Max laughed. “We have children to disperse. Who’s going to watch the bambinos? Mom?” He looked over and his mother let out a chiding stream of Italian.
“Maximus, do you really need to ask? We would be happy to watch our grandchildren.”
Carina gave a whoop. “Tomorrow night then? We’ll meet here early. Five? We can go to Botinero, I love the food there.”
Julietta looked at Sawyer, who nodded. “Si. It is a date.”
Maggie’s whoop floated past their ears.
“How about we meet you down at Purity tomorrow afternoon beforehand?” Max asked. “We’ll get a tour and do some catching up.”
“Sounds good to me,” Sawyer said. “Michael, can you join us?”
Julietta smiled at Maria’s sleepy grunt. “We better skip out on dessert and get going. We have a ton of stuff for tomorrow. I think—what’s that? Mio Dio, is that Dante?”
A massive form of black fur prowled into the room. His body reminded her of a small dog set on gobbling up his next snack. Narrowed green eyes took in the crowd, his gaze assessing each member of the family and then snobbily dismissing them. The once-stray cat who had lived in the wild had been tamed and now lived with Michael and Maggie, but his cranky nature had not disappeared. Julietta bit back a laugh when Carina jumped from her seat and crouched in a kneel on the floor. “Here, Dante, come to Aunt Carina. I’ll give you a treat.” She did her animal-whispering mantra, a haunting tone that usually had any feline or canine falling over in ecstasy. Dante took a step forward and Carina’s face lit up.
The cat bared his teeth and hissed with sheer menace.
Carina’s shoulders slumped. “I see him all the time, and he just doesn’t like me.” Her tone held a slight whine. “I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied until I can win him over.”
“That’s what he wants, sweetheart,” Max said. “Let’s face it. We all hate that cat except for Maggie. He’s mean, snarky, and greedy as hell. Lives to be served.”
“Leave Dante alone!” Maggie bellowed. “He’s perfect just the way he is.”
Michael snorted. “I wanted to leave him behind, but she absolutely refused. We take him everywhere. I swear, sometimes I get into bed and I’m afraid to touch my wife. He looms over her with menace. When we lock him out, I have to check my shoes constantly for my punishment.”
Julietta laughed. “I’m glad he finally found someone to love.”
Nick eased himself from the chair. “Be right back. I need to make a call.”
Alexa suddenly appeared with a powdered Lily on her hip. She frowned. “Nick, you just called my mother a few hours ago. They’re fine.”
Pure indignation beat from him in waves. “I’m not calling your mother. I need to check in with work. Just a second.” He disappeared, and Alexa gave a long sigh.
“Why is he calling your mom?” Julietta asked. “Is she feeling okay?”
Alexa rolled bright blue eyes. “My mom’s just fine.
She’s babysitting precious cargo on this trip, and he’s been a complete wreck.”
Carina giggled. “I’ve never seen a man so attached to two animals before. It’s adorable. even Max and I haven’t checked in on rocky.”
Alexa faced her. “My husband is worried over our dogs—old yeller and Simba. We left them with my mom because he refused to board them, and now he checks in on them every few hours. I swear, the man went from an animal hater to extreme animal parenting.”
The idea of a man loving his family, even his dogs, so completely left Julietta with an empty hole in her gut.
Suddenly, it seemed too much. And the truth was becoming harder to fight with every passing day.
She wanted the same thing with Sawyer.
Julietta stood and gave Maria to Alexa, stopping to press a kiss to her forehead. “We really have to go,” she whispered.
Alexa searched her face with a touch of worry. “Sure.
Thanks for taking care of her.”
“Wolfe, are you ready? I need—”
She stopped and watched the scene unfold before her.
Dante had stopped an inch before Wolfe and was studying him with a half-cocked head, as if sensing something deeper that could never be scented from the surface. Wolfe had one ankle hooked over his knee and was slumped into the cushions like any teen. She was opening her mouth to shoo Dante away, afraid he might try to bite poor Wolfe, when the unthinkable occurred.
With one graceful leap, Dante soared through the air and landed on Wolfe’s lap.
The cat wiggled his butt. Leaned his furry head close to the boy’s jaw and sniffed. Circled once. Then plopped his entire weight smack in the middle of his thighs.
“oh. My. God.”
Alexa stared, openmouthed. Maggie must have sensed something huge happening, because her footsteps echoed and paused in the doorway. Her gaze took in her mean cat purring like a chain saw, completely content in Wolfe’s lap as though they had been soul mates for centuries.
Wolfe seemed hesitant at first, but his hand finally lifted and began stroking Dante’s back. The cat purred louder and made an orgasmic sound of pleasure.
Julietta looked at her sister-in-law. A big smile curved Maggie’s lips and satisfaction oozed from every pore.
“Told ya Dante is smarter than any animal on the planet.
He only likes the cool ones. Welcome to the club, Wolfe.”
