The Billionaire's Secret Summer: (An Enemies to Lovers Standalone Romance), page 9
“Let’s wait and see about your ankle.”
Kiara gritted her teeth. She was just about to say something tacky when Janet said, “You know, it really isn’t Bella Notte’s fault that a stray cat jumped out of the shadows. I mean it could have happened anywhere.”
“It could have,” Wyatt agreed.
Kiara fumed. Actually, she was glad this had happened. Now she saw what a huge mistake she’d been about to make with Wyatt.
Relief. That’s what she felt. Relief that she’d escaped.
“If you just take care of my doctor’s bill, I don’t think there will be a need for any litigation.”
“From the moment I laid eyes on you, I knew you weren’t the kind of woman who would sue an honest, hardworking family like the Romanos over something they couldn’t control.”
“Of course not.”
Kiara placed a hand over her mouth. Was the woman oblivious to Wyatt’s obvious manipulations? He was catering to her worries to get her to drop her threat of a lawsuit. Couldn’t she see through that?
Be glad she can’t see through that.
“Janet, I’m going to stay right with you until the doctor comes to check you out, and then I’ll escort you back to your lodgings. Are you staying here on Idyll?”
“I am at the Idyll Inn, room eleven.”
There was a knock on the door, and Maurice came in, followed by Dr. Foster. He was a thin man with a bushy beard and round wire-framed glasses.
Kiara thought he looked a bit like Sigmund Freud. He was a holdover from the past, a doctor who still made house calls.
Everyone scattered to go about their business. Trudy went to take over with the rest of the tour group who’d been sent to mill around in the gift shop. Grandfather went to take Trudy’s place manning the gift shop.
Grandmamma carried her lasagna offering back to the kitchen, and Maurice left to back the van up to the door to give Janet a return lift to the inn.
The doctor examined his patient, and throughout it all, Wyatt held Janet’s hand.
Kiara watched, her arms crossed over her chest. Wyatt was amazing, but, of course, he excelled at getting women to do what he wanted them to do. Just as he’d had her shimmying out of her dress down in the wine cellar.
Kiara’s face burned with shame. She couldn’t believe she’d done that. She had no idea what had come over her.
What she couldn’t figure out was why a guy like him wanted to be at Bella Notte and why he was so eager to help. Everyone in Kiara’s family was open, honest, and trusting.
Not her. Maybe it was the skeptic in her, her scientific mind that led her to doubt everything until it was proven conclusively.
Maybe she was simply born distrustful. But her ability to see things objectively instead of romantically like every other Romano was what had brought the winery back from the brink of bankruptcy.
It was the reason her family had put her in charge over Maurice, who was older, after her father got cancer. Maurice had been really angry about it, but the winery was truly a family affair, and everyone but his own wife had voted for Kiara to helm Bella Notte.
She took her job seriously, but she had to admit her weaknesses. She didn’t possess the necessary social skills to head off a potential lawsuit the way Wyatt had just done. She was a straight shooter. She got to the point and spoke her piece. Blunt, she’d been called.
The doctor finished his examination and diagnosed a minor sprain. Somehow, Wyatt sweet-talked Janet into signing a waiver saying she wouldn’t sue Bella Notte for her injuries. Then he wheeled her from the tasting room into the waiting van.
He paused at the doorway to whisper to Kiara. “I’m going into town to make sure Miss Hampton is comfortable, but when I return, carve a chunk of time from your schedule. You and I are going to have a long talk.”
Wyatt got Janet Hampton ensconced in her hotel and had a glass of wine with her. She told him her life story. How she’d been dumped by her rat-bastard boyfriend and had decided to go on a trip to clear her head. He let her cry on his shoulder, gave her a pep talk, and left the inn feeling pretty proud of himself.
It wasn’t until he was back at Bella Notte that he even remembered why he was here. He’d been so caught up in impressing Kiara that he’d forgotten he was supposed to be a spy. He put the glasses back on that he’d taken off while interviewing Janet.
