The Billionaire's Secret Summer: (An Enemies to Lovers Standalone Romance), page 13
It was odd. He wasn’t a caretaker by nature. Usually, the women were the ones taking care of him, and he had always enjoyed being pampered.
But with Kiara, he wanted to take care of her. She so badly needed someone to look out for her. Not that her family didn’t take care of her, but they depended on her for their living. She needed someone who she could depend on.
Wyatt wanted to be that guy.
The smile that curled on her face when she kicked off her sneakers and sank down on the blanket made him smile.
She stretched, purred, and propped herself up on one elbow to watch him take their lunch items from the picnic basket. The massage had done wonders for her. If she were his, he’d hire a masseuse to give her a rub-down once a week. She deserved the best.
“Thank you,” she said.
“For what?” he asked, taking containers of rosemary chicken and potato salad from the basket.
“Insisting I get out of the lab. This is nice.”
“My pleasure.” Out came a jar of black olives, sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, and a loaf of crusty Italian bread.
When her gaze met his, he saw that her smile had changed. He’d never seen that particular look on her face, not even that morning in the wine cellar.
It was part desire, part gratitude, part something else, and it made him want to know more about her. He wanted to dive deep into her smile and make a home there.
“You make me feel...” She paused.
“What?” He leaned closer.
“Like...” She tilted her head, considering. “That it’s okay to be imperfect.”
“Yeah, it’s okay. We’re all human. There’s no such thing as perfect.”
“I know that, but there’s something that’s always constantly driving me to strive for perfection.”
“You put too much pressure on yourself.”
“Maybe it’s a birth order thing,” she said, reaching for a grilled chicken wing. “Being the oldest and all that.”
“You have brothers and sisters?”
“One sister. Deidre’s only twenty-two.”
Kiara shrugged. “She’s a bit of a drifter. But I’m also the oldest girl out of a flock of cousins. In fact, Maurice is the only cousin older than I am.”
“And yet he didn’t turn out to have a problem with perfectionism.”
“It was just a theory. How about you? Do you have any brothers or sisters?”
“Two older brothers.”
“Ah, you’re the baby of the bunch. That explains a lot.”
“Explains the smile for one thing.”
“What’s wrong with my smile?”
“You whip it out every chance you get. It’s a bid for attention. The youngest child gets lost in the shuffle.”
“So, you majored in psychology along with the science of winemaking?” he teased.
“Deidre’s just like you. Charming, but irresponsible. There is something to birth order, Maurice aside.”
Wyatt lowered his head. “Now, just because a person has some degree of charm does not make them irresponsible.”
“Doesn’t it?” She didn’t back away.
“Perfectly said by a perfectionist.”
“I’m judging again, aren’t I?”
“That’s not always a bad thing.”
“I don’t like being this way; it’s a hard trait for me to break.” She wiped her fingers on a napkin she plucked from the basket. “You help me in that regard. It’s one of the things I like most about you.”
“What else do you like about me?” He popped an olive into his mouth.
“Obviously, your deep humility.”
He playfully tweaked her nose. “Okay, I’ll go first and tell you what I like about you.”
“Don’t do that.” She looked embarrassed, and she dipped her head and spooned a bit of potato salad in her mouth.
“I like how you blush when someone pays you a compliment. Like now.”
She brought a hand to her cheek. “Stop looking at me.”
“You make me feel like I’ve found a port in which to weather a storm.”
“Oh.” She laughed. “That sounds terribly sexy.”
“You’re making fun of me.” He palmed another olive.
“I like your smile.”
“You like that, huh?” Wyatt widened his grin.
“I like how you’re showing me what it’s like to be flexible and spontaneous.”
“And I like how you set a good example. You keep me in line.”
“This is starting to get mushy.”
“I noticed that.” Scary mushy. Mushy to the point where he was finding it a little hard to breathe. “Let’s see what else we’ve got in this picnic.” He pulled a bottle of Decadent Midnight from the basket.
“Isn’t it early for wine?”
“Look at your watch. It’s after five.”
“Well, isn’t that handy?”
He reached for the corkscrew and the two wine flutes left in the basket. He poured it up, passed a glass to her, kept one for himself, and recorked the bottle. “A toast.”
She raised her glass.
“To the best damned dessert wine in the country,” he said.
“We have to wait until next month for that proclamation.”
“I’m stating it now. Decadent Midnight is a winner.”
“So are you,” she said.
“You didn’t think that about me the first day.”
“We already know I have a problem with snap judgments.”
“To second impressions,” he said, and they both took a second swallow of the sweet, impressive wine.
“Now,” he said when they’d finished the wine and he’d put the glasses away. “I’m going to finish that massage I started in the boat. Give me your feet.”
“No,” she curled her feet up underneath her. “My nails aren’t polished.”
“Like I care about that.” He wriggled his fingers in a come-here motion.
“Give me.” He reached for her foot and held on even when she tried to pull away. He stripped off her ankle sock and kneaded her sole with his thumb. Instantly, she stopped fighting him.
“Oh, my gosh, that hurts so good.” She moaned.
