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Seduced, Page 3

Melody Anne

  Granted, Rafe was starting to think it wouldn’t be so bad to have some nieces and nephews around. But that meant that his sisters would have sex, and that was a thought he couldn’t stomach.

  “Like you could stop me from kissing her,” Shane replied, but before Rafe could say anything, he continued. “I almost forgot she has the same blood as you. That should have made me run like hell in the opposite direction. For that matter, I tried — for years. She’s the one who chased me, and then I do one little thing that displeases her, and she completely cuts me off. I should thank my lucky stars and move on. ”

  “Is that what you want?”

  Shane sighed heavily into the phone. “No. You know that,” he admitted with self-loathing.

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  “You had to have done something other than just tell me about your relationship. She is really pissed at you,” Rafe said as he stood up and poured himself another drink.

  “Nope. Just that. She mentioned something about being first. I don’t know…” he muttered.

  “Well, not listening could be your first problem, Shane. Women tend to get pissed off when we ignore them,” Rafe said, delighted it was his best friend on this side of things. At least Rafe wasn’t the only one with woman problems.

  “Yeah, I’ve been trying to talk to her, trying to listen. She won’t speak anymore!”

  “Then you will have to find a way to make her talk,” Rafe said. Wasn’t it quite simple? No. Maybe not. He thought of Ari and the fact that she wouldn’t talk, either. Definitely not as easy as he’d thought.

  “She may never talk to me again. I just don’t get women,” Shane sighed.

  Rafe laughed again. Yes, he and Shane were both in a predicament. Well, the two of them knew what they wanted and the women would have to deal with it. They’d have to get over their tempers. Both he and Shane were trying to make up with them. One thing Ari and Lia would learn was that when he or Shane wanted something, nothing would stop them. Both women had met their matches.

  Or had they?

  “Do you have a plan?” Rafe knew that he’d surely love to have a plan beyond stalking Ari where she worked. Hey, at least he had a semi-plan.

  “I’ll figure it out. I don’t know why I bothered calling you. A lot of good it did me,” Shane grumbled.

  “You called because you know I’m the smarter one,” Rafe said with a laugh.

  “In your dreams, Palazzo. Fine. I’ll get off the phone. I have some plans to make,” Shane said before hanging up.

  Rafe took his unfinished drink and sat by the fire. It was time to make his own plans. One thing he knew for sure was that Arianna Harlow wasn’t getting away from him this time. As he leaned back, he thought about what it was that had caused such a change inside him. It still shook him to his very soul when he thought back…

  A Few Months Earlier

  “Damn, Rafe. I need a break!” Shane grumbled as he hefted a thick piece of wood up to his best friend.

  “Quit whining, Shane. I want this place done by nightfall. Maria is going to have the baby at any time. ”

  “I know, but she and her family are comfortable in the tents. If the baby comes, they’ll all be protected until the home is finished,” Shane said.

  “No. I admire her. I want them to have a real home for the baby. ” Rafe didn’t know why it was so important. Maybe because Maria and her husband, Pablo, were good people. They worked hard, and they had been so grateful for the help from Rafe and Shane and the other workers there with them.

  Rafe hadn’t expected to get close to any of the villagers, but for some reason this young couple had managed to wedge themselves into his heart — the heart he’d thought was cold and shriveled when he’d arrived in Paraguay.

  Shane stopped complaining and the two of them worked through the rest of the day, finishing the modest home as the last rays of the sun drifted behind the horizon. Rafe stood back, feeling a deep sense of accomplishment as he looked at what most people would consider a shack, but what Maria and Pablo would think of as a mansion.

  He was humbled by the way these people lived, so grateful for the smallest of items — a bowl of beans, fresh fruit, a warm blanket. His eyes had been opened in many ways, and he would always remember this time in his life.

  “You’ve done really well, Rafe,” Shane said as he approached, clapping him on the back.

  “I feel better. I didn’t think it was possible, but seeing all this poverty, all this — I don’t know how to say it — simplicity? — firsthand, for so long, changes a person,” Rafe replied.

  “Yeah, that’s why I keep coming back. ”

  “Then why are you still such an ass**le?” Rafe said.

  “Look who’s talking,” Shane answered with a glare.

  “Yeah, yeah. I know I have my moments. I really need to return to the real world, but staying here has been good. I still think about Ari all the time, but it’s more manageable now,” Rafe had to say.

  “I know the feeling. I can’t stop thinking of Lia. The project is back on track, so I’ll finally have her alone. That will be good. ”

  “Should we insure you?” Rafe said, only half kidding.

  “When I’m dealing with your sister, that may be a good idea. She’s more dangerous than any mission I’ve ever been on,” Shane said, before he went silent for a moment. “I’m shipping out in a few days. ”

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  Shane hated to speak about it, but Rafe was the only one who knew. He had to have someone to turn to when it all ended up being just a bit too much.

  “You’ll come home. ” It wasn’t a prayer or a wish; it was a statement of fact. Because Rafe wouldn’t lose his best friend. He could lose a lot, but not his family and not Shane.

  “Yes, I will. ”

  The two men stood for a while longer before separating and going to their small campers to try to get some rest.

