come from me. It’s an amazing feeling. Two tiny boys—
one minute they’re not there, and the next, they’re
breathing and crying and completely capturing my
heart. I fell in love so completely, so desperately, that I
knew instantly I would never allow anyone or anything
to hurt them.
criticizes my kids. Nobody.”
“Yeah,” he said, with a thoughtful look in his eyes.
“I get it.”
His hand at her waist flexed and his fingers began to
rub gently, and through the thin fabric of her summery
dress, Jenna swore she could feel his skin on hers. Her
heartbeat jumped into high gear, and her breathing was
labored. Meeting his gaze, she saw confusion written
there and she had to ask, “What is it? What’s wrong?”
Quickly he said, “Nothing. It’s just…” He stopped,
though, before he could explain. Then, shaking his
head, he said, “Come on, we’ve still got a long walk
ahead of us.”
A half hour later Jenna’s feet were aching and she
was seriously regretting jumping out of that cab. But
there were compensations, too. Such as walking beside
Nick, his arm around her waist as if they were really a
couple. She knew she should step out of his grasp, but
truthfully, she was enjoying the feel of him pressed
closely to her too much to do it.
It had been so long since their week together. And
in the time since, she hadn’t been with anyone else.
Well, she’d been pregnant for a good part of that time,
so not much chance of hooking up with someone new.
But even if she hadn’t been, she wouldn’t have been
looking. Nick had carved himself into her heart and
soul in that one short week and had made it nearly im-
possible for her to think about being with anyone else.
Which was really too bad when she thought about it.
Because he’d made it clear they weren’t going to be getting
together again. Not that she wanted that, or anything….
“Oh!” She stopped suddenly as they came abreast of
the street market they’d passed on their way to the lab.
An excellent way to clear her mind of any more disturb-
ing thoughts of Nick. “Let’s look in here.”
Frowning some, like any man would when faced
with a woman who wanted to shop, Nick said, “What
could you possibly want to buy here? It’s a tourist trap.”
“That’s what makes it fun,” she told him, and slipped
out of his grasp to walk beneath the awning and into
the aisle that wound its way past at least thirty different
She wandered through the crowd, sensing Nick’s
presence behind her. She glanced at tables set up with
sterling silver rings and necklaces, leather coin purses
and crocheted shawls that hung in colorful bunches
from a rope stretched across the front of a booth. She
smiled at the man selling tacos and ignored the rum-
bling of her stomach as she moved on to a booth selling
Nick came up behind her and looked over her head
at the display of tacky shirts silk-screened with images
of Cabo, sport fishing and the local cantinas. Shaking
his head at the mystery that was women, he wondered
why in the hell she’d chosen to shop here.
“Need a new wardrobe?” he asked, dipping his head
so that his voice whispered directly into her ear.
She jumped a little, and he enjoyed the fact that he
made her nervous. He’d felt it all day. That hum of
tension simmering around her. When he touched her, he
felt the heat and felt her response that fed the fires burn-
ing inside him. The moment he’d wrapped his arm
around her waist, he’d known it was a mistake. But the
feel of her body curved against his had felt good enough
that he hadn’t wanted to let her go.
Which irritated the hell out of him.
He’d learned his lesson with her a year ago. She’d
lied to him about who she was. Who was to say she
hadn’t lied about her response to him? Wasn’t lying
still? But even as he thought that, he wondered if anyone
could manufacture the kind of heat that spiraled up
between them when their bodies brushed against each
“The shirts aren’t for me,” she was saying, and Nick
pushed his thoughts aside to pay attention. “I thought
maybe there’d be something small enough for the boys
She pulled a shirt out from a stack and it was so
small, Nick could hardly believe that it could actually
be worn. There was a grinning cartoon burro on the
front and the words Baby Burros Need Love Too sten-
ciled underneath it. “It’s so cute! Don’t you think so?”
Nick’s breath caught hard in his chest as she turned
her face up to his and smiled so brightly the shine in her
eyes nearly blinded him. He’d given women diamonds
and seen less of a display of joy. If this was an act, he
thought, she should be getting an Oscar.
“Yeah,” he said. “I guess it is.” Then he looked past
her to the woman who ran the booth and in Spanish told
her they’d be needing two of the shirts.
Smiling, the woman found another matching shirt,
dropped them both in a sack and held them out. Nick
paid for the shirts before Jenna could dig in her purse.
Then he took hold of her hand and, carrying the bag,
led her back out onto the street.
“You didn’t have to buy them,” she told him once
they were on their way to the dock again.
“Call it my first present to my sons.”
She stumbled a little and he tightened his hold on her
hand, steadying her even while he felt his own balance
“So you believe me?”
Nick felt a cold, hard knot settle into the pit of his
stomach. He looked into Jenna’s eyes and couldn’t find
the slightest sign of deception. Was she too good at hiding
her secrets? Or were there no secrets to hide? Soon
enough, he’d know for sure. But for now “I’m starting to.”
hree days later the ship docked in Acapulco.
“Oh, come on,” Mary Curran urged, “come ashore
with Joe and me. He’s going scuba diving of all things,
and I’d love some company while I spend all the money
we saved by having this cruise comped.”
Laughing, Jenna shook her head and sat back on the
sofa in the living room of Nick’s spectacular suite. “No,
thanks. I think I’m going to stay aboard and relax.”
Mary sighed in defeat. “How you can relax when
you’re staying in this suite with Nick Falco is beyond
me. Heck, I’ve been married for twenty years and just
looking at the guy gives me hot flashes.”
Jenna knew just what her friend meant. For the past
few days she and Nick had been practically in each
other’s pockets. They’d spent nearly every minute
together, and when they were here in this suite, the
spacious accommodations seemed to shrink to the size
of a closet.
Jenna felt as if she were standing on a tight wire,
uneasily balanced over a vat of lava. She was filled with
heat constantly and knew that with the slightest wrong
move, she could be immolated.
God, great imagery.
“Hello? Earth to Jenna?”
“Sorry.” Jenna smiled, pushed one hand through her
hair and blew out an unsteady breath. “Guess my mind
“Uh-huh, and I’ve got a good idea where it wan-
“Oh, honey, you’ve got it bad, don’t you?” Mary
leaned forward and squeezed Jenna’s hand briefly.
Embarrassed and just a little concerned that Mary
might be right, Jenna immediately argued. “I don’t
know what you mean.”
“Sure you don’t.” Mary’s smile broadened. “I say
Nick’s name and your eyes flash.”
“Hey, what’s the trouble? You’re both single. And
you’re clearly attracted to each other. I mean, I saw
Nick’s face last night at dinner whenever he looked at
The four of them had had dinner together the night
before, and though Jenna had been sure it would be an
uncomfortable couple of hours—given the tension
between her and Nick—they’d all had a good time. In
fact, seeing Nick interacting with Joe Curran, hearing
him laugh and tell stories about past cruises had really
opened Jenna’s eyes.
For so long, she’d thought of him only as a player.
A man only interested in getting as many women as
possible into his bed. A man who wasn’t interested in
anything that wasn’t about momentary pleasure.
Now she’d seen glimpses of a different man. One
who could enjoy himself with people who weren’t
members of the “celebrity crowd.” A guy who could buy
silly T-shirts for babies he wasn’t even sure were his. A
guy who could still turn her into a puddle of want with
“Do you want to talk about it?” Mary asked quietly.
Jenna took a long, deep breath and looked around the
room to avoid meeting Mary’s too-knowing gaze.
Muted sunlight, diffused by the tinted glass, filled the
room, creating shadows in the corners. It was quiet now,
with Nick somewhere out on deck and the hum of the
ship’s powerful engines silenced while in port.
Shifting her gaze to Mary’s, Jenna thought about
spilling the whole story. Actually she could really use
someone to talk to, and Mary had, in the past several
days, already proven to be a good friend. But she
couldn’t get into it now. Didn’t want to explain how she
and Nick had come together, made two sons and then
drifted apart. That was far too long a story.
“Thanks,” she said, meaning it. “But I don’t think so.
Anyway, you don’t have time to listen. Joe will be wait-
ing for you.”
Mary frowned at her, but apparently realized that
Jenna didn’t feel like talking. Standing up, she said,
“Okay, I’ll go. But if you decide you need someone to
“I’ll remember. Thanks.”
Then Mary left and Jenna was alone. Alone with her
thoughts, racing frantically through her mind. Alone
with the desire that was a carefully banked fire deep
inside. Suddenly antsy, she jumped to her feet, crossed
the room and left the suite. She’d just go up on deck.
Sit in the sun. Try not to think. Try to relax.
The business of running a cruise line kept Nick mov-
ing from the time he got up until late at night. People
on the outside looking in probably assumed that he led
a life of leisure. And sure, there was still time for that.
But the truth was he had to stay on top of everything.
This cruise line was his life. The one thing he had. The
most important thing in the world to him. He’d worked
his ass off to get this far, to make his mark. And he
wasn’t about to start slowing down now.
“If the band isn’t working, contact Luis Felipe here
in town,” he told Teresa, and wasn’t surprised to see her
make a note on her PDA. “He knows all the local bands
in Acapulco. He could hook us up with someone who
could take over for the rest of the cruise.”
The band they’d hired in L.A. was proving to be
more trouble than they were worth. With their rock star
attitudes, they were demanding all sorts of perks that
hadn’t been agreed on in their contracts. Plus, they’d
been cutting short their last show of the evening because
they said there weren’t enough people in attendance to
make it worthwhile. Not their call, Nick thought. They’d
been hired to do a job, and they’d do it or they’d get off
the ship in Mexico and find their own way home.
“Got it,” Teresa said. “Want me to tell the band their
days are numbered?”
“Yeah. We’ll be in port forty-eight hours. Give ’em
twenty-four to clean up their act—if they don’t, tell
’em to pack their bags.”
“Will do.” She paused, and Nick turned to look at her.
They were standing at the bow of the ship on the Splen-
dor Deck, mainly because Nick hadn’t felt like being
cooped up in his office. And he couldn’t go to his suite
because Jenna was there. Being in the same room with
her without reacting to her presence was becoming
more of a challenge.
The last few days had been hell. Being with her every
day, sleeping down the hall from her at night, knowing
she was there, stretched out on a king-size bed, probably
wearing what she used to—a tank top and a pair of tiny,
bikini panties—had practically killed him. He’d taken
more cold showers in the last three days than he had in
the past ten years.
His plan to seduce Jenna and then lose her was back-
firing. He was the one getting seduced. He was the one
nearly being strangled with throttled-back desire. And
he was getting damned sick of it. It was time to make
a move. Time to take her to bed. Before they got the
results of that DNA test.
Tonight, he decided. Tonight he’d have Jenna Baker
back in his bed. Where he’d wanted her for the past year.
He was almost surprised to hear Teresa’s voice. Hell,
he’d forgotten where the hell he was and what he was
doing. Just thinking about Jenna had his body hard and
“What is it?” He half turned away from the woman
and hoped she wouldn’t notice the very evident proof
of just how hungry for Jenna he really was.
“The lab in Cabo called. They faxed the results of the
DNA test to the lab in L.A.”
“Good.” His stomach fisted, but he willed it to
loosen. Nothing to do about it now but wait for the
results. Which would probably arrive by tomorrow. So,
yeah. Tonight was the night.
“Do you want me to tell Jenna?”
Nick frowned at his assistant, then let the expression
fade away. Wasn’t her fault he felt like he was tied up
in knots. “No, thanks. I’ll do it.”
“Okay.” Teresa took a deep breath, held it, then blew
it out. “Look, I know this is none of my business…”
“Never stopped you before,” he muttered with a smile.
“No, I guess not,” she admitted, swiping one hand
through her wind-tousled hair. “So let me just say, I
don’t think Jenna’s trying to play you.”
He went perfectly still. From the shore came the
sounds of car horns honking and a swell of noise that
only a crowd of tourists released for the day could
make. Waves slapped halfheartedly at the hull of the
ship, and the wind whipped his hair into his eyes.
He pushed it aside as he looked at Teresa. “Is that
She lifted her chin, squared her shoulders and looked
him dead in the eye. “That’s right. She’s just not the type
to do something like this. She never did give a damn
about your money or who you were.”
“Teresa—” He didn’t want to talk about this and he
didn’t actually care what his assistant thought of Jenna.
But knowing Teresa, there was just no way to stop her.
An instant later, he was proved right.
“—still talking. And if I’m going to get fired for
shooting my mouth off,” she added quickly, “then I’m
going to get it all said no matter what you think.”
“I didn’t say anything when you fired her, remember.
I even agreed with you to a point—yes, Jenna should
have told you she worked for you, but from her point
of view I can see why she didn’t.”
“That’s great, thanks.”
She ignored his quips and kept talking. “I didn’t even
say anything when you were so miserable after she left
that it was like working for a panther with one foot
caught in a steel trap.”
“But I’m saying it now,” she told him, and even
wagged a finger at him as if he were a misbehaving
ten-year-old. “You can fire me for it if you want to, but
you’ll never get another assistant as good as I am and
you know it….”
Gritting his teeth because he knew she was right,
Nick nodded and ordered, “Spit it out then.”
“Jenna’s not the kind to lie.”
A bark of laughter shot from his throat.
“Okay, fine, she didn’t tell you she was an employee.
But that was one mistake. Remember, I knew her then,
too, Nick. She’s a nice kid with a good heart.”
He shifted uncomfortably because he didn’t want
her to be right. It was much easier on him to think of
Jenna as a liar and a manipulator. Those kind of women
he knew how to deal with. A nice woman? What the hell
was he supposed to do with one of those?
