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A woman danced in the rain in his garden.
Tomas Delacorte stared out the big upstairs window of Fleur House, oblivious to the coming storm. Instead, he watched the graceful woman as she lifted her face to the clouds and laughed, her long ponytail trailing around her shoulder like a flower vine, her hands out, palms up, as if she were saying a prayer. Her colorful tiered skirt was as bright as the various containers of flowers surrounding her. She had kicked off her sandals and now danced with barefoot abandon in the freshly mowed grass that sloped down to the bayou.
This must be Callie Moreau. The landscape lady.
He inhaled a deep breath. A sensation passed through his chest like a fresh wind and stirred up the dust inside his heart, causing it to beat a little faster. Causing it to warm and open and absorb. The change almost hurtthe pain of wanting was overwhelming.
She danced. And he fell in love.
He wanted to go out there and dance with her.
He wanted to be that joyous, that happy.. just once in his life. But for him, that would be impossible. For him, love didn't work. Just a silly reaction to an unusual sight.
A clap of thunder brought him out of his daydream.
The woman stopped dancing and gazed up at the sky. Then she turned and looked at the window where he stood.
And into Tomas's eyes.
Callie dropped her head and hurried to the long covered terrace at the back of the huge mansion, her wet clothes and hair making her shiver. Digging into the big tote bag she'd left on the porch, she found her phone and dialed her sister Alma's number.
"He saw me," she said when Alma answered. She had to catch her breath. She'd hurried too fast.
"Who saw you?"
Callie heard the blur of voices echoing over the line along with the sound of a cash register dinging another dollar. Alma was at the Fleur Café, as usual. And it was lunchtime.
"The man. The owner. Tomas Delacorte."
"So you saw him? What does he look like?"
"I only got a glimpse before he disappeared. But. .tall, dark, handsome. And dark, intense eyes. Visions of Heath-cliff with a little bit of Mr. Darcy thrown in."
"Heathcliff? As in Wuthering Heights? That Heathcliff?"
"Yes. That Heathcliff. I think he's bitter and lonely. He must have loved someone and lost them. Brooding. Yes, definitely brooding."
Alma giggled. "Oh, so you know this from a brief glimpse? Tell me more."
She could picture Alma sinking down on a bar stool, her grin reflecting in the aged mirror that ran the length of the counter. "Yes. I was in the garden and it started raining and I looked up and there he was, staring at me as if he'd just walked out of the pages of a historical romance novel."
"Were you doing the rain dance thing?"
Callie twirled her wet ponytail. "Uh, maybe. Is that bad?"
"No, no. Not bad at all. I'm sure he enjoyed watching you do that silly dance."
"He was watching. I mean, I felt him watching. I saw him at the window." Callie went into panic mode. "What if he fires me?"
Alma laughed. "For dancing in the rain? That's not grounds for firing someone."
"But. .I wasn't actually doing my job."
"You can't dig dirt in the rain."
"Mr. Tall, Dark and Brooding might think differently."
Callie turned at the sound of footsteps and saw the very man she'd been talking about standing there staring at her. Again. "Uh, gotta go."
She put away her phone and wiped a hand across her wet hair. "Hello. I'm Callie."
"And apparently I'm Mr.what was that?Tall, Dark and Brooding."
Callie's wet skin chilled with a hot blush. She couldn't speak. So she just stood there.
He stepped closer, giving her the full view. Nice, expensive suit, dark sleek hair that curled over his collar in a rebel way. The bluest of blue eyes with dark brows that slashed across his forehead in a perpetual brooding way. Midnight eyes would be cliché. Ocean maybe, but only the deepest, bluest of oceans. Disturbing blue. Yes, disturbing ocean-blue eyes.
Disturbing blue brooding eyes that stayed on her like a spyglass searching for interlopers. Glinting. He was definitely a glinter.
Callie's blush crept like kudzu over her and through her. "I'm sorry to disturb you. I'm the landscaper. I mean, I'm here to work in the garden, to redo your yard. Nick Santiago hired me."
"I know who you are," he replied, his voice as rough as aged cypress bark. "I saw you out the window." He kept staring. "And I'm pretty sure you know who I ammy real name I mean."
