
ran along the ocean, Cabo San Lucas was beautiful. The
hotels, the restaurants and bars, everything was new
and shone to perfection, the better to tempt the tourists
who streamed into the city every year.
But just a few short blocks from the port and Cabo
was a big city like any other. The streets were crowded
with cars, and pedestrians leaped off the sidewalks and
ran across the street with complete abandon, trusting
that the drivers would somehow keep from running
them down. Narrower, cobblestoned side streets spilled
off the bigger avenues and from there came the tantal-
izing scents of frying onions, spices and grilling meat.
Restaurants and bars crowded together, their chipped
stucco facades looking a little tattered as tourists milled
up and down the sidewalks, cameras clutched in sun-
burned fists. As the cab driver steered his car through
the maze of traffic, Nick idly glanced out the window
and noted the open-air markets gathered together under
dark green awnings. Under that umbrella were at least
thirty booths where you could buy everything from
turquoise jewelry to painted ceramic burros.
Cabo was a tourist town and the locals did everything
they could to keep those vacation dollars in the city.
“Strange, isn’t it?” she mused, and Nick turned his
head to look at her. She was staring out her window at
the city and he half wondered if she was speaking to him
or to herself. “All of the opulence on the beach and just
a few blocks away…”
“It’s a city, like any other,” he said.
She turned her head to meet his gaze. “It’s just a little
disappointing to see the real world beneath the glitz.”
“There’s always a hidden side. To everything. And
everyone,” he said, staring into her eyes, wondering
what she was feeling. Wondering why he even cared.
“What’s hidden beneath your facade, then?” she
Nick forced a smile. “I’m the exception to the rule,”
he told her. “What you see is what you get with me.
There are no hidden depths. No mysteries to be solved.
No secrets. No lies.”
Her features tightened slightly. “I don’t believe that,”
she said. “You’re not as shallow as you pretend to be,
Nick. I remember too much to buy into that.”
“Then your memory is wrong. Don’t look for some-
thing that isn’t there, Jenna,” he said softly, just in case
their driver spoke English. “I’m not a lonely rich boy
looking for love.” He leaned in toward her, keeping his
gaze locked with hers, and added, “I’m doing this DNA
test for my own sake. If those babies are mine, then I
need to know. But I’m not the white-picket-fence kind
of guy. So don’t go building castles in the air. You’ll get
trapped in the rubble when they collapse.”
Jenna felt a chill as she looked into those icy blue
eyes of his. All night she’d lain in her bed, thinking
about him, wondering if she’d done the right thing by
coming to Nick. By telling him about their sons. Now
she was faced with the very real possibility that she’d
made a huge mistake.
Once he was convinced that the boys were his, then
what? Would he really be satisfied with writing out a
child support check every month? Or would he demand
time with his children? And if he did, how would she
fit him into their lives?
Picturing Nick spending time in her tiny house in
Seal Beach was almost impossible. His lifestyle was so
far removed from hers they might as well be from dif-
“Nick,” she said, “I know there’s a part of you that
thinks I’m lying about all of this. But I’m not.” She
paused, watched his reaction and didn’t see a thing that
made her feel any better, so she continued. “So, before
you take this DNA test, I want you to promise me some-
He laughed shortly, but there wasn’t a single spark
of humor lighting his eyes. “Why would I do that?”
“No reason I can think of, but I’m still asking.”
“What?” he asked, sitting back, dropping one hand
to rest on his knee. “What’s this promise?”
She tried again to read his expression, but his fea-
tures were shuttered, closing her out so completely it
was as if she were alone in the cab. But he was listen-
ing and that was something, she supposed.
“I want you to promise me that whatever happens,
you won’t take out what you feel for me on our sons.”
He tipped his head to one side, studied her for a long
moment or two, then as she held her breath, waiting for
his response, he finally nodded. “All right. I give you
my word. What’s between you and me won’t affect how
I treat your sons.”
Jenna gave him a small smile. “Thank you.”
“But if they
my sons,” he added quietly, “you and
I have a lot of talking to do.”
The DNA test was done quickly, and before she
knew it, Jenna and Nick were back in the cab, heading
for the docks again. Her stomach was churning as her
mind raced, and being locked inside a car hurtling down
a crowded street wasn’t helping. She needed to walk.
Needed to breathe. Needed to escape the trapped feeling
that held her in a tight grip.
Turning to Nick, she blurted suddenly, “Can we get
out? Walk the rest of the way to the dock?”
He glanced at her, and whatever he saw in her face
must have convinced him because he nodded, then
spoke to the driver in Spanish. A moment later the cab
pulled to the curb. Jenna jumped out of the car as if she
were on springs and took a deep breath of cool, ocean
air while Nick paid their fare.
Tourists and locals alike crowded the sidewalk and
streamed past her as if she were a statue. She tucked her
purse under her left arm and turned her face into the
breeze sliding down the street from the sea.
“It’s still several blocks to the ship,” Nick said as he
joined her on the sidewalk. “You going to be able to
make it in those shoes?”
Jenna glanced down at the heeled sandals she wore
then lifted her gaze back to his. “I’ll make it. I just—
needed to get out of that cab and move around a little.”
“I don’t remember you being so anxious,” he said.
She laughed a little and sounded nervous even to
herself. “Not anxious, really. It’s just that since the
boys were born, I’m not used to being still. They keep
me running all day long, and sitting in the back of that
cab, I felt like I was in a cage or something and it didn’t
help that neither one of us was talking and we’d just
come from the lab, so my brain was in overdrive and—”
He interrupted the frantic flow of words by holding
up one hand. “I get it. And I could use some air, too. So
why don’t we start walking?”