Teresa added pointedly, “I saw the pictures
of your sons—”
“That hasn’t been confirmed yet,” he said quickly.
“They look just like you,” she countered.
“All babies look like Winston Churchill,” Nick ar-
gued, despite the fact that he knew damn well she was
“Yeah?” She smiled and shook her head. “Winston
never looked that good in his life, I guarantee it. They’ve
got your eyes. Your hair. Your dimples.” Teresa paused,
reached out and laid one hand on his forearm. “She’s
not lying to you, Nick. You’re a father. And you’re going
to have to figure out how you want to deal with that.”
He turned his face toward the sea and let the wind
slap at him. The wide stretch of openness laid out in
front of him was usually balm enough to calm his soul
and soothe whatever tensions were crowded inside him.
But it wasn’t working now. And maybe it never would
Because if he was a father…then his involvement
with those kids wasn’t going to be relegated to writing
a check every month. He’d be damned if his children
were going to grow up not knowing him. Whether Jenna
wanted him around or not, he wasn’t going anywhere.
He was going to be a part of their lives, even if that
meant he had to take them away from their mother to
The ship felt deserted.
With most of the passengers still on shore explor-
ing Acapulco, Jenna wandered decks that made her
feel as if she were on board a ghost ship. That evening,
she was back in Nick’s suite and feeling on edge. She’d
showered, changed into a simple, blue summer dress
and was now fighting the fidgets as she waited for Nick
to come back to the suite for dinner.
Funny, she’d spent nearly every waking moment
with him over the past few days, feeling her inner ten-
sion mount incrementally. She’d convinced herself that
what she needed was time to herself. Time away from
Nick, to relax. Unwind a little, before the stress of being
so close to him made her snap.
So she’d had that time to herself today and she was
more tense than ever.
“Oh, you’re in bad shape, Jenna,” she whispered as
she walked out onto Nick’s balcony. She was a wreck
when she was with him, and when she wasn’t, she
missed him. Her hair lifted off her neck in the wind, and
the hem of her dress fluttered about her knees. Her
sandals made a soft click of sound as she walked across
the floor and she wrapped her arms around herself more
for comfort than warmth.
From belowdecks, a soft sigh of music from the ball-
room reached her, and the notes played on the cool
ocean breeze, as if they’d searched her out deliberately.
The plaintive instrumental seeped into her soul and
made her feel wistful. What if coming on this trip had
been a big mistake? What if telling Nick about their
sons hadn’t been the right thing to do? What if—she
stopped her wildly careening thoughts and told herself
it was too late to worry about any of that now. The deed
was done. What would happen would happen and there
wasn’t a damn thing she could do about it now.
She sighed, leaned on the balcony railing and stared
out at the sea. Moonlight danced on the surface of the
water in a shimmer of pale silver. Clouds scuttled across
a star-splashed sky, and the ever-present wind lifted her
hair from her shoulders with a gentle touch.
“This reminds me of something.”
Nick’s deep voice rumbled along Jenna’s spine, and
she had to pull in a deep breath before she turned her
head to look at him. He stood in the open doorway to
the balcony. Hands in his pockets, he wore black slacks,
a gleaming white shirt and a black jacket that looked as
if it had been expertly tailored. His dark hair was wind
ruffled, his pale eyes were intense, and his jaw was tight.
Her heart tumbled in her chest.
“What’s that?” she whispered, amazed that she’d
been able to squeeze out a few words.
He stepped out onto the balcony, and with slow,
measured steps, walked toward her. “The night we met,”
he said, taking a place beside her at the railing. “Re-
How could she forget? She’d been standing on the
Pavilion Deck of
the ship she’d been
working on at the time. That corner of the ship had
been dark and deserted, since most of the passengers
preferred spending time in the crowded dance club at
the other end of the deck.
So Jenna had claimed that shadowy spot as her own
and had gone there nearly every night to stand and
watch the sea while the music from the club drifted
around her. She’d never run into anyone else there, until
the night Nick had stumbled across her.
“I remember,” she said, risking a sidelong glance at
him. She shouldn’t have. He was too close. His eyes too
sharp, his mouth too lickable. His scent too rich and too
tempting. Her insides twisted and she dropped both
hands to the cold, iron railing, holding tight.
“You were dancing, alone in the dark,” he said, as if
she hadn’t spoken at all. As if he were prompting her
memory. “You didn’t notice me, so I watched you as
you swayed to the music, tipping your head back, your
hair sliding across your shoulders.”
“You had a smile on your face,” he said, his voice
lower now, deeper, and she wouldn’t have thought that
was possible. “As if you were looking up into the eyes
of your lover.”
Jenna swallowed hard and shifted uneasily as her body
blossomed with heat. With need. “Don’t do this, Nick.…”
“And I wanted to be the lover you smiled at. The
lover you danced with in the dark.” He ran the tip of one
finger down the length of her arm, and Jenna shivered
at the sizzle of something deliciously hot and wicked
sliding through her system.
She sucked in a gulp of air, but it didn’t help. Her
mind was still spinning, her heart racing and her body
lighting up like Times Square on New Year’s Eve. “Why
are you doing this?” she whispered, and heard the des-
perate plea in her own voice.
“Because I still want you,” he said, moving even
closer, dropping his hands onto her shoulders and turn-
ing her until she was facing him, until their bodies were
so close only a single lick of flame separated them.
“Because I watched you standing in the moonlight and
knew that if I didn’t touch you, I’d explode. I want you.
Just as I did then. Maybe more.”
Oh, she felt the same way. Everything in Jenna clam-
ored at her to move into him. To lean her body against his.
To feel the strength and warmth of him surrounding her.
But she held back. Determined to fight. To hold on to the
reins of the desire that had once steered her down a road
that became more rocky the further along she went.
“It would be a mistake,” she said, shaking her head,
trying to ignore the swell of music, the slide of the
trombone, the wail of the saxophone, that seemed to call
to something raw and wild inside her. “You know it
“No,” he said, sliding his hands up, along her shoul-
ders, up the length of her throat, to cup her face between
his palms. “This time would be different. This time, we
know who we are. This time we know what we’re getting
into. It’s just need, Jenna.” His gaze moved over her
features, and her breath caught and held in a strangled
knot in her chest. “We both feel it. We both want this.
Why deny ourselves?”
Her mind fought with her traitorous body, and Jenna
knew that rational thought was going to lose. The need
was too great. The desire too hot. The temptation too
strong. She did want him. She’d wanted him from the
moment she first saw him more than a year ago. She’d
missed him, dreamed of him, and now that he was here,
touching her, was she really going to turn him down?
Walk away? Go to her solitary bed and pray she dreamed
of him again?
Was she going to regret this?
Was she going to do it?
“There are probably plenty of reasons to deny our-
selves,” she finally whispered. “But I don’t care about
any of them.” Then she went up on her toes as Nick
smiled and flashes of hunger shone in his eyes.
“Atta girl,” he murmured and took her mouth in a
kiss that stole her breath and set her soul on fire.
His tongue slipped between her lips, stealing into her
warmth, awakening feelings that had lain dormant for
more than a year. His arms slid around her waist, pulling
her in tight. Jenna lifted her own arms and linked them
around his neck, holding him to her, silently demand-
ing he deepen the kiss, take more from her.
His arms tightened until she could hardly draw
breath. But who needed air? Jenna groaned, moved into
him, pressing her body along his, and she felt the hard
length of him jutting against her. That was enough to
send even more spirals of heat dancing through her
Again and again, his tongue dipped into her mouth,
tasting, exploring, divining her secrets. She gave as
well as took, tangling her tongue with his, feeling the
molten desire quickening within. He loosened his grip
on her and she nearly moaned, but then his hands were
moving, up and down her spine, defining every line,
every curve. When his palms cupped her bottom and
held her to him, she sighed into his mouth and gave
herself up to the wonder of his touch.
“I need you,” he whispered, dropping his mouth to
the line of her jaw, nibbling at her throat.
She turned her head, allowing him easier access, and
closed her eyes at the magic of the moment.
Around them, music swelled and the ocean breeze
held the two of them in a cool embrace. Moonlight
poured down on them from a black, starlit sky, and
when Nick lifted his head and looked down at her, Jenna
was trapped in his gaze. She read the fire in his eyes,
sensed the tautly controlled tension vibrating through
his body and felt his need as surely as she did her own.
“Now. Here.” He lifted his hands high enough to take
hold of the zipper, then slid it down, baring her back to
the night wind. Then he pushed the thin straps of her
dress down over her shoulders, and Jenna was suddenly
glad she hadn’t worn a bra beneath that thin, summer
Now there was nothing separating her from his
touch. From the warmth of his hands. He cupped her
breasts in his palms and rubbed her tender, aching
nipples until she felt the tug and pull right down to the
soles of her feet. She swayed into him, letting her head
fall back and her eyes close as she concentrated solely
on what he was doing to her.
It was everything. His touch, his scent filled her,
overwhelming her with a desire that was so much more
than she’d once felt for him. In the year since she’d seen
him, she’d grown, changed, and now that she was with
was more, so she was able to
“Beautiful,” he said, his voice no more than a raw
scrape of sound. His gaze locked on her breasts, he
said, “Even more beautiful than I remembered.”
“Nick,” she whispered brokenly, “I want—”
“I know,” he said, dipping his head, taking first one
hardened nipple, then the other into his mouth. His lips
and tongue worked that tender flesh, nibbling, licking,
suckling, until Jenna’s head was spinning and she knew
that without his grip on her, she would have fallen into
a heap of sensation at his feet.
He pushed her dress the rest of the way down, let-
ting it fall onto the floor, and Jenna was standing in
the moonlight, wearing only her high-heeled sandals
and her white silk bikini panties. And she felt too
covered. Felt as if the fragile lace of her underwear
were chafing her skin. All she wanted on her now was
Nick. She wanted to lie beneath him, feel his body
cover hers, feel him push himself deeply inside her.
She loved him. Heaven help her, she still loved him.
Why was it that only Nick could do this to her? Why
was he the man her heart yearned for? And what was
she going to do about it?
Then he touched her more deeply and those thoughts
fled along with any others. All she could do was feel.
“Please,” she said on a groan, “please, I need…”
“I need it, too,” he told her, lifting her head, looking
down into her eyes as he slid one hand down the length
of her body, fingertips lightly dusting across her skin.
He reached the elastic band of her panties and dipped
his hand beneath it to cup her heat.
Jenna rocked into him, leaning hard against him, but
Nick didn’t let her rest. Instead, he turned her around
until her back was pressed to his front and she was
facing the wide emptiness of the moonlit sea.
He used one hand to tease and tweak her nipples
while the other explored her damp heat. His fingers
dipped lower, smoothing across her most tender, sensi-
tive flesh with a feathery caress that only fed the flames
threatening to devour her.
Jenna groaned again, lost for words. Her mind had
splintered, no thoughts were gathering. She was empty
but for the sensations he created. He dipped his head and
whispered into her ear, “Watch the sea. See the moon-
light. Lose yourself in them while I lose myself in
She did what he asked, fighting to keep her eyes
open, and focused on the shimmering sea as he dipped
first one finger and then another into her heat. Jenna’s
breath hitched and she wanted to close her eyes, the
better to focus on what he was doing, but she didn’t.
Instead, she stared unseeing at the broad expanse of sea
and sky stretching out into infinity in front of her and
fought to breathe as his magic fingers pushed her along
a road of sensual pleasure.
He stroked, he delved, he rubbed. His fingers moved
over her skin as a concert pianist would touch a grand
piano. Her body was his instrument, and she felt his
expert’s touch with a grateful heart. Again and again,
he pushed her, his fingers stroking her from the inside
while his thumb tortured one particularly sensitive spot.
And while Jenna moaned and twisted in his grasp, her
eyes locked on the shimmering sea, she let herself go.
She dropped any sense of embarrassment or worry. She
pushed aside every stray thought of censure that leaped
into her mind, and she devoted herself to the sensory
overload she was experiencing.
“Come for me,” Nick whispered, his voice no more
than a hush in her ear. His breath dusted her face, her
neck, while his fingers continued the gentle, determined
invasion. “Let me see you. Let me feel you go over.”
His voice was a temptation. Because she was so
close to a climax. Her knees trembled. Her body weak-
ened even as it strove to reach the peak Nick was
pushing her toward. Her breath came in ragged gasps,
her heartbeat thundered in her ears and the tension
coiling within was almost more than she could bear.
And when she thought she wouldn’t survive another
moment, she cried out his name and splintered in his
arms. Her body shattered, she rode the exquisite wave
of completion until she fell at the end only to be caught
and held in his strong arms.
Jenna dropped her head onto his shoulder, swallowed
hard and fought to speak. “That was—”
“Only the beginning,” Nick finished for her and
picked her up, swinging her into his arms and stalking
back into the suite. He was teetering on the edge of
reason. Touching her, feeling her climax roar through
her, sensing her surrender, had all come together to
build a fire inside him like nothing he’d ever known
Seduction had been the plan.
He’d thought to use her, feed the need that she’d
caused, then be able to let her go. Get her out of his
head, out of his blood. But those moments with her on
the balcony only made him want more. He had to have
her under him, writhing beneath him as he took her.
She lay curled against his chest, in a trusting manner
that tore at him even as it touched something inside him
he hadn’t been aware of. She was trouble. He knew it.
Felt it. And couldn’t stop himself from wanting.
