Authors: Lindsay McKenna
The words had been spoken softly, a caress, and Cait held his amber gaze. “Yes…I am, too.”
With a flourish, their waiter returned with the first course. Small golden fish lay on a ceramic plate heavily garnished with parsley.
“Pescaditos,” Dominic explained, putting half of the fare on her plate. “They’re little fish that are fried until crisp, and are considered a delicacy of La Boca. Go ahead, try one,” he urged.
She cautiously tasted one small fish. “Mmm, they’re delicious,” she exclaimed.
The waiter brought the next course, a heaping bowl of ravioli, smelling of tomato and oregano. Cait dished Dominic a healthy serving.
“Would you like some music?” he asked.
“Sure. Where’s the orchestra?”
He nodded toward the waiter, who walked up on a small stage. “Him. If you love opera, you’ll love La Boca. Listen.” To her surprise, the waiter broke into an operatic tenor.
The autumn sun was strong when they emerged from the restaurant sometime later. Cait’s laughter bubbled as she nimbly descended the stairs, turning to meet Dominic. He smiled and slid his arm about her shoulders, pulling her close to him as they strolled in companionable silence.
Cait sighed with contentment. “I think the wine got to me. That isn’t any ten percent alcohol content in that wine, is it?”
“No. Now you can see why sailors and gauchos used to fly into a rage after drinking a bottle. Do you know that the tango actually originated in this district?”
“That was one of the few things I knew about Argentina,” she admitted. “Cattle, the tango and gauchos.”
He nodded and gave her a brief hug. “My father owns an estancia and runs about five thousand head of cattle on the land plus a hundred thoroughbreds for racing.”
Cait raised her brows in amazement. “Doctoring must be financially rewarding down here.”
“The estancia has been in the family since the sixteen hundreds, Cait. It’s a custom,” he put in drily, “that the firstborn son gets a proper education in a proper field and then practices being a professional as well as a rich land baron.”
“And you didn’t want either title?” she hedged.
“No, never. I love the land, but in a different way than my father.”
She smiled. “So what else is expected of a rich son of an estancia owner?”
“The usual,” he replied. “Attending social fetes, the Colon opera opening, running for public office, a beautiful wife and many children…”
“I see,” she murmured. They came to a halt at the silver Porsche, and Cait waited for him to unlock her door. “So none of it rubbed off on you?”“
Dominic smiled grimly, helping her in. “Some of it did, and it proved to be a disaster.” Cait wondered at his tight-lipped reply but refrained from asking. The interior of the car was heated by the sun’s rays and made her feel drowsy. She laid her head back. A languorous smile played on her lips, and she barely opened her eyes.
“I had a wonderful time, Dominic. Thank you. And I’m glad you shed that estancia image. La Boca is far more exciting than the very best restaurant in BA.”
He relaxed against the seat, resting his hand on the steering wheel. “There is something about this district mat weaves a spell over people who come here. I’m happy you enjoyed it. It felt good to laugh again.” There was a wistful tone in his voice.
Cait sat up, studying his relaxed features. Her instincts warned her not to ask the obvious question about the “disaster” that seemed to hover around him. They were still learning to trust each other. He would tell her someday. But in the meantime she couldn’t help but wonder.
Chuck Goodell, a man of wiry build and intense blue eyes, arrived at Cait’s apartment the next morning. He met Cait and Louie with a serious handshake and nod of his head.
Louie motioned the vice president to sit down on the sofa. “You look a little peaked, Chuck,” he gibed.
“I am,” Chuck growled. Cait joined him, pushing back some papers and handing him the record book.
“Thanks to Dominic and Louie, we have the proof we need to present to the Miron officials.”
“Bridge superintendent,” Louie volunteered. “Damn fine one, judging from how well he’s done with the little support he’s been given.”
