How did we get here…?
Family meant everything to Dominic Stone. But his family was under threat because of his past profession. His wife knew nothing of the danger she and their children were in, and he wanted to keep it that way. He wouldn’t allow his wife to live in fear, simply because some idiot wanted to settle a score. It was his responsibility to shield her from those unpleasant realities. Dominic was a trained, lethal weapon, courtesy of the U.S. Navy, and an expert at camouflaging his emotions. But his Nubian queen made him feel things he’d never thought he could, and he had no defense against such an arsenal. From the day they met, he’d refused to be without her. However, the danger to her became too great, forcing him to give in to her demand for a separation. But he would be damned if he would allow them to become another divorce statistic.
Rinah Stone loved her husband Dominic more than life itself. She left all she’d known, family and country, to spend her life with the man of her dreams. He was everything she could have hoped for: strong, handsome, an amazing lover, intelligent, and hard working. But was he faithful? She’d demanded he leave their home when she caught him in an irrefutably compromising position. Instead of fighting for their marriage, as she’d expected, he walked out and didn’t look back.
Love makes you do crazy things…
Eight months later, he’s back and demanding to be a part of her and their children’s life again. How can she trust him, especially when he refuses to explain his absence, or terminate his relationship with the other woman?
“What the hell are you doing with this piece of shit?” Dominic Stone demanded in a dangerous tone. He kept his gaze trained on his estranged wife, Rinah. He didn’t trust his ability to even look at Michael Fielding, her lunch partner, without snapping the man’s neck.
Dominic had never been so livid in his life. But he would be damned before he displayed such a revealing emotion. He and Rinah had been separated for the past eight months, but to encounter her unexpectedly, in a crowded restaurant, was playing havoc with his control. Seeing her having lunch with a known womanizer and sleazy lawyer wasn’t going to be tolerated while he lived and had breath in his body.
Rinah was already testing his patience by defying him, seemingly at every turn. For starters, he’d only recently been told she had begun working at a local law firm, in direct defiance of his wishes. She’d agreed to not work while their children were still in grade school. Their daughter was only three months old and their son, four years. She had no business reneging on that agreement.
As he sat at the table with a few business associates, which included his friend Victor Kouris, his sensory antennae had been going haywire. His muscles tightened, awareness curled throughout his entire body, and the hairs on the back of his neck stood on alert.
It was then he had known his wife was close by.
His atmosphere always felt different when she was near. The air seemed to still and pulse with the static energy of their awareness of each other. He glanced around at the other patrons in the restaurant, searching for her. It wasn’t long before he saw her. It didn’t surprise him to find her starring back at him: they’d always been highly sensitive to each other’s presence. Even though they hadn’t seen each other in eight months, the sharpness of his response to her hadn’t lessened. In fact, it seemed much stronger.
Neo, his friend and wife’s bodyguard, whom he’d entrusted to watch over Rinah and their children during their enforced separation, obviously hadn’t thought it important to call and warn him that she was here. He was annoyed by his friend’s apparent defection in not following his orders to the letter. Neo knew he’d always wanted to be apprised of his wife’s whereabouts at all times, especially if they might meet like this. Not that he would have avoided the confrontation. All of his attempts over the past few months, trying to wrangle a meeting between them, had been unsuccessful. Neo was probably laughing his ass off, from his hiding place somewhere inconspicuous in the restaurant. They had been friends and in each other’s pockets since their teenage years, and that was the only reason he wasn’t thinking of beating the crap out of the man.
His temper, on the issue of his wife working, was currently very volatile. So being confronted with direct evidence of her new work life wasn’t something he wanted to deal with. Depending on how things played out, Neo might still get his ass kicked.
Neo had told him Rinah had seemed sad and depressed. He had shared his thoughts on the matter, saying that her desire to return to work was a therapeutic solution. He felt sorry for her and thought she needed something more to keep her busy—but this wasn’t his damn decision to make! Dominic made sure the other man understood that. Watching his mother work herself into an early grave had been enough to convince him that as long as he had the resources to do so, no wife of his would ever work.
Through his veil of anger, he couldn’t help but acknowledge how achingly beautiful she was. Her statuesque figure was encased in a chic ivory suit, which delineated her slender but curvy frame to perfection. No one could possibly guess that body had given birth to an eight pound baby girl just three months ago and given him his son four years before. She was even more stunning than he remembered.
Avoiding her gaze, he visually devoured every delectable inch of her as she sat perched at the table with her long legs crossed at the knees. He couldn’t help his response to her. She’d always done it for him. She was his one! He looked his fill, and then locked eyes on her lunch partner.