They felt artificial and heavy on his nose. He was starting to have second thoughts about this whole thing. Especially after what had happened between him and Kiara in the wine cellar.
“How did it go?” Grandfather Romano greeted him in the parking lot. Fierce green eyes, identical to Kiara’s, fixed on him.
“Lawsuit successfully averted.”
Grandfather Romano studied him so long Wyatt started to feel itchy. “You look like someone.”
Was the old guy onto him? Even though Wyatt himself wasn’t in the wine business, his family was. And the wine community was a very small one.
He’d been dumb to think he could fool the people at Bella Notte for long. He wasn’t a spy. He just liked having a good time, and going undercover had sounded fun. Now it felt...well...wrong.
If the older man raised the alarm, and Kiara found out who he really was, Wyatt would never have a chance with her.
Never have a chance with her? What the hell did that mean? Chance for what? Hot sex? Beyond that, he never stood a chance anyway. As soon as she found out he was a DeSalme, everything was over.
Well, that bites.
Disappointment nibbled at him. Why?
“What’s your name again?” Grandfather Romano asked.
“And you’re a new intern?”
“Bit old for an intern.”
“Your age has served you well. You’ve got some sharp people skills.”
“I appreciate the compliment.”
The old man kept scrutinizing him. “You’ll be good for her.”
“My granddaughter. She’s a brilliant scientist and has a great head on her shoulders when it comes to business, but she works too hard. A charmer might just be what she needs. But if you hurt her, I’ll hunt you down like a rabbit and dispatch you.”
“Excuse me?” Wyatt swallowed.
The old man smiled jovially. “You heard me.”
“Save the protests. I noticed the way you looked at her. More importantly, I saw the way she looked at you. Be careful, young Wyatt. You play fast and loose with her heart...” He paused to draw a finger dramatically across his throat.
“Got your message, Don Romano,” he joked. “You won’t have to put a horse head in my bed.”
The old man burst out laughing. “You’re a funny guy. I like you. Treat Kiara right and all will be well.”
“I have no intention of hurting your granddaughter, sir.”
“Good, good.” He placed a heavy hand on Wyatt’s shoulder. “Come to dinner.”
He couldn’t shake the feeling that Grandfather Romano knew who he was. “Pardon me?”
“Come to dinner tonight. Kiara’s father and mother have returned from San Francisco. We’re having a small celebration.”
“Um...I’m not sure Kiara wants me there.”
“Are you a man or a mouse?”
Wyatt drew himself up. He was a good four inches taller than the elderly man, but the senior Romano made him feel like a schoolboy. “A man. Definitely.”
“My granddaughter is very willful. If you want to be with her, you must be stronger than she is.”
“I can do that.”
“Do you want another tip?”
“I’m all ears.”
“Don’t give in to her too easily. Romance is sweetest when you have to work for it.”
In the lab, Kiara squinted at the vine sample under her microscope. After Wyatt h
If she was going to keep the naughty feline, it was time to assume responsibility for his health care. Now, she was trying hard to concentrate on her work. The past three days had been very disruptive, from the arrival of the new interns to the earthquake to Janet Hampton’s accident in the barrel room to her own inexplicable misbehavior in the cellar.
She thought of Wyatt, how easily he’d turned a tricky situation into a nonissue. How had this man come into her life and so quickly inserted himself in it as if he belonged there? She’d only known him seventy-two hours.
What was with this sensual sensory overload that preoccupied her every time she looked at him? Thought of him.
Kiara was unaccustomed to breathless physical responses that left her confused and irritated because they were so unfamiliar and unwanted.
But as she stared at the vine sample and her mind wandered back to the wine cellar, her nipples beaded beneath the thin cotton material of her dress; her long hair tickled the backs of her bare arms, and she felt her pulse quicken as her body— oh, who was she kidding, it was more than her body— yearned with abject longing for something that could rock her world as effectively as any earthquake.
