Here's a sample from HER BROODING ITALIAN BOSS
Standing in the main room of the gallery, pressed in by art aficionados, Antonio glanced at his watch. His “return” to the world of art had been a subtle, almost disappointing, one. Olivia had other clients – working clients – she was schmoozing right now. Tucker had found two business acquaintances he was talking up. And Antonio stood by a gallery owner from Madrid who desperately wanted him to do a showing.
Half of him had gone breathless at the prospect. The other half wanted to run in terror.
The screech of a car grinding to a stop stabbed into the noise of the gallery. He looked up, past Juanita Santos to the wall of windows behind her. A red Jag had pulled up to the curb for valet parking. His eyes narrowed. That looked just like Constanzo’s car.
The driver’s door opened. A spike heel emerged, connected to one long, slim leg.
His eyebrows rose. The crowd outside the gallery turned to the newcomer. Men smiled. Women gave her the onceover.
Antonio’s mouth fell open as Laura Beth tossed the keys to the valet.
With her hair pulled up, piled high on her head, and luscious in the slim black dress, she walked the cobblestone path like a model working the catwalk. The dress rode her curves, accenting her womanly figure, but the black color gave her a sleek, sophisticated look. In her worn jeans and goofy librarian work clothes, she was an all-American girl. In this dress, she was a woman.
And all eyes were on her.
His heart caught and his breathing faltered, but he ignored them. He wasn’t in a position to get involved with her. Though looking at her in that dress, he was again tempted. Still, for all he knew, Constanzo had set this up. But, even if he hadn’t, his reasons for staying away from Laura Beth were sound. Responsible. He feared watching her belly swell with child, but his first marriage had also made him jaded, angry. She was absolutely too nice for him. And right now she was about to be rejected at the door.
A gentleman, he couldn’t let that happen. He turned to Juanita. “If you’ll excuse me.”
He headed for the door, his heart thundering in his chest with fear that she’d be embarrassingly refused entrance. Instead, the young man smiled and motioned for her to enter.
She dipped her head in thanks and glided into the crowd.
He stopped and waited for her to see him. When she did, she approached him.
“Well, look at you.”
She smiled slowly. “You’ve got to stop stealing my good lines.”
He laughed. “I’m glad you’re here, but I’m afraid I’m--”
He was about to say busy, when Olivia raced over. “Laura Beth?”
She raised her hands. “In the flesh.”
Olivia squealed with joy. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m spending a few weeks with Antonio, helping him try to clear out his office.”
One of Olivia’s eyebrows rose as she looked at Antonio, who clearly hadn’t mentioned that her best friend was living with him.
Laura Beth laughed. “Don’t worry. Constanzo hired me. Antonio didn’t. So he’s not really cooperating.”
Olivia tilted her head at him. “Pity.”
Then Laura Beth totally surprised him by squeezing Olivia’s hand and saying, “I’d love to chat. But Antonio was just telling me that he’s busy. I’m assuming you’ve got people for him to meet, so I’m going to walk around the gallery and, you know, browse.”
Olivia gave her a quick hug. “Have fun. I do have a few people I’d like Antonio to meet. But maybe we can catch up tomorrow.”
Laura Beth smiled mysteriously. “Maybe.”
Then she turned and walked away.
Antonio watched the slight sway of her hips, the long curve of her spine, as they moved away from him.
“Wow. She looked happy, huh?”
Antonio faced Olivia. “Happy?”
“Yeah. Lately she’d been a little glum.” She slid her hand into his elbow and turned him toward the crowd again. “I guessed she was a bit upset about being roommate-less, but she wouldn’t talk about it. She won’t take a damned thing from me or Tucker. Not even a job offer. Wants to make her own way in the world.” She paused and frowned. “How’d Constanzo talk her into working for you?”
He blinked. Obviously, she didn’t know Laura Beth was pregnant. So he shrugged. “I think losing her apartment really brought home the fact that she couldn’t be choosy about who offered her a job.”
“Yeah, well, if you really don’t want her, Tucker does. He has an opening for an IT person who would work directly with him, somebody he can trust with his secrets.”
“Sounds perfect for her.”
“It is perfect for her. He was going to make the offer after the wedding, but she disappeared. Now, at least we know where she went.”
“Yes, you do.” And Tucker wanting to hire Laura Beth was like a blessing from heaven. A relief.
There was no reason for the odd feeling in his stomach, the fear of losing her, the reminder of how empty his house was without her.
He peered around into the crowd but couldn’t see Laura Beth. Then he caught a fleeting glimpse of her as she moved between two conversation circles. The men in each cluster smiled at her and she innocently smiled back.
Jealousy catapulted through him.
“Ready to mingle?”
Thanking God for a reason to take his eyes and his attention off Laura Beth, he smiled at Olivia. “Desperately.”
He spent an hour with Olivia introducing him to gallery owners, art dealers and collectors. His former charm came back to him as if he hadn’t lost it. If he’d had anything new to display or sell, he would have made a killing.
But he didn’t have anything new to display or sell, and he wasn’t yet entertaining commissions, so everyone drifted away. The futility of his situation roared through him, frustrating him, making him wonder why the hell he was even here.
He faced Olivia. “I’m going to get a drink. Would you like one?”
“I think I better find Tucker.”
Perfect. He could go to the bar, drink himself stupid with scotch and be driven back to the penthouse where he could pass out and forget he was a has-been.
Shifting to the side, he slid through the throng of happy people and to the discreet glass and marble bar set up in a corner.
“Scotch.” The bartender turned to go and he caught his arm. “Three of them.”
The young man nodded, apparently thinking he was getting drinks for friends, and that was just fine with Antonio. He angled himself against the marble, but when he did he saw Laura Beth, standing alone, staring at a painting.
