Never Say I Want You, page 1
Never Say I Want You
First edition published by
Scribble Pretty Books May 2019
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Copyright © 2019 by Amy Pennza
Cover design by Croco Designs
Edited by Kimberly Dawn
All rights reserved.
Created with Vellum
Excerpt from Never Say I Love You
About the Author
Also by Amy Pennza
Catalina poured whiskey into a glass. “The usual, Walter?” she asked over her shoulder. She didn’t wait for a reply. After two years of her companion’s company, she knew how he took his drinks. She turned with the glass in her hand just as a deep, scratchy voice said, “Yes, darlin’,” in a lazy Southern drawl.
“Coming right up.” She made her voice light as she walked from the hotel room’s bar to the spacious balcony overlooking the San Antonio River. Sleek, modern furniture made to withstand the Texas heat faced one of the best views in the city. The seated man staring down at the night-darkened water was well past his prime, but he still possessed the unmistakable air of someone long-accustomed to wealth and power. He’d removed his suit jacket, and his cufflinks winked in the moonlight as thick fingers drummed idly on the armrest of his chair. His silver head turned as she approached, and his eyes gleamed their admiration when she leaned forward to hand him the drink.
“What age, darlin’?” he asked, his gaze sliding from her breasts to the amber-colored whiskey.
“Thirty,” she murmured, settling on the far end of the sofa perpendicular to his chair.
He raised his eyebrows. “We celebratin’ something?”
You have no idea.
“Of course,” she answered easily. “Congratulations to the new chairman of the board.”
He lifted his glass in her direction. “All thanks to you.”
Catalina shook her head, but she let a tiny smile touch her lips as she kicked off her stilettos and tucked her feet underneath her. The movement made her dress climb to the tops of her thighs. She didn’t push it down. “No, Walter. You had them when you started talking about last year’s shipping figures.”
He sipped at his drink, a self-satisfied smile peeking over the edge of the glass. “Do you really think so?”
“I know so, and so do you.” She propped her elbow on the sofa’s wicker arm and leaned her head on her hand. “You must not have been watching Mr. Cho. His face lit up like a kid on Christmas morning when you told him how much money he could make by agreeing to the merger.”
Walter chuckled, displaying an impressive set of veneers. He toasted her again before tossing back the rest of the whiskey and setting the glass on the low table in front of them. “Well, I don’t doubt money had something to do with it.” He coughed a little, making his blue silk tie jump against his chest. “They drive a hard bargain in Beijing.” He rested his head against the back of his chair, and his faded blue eyes smiled when he added, “But beautiful women are universally appealing. I don’t think they would have given this old Texan the time of day if I hadn’t walked in there with you on my arm.”
She dipped her head in acknowledgment. “A pleasure, as always.”
He coughed again and waggled his eyebrows at her. “I assure you, the pleasure is all mine.”
She rolled her eyes and opened her mouth to tease him back, but the frown lines on his weathered forehead deepened, and he lifted a big-knuckled hand to brush against his shirtfront.
She sat upright. “Walter?”
He waved her off. “It’s nothing, honey.” He coughed again—a harsh, lurching movement that shook his whole body. “Just…a little…indigestion.”
She swung her bare feet to the ground and stood. For a second she hovered, her gaze bouncing between the room, where the phone sat next to the bed, and Walter. The blood had drained from his face, and he looked pale—almost gray. Should she call someone? The hotel would send an ambulance, and the first thing they’d ask is her relationship to the patient.
Shit. She couldn’t take the risk. Not in this town.
Walter coughed again, and her stomach lurched. She moved to his chair and wedged her body between his legs. “Here, let’s loosen your tie.” She pushed his hands away and undid the knot at his throat, the silk whispering against the starched poplin of his shirt. The loose flesh under his chin vibrated beneath her fingers as he fought to suppress another cough. She opened his top button, hesitated, then unbuttoned his shirt to his belt. She stepped back, anxiety thrumming through her veins. “Walter?”
“Much better, darlin’, thank you.” His smile was weak, but his color looked better. He gestured toward the balcony’s sliders and patted her behind. “Get my pills, would you? Front inside pocket.”
“Of course.” She hurried inside the room and to the bed, where a six-thousand-dollar Brioni suit jacket lay in a careless heap on the gold comforter. She winced. Walter probably had ten jackets just like this, each one hand-stitched and one of a kind. She found the pills, grabbed a bottled water from the bar, and rushed back to his side.
“It says one pill twice daily.” She shook one into her hand. “Is that right?”
“You got it, honey.” He accepted the pill and waited while she snapped open the water. “With all these meetings and dinners, I must have forgot.”
She scanned his face as he swallowed the medication. “I’m sure they make an app that reminds you. I could put it on your phone.”