Julietta gazed out the window. Darkness soaked every inch of the night sky. The tiny sliver of moon emitted a weak trickle of light. Crooked tree branches swayed in spooky shadows, and frost glittered on the grass. She pressed her cheek to the cold pane of glass and wondered what she was going to do.
She was in love with her husband.
The knowledge rose up and mocked everything she’d thought she was. everything she thought she’d wanted. The rocky, littered path to this moment stunned her. First business. Then sex. She’d been so cocky, believing she could compartmentalize her feelings like a work deal. Somehow, emotion had mixed up with the physical and had snatched away any rational thought.
Sawyer was the perfect man not to fall in love with. He offered shocking bodily pleasures, but clearly stated he’d never be hers. He did not believe in love. Was not able to gift that emotion because of fear. He was honest about his limitations. Within two short weeks of marriage, did she expect to change him?
She glimpsed the man he was hiding behind walls—the walls of his past he refused to share. Julietta thought about the night he’d confessed some of his past. She knew how difficult it was for him to revisit the nightmares. The precious gift meant more to her than anything. He recognized her broken vulnerability and tried to give her something to ease her. Sawyer had an amazing capacity to give, but it was twisted up with so many bad things, he’d learned to run away.
Setting the plate of pasta in front of him had changed her. In such a simple act of servitude, she realized how much more she wanted from him. How much more she craved to give.
She wanted to be the woman he leaned on, laughed with, trusted. Being in the midst of her family, surrounded by relationships that were real, tempted her to reach out for more. Did he want more, too? And if she was finally brave enough to give him the truth, would he reject her?
As long as nothing was spoken aloud, they’d be able to continue. She could still have his companionship and his physical attention on a daily basis. Why screw it up by saying three lousy words? She wasn’t as brave as her siblings.
Her awkward experience with relationships only confirmed her inability to connect with men. Maybe that’s why her mother had to force her into this marriage under the guise of business, because she sensed Julietta’s inward cowardice in regards to love.
She never heard his footsteps. His hands pressed down over her shoulders and pulled her into his chest. Julietta breathed in his scent, her hands wrapping around his while she clung to what he could give her. His body. Night after night. Some part of him would always belong to her, as much as she belonged to him. He made her say the words before he slipped inside her, words she’d give freely, without sensual torture.
She’d give Sawyer Wells her very soul if he asked.
The sexual chemistry burned and sizzled between them.
Her body softened, her thighs parting to allow him immediate entrance. She sensed his nakedness; his erection nudged the cleft of her buttocks in demand for more. She waited for the games to begin—the dark twisted world she craved, of dominance and submission, of raw nerves and bared lust.
He turned her slowly. Cupped her cheeks. Took her mouth.
His tongue claimed her with slow thrusts that began the dance. She opened and allowed him to tug off her robe. The fabric slid to the floor in a pool of silk. His hands cupped, caressed, but she didn’t need any foreplay—the whole evening spent in his company had weaved its own spell. His finger sank into her swollen wetness and dove deep.
Sawyer lifted her without breaking the kiss. Her legs wrapped tight around his hips and with one slow slide, he buried himself inside her.
She welcomed him, clenching around his shaft. This time, there was no play, no teasing nips or confessions wrung from her lips. There was only the hitch of his breath, the rock of his hips, the strength of his hands, the sweep of his tongue. She shattered around him, never breaking her grip or the connection, and he spilled his seed inside her without the barrier of a condom, his teeth bruising her tender lips in a primitive masculine claim of possession.
Still inside her, he walked to the bed and eased them down, never breaking contact. The truth hovered on her lips, but she was too afraid to speak. The whisper of her name was the last thing she remembered.
Sawyer lifted his beer and clinked it against Max’s. The frosty brew slid cold and clean down his throat. “Salute.
Been too long, man.”
“yeah, since Vegas. When you tried to seduce my wife.”
“If I hadn’t pushed you to make a move, you never would’ve been married. Just call me Cupid.”
“yeah, I’m still not feeling all warm and fuzzy with that one.” His friend slid two more beers down for Michael and Nick, who were embroiled in a lively debate of Gucci versus Prada. He jerked a thumb at them. “They’re going to ruin our reputation as real men. What the hell happened to football versus baseball?”
Sawyer gave a wicked chuckle. “Let’s just call them me-trosexual. They’ll want to kick our asses.”
“you don’t want to know, man.”
The Brera district held an eclectic mix of hot clubs, bars, and restaurants. The real night crowd began coming in around ten, but the after-work crowd poured in around five for an aperitif to celebrate the end of the day. Sawyer rarely put in time for socializing, especially at the local hot spots, but after touring Purity and spending a few hours sketch-ing out his plans, it felt good to relax and hang with his old friend. Max was one of his closest male acquaintances, and Sawyer recognized an honesty in the man along with the dry humor that spoke to him. After a fight on a Greek yacht over some random woman, they’d forged a bond that had only strengthened since Max had met and married Carina.
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