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ORDINARILY,RACHEL MARLOWE wouldn't have minded
a little vibrating action while naked in her bed, luxuriating beneath her silk sheets, sated from the second explosive orgasm of the night. Ordinarily, she would have snuggled deeper beneath her comforter and allowed sweet exhaustion to lure her into dreamless sleep.
But damn it, over the past four months, making love to Roman Brach had elevated her ordinary, everyday, work-for-a-living existence into an intriguing, captivating adventure. To achieve this level of excitement, she usually had to stuff her duffel with a week's worth of whatever and catch the next cheap flight to another continent. Her whirlwind, spontaneous one-woman excursions had, not too long ago, been her only means of finding balance in her life — excitement to offset the boring; magnificence to alleviate the mundane.
Until Roman, who thanks to his vibrating pager, was now rolling out of bed. He opened his mouth to speak, but Rachel silenced him with a soft palm over his generous lips.
"If you say 'duty calls' I might have to kill you," she jokingly warned.
His grin, warm beneath her touch, pooled her insides into melted goo. She yanked her hand away. Despite her threat, the only lethal one in the room was Roman.
"If you kill me," he warned, "I won't be able to return to you tonight."
She rolled her eyes, determined not to show her emotional hand. What fun would that be? "I'll live."
"Yes," he agreed, running a strong, callused finger from her lips, down her neck, to the slightly moist crevice between her breasts. "But without me, what quality of life would you enjoy?"
Despite her ire, she laughed at his unstoppable ego and swatted his hand away. He chuckled and started rummaging through the clothes scattered about the room for his pants, shirt, tie and jacket. He'd find them all. And they'd be impeccably unwrinkled when he did. She wasn't sure how he managed that feat, but it annoyed the hell out of her.
Lots of stuff about Roman annoyed the hell out of her, even while concurrently thrilling her right down to her curled toes. With his choice television-consulting job that took him to the four corners of the world on a regular rotation, Rachel never knew when he'd show up on her doorstep, his blue eyes rich with desire, the hard muscles in his arms and chest tense with need, his perfect Armani suit and custom-made Dege & Skinner shirts practically begging to be ripped free from his body. That's how he'd shown up tonight just after midnight — and similarly every night this week. Such regularity was downright weird, but who was she to complain? The sex was great. The conversation witty and quick.Yet now, at nearly five o'clock on a Thursday morning, she found herself once again in the unenviable position of either pretending his inevitable departure didn't bother her in the least...or confessing that she wished he'd stay and risk looking needy and clingy.
She frowned. She'd keep her mouth shut. As always. God forbid that she exhibit vulnerability. She'd learned long ago that putting her heart on the line might make her feel empowered in the short run, but in the long run, she'd end up just like all the women in her life — her mother, her sisters, her roommate, Jeannette...hell, all the chicks she knew from the gym and the various offices she worked in — lonely and bitching about all the men who'd broken their hearts.
Not Rachel. She'd come to New York City from Miami with one thing and one thing only on her mind. Her career. Okay, two things. She also wanted to travel. Come to think of it, math was not her strong suit. Her third most important goal revolved around having lots of hot sex with all the intriguing, international and successful men she'd inevitably meet in the famed Big Apple or wherever her passport took her in between freelance gigs as a graphic designer. And yet, for the past four months, she'd only been having sex with Roman. She wasn't complaining, of course. Not, at least, until his annoying pager went off.
"Any idea when you'll be back?"
She delivered the question with the right combination of vague interest and cool boredom. Or at least she hoped so. She practiced hard enough every time Roman prepared to disappear.
He turned, his ice-blue eyes warmed by a simmering desire that never seemed to cool when they were together. From the first moment her attention had flashed on his hypnotic gaze, she'd been snagged. Caught, like the tarpon her stepfather used to fish for off his yacht. And just like the mighty silver game fish, she'd fought and flailed against the hook.
Well, she'd struggled at least until she'd found a way to justify that flirting with a consultant was not the same as coming on to a boss. Technically, for the duration of his contract at the network — and hers, since she free-lanced — he'd been her superior. He'd supervised her work, but he didn't sign her paychecks. He didn't even write her performance reviews. Armed with those facts, she'd thrown caution to the wind and succumbed to a potentially destructive affair with a colleague.
She'd been working for A&E at the time. Or maybe Bravo. Encore? She couldn't remember the cable network exactly, but her project had reeked of high-brow entertainment — that much she remembered. As a specialist in opening credits and flashy promo pieces, she went where the jobs took her, and generally, she switched focus every six weeks at the most. She worked hard enough in a short period of time to save money, and then she took off for parts unknown. Indonesia. Pakistan. Brazil. She'd been on the verge of heading out on another unplanned, unrestricted trip to Costa Rica when Roman had strolled into her life and made leaving the last thing on her mind.
As he dressed, she thought back to the first time she'd seen him. She'd been in the studio, working on the final edits for a documentary promo. On mating. Of apes, of flamingos, of New York City drag queens? That detail blurred. Unforgettable, however, was the glance over her shoulder when she caught sight of Roman Brach conferring with some uppity-up in the company.
She'd stared. Brazenly. And after a few long moments, he'd looked up. Locking gazes with Roman, even for just a split second, filled her thoughts with enough sensual possibilities to script several rather lurid short films of her own.
