He felt like a fool.


How did he think he was going to pull this off? He had no experience with this sort of situation, despite the many temptations through the years. It simply wasn’t a part of his repertoire, even though he knew he had tacit permission from his wife and nobody else to answer to in any sense of the word—


--Except maybe the boy. That one had a way of guilelessly seeing through a lot. And the dog, who loved everyone within direct contact.


And oh hell, the woman herself. Yes, she was the crux of the thing right there. He knew it deep in his bones, right down to the marrow. In the evenings, alone at his hotel he would lie on his bed, sketching, and think of the thousand different reasons why he should go.


His work was done. The painting had been recovered, the gallery needed him, there was always more stolen art to hunt down and he’d already spent too much time in Southern California as it was. Yes, it was well past time to leave.


And then the next morning he would gaze into those merry blue eyes of hers and be rooted once more.


It was getting ridiculous, this loss of perspective every time he looked at her.


He sighed and promised himself once more that he would say his goodbyes.


*** *** ***


“It ‘paghetti Puttanesca,” Olivia told him in that stilted way of hers, voice soft and sweet despite the odd intonations. Alex didn’t have the heart to tell her he’d eaten Puttanesca in Rome, in some of the finest restaurants and served by chefs of world renown.


“Lovely, my dear. Thank you for inviting me.”


“No pwoblem. You need feeding,” came her reply. He shot her a dry look that he couldn’t hold, not in the face of her smile as she set the platter of pasta on the kitchen table.


A kitchen table, Alex marveled. He’d never eaten in a kitchen, certainly not back at Marstone House, where only the servants did that, nor at the home of any of his friends. They all had formal dining rooms and fancy parties in them.


But here—the coziness of it all left him feeling delighted. The windows were open, café curtains fluttering in the breeze from off the ocean, and carrying the scent of tomato sauce to him. The setting sun cast a golden glow in the room, and Alex felt his mouth water a bit. He looked over at Olivia at the stove, working on grating parmesan and a wave of longing and desire stole over him at the sight of her.


She was cooking for him. Pamela had never done that—he rather doubted his wife even knew how to cook—and in any case she would have much rather have dined out somewhere to be seen. But Olivia was there, working hard on the lump of cheese, her hips shifting a little as she fussed with the grater. Alex let his gaze move admiringly from her sandaled feet and up the back of her legs to her beautiful rounded bottom showcased nicely in pink Capri pants.


He felt like a cad, to be openly ogling her, but dear God, it was so damnably perfect, and flexing so sweetly as she grated—


“Alec?” came her question, and he blushed, shifting his gaze hurriedly to her face. He nodded quickly, so she knew he’d heard her, and she waved at the bottle of wine on the counter next to her. “Open?”


He smiled, and rose, happy to be of service. Carefully he rolled up his sleeves and checked the label; a California wine of course, but more than acceptable even for that. A lovely blush out of the Napa Valley—not cheap, either. Alex felt a twinge of pleasure at the thought that she had wanted to make the meal special.


This last meal.


He carefully laid a hand on her arm to get her attention. “Corkscrew?” he asked politely. She pointed to a drawer and went back to grating the cheese, her gaze shifting from her work to him, and in her glances Alex swore he could see a hint of sorrow there.


So much in Olivia’s big blue eyes.


It hadn’t been easy at times, working out communicating. He’d picked up a few quick signs, and they’d each begun carrying little spiral notepads, but even then there were moments when it was all just a matter of looking at each other, and somehow finding the connection. In the six weeks they’d spent time together it had slowly gotten easier, and faster; they’d reached a synchronicity, an undeniable bond.


God he was going to miss it.


Slowly Alex found the corkscrew and set himself to peeling off the lead cap over the cork, taking his time. He hoped that by moving deliberately, maybe the entire evening would take on a leisurely pace. Next to him, Olivia stopped, and dusted the grater down into the little bowl in front of her. She reached out a hand to his forearm, lean and exposed now, and ever so gently stroked it—a quick, careless caress.


“I will mi’ you,” she murmured, without looking at him.


Alex closed his eyes for a quick moment, fighting the pang of pleasure at her touch and the ache at her words. She’d said exactly what he’d been feeling at almost exactly the same time—with anyone else it would have been mere coincidence, but not with Olivia.


Taking a breath and regaining control, he carefully drove the corkscrew in with more force than it needed.