“I see.” Goodell’s brows drew together in a V of concentration as Cait began to explain the figures. Within two hours, she saw his face sag from the grim reality of it. Finally around six o’clock, Goodell slapped the book shut and stood up. He rubbed the back of his neck tiredly and glanced down at Cait.
“I put you in a hell of a position, didn’t I?”
She nodded, also standing. “It gets worse. Dominic seems to think that the board chairman will shove me out of the room, because I’m
máâs alláa de la tradition.
” She explained the terminology.
“Where is this Dominic Tobbar fellow?” Chuck asked.
“Here in BA,” Louie mentioned, getting up and refilling his coffee cup. “You want to see him?”
“Yes, I think it best. Cait, can you get him over here this evening?”
“I’ll call and find out. Hold on.” She went to the bedroom to make the call. A sultry voice answered. Cait’s fingers tightened on the receiver.
“I’m trying to get hold of Señor Dominic Tobbar. Is he there, please?”
There was silence at the other end, and Cait felt her heart wrench in pain. “May I ask who is calling?”
Cait thought she heard the rustle of silk and she compressed her lips. Who was this woman? A mistress? Dominic never had said where he was staying. More pain filled her heart, and she suddenly felt betrayed. Anger flooded through her, and when he answered, her voice was more than slightly clipped.
“Chuck Goodell wants to see you this evening. Do you think you can get over here?”
“Of course. I’ll be right there, Cait.”
She wrestled with the tumult of despair, anger and jealousy that the phone call had ignited. But when Dominic arrived, she managed a tight smile of greeting. He gave her a searching look before moving to where Goodell stood, but he said nothing.
The foursome sat down in the living room, and Cait had to force herself to focus on the conversation. Occasionally she felt Dominic’s questioning gaze upon her. Once their eyes met, and she glared at him across the coffee table, feeling the heat of her anger very close to surfacing.
Louie got up an hour later, groaning and rubbing his back. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m going back to my hotel to sleep. How about you, Chuck?”
“I’ll come, too.” He rose and looked at Cait, a grim expression on his face. “Well, Cait, I think this about does it.”
She agreed. “Got your three-piece suit?”
“Yep. Just like you said.” He extended his hand to Dominic. “Thanks for your help. It’s been invaluable in piecing this messy problem together.”
Dominic returned the handshake. “I can’t think of anyone better than Cait to present this case, and I know she’s glad you came. So am I.”
Cait felt panic rising in her throat as her two friends trailed out. Dominic rose to his full height, his hands draped loosely on his hips, scrutinizing her. Swallowing hard, she turned and met his gaze directly.
“Something’s wrong,” he prodded.
“Whatever gave you that idea?” She wasn’t a very good liar, and cringed at the high pitch of her voice. Unable to remain under his gaze, she picked up the used coffee cups and walked into the kitchen to rinse them out. He followed, leaning against the counter only a few inches from where she stood.
“You don’t hide your anger well, Cait. Why are you upset? Was it something I did, or does it have to do with that meeting tomorrow?”
“I’m not angry!” There, she’d done it. Damn her Irish temper.
A grudging smile edged his mouth. “Your claws are showing,
Cait turned, her eyes blazing with barely controlled anger. “Look, I’m tired and I’m tense. All right? Just call it a night, Dominic.—”
“Not yet,” he murmured. “I care enough for you to want to listen to what has made you angry.”
“I suppose you tell that to every woman you meet,” she returned sarcastically, stalking out of the kitchen and sitting down on the couch. He leaned casually against the kitchen entrance, his arms folded against his chest, watching her.
“No, I don’t go around pretending to care when I don’t.”
Her nostrils flared with contempt. “I was married a long time, Dominic, and I don’t know how to play the silly games single men and women play. But I’m learning. Damn, I’m learning the hard way.”
His eyes darkened. He walked into the living room and knelt down beside her. “What games?” he probed. “Will you please tell me what this is all about?”
She started to rise. He was too close. But his hand shot out, gripping her arm.
