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       Seduced, p.17

         Part #3 of Surrender series by Melody Anne
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  “I hope to hell we never get saved,” he murmured as his hands slid along her back.

  She agreed with him. If she had this island with Shane for the rest of her life, she would be a very happy woman.

  When they both regained an ounce of energy, Shane stood, then lifted Lia and carried her into the warm ocean where they cooled down before coming in for some much needed food.

  They didn’t know it, but their time was almost up.

  Chapter Twenty Seven

  Rafe

  “Mr. Palazzo, it seems that Shane Grayson’s ship got caught in a storm four days ago and he hasn’t been heard from since. It appears that one of your sisters, Ms. Lia Palazzo, was onboard with him. ”

  “What? Why in the hell am I just finding out about this now? Has a search party been formed? What were their last coordinates?”

  Rafe’s heart raced as he listened on the other end of the line. His sister and his best friend had been missing for four days and he was just now getting word. He barely contained his rage and fear as he tried to focus.

  “We are just now receiving the information, sir. Apparently when the workers couldn’t find them, it took a while before someone had information that Mr. Grayson and Ms. Palazzo had left on the boat to pick up supplies. They never showed up. The day they left, a large storm hit the area. ”

  “Shane is extremely experienced on a boat. He would have seen the storm and gotten to shelter. I want a map of the islands, and I want search crews sent out immediately. I’m on my way. ”

  Rafe hung up the phone and glared at it. After taking a calming breath, he dialed his pilot, then told his secretary he was leaving and to cancel everything. There was only one quick stop to make before he boarded his jet.

  Pulling up to Ari’s building, he sprinted to her apartment and hammered on the thick wooden door. He could have called, but he needed to see her for just a moment. She calmed him, and he didn’t know how long this might take. It might be weeks before she was in his arms again.

  Page 63

 

  She hadn’t returned his calls since their night together at the library, and that was three days before — three very long and unsatisfying days.

  Ari opened the door, and her eyes narrowed in irritation, but one look at his face and she grew worried. If he thought he had it together, he was clearly mistaken.

  “What’s wrong, Rafe?” Her tone filled with concern, she lifted her hand and placed it on his arm.

  “Lia is missing. She and Shane were on his yacht when a storm hit. No one knows where they are. I’m leaving for Italy now, but I wanted to let you know what is happening. I may be gone for a while. ”

  Ari looked at him for several seconds in stunned disbelief. He knew how she felt. He was still in shock. Then, to his surprise, she grabbed his arm and pulled him inside her door.

  “Give me ten minutes. I just need to grab a few clothes. ”

  “What are you talking about?” he asked.

  “I’m coming with you. Lia is my friend, one of my best friends, and I won’t be able to stay behind. It would kill me, Rafe. I need to be out there searching for her. ”

  She left the room before he could respond. He didn’t know if he could handle the distraction of having Ari there, but on the other hand, she might be the only person alive who would also be able to keep him from melting down.

  If they couldn’t find Lia. . . No! That wouldn’t happen. If something were terribly wrong, he would feel it in his gut. His sisters meant the world to him, and he would just know if something weren’t right.

  Shane had gotten them to safety, and the two of them were just waiting to be rescued. He was sure of it. His best friend would never let something happen to his sister. He’d die first.

  That thought made Rafe’s stomach clench. The world would be a much sadder place without his best friend in it. Shane was one of the few people who knew Rafe inside and out, who could talk him down when he was ready to explode, and whom Rafe could trust with his life.

  Rafe couldn’t lose one of his sisters, but he couldn’t lose his best friend, either.

  “I’m ready. ”

  Rafe didn’t say another word as he looked at Ari standing before him with determination, holding a duffel bag and her jacket. He simply took the bag from her and walked out her front door, waiting as she locked up.

  He sat silently by in the back of the car as she made the necessary phone calls to have her class covered and her mail picked up. He could see her fright, but she was holding herself together well — much better than he was, it seemed.