*** *** ***


It was by their second glasses of wine that Alex realized Olivia was flirting with him. More so than her usual saucy wink and smile; no, this was something far more devastating in the soft twilight and glow of the single candle on their table. The breeze had turned cooler, and most of the spaghetti was gone now—whatever remained would be saved in Tupperware for Gil and Ernie when they got back on Monday.


All that was left was the wine, and not much of that, Alex noted. He deliberately propped his elbows on the table, amused at getting away with bad manners and leaned over to look at her. “You are beautiful, and slightly cruel, Olivia Grissom.”


Her chuckle held a note of sadness, and she let her hands flare out in a pacifying manner even as she blushed. “Not cwuel. Jus . . . sad. Tings won’ be de sambe wifou’ you, Alec.”


He frowned. “Let’s not speak of it, my dear—the prospect is equally bleak for me.” He reached over for her hand and took it. The gesture was meant as a simple one of comfort between friends, but Alex sighed at the feel of her strong, warm fingers sliding to interweave with his, her grip a perfect match to his own. The soothing peace shifted as her fingers tickled the back of his hand.


Alex retaliated by doing the same to hers, and Olivia’s lashes fluttered in surprise when he let his thumb caress the tender skin at her wrist as well, stroking the pulse point very gently. He made sure she was looking at him as he very gently accused her. “You’re trying to seduce me, Olivia Grissom.”


To her credit, she didn’t say anything—at least not verbally—but her mouth pursed slightly; a kiss in the offing, and the heated sparkle in her eyes held both desire and tears. Alex felt his breath catch in his throat as he stared at her for a long, timeless moment.


“Oh Alec de Montave’o—“ she replied, “You are too—“


He blinked, and heat flooded through him as a wide, giddy grin crossed his face in light of her observation.


By God he was. Stunned at his own daring, he arched an eyebrow at her, and she rolled her eyes, smirking.


“And yettt, it’s workin’,” came her husky response, making him laugh. He squeezed her fingers lightly in his.


“Re-ally?” he asked, still smiling, “Are you sure it’s not just the wine?”


In reply, Olivia took his other hand, and touched the ornate gold band on his left hand.


Alex flinched.


She gave a little sigh, and her whisper slipped out easily. “For to’nigh—ta’ it off.”


He didn’t hesitate. Alex let go of her hand and carefully worked himself free of the ring, slipping it over his knuckle and off his finger after a tug or two. He glanced up, and very deliberately dropped it onto the flickering candle; the heavy band slid down the white shaft of the taper, lodging two thirds of the way down.


Olivia looked at it, then turned her gaze back to him, her smile tremulous, but all the more beautiful for the shy longing in it. “Now I hab you until morning.”


“Olivia, darling—“ He felt his pulse pound hard, and the sweet thick flood of desire in him surged so fast it brought with it a tint of pain. She rose up and stepped closer, slipping her arms around his shoulders, pulling his head to her chest.


Alex closed his eyes. His arms slipped around her small waist and he rested his cheek against the sweet pillow of her breasts through the thin blouse. The scent of her; musk, a tint of soap and a dash of Shalimar filled his nose and he made a small, helplessly happy sound.


Slowly her hands stroked his long hair, playing with the waves, caressing him gently, and sweet conflict flooded him. The comfort, yes, the blissful peace of holding Olivia; this harbor, this haven, this home--


While relentlessly, restlessly under that roared the urgent desire so long denied. Alex hugged her more tightly; fingers spreading along her small back, hungry for the warm feel of her here in the semidarkness of the kitchen.


Olivia tugged his hair gently, tipping his face up. By sweet, slow degrees, she lowered her mouth onto his, the barest brush of lip to lip; hardly enough to qualify as a kiss.


Electrifying. Alex rose up, breath mingling with hers, knocking his chair over behind him in his haste. He scooped her up into his arms and kissed her again, without thought or doubt, seeking her mouth as naturally as if it had been made to match his.


Olivia gave a soft, thrilled whimper.


They stood entwined in the guttering light of the candle, lost in each other; hungry and seeking more with each desperate kiss. Alex had never felt such direct passion in his life—not even for Art--and the headiness left him slightly disoriented. All he really knew was that whatever this was, Olivia felt it too, and was just as caught up in it.


He cupped a hand at the back of her delicate neck and moved his mouth from hers, making sure she could see his face as he spoke. “Olivia—I don’t want to compromise you—“


She nibbled his lower lip and Alex shuddered, pulling her harder to him. Boldly Olivia clung to him, pressing her hips against his. “Oh damn it to hell woman!” he growled, “I’m trying to be noble—“


“I don’ wan noble. I wan you Alec,” Olivia sighed. “Come to bet.”


