A few moments later, he was looking down with dismay at a garishly colored red-and-orange cocktail of rum and fruit juice in a large curved glass. “It looks like something a tourist would drink.”
She sipped her own sweet, nonalcoholic iced tea. “How convenient, since you’re a tourist.”
“I don’t like sugary things.”
“You sure?” Her grin widened. Her eyelashes fluttered a little as she picked the glass off the bar and held it out toward him, her breasts pressing against him as she whispered, “Try it. You’ll like it.”
Never taking his eyes off her, he grabbed the glass and put his mouth on the straw. He gulped the whole thing down. Then he gasped, “I’d rather have some tart with my sugar...”
Then he kissed her, and she tasted the sweet tang of the orange juice and grenadine and rum on his lips.
After a lunch of Cajun-style cooking that Kassius raved about for hours, they ventured back outside. Bourbon Street had only gotten more crowded as the afternoon faded. A parade went down a nearby street and people went crazy as the floats went by, revelers waving in their sparkled costumes. Confetti and bead necklaces filled the air, along with noise and laughter and music.
As twilight fell, the French Quarter became so crowded it was almost impossible to walk through the streets. He held her hand tightly so as not to get separated.
“Let’s have dinner back at the room,” he growled, his palm pressing against hers, and she felt a zing of electricity through her body, an intense need that was overwhelming. Quivering, she nodded.
But as they hurried down a back alley, Laney heard shouting above them. She looked up to see three college boys on a covered wraparound wrought-iron balcony. They were hollering at her, shaking necklaces of beads. She blushed.
Kassius frowned and looked at them, then back at her.
“What do they want?”
She said meekly, “If I lift up my shirt and flash them my breasts, they’ll throw me down some bead necklaces.”
“Those bastards,” he growled, his hand tightening over hers. “I’ll go up there and teach them some manners...”
“It’s not an insult. They mean it as a compliment—it’s tradition.”
Kassius looked both speechless and enraged.
Laney tilted her head as if considering. She tapped her chin. “Honestly, I could use some new jewelry...”
So it was that a half hour later, she found herself at an exclusive jeweler’s in the Vieux Carré, where he’d immediately dragged her and insisted on buying her a necklace of diamonds and sapphires that reminded her of that obscenely big sparkler in the movie Titanic.
“You can flash me later,” he whispered in her ear, and she blushed and gave a laugh almost like a giggle.
She’d just been teasing him before, but as they walked the last blocks back to the hotel, Laney kept touching the cool platinum-set stones against her neck, thrilled that he was so determined to spoil her—in every way.
It was proof he cared. Wasn’t it? And caring was almost like love. Wasn’t that what such an irrational gift meant?
Then she remembered another diamond necklace, which he’d given to another woman in London. Her delight fled. The necklace suddenly felt like cold rock against her skin as she remembered her old boss Mimi, and Kassius’s strange loans.
However it might seem right now, when they were married and taking such pleasure and joy in each other, Laney actually didn’t know her husband at all. Yes, she knew where his mother had been born. But there was so much about him that was mysterious. She still had so many questions that now—with her promise—she couldn’t even ask.
And how she wanted to know everything. She felt achingly close to him. Like she hadn’t been a fool to picture him as noble and good. Like he might actually be that man.
If only he would share his past, share his secrets and heart with her!
But she feared he never would.
There are other ways to learn secrets. The poisonous thought crept into her mind. When they’d first met, Kassius had hired a private investigator to dig through her life. Before, she’d been furious at the invasion of her privacy. Now she shuddered with the temptation.
No, Laney told herself firmly. She wasn’t going to sneak behind his back. She would just love him, be a good wife and pray that he would choose to open up to her.
If she just loved him, sooner or later he would tell her everything. Wouldn’t he?
EXCEPT, OF COURSE, he didn’t.
Six months later, Laney was trembling as she pressed her phone tighter to her ear. “What did you say?”