“Good. That’d be good.” God, she hadn’t meant to
go on a stream of consciousness there. If he hadn’t
stopped her, heaven only knew what would have come
out of her mouth. As it was, he was looking at her like
she was a stick of dynamite with a burning fuse.
He took her arm to turn her around, and the sizzle of
heat that sprang up from his touch was enough to boil
her blood and make her gasp for air. So not a good sign.
Music spilled from the open doorway of a cantina
and a couple of drunk, college-age tourists stumbled out
onto the sidewalk. Nick pulled Jenna tight against him
and steered her past them, but when they were in the
clear, he didn’t release her. Not that she minded.
“So what’s a typical day for you now?” he asked as
they moved along the sidewalk, a part of, yet separate
from, the colorful crowd of locals and tourists.
“Typical?” Jenna laughed in spite of the fact that
every nerve ending was on fire and lit from within due
to Nick’s arm wrapped tightly around her waist. “I
learned pretty quickly that with babies in the house
there’s no such thing as typical.”
She risked a glance at him, and his blue eyes con-
nected with hers for a heart-stopping second. Then he
nodded and said, “Okay, then describe one of your un-
typical days for me.”
“Well, for one thing, my days start a lot earlier than
they used to,” she said. “The twins sleep through the
night now, thank God, but they’re up and raring to go
by six every morning.”
“That can’t be easy.” His arm around her waist
loosened a bit, but he didn’t let her go and Jenna felt
almost as if they were a real couple. Which was just
“No,” she said quickly, to rein her imagination back
in with cold, dry facts. Their lives were so different,
he’d never be able to understand what her world was
like. He woke up when he felt like it, had breakfast
brought to his room and then spent the rest of his day
wandering a plush cruise ship, making sure his guests
She, on the other hand…
“There are two diapers that need changing, two little
bodies who need dressing and two mouths clamoring for
their morning bottle. There are two cribs in the room they
share and I go back and forth between them, sort of on
autopilot.” She smiled to herself as images of her sons
filled her mind. Yes, it was a lot of work. Yes, she was tired
a lot of the time. And no, she wouldn’t change any of it.
“How do you manage taking care of two of them?”
“You get into a rhythm,” she said with a shrug that
belied just how difficult it had been to
“Cooper’s more patient than his brother, but I try not to
use that as an excuse to always take care of Jacob first.
So, I trade off. One morning I deal with Cooper first
thing and the next, it’s Jacob’s turn. I feed one, then the
other and then get them into their playpen so I can start
the first of the day’s laundry loads.”
“You leave them alone in a playpen?”
Instantly defensive, Jenna shot him a glare. “They’re
safe and happy and it’s not as if I just toss them into a
cage and go off to party. I’m right there with them. But
I have to be able to get things done and I can’t exactly
leave them on the floor unattended, now, can I?”
“Hey, hey,” he said, tightening his grip around her
waist a little. “That wasn’t a criticism…”
She gave him a hard look.
“Okay,” he acknowledged, “maybe it was. But I
didn’t mean it to be. Can’t be easy. A single mother with
“No, it’s not,” she admitted and her hackles slowly
lowered. “But we manage. We have playtime and the two
of them are so bright and so interested in everything….”
She shook her head. “It’s amazing, really, watching them
wake up to the world a little more each day.”
He was saying the right things, but his tone carried
a diffidence she didn’t much like. But then how could
she blame him? He didn’t believe yet that the boys were
his sons. Of course, he would hold himself back, refus-
ing to be drawn in until it had been proven to him that
he was their father.
“When they take their naps, I work.”
“Yeah,” he said, guiding her around a pothole big
enough to swallow them both, “you said you had your
own business. What do you do?”
“Gift baskets,” she said, lifting her chin a little. “I
design and make specialty gift baskets. I have a few
corporate clients, and I get a lot of business over the
“How’d you get into that?” he asked, and Jenna was
almost sure he really was interested.
“I started out by making them up for friends. Birth-
days, baby showers, housewarming, that sort of thing,”
she said. “It sort of took off from there. People started
asking me to make them baskets, and after a while I
realized I was running a business. It’s great, though,
because it lets me be home with the boys.”
“And you like that.”
Not a question, a statement. She stopped walking,
looked up at him and said, “Yes, I like it. I couldn’t bear
the thought of the boys being in day care. I want to be
the one to see all of their firsts. Crawling, walking,
speaking. I want to hear their giggles and dry their tears.
I want to be at the heart of their lives.”
He studied her for a long minute or two, his gaze
moving over her face as if he were trying to imprint her
image on his mind. Or trying to read her thoughts to see
if she had really meant everything she just said.
“Most women wouldn’t want to be trapped in a house
with two screaming babies all day,” he finally said.
Instantly Jenna bristled. “
the women you know
aren’t exactly the maternal type, now, are they?
boys don’t scream all day and
spending time with my
kids isn’t a trap. It’s a gift. One I’m thankful for every
single day. You don’t know me, Nick. So don’t pretend
One dark eyebrow lifted, and an amused glint shone
in those pale eyes of his. “I wasn’t trying to insult you,”
he said softly. “I…admire what you’re doing. What you
feel for your sons. All I meant was, that what you said
was nice to hear.”
“Oh.” Well, didn’t she feel like an idiot? “I’m sorry.
I guess I’m a little quick on the trigger.”
“A little?” He laughed shortly, and started walking
again, keeping his arm locked about her waist as if con-
cerned she might wander off. “The words
come to mind.”
Even Jenna had to chuckle. “You’re right, you know.
I learned the moment the boys were born. I was so
electrified just by looking at them…to know they’d