He took another swig of water. “Nah.” His tone was good-natured as he set the bottle on the floor next to his chair. He grabbed her hand and tugged her down to the sofa by his knee. She perched on the edge, ready to spring back up if he started coughing again. He lifted her hand and brushed a dry kiss across the back. “Thank you, hon, but it’s a little late to teach this old dog new tricks.” He sighed. “My Barbara was always after me to carry around one of those little pill sorters—the kind with different colors for each day of the week.”
She turned her palm so she could curl her fingers around his. “You miss her.” She didn’t make it a question. They both knew the answer.
He squeezed her hand. “Sometimes I think I can hear her voice.” He slanted Catalina a sly glance. “Scolding me, usually.”
“No,” she said in mock disbelief.
Still clasping her hand, he leaned back and closed his eyes. His color was better—the grayish cast that had alarmed her fading from his face. “She always hated stuff like this,” he said, waving his other hand in a small circle. “The parties…the dinners. All that crap.” A soft smile touched his lips. “But let me tell you, that woman could pull it off. You should have seen her in her heyday.” He squinted an eye open. “Nothing like you, of course, but still a stunner.”
Catalina smiled and tilted her head. “Oh, I don’t know about that. I’m sure she could have given me a run for my money.”
“Raw,” she said softly.
His gaze widened. “Yes. That’s it, exactly. Have you lost someone close to you, darlin’?”
“My mother,” she said without thinking. Her heart sped up. It wasn’t like her to make a slip like that.
Walter made a sympathetic sound and started to sit up. “Catalina—”
“It’s okay.” She disentangled their hands before he could reach for her. She folded her own in her lap, one hand cupped over the other. “It was a long time ago. Years ago. Five years ago, actually, like your wife. Maybe that’s what made me think of it.” Good grief, she was rambling like a lunatic. She looked down at her bare toes curled against the smooth concrete. The French pedicure wasn’t really her style, but Walter preferred it, so that’s what she’d asked for at the salon that morning.
After all, he’d paid for it, along with her dress and Brazilian wax.
“Aw, darlin’,” he said, “I’m sorry to hear that. A girl needs her mama.”
Oh no. This was a door she definitely didn’t want open. Next, he was going to ask if she and her mother had been close. What would he say if she told him the woman she lost five years ago hadn’t been her mother at all? That the woman who gave birth to her was buried in an unmarked grave in a South American jungle?
That would take awkward pillow talk to a whole new level. She lifted her head and forced a smile. “I shouldn’t have brought it up.”
“Well, why the hell not?” he said in his gruff, no-nonsense voice. He sat forward and braced his elbows on his knees, causing the halves of his shirt to gape open on either side of the small paunch that swelled above his belt. Their positions from earlier reversed, giving her a direct view down the front of his undershirt, where snowy white curls several shades lighter than the hair on his head dotted his chest and stomach.
She stood and walked to the thick glass railing surrounding the balcony. The night air was cool, but the temperature had soared into the nineties earlier in the day—not unusual for June in San Antonio. She’d broken one of her rules just now, letting things get too personal with a client. Walter was one of her favorites, and it was easy to think of him as a friend rather than a business acquaintance. That was a mistake she could not, would not make.
“You okay, darlin’?” he said just behind her. A warm hand closed over her bare shoulder. “I hope I didn’t bring up bad memories.” He slid his hand to her waist and squeezed her hip, his touch confident and familiar.
She allowed him to turn her around. “Not at all,” she said, reaching up and cupping his cheek.
He leaned his face into her hand. “You know, I just realized you never talk about yourself.”
She let her lips curve into what she knew was a teasing smile. “My clients pay me to talk about what interests them.” Usually themselves.
He chuckled deep in his chest. “And to pretend you’re interested in what interests them.”
Catalina bit her lip. It was on the tip of her tongue to deny it, but his self-deprecating smile told her he was well aware of the game. For all his bluster and “I’m just a big, dumb Texan” routine, he was nobody’s fool. Just hours ago, she’d watched him outmaneuver representatives from one of the largest electronics companies in China. She stood on tiptoe and kissed the underside of his jaw. “I never pretend with you, Walter.”
His eyes twinkled. “Ah, darlin’, that’s the sweetest lie I ever heard.”
Her reply was cut off by a loud explosion at the door. They both jerked and turned toward the hotel room as the sound of splintering wood and harsh male voices filled the air. Her heart leaped into her throat. She clutched at Walter’s arm.
“BALCONY!” a man’s voice boomed. Seconds later, two uniformed policemen stepped into view, dull black pistols in their hands.
Pistols aimed directly at her. Catalina gasped. The skin on her scalp prickled, and panic skittered down her spine.
Walter pushed her behind him. “Now, see here. What is the meaning of this?”