For a whisper of a second—an infinite, empty second—loneliness twisted her stomach. Immediately, she shoved it aside. She understood, had no choice but to understand, that her uncharacteristic impulses were dangerous to her position as head of Bella Notte. She was not free to let her emotions off the leash. Nor did she want that freedom.
All her life, she’d been surrounded by romantics and their fanciful myths and legends, and she’d never once been tempted to succumb to the allure of lore.
There was her great-grandparents’ explosive romance that had sparked a town legend. Then her grandmother had been engaged to another man until her grandfather had come to school to pick up his nephew where her grandmother was the new schoolteacher. She broken up with her fiancé the very next day.
Her parents had met in San Francisco at a small Italian restaurant where her mother worked as a waitress. Kiara’s father had been delivering wine, and her mother showed him to the wine cellar at the same moment there had been a blackout. They ended up locked in the cellar for several hours. By the time they were rescued, they were engaged.
Maurice and Trudy met at a wine-tasting event. One look into each other’s eyes and they went out for dinner afterward and stayed up all night talking. Maurice sauntered into the vineyard the next morning and announced he’d found the woman he was going to wed. They married a month later, and a year after that Mia was born.
Kiara was the odd woman out—as if she was a self-possessed island, her family the distant mainland with no bridge or boat to connect them—and she’d known it from early childhood.
Although the family reveled in her uniqueness, they put her up on something of a pedestal, revered her levelheadedness. It made it difficult to make a mistake without rippling repercussions.
It bothered her too, whenever she did slip from her lofty perch. Her mistakes ate at her, kept her awake at night. So, she buckled down, kept her nose to the grindstone, and kept romantic liaisons light, few and far between. Emotionally, her heart was untouched, and physically, no man had ever roused her to the trumpet-blaring ecstasy so enthusiastically touted by novels and love songs and sappy greeting cards.
Proving what she suspected all along—romance was bunk. Or at least it was for her. Was she some sort of genetic anomaly? Maybe she simply didn’t possess the capacity to feel deep emotion.
You were feeling pretty deeply this morning.
That wasn’t emotion. That was lust. Animal magnetism. Nothing more.
What dismantled her was that this behavior was so out of character for her. Never in her life had she been drawn to someone the way she was drawn to Wyatt.
How did she stop this feeling?
A soft knock sounded at the inside door that led into the main house. Her stomach jumped. Was it Wyatt? Had he finally come back from his trip to Idyll?
The door opened, and her grandmother appeared. “Your parents are at the ferry,” she said. “Maurice has gone to fetch them.”
“I’m so happy Dad’s in remission.”
“We’re having a surprise party. I didn’t tell you because you’re so busy, but I was wondering if you could help me in the kitchen.”
“Sure thing, Grandmamma. What do you need?”
“I’m making tiramisu. Could you soak the ladyfingers?”
She followed her grandmother down the long corridor to the main kitchen. Kiara had her own small, one-room apartment, complete with a tiny kitchen, just off the lab, but she often took her evening meals with the family.
She washed her hands and then made the espresso for soaking the ladyfingers while Grandmamma started beating egg yolks over a double boiler. She’d been lucky to grow up in a big, loving extended family. She knew that, but sometimes she wondered if maybe being nestled so securely in the bosom of her loved ones was one of the things that made her so reluctant to venture into the outside world.
Her sister, Deirdre, called their family smothering, but Kiara didn’t see it that way. To her, making her living at the home where she’d grown up was an honor and a privilege.
“Did you know your great-grandmother Maria made this recipe for Giovanni on the very night he proposed?”
“Yes, Grandmamma,” Kiara said, suddenly feeling sentimental. “But I’d love to hear the story again.”