In his bedroom Nick strode to the bed, reached down
with one hand and grabbed the heavy, black duvet in
one fist. Then he tossed it to the foot of the mattress and
forgot about it. He laid Jenna down on the white sheets
and looked at her for a long moment. The moonlight
caressed her here, as well, sliding in through the wide
bank of glass that lined his bedroom suite. A silvery
glow coated her skin as she stretched like a satisfied cat
before smiling up at him.
“Come to me, Nick,” she urged, lifting both arms
He didn’t need a second invitation. Tearing off his
clothes, he joined her on the bed, covered her body
with his and surrendered to the inevitable. More than a
year ago, their first encounter had ended in his bed.
Now, it seemed, they’d come full circle.
Nick ran his hands up and down her body and knew
he’d never be able to touch her enough. He drew a
breath and savored her scent. Dipped his head and
tasted her skin at the base of her throat. Her pulse
jolted beneath his mouth and he knew she was as eager
as he, as needy as he.
He touched her core, delving his fingers into her
heat again, and she lifted her hips from the bed, rocking
into his hand, moaning and whispering to him.
His body ached and clamored for release. Every inch
of him was humming, just touching her. Lying beside
her. Jenna. Always Jenna who did this to him. Who
turned him into a man possessed, a man who could
think of nothing beyond claiming what he knew to be
With that thought, Nick tore away from her arms,
ignoring the soft sound of disappointment that slipped
from her throat. Tugging the drawer on the bedside
table open, he reached in, grabbed a condom and, in a
few quick seconds, sheathed himself. Then he turned
back to her, levering himself over her, positioning
himself between her thighs.
He gave her a quick smile. “Last time we forgot that
part and look what happened.”
“You’re right,” she said, reaching down to stroke his
length, her fingers sliding over the thin layer of latex in
a caress that had Nick gulping for air. “Now, will you
come to me?”
He spread her thighs farther apart, leaned in close
and locked his gaze with hers as his body entered hers.
Inch by inch, he invaded her, torturing them both with
his deliberately slow thrust.
Her hips moved beneath him, her eyes squeezed shut
and she bit her bottom lip. Reaching up, her hands
found his upper arms and held on, her short nails
digging into his skin, and that was the last straw. The
final touch that sent Nick over the edge of reason.
He pushed himself deep inside her and groaned at the
tight, hot feel of her body holding his. His hips rocked,
setting a rhythm that was both as old as time and new
and exciting. She held on tighter, harder, her nails biting
into his flesh with a stinging sensation that was coun-
terpoint to the incredible delight of being within her.
Nick moved and she moved with him. Their rhythm
set, they danced together, bodies joined, melded, be-
coming one as they reached for the same, shattering
end that awaited them. He stared down into her eyes,
losing himself in their depths. She met his gaze and
held it until finally, as he felt her body begin to fist
around his, she closed her eyes, shrieked his name and
shuddered violently as her body exploded from the
His own release came a scant moment later, and
Nick heard himself shout as the tremendous relief
spilled through him again and again, as if the pleasure
would never end.
When he collapsed atop her, he still wasn’t sure just
who had seduced whom.
t was a long night.
As if they’d destroyed the invisible barrier keeping
them separate, Jenna and Nick came together again and
again during the night. Until finally, exhausted, they fell
into sleep just before dawn.
When Jenna woke several hours later, she was alone
in the big bed. Pushing her hair out of her eyes, she sat
up, clutched the silky white sheet to her chest and stared
around Nick’s room as if half expecting him to appear
from the shadows. But he didn’t.
Carefully, since her muscles ached, she scooted off
the bed, wandered down the hall to her own room and
walked directly to the bathroom. As she took a long, hot
shower, her mind drifted back to the night before and she
wondered if things would be different between them now.
But if she thought about that, hoped for it, how much
more disappointed would she be if it didn’t happen?
Nick had made no promises.
Just as he had made no promises last year during
their one amazing week together.
So basically, Jenna told herself, she’d made the same
mistake she had before. She’d fallen into bed with a man
she loved—despite the fact that he didn’t love her.
“Oh, man.” She rested her forehead against the aqua
and white tiles while the hot, pulsing streams of water
pounded against her back. “Jenna, if you’re going to
make mistakes, and hey, everyone does…at least make
Out of the shower, she dried off and dressed in a pair
of white shorts and a dark green tank top. Then she sat
on her bed and tried to figure out her next move. The
only problem was, she didn’t have a clue what to do
about what was happening in her world. This had all
seemed like such a simple idea. Come to Nick. Tell him
about the boys. Go home and slide back into her life.
But now, everything felt…complicated.
Muttering under her breath about stupid decisions
and consequences, Jenna glanced at the clock on the
bedside table and noticed the phone. Instantly her heart
lifted. That’s what she needed, she realized. She needed
to touch base with the real world. To talk to her sister.
To listen to her sons cooing.
Grabbing the receiver, she immediately got the ship’s
operator, gave them the number she wanted and waited
while the phone on the other end of the line rang and
rang. Finally, though, Maxie picked up and breathlessly
said, “I don’t have time for salesmen.”
Laughing, Jenna eased back against the headboard
of her bed and said, “Hello to you, too.”
“Oh, Jenna, it’s you.” Maxie chuckled a little. “Sorry
about that, but your babies are making me a little
She jolted away from the headboard, frowning at the
phone in her hand. “Are they okay?”
fine,” Maxie assured her. “I’m the one
who’s going to be dead soon. How do you do this every
day? If I ever forget to tell you how amazing I think you
are, remind me of this moment.”
“Thanks, I will. So the boys are good?”
“Happy as clams,” her sister said, then paused and idly
asked, “although, how do we know clams are happy? It’s
not like they smile or whistle or something….”
“One of the great mysteries of the universe.”
In the background, Jenna heard both the television
set blaring and at least one baby crying. “Who is that
crying?” she asked.
“Jacob,” Maxie told her and her voice was muffled
for a minute. “I’m holding Cooper and giving him a
bottle and Jake wants his turn. Not exactly rating a ten
on the patience scale, that boy.”
“True, Jake is a little less easygoing than Cooper.”
Jenna was quiet then as Maxie brought her up to date
on the twins’ lives. She smiled as she listened, but her
heart ached a little, too. She wanted to be there, holding
her sons, soothing them, feeding them. And the fact that
she wasn’t literally tore at her.
“Bottom line, everything’s good here,” her sister said
finally. “How about you? How did Nick take the news?”
“He doesn’t believe me.”
“Well, there’s a shocker.”
Jenna rolled her eyes. Maxie wasn’t a big fan of
Nick Falco. But then, her sister had been wined, dined
and then dumped by a rich guy a couple of years before,
and ever since then she didn’t have a lot of faith in men
in general—and rich men in particular.
“He took the DNA test, though, and was going to
have the results faxed to our lab. He should have proof
even he can’t deny in the next day or two.”
“Good. Then you’re coming home, right?”
“Yeah.” Jenna plucked at the hem of her shorts with
her fingertips. She wouldn’t stay on board ship for the
whole cruise. She’d done what she’d come here to do,
and staying around Nick any longer than was necessary
was only going to make things even more complicated
than they already were.
“I love my nephews,” Maxie was saying, “but I think
they’re as ready to see you as I am.”
“I miss them so much.” Her heart pinged again as she
listened to the angry sound of Jake’s cry.
“Uh-huh, now tell me why you really called.”
Jenna scowled. “I called to check on my sons.”
“Oh, that was part of it. Now let’s hear the rest,”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Hold on, have to switch babies. Cooper’s finished
and it’s Jake’s turn.”
Jenna waited and listened to her sister talking to both
of the boys, obviously laying Cooper down and picking
Jake up as the infant’s cries were now louder and more
demanding. She smiled to herself when his crying
abruptly shut off and knew that he was occupied with
“Okay, I’m back,” Maxie said a moment later. “Now,
tell me what happened between you and Nick.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know exactly what I mean and the fact that
you’re avoiding the question tells me just what hap-
pened,” her sister said. “You slept with him again, didn’t
Jenna’s head dropped to the headboard behind her
and she stared unseeing up at the ceiling.
“There wasn’t a lot of sleeping, but yeah.”
“Damn it, Jenna—”
She sat up. “I already know it was a mistake, so if
you don’t mind…”
“A mistake? Forgetting to buy bread at the market is
a mistake. Sleeping with a guy who’s already dumped
you once is a disaster.”
“Well, thanks so much,” Jenna said drily. “That
makes me feel so much better.”
Maxie blew out a breath, whispered, “It’s okay, Jake,
I’m not yelling at you. I’m yelling at your mommy.”
Then she said louder, “Fine. Sorry for yelling. But
Jenna, you know nothing good can come of this.”
“I know.” Hadn’t she awoken in an empty bed, with
no sign of the tender lover she’d spent the night with?
Nick couldn’t have been more blatant in letting her
know just how unimportant she was to him. “God, I
“Come home,” Maxie urged.
“I will. Soon.”
“No,” Jenna said, shaking her head as she swung her
legs off the bed and sat up straight. “I have to talk to him.”
“Haven’t you said everything there is to say?”
Probably, Jenna thought. After all, it wasn’t as if she
was going to tell him she loved him. And wasn’t that
the only piece of information he was missing? Hadn’t
she done what she’d come here to do? Hadn’t she ac-
complished her mission and more?
Her sister blew out a breath, and Jenna could almost
see her rolling her eyes.
“I just don’t want to see you destroyed again,” Maxie
finally said. “He’s not the guy for you, Jenna, and some-
where deep inside, you know it. You’re only asking to
get kicked in the teeth again.”
The fact that her sister was right didn’t change
anything. Jenna knew she couldn’t leave until she’d
seen Nick again. Found out what last night had meant
to him, if anything. She had to prove to herself one way
or the other that there was no future for them. It was the
only way she’d ever be able to let go and make a life
for herself and her children.
“If I get hurt again, I’ll recover,” she said, her voice
firming as she continued. “I appreciate you worrying
about me, Maxie, but I’ve got to see this through. So
I’ll call you when I’m on my way home. Are you sure
you’re okay to take care of the boys for another couple
There was a long moment of silence before her sister
said, “Yeah. We’re fine.”
“What about work?” Maxie was a medical transcri-
ber. She worked out of her home, which was a big
bonus for those times when Jenna needed a babysitter
fast. Like now.
“I work around the babies’ nap schedules. I’m keep-
ing up. Don’t worry about it.”
“Jenna? Just be careful, okay?”
The door to the suite opened and a maid stepped in.
She spotted Jenna, made an apologetic gesture and
started to back out again.
“No, wait. It’s okay, you can come in now.” Then to
her sister, she said, “The maid’s here, I’ve got to go. I’ll
call you soon. And kiss the boys for me, okay?”
When she hung up, Jenna didn’t know if she felt
better or worse. It was good to know her sons were fine,
but Maxie’s words kept rattling around in her brain.
Yes, her sister was prejudiced against wealthy men, but
she had a point, too. Jenna
been nearly destroyed
after she and Nick had split apart a year ago.
This time, though, she had the distinct feeling that
the pain of losing him was going to be much, much
Nick had never thought of himself as a coward.
Hell, he’d fought his way to the top of the financial
world. He’d carved out an empire with nothing more
than his guts and a dream. He’d created a world that was
everything he’d ever wanted.
And yet…a couple of hours ago, he’d slipped out of
bed and left Jenna sleeping alone in his room because
he hadn’t wanted to talk to her.
“Women,” he muttered, leaning on the railing at the
bow of the Splendor Deck, letting his gaze slide over
the shoreline of Acapulco, “always want to
morning after. Always have to analyze and pick apart
everything you’d done and said the night before.”
But there was nothing to analyze, he reminded him-
self. He’d had her, just as he’d planned, and now he was
through—also as he’d planned.
Of course his body tightened and his stomach fisted
at the thought, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was
that he’d had Jenna under him, over him, around him, and
now he could let her go completely. No more haunted
dreams. No more thinking about her at stray moments.
It was finished.
Scowling, he watched as surfers rode the waves into
shore while tourists on towels baked themselves to a
cherry-red color on the beach. Brightly striped umbrellas
were unfurled at intervals along the sand, and waiters
dressed in white moved among the crowd delivering
So if it was finished, why the hell was he still
thinking about her?
Because, he silently acknowledged, that night with
her had been unlike anything he’d experienced since the
last time they’d been together. Nick wasn’t a monk.
And since he was single, he saw no problem in indulg-
ing himself with as many women as he wanted. But no
woman had ever gotten to him the way Jenna had.
She made him feel things he had no interest in. Made
him want more than he should. That thought both in-
trigued and bothered him. He wasn’t looking for anything
more than casual sex with a willing woman. And nothing
about Jenna was casual. He already knew that.
So the best thing he could do was stay the hell
away from her.
Better for both of them. He pushed away from the
railing in disgust. But damned if he’d hide out on his own
blasted ship. He’d find Jenna, tell her that he wasn’t
interested in a replay of last night—and
lying? Turning, he was in time to see Jenna walking
toward him, and everything in him tightened uncom-
In the late-morning sunlight, she looked beautiful.
Her blond hair hung loose about her shoulders. Her
tank top clung to her breasts—no bra—and his mouth
went dry. Her white shorts made her lightly tanned skin
look the color of warmed honey. Her dark blue eyes
were locked on him, and Nick had to force himself to
stand still. To not go to her, pull her up close to him and
taste that delectable mouth of hers again.
She hitched her purse a little higher on one bare
shoulder and tightened her grip on the strap when she
stopped directly in front of him. Whipping her hair back
out of her eyes, she looked up at him and said, “I won-
dered where you disappeared to.”
