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"My mama always told me if a man could cook and satisfy a woman in bed he could keep a smile on her face forever."
Stephanie's eyes slid open. Tony stood in the arch of her bedroom door bare-chested, gorgeous and carrying a tray fit for a queen.
"Good morning," she said, her voice still slick with sleep.
Tony strolled barefoot across the hardwood floor. The thin cotton pajama pants hanging low on his hips sent Stephanie's pulse racing.
Humph, humph, humph. Nothing like a goodlooking man who knew his way around a kitchen. Slowly she sat up. The soft peachcolored sheet dropped to her waist. Tony's eyes darkened with appreciation.
"I don't think your mama would imagine her baby boy doing some of the things you did to me last night to make me happy."
He sat down on the side of the bed and set the tray on her lap, before leaning forward and capturing an exposed nipple in his mouth for a hot second. Stephanie drew in a sharp breath. Tony pulled back and looked into her eyes. "Then it'll be our little secret."
She grinned and scooped a forkful of hash browns into her mouth. Her eyes drifted closed in delight. "Hmm. Wonderful."
"Great." He jumped up and started for the bathroom.
"Aren't you going to eat?"
Tony stopped midway and tossed over his shoulder, "I, uh, have an early meeting. Thought I told you about it. New client."
Stephanie frowned for a moment trying to recall the elusive conversation, but nothing came to mind. She shrugged it off. "Must have forgotten."
He stepped into the adjoining master bath and turned on the shower full blast, then came back and stepped out of his pajama bottoms.
The food stuck in Stephanie's throat for a moment. Damn, he was a handful"gorgeous from top to middle to bottom. He worked out regularly and it showed in the sculpted chest and arms, the six-pack that made her mouth water all covered in a smooth milk chocolate package. When they'd first met over a business lunch" while she was interviewing photographers to do the spa's brochure"he'd worn his hair cut short. But over the past few months he'd let it grow out and wore it lightly twisted on the tips giving him a true avante-garde West Village look, typical of the artsy set.
"If you don't step out of my range of vision you won't be going anywhere anytime soon."
Tony grinned. "Yes, ma'am." He turned, gave her a quick eyeful, and returned to the bathroom.
Stephanie shook her head in amusement. She was happy, she realized, as she sipped her juice, savoring its taste and Tony's thoughtfulness.
Tony was the first real relationship she'd had in years"a healthy one at least. The time she'd spent and wasted with her ex-lover and boss, Conrad Hendricks, was a disaster waiting to happen and it did in Armageddon proportions. A shiver of disgust crept along her spine. It was a part of her life she'd rather forget, but there were still loose ends that needed to be severed"if she could bring herself to do what was necessary.
She put her cup of juice down and picked up a piece of toast, chewing thoughtfully. Even being enveloped in Tony's caring and bathed in happiness, she still found it hard to let go of the binds that tied her heart. Tony had talked about love.Yes, the dreaded L word. At the time she'd said something innocuous like "who wouldn't love you?" But she'd never really answered him. He hadn't brought it up again. And she wouldn't dare.
Love. It didn't figure into her life. Not really. She'd been in deep like. She'd even been in lust, but never in love. Truth was, she wasn't sure if she knew how, or better still, if she was worthy of being loved.
She sighed heavily, lifted the tray from her lap and set it on the bedside table. Her experiences with men had been suspect at best. She'd always been too trusting, too giving, too naive time after time. There was never anything for her at the end of the rainbow except hurt and disappointment.
That's why she wanted to take her time with Tony, and he was either along for the ride or not. She wasn't a kid anymore. She was forty-five years old. The days of doing things without thinking them through were over. She'd paid a high price for her actions and had no intention of overdrawing on her account again.
"I'll call you later this afternoon."
Stephanie looked up and for an instant her misgivings disappeared. But only for an instant.
"Okay. Call me on my cell. I'll be at Pause most of the day. Terri is coming by around one." She watched him buttoning his white shirt. Tony loved some white shirts and they looked so good against his skin.
"So you're really gonna take on a partner?" He gave her a quick look while he fastened his belt.
She reached for her juice and took a long swallow before speaking. "Since the opening of Pause, I've been getting calls left and right to do PR campaigns. The spa has gotten really good press and it opened the doors for me. So if I'm going to run a business on my own I'm going to need help to do it right. No way will I be able to handle everything on my own. Terri has what it takes and I think we will make a great team."
"You know I'm behind you one hundred percent. I want to see you fly, baby." He crossed the room, leaned down, and looked into her eyes. His voice lowered to a gentle rumble. "Besides, I get totally turned on by women in charge." He winked.
Stephanie laughed and whacked his brickhard biceps. "You are too silly."
"That's what all the girls say." His kiss was sweet and tender. Stephanie's stomach did a little dance.
"Later," she hummed against his mouth before he backed away.
He snatched up his heavy camera bag, draped the strap over his shoulder, and strode out.
Stephanie touched her lips with the tip of her fingers and closed her eyes. Yes, it would be easy to let herself love Anthony Dixon"when she was ready. When would that be? It was a question that would remain unanswered, at least for now.
She hadn't realized that she'd dozed off until the ringing phone stirred her awake. She blinked several times in confusion before sitting up and reaching blindly for the phone on the nightstand.
Must be a telemarketer, she thought through the cobwebs of sleep. "I don't want any."
"This is Marilyn Hendricks, Conrad's wife." Stephanie was wide awake now. She sat up in bed. "I told you not to call here again. I have a restraining order."
"I don't give a damn what you have. You ruined my life and you're not going to get away with it."
"We have nothing to talk about, Mrs. Hendricks. I didn't ruin your life, your husband did."
Marilyn laughed in that manic way loonies do in the movies. Stephanie shuddered.
"If you thought for a minute that I was going to let your affair with my husband, the father of my children, slide by without a fight"think again."
"I don't want your husband. I told you and I told him as much. Don't call."
"If you think this is over, you are sadly mistaken," she said, her voice suddenly dropping to an eerie monotone.
The dial tone suddenly hummed in Stephanie's ear. Stunned, she slowly hung up the phone, staring at it as if the instrument were the true offender.
"Crazy bitch," she muttered, then vigorously rubbed the goose bumps that swiftly rose along her arms like an attack of hives.
She pushed up from the bed and marched across her bedroom floor, uttering a string of expletives all directed at Mrs. Conrad Hendricks.
Stephanie had never met the woman and Conrad never brought her to any company events,
which at the time was fine with Stephanie. She was pretty sure she would have been hardpressed to pull off an innocent act while chatting with the woman whose husband she was sleeping with.
She'd seen pictures of Marilyn. An averagelooking white girl: big boobs, blond and blueeyed, rosy cheeks and a toothy grin. She looked like she could easily play in a commercial for shampoo or something. Not overly pretty but good-looking enough.
Stephanie went into the bath for a long hot shower, determined to wash all thoughts of Marilyn and her husband out of her system.