Kassius had looked overjoyed, then doubtful. “Are you sure you want to take the trouble, Laney? It’s a holiday. You’ve only just fully recovered. A month ago you were walking with a cane. You should just relax and let someone else work.”
“I’m fine now,” Laney had protested.
“Let someone else cook for Christmas!” Yvonne said indignantly. “Are you crazy? What kind of fool idea is that?”
So Kassius hadn’t tried to put up any more of a fight. He’d just wiped tears of joy from his eyes. He’d been looking forward to Christmas ever since, as eagerly as any child counting down the days until the magical morning.
Thinking about it, Laney gave a low laugh. Her husband appreciated their cooking, that was for sure. Only a few hours now till Christmas dinner, and he still anxiously stuck his head into the kitchen every few minutes, as if that would make the time fly by faster. She’d finally had to banish him from the kitchen when she’d discovered him sneaking in surreptitiously with a spoon.
“What?” he protested as she pointed firmly at the door. “Just trying to help with quality control!”
Still smiling, Laney checked on the cinnamon swirl king cake now in the oven. It was baking nicely. She also had the tiny plastic baby figurine ready to stick into the cake after it cooled, for one of the guests to find over dessert. That person would then be allowed the privilege of choosing where they hosted family Christmas next year. That had been her father’s idea.
“It’s really the only way to be fair about it,” he’d explained, glancing at his girlfriend, who lived in Atlanta. That was true, since their family now lived all over the world.
Hearing her four-month-old baby coo, Laney lifted him from his baby seat and twirled him around the kitchen until he giggled and squealed, the best sound in the world. He was a brilliant baby, and very good at grabbing his own feet. Clearly, she thought proudly, a baby genius.
“And how is Henry Clark?” her grandmother said fondly.
“He loves Christmas. Don’t you, Henry,” she cooed, and he giggled back at her.
“Can’t believe that husband of yours bought him a puppy for Christmas. A puppy for a baby!”
“I’m suspicious about who the puppy is really for.” Laney grinned. “Kassius can’t wait until he’s delivered tomorrow. Says this is the best Christmas ever!”
“Wait until he experiences Christmas in New Orleans.” Yvonne sighed. “It’s been lovely to travel, but after all these months, I’ve seen enough of the world. I’m ready to go home.”
The grand new house on St. Charles Avenue had just been finished and was ready for Yvonne and Clark to move in, with a dedicated guest wing for Kassius, Laney and baby Henry to visit. Although there was still some question if Clark ever meant to return.
After months spent at the top medical clinic in Atlanta, cutting-edge medical treatments had partially restored his vision. Laney had wept openly when she’d first tucked her baby into her father’s arms and he’d been able to see the color of his grandson’s hair, the boy named in part after him. There was some hope he’d eventually gain complete vision in his left eye. He’d never looked better, Laney had thought. He’d looked positively muscular as he rolled his new wheelchair around the Christmas tree that morning, a gift from his daughter and son-in-law, which had made him exclaim over the “kick-ass rims.”
Clark had brought his new girlfriend, Jeanie, a nurse from the clinic, for Christmas, too. The plump and pretty divorcée, with two grown children and a grandchild of her own—all of whom were spending the holiday with her ex this year—kissed him affectionately as they finally sat down to Christmas dinner.
Laney looked at her family around the big table spread with Cajun Christmas cheer, mixed with some French breads and wine and even some Russian borscht and vodka, thanks to Boris, and felt tears in her eyes. After so many years of despair, they were all happy. They were together. A Christmas miracle.
Even Kassius’s father looked fifteen years younger. His son had insisted he continue to keep this as his home, and all the sold-off furniture had been replaced and, except for Mimi, all his laid-off employees rehired. His oil company had been folded into Kassius’s worldwide portfolio as a loosely held subsidiary, and with the influx of new investment and technological innovations, there was hope for the company’s future.
But Boris was happy for his son to run it now. All he wanted, all he’d ever wanted, it seemed, was his son, and to be part of his family.
“Aha!” Yvonne said, holding something up triumphantly. It was the tiny baby figurine. “Next year, Christmas in New Orleans!”
Everyone looked at her suspiciously.
