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Claiming His Love-Child
By Sandra Marton
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJuly, the coast of Sicily
MEMORIES of the woman and the long, hot night she'd spent in his arms were demons that haunted Cullen O'Connell's waking and sleeping hours.
He didn't like it. What was she doing in his head? The sex had been great. Okay, incredible, but sex was all it was. She was bright and beautiful, but he hardly knew her. Outside the context of the night they'd spent together, she meant nothing to him.
Cullen had no reason to think about her, especially now.
He was in Italy to celebrate his sister's marriage with the rest of his family. The past few days had been great. Whether they were partying or just sitting around talking, Cullen had never found better company than his brothers. Add his three sisters to the mix, things only got better. Toss in his mother and stepfather for good measure, you had a gathering of the O'Connell clan that would put any other party to shame.
As for the setting - most people would call it idyllic. Castello Lucchesi stood on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean with Mount Etna, trailing ribbons of fire, as a backdrop.
The perfect setting for the perfect party. Cullen's mouth thinned. Then, why was he so restless? Why was he thinking about a woman he barely knew? Why this increasing desire to head home to Boston?
Too much togetherness?
Cullen sighed, undid the jet studs at the collar and cuffs of his frilled white shirt, rolled the sleeves back on his tanned, muscled forearms and stared out over the sea. He'd already discarded the jacket of his tux, left it draped over one of the little white folding chairs in the garden of the castello.
It had never happened before. Well, there was a first time for everything.
Maybe it was the occasion making him feel edgy. This was the third O'Connell wedding in two years. First his mother's, then his brother Keir's, and now his sister Fallon had tied the knot.
Or the noose, Cullen thought as he went up the winding steps that led to the crenellated watchtower overlooking the castle and the Mediterranean.
What was it about weddings that made women weep and men want to run for the hills?
At least this one had been unusual. The high cliff, the blue sea, the magnificent castle ...
And that game of touch football yesterday, on the beach below the castle. The Shirts - Megan, Briana and Fallon - had come within one touchdown of trouncing the skins - Sean and Cullen, with Keir and Fallon's groom, Stefano, spelling each other.
Meg had protested. "No fair. That's four to three."
"It isn't," Cullen had insisted. "The four of us don't play at the same time. And you're a fine one to talk about what's fair, considering that you darned near fractured three of my ribs with that elbow of yours."
"Yeah," Bree said, poking out her chin, "but that only means you've always got a fresh player with unbroken ribs on the field.'"
"Well, you've got a cheering section building your morale," Cullen had retaliated.
They'd all looked at Keir's pregnant wife, Cassie, sitting on the sidelines. Cassie had grinned, pumped both fists in the air and yelled, Yea, which was exactly the distraction Meg needed to shout "Fumble," scoop up the ball and charge across the goal line.
"Cheater!" Cullen had yelled, and his sisters said, yeah, right, and so what? All was fair in love, war and football.
Somehow they'd all ended up in the pool, laughing and ducking each other under the water. Well, all except Stefano and Fallon, who'd wandered off alone, gazing into each other's eyes. And Keir and Cassie had stayed on the sidelines, too, with Keir hovering over his wife as if she were made of crystal.
Cullen leaned out of the tower's embrasure, which still bore the warmth of the sun that was only now starting to lower in the sky.
The last few days had been fun. The evenings, too. Lots of good food and vino, and plenty of time for Stefano to get to know them and them to get to know him. It had all been great ... except for those unwanted flashes of memory. The X-rated images, captured forever in his head.
Marissa, whispering his name. Clinging to him. Moving beneath him, taking him deep, so deep, inside her ...
"Hell," Cullen muttered. It was pretty sad when a grown man could turn himself on by thinking back to something that had happened two months ago.
Exhaustion could explain it. He'd flown in Friday, straight from a week of twelve-hour days spent between his office and the courtroom. Combine that with jet lag, a Sicilian heat so oppressive you could almost feel it melting your bones, toss in worry about Fallon's accident and the scars left on her lovely face, and he had every right to be a basket case.
At least he wasn't worried about Fallon anymore. His sister was so happy, so beautiful, so cherished by her new husband that it was a joy to see.
As for all this stuff about a woman he hardly knew ... There was no point in trying to figure it out. What he needed was a breather. A real one. A true break in routine. The case back home was done with; he had nothing urgent on his agenda. He could change his flight, go to Nantucket instead of Boston, provision his boat, take her out to sea for a few days. Or fly to his cabin in Vail. The Rockies were spectacular in the summer; he'd always meant to do some hiking but he hadn't found the time. Well, he'd find it now, pick up some stuff and backpack.
Or he could go to Madrid. Or London. He hadn't been there in a while. He could go to Maui, or the Virgin Islands.
He could go to Berkeley.
Cullen blinked. Berkeley, California? His alma mater, the place where he'd taken his law degree? It was an okay place but it wasn't exactly one of the world's premier vacation spots.
Yes, but Marissa Perez was there.
Back to square one. Man, he definitely needed a change! Sure, she was in Berkeley. So what? He'd spent a couple of evenings with her. Okay. A weekend.
And he'd spent one night, or most of it, with her in his bed.
Maybe the best thing was to let the images come instead of fighting them. Lessen their impact by letting them wash over him, like a wave hitting the beach far below the tower.
Simply put, Marissa Perez had been spectacular in the sack.
He'd never had a better time in bed, and that was saying a lot. Only a foolish man lied to himself and Cullen had never been a fool. It was simple honesty to admit he was a man who had a knack for getting it on with the opposite sex. Truth was, that knack had brought him more than his fair share of women who were beautiful and exciting and bright and great between the sheets.
For all of that, he'd never enjoyed sex with any of them as much as he had with Marissa.
Cullen scowled and turned his back to the sea.
Out of bed had been another story.
Oh, the lady was beautiful. Exciting. And bright. But she was as prickly as the cactus plants that grew on the sides of these Sicilian roads, as sullen as Mount Etna looming over the sea. She made him uncomfortable, for God's sake, and why would a man put up with a woman who did that?
Hold a door open for her, she gave you a look that said she was perfectly capable of opening it herself. Start to pull out her chair at a restaurant, she grabbed it first. Try to talk to her about anything but the law and the topic you were going to present over Alumni Weekend and she took you straight back to it, reminded you, though politely, that she was here only because she'd been chosen to be your liaison during your couple of days on campus.
Cullen's mouth hardened.
The lady had an attitude. She'd done her best to make it clear dealing with him was a chore she hadn't wanted but despite or maybe because of it, there'd been an almost instantaneous flash of heat between them, right from the minute she picked him up at the airport. Then, on Saturday night, she'd been making some stiff little good-night speech in the car outside his hotel when all at once the rush of words had stopped, she'd looked at him and he'd reached for her ...
Excerpted from Claiming His Love-Child by Sandra Marton Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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