“I had some things to take care of,” Nick told her and
it was partially true. He’d already fired the band that had
refused to clean up their act, hired another one and was
expected at a meeting with the harbormaster in a half
But he’d still been avoiding her.
“Jenna—” he said at the same time, wanting to cut off
any attempt by her to romanticize the night before. Bad
enough he’d done too much thinking about it already.
“Me first, okay?” she spoke up quickly, before he
had a chance to continue. She gave him a half smile, and
Nick braced himself for the whole what-do-I-mean-to-
you, question-and-answer session. This was why he
normally went only for the women who, like him, were
looking for nothing more complex than one night of
fun. Women like Jenna just weren’t on his radar, usually.
For good reason.
“I just want to say,” she started, then paused for a
quick look around to make sure they were alone. They
were, since this end of the Splendor Deck was attached
to his suite and not accessible to passengers. “Last night
was a mistake.”
“What?” Not what he’d been expecting.
“We shouldn’t have,” she said, shaking her head.
“Sex with you was not why I came here. It wasn’t part
of my plan, and right now, I’m really regretting that it
happened at all.”
Instantly outrage pumped through him. She
being with him? How the hell was that possible?
He’d been there. He’d heard her whimpers, moans and
her surrender. He’d trembled with
the force of her climaxes and knew damn well she’d had
as good a time as he had. So how the hell could she be
More, how could he dump her as per the plan if she
was dumping him first?
“Is that right?” he managed to say through gritted
“Oh, come on, Nick,” she said, frowning a bit. “You
know as well as I do that it shouldn’t have happened.
You’re only interested in relationships that last the
length of a cruise, and I’m a single mom. I’m in no posi-
tion to be anybody’s babe of the month.”
“Babe of the month?” He was insulted, and the fact
that he’d been about to tell her almost exactly what she
was saying to him wasn’t lost on him.
She blew out a breath and tightened the already death
grip she had on the strap of her purse. “I’m just saying
that it won’t happen again. I mean, what happened last
night. With us. You and me. Not again.”
“Yeah, I get it.” And now that she’d said that, he
wanted her more than ever. Wasn’t that a bitch of a thing
to admit? Not that he’d give her the satisfaction of
knowing what he was thinking. “Probably best that way.”
“It is,” she said, but her voice sounded a little wistful.
Or was he hearing what he wanted to hear?
Strange, a few minutes ago, he’d been thinking of
ways to let her go. To tell her they were done. Now that
she’d beaten him to the punch, he felt different. What
the hell was happening to him, anyway?
Whatever it was, Nick told himself firmly, it was
time to nip it in the bud. No way was he going to be
tripping on his own heartstrings. Not over a woman he
already knew to be an accomplished liar.
Besides, she hadn’t come on this trip for him, he told
himself sternly, but for what he could give her. She’d
booked passage on his ship with the sole purpose of
getting money out of him. Sure, it was for child support.
But she still wanted money. So what made her differ-
ent from any other woman he’d known?
“I’m attracted to you,” she was saying, and it looked
like admitting that was costing her, “but then I guess
you already figured that out.”
Was she blushing? Did women still do that?
“But I’m not going to let my hormones be in the
driver’s seat,” she told him and met his gaze with a
steely determination. “Pretty soon, you’ll be back sail-
ing the world with a brunette or a redhead on your arm
and I’ll be back in Seal Beach taking care of my sons.”
He wasn’t going there until he knew for sure. Instead,
he decided to turn the tables on her. Remind her just
whose ship she was on. Remind her that he hadn’t come
to her, it had been the other way around.
“Don’t get yourself tied up in knots over this, Jenna,”
he said, reaching out to chuck her under the chin with
his fingertips. “It was one night. A blip on the radar
She blinked at him.
“We had a good time,” he said lightly, letting none
of the tension he felt coiled inside show. “Now it’s over.
End of story.”
He watched as his words slapped at her, and just for
a minute he wished he could take them back. Yet as that
feeling rushed over him, he wondered where it had
“Okay, then,” Jenna said, her voice nearly lost in the
rush and swell of the sea below them, tumbling against
the ship’s hull. “So now we know where we stand.”
“Well, then,” she said, forcing a smile that looked
brittle, “maybe I should just fly home early. I can catch
a flight out of Acapulco easily enough. I talked to my
sister earlier and she’s going a little nuts—”
He cut her off instantly. “Are the babies all right?”
She stopped, looked at him quizzically and said
slowly, “Yes, of course. The boys are fine, but Maxie’s
not used to dealing with them twenty-four hours a day
and they can be exhausting, so—”
“I’d rather you didn’t leave yet,” he blurted.
Because he wasn’t ready for her to be gone. But
since admitting that even to himself was too lowering,
he said, “I want you here until we get the results from
the DNA test.”
Her gaze dropped briefly, then lifted to meet his again.
“You said we’d probably hear sometime today, anyway.”
“Then there’s no problem with you waiting.”
“What’s this really about, Nick?” she asked.
“Just what I said,” he told her, taking her arm in a
firm grip and turning her around. Heat bled up from the
spot where his hand rested on her arm. He fought the
urge to pull her into him, to dip his head and kiss the
pulse beat at the base of her throat. To pull the hem of
her shirt up so he could fill his hands with her breasts.
Damn, he was hard and hot and really irritated by
that simple fact.
Leading her along the wide walkway, he started for
his suite. “We’ve got unfinished business together,
Jenna. And until it’s done and over, you’re staying.”
“Maybe I should get another room.”
“Worried you won’t be able to control yourself?” he
chided as he opened the door and allowed her to precede
him into the suite.
“In your dreams,” she said shortly, and tossed her
purse onto the sofa.
“And yours,” he said.
Jenna looked at him and felt herself weakening. It
wasn’t fair that this was so hard. Wasn’t fair that her
body wanted and her heart yearned even as her mind
told her to back away. She had to leave the ship. Soon.
In the strained silence, a beep sounded from another
room, and she glanced at Nick, a question in her eyes.
She nodded and as he walked off to get whatever had
come in for him, Jenna headed for his bedroom. All she
wanted to do was get the underwear she’d left in there
the night before. And better to do it while he was
occupied somewhere else.
Opening the door, she swung it wide just as Nick
called out, “It’s from the lab.”
If he said anything else, she didn’t hear him. Didn’t
even feel a spurt of pleasure, knowing that now he’d
have no choice but to believe her about the fact that he
was the father of her sons.
Instead Jenna’s gaze was locked on his bed, and her
brain short-circuited as she blankly stared at the very
redhead stretched out on top of
enna?” Nick’s voice came from behind her, but she
“Hey!” The redhead’s eyes were wide as she scram-
bled to cover herself—a little too late—with the black
duvet. “I didn’t know he already had company….”
Nick came up behind Jenna, and she actually felt him
tense up. “Who the hell are you?” he demanded, push-
ing past Jenna to face the woman staring up at him
through eyes shining with panic.
“Babe of the month?” Jenna asked curtly.
“Look,” the redhead was saying from beneath the
safety of the duvet, “I can see I made a mistake here
“Oh,” Jenna told her snidely, “don’t leave on my
account,” then she spun on her heel and marched down
the long hall toward her own bedroom.
“Jenna, damn it, wait.” Nick’s voice was furious but
she didn’t care. Didn’t want to hear his explanation.
What could he possibly say? There was a naked woman
in his bed. And he hadn’t looked surprised, just angry.
Which told Jenna everything she needed to know. This
happened to him a
That simple fact made one thing perfectly clear to
It was so past time for her to leave.
God, she was an idiot. To even allow herself to
that she loved him. Was she a glutton for punishment?
She marched into her room on autopilot. Blindly she
moved to the closet, grabbed her suitcase and tossed it
onto the bed. Opening it up, she threw the lid back, then
turned for the closet again. Scooping up an armful of
her clothes, she carried them to the suitcase, dropped
them in and was on her way back to the closet for a
second load when Nick arrived.
He stalked right up to her, grabbed her arm and spun
her around. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
She wrenched herself free and gave him a glare that
should have fried him on the spot. Jenna was furious
and hurt and embarrassed. A dangerous combination.
“That should be perfectly obvious, even to you. I’m
“Because of the redhead?”
“What’s the matter, can’t remember her name?”
“I’ve never even
her for God’s sake,” he shouted,
shoving one hand through his hair in obvious irritation,
“how the hell should I know her damn name?”
“Stop swearing at me!” Jenna shouted right back.
She felt as if every cell in her body was in a strangle-
hold. Her blood was racing, her mind was in a whirl of
conflicting thoughts and emotions, and the only thing
she knew for sure was she didn’t belong here. Couldn’t
stay another minute. “I’m leaving and you can’t stop
“Jenna, damn it, the results from the lab came in—”
Not exactly the way she’d imagined this conversa-
tion going, she told herself indignantly. Somehow she’d
pictured her and Nick, reading the results together. In
her mind, she’d watched as realization came over him.
As he acknowledged that he was a father.
Of course, she hadn’t pictured a naked redhead being
part of the scene.
“Then you know I was telling you the truth. My
work here is done.” She grabbed up her sneakers, high
heels and a pair of flats and tossed them into the suitcase
on top of her clothes. Sure it was messy, but she was
way past caring.
“We have to talk.”
“Oh, we’ve said all we’re going to say to each other,”
Jenna told him, skipping backward when he made a
grab for her again. She didn’t trust herself to keep her
anger fired if he touched her. “Have your lawyers con-
tact me,” she snapped and marched into the connecting
bathroom to gather up the toiletries she had scattered
across the counter.
“Damn it,” Nick said, his voice as tight as the tension
coiled inside her. “I just found out I’m a
God’s sake. I need a minute here. If you’ll calm down,
we can discuss this—”
“Shouldn’t you be down the hall with Miss Ready-
And-Willing?” Jenna inquired too sweetly as she
pushed past him, her things in the crook of her arm.
He shook his head. “She’s getting dressed and get-
ting out,” he said, grabbing Jenna’s arm again to yank
her around to face him.
God help her, her body still reacted to his hands on
her. Despite everything, she felt the heat, the swell of
passion rising inside to mingle with the fury swamping
her, and Jenna was sure this wasn’t a good thing. She
had to get out.
But Nick only tightened his grip. “I didn’t invite her.
She bribed a maid.”
She swallowed hard, lowered her gaze to his hands
on her arms and said, “You’re hurting me.” He wasn’t,
but her statement was enough to make him release her.
“It’s a wonder the woman had to bribe anyone. I’m
sure the maids are used to letting naked women into
your suite. Pretty much a revolving door around here,
“Nobody gets into my suite unless I approve it,
which I didn’t in this case,” Nick added quickly. “And
I hope for the maid’s sake that it was a
because it just cost her her job.”
“Oh, that’s nice,” Jenna said as she turned to zip her
suitcase closed. “Fire a maid because you’re the horn-
iest male on the face of the planet.”
Jenna straightened up, folded her arms across her
chest and tapped the toe of her sandal against the floor
as she glared up at him. “Everyone on this ship knows
what a player you are, Nick. Probably wasn’t a big sur-
prise to the maid that a woman wanted into your suite
and for all she knew, you
want her here.”
He glared right back at her. “My life is my business.”
“You’re right it is.” She grabbed the handle of her
suitcase and slid it off the bed. Jenna didn’t even care
if she’d left something behind. She couldn’t stay here
a second longer. She had to get away from Nick, off this
ship and back to the world that made sense. The world
where she was wanted. Needed.
“And I don’t owe you an explanation for anything,”
he pointed out unnecessarily.
“No, you don’t. Just as you don’t have to fire a maid
because she assumed it was business as usual around
here.” Jenna shook her head, looked him up and down,
then fixed her gaze on his. “But you do what you want
to, Nick. You always do. Blame the maid. Someone
who works hard for a living. Fire her. Make yourself feel
better. Just don’t expect me to hang around to watch.”
“Damn it, Jenna, I’m not letting you walk out.” He
moved in closer and she felt the heat of his body
reaching out for her. “I want to know about my sons. I
want to talk about what we’re going to do now.”
Tightening her grip on the suitcase handle, Jenna
swung her hair back behind her shoulders and said
softly, “What we’re going to do now is go back to our
lives. Contact your lawyer, set up child support. I’ll
send you pictures of the boys. I’ll keep you informed
of what’s happening with them.”
“It’s not enough,” he muttered, his voice low and
deep and hard.
“It’ll have to be, because it’s all I can give you.”
Jenna walked past him, headed for the living room and
the purse she’d left on a sofa. But she stopped in the
doorway and turned for one last look at him.
Diffused sunlight speared through the bank of win-
dows and made his dark hair shine. His eyes were
shadowed and filled with emotions she couldn’t read,
and his tall, leanly muscled body was taut with a fury
that was nearly tangible.
Everything in her ached for him.
But she’d just have to learn to live with disappointment.
Jenna was gone.
So was the redhead.
And he didn’t fire the maid.
Nick hated like hell that Jenna had been right about
that, but how could he fire some woman when everyone
on the damn ship knew he had women coming and
going all the time? Instead, he’d had Teresa demote the
maid to the lower decks and instructed her to make it
clear that if the woman ever took another bribe from a
guest, she’d be out on her ass.
Sitting at the desk in his office, he turned his chair
so that he faced the sprawl of the sea. He wasn’t seeing
the last of the day’s sunlight splashing on the water like
fistfuls of diamonds spread across its surface. He didn’t
notice the wash of brilliant reds and violets as sunset
painted a mural across the sky. Instead his mind con-
tinued to present him with that last look he’d had of
Jenna. Standing in the open doorway of her bedroom,
suitcase in her hand, wearing an expression that was a
combination of regret and disappointment.