“Cait,” he growled, “stand still for two seconds and tell me what’s making you so damned irritable.”
“You!” she snapped, pulling free of his grip. She rubbed her arm where he had touched it. “I should have known,” she stumbled on, “that you’d have a mistress. I should have believed all those silly tales about men having three or four mistresses here and there—”
He threw back his head and laughed deeply, his voice carrying throughout the apartment. Cait blushed crimson and stepped away from him, standing by the balcony doors. Her dark hair lay in disarray about her proud shoulders, and she lifted her chin defiantly as he came to her side. A tender smile remained on his mouth, and he reached out, taming one of those rebellious tresses.
he murmured, “the woman who answered the phone was my sister, Lucianna.”
Her gaze dropped. “Oh.”
“Green eyes. You know, I didn’t take you for being the jealous sort.”
“I’m not usually! So stop smirking like the cat that just ate the canary.” She stepped away, suppressing a desire to simply run away from him. He sat next to her, his hands resting against his thighs.
“So you thought I had a mistress?”
“Yes,” she answered stubbornly, refusing to meet his eyes. “I don’t believe in affairs outside of marriage. I don’t care how antiquated that sounds. I had a good marriage, Dominic, and I would never think of getting involved with a man who was married or involved with other women.”
He eyed her thoughtfully. “Yes, I can see that now. For a woman who is
máâs alláa de la tradition,
you have the morals of my parents’ generation.”
“And don’t you?” she flung at him angrily, her eyes glittering with emerald fire.
“Let’s just say I agree with you in principle, Cait. I was forced into an arranged marriage with a woman who, I found out sometime later, had no morals.” A twisted smile came to his mouth. “Or, let’s say, very few.”
The anger drained out of Cait in a blinding instant. She sat staring at the naked pain evident in his expression.
“I see,” she murmured. She heaved a long sigh and planted her chin in the palms of her hands, staring down at the tiled floor. “We’re so different,” she said quietly. “I came from such a fantastic marriage, and yours was less than good. I often wonder if any relationship can ever equal what I had before, and I’m sure you look at every woman and her potential to cheat on you again.” She gave a humorless laugh. “What a pair we are, huh?”
The silence deepened, and she finally looked up at Dominic. “I’d like to know where you got your insight,” he said, and then shook his head, getting to his feet. He towered above her, and she felt suddenly very lonely and isolated from him.
“Life gave it to me, Dominic. Hasn’t it taught you to be perceptive, too?” she challenged softly, holding his gaze.
“All I see are manipulators.” He shrugged. “We’re all puppets to someone or something. It’s inevitable.”
“And you don’t manipulate?”
That bitter, cutting smile came to his mouth. “Yes, one must do it to survive.”
“Your ex-wife must have had more than claws,” she murmured, “to have made you so wary of everyone’s gestures toward you. No wonder you were so defensive at the site with me at first…” Her voice trailed off into the mellowing silence. “There is trust, you know. Not everyone is going to knife you in the back or play you for a fool. Haven’t I proven that at the site? How can you think that I’m manipulating you for my own gain?”
He reached out, his hand sliding over the crown of her head, following the silken curve of her hair. “You’ve proven your mettle so far, Cait Monahan, and you’ve made me stop to evaluate what I thought was a generalization for every woman I’ve ever known.” His voice became husky. “But you…
you break every rule. There is a freedom about you,
that sometimes frightens me.” A sad smile remained on his mouth. “And at the same time, I am mesmerized by your actions and your logic. The only feminine logic I’ve seen is catty and double-edged. You speak your mind and line it with tact, which I find refreshing.” He rested his hand against her shoulder, his fingers brushing her strong jaw. “That’s why, earlier today, I asked what you were—”
A lump of hurt formed in her throat, and it was painful to swallow. She felt tears stinging her eyes and was angry with herself. He would interpret her tears as pity for him, and for some reason Cait didn’t want him to misread those tears of compassion. Hesitantly, she raised her hand, touching his cheek, finding his skin warm and inviting. “You see what I am,” she whispered.