“Your husband’s real name is Cash Kuznetsov,” the investigator said.
Laney’s heart was pounding as she sank into a chair in their new Monaco flat. With a deep breath, she rubbed her enormous belly. She’d hoped it wouldn’t come to this. Hoped that over the course of their marriage, her husband would just reveal his secrets to her of his own free will.
But he hadn’t. And as they’d traveled frequently around the world, in some ways—in spite of his generosity with his wealth, his care of her family and of her—he’d been more secretive than ever.
Last week, she’d discovered him out of bed in the middle of the night in their new Monaco home. Apparently, the villa on Cap Ferrat that he’d been hoping to buy for the last six months was still not on the market. So in a fit of pique, Kassius had purchased a bigger penthouse in a luxury high-rise, five bedrooms with a rooftop terrace and panoramic view of Fontvieille Harbor, the rocks and the sea. She was still in shock that he’d make a thirty-million-euro purchase on impulse. As a temporary replacement for the house he really wanted.
That villa on Cap Ferrat must really be something, she thought in awe.
That night, she’d discovered her husband pacing as he spoke quietly into the phone. When she’d confronted him, asking him whom he could be speaking with at two in the morning, he’d refused to explain. “If you don’t want me to lie, you promised never to ask,” was his terse response.
It had been the last straw.
The next morning, feeling hurt and anxious and twisted up with emotion, she’d contacted a private investigator recommended to her by Kassius’s friend, the best man at his wedding, Ángel Velazquez. The Spaniard billionaire was the only person she knew who wouldn’t be afraid to go against Kassius Black.
Ángel had been amused when he’d gotten her call. “You already wish to hire a detective, after just a few months?” he’d said sardonically. “How pleasant marriage must be.”
She’d gone hot with embarrassment and tried to stammer out excuses before he’d mercifully cut her off. But at least he’d given her the name of a very good private investigator, who liked the idea of a challenge—of discovering the true background of the man whom no one else had ever been able to properly trace. He’d told her, “I just need a place to start.”
Feeling like a traitor, Laney had given him the address of the Cash home on St. Charles Avenue—the address where Kassius had recently decided to build a brand-new house expressly for her grandmother and father, with a guest wing where she and Kassius could visit after the baby was born.
Just thinking of how she’d gone behind his back while he was building a house for her family made her feel ashamed.
And he’d done far more for the Henry family than just the house. Since the marriage, Laney’s grandmother and father now considered Kassius family. So they were happy to let him spend money on them. They didn’t see his generosity as charity, but merely as his way of showing love.
“Some men just aren’t good with words, Laney May,” her father had explained.
“Any man that’s a man,” her grandmother grumbled.
So they hadn’t fought Kassius when he’d insisted on sending Clark to Atlanta on his private jet to see a highly regarded doctor who offered innovative medical treatments. Especially after Kassius had explained his anguish that he’d been unable to get the best care for his own mother when he was young.
Only a heart of stone could have refused him, and Clark Henry, beneath his gruff exterior, had no heart of stone. After months of treatment, her father was seeing improvements, with partial sight already restored in one eye.
“There’s this nurse with a really sexy voice who’s been taking care of me. I’m just trying to get a good look at her,” he’d explained half-jokingly, but he’d sounded happier than Laney had heard him in years.
As if her father having hope and a new crush wasn’t enough, her grandmother had been traveling the world. Yvonne started with a ten-day cruise of the eastern Caribbean, but the day she’d returned, she’d hopped on a new ship to see the western side. In the last six months, the longtime widow had cruised the whole world, meeting new friends and even a few new boyfriends.
“You’ve left a trail of broken hearts across the world,” Laney liked to tease her.
Yvonne just said coyly, “I can’t help it if men keep falling for me.” Her grandmother had now branched out to even greater adventures, backpacking across Europe, staying at hostels, and most recently visiting Angkor Wat in Cambodia with a Norwegian man friend ten years younger.