“Hold on, darling, we’re just getting started.”
Had he really just called her darling? Wyatt cringed, afraid she’d think it was a cheesy endearment, but she was lying flat on her back, her eyes closed, a dreamy smile on her face. She was getting into it. Good, good.
After a few minutes, he moved to the other foot, and the only sounds were the breeze rustling through the palm trees and Kiara’s gentle breathing. He smiled. He’d done it. He’d gotten her to relax completely.
In fact, she was so relaxed she’d fallen asleep.
Wyatt felt a sweet tugging sensation in the center of his chest. A sensation that was at once foreign and welcome. This was his kind of day, easy, lazy and slow-paced. And he’d gotten her to share it with him.
He stretched out beside her, propped up on one elbow, and gazed down at her, watching her sleep. Her chest rose and fell in a smooth, even rhythm. Her eyes were closed so he reached over to remove her glasses.
Without the barrier of her glasses, she appeared incredibly young and vulnerable. It shocked him, the fact that he wanted to just stare and stare and stare at her. He couldn’t get enough of looking at her.
She smiled in her sleep, and the sight of it kicked him in the gut.
He wished they were in Greece. He’d love to show her his home. Take her around to all his favorite spots. She’d bloom there. Away from her family and responsibility. Away from the winery.
The idea of it made him feel excited in a way he hadn’t been in a very long time. Why? What was so compelling about Kiara? Why was she always on his mind? Why, for the most part, had he given up spying on her and started to truly be her intern?
Speaking of which, he’d promised his brothers he’d check in with them this weekend.
He got up from the pallet and left her sleeping, then walked to the edge of the water where the sailboat was anchored, pulled out his cell phone, and gave his brothers a call.
“What have you found out?” Scott asked.
Wyatt thought of the problems Kiara had been having with the grapes. He could tell his brothers about that, or he could just keep his mouth shut. “Not much.”
“Some spy you are.”
“C’mon,” Wyatt coaxed. “I’ve haven’t even been here a month. What were you expecting?”
“The secret to why Bella Notte’s wines are kicking our asses.”
“Honestly,” Wyatt said. “I think it’s Idyll.”
“There’s something magical about this island.” Wyatt turned and glanced back up the hill to where he’d left Kiara sleeping.
“What are you talking about?”
“It’s this earth. This place. I believe the only way you could replicate Bella Notte’s results is to buy some land here and plant your own vineyard.”
Scott snorted. “Seriously, little brother? That’s the best you can do?”
“It’s the only explanation I can come up with.” That and Kiara’s supreme devotion to winemaking. He’d never seen anyone with her level of commitment. And the wine industry was chock-full of dedicated vintners, so that was saying something.
“Her wine Decadent Midnight is going to beat you boys at the Best of the Best, and there’s nothing you can do to change that.”
“The hell you say,” Scott snapped. “There’s always something you can do to kneecap the competition.”
“You are not going to kneecap her,” Wyatt growled. “This is a tiny, family-owned winery. These people are just getting by.”
“Yeah, by dethroning us.”
“That’s nothing but DeSalme ego talking.” Wyatt splayed a hand to the nape of his neck, anger surging through him.
He wasn’t easy to anger. In fact, he hardly ever got mad. But Scott was getting on his last nerve. “There’s no way Bella Notte could be serious competition. Yes, they might win awards and take a small bite out of our dessert-wine market share, but they have no goals beyond providing a good living for their family. They have practically no distribution. All Kiara wants is to make quality wine and ensure that the winery survives for future generations. You should see her. She’s so passionate about wine. Her face lights up and she—”
“Ha. I’ll be damned,” Scott said, disbelief in his voice.
“What is it?”
Scott hooted. “I never thought this day would come. Wait until I tell Eric.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You. You’ve fallen in love with Kiara Romano.”
“I have not,” Wyatt denied hotly.
“Hey, Eric.” He heard Scott shout. “Guess what? Wyatt’s in love.”
“I’m not in love.” Irritation welled up in him, and he thought of all the times his brothers had teased him when he was a kid.
It had been tough growing up with two older brothers who were always pulling pranks on him. He’d learned that the best way to deal with them was never let them see him sweat. He’d developed the survival skill of allowing everything to roll smoothly off his back.
He reminded himself of that lesson now. Scott was simply trying to get a rise out of him. Well, he wasn’t going to let that happen. If Scott wanted to tease, he would play along.
“Wyatt and Kiara sitting in a tree...”
“Mature. Real mature, Scott.”
“Okay, yeah, you got me dead to rights. I’m truly, madly, deeply in love with Kiara Romano. I admit it. Happy now?”
“All right,” Scott conceded. “You might not be in love with her—because frankly, I can’t see you giving up your Lamborghini women for some plain Jane grape farmer—but you do admire her.”
Wyatt had to bite his tongue to keep from jumping on Scott for calling Kiara “Plain Jane.” He did not want to stir the pot. “I gotta go.”
“Call next week and keep us posted. In the meantime, keep your pants zipped. If you’re this crazy about her now, I’d hate to see what happens if you were to sleep with her.”