Dominic gritted his teeth in instant rage and clenched his fists. Every muscle in his body stiffened as another blast of anger shot through his system. To see her with Michael Fielding, one of the sleaziest lawyers on the island was bad enough. But it was even more offensive after she’d refused, time and again, to meet with him. That shit ignited the simmering resentment that had gnawed at him since their separation.
Fielding was corrupt in everything he did, embezzling millions of dollars from clients’ estates, fronting businesses for several criminal elements, and brazenly flaunting his many illicit sexual partners, both men and women. He had no respect for anyone, or anything. The man was rotten to the core. If that ass touches what’s mine, he’s fucking dead!
What the fuck was his wife doing with that degenerate? There was no way he could condone or ignore his wife’s apparent association with this piece of trash—certainly not in a community as small as theirs.
The tranquil ambience of the outdoor restaurant’s garden, with its cool, balmy island breeze, tropical lush greenery and vivid, colored vegetation, did nothing to diffuse the anger gripping him.
Dominic finally caught her greenish-brown gaze with his furious stare. She was so strikingly captivating, he had to check the impulse to not simply be consumed by her, to gorge his starving senses in her presence. He could so easily drown in her compelling gaze. Those soulful, almond-shaped eyes always ensnared and aroused him. He shook his head slightly to bank that thought to be dealt with later.
She was his five-foot-seven Nubian queen, with flawless, mocha skin, and long, sleek ink-black hair that fell just past her shoulders. Her features were courtesy of her Afro-Trinidadian father and Indo-Trinidadian mother.
Her rebellious glare propelled him to act. He completely ignored her mutinous “stay the hell away from me” posture. She drew him like no other woman ever had. There was no way in hell he’d back down when she issued such a dare. Every cell in his body vibrated and his senses sharpened in anticipation of their looming confrontation.
Ignoring the stunned reaction of the other occupants of his table, he stood abruptly and strode purposefully across the room to confront his wife.
“I asked you a question. What are you doing here?” Holding her gaze, he demanded her response. Just this brief glimpse of her fired an intense lust, making him embarrassingly aroused in the middle of a busy restaurant. But he knew his stubborn-ass wife would continue to ignore him if he showed even an inch of weakness.
The intimate layout of the dining area afforded him very little possibility of privacy. Any outburst on his part would be heard or noted by a great number of the professional community who frequented the establishment.
Fielding, refusing to be ignored, stood and extended his hand in greeting. It wasn’t every day one had an opportunity to speak directly with the powerful Dominic Stone.
“Mr. Stone, I’m honored to finally meet you. I’m Michael Fielding.” He waited expectantly with a hopeful grin on his face.
But he waited in vain, as Dominic completely ignored his outstretched hand.
“Rinah, do you need the question posed in another language?” He had yet to waver from her defiant glare. Her skin was flawless as usual, needing only a minimal amount of cosmetics to enhance her already stunning features. Being close to her was driving him crazy, and he fought to ensure the lust pulsing through his veins was not visible to all. She had always had this effect on him, and he was certain if they lived to be one hundred, she would still be able to take his breath away.
Initially, Rinah was paralyzed into stunned surprise upon seeing her husband after such a long time, and finding out at the same time she could still be so emotionally affected by just being in the same room with him.
Her system screamed—red alert, emergency—as she took in his midnight black hair, the color even more vivid because of his olive skin, six-feet-three of lean, chiseled muscle, and silver-grey eyes. The impact of those eyes triggered an immediate punch to her system. It shocked the breath from her lungs until she felt faint from the lack of oxygen to her brain. Her lips parted in a shaky breath, trying to gain much-needed oxygen.
His overwhelming arrogance was etched in his square jaw line and rugged, handsome features. She deliberately stiffened her spine, ignored the manic beating of her heart, and returned his stern stare with a cold glare of her own. She had too much pride to allow him to glimpse even a smidgen of what she was feeling and the devastating effect he was having on her equilibrium.
“I don’t have to answer to you on anything. You can damn well see what we’re doing. We’re having a meeting. What are you doing here?” Rinah asked him with deceptive cool, hoping her calm demeanor would convey an appearance of nonchalance she was far from feeling.
Ignoring her question, Dominic’s eyes narrowed further. “Why are you having a meeting with a person like him?” His voice left no doubt of his distaste. His big body fairly vibrated with fury.
“I seem to recall you stating I’ve no influence over who you associate with, and I see no reason why you’d have any influence over who I chose to have lunch with.” She voiced with haughty distain.
Rinah couldn’t believe his nerve. He was practically living with his mistress and he dared to censure her? She clenched her teeth, jutted her chin out in defiance, and wrinkled her eyebrows in a fierce frown.