He uttered a low groan, pulling her into his arms in a fierce, crushing embrace. Her body flattened willingly against his chest and hips, her arms encircling his thickly corded neck.
“Oh—Dominic,” she sighed close to his ear.
She felt his mouth linger tantalizingly on her throat, leaving a fiery brand of kisses, moving slowly toward the open collar of her dress. His strong, vital hands roved across her back and down to encompass her rounded hips, pulling her savagely against him in urgency. She gasped, feeling his insistent maleness pressing against her.
“I want you.—” He breathed hoarsely, nibbling at her ear. He pushed her roughly away, his nostrils flared, his breathing coming in heavy gasps. “Soon.” His voice was gravelly with passion, vibrating through Cait’s straining, begging senses. “Very soon,” he growled and then managed a grimace. He ran his hands along her arms in a more gentle fashion. “Believe me, if there wasn’t a business problem’, things would be different tonight,” he promised.
After he left, Cait trembled and wrapped her arms about her body as she stood alone in the enveloping silence.
“Good morning. Did you sleep well?” said a familiar voice over the telephone.
Cait snuggled against the pillows, drowsily opening her eyes. “Yes.” She smiled wistfully, the timbre of Dominic’s voice acting like a gentle hand pulling her slowly into wakefulness.
“No, just nice dreams.”
“It’s about time. Listen, I called you for several reasons. Are you awake enough to think?” The humorous tinge in his voice made her smile again, and she struggled to sit up in bed, her hair falling about her shoulders.
“Yes, go ahead.”
“First, I’m going over to Cirre’s apartment to stay there with Dolph and his men. If they corner you in that meeting and want Cirre, give me a call and we’ll produce him for you. I don’t think it’s wise to leave our storekeeper unattended right now.”
She rubbed her eyes. “Do you think Campos knows we have the book?”
“I don’t know. You’ll find out soon enough. Apparently both of them go their separate ways once they come to BA. So Campos may not even be aware of what has taken place. And—” he hesitated “—if he’s caught off guard, all hell might break loose. Just make sure you use Goodell as a shield against anything he might say.”
She was grateful for his concern. “I’ve been yelled and cursed at by better men, believe me. I weathered it in the past. I’ll do the same now, although I don’t enjoy it.”
“It’s that sadistic Irish streak coming out in you. All fire.”
Cait chuckled softly. “And I suppose you’re as placid as water?” She heard his rich laugher.
“One is enough, thank you,” he returned, referring to Cait’s volatile temper.
“Not oil and water, eh?”
“More like oil and fire. We seem to create an explosion when we’re together, don’t we?”
She vividly recalled their first meeting and then the episode at the print shack. He had a fierce temper.
“You won’t get an argument out of me on that point.”
“Well, listen, mi leona, I could sit here and talk with you all day long, but we both have work to do. Call me after the meeting, and I’ll come down and pick you all up and we’ll go eat.”
For some reason, she felt as if her magic weekend was evaporating. They were going back to the site so soon, but she wanted to explore more of BA with Dominic. She sighed. “I had a wonderful weekend, Dominic.”
The line grew silent, and then Cait heard that pun in his voice. “No more man I did,
We’ll do it again.”
“My word of honor. Listen, be careful in that meeting.”
She basked in his concern. “I’m just glad you’ll be there to meet us afterward.”
“You’re going to win, Cait. You have truth on your side.”
“Just having you believe in me is enough,” she said softly, meaning it.
I’ll see you at noon.”
“Wait…Dominic, what is that word you keep calling me—
“What does it mean?”
“I’ll reserve a special time and place to tell you that,
mi leona. Buenos dias, querida.
She stared at the phone for a moment, the rough tongue of his voice almost a physical touch upon her body. Smiling absently, she replaced the receiver, remaining dreamily on that cloud he had woven about her.