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RUDY BELLAFINI COULDN'T MOVE, at least not without agonizing pain, but as he lay in the snow, his skis pointing straight up in the air, a person stood over him snapping his picture.
"What the ...?" Rudy said as he spit snow and debris out of his mouth, angry over the amateur paparazzo with the disposable camera.
"Don't worry about a thing, Mr. Bellafini." Click ...
"The ambulance is on its way." Click ... click ... click.
Rudy couldn't believe this chick. Did she have no shame?
"Come on. I'm a mess here. Could you stop with the pictures?" Rudy pleaded, and held up a hand to block the camera's focus.
Click ... "Sorry, honey, but I thought guys like you loved this kind of stuff. Besides, it's an even trade. I called the ambulance. You owe me," she purred.
"I owe you? I'm lying here next to death and I owe you for calling an ambulance?"
"It's about giving something back."
"That would mean that I took something from you, which I didn't because I don't know you. Do I?"
"Stop taking -" Rudy mumbled, but the chick wouldn't give it up.
As Rudy dropped back in the snow, completely defeated, a curious memory drifted into his consciousness. A memory he thought he had successfully tucked away forever.
"Stop taking my picture," Rudy chided.
"I want to remember this when you're rich and famous," Cate said as she snapped several pictures of Rudy's face. They leaned up against the far wall in the back of his father's closed restaurant, teasing each other with kisses and laughter as a snowstorm howled right outside their door.
"You make me crazy," he said right before he kissed her gently on her full, wet lips.
"We came here for food," she taunted. "You told me that your dad left us a couple sandwiches."
"You are my food," he whispered between playful kisses.
She snapped another picture.
"I'm the one who's hungry. Not you. You ate like a pig today," she told him.
"I'm hungry for you," he said, not believing the words that came tripping out of his own mouth. All he knew at that exact moment was that he wanted her, right then, right there, and nothing could stop him. Her hair smelled like the rain, her skin tasted as sweet as sugar and her full breasts were softer than he had ever imagined. He had unbuttoned her sweater, and slipped her camisole off one shoulder to reveal her breast and now he couldn't keep his hands or his mouth away from her body.
"I thought you were in so much pain you couldn't move," she told him.
"I was, until you gave me that back and shoulder massage. I thought I wouldn't be able to ski again for the rest of the season. Then you came along. Did anybody ever tell you that you have the magic touch?"
"You're the first," she said, smiling.
"We should get married," he said after a deep kiss that sent a thrill through his entire body. He could feel her heat as she pressed up against him, leg twisted around his, arms surrounding his neck, his shirt undone so he could feel her breasts tickling his chest.
She pushed him back. "Are you asking me to marry you?"
He looked into her glistening brown eyes, saw that loving look on her sweet young face and answered a resounding, "Sure. Marry me, Cate Falco. Be mine forever. I'll give you all the gold and diamonds in the world."
"I don't want all the gold and diamonds in the world. A single strand of white gold and diamonds would do just fine. But we've only been dating for three months."
"Since when did dating-time have anything to do with marriage?"
"I don't know. Isn't it a rule or something? Aren't we supposed to get to really know each other first? I mean, we haven't even spent a whole night together, or had one decent argument. Aren't those the two main ingredients of happy marriages?"
"So that's it ... sex and arguments? That's what makes a happy marriage?"
"I think so, and maybe a few thousand other things, but you obviously don't have time for the list. At least we should know ..."
He kissed her again, then pulled back to continue on his quest.
"What's to know? You're the girl with the magical touch, and I'm the guy who needs a little magic in his life. Sounds like the perfect match to me."
"You're the one who's crazy. You know that?"
"You could be right, but let's get married, anyway."
She stared into his eyes as if she were searching for the right answer, then pulled him in tight and rested her head on his shoulder.
He hugged her even tighter, hoping for the right answer.
"So," she whispered.
He waited while she tickled his ear with her tongue, sending shivers right through him. He pulled his head away and looked at her, hoping, praying even, for a yes.
Cate beamed with a smile that lit up her whole face. "So, yes. Of course I'll marry you. How could I not?"
He picked her up and twirled her around shouting, "Yes. Yes. Yes," as she snapped another picture of his smiling face.
"Yes, Cate, yes," he said out loud.
Two burly men from a rescue team picked Rudy up from the snow. "That's some dream you're having, Mr. Bellafini. But you need to relax now. You're going to be fine."
"Sure," Rudy said. "Relax. Like it's easy with your foot pointing in the wrong direction. Look at that. You should be on this stretcher, dude, trying to relax."
A woman from the same team, with black satin hair and pure brown eyes, a Latin angel, told him to breathe normally through the tubes poking into his nostrils. Rudy smiled and shut up long enough to finally lose all consciousness.
Excerpted from For Better or Cursed by Mary Leo Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted September 8, 2004