One of the officers pointed his gun squarely at Walter’s chest. “Step away from the female and get your hands up where I can see them.”
Walter raised his hands and turned them palm out, but he stayed where he was. “I said I want to know—”
“Do not make me repeat myself, sir.”
Walter took a step forward. “You better have a warrant, son, or—”
“Cavanaugh,” the officer barked, and his partner sprang forward. Before Catalina could even suck in a breath, he’d holstered his gun and sidestepped Walter. In one smooth motion, he grabbed her, spun her around, and wrenched her arm up and into the small of her back. White-hot pain sizzled along her funny bone, and a sharp cry burst from her lungs.
The officer didn’t seem to notice. He dug his fingers into the soft flesh above her elbow and steered her off the balcony and into the hotel room. Reflexes kicked in, urging her to twist out of his grip. Unwise. She could have done it, but the cop had a gun and an obvious chip on his shoulder. She let him pull her along, and her hip bumped the edge of the glass slider as he manhandled her from the concrete to the plush carpet. Behind them came the sounds of a scuffle, followed by the dull thud of flesh striking glass.
“S-stop!” She tried to get a look over her shoulder as the cop propelled her into the room, but he jerked her arm higher. A lightning bolt of fire shot from her shoulder to her pinky. She hunched over, instinctively trying to relieve the pressure forcing her elbow into an unnatural position.
“Fight me and I’ll add a resisting charge,” the officer said, his breathing labored. Apparently, throwing women half his size around the room was a workout for him.
Bent as she was, her line of sight was restricted to the floor. She caught a glimpse of coffee table legs and a tailored bedskirt before he pushed her facedown onto the bed. She turned her head just in time to avoid having her face smashed against the soft bedding. His polyester-covered knee pressed into the mattress next to her head, obscuring her view. Cool air hit the backs of her thighs, where the tight dress had ridden up.
He jerked her wrist down to just above her butt. Fresh pain shot through her arm. Nausea roiled her gut.
“Don’t move,” he said.
She gritted her teeth so she wouldn’t snap back something like, “Do I look like I can move?” Leather creaked. There was a snapping sound, then cold metal bumped her wrist bone. He tightened the cuff in a series of sharp clicks.
A low moan drifted from the balcony. Walter.
“Please,” she said. Her voice was muffled by the comforter, so she lifted her head. “The man I’m with. He might be sick—”
“I’d worry about yourself right now, sweetheart,” the officer said above her. Metal clicked, and the second cuff snapped around her wrist. “You got any weapons on you?”
Where, exactly, did he think she’d hide one? Her cocktail dress didn’t have room for a bra, let alone a weapon. She took a deep breath. “No, sir.”
His knee lifted from the mattress.
She could have incapacitated him in a number of ways. One hard, direct kick backwards into his groin. An elbow in his ribs, followed by another into his sternum. A reverse head butt would hurt her, but it would hurt him more.
Then again, he had a gun and a badge. So she lay still.
A second later, flat palms ran from her ankles to her upper thighs. She squeezed her eyes shut as he skimmed his hands over her ass. Fortunately, he kept the search quick and professional. In the past, she’d had to endure grabby officers who thought her profession gave them a free pass to treat her body like a buffet.
“Up with you now,” he said, gripping her by both elbows and pulling her to a s
Dizziness washed over her. Before she could get her bearings, he ran the backs of his palms down her breasts and belly. She sucked in a breath.
“Legs apart,” he said. He started to stoop, then shot her a stern look. “You kick me, and it won’t go well for you, got it?”
She returned his stare with dignity she didn’t feel. “I’m not going to kick you.”
He grunted, then crouched and ran the backs of his hands up her legs and inner thighs, brushing her no-fly zone.
Almost done…almost done. She held her breath. If she could just endure a few more minutes, he’d finish and leave her alone. Maybe then he’d go check on Walter.
Finally, he straightened. “You got a purse or bag in the room?”
“No, sir.” She licked her lips. “Please, I just want to make sure he’s okay.” She would have turned toward the balcony, but she didn’t want to piss him off.
He stepped back and leaned to the side, his eyes on the balcony over her shoulder. “Jones? You okay?”
“Yeah,” the other officer yelled. “All good. Just getting to know each other over here.”
Catalina’s officer met her gaze and nodded. “See? Nothing to worry about.”
Relief coursed through her. Maybe this guy wasn’t as bad as she’d thought.
He shot a suggestive look down her body. “Although I’m sure he’d be a lot better if you two could’ve finished what you started.”
He snapped the radio mic off his shoulder. “What’s your name?”
“Catherine Ortega, sir.” She resisted the urge to pull against the cuffs. She’d learned the hard way that only made them chafe. She’d also learned to be exceedingly polite to police officers—even ones who were clearly dickheads.