“You’re very much mistaken. As long as you’re my fucking wife, I can and will have a say in who you talk to, associate with, or eat with. And certainly I can and will keep you away from an asshole like him!” Dominic stated savagely.
“Now see here…” Fielding sputtered in indignation.
Dominic ignored the other man’s outburst and continued to stare her down. “Remember who you belong to! Remember your last name! And for fuck’s sake, remember who fathered your babies! Or do I need to make this fucker disappear?” he asked with chilling calm.
“Right. Am I supposed to be impressed by your boorish display?” She coolly lifted her left eyebrow. “Your behavior is appalling! When did I give you the impression I give a damn what you think? And the last time I checked, I don’t belong to any man!” She maintained her aggressive pose and rebellious glare to indicate she wasn’t going to be intimidated by his harsh voice and escalating temper. How dare he speak to her with such disrespect, after ignoring her existence for the past eight months? He had always been possessive and protective of her and their children, but this behavior she didn’t recognize. Dominic, her Dominic, would never speak to her in such a manner, especially not in such a public venue.
He turned his icy regard on Fielding, making the man squirm where he stood. “You don’t want to make an enemy of me, Fielding. If I ever see you within two feet of my wife again, I assure you, you’ll live to regret it.”
“But this was not my idea!”
Rinah’s low opinion of Fielding, which she thought half an hour ago couldn’t possibly be any lower, reached new depths. She looked at him with utter contempt. He was a complete coward and a pathetic excuse of a man.
“Dominic, you’re making a scene and you have no business dictating who I conduct business with. For the record, you’re impeding my client’s needs to have a seamless transition from Mr. Fielding’s firm to ours. So if you’re through issuing dumbass threats, I suggest you go back to your own meeting and let me get on with mine.” she whispered fiercely, noting the audience they were attracting.
She could only guess at the number of times their encounter would be told and retold as these patrons got back to their offices. It would probably be too much to hope that this didn’t make the daily gossip tabloid. But she knew on an island this small and the star of the drama so wealthy and well known. This was definitely wishful thinking on her part.
“Mr. Fielding, I suggest you complete your business transaction with my wife in the next few seconds. I don’t want her to breathe the same air as you longer than she has to.” When the other man didn’t move fast enough, Dominic drawled, “I have no problem removing you myself. Your choice.”
Rinah glared at Fielding, knowing that a man skirting the edge of, and often indulging in criminal behavior and questionable dealings, couldn’t afford to make an enemy of a man as powerful as Dominic, who had the capability and political clout to carry out any threat issued. She wasn’t surprised when Fielding stood and hastily gathered his paperwork.
“Mrs. Stone, the remaining paperwork will be on your desk by this evening, including the full transfer of all of the client’s assets. My apologies, but I’ve just recalled I have another engagement across town.” And without uttering another word, he hastily exited the restaurant.
Rinah turned an angry gaze on her smirking husband. She wasn’t fooled in the least by the innocent half-smile on his lips.
“I hope you’re satisfied,” she hissed, her body visibly trembling in agitation.
“Not as satisfied as I’d be if we were somewhere more private.” His eyes darkened with emotion.
She wasn’t immune to his obvious, appreciative regard. But she ignored it the best she could. “You big jerk! I don’t give a damn whether you’re Navy SEAL or not. Do something like that again and you’ll live to regret it!”
She angrily threw enough money on the table to cover the meal, along with a generous tip. The waiter shouldn’t have to suffer for my idiot of a husband!
Head held high, ignoring the speculative gazes, Rinah strutted furiously out of the restaurant.
Dominic grinned in appreciation. He knew Rinah had no idea how spectacular she looked in her dramatic exit. The bright rays of the sun highlighted her sleek, raven hair, making it look like melted licorice.
It wasn’t often that anyone dared to threaten him. Having it done by his uber-chic, usually easygoing wife, almost a foot shorter than him, was always a treat. Knowing what a spitfire she could be on occasion, he’d been tempted to push her buttons further. Rinah could sometimes be every bit as aggressive and arrogant as he was, and it always turned him on whenever she displayed that side of herself. They’d been together five years now, and she never let him get away with shit. She had strong opinions and was never afraid to state her position, which could often result in a full-on, heated debate between them.
Dominic watched the provocative sway of her hips, blatantly encased in a straight-cut ivory skirt that fell just above her knees. Her high heels emphasized—he was confident—the best pair of legs he’d ever seen on a woman. The sight triggered an image of them wrapped around his waist while in the throes of down-and-dirty, sweaty sex, further inflaming his simmering desire.