“What right does she have to be disappointed in me?
And why the hell do I care what she thinks?” he mut-
tered. He’d meant to have her and let her go. It had been
a good plan and that’s exactly what had happened. He
ought to be pleased. Instead, his brain continued to ask
him just why Jenna had been so pissed about the
Was she being territorial?
Did she really care for him?
Did it matter?
Then he glanced down at the single sheet of paper
he still held in his hand. The fax from the lab in San
Pedro was clear and easy to read.
His DNA matched that of Jenna’s twins.
Nick Falco was a father.
He was both proud and horrified.
“I have two sons,” he said, needing to hear the words
said aloud. He shook his head at the wonder of it and
felt something in his chest squeeze tightly until it was
almost impossible to draw a breath.
He was a
Two tiny boys who weren’t even aware of his exis-
tence were only alive because of
Pushing up from
his chair, he walked to the wide bank of glass separat-
ing him from the ocean beyond and leaned one hand on
the cool surface of the window. Sons. Twins. He felt that
twist of suppressed emotion again and murmured, “The
question is, how do I handle it? What’s the best way to
manage this situation?”
Jenna had left, assuming that he’d keep his distance.
Deal with her through the comforting buffer of an attor-
ney. He scowled at the sea and felt a small but undeni-
able surge of anger begin to rise within him, twisting
with that sense of pride and confusion until he nearly
shook with the rush of emotions he wasn’t used to
He was a man who deliberately kept himself at a
distance from most people. He liked having that comfort
zone that prevented anyone from getting too close. Now,
though, that was going to change. It had to change.
Jenna thought she knew him. Thought he’d be con-
tent to remain a stranger to his sons. Thought he’d go
on with his life, putting her and Jacob and Cooper aside.
Knowing her, she thought he’d be satisfied to be nothing
more than a fat wallet to his sons.
“She’s wrong,” he muttered thickly, and his hand on
the glass fisted. “I may not know anything about being
a father, but those boys are
And I’ll be damned if
keep me from them.”
Turning around, he hit a button on the intercom and
ground out, “Teresa?”
He folded the DNA report, tucked it into the breast
pocket of his shirt and said, “Call the airport. Hire a
private jet. I’m going back to California.”
By the following morning, it was almost as if Jenna
had never been gone. She’d stopped on the way home
from the airport the night before to pick up the boys at
Maxie’s house. She hadn’t been able to bear the thought
of being away from them another minute. With the
twins safely in their rooms and her suitcase unpacked,
Jenna was almost able to convince herself that she’d
never left. That the short-lived cruise hadn’t happened.
That she hadn’t slept with Nick again. That she hadn’t
left him with a naked redhead in his bedroom.
The pain of that slid down deep inside, where she
carefully buried it. After all, none of that had anything
to do with reality. The cruise—Nick—had been a short
jaunt to the other side of the fence. Now she was back
where she belonged.
She’d been awake for hours already. The twins didn’t
take into consideration the fact that Mom hadn’t gotten
much sleep last night. They still wanted breakfast at six
o’clock in the morning. Now she was sitting on the
floor in the middle of her small living room, working
while she watched her boys.
“I missed you guys,” she said, looking over at her sons
as they each sat in a little jumper seat. The slightest
motion they made had the seat moving and shaking,
which delighted them and brought on bright, toothless
Jake waved one fist and bounced impatiently while
Cooper stared at his mother as if half-afraid to take his
eyes off her again for fear she might disappear.
“Your aunt Maxie said you were good boys,” she
said, talking to them as she always did. Folding the first
load of laundry for the day, Jenna paused to inhale the
soft, clean scent of their pajamas before stacking them
one on top of the other. “So because I missed you so
much and you were so good, how about we walk to the
park this afternoon?”
This was what Jenna wanted out of her life, she
thought. Routine. Her kids. Her small but cozy house.
A world that was filled with, if not excitement, then lots
of love. And if her heart hurt a little because Nick
wasn’t there and would never know what it was to be
a part of his sons’ lives, well, she figured she’d get
over it. Eventually. Shouldn’t take more than twenty or
The doorbell had her looking up, frowning. Then
she glanced at the twins. “You weren’t expecting any-
one, were you?”
Naturally, she didn’t get an answer, so she grinned,
pushed herself to her feet and stepped around them as
she walked the short distance to her front door. Glancing
over her shoulder, she gave the living room a quick
look to make sure everything was in order.
The couch was old but comfortable, the two arm
chairs were flowered, with bright throw pillows tucked
into their corners. The tables were small, and the rag rug
on the scarred but polished wooden floors were
handmade by her grandmother. Her home was just as
she liked it. Cozy. Welcoming.
She was still smiling when she opened the front door
to find Nick standing there. His dark hair was ruffled
by the wind, his jeans were worn and faded, and the
long-sleeved white shirt he wore tucked into those
jeans was open at the throat. He looked way too good
for her self-control. So she shifted her gaze briefly to
the black SUV parked at the curb in front of her house.
he’d gotten there. Now the only
thing to figure out was
he was there.
Looking back up into his face, she watched as he
pulled off his dark glasses, tucked an arm into the vee
of his shirt and looked into her eyes. “Morning, Jenna.”
“Good to see you, too,” he said, giving her a nod as
he stepped past her into the house.
“Hey! You can’t just—” Her gaze swept over him and
landed on the black duffle bag he was carrying. “What
are you doing here? Why’re you here? How did you find
He stopped just inside the living room, dropped his
duffel bag to the floor and shoved both hands into the
back pockets of his jeans. “I came to see my sons,” he
said tightly. “And trust me when I say it wasn’t hard to
“And I brought you this.” He pulled a small, sealed
envelope out of his back pocket and handed it over.
“It’s from your friend Mary Curran. She was upset
when she found out that you’d left the ship.”
Jenna winced. She hadn’t even thought of saying
goodbye to the friend she’d made, and a twinge of guilt
tugged at her.
“She said this is her telephone number and her
e-mail address.” He stared at her. “She wants you to
keep in touch.”
“I, uh, thanks.” She took the envelope.
He looked at her, hard and cold. His pale eyes were
icy and his jaw was clenched so tightly it was a wonder
his teeth weren’t powder. “Where are they?” he de-
Her mouth snapped closed, but she shot a look at the
boys, jiggling in their bouncy seats. Nick followed her
gaze and slowly turned. She watched as the expression
on his face shifted, going from cool disinterest to un-
certainty. Jenna couldn’t remember ever seeing Nick
Falco anything less than supremely confident.
Yet it appeared that meeting his children for the first
time was enough to shake even his equilibrium.
Walking toward them slowly, he approached the
twins as he would have a live grenade. Jenna held her
breath as she watched him gingerly drop to his knees
in front of the bouncy seats and let his gaze move from
one baby boy to the other. His eyes held a world of
emotions that she’d never thought to see. Usually he
guarded what he was thinking as diligently as a pit bull
on a short chain. But now…Jenna’s heart ached a little
in reaction to Nick’s response to the babies.
“Which one is which?” he whispered, as if he didn’t
completely trust his voice.
“Um—” She walked a little closer, her sneakers
squeaking a bit as she stepped off the rug onto the floor.
“No, wait,” he said, never looking at her, never taking
his gaze off the twins, “let me.” Tentatively, Nick
reached out one hand and gently cupped Jacob’s face
in his big palm. “This one’s Jake, right?”
“Yes,” she said, coming up beside him, looking down
at the faces of her sons who were both looking at Nick
in fascination. As usual, though, Jacob’s mouth was
open in a grin and Cooper had tipped his little head to
one side as if he really needed to study the situation a
bit longer before deciding how he felt about it.
“So then, you’re Cooper,” Nick said and with his free
hand, stroked that baby’s rounded cheek.
Jenna’s breath hitched in her chest and tears
gathered in her eyes. God, over the past several months,
she’d imagined telling Nick about the boys, but she’d
never allowed herself to think about him actually
She’d never for a moment thought that he would be
interested in seeing them. And now, watching his gentle
care with her boys made her heart weep and every
gentle emotion inside her come rushing to the surface.
There was just something so tender, so poignant about
this moment, that Jenna’s throat felt too tight to let air
pass. When she thought she could speak again without
hearing her voice break, she said, “You really were lis-
tening when I told you about them.”
“Of course,” he acknowledged, still not looking at
her, still not tearing his gaze from the two tiny boys who
had him so enthralled. “They’re just as you described
them. They look so much alike, and yet, their person-
alities are so obvious when you’re looking for the dif-
ferences. And you were right about something else, too.
“Yeah, they are,” she said, her heart warming as it
always did when someone complimented her children.
“Nick,” she asked a moment later, because this was def-
initely something she needed to know, “why have you
He stood up, faced her, then glanced again at his
sons, a bemused expression on his face. “To see them.
To talk to you. After you left, I did a lot of thinking. I
was angry at you for leaving.”
“I know. But I had to go.”
He didn’t address that. Instead he said, “I came here
to tell you I’d come up with a plan for dealing with this
situation. A way for each of us to win.”
“Win?” she repeated. “What do you mean ‘win’?”
Shifting his pale blue gaze back to hers, his features
tightened, his mouth firming into a straight, grim line.
A small thread of worry began to unspool inside of her,
and Jenna had to fight to keep from grabbing up her
kids and clutching them to her chest.
Only a moment ago she’d been touched by Nick’s
first sight of his sons. Now the look on his face told her
she wasn’t going to be happy with his “plan.”
“Look,” he said, shaking his head, sparing another
quick glance for the babies watching them through
wide, interested eyes, “it came to me last night that
there was an easy solution to all of this.”
“I didn’t come to you needing a solution. All I
wanted from you is child support.”
“Yeah, well, you’ll get that.” He waved one hand as
if brushing aside something that didn’t really matter.
“But I want more.”
That thread of worry thickened and became a ribbon
that kept unwinding, spreading a dark chill through her
bloodstream that nearly had her shivering as she asked,
“How much more?”
“I’m getting to that,” he said. “Like I said, I’ve been
doing a lot of thinking since you left the ship. And fi-
nally, last night on the flight up here, it occurred to me
that twins are a lot of work for any one parent.”
What was he getting at? Why was he suddenly shift-
ing his gaze from hers, avoiding looking at her directly?
And why had she ever gone to him? “Yes, it is, but—”
“So my plan was simple,” he said, interrupting her
before she could really get going. “We split them up,
each of us taking one of the twins.”
ick couldn’t blame her for the outrage.
She jumped in front of the babies and held her arms
up and extended as if to fight him off should he try to
grab the twins and run. “Are you insane? You can’t split
them up,” she said, keeping her voice low and hard. “They
You don’t get the pick of the litter. They’re
little boys, Nick. Twins. They need each other. They need
And you can’t take either of them away from me.”
He’d already come to the same conclusion. All it
had taken was one look at the boys, sitting in their little
seats, so close that they could reach out and touch each
other. But he hadn’t known until he’d seen them.
“Relax,” he said, lifting one hand to try to stop her
from taking off on another rant. “I said that’s the plan
have. Things have changed.”
“You’ve been here ten seconds. What could have
changed?” She was still defensive, standing in front of
her sons like a knight of old. All she really needed was
a battle-ax in her hands to complete the picture.
“I saw them,” he said, and something in his voice
must have reached her because her shoulders eased
down from their rigid stance. “They’re a unit. We can’t
split them up. I get that.”
“Good.” She blew out a breath. “That’s good.”
“I’m not finished,” he told her, and watched as her
back snapped straight as a board again. “I came here to
see my sons, and now that I have, I’m not going any-
She looked stunned, her mouth dropping open, her
big, blue eyes going even wider than usual. “What do
you mean?” Then, as she began to understand exactly
what he meant, she shook her head fiercely. “You can’t
possibly think you’re going to stay here.”
This was turning out to be more fun than he’d
thought it would be.
“Yeah, I am.” Nick glanced around the small living
room. You could have dropped two entire houses the
size of hers into his suite on the ship, and yet there was
something here that was lacking in his place, despite the
luxury. Here, he told himself, she’d made a home. For
her and their sons. A home he had no intention of
leaving. At least not for a while. Not until he’d gotten
to know his sons. Not until he’d come up with a way
that he could be a part of their lives.
“Not at all,” he said tightly, his gaze boring into hers.
“They’re my sons. I’ve already lost four months of their
lives and I’m not going to lose any more.”
He interrupted her quickly. “I won’t be just a check
to them, Jenna. And if that’s what you were hoping for,
sorry to disappoint.”
She chewed at her bottom lip, folded her arms over
her chest as if she were trying to hold herself together
and finally said, “You can’t stay here. There’s no room.
It’s a two-bedroom cottage, Nick. One for the boys, one
for me and you’re
staying in my room, I guarantee
His body tightened and he thought he just might be
able to change her mind on that front, eventually. But
for now, “I’ll bunk on the couch.”
“Look,” Nick said. “It’s simple. I stay here, get to
know my kids. Or,” he added, pulling out the big guns,
“I sue you for sole custody. And which one of us do you
think would win that battle? Your choice, Jenna. Which
will it be?”
Her face paled, and just for a second Nick felt like a
complete bastard. Then he remembered that he was
fighting for the only family he had. His sons. And
damned if he’d lose. Damned if he’d feel guilty for
wanting to be a part of their lives however he had to
“You would do that?”
“In a heartbeat.”
“You really are a callous jerk, aren’t you?”
“I am whatever I have to be to get the job done,” Nick
“Congratulations, then. You win this round.”