She widened her eyes, the picture of innocence. “What?”
“Sabotage!” Boris cried, waving a jar of hot-pepper sauce. “That’s what!”
“It was pure luck!” she protested.
No one believed her, but they just laughed. Everyone was happy, and it was impossible to hide it.
Life had once felt so dark for all of them, Laney thought as they shared Christmas dinner around the table. Each of them had lived through a different kind of pain. But for each of them, love had melted it away.
Kassius had done it, Laney thought suddenly. He’d changed their lives. He’d been the miracle.
But when Laney told him as much, when they’d all risen from the dinner table to take a family walk through the villa’s beautiful, well-kept gardens, Kassius snorted and shook his head.
“If there was a miracle, it all came from you, Laney,” he said as a cool breeze whirled around them from the sparkling blue sea. He glanced back at his father, who was smiling tenderly at his baby grandson harnessed to his chest in a baby carrier, walking with Yvonne and Ove and Clark and Jeanie. Turning back, Kassius tucked a tendril of her long dark hair behind her ear and said seriously, “It all started with you. Your courage, and wisdom, and grace. From the moment we met...”
She tilted her head teasingly. “You mean when you hit me with your car?”
He grinned, then sobered. “I’m just sorry I made you go through far worse pain than that.” He looked down at her, his dark eyes deep with emotion. “But you didn’t give up on me. You loved me, even when I didn’t deserve it. You always knew I could be the man you deserve. The man who loves you. The man who always will.”
She swallowed over the lump in her throat. She felt so happy, it brought tears to her eyes. “Kassius...”
“Wait.” Abruptly, he pulled her away from the rest of the family, into a small copse of oak trees behind the box hedge. Looking up at the oak tree, he said innocently, “Oh, look...mistletoe.”
Astonished, Laney looked up at the evergreen leaves and white berries growing on the oak tree. Then she narrowed her eyes.
“You lured me to this spot on purpose,” she said accusingly.
He lifted a dark eyebrow. “Would I do that?”
Kassius grinned. “You know me well.” He ran his hand slowly down her back. “So you might as well know, I intend to lure you into bed later. Maybe more than once.”
Eyes shining, Laney reached up to caress her husband’s rough cheek.
“You don’t need to lure me,” she whispered. “Just kiss me. And never let me go.”
So lowering his head, that’s exactly what he did.
* * * * *
Dante Di Sione can’t believe the beautiful blonde who ‘accidentally’ stole his family’s tiara is blackmailing him – for a date to her sister’s wedding! If Willow wants to be his fake fiancée, she’ll have to play the part to the full. Only Willow’s confidence is fake…and she’s a virgin!
Read on for a sneak preview of
DI SIONE’S VIRGIN MISTRESS
the fifth in the unmissable new eight book Modern series
THE BILLIONAIRE’S LEGACY
“I’m sorry. I’m out of here.”
“No. Listen to me, Willow.” There was a pause while he seemed to be composing himself, and when he started speaking, his words sounded very controlled. “For what it’s worth, I think you’re lovely. Very lovely. A beautiful butterfly of a woman. But I’m not going to have sex with you.”
She swallowed. “Because you don’t want me?”
His voice grew rough. “You know damned well I want you.”
She lifted her eyes to his. “Then why?”
He seemed to hesitate and Willow got the distinct feeling that he was going to say something dismissive, or tell her that he didn’t owe her any kind of explanation. But to her surprise, he didn’t. His expression took on that almost gentle look again and she found herself wanting to hurl something at him…preferably herself. To tell him not to wrap her up in cotton wool the way everyone else did. To treat her like she was made of flesh and blood instead of something fragile and breakable. To make her feel like that passionate woman he’d brought to life in his arms.
“Because I’m the kind of man who brings women pain, and you’ve probably had enough of that in your life. Don’t make yourself the willing recipient of anymore.” He met the question in her eyes. “I’m incapable of giving women what they want and I’m not talking about sex. I don’t do emotion, or love, or commitment, because I don’t really know how those things work. When people tell me that I’m cold and unfeeling, I don’t get offended—because I know it’s true. There’s nothing deep about me, Willow—and there never will be.”