"You're Tomas Delacorte. Nice to finally meet you."
He nodded but didn't return the acknowledgment. "You're wet."
"I'm so sorry," she repeated, wishing she could turn into rain and just wash away. "I was"
He put his hands in the pockets of his trousers and frowned. "Dancing. In the rain."
She didn't have anywhere to put her hands. "Uh, yes. It's kind of a thing I have "
The rain turned into a full-blown storm with lashing sheets of water and wind that made her shiver. Callie put her arms against her midsection to ward off the chill from her wet shirt. Maybe these goose bumps weren't from being wet. Maybe this was because of him. He glinted at her without moving.
She turned. "I should just go."
He lifted one hand and motioned her toward him. "Come inside out of the rain."
Not used to being ordered, good looks aside, Callie formed her own frown. "I need to get back to town."
"Not in this storm. Come inside. I insist."
When she stood there, frozen and wondering how to get away, he walked a step closer. "Please. I promise I won't lock you in the dungeon."
"You have a dungeon?"
He laughedalmost. And she fell in love. Almost.
Oh, what a beautiful, chiseled face he had. She imagined what it must look like when he truly laughed. What a lovely smile he'd have. Callie decided he probably didn't smile very often. The glint in his eyes changed to a sparkle for just a brief second. So she took this as a rare gift and enjoyed it.
But she couldn't be in love with him. She'd keep this instant crush to herself. It was the shock of finally meeting him after weeks of speculations, after weeks of her vivid imagination taking over her brain cells. Get over that, she told herself. You don't know this man. You don't even need to know this man. You are content with your life, and you have Elvis.
Elvis, her big mutt of a dog, would probably scare this straight-out-of-a-menswear-magazine man right out of Fleur. Maybe not scare, but annoy. This man looked like he could become annoyed very easily. And she, Callie Moreau, was known to be the annoying typethe friendly, always sunny, always positive type. So was her dog. Luckily, she'd left Elvis back at the nursery since she'd planned to come and do a quick inspection and then get back to town. She'd been so excited about finally being able to get her hands on the massive, overgrown garden that surrounded Fleur House.
This might not work out so well, after all.
He motioned to her again then pointed toward the big French doors. "We have a basement, but I'll have Margie and Eunice make you a cup of tea." He frowned. "Isn't that what women lovea good cup of hot tea?"
"This woman does." She marched toward the open, waiting door. "And I'm starving. Do you have anything to eat?"
"I have a cook," Tomas said, irritated that she had somehow invaded his private space, even more irritated that he'd let her do it by inviting her inside. "And a maid. I'm sure they can feed you something."
"And they could both be on break and probably watching their favorite soap opera." Callie shook her head and smiled that breathtaking smile. "I don't need any help. Iwedon't live like that around here, Lord Delacorte."
The sting of that comment pricked his solid armor. He walked to the door off the kitchen and called out, "Margie? Eunice?" Then he pivoted back to Callie. "You don't approve of me having a cook and a maid?"
"Not my business." She pointed to the big, industrial stove. "This kitchen is amazing. Brenna told me it was lovely, but it goes beyond that. It's so beautiful. Not as fancy as I expected. A good working kitchen. Every woman's dream."
Tomas had to admit it was refreshing to find such a down-to-earth woman. A woman who brought this kitchen to life. But her iridescence was too bright. So he covered his awe with gruffness. "Do you want some tea or not?"
She gave him an exaggerated frown, then toughened her voice. "Yes, but I can make it myself."
Was she mocking him?
The cook and her sister, the housekeeper, both bustled into the room. Hired help, but more like family, they looked at Callie, smiled, then turned to him. "Tomas, did you need something?"
Tomas held up his ringing cell phone but answered Margie before he took the call. "Tea and food, for our guest."
"Hi," Callie said, smiling. "I'm Callie and I can make my own tea. Iced or hot, either way is good."
"Nonsense," Eunice replied. The two women started chattering away as they went about serving Callie.
Tomas nodded to Margie and Eunice, then turned and left the room. But he couldn't help but eavesdrop on the feminine introductions and laughter coming from the kitchen. Not used to the echo of such joy, he shut his office door with a bang.