  The happy Paraguayan couple moved into their home that night, and Rafe went to sleep with a smile on his face. It was the first time since he’d lost Ari that he’d felt like smiling. Feeling good about what he’d been doing and starting to figure out ways of winning back the woman whom he couldn’t remove from his mind, Rafe slept better than he had since she’d walked from his life.

  “Rafe, wake up. ”

  The morning light was streaming in through the camper windows, and the pained look on Shane’s face had him instantly sitting up.

  “What is it?”

  “Maria. She…she didn’t make it, Rafe. ”

  “No. ” If he denied the words his friend was saying, then he could make them untrue.

  “I’m sorry, Rafe. I know how much you cared about her. ”

  Shane had warned Rafe not to get attached, warned him to keep a distance. These people led a different life than they did — had a harsher reality. They were often lost at young ages and in tragic circumstances.

  “No. ” He denied Shane’s words again.

  “I’m sorry, Rafe. The baby died in her womb several days ago. Maria passed during the night from complications. Her husband found her this morning. ”

  Rafe jumped from the bed and threw on his clothes, needing to see Maria — needing to prove that Shane was wrong. She couldn’t be gone. He rushed to their new home. The home Rafe had worked nonstop to build so she could have her baby there.

  Quietly walking inside, Rafe found Pablo on his knees by the bed, a bed Rafe had specially brought in for just them. Pablo looked up, tracks of tears on his face, but tears that had obviously dried hours ago. The broken man had no more left inside him.

  “She left me,” Pablo whimpered, his hands repeatedly stroking his cold wife’s face. “She left me alone. Our baby and Maria are gone,” he choked out, his voice broken, his spirit gone.

  “No,” Rafe whispered, seemingly unable to say anything else.

  “I can’t live w
ithout her. She’s my world. She’s my everything. How can I go on?”

  The man was looking to Rafe for an answer, and Rafe didn’t know what to say. He didn’t have an answer to give Pablo. Never before had Rafe witnessed someone so utterly broken — so lost — so completely alone.

  “Please, Rafe. Give her back to me,” the man begged as if Rafe were capable of saving her. “Please,” Pablo groaned as he turned back toward his wife and laid his head on her still chest.

  Rafe stood in the doorway, his own heart broken, unable to move, watching the man hold on to his dead wife. Eventually, the men from the village had to drag the bereaved husband away as he cried out in agony.

  That night, Pablo took his own life, leaving a short note. I will be with my wife and child for eternity.

  Rafe packed the few possessions he’d brought with him, and he went home. He wouldn’t allow himself to be that broken. He couldn’t. It was time to win back his other half, because he needed Ari. She made him whole.

  He didn’t want to be on his hands and knees begging for her when she was forever gone to him. He didn’t want to waste another day. They’d been apart long enough, and he would win her back.

  Chapter Four


  Peace at last!

  Lia strolled along the shore as the water drifted slowly toward her feet before retreating like a thief escaping into the shadows. Shane was wearing her down, though she’d never admit it to him, or even herself.

  He’d been there for two weeks, and he wasn’t giving her a single moment to breathe. The project was starting, materials were being boated in, and she could practically see the luxurious cabins, artfully created to look rustic, arising on the hills in the thick forest.

  Paths would be cleared, and suptuous facilities built, and the land would still look untouched. She was proud to be a part of it all.

  “Hey, Palazzo, we need to ride over to the mainland. ”

  Lia slowly turned to find Shane striding toward her in nothing but a pair of slacks that were riding low on his waist. Saliva pooled in her mouth at the sight of his muscular chest flexing in all its golden glory as he moved toward her.

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  If she hadn’t been so ridiculously attracted to him, none of this would have been difficult. Damned hormones!

  “You’re on your own, Grayson. I have work to do,” she replied cooly, turning away, and irritated with herself at how difficult it was to do just that.

  “Sorry. I need your help. We have some materials to pick out that you insisted on having final approval on. I can do it myself, though, if you just sign off. You like plaid, right?” he asked with an innocent air.

  Her teeth gritting together, Lia glared at him. He knew she hated plaid, but she could easily see him decorating the luxury resort in stomach-wrenching color schemes just to spite her, not even caring that it would cost him millions to replace it all as soon as his point was made. So he would win this round, because she wasn’t going to let that happen.

  “Fine. Give me a minute to change and I’ll meet you at the docks. ” She’d forced those words through her teeth.

  “No need to change. We won’t be that long. ”

  Shane gripped her arm and started leading her to the dock.

  “I can make it there on my own, Shane. I don’t need you to guide me like I’m a child. ” She yanked her arm free, the skin tingling where his fingers had wrapped around her.

  “Touchy,” he said with a smile, then took a few steps to her right after seeing the fire in her eyes. He was smart to do so, because she was close to striking him.

  “I really wish they had an airstrip here. These boat rides take forever,” she said as she followed behind him.

  “Quit complaining. It doesn’t suit you. I prefer to travel by boat, anyway. ”

  “Well, then, I guess whatever you prefer is the way it has to be. ” She knew she was acting petulant, but she couldn’t seem to keep the words from spilling from her mouth. His only response was laughter, which he quickly covered up by coughing.