He kept his gaze on her delectable, rolling butt until she disappeared from view. He couldn’t suppress a wolfish grin.
That ass, though!
He loved when she straddled him backward and rode him with sensual rolls of that shapely ass. With such perfect globes in full view, he came hard and fast every time. He grinned at the erotic memory.
She was too damn fine.
He shook his head determinedly to deflect the direction of his thoughts. Giving his audience more fodder for gossip wasn’t an option. Already, his business colleagues were looking at him with ill-disguised discomfort. He ignored them, not giving a shit what they or anyone else, for that matter, thought.
Rinah slammed into her office a few minutes later, her senses reeling from seeing Dominic so unexpectedly. Her limbs were still violently quivering in the aftermath of their recent encounter. She sank gratefully down in her chair behind her desk, and curled her fingers into a fist and crossed her legs at the ankles, trying to quell her trembling. She couldn’t believe what had transpired moments ago at Café Luis.
After all these months, this was how they would meet? She didn’t know what emotion affected her more, her anger from his highhandedness, or the overwhelming awareness she felt upon hearing his husky voice and getting a whiff of his familiar cologne.
The law firm had an account at that prominent eatery. She had managed to evade many of the business lunches or dinners since returning to work a month before. Dominic was the business mogul about town. This was his world, his domain, and she knew it would have been impossible to steer clear of him. As a result, she usually ate lunch at the office.
Having a brief meal at her desk allowed her to complete work as quickly as possible and get home to her children at a decent hour. Rinah smiled as she thought of her son Matt, who was a four-year-old replica of his father, and her three-month-old daughter Nicole. Nicole had her mouth and nose, but the piercing silver eyes of her father. Both children had light brown skin, a complete mixture of their parents. They were now her world, but only eight months ago, Dominic had been the center of that sphere.
Now in the quiet of her office, her mood threatened to descend into despondency. She was consumed with the memory of the end of her marriage. It was the day her husband had chosen to walk away rather than to explain or apologize for his behavior.
He’d let them go, something she never thought he would ever do.
Long before the end, she remembered her suspicions. Dominic’s endless hours in the office, and numerous days away on business. The hurt and anger were further fueled by the malicious taunting of Flavia Kouris, one of Dominic’s executive team members, who was the sister of his childhood friend Victor.
Flavia had been with him almost from the very beginning, and had known him as a little boy. Because she was Victor’s younger sister, Dominic often said he thought of her as his little sister. But Flavia indicated theirs was a more intimate relationship than that of mere siblings. She made sure from the onset Rinah was well aware of her position and intentions, as they related to Dominic.
Wanting to trust her husband, Rinah hadn’t questioned Flavia’s position in his life. Then Flavia became more aggressive, insisting they were lovers. In the early days of their marriage, when asked Dominic patiently explained the close relationship he had with the Kouris. Initially, he’d taken into account her need to understand. However, every few months throughout their five-year marriage, something, or someone, usually Flavia, would trigger another round of suspicion and doubt she couldn’t ignore.
Flavia would maliciously stroke those doubts, telephoning Rinah from whatever hotel the team was staying at, answering Dominic’s phone from within his hotel room, or worse still, answering his mobile whenever he was otherwise occupied.
She would again seek reassurance from her husband, but over time, it became an exercise in patience he was no longer willing to entertain. He was a busy man and her last round of accusation made him erupt in impatience. He simply told her to grow up. He would no longer explain himself.
But the doubts wouldn’t go away. Then she witnessed an act she couldn’t ignore. It shattered her world. She’d been lacerated by his betrayal. Finally, Rinah couldn’t accept the explanations and wasn’t willing to turn a blind eye to what had been made blatantly clear to her. He had been unfaithful to her, something he swore he’d never do.
Eight months later she was still as torn up about it as if it had happened only the day before. She felt as if she had spent those months in a void and only today, after coming face to face with Dominic, did she come alive again. It was like taking the first breath after being under water for a long time.
Not even the birth of their daughter had jarred her out of her numb state. Like acid on an open wound, she couldn’t withstand the pain. She vibrated with it, was consumed by it.
Oh my God, it still hurts!
The intercom buzzed. “Mrs. Stone, the meeting will be starting shortly.”
Rinah was grateful for the interruption from her turbulent thoughts. She took a few minutes to wash her face and repair her makeup. By the time she took the remaining empty chair in the board room, there was no trace of the volatile emotions that had gripped her for the past hour.
She operated on autopilot until the end of her work day. She was relieved to shut out the rest of the world as she closed the door of her elegant home behind her later that evening.