He didn't like the feelings this colorful, full-of-life woman evoked in him. He didn't have time for such feelings. Used to controlling everything and everyone, Tomas got the impression he'd never control Callie Moreau. Besides, he had work to do. Taking over a major company was never easy. Soon he'd be the most hated man in town.
Callie Moreau would hate him, too. And that would be that.
A few minutes later, a knock at his door brought his head up. "Yes?"
The door slowly opened and Eunice stuck her head in. "I've brought lunch and Callie wanted a word with you."
Before Tomas could protest, Callie was in, holding a lunch tray, and Eunice was gone, the door shut.
Callie's smile looked tentative, but he saw the hint of empathy in her pretty gray-blue eyes. "We had grilled ham and cheese. I brought one for you."
"I don't like grilled ham and cheese."
"Really? I thought everyone loved grilled ham and cheese sandwiches on a rainy day. When was the last time you had one?"
He sat back, memories swirling around him like the mist hitting the big windows. "It's been a long time."
She set down the tray on the edge of his massive desk. "Then this is going to be a good day."
He nodded, turned sarcastic. "In more ways than one, apparently."
She blushed, fussed with his napkin and water glass. "I hope the weather lets up. I have a lot to do. I love the rain, of course. But I want to make your garden a stunner. I need dry earth and sunshine for that."
Tomas prayed for rain all day, then changed his mind and prayed for sunshine. He didn't want her to go, but he certainly didn't want her stay. "You need to talk to me?"
He motioned to a chair.
After she'd settled her skirt and smoothed her hair, she gave him a direct glance, then produced some papers from the tote bag draped over her arm. "I wanted to show you the grid for the garden. Nick approved everything, but I'd feel better knowing you approve things, too. I'm not used to taking over someone's garden without their input."
He waved that notion away. "Nicholas sings your praises. I trust his judgment."
She flipped her ponytail. "He has to sing my praises. He's going to be my brother-in-law in two weeks." Then she sat up in her chair. "You live here. I'd like your input."
Tomas stared at the sandwich on his plate, the scent of buttered bread making his stomach growl. "If you insist."
"I do. It's how I do business, Mr. Delacorte."
Interesting. Some bite behind all that bright.
"Tomas," he replied. "Call me Tomas."
"Well, Tomas, eat your lunch and then we'll get to work."
What a bossy woman.
"It's still raining. Why don't you call it a day?"
"I don't melt in the rain," Callie replied, a sweet shyness seeming to envelop her.
"No, I have no doubt there. I think you thrive in the rain. At least it looked that way to me earlier."
"I didn't know you were watching."
"I didn't know when I looked out the window I'd find you down there dancing in the rain."
She pushed the plate toward him, determination taking over her chirpiness. "Eating will get rid of that bad mood."
"Who said I'm in a bad mood?"
"So you're like this all the time?"
Tomas thought about that. "Yes, pretty much."
He was rewarded with what looked like a doubtful but challenging smile. Tomas bit into the thick French bread and tasted the rich white cheddar and the salty ham, the spicy-sweet mustard covered with a ripe tomato from the farmer's market in town. Then he glanced over at Callie. "This is by far the best ham and cheese sandwich I've ever eaten."
She giggled. "You need to get out more."
"That's probably true."
If he had this woman to entice him, Tomas might become less of a recluse and more of a social human being.
But, he reminded himself, he had not come back to Fleur, Louisiana, to fling himself into a relationship. He'd come back here to prove something to all the people who'd once scorned him and condemned him. And prove it he would, without distraction.
He dropped the sandwich and pushed the plate away, his appetite gone.
What would the lovely Callie Moreau think when she found out the truth about him? When she found out who he really was?
He didn't want that to happen yet. He could control how much she knew in the same way he controlled everything else in his life.
"Let's get on with this," he said in an abrupt tone. "I have a busy afternoon."
She nodded, shuffled her folded papers and came around the desk. "Here's the grid."
Tomas sniffed the floral scent of her perfume while she expounded on everything from Japanese maples to cast-iron plants.
And he wondered why he even cared about the garden in the first place.
"So that's how Alma's gumbo got so famous."