He'd been wearing gray. Dusky coal gray. And a silver tie flecked with slate blue that matched his steely eyes. He'd tried to blend. To remain unnoticed. That in and of itself was enough to arrest her attention since her experience told her that here in New York, just like back home in Miami, men as handsome as Roman usually wanted nothing more than to catch the attention of every female within a ten-mile radius.
But not this guy. Oh, no. He'd wanted to move stealthlike in the television graphic arts room, glancing over shoulders and lingering at workstations just a few seconds too long to be an ordinary executive only interested in increasing ratings. When she'd asked around and discovered he was actually a consultant, she'd made the first move.
One well-timed quip later, and she'd received a charming invitation to dinner. One elevator ride down from the restaurant and she'd started a hot, lusty, unstoppable affair that she knew, soon, would be all too...over.
"Sorry, love." He secured the buttons on the cuffs of his sleeves. "Don't have a clue when I'll be back. But I know it will be soon."
She loved how he didn't sound like Hugh Grant when he called her love. She wouldn't have minded Colin Firth, but Roman's accent wasn't as easy to peg as British or Aussie or South African or even Scottish. He'd claimed to be American by birth, but a resident of the world. It was one of the few things about him she believed.
She shrugged one shoulder. "Your loss."
He quirked half a grin, bringing one devastating dimple into sharp relief against his stubble-roughened cheek. "You have no idea."
She expected his kiss to be brief, yet he surprised her again by making it long and lingering. Rachel's libido stirred just before he flashed out of the bedroom, and ten steps later, out of her small apartment in the SoHo section of Manhattan.
Her roommate, Jeannette, was in California on business and would be gone for at least another week. Rachel had the entire apartment to herself, and the loneliness suddenly echoed like shouts in a cave.
She relaxed against her pillows, closed her eyes and imagined how Roman would skip the elevator for the stairs, slip onto the lonely, nearly deserted sidewalk and hail a cab within moments, having some special magic when it came to summoning the often-impossible-to-find taxis that roamed the city.
She doused the light and for all of fifteen minutes, tried to sleep. The day before, she'd finished her assignment with the local news station, designing the new graphics for their eleven o'clock broadcast. She had a couple of new freelance projects to work on and a long-running assignment with an independent filmmaker to fiddle with, but otherwise, the next few days were hers to sleep late and explore the city since, because of Roman, she'd decided to stick around rather than head to the Costa Rican cloud forest. Her duffel bag had been calling to her for weeks, but she'd ignored her wander-lust. Somehow, trekking around Central America didn't quite measure up to making love to Roman on a semi-regular basis.
After twenty minutes of tossing and turning, she roused herself out of bed and took a hot shower, hoping to wash the alluring smell of Roman's cologne off her skin. If she didn't, he'd haunt her all day. She was already obsessed enough.
Once dressed in her favorite sweats and Miami Hurricane T-shirt, Rachel grabbed her hip pack and keys. She wasn't sure if she'd actually make it to the gym to do a round of circuit training and an hour on the tread-mill, but she'd at least make it as far as Iris's coffee stand.
Rachel jogged down the steps of her building just in time to see Iris flick on the little rotating disco ball that told the neighborhood that her street-corner stand was open for business. The smell of fresh pastelitos and strong Cuban espresso assailed Rachel's nostrils, making her stomach rumble. She was going to work out, right? One pastry wouldn't kill her.
"You're up early, mija," Iris said, her thick Puerto Rican accent not hiding her surprise.
"I haven't really gone to sleep."
Iris arched a perfectly painted, black eyebrow. "Mr. Roman come to visit? Is that the third time this week?"
Rachel dug her hands into the pockets of her sweats and shrugged. "Fourth, but who's counting? I'm sure I won't see him again for a few days."
"Why are you so sure?" Iris handed Rachel a large foam cup steaming with frothy milk, espresso and the four sugars Rachel preferred.
She blew on the hot drink, then took a tentative sip. The sweetened warmth slid down her throat, then pooled in her belly, chasing away the last chill of Roman's quick departure.
"The last two mornings, he left late, without the pager going off. But today, the pager summoned. He's probably on his way to the airport as we speak."
"Nah, just Uptown."
Rachel nearly jumped with fright at the gravelly voice — how Mario Capelli could consistently walk up behind her with such stealth, never mind park his cab on the sidewalk only a few car lengths away, continued to amaze her — and Iris, who'd clearly seen him coming, now blushed a healthy pink on her cocoa skin.
"You dropped Roman off?"
Mario nodded, and then gave Iris his signature greeting with a touch to the brim of his battered Giants cap. "Had some meeting. Looked pretty happy for a guy on his way to work," Mario said, wiggling his eyebrows.
Rachel slapped him playfully on the arm. She hadn't been in the city very long when she'd been lured from the backseat of Mario's cab to this street corner by the scent of authentic Cuban coffee. Rachel's mother, a Cuban immigrant, had twice married men who didn't share her Latin blood, but though her name no longer ended with a Z, Mireya Diaz Marlowe had refused to leave Miami and the rhythms of her roots. She'd never managed to teach her daughters to speak Spanish or get them interested in Castro's politics, but they did all have a weakness for Caribbean food and music. Because of Iris's stand, which now hummed with the music of Celia Cruz on a battered CD player Iris hung from the cart handle with a locked bicycle chain, Rachel had shelled out more than her budget allowed for the one bedroom walk-up just so she could get a little taste of home every day. Luckily, her roommate, when she was in town — which wasn't often — didn't mind the Murphy bed in the living room.