  Just having her there in the car with him was somehow giving him the strength not to completely lose it.

  “She will be fine, Rafe. I can feel it. If she’s with Shane, he will protect her. There’s no way he’d ever let something happen to her. Shane can be a fool, but I have no doubt that he truly cares about Lia. He’s just not the wisest for ticking her off,” Ari said with a crooked smile.

  “Yes, you and my sisters can certainly carry a grudge,” Rafe said, sending her a pointed look.

  “Yes, we can. It’s best you remember that. ”

  “Believe me, I remember well,” Rafe replied as they pulled up to his private jet.

  Rafe escorted Ari up the stairs, then spoke to his pilot for a few moments before the doors closed and the giant machine began slowly moving forward.

  He should be thrilled to have Ari all to himself, but as he leaned back, all he could think about was his sister, who was most likely lost and frightened. He found himself near panic, which was a state he never thought he’d be in.

  He accepted a stiff drink from his flight attendant when they reached cruising altitude, but it didn’t help much. There didn’t seem to be anything that could at this point. Refusing a meal, he couldn’t even muster up the energy to speak to Ari.

  When he felt Ari climb into his lap and hold him, he didn’t say a word. He just clung on tight and let her be his strength. His hands automatically came up and began stroking her back. The feel of her resting in his arms did the trick.

  He felt his heart begin to slow its frantic beat, and his muscles relax gradually. He’d been wrong — it seemed he could be comforted. He’d just needed his other half — Ari.

  He knew that Ari and his sisters were close, but until now, he hadn’t quite realized how close. He was glad to have Ari with him, glad she was his rock in this moment. It just underlined what a fool he’d been to treat her so poorly.

  Dammit, he would prove to her that they were meant to be together. Right now, he had to focus on his sister, but they would have a long flight back home — all alone — and then his focus would be solely on Ari, because Lia and Shane would be safe and Rafe would be able to breathe again.

  Page 64

 

  “They’ll find them both, Rafe. I know it. ”

  He knew she was right.

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Ari

  Several hours into the flight, and more than a few drinks later, Ari looked up in surprise to find Rafe sending a glare her way. “Are you going to just pretend that what happened between us didn’t happen?”

  She hadn’t really thought this trip through. All she knew was that Lia was missing and she had to be there to help find her. It never occurred to her that she’d be locking herself inside Rafe’s jet for the next ten hours.

  Maybe after the library incident, he was just assuming that everything would go back to the way it had been before. That she would just be his very high-priced call girl. If he was, he was going to be severely disappointed.

  “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m going to do,” she said before turning away.

  “That’s not a very mature attitude, Ari. ”

  “Rafe, with Lia and Shane not found yet, I don’t want to fight with you. I want us to be there for each other. Can we do this afterward, after my friend is found?” she
asked in exasperation.

  “I need to get my mind off this, Ari. It’s driving me insane to even think about it. I can’t just sit here in this jet with you and pretend I don’t still want you. I can’t continue playing in my head all the scenarios of what could have happened to Shane and Lia, either. So, the bottom line is that we are in this jet for the next six hours together, so we need to hash it out. We need to come to a solution about us. ”

  “There is no us, Rafe. Yes, I still want you. I’m human. I caved. That doesn’t mean I want to dive back into a dysfunctional relationship with you. It just means that I haven’t been laid in two years and my body went into meltdown mode. ”

  Rafe froze, and she wondered what he was thinking now. She thought over her words and hadn’t said anything too shocking. Yes, she enjoyed sex. Big deal!

  “You haven’t been with another man since me?”

  Oops, that’s what she’d admitted to. She hadn’t wanted to do that. No, she hadn’t been with another man, but not because she was in love with Rafe. Well, at least, she hoped that wasn’t why.