“I’m hanging up now.” He punched the off button, pocketed his phone, and turned around to find Kiara standing behind him, staring him straight in the eyes, a very odd expression on her face.
Panic swept over him.
Just how long had she been standing there?
Had she heard Wyatt correctly? Had he just told someone on the other end of the phone that he was in love with her?
Her heart reeled crazily in her chest. But how could that be? They’d only known each other a few weeks. Granted they had great chemistry and things were moving quickly toward a sexual encounter—she had even brought a condom with her.
No way. No how. She wasn’t ready for anything like that. Didn’t know if she would ever be ready to fall in love with a man like Wyatt. Falling heedlessly in love flew in the face of everything she stood for— logic, coolheadedness, emotional strength.
But she couldn’t deny the hot rush of excitement coursing through her blood. She wanted Wyatt.
It’s just lust. Chemistry, sex. Nothing more.
He stared at her sheepishly, but neither one of them made a move or said anything. Finally, after a long moment, he said, “That was just... I was talking to...my brothers.”
“Oh,” she said mildly, belying the rich gallop of her pulse.
“Did you have a nice nap?”
“Yes,” she said. “I feel a bit embarrassed falling asleep on you like that.”
“You needed the rest.”
“So,” she said, deciding to ignore what she’d overheard. She definitely could have been mistaken about what he’d said. She didn’t want to assume anything. No need to freak out.
Wyatt was walking away, putting distance between them. “Yes?”
“What’s next on the agenda?” She laced her fingers together, a pitiful defense against the doubt assailing her.
“I thought that we could go for a walk. There are supposed to be some caves on this island. If you’re up for exploring them?”
“There are caves on the island,” she said.
“Have you been there before?”
“Not since I was a kid.”
“Do you want to find them? Or is that lame?”
“Not lame,” she said, not sure she wanted to be with him in a dark, confined place. Not sure she could trust herself alone with him in such a situation. “I’d love to.”
He reached out and took her hand.
Her galloping pulse came to one momentous halt, then jump-started again with a wild, irregular rhythm. This wasn’t normal. Something was wrong with her. She felt dizzy and off-balance, and she wasn’t thinking about work or wine.
Why wasn’t she thinking about wine?
Why? Because the man peering deeply into her eyes had robbed her of all rational thought.
He held on to her hand, and she had no inclination to take it away. They walked up the hill together, past their blanket and picnic basket.
The caves weren’t far. In the middle of the week like this, the atoll was deserted. No tourists hanging around. The locals were all working. They had the place to themselves.
It took less than ten minutes to get to the caves. They held hands the whole way. It felt so intimate, this casual act of affection.
They reached the mouth of the caves. There was a sign-in book inside a protective wooden box so that the park rangers knew to come looking for them if they didn’t return in a timely manner.
Wyatt let go of her hand long enough to sign them in, then reached for her hand and drew her into the darkened cave. He pulled a flashlight from his pocket and flicked it on. Inside it smelled damp and musty.
A small rivulet of water ran through the middle of the cave. There were two walking paths, one on either side of the water.
Wyatt went first. Kiara felt as if she were back in high school, coming to make out with her date, even though she’d never done such a thing. In high school, she’d been in the honor society, too busy getting good grades to do anything so daring.
“You know,” she said. “The Idyll winery owners used these caves to hide their bottles during prohibition.”
“We’re not supposed to be talking business today,” Wyatt reminded her.
The stalactites overhead dripped water into the rivulet with a soft plunking noise.
“This isn’t about work,” she said. “This is history.”
“It’s borderline work.”
“Can you imagine what it was like living back then?”
“When wine was outlawed? A dark day in history.”
“It almost killed winemaking on Idyll. It probably would have if we hadn’t been so isolated. If they hadn’t had these caves to store the bottles in.”
Names had been carved into the cave walls. Tourists leaving their marks. Lovers etching their names, proclaiming their love. Schoolkids showing off for each other.
Defacing the cave was an odd tradition she didn’t approve of, but she couldn’t deny there was a sense of history seeing the names of people who had come before them. People just like them who had worked and played and fallen in love.
Watch it, Kiara, you’re in danger of sounding whimsical.
No one had ever accused her of being whimsical, and yet here she was thinking whimsical thoughts. It was all Wyatt’s fault. Until he had shown up, she’d had her head screwed firmly onto her shoulders.
Once they were out of sight of the opening and the only light was from the thin flashlight beam, Wyatt stopped.
“What is it?” Kiara whispered.
He flicked off the flashlight. Kiara gasped at the sudden darkness. Excitement lifted goose bumps on her arms. The complete darkness was both scary and exhilarating.
Wyatt’s arms went around her. He pulled her up tight against his chest.
Kiara did not protest. Her whole body was alive. Tense with anticipation. She licked her lips. Waited.
His kiss came slowly, in inches. First his mouth was on her cheek. Just resting there. Then he slid his lips toward hers. Her body tightened in response, every part of her growing taut from her nipples to her feminine core.