I'm pretty wrapped up in my current Work In Process so almost missed posting this. It's also really hard when you're dazzled with the genius of your current project to think about old flames, but now that I've revisited Paolo and Lauren to find this excerpt, I'm losing my mind with excitement for this book to come out. They have such a long, fraught journey to their happily ever after. Here's another taste of where they start:
“You need to get back to your party,” she murmured, carrying the icy glass of soda to her temple. “No one will miss me,” he dismissed, even though he was distantly aware of the same thing. “Isabella will,” she admonished. Then, keeping her face averted, asked, “Are you going to marry her?” He hesitated. This news of Lauren’s was more than even his lightning mind could process quickly, but he couldn’t turn his life upside down without thinking it through. It would be humiliating to believe her and discover he’d been tricked again. Best to stay the course until he had better evidence for a correction. “It would be a good match,” he said, hammering Isabella’s top qualities for both their benefits. “Her father is at the UN, her mother works with an international aid organization. Isabella understands life on the stage of global politics. Yes, I intend to marry her.” Lauren made a noise of acknowledgement that almost sounded like the gasp from an absorbed blow. Her reaction inexplicably caused invisible wires to pull him tighter than his tension already had him. A pike of misgiving speared through him and he instinctively wanted to rethink everything he’d just said. It was exactly the turmoil he wouldn’t allow her to put him through. He brushed aside the detour into self-doubt as she spoke again. “I didn’t hear anything about love. That was the problem with your first marriage, wasn’t it?” She kept her attention on the orange she was separating into sections, holding it well away from her gown. He stared at the top of her head, willing her to look up at him and dare to say that. At the same time, his gut twisted with guilt. It was true, he’d had very little affection for his ex, but she’d still managed to devastate him. It was one reason he was determined to pin his future on Isabella and not a woman he truly loved. To be betrayed was one thing, to love and be betrayed would be impossible to bear. “Love is for fools,” he muttered. With a snort of cynicism, Lauren chortled, “Ain’t that the truth.” Hearing her echo the sentiment irritated him. The way she had turned to him in Charleston had proved to him she wasn’t as devoted to Ryan as she’d portrayed through her marriage. This was further evidence she had scorned a man who had worshipped her. “I guess that makes Ryan a fool, marrying for love,” Paolo said scathingly. “Are you serious?” Her amber gaze flashed up like a splash of bourbon, stinging with hot-cold. “If he loved me so much, why did he spend all his time on the other side of the world taking insane chances with his life? He married me because I was raised to wait until I had a ring on my finger and he wanted bragging rights.” “A clever ploy on your part, seeing as his family is quite well off,” he shot back, while a flash of Ryan’s smug, victor’s grin hit him square between the eyes. There could be some truth to her claim. He had another suspicion about his friend’s motives, one that was even less complimentary. They had always been competitive with each other, he and Ryan. It was usually good-natured, but there were times it had been cutthroat and Ryan had been in no doubt that Paolo found Lauren attractive. No doubt. “It wasn’t a ploy, it’s the truth,” Lauren bit out defensively, pulling Paolo’s thoughts from a dark place he rarely visited. It was a place of bitterness he barely understood because he never examined it, but it filled him with enough acrimony to challenge, “You married for sex then?” Disbelief dropped her jaw before her outrage fell away to wounded pride. Her stunned silence pricked his conscience. He almost began forming an apology for crossing a line, but a self-conscious flush flooded into her cheeks. She looked naked and culpable, but her expression carried an edge of defiance that gave him a tingle of premonition. He unconsciously braced himself. With her blush firmly in place, but a disconcertingly frank look sweeping over her, she sat straighter and said defiantly, “Perhaps I did marry for sex. I was curious and not confident enough to believe any other man would be interested, but I did love Ryan, in my immature way.” That was too much honesty. He looked away, wanting to refute what she was saying by pointing out he had been interested, but that would only muddy already dark waters. Immature he would accept, while the rest he held in reserve. He needed to view her as deceitful in order to keep his distance. Otherwise he’d have to believe everything she was saying about this baby she was carrying and where would that leave him? Not upholding the honor of his family name the way he’d sworn to do after so disgracing it with his ugly divorce. He would have to believe that when Lauren had woken him from the first sleep he’d had in forty-eight hours by sliding her caressing hand into his shirt, it had been from genuine want, not ulterior motives. The pulse of desire that hit with that possibility was a sledgehammer straight into his gut, bathing him in heat. His hungry gaze moved restlessly to eat up the way her shorn head revealed her slender neck and the graceful slant of her nude shoulders. Her deshabille gave off a sexy, yet ingenuous appearance. Don’t fall for it, he cautioned himself, but couldn’t help thinking that no matter whose baby grew in her belly, she was still a woman without a husband to provide for her. She was susceptible and he was, at his core, a protective man. He was duty-bound to protect his family though. And what did it matter whether she had married for love or not? She was also admitting to resentment that her husband had been away a lot. What she’d done during those long absences was very much up for scrutiny. Perhaps he should take her at her word that she wasn’t asking him to be a father, only wanted to warn him about an impending media storm.