  It was just that after being with someone like Rafe, someone who knew how to please a woman so fully, she hadn’t managed to find a man yet who could set off fireworks inside her. The men she’d kissed had stirred not a single atom of desire within her. Not even an electron.

  If she could barely stand to kiss them, the thought of their hands touching her body was downright repulsive. There was no way she’d tell Rafe any of that, of course. He would have her on her back faster than she could blink. That wouldn’t get the two of them anywhere — well, nowhere but immensely satisfied.

  She had to remind herself that the pleasure lasted for only so long before she had to deal with the repercussions of guilt and longing for a man she couldn’t keep.

  “That’s none of your business, Rafe. I don’t ask you about your conquests, and I don’t expect you to ask me about mine,” she said sternly.

  The grin spreading across his face took her breath away. Damn! When he smiled, he was spectacular.

  “You haven’t gotten over us at all, have you, Ari? All of this is just your way of protecting yourself. You are smart. I understand what you’re doing. I treated you terribly. But I will admit that it pleases me that no other man has touched you. ”

  “I didn’t say that!”

  Ari’s cheeks flushed in her frustration. She knew speaking to him was a bad idea. She should have just taken a commercial plane to Italy, and not subjected herself to ride with Rafe across the ocean. She’d rather have been sitting in economy between a drunken fat guy and the nonstop snorer, with a screaming baby right behind her, to boot. It would be less torturous.

  “Why are you getting so upset, Ari?”

  “I’m not upset!” she shouted. At the stupid grin on his face, she made herself calm down, taking a few deep breaths. “I’m not upset,” she repeated more calmly.

  “Why don’t you join me over here so we can speak without calling across to each other?” he offered, patting the couch he was leaning back on. “I need for you to climb into my lap again,” he finished.

  “I don’t think so,” she said with a huff.

  “Don’t you trust yourself, Ari?”

  “Of course I trust myself. It’s you I don’t trust, Rafe. ”

  “I can be a gentleman. ”

  “Ha!” That was a good one.

  Page 65

 

  “I brought the journal,” he said as he pointed to his bag sitting next to him.

  She should be worried about her friend. He should be worried about his sister. There shouldn’t be this tension between the two of them.

  “Now isn’t the time,” she said, though her eyes strayed to the bag.

  “I’ve had it on me since the library. I just never took it out,” he answered her unspoken question.

  “Well, I’m worried about Lia. I couldn’t concentrate on it,” she told him.

  “I’m worried about my sister, too, and my best friend. But, there’s nothing we can do from up here. I have well over fifty boats out searching the water for them now along with several helicopters. They will be found. I guarantee it. ”

  “What if you’re wrong? What if their boat crashed and they are gone?” Though she’d been the one offering him comfort when he’d first shown up on her doorstep, now it was her turn to panic. She didn’t want to voice the questions aloud, but her brain was firing on too many cylinders. Ari handled crisis excellently when it was first presented to her. But once she had time to think about it, she fell apart. It wasn’t a trait she was proud of.

  “I would know. ”

  “How can you be so sure? You don’t know, Rafe!”

  “If my sister or Shane were gone, I would feel it. A piece of me would die with them. If they were gone, I couldn’t help but know. ”

  He was so self-assured, so confident, when just a few hours earlier he had been the one tense and worried. She could still see the strain in his eyes, but she also saw conviction. He had no doubt that Shane and Lia would be rescued. Ari should feel a measure of relief in his faith, but she was still afraid. She didn’t have the same faith as he did. After what she’d been through with her mother — thank heavens Sandra was well now! — she could never quite assume the best.

  “I don’t know…”

  “They will be fine. I don’t want to focus on that. I can’t do anything while we’re in the air. So, I’d rather focus on us. ”

  “Do I have to repeat myself, Mr. Palazzo?” she asked in her best schoolmarm voice. “There is no us. ”

  “Oh, Ari, that is where you are wrong. There’s been an us from the moment you first walked into my office. You caused my world to spin out of control, and it still hasn’t righted itself. I’ve just come to the conclusion that I don’t want it to be righted. I like it exactly the way it is — with you by my side, spinning along with me. ”

  “We’re just going in circles, Rafe. I won’t be a kept woman ever again. ”

  “Then how about you become my wife?”