Grandmamma cocked her head at Kiara, a surprised smile curling up the corners of her mouth. “Oh, you were never one for the romantic stories. When your mother tried to read Cinderella and Snow White to you, you’d pull out your grandfather’s field guide to butterflies and flowers. We knew even then that you were different from most girls, caro."
“Kiara, no,” Grandmamma scolded. “Never apologize for being who you are.”
“But I’m not like the rest of you. There’s not a romantic bone in my body.”
“And yet here you are, asking about the story of Giovanni and his beloved Maria.” Grandmamma’s eyes twinkled.
Kiara poured hot coffee into a shallow bowl and added half a cup of Kahlua. Then she took the ladyfingers from the cookie jar on the counter. One by one, she soaked the delicate cookies in the liquid, then lined them up in neat rows along the bottom of a baking pan.
“So how did Great-grandfather Giovanni know that Maria was the one he wanted to take up to Twin Hearts?”
“Maria stepped off the ferry on that fine day in June. She’d come from Italy to visit her relatives. Giovanni was in the village buying flour. He took one look at her, and he wanted her with a burning need unlike anything he’d ever felt before.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that. Maria was struggling with her bags, and Giovanni, with the flour flung over his shoulder, dropped it in the middle of the road and ran to help her.”
“Sounds like a traffic hazard.”
Grandmamma chuckled. “I suppose it well might have been. He touched her hand, and Maria looked into his eyes, and the rest is history.”
“What about you and Grandfather? Was it love at first sight for you?”
Her smile grew sly. “Did I ever tell you he was naked the first time I saw him?”
Kiara’s jaw dropped. “Grandmamma!”
Grandmamma held up her hands to her mouth and giggled. “He was skinny-dipping in the dawn. Like Maria, I was a newcomer to Idyll. I’d been hired to teach school in the village, and on the first morning I awoke in town, I opened my bedroom window and looked out across the inlet, and there he was. Whew.” She fanned herself. “My Nico was something to look at in those days.”
“I don’t think I want to hear anymore,” Kiara said. “I can’t imagine Grandf
“It was planting season, and he’d been working in the vineyards all night, and he’d gone to the ocean to cool off.”
“So, what did you do?”
“I watched.” Grandmamma laughed again. “I was late for my first day of school.”
“What happened when you met face to face?”
“He came to school to pick up his nephew from my class that very afternoon. He stood in the door, and when our eyes met, it was an instant bond so deep and solid that nothing could break it.”
“You know that really sounds far-fetched,” Kiara said, even as she thought, That’s exactly how I felt the minute I looked at Wyatt. Could it be this thing between them was something more than the hot rush of lust? More than mere chemistry?
It’s illogical and unscientific. You don’t believe in that romantic nonsense, remember?
No, but part of her wanted to. Was that so wrong? Not wrong, just not real. As long as she understood it was a fantasy and not reality, then might it be okay to indulge in a little wish fulfillment?
“We’ve been married fifty-three years. What more proof do you need than that? You know the same is true for your mother and father. Follow your heart, caro. It will never lead you astray.”
Dinner with the Romanos was a lively affair.
It was a true celebration in every sense of the word, with Kiara’s father, Gino, present and his cancer in remission. Kiara’s mother, Beth, stayed by his side the entire night, holding her husband’s hand and reaching over from time to time to pat his cheek as if unable to believe their extreme good fortune.
Wyatt dressed for dinner, putting on the only decent clothes he’d brought with him on his undercover assignment—a pair of simple khaki slacks and a button-down white shirt. He left the top two buttons undone and wore a plain brown belt with brown deck shoes.
Hoping he didn’t look too put together for a winery intern, he’d gone to the house feeling more nervous than he’d felt since that first morning in the tasting room.
Kiara seemed genuinely surprised when her grandfather led Wyatt into the kitchen, but she hadn’t commented on him being invited to dinner, had simply greeted him with a subdued hello and gone back to putting platters of food on the table. Had she forgotten he told her that they needed to have a long talk?