One of the babies began to cry, as if sensing the sud-
den tension in the room. Nick glanced down to see that
it was Jacob, his tiny face scrunched up as fat tears ran
down his little cheeks. An instant later, taking his cue
from his brother, Cooper, too, let out a wail that was
both heart wrenching and terrifying to Nick.
He threw a panicked look at Jenna, who only shook
“You want a crash course in fatherhood, Nick?” She
waved a hand at the boys, whose cries had now reached
an ear-splitting range as they thrashed and kicked and
waved their little arms furiously. “Here’s lesson one.
You made them cry. Now you make them stop.”
Then, while he watched her dumbfounded, she
scooped up the stack of freshly folded baby clothes and
walked off down a short hallway to disappear into what
he guessed was the boys’ bedroom, leaving him alone
with his frantic sons.
“Great,” Nick muttered as he dropped to his knees
in front of the twins. “This is just going great. Good job,
Nick. Way to go.”
As he dropped to his knees, jiggled the bouncy seats
and pleaded with the boys to be quiet, he had the distinct
feeling he was being watched. But if Jenna was standing
in the shadows observing his performance, he didn’t
really want to know. So he concentrated on his sons and
told himself that a man who could build a cruise ship
line out of nothing should be able to soothe a couple of
After all, how hard could it be?
By the end of the afternoon, Nick was on the ragged
edge and Jenna was enjoying the show. He’d fed the
boys, bathed them—which was entertainment enough
that she wished she’d videotaped the whole thing—and
now as he was trying to get them dressed. Jenna stood
in the doorway to the nursery, silently watching with a
delighted smile on her face.
“Come on, Cooper,” Nick pleaded. “Just let me get
this shirt on and then we’ll—” He stopped, sniffed the
air, then turned a horrified look on Jacob. “Did you?”
He sniffed again. “You did, didn’t you? And I just put
that diaper on you.”
Jenna slapped one hand over her mouth and watched
Nick in a splash of sunlight slanting through the opened
louvred blinds. The walls were a pale green and boasted
a mural she’d painted herself while pregnant. There
were trees and flowers and bunnies and puppies, painted
in bright, primary colors, racing through the garden. A
white dresser stood at one end of the room and an over-
stuffed rocking chair was tucked into a corner.
And now there was Nick.
Staring down into the crib where he’d laid both boys
for convenience sake, Nick shoved both hands through
his hair—something he’d been doing a lot—and
muttered something she didn’t quite catch.
Still, she didn’t offer to help.
He hadn’t asked for any, and Jenna thought it was
only fair that he get a real idea of what her days were
like. If nothing else, it should convince him that he was
not ready to be a single parent to twin boys.
“Okay, Coop,” he said with a tired sigh, “I’ll get
your shirt on in a minute. First, though, I’ve got to do
something about your brother before we all asphyxiate.”
Jenna chuckled, and Nick gave her a quick look.
“Enjoying this, are you?”
“Is that wrong?” she asked, still grinning.
He scowled at her, then shook his head and wrinkled
his nose. “Fine, fine. Big joke. But you have to admit,
I’m not doing badly.”
“I suppose,” she conceded with a nod. “But smells
to me as if you’ve got a little problem facing you at the
“And I’ll handle it,” he said firmly, as though he was
trying to convince himself, as well as her.
“Okay then, get to it.”
He scrubbed one hand across his face, looked down
into the crib and murmured, “How can someone so cute
smell so bad?”
“Yet another universal mystery,” she told him.
“Never mind,” Jenna said, thinking back to her con-
versation with Maxie when Jenna was still on the ship.
Before the redhead. Before she’d left in such a hurry.
Oh God. Jenna straightened up and closed her eyes.
Maxie. Wait until
found out that Nick was here.
“You okay?” he asked.
Opening her eyes again, she looked at him, so out of
place there in her sons’ nursery, and told herself that this
was just what he’d said their night together was. Nothing
more than a blip on the radar. One small step outside the
ordinary world. Once he’d made his point, got to know
his sons a little, he’d be gone again and everything
would go back to the way it was supposed to be.
Which was good, right?
“Huh? Oh. Yeah. I’m fine. Just…thinking.”
He looked at her for a long second or two as if trying
to figure out just what she’d been thinking. Thankfully,
mind reading was
one of his skills.
“So,” Jenna said softly, “are you going to take care
of Jake’s little problem or do you need a rescue?”
He didn’t look happy, but he also didn’t look like he
was going to beg off.
“No, I don’t need a rescue. I said I could take care
of them and I can.” He took a breath, frowned again and
reached into the crib.
Jenna heard the tear of the Velcro straps on the dis-
posable diaper, then heard Nick groan out, “Oh my God.”
Laughing, she turned around and left him to his sons.
Though it made her crazy, Jenna spent the rest of the
day in her small garage, working on a gift basket that
was to be delivered in two days. If Nick wanted to play
at being a father, then she’d just let him see what it was
like dealing with twin boys.
It felt strange to be right there at the house and still
be so separate from the boys, but she had to make Nick
see that he was in no way prepared to be a father. Had
to make him see that taking her sons away from her
would be a bad idea all the way around.
Just thinking about his threat sent cold chills up and
down her spine, though. He was rich. He could afford
the best lawyers in the country. He could hire nannies
and bodyguards and buy whatever the court might think
the boys would need.
“And where does that leave me?”
A single mom with a pitifully small bank account
and an office in her garage. She’d have no chance at all
if Nick really decided to fight her for their sons.
But why would he? That thought kept circling in her
mind and she couldn’t shake it. Was this all to punish
her? Was it nothing more than a show of force? But why
would he go to such lengths?
Shaking her head, she wrapped the completed basket
with shrink-wrap cellophane, plugged in her travel-size
hair dryer and focused the hot air on the clear plastic
wrap. As she tucked and straightened and pulled, the
gift basket began to take shape, and she smiled to herself
despite the frantic racing in her mind.
When she was finished, she left the basket on her
worktable where, in the morning, she’d affix a huge red
bow to the top before packing it up to be delivered. For
now, though, she was tired, hungry and very curious to
see how Nick was doing with the boys.
She slipped into the kitchen through the connect-
ing door and stopped for an appalled moment as she
let her gaze sweep the small and usually tidy room.
The red walls and white cabinets were pretty much
all she recognized. There was spilled powdered
formula strewn across the round tabletop, discarded
bottles that hadn’t been rinsed and a
of dirty re-
ceiving blankets that Nick had apparently used to
wipe up messes.
Shaking her head, she quietly walked into the living
room, half-afraid of what she would find. There wasn’t
a sound in the house. No TV. No crying babies. Nothing.
Frowning, she moved farther into the room, noticing
more empty baby bottles, and a torn bag of diapers
spilled across a tabletop next to an open and drying-out
box of baby wipes. Then she rounded the sofa and
stopped dead. Nick was stretched out, fast asleep on her
grandmother’s rag rug and on either side of him lay a
“Oh, my.” Jenna simply stood there, transfixed by the
sight of Nick and their sons taking a nap together. A
single lamp threw a puddle of golden light across the
three of them even as the last of the sunlight came
through the front window. Nick’s even breathing and the
soft sighs and coos issuing from the twins were the
only sounds in the room and Jenna etched this image
into her mind so that years from now she could call up
this mental picture and relive the moment.
There was just something so sweet, so
little scene. Nick and his sons. Together at last.
Her heart twisted painfully in her chest as love for
all three of them swamped her. Oh, she was in so much
trouble. Loving Nick was not a smart thing to do. She
knew there was no future there for them. All he wanted
was to be a part of her sons’ lives—that didn’t include
getting close with their mother. So, what was she sup-
posed to do? How could she love Nick when she knew
that nothing good could come of it? And how could she
keep her sons from him when she knew, deep down, that
they would need a father as much as Nick would need
“Why does it have to be you who touches my heart?”
she whispered, looking down at the man who’d invaded
her life and changed her world.
And as she watched him, Nick’s eyes slowly opened
and his steady stare locked on her. “Do I?” he asked
Caught, there was no point in trying to deny what
she’d already admitted aloud. She dropped to her knees.
“You know you do.”
Carefully, so as not to disturb the twins, Nick sat up,
wincing a little at the stiffness in his back. But his gaze
didn’t waver. He continued to meet her eyes, and Jenna
wished she could read what he was thinking. What he
But as always, Nick’s thoughts were his own, his
emotions so completely controlled she didn’t have a
clue what was going on behind those pale blue eyes.
“Then why’d you leave the ship so fast?” Nick asked
“You know why.” Just the memory of the naked red-
head was enough to put a little steel back into her spine.
“I didn’t even know her,” he reminded her with just
a touch of defensiveness in his voice.
“Doesn’t matter,” she said, lowering her voice
quickly when Jacob began to stir. She hadn’t meant to
wake him up. Hadn’t wanted to get into any of this
right now. But since it had happened anyway, there was
no point in trying to avoid it. “Nick, don’t you see? The
redhead was just a shining example of how different we
are. She brought home to me how much out of my ele-
ment I was on that ship. With you.”
He reached out, skimmed his fingertips along her
cheek and pushed her hair back behind her right ear.
Jenna shivered at the contact, but took a breath and
steadied herself. Want wasn’t enough. A one-sided love
wasn’t enough. She needed more. Deserved more.
“I don’t belong in the kind of life you lead, Nick. And
neither do the boys.”
“You could, though,” he told her, his voice a hush of
sound that seemed intimate, cajoling. “All three of you
could. We could all live on the ship. You know there’s
plenty of room. The boys would have space to play.
They’d see the world. Learn about different cultures,
Tempting, so tempting, just as he’d meant it to be.
A reluctant smile curved her mouth, but she shook her
head as she looked from him to the twins and back
again. “They can’t have a real life living on board a
ship, Nick. They need a backyard. Parks. School.
Friends—” She stopped, waved both hands and added,
He tore his gaze from hers and looked at first one
sleeping baby to the other before shifting his gaze back
to hers. “We’ll hire tutors. They can play with the pas-
sengers’ kids. We could even have a dog if they want
one. It could work, Jenna. We could make it work.”
Though a part of her longed to believe him, she
knew, deep down, that this wasn’t about him wanting
to be with her—finding a way to integrate her into his
life—this was about him discovering his sons and want-
ing them with him.
“No, Nick,” she whispered, shaking her head sadly.
“It wouldn’t be fair to them. Or us. You don’t want me,
you want your sons. And I understand that. Believe me
He grabbed for her hand and smoothed the pad of his
thumb across her knuckles. “It’s not just the boys,
Jenna. You and I…”
“Would never work out,” she finished for him, de-
spite the flash of heat sweeping from her hand, up her
arm, to rocket around her chest like a pinball slapping
against the tilt bar.
She wished it were different. Wished it were possible
that he could love her as she did him. But Nick Falco
simply wasn’t the kind of man to commit to any one
woman. Best that she remember that and keep her heart
as safe as she could.
“You don’t know that. We could try.” His eyes were
so filled with light, with hunger and the promise of
something delicious that made Jenna wish with every-
thing in her that she could take the risk.
But it wasn’t only herself she had to worry about
now. There were two other little hearts it was her job to
protect. And she couldn’t bring herself to take a chance
that might bring her sons pain a few years down the
But instead of saying any of that, instead of arguing
the point with him, she pulled her hand free of Nick’s
grasp and said softly, “Help me get the boys up to bed,
He drew up one leg and braced one arm across his
knee. His gaze was locked on her, his features half in
shadow, half in light. “This isn’t over, Jenna.”
As she bent over to scoop up Jacob, Jenna paused,
looked into those pale blue eyes and said, “It has to be,
ere?” Maxie repeated. “What do you mean he’s
here? Here in Seal Beach here?”
Jenna glanced back over her shoulder at her closed
front door. She’d spotted Maxie pulling up out front and
had made a beeline for the door to head her off at the
pass, so to speak. “I mean he’s
here. In the house
here. With the boys here.”
For three days now. She’d been able to avoid Maxie
by putting her off with phone calls, claiming to be busy.
But Jenna had known that sooner or later, her older
sister would just drop by.
” Maxie asked. Her big, blue eyes
went wide as saucers and her short, spiky, dark blond
hair actually looked spikier somehow, as if it were
actually standing on end more than usual. “What are
you thinking, Jenna? Why would you invite him here?”
“I didn’t invite him,” Jenna argued, then shrugged.
Maxie stopped, narrowed her eyes on Jenna and
asked, “Are you sleeping with him?”
Disappointment and need tangled up together in the
center of Jenna’s chest. No, she wasn’t sleeping with
him, but she was dreaming of him every night, experi-
encing erotic mental imagery like she’d never known
before. She was waking up every morning with her
body aching and her soul empty.
But she was guessing her older sister didn’t want to
hear that, either, so instead, she just answered the question.
“No, Saint Maxie, defender of all morals,” Jenna
sleeping with him. He’s been on the
couch the last couple of nights and—”
“Couple of nights?”
Jenna winced, then looked up and waved at her
neighbor, who’d stopped dead-heading her roses to stare
at Maxie in surprise. “Morning, Mrs. Logan.”
The older woman nodded and went back to her
gardening. Jenna shifted her gaze up and down the
narrow street filled with forties-era bungalows. Trees
lined the street, spreading thick shade across neatly
cropped lawns. From down the street came the sound
of a basketball being bounced, a dog barking maniacally
and the muffled whir of skateboard wheels on asphalt.
Just another summer day. And Jenna wondered just
how many of her neighbors were enjoying Maxie’s little
rant. Shooting her sister a dark look, Jenna lifted both
eyebrows and waited.