  She wasn’t fooled.

  Lia decided to keep her mouth shut as they reached the dock and she approached his so-called boat. She wouldn’t exactly call the magnificent vessel a boat. It was a large, sleek gray yacht. At least she felt comfortable on it, since she’d traveled the waters many times with him before their short romance.

  It wasn’t as large as her brother’s yacht, but it was Shane’s personal vessel, and he had no desire to do any business entertaining on it. Still, it had three bedrooms, plus the master suite, which was indecently large and luxurious. She also enjoyed the upper covered deck, where she had a full view of the ocean, but was still protected from the breeze created when it sped through the water.

  “Are you going to gawk all day, or board?”

  “Can you be any more rude, Shane?” she snapped as she accepted his hand. “Where’s the crew?”

  “They’re off today. This won’t take long, so I’ll play captain. ”

  Lia didn’t like the idea of being all alone with him in the middle of the ocean. There were only so many temptations she was capable of resisting. At least the yacht was big enough that she could avoid him. Plus, he’d be busy piloting the thing. He wouldn’t have time to pursue her.

  Lia followed Shane to the control area and then stood by as he checked everything before he began moving slowly away from the dock. Before she knew it, the island was becoming a small dot on the horizon, and Shane was in his element as he navigated the choppy waters.

  “It seems a little windy out today,” she commented, looking around at the storm clouds threatening to move in. They were far enough away that Lia didn’t feel any real alarm.

  “Yeah, just a small storm on the horizon. I haven’t heard anything, so it’s nothing to worry about,” he assured her.

  “Well, I’m going to enjoy the sundeck. There’s no need for me to stay in here for the two hours it takes to get to the mainland. Maybe I’ll spot some dolphins,” she said. She moved to the top deck and got comfortable in one of the chairs.

  They passed islands and she enjoyed the warm sun streaming through the window until one of the dark clouds covered it, casting her in shadows. Well, at least she wouldn’t get a burn, she thought; she closed her eyes and decided to nap.

  * * * * *

  Shane’s shoulders were tense as he navigated his beloved yacht through the aqua waters off the coast of Italy. Normally, he could spend hours on the sea without a single negative thought, but he’d been pursuing Lia for the better part of two weeks and not getting anywhere, and he was becoming a little desperate. Not that he’d ever give her such an advantage as telling her that.

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  She’d chased him for years, but once he’d accepted that they were going to be together, she started giving him the cold shoulder. Well, he wouldn’t allow that for long. Not anymore. Lia needed a strong, passionate man, and that was exactly what he was going to give her.

  They were made for each other; they had so much in common. Plus, he didn’t want some simpering female. He wanted passion and fight. He wanted romance and love. He wanted what he’d never thought he’d have, and the only one he wanted it with was Lia.

  When they got back to the island that night, he wasn’t letting her out of his sight until they had it out — they would work through this.

  The farther out on the water they traveled, the more Shane relaxed. This was his element, where he belonged. The fresh sea air, the rolling waves of the ocean, and no one for miles around them. Maybe they should have their talk before arriving back to the island, where she could easily hide from him.

  With that thought in mind, he steered off course, and drifted further out to sea, heading toward a group of private islands he was familiar with. Finally, he had Lia all to himself, and he wasn’t letting the opportunity escape him.

  An hour passed an
d Shane started to become a bit worried as the sky darkened dangerously and the water began churning too much for his liking. Determination to get Lia alone kept him going, but he was certainly paying attention to his surroundings now.

  When the waves starting acting up even further, he decided to find out how close the storm was. Maybe they should turn around. He wanted to keep Lia to himself for a while, but not at the risk of their getting trapped in a storm.

  He glanced at his touchscreen navigation and switched over to the weather report. Crap! He’d been so intent on getting her alone, he hadn’t been paying attention. A wicked tropical storm was brewing and it was right behind them. He didn’t have time to steer back to Italy, or get back to their island. All he could do was move ahead and hope like hell that he outran the bad weather. If he had been thinking with anything other than his lower region, they wouldn’t be in this mess.

  After another half-hour passed, things looked desperate. His radio crackled to life and the storm warning came over its line. He picked up the handset and tried to call in his position, but didn’t get a response.

  “What the hell?” he muttered as he pushed the buttons, trying to get a signal. The thing went dead. That wasn’t a good sign — not a good sign at all. No, it would be OK. They were going to be fine.

  Using every bit of concentration he had, he focused on trying to keep the boat steady as the waves picked up in height and ferocity. They were getting tossed around too much for his liking and he really wished that Lia would get back in the control room so he could keep an eye on her.

  “Shane?” Lia was standing next to him, making him sigh in relief. Her skin was flushed and her hair messed as if she’d just climbed from bed. He couldn’t get them to safety while she looked like that. Tearing his eyes away, he focused on the emergency at hand and cleared his throat.

  “You need to hold onto something, Lia. We’re right smack in the middle of two storm fronts, and they’re fighting each other to see who can sink us the fastest. ”

  She wasn’t a novice boater: she’d been on the water many times in her life. Though he tried to hide his rising panic, he knew that she was well aware of the danger.