He studied the tilt of her head, the way it clearly displayed her interest in the picture, saw the light and shadows he’d use if he painted her, so everyone would see what he saw. A newcomer falling in love.
Damn it! What was he doing imagining painting her again!
“Here you are, sir.”
The bartender set three crystal glasses of scotch on the bar. Antonio took the first one and downed it. He set the empty glass on the bar, then dug through his pockets for a good tip.
He walked away with a Scotch in each hand, deliberately heading away from Laura Beth, but apparently she’d moved too because there she stood, in front of another display. This one she seemed to like about as much as she liked the Picassos.
Watching her, he sipped the second Scotch. The desire to capture her slithered through him again, just as Jason Ashbury stopped in front of him.
“I wanted to give you a card.”
Antonio set his second Scotch on an available tray with a wince. “Sorry.”
Jason laughed. “Never apologizing for enjoying a good Scotch.” He handed the card to Antonio. “I know you’re accustomed to bigger galleries, but we’d love to have you in Arizona.”
And he’d love to be in a gallery in Arizona. He love to have a showing anywhere. If he could just freaking paint again.
His gaze strolled to Laura Beth.
Jason shook his hand. “Come visit us. Maybe we’ll inspire you.”
He walked away and Antonio’s eyes sought Laura Beth again. She all but shimmered in the sophisticated dress, but she couldn’t hide that innocence. And maybe that’s what drew him. She was his deceased wife’s polar opposite. And if her innocence was the medicine he needed to paint again, maybe he shouldn’t fight it.
He strolled over. “Are you okay?”
“What? You think a woman can’t be on her own in a gallery?”
“No. You’re pregnant and it’s been a long night and you still have a bit of a drive home.”
She winced. “Saw me in the car, did you?”
He took a step closer. “Saw you getting out of the car.”
This time she laughed. “That was fun.”
“You looked like you were enjoying it.”
“Oh, I was.” She took a long drink of air. “I’m going to miss this.”
“No. The dressing up tonight and play acting.”
He raised one eyebrow in question. “Why? You’ve got a few more weeks in Italy. You can do all the dressing up and play acting you want.”
She shook her head. “No. I can’t. Walking around here tonight, I remembered something I’d thought at the wedding. I took what I believed was a real job because I’m not an executive or a trust fund baby or even employable in New York City.” She faced him. “But you don’t want me and I don’t really belong here. It’s time for me to go home.”
Panic swirled through him. “Home New York or home Kentucky?”
“Kentucky.” She raised her gaze to meet his. “I know there’s not much work for an IT person there, but I’m going to have a baby. I need my mom for moral support.” She sucked in a breath. “But looking at one of the pictures I also realized I’d had a pretty good childhood.”
He frowned. “Which picture?”
She laughed and ambled to a painting a few feet away. “This one.”
It was a painting of three dogs running through the dead brush around a pond in late fall. The colors were cool, dismal. The sky so dark it was almost charcoal grey.
“This reminds you of home?”
Gazing at the painting, she said, “Yes.”
Hoping for the best, he said, “You had a dog?”
She laughed. “No. We had ugly Novembers. The cold sets in and lingers. But some of my best life things happened in fall.”
She faced him with a light in her eyes that flicked the switch of his longing to paint. But in a different way than the day he found her lying on her bed wrapped in a towel, a different way even than the technical visions of dimension and light that had overtaken him various times that day. This was a serious, quiet need, something that didn’t hurt him or fill him with angry longing. This one was normal.
Breathlessly afraid to lose this feeling, he quietly said, “What sort of things?”
“Well, my birthday’s in the fall, so there’s the whole being born thing.”
“And every fall we returned to school.” She smiled at him but her eyes were distant as if she were thinking back to the past. “Going to school meant seeing my friends, getting new clothes, football games, school play tryouts.”
“Sounds like fun.”
“And that’s why you’re going home?”
She moved her eyes up to meet his gaze. “I just keep thinking I’d like to be around my mom when I actually have the baby. But I also had a great childhood. I want my baby to have that too.”
He whispered, “It makes sense,” not sure why the moment felt so solemn, except it meant that their time together was ending. Or maybe because he knew he needed to at least try to paint her and if he didn’t ask in the next few seconds he wouldn’t get the chance.
“I still think about painting you.”
“I know.” She stepped away. “You told me it annoys you to think about painting me.”
He laughed. “Tonight’s feelings are different.”
She faced him. “Really?”
“Yeah. Tonight it all feels real, doable.”
He breached the space between them. “Actually, it is. The uncontrollable urge might have been a first step, but just as your feelings about becoming a mom are shifting, growing, so are my feelings about painting you.”
Her breath caught. “You’re serious?”
He glanced around. “Yes. But this feeling is so new and it’s only cropped up around you.” He caught her gaze. “Can you spend the next few weeks with me? Let me see if I can paint again?”
“Only if you also let me work as your assistant.”
Her persistence made him laugh and long to kiss her. In that very second, the need was so strong he doubted his ability to resist it. Her face tipped up to him. Her earnest eyes held his. It would be so easy.
But he’d kissed her once and it had only reminded him that he couldn’t have her.
Because he couldn’t.
“I want the painting to be our focus.”
“I get to earn my keep by answering the rest of your mail?”
He laughed. “None. I want to do this right.”
She cocked her head. Understanding flitted across her face. “Okay.”
And something wonderful sprinted through his blood. Acceptance. She had needs of her own. Troubles of her own. But instead of bargaining with him, she would simply help him.
It was as strong of an aphrodisiac as the lure of her lush mouth. He wondered about his strength, his endurance, if he really could paint her without touching her.
But he knew he wasn’t strong enough to watch her pregnancy. And he also knew she was going home to her mom and a job from Tucker.
He had nothing to worry about.