Maxie took the hint and lowered her voice. “Sorry,
sorry. But I can’t believe Nick Falco’s been here for two
nights and you didn’t tell me.”
Jenna smirked at her. “Gee, me, neither. Of course,
I only kept it a secret because I thought you might not
understand, but clearly I was wrong.”
Jenna blew out a breath and hooked her arm through
her sister’s. No matter what else was going on in her life,
Maxie and she were a team. They’d had only each other
for the last five years, after their parents were killed in a
car accident. And she wasn’t going to lose her only sister
in an argument over a man who didn’t even
“Max,” she said, trying to keep her voice even and
calm, despite the whirlwind of emotions she felt churn-
ing inside, “he’s here to get to know the boys. His sons,
remember? We’re not together that way, and believe me
when I say I’m being careful.”
Maxie didn’t look convinced, but then she wasn’t ex-
actly a trusting soul when it came to men. Not that
Jenna could blame her or anything…not after she was
so unceremoniously dumped by that jerk Darius Stone.
“This is a bad idea,” Maxie said, as if she hadn’t
already made herself perfectly clear.
“He won’t be here long.”
“His kind don’t need much time.”
“You sure he’s not staying?”
“Why would he?”
“I can think of at least three reasons off the top of my
head,” she countered. “Jacob, Cooper and oh, yeah,
So I ask it again. Are you sure he’s not staying for
Hmm. No, she wasn’t. In fact, Jenna would have
thought that Nick would have had his baby fix by now
and be all too glad to go back to his life. But so far he
hadn’t shown any signs of leaving.
Was it just the boys keeping him here?
Or did he feel something for her, too?
Oh God, she couldn’t allow herself to start thinking
that way. It was just setting herself up for more damage
once he really did leave.
“Jenna—” Nick called to her from the front porch,
then stopped when he saw Maxie and her talking and
added, “Oh. Sorry.”
No way to avoid this, Jenna thought dismally, al-
ready regretting putting her sister and her ex-lover in the
same room together. But she forced a smile anyway.
“It’s okay, Nick. This is my sister, Maxie.”
When neither of them spoke, Jenna gave Max a
nudge with her elbow.
“Fine, fine,” Max muttered, then raised her voice
and said grudgingly, “Nice to meet you.”
“Yeah. You, too.”
“Well, isn’t this special?” Jenna murmured, and
wondered if she could get frostbite from the chill in the
air between these two. “Come on in, Max,” she urged,
wanting her sister to see that she had nothing to worry
about. That Nick wasn’t interested in her and that she
wasn’t going to be pining away when he left. Surely,
Jenna thought, she was a good enough actor to pull that
off. “See the boys. Have some coffee.”
Still looking at Nick, Maxie shook her head and said,
“I don’t know…”
“I went out for doughnuts earlier,” Nick offered.
“Is he trying to bribe me?” Maxie whispered.
Jenna snorted a laugh. “For God’s sake, Max, be
nice.” But as she followed her sister into the house,
Jenna could only think that this must have been what it
felt like to be dropped behind enemy lines with nothing
more than a pocketknife.
Nick knew he should have left already.
Then he wouldn’t have had to deal with Jenna’s
sister. Although, she’d finally come around enough that
she hadn’t looked as if she wanted to stab him to death
with the spoon she used to stir her coffee.
The point was, though, with access to a private jet,
he could catch up with the ship in Fort Lauderdale in
time to enjoy the second half of the cruise to Italy. Then
he wouldn’t have to play nice with Jenna’s sister—who
clearly hated his guts. And he wouldn’t be tormented
by the desire he felt every waking moment around
The last couple of nights he’d spent on her lumpy
couch had been the longest of his life. He lay awake late
into the night, imagining striding down the short hall to
her bedroom, slipping into her bed and burying himself
inside her. He woke up every morning so tight and hard
he felt as if he might explode with the want and frus-
tration riding him. And seeing her first thing in the
morning, smelling the floral scent of her shampoo,
watching her sigh over that first sip of coffee was
another kind of torture.
She was here.
But she wasn’t his.
Now Jenna was off to a packaging store, mailing out
one of her gift baskets, and he was alone with his sons.
Nick walked into the boys’ nursery to find them both
wide awake, staring up at the mobiles hanging over
their beds. The one over Jake’s crib was made up of
brightly colored animals, dancing now in the soft breeze
coming in from the partially opened window. And over
Cooper’s bed hung a mobile made up of bright stars and
smiling crescent moons.
He looked from one boy to the other, noting their simi-
larities and their differences. Each of them had soft, wispy
dark hair and each of them had a dimple—just like
Nick’s—in their left cheek. Both boys had pale blue eyes,
though Cooper’s were a little darker than his brother’s.
And both of them had their tiny fists wrapped around
“How am I supposed to leave you?” he asked quietly.
“How can I go back to my life, not knowing what you’re
doing? Not knowing if you’ve gotten a tooth or if you’ve
started crawling. How can I not be here when you start
to walk? Or when you fall down for the first time?”
Soft sunlight came through the louvered blinds on the
window and lay across the shining wood floor like gold
bars. Outside somewhere on this cozy little street, a lawn-
mower fired up and Jake jumped as though he’d been
Instantly Nick moved to the crib, leaned over and
laid one hand on his son’s narrow chest. He felt the
rapid-fire thud of a tiny heart beneath his palm, and a
love so deep, so pure, so all encompassing, filled him
to the point that he couldn’t draw a breath.
He hadn’t expected this. Hadn’t thought to fall so
helplessly in love with children he hadn’t known existed
two weeks ago. Hadn’t thought that he’d enjoy getting
up at the crack of dawn just so he could look down into
wide eyes, eager to explore the morning. Hadn’t thought
that being here, with the boys, with their mother, could
Now that he knew the truth, though, the question
was, what was he going to do about it?
Moving across the room to Cooper, he bent down,
scooped his son up into his arms and cradled him
against his chest. The warm, pliant weight of him and
his thoughtful expression made Nick smile. He drew the
tip of one finger along Cooper’s cheek, and the infant
boy turned his face into that now-familiar touch. Nick’s
heart twisted painfully in his chest as he stared down
into those solemn blue eyes so much like his own.
“I promise you, I’ll always be here when you need
me.” His voice was as quiet as a sigh, but Cooper
seemed almost to understand as he gave his father one
of his rare smiles. Nick swallowed hard, walked to
where Jacob lay in his crib watching them and whis-
pered, “I love you guys. Both of you. And I’m going to
find a way to make this work.
When Jake kicked his little legs and swung his arms,
it was almost a celebration. At least, that’s what Nick
That night Jenna pulled on her nightshirt and made
one last check on the twins before going to bed herself,
as was her habit. Only, this time when she stepped into
the room lit only by a bunny nightlight, she found Nick
He wasn’t wearing a shirt. Just a pair of jeans that
lay low on his hips and clung to his legs like a lover’s
hands. He turned when she stepped into the room, and
she felt the power of his gaze slam into her. In the dim
light, even his pale eyes were shadowed, dark, but she
didn’t need to see those eyes to feel the power in them.
Her skin started humming, her blood sizzling, but she
made herself put one foot in front of the other, walking
past Nick first to Cooper’s crib, then Jacob’s, smooth-
ing each of the boys’ hair, laying a gentle hand on their
tummies as they slept.
And through it all, she felt Nick’s gaze on her as
surely as she would have a touch. Her breath came in
shallow gasps and her stomach did a quick enough spin
that she felt nearly dizzy. What was he doing in here?
Why was he watching her as he was? What was he
Her hands were shaking as she turned to leave the
nursery with quiet steps. She got as far as the hallway
when Nick’s hand came down on her arm.
“Wait.” His voice was hard and low, demanding.
She looked up at him, and here in the dark, where
even the pale light from the plugged-in plastic bunny
couldn’t reach, Nick was no more than a tall, imposing
figure moving in close to her.
“Nick—” Could he hear her heartbeat? Could he
sense the fires he kindled inside her? Could he feel the
heat pouring off her body in thick waves? “What are
Heaven help her, she knew what he was doing. And
more, she was glad of it. Just standing with him in the
dark filled her with a sense of expectation that had her
breath catching in her lungs.
“Don’t talk,” he whispered, moving in even closer,
until their bodies were pressed together, until he’d
edged her back, up against the wall. “Don’t think.” He
lifted both hands and covered her breasts.
She sucked in air and let her head thunk back against
the wall. Even through the thin cotton fabric of her
nightgown, she felt the thrill of anticipation washing
through her. His hands were hot and hard and strong.
His thumbs moved across the tips of her nipples and the
scrape of the fabric over her sensitive skin was another
kind of sweet agony.
“Yes, Nick,” she whispered, licking dry lips and
huffing in breaths as if she’d just finished running a
marathon. “No thinking. Only feeling. I want—”
“Me, too,” he said, cutting her off so fast, she knew
instinctively that he was feeling the immediacy of the
moment. “Have for days. Can’t wait another minute. I
need to be in you, Jenna. To feel your heat around me.”
He dropped his head to the curve of her neck and swept
his tongue across the pulse point at the base of her
She jerked in his arms, then lifted her hands until she
could cup the back of his head and hold him there. While
her fingers threaded through his thick, dark hair, he
dropped one hand down the front of her body, skimming
her curves, lifting the hem of her nightshirt. Then he was
touching her bare skin and she arched into him as he slid
his magical fingers beneath the elastic band of her panties.
He touched her core, slid his fingers into her heat and
instantly, she exploded, rocking her hips with the force
of an orgasm that crashed down on her with a splinter-
ing fury. Whimpering his name, she clung to him with
a desperate grip until the last of the tremors slid through
her. Then she was limp against him until he picked her
up and walked to her bedroom.
Holding on to him, Jenna smoothed her hands over
his skin, his broad back, his sculpted chest, and when
he sucked in a gulp of air, she smiled in the dark, pleased
to know she affected him as deeply as he did her.
In moments she was on her bed, staring up at him as
he tore his jeans off and came to her. In the next instant
he’d pulled her nightshirt up and off, and slid her white
lace panties down the length of her legs and tossed
them onto the floor.
Since the second he’d walked, unannounced, into
her home, Jenna had wanted this. She’d lain awake at
night hungering for him, and now that he was here, she
had no intention of denying either of them. Though,
for all she knew, this was his way of saying goodbye.
He might be getting ready to leave, to go back to his
And if that was the case, then she wanted this one
last night with him. Wanted to feel him over and around
her. Wanted to look up into those pale eyes and know
that at least for this moment, she was the most impor-
tant thing in the world to him.
Tomorrow could take care of itself.
He moved in between her legs and stroked her now
all-too-sensitive center. She moaned softly, spread her
legs farther and rocked her hips in silent invitation. All
she wanted was to feel the hard, strong slide of his body
into hers. To hold him within her.
Then he was there, plunging deep, stealing her breath
with the hard thrusts of his body. He laid claim to her in
the most ancient and intimate way. And Jenna gave him
everything she had. Her hands stroked up and down his
spine. Her short nails clawed at his skin. Her legs
wrapped themselves around his hips and urged him
When he bent his head to kiss her, she parted her lips
and met his tongue with her own in a tangle of need and
want that was so beyond passion, beyond desire, that
she felt the incredible sense that
is where she’d
always been meant to be.
He tore his mouth from hers, looked down into her
eyes and said on a groan, “Jenna…I need you.”
“You have me,” she told him and then arched her
spine as a soul-shattering climax hit them both hard.
Holding him tight, Jenna called out his name as wave
after wave of sensation crashed, receded and slammed
down onto them again and again. She felt his release as
well as her own. She held him as his body trembled and
shook with a power that was mind numbing.
It seemed the pleasure would never end.
It seemed they were destined to be joined together
for the rest of time.
But finally, inevitably, the tantalizing pressure and
delight faded and they lay together in a silence so
profound, neither of them knew how to end it.
Nick was gone when she woke up.
Not gone gone. His duffle bag was still in one cor-
ner of the living room, so he hadn’t gone back to the
ship. He was just nowhere to be found in the house.
That shouldn’t have surprised her. After all, he’d
avoided her the morning after their night together on
board ship, as well. But somehow, disappointment
welled inside her, and she wondered if he was deliber-
ately distancing himself from her. To make the in-
evitable leaving easier.
With the sting of unshed tears filling her eyes, she
slipped into her normal routine of taking care of the
boys, and tried not to remember how it had felt to have
Nick there, sharing all of this with her.
Once the twins were fed and dressed, Jenna decided
to get out of the house herself. Damned if she’d sit around
the house moping, waiting for Nick to return so that he
could break her heart by telling her he was leaving. She
had a life of her own and she was determined to live it.
Buckling the boys into their car seats, she then
grabbed up a stuffed diaper bag and her purse and fired
up the engine on her car.
“Don’t you worry, guys,” she said, looking into the
rearview mirror at the mirrors she had positioned in
front of their car seats so that she could see their faces,
“we’re going to be fine. Daddy has to go away, but
Mommy’s here. And I’m never going to leave you.”
Those blasted tears burned her eyes again and she
blinked frantically to clear them away. She wasn’t going
to cry. She’d had an incredible night with the man she
loved and she wasn’t going to regret it. Whatever hap-
When her cell phone rang, she assumed it was Maxie
until she glanced at the screen and didn’t recognize the
“Nick,” she said, and tried not to sigh at the sound
of his deep, dark voice murmuring in her ear.
“You at home?”
“Actually,” she said, lifting her chin as if that could
help her keep her voice light and carefree, “I’m in the
car. I’m taking the boys to the mall and—”
“Perfect,” he said quickly. “Have you got a pen?”