  Ari stared at him in confusion. She could have sworn he’d just proposed to her, but she had to be hearing him wrong. There was no way he’d be such a fool as to ask her to marry him — certainly not now.

  “I must have misheard you,” she said, sending a glare his way.

  “You didn’t. You will become my wife. No, that wasn’t a proposal. When I propose, it will be done properly. ”

  “You need mental help, Rafe,” she said as she blew out her breath in irritation.

  “I only need you, Ari. ”

  “I’m going to the bathroom. ”

  She got up and practically ran to the back of the jet, where she locked herself inside the large bathroom, splashing cold water on her face. She couldn’t go out there again. She couldn’t face him.

  Being with Rafe was like living in a tornado. Her world was flying out of control all around her, and she didn’t know when she was going to land on solid ground again.

  He was so sure of their future together — so confident. Could she be wrong? What if she caved in to him, and then things went back to the way they had been?

  She wasn’t normally this confused. She was strong and smart and could conquer the world. She needed to remember that or this flight was going to test her very sanity.

  Finally walking back out to join Rafe, she looked in his eyes, and her heart fluttered and lurched. Oh, yes, this fight was going to be long.

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  Rafe

  Rafe granted the poor woman a brief reprieve. Just as Ari returned to the cabin, dinner was being served, and his flight attendant acted as a temporary chaperone.

  If Ari hadn’t looked as if she were ready to fall over, he would have sent his employee away and resumed their discussion. But it was more than obvious that Ari needed food, and it wasn’t fair of him to continue without giving her sustenance. It
tore at him how tired she seemed — emotionally and physically.

  Page 66

 

  He waited patiently while their table was set and hot food placed atop it.

  “After you,” he said as he stood and placed his hand on Ari’s back.

  She tensed, but allowed him to lead her to the table.

  Pouring them each a glass of wine, he lifted his glass. “To the prompt rescue of Shane and Lia. ”

  Ari hesitated only briefly before lifting her own glass and clinking it against his. Then she placed it to her lips and took a large swallow. “That is something I am more than happy to toast to,” she told him with a slight smile.

  She was quiet as she picked up her fork and began picking at her food. Anything she ate was better than nothing, he reasoned as he began working on his own meal. It wasn’t the best he’d eaten, but it was something. Normally, he planned ahead and chose his menus. This had been an emergency, and he had to take what they kept at the ready.

  Once the last of the food had been placed on the table, he dismissed his flight attendant, telling her to leave them for the rest of the flight. He wanted no more interruptions. The mess could be cleaned up later.

  “I was at your graduation. ”

  Ari looked up in surprise.

  “My graduate ceremony?”

  “Yes. You were glowing as you stood on that stage. I was very impressed, Ari. I knew you would do it, but it was still a thrill to see you standing there with such a smile of accomplishment on your face. ”

  “I’m surprised you didn’t approach me. ”

  The look in her eyes suggested that she wouldn’t have hated the idea. He had debated doing just that, but he had managed to stay back, just barely. He’d come because he’d had to be a part of her pomp and circumstance.

  “I didn’t want to ruin your special day. Your mother was there with her arm locked permanently around you, and I wanted you to bask in that. I thought my presence would take away some of your joy. Besides, I think my parents and sisters were on watch duty. They kept looking out at the audience. If I had tried to approach, they might have tackled me. ”

  “They’re your family, Rafe. Of course they wouldn’t have,” she said with a smile. It was such a relief for him to see it.

  “You must not know them that well. My mother and sisters both lectured me endlessly about my losing you. They told me I was a fool. ”

 
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MELODY ANNE SERIES:

Surrender

 

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