“Yes, I have a pen, but what is this—”
“Write this down.”
Both of her eyebrows lifted at the order. But she
reached into her purse for a pen and a memo pad she
always carried. Behind her Jacob was starting to fuss,
and pretty soon, she knew, Cooper would be joining in.
“Nick,” she asked, pen poised, “what’s this about?”
“Just…I want to show you something and I need
you and the boys to come here.”
“Here in San Pedro.”
She nearly groaned. “San Pedro?”
“Jenna, just do this for me, okay?” He paused, then
Surprise flickered through her. She couldn’t remem-
saying please before. So when he gave
her directions, she dutifully wrote them down. When he
was finished, she frowned and said, “Okay, we’ll come.
Should be there in about a half hour.”
“I’ll be waiting.”
He hung up before she could ask any more questions,
and Jenna scowled at her cell phone before she set it
down on the seat beside her. “Well, guys, we’re off to
meet your father.” Cooper cooed. “No, I don’t know what
this is about, either,” she told her son. “But knowing
your daddy, it could be anything.”
It turned out to be a house.
Cape Cod style, it looked distinctly out of place in
Southern California, but it was the most beautiful house
Jenna had ever seen. It was huge, and she was willing
to bet that five of her cottages would have fit comfort-
ably inside. But for all its size, it looked like a family
home. There was a wide front lawn, and when she
stepped out of the car in the driveway, she heard the
sound of the ocean and knew the big house must be right
on the sea.
“What’s going on here?” she wondered aloud. But
then Jacob’s short, sharp cry caught her attention and
she turned to get her sons out of their seats.
She looked up and watched as Nick ran down the
front lawn to her. He looked excited, his pale eyes shin-
ing, his mouth turned into a grin so wide, his dimple dug
deeply into his left cheek. Naturally, Jenna felt an in-
voluntary tug of emotion at first sight of him, and she
wondered if it would always be that way.
God, she hoped not.
“Let me help with the boys,” he said after giving her
a quick, hard, unexpected kiss that left her reeling a
“Um, sure.” She watched as he rounded the back of
her car, opened the other back door and began undoing
the straps on Cooper’s car seat. “Nick, what’s going on?
Where are we? Whose house is this?”
He shot her another breath-stealing grin and scooped
Cooper up into his arms. “I’ll tell you everything as
soon as we get inside.”
“Inside?” Finished with Jacob’s seat straps, she
picked him up, cuddled him close and closed the car
door with a loud smack of sound.
“Yep,” Nick said. “Inside. Go on ahead. I’ll get the
diaper bag and your purse.”
She took a step, stopped and looked at him. Dappled
shade from the massive oak tree in the front yard fell
across his features. He was wearing a tight black
T-shirt and those faded jeans he’d been wearing the
night before when they—
Okay, don’t go there,
told herself. “I can’t just go inside. I don’t know who
lives here and—”
“Fine,” he said, coming around the hood of the car,
her purse under his arm and the diaper bag slung over
that shoulder, while he jiggled Cooper on the other.
“We’ll go together. All of us. Better that way, anyway.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You’ll see.” He started for the house and she had
little choice but to follow.
The brick walkway from the drive to the front door
was lined with primroses in vibrant, primary shades of
color. More flowerbeds followed the line of the house,
with roses and tall spires of pastel-colored stocks scent-
ing the air with a heady perfume.
Jenna kept expecting the owner of the house to come
to the front door to welcome them, but no one did. And
when she crossed the threshold, she understood why.
The house was empty.
Their footsteps echoed in the cavernous rooms as
Nick led her through the living room, past a wide stair-
case, down a hall and then through the kitchen. Her
head turned from side to side, taking it all in, delighting
in the space, the lines of the house. Whoever had
designed it had known what they were doing. The walls
were the color of rich, heavy cream, and dark wood
framed doorways and windows. The floors were pale
oak and polished to a high shine. The rooms bled one
into the other in a flow that cried out for a family’s
This house was made for the sound of children’s
laughter. As Jenna followed Nick through room after
room, she felt that there was a sense of ease in the
house. As if the building itself were taking a deep breath
and relishing the feel of people within its walls again.
“Nick…” The kitchen was amazing, but she hardly
had time to glance at it as he led her straight through
the big room and out the back door.
“Come on, I want you to see this,” he said, stepping
back so that she could move onto the stone patio in front
A cold ocean wind slapped at her, and Jenna realized
she’d been right, the house did sit on a knoll above the
sea. The stone patio gave way to a rolling lawn edged
with trees and flowers that looked as she imagined an
English cottage garden would. Beyond the lawn was a
low-lying fence with a gate that led to steps that would
take the lucky people who lived here right down to the
As Jenna held Jacob close, she did a slow turn, taking
it all in, feeling overwhelmed with the beauty of the
place as she finally circled back to look out at the sea,
glittering with golden sunlight.
Shaking her head, she glanced at Nick. “I don’t
understand, Nick. What’s going on? Why are we here?”
“Do you like it?” he asked, letting his gaze shift
around the yard as he dropped the diaper bag and her
purse to the patio. “The house, I mean,” he said, hitching
Cooper a little higher on his chest. “Do you like it?”
She laughed, uncertainty jangling her nerves.
“What’s not to like?”
“Good. That’s good,” he said, coming to her side.
“Because I bought it.”
Nick nearly laughed at the stunned expression on her
face. God, this had been worth all of the secretive phone
calls to real estate agents he’d been making. Worth get-
ting up and leaving her that morning so that he could
finalize the deal with the house’s former owners.
This was going to work.
It had to work.
“Why would you do that?”
“For us,” he said, and had the pleasure of watching
her features go completely slack as she staggered un-
steadily for a second.
“Yes, Jenna. Us.” He reached out, cupped her cheek
in his palm and was only mildly disappointed when she
stepped back and away from him. He would convince
to convince her. “I found a solution to our
situation,” he said, locking his gaze with hers, wanting
her to see everything he was thinking, feeling, written
in his eyes.
“Our situation?” She blinked, shook her head as if
to clear away cobwebs and then stared at him again.
The wind was cold, but the sun was warm. Shade from
the trees didn’t reach the patio, and the sunlight dancing
in her hair made him want to grab her and hold her close.
But first they had to settle this. Once and for all.
“The boys,” he said, starting out slowly, as he’d
planned. “We both love them. We both want them. So
it occurred to me that the solution was for us to get
married. Then we both have them.”
She took another step back, and, irritated that she
hadn’t jumped on his plan wholeheartedly, Nick talked
faster. “It’s not like we don’t get along. And the sex is
great. You have to admit there’s real chemistry between
us, Jenna. It would work. You know it would.”
“No,” she shook her head again and when Jacob
picked up on her tension and began to cry, Nick moved
in closer to her.
He talked even faster, hurrying to change her mind.
Make her see what their future could be. “Don’t say no
till you think about it, Jenna. When you do, you’ll see
that I’m right. This is perfect. For all of us.”
“No, Nick,” she said, soothing Jacob even as she
smiled sadly up at him. “It’s not perfect. I know you
love your sons, I do. And I’m glad of that. They’ll need
you as much as you need them. But you don’t love
“No.” She laughed shortly, looked around the back-
yard, at the sea, and then finally she turned her gaze on
Nick again. “It doesn’t matter if we get along, or if the
sex and chemistry between us is great. I can’t marry a
man who doesn’t love me.”
Damn it. She was shutting him down, and he couldn’t
even find it in himself to blame her. Panic warred with
desperation inside him and it was a feeling Nick wasn’t
used to. He was
the guy scrambling to make things
work. People cowtowed to
It didn’t go the other
Yet here he stood, in front of this one woman, and
knew deep down inside him that the only shot he’d have
with her was if he played his last card.
“Oh, for—” Nick reached out with his free arm, snaked
it around her shoulders and dragged her in close to him.
So close that their bodies and the bodies of their sons all
seemed to be melded together into a unit. “Fine. We’ll do
it the hard way, then. Damn it Jenna, I
“What?” Her eyes held a world of confusion and
pain and something that looked an awful lot like hope.
She hadn’t even looked that surprised when he’d
shown up at her house a few days ago. That gave him
hope. If he could keep her off balance, he could still win
this. And suddenly Nick knew that he’d never wanted
to win more; that nothing in his life had been this im-
portant. This huge. He had to say the right things now.
Force her to listen. To really hear him. And to take a
Staring down into her eyes, he took a breath, and then
took the plunge. The leap that he’d never thought to
make. “Of course I love you. What am I, an idiot?” He
stopped, paused, and said, “Don’t answer that.”
“Nick, you don’t have to—”
“Yeah, I do,” he said quickly, feeling his moment
sliding by. He hadn’t wanted to have to admit to how
he felt. He’d thought for sure that she’d go for the
marriage-for-the-sake-of-the-boys thing and then he
could have had all he wanted without mortgaging his
soul. But maybe this was how it was supposed to work.
Maybe you couldn’t
love until you were willing to
“Look, I’m not proud of this, but I’ve been trying to
hide from what I feel for you since that first night we
met more than a year ago.” His gaze moved over her
face and his voice dropped to a low rush of words that
he hoped to hell convinced her that what he was saying
was true. “I took one look at you and fell. Never meant
to. Didn’t want to. But I didn’t have a choice. You were
there, in the moonlight and it was as if I’d been waiting
for you my whole damn life.”
“Yeah,” he said, knowing what she was going to say.
“I pulled away. I let you go. Hell, I told myself I
you to go. But that was a lie.” Laughing harshly, he said,
“All this time, I’ve been calling you a liar, when the truth
is, I’m the liar here. I lied to you. I lied to myself.
Because I didn’t want to let myself be vulnerable to
“Nick—” She swallowed hard and a single tear
rolled down her cheek. He caught it with the pad of his
“It would have been much easier on me,” he ad-
mitted, “if you’d accepted that half-assed, marriage-of-
convenience proposal. Then I wouldn’t have had to ac-
knowledge what I feel for you. Wouldn’t have to take
the chance that you’ll throw this back in my face.”
“I wouldn’t do that—”
“Wouldn’t blame you if you did,” he told her. “But
since you didn’t go along with my original plan, then I
have to tell you everything. I love you, Jenna. Madly.
Fresh tears welled, making her eyes shine, and ev-
erything in him began to melt. What power she had
over him. Over his heart. And yet he didn’t care any-
more about protecting himself.
All that mattered was her.
“You walk into a room and everything else fades
away,” he said softly. “You gave me my sons. You gave
me a glimpse into a world that I want to be a part of.”
Another tear joined the first and then another and
another. In her arms, Jacob hiccupped, screwed up his
little face and started to cry in earnest. Quickly, Nick
took the boy from her and cradled him in his free arm.
Looking down at his boys, then to her, he said, “Just so
you know, I’m not prepared to lose, here. Nick Falco
doesn’t quit when he wants something as badly as I
want you. I won’t let you go. Not any of you.”
He glanced behind him at the sprawling house, then
shifted his gaze back to her again as he outlined his
master plan. “We’ll live here. You can do your gift
baskets in the house instead of the garage. There’s a
great room upstairs that looks over the ocean. Lots of
space. Lots of direct light. It’d be perfect for you and
all of your supplies.”
She opened her mouth to speak, but Nick kept going
before she could.
“I figure until the boys are in school, we can live half
the year here, half on board ship. It’ll be good for ’em.
And if they like the dog I bought them, we’ll take her
along on the ship, too.”
“You bought a d—”
“Golden retriever puppy,” Nick said. “She’s little
now, but she’ll grow.”
“I can’t believe—”
The words kept coming, tumbling one after the other
from his mouth as he fought to convince her, battled to
show her how their lives could be if she’d only take a
chance on him.
“Once they’re in school, we can cruise during the
summers. I can run the line from here and I have Teresa.
I’ll promote her,” he said fiercely. “She can do the on-
board stuff and stay in touch via fax.”
“And I want more kids,” he said, and had the pleasure
of seeing her mouth snap shut. “I want to be there from
the beginning. I want to see our child growing within
you. I want to be in the delivery room to watch him—
or her—take that first breath. I want in on all of it,
Jenna. I want to be with you. With them,” he said,
glancing at the twins he held cradled against him.
The boys were starting to squirm and he knew how
they felt. Nick’s world was balanced on a razor’s edge,
and he figured that he had only one more thing to say.
“I’m not going to let you say no, Jenna. We belong
together, you and me. I know you love me. And damn
it, I love you, too. If you don’t believe me, I’ll find a
way to convince you. But you’re not getting away from
me. Not again. I won’t be without you, Jenna. I can’t
do it. I won’t go back to that empty life.”
The only sound then was the snuffling noises the
twins were making and the roar of the sea rushing into
the cliffs behind them. Nick waited what felt like a
lifetime as he watched her eyes.
Then finally she smiled, moved in close to him and
wrapped both arms around him and their sons. “You
really are an idiot if you think I’d ever let you get away
from me again.”
Nick laughed, loud and long, and felt a thousand
pounds of dread and worry slide from his shoulders.
“You’ll marry me.”
“And have more babies.”
“Yes.” She smiled up at him, and her eyes shone
with a happiness so rich, so full, it stole Nick’s breath.
“A dozen if you want.”
“And sail the world with me,” he said, dipping his
head to claim a kiss.
“Always,” she said, still smiling, still shining with
an inner light that warmed Nick through. “I love you,
Nick. I always have. We’ll be happy here, in this won-
“We will,” he assured her, stealing another kiss.
“But you’re going to be housetraining that puppy,”
“For you, my love,” Nick whispered, feeling his
heart become whole for the first time in his life,
* * * * *