And that settled it.


*** *** ***


Getting undressed took some time. Not because he and Olivia weren’t interested, but simply because they kept getting sidetracked by each new section of exposed flesh, and each demanded time to touch and explore the bounty.


The streetlight out beyond the bedroom window left enough light to see, and give the bedroom a sweet dimness as well. Alex stood still for a moment as Olivia undid the buttons of his shirt and pulled it off of him. He’d accepted his Spanish genetics as a matter of course, and yet under Olivia’s awed scrutiny, Alex felt almost virginal.


Olivia seemed fascinated by the calligraphy of his silky dark hair as it lay along his arms and legs. The swirls of glossy fur ran in a meandering vine down his pale stomach and over his flat, small navel, connecting the soft expanse that covered his breastbone between his pectorals down to the yet unseen thick, wiry nest framing his cock.


She ran her fingers along the trail of it in a teasing fashion, leaning closer, pressing her lips to one erect nipple, pleased to feel him gasp in response. Alex felt it was only fair to enjoy the moment, and immediately retaliate by reaching for the front of her blouse. She arched her neck, letting him pluck the buttons open and reveal the well-filled pink cotton bra underneath.


He held his breath, and the pounding of his pulse in his ears was so loud Alex could barely hear anything else. Then Olivia took his hands, planted them firmly around her chest, and shot him a sweetly smutty look.




“I . . . never had a doubt—“ came his stunned reply before he ran reverent fingers up the slopes and hooked them under the straps at her shoulders. With a tug, the bra straps came down the sides of her arms, and Alex bent to kiss the sweet valley between the exposed tops of her breasts.


Olivia mewled like a kitten, quivering at every gentle press of his mouth and when he moved it up the side of her neck, she was nearly limp with arousal. Gratified that he was pleasing her, Alex slid his hands down her back and finally permitted himself the opportunity to very firmly squeeze those glorious rounded curves . . .


Perfect. His hands fit them exactly, and the only frustrating aspect was that they were still encased in the Capri pants. A few fumbles later, and he found the zipper along the side and tugged it down; Olivia helped him, pushing the fabric from her hips and letting it fall to the bedroom carpet. Alex sighed, drinking in the way the dim light caught the edge of her curves, kissing them with silver and bringing depth to the intimate lines of her body.


He not only wanted her, Alex wanted to draw her, by God.


His fingers momentarily itched for a stick of charcoal or a pen; anything to catch the interplay of shadow and light as it tinted the beauty of Olivia Grissom’s flared hips and tangle of fur between them. But his attention shifted when she took his hand from her hip and kissed it; the warmth of her mouth against his fingertips brought him back to the urgent desire flushing his skin.


Then she giggled, and tugged him to her; they tumbled across the bed in a happy collision of hand and hips and lips. Alex pulled Olivia across him, and savored the press of bare skin. It was exhilarating not only because it had been such a very long time since he’d made love, but more importantly that it was Olivia under him, petite and alive.


He laughed against her shoulder, kissing it, working his way back to her mouth and spoke clearly, making sure she could see his face. “Birth control, my sweet seducer?”


She let her fingers stroke his shoulders, her short nails bringing up goosebumps with her light strokes. “I’m on da Pill fo’ mi-gwaines.”


Alex brushed the hair back from his face and nodded, unexpectedly pleased at this bit of luck and feeling a fresh surge of hot anticipation rise along the tense muscles of his stomach. He caught her in his arms and kissed her again, letting his tongue toy with hers in a playful little dance. Olivia kissed back, one hand slithering down to undo his trousers, but sliding instead to caress the length of him encased under the summer weight linen.


He flexed, thrusting against her hand eagerly, and gasped when she cupped her hand and rubbed. The pleasure left Alex breathless and he fought not to give in utterly. Gently, he pulled her hand away and brought it to his mouth, kissing it and shaking his head. Olivia nodded, but the little smile of delight told him she understood his struggle.


With care, she helped Alex slide his slacks and boxers off, making soft little murmurs in the semi-darkness as she did so. When at last they lay naked together, skin to skin, he shifted to his side and gently stroked her from shoulder to hip, marveling in the heat that rose from her soft skin. Olivia did the same to him, and her smile was a lovely blend of delight and desire; Alex knew that the memory of it would always make him throb.


She took his hand and tugged. “Alec—“


Oh yes. Carefully, deliberately he rose up and settled between her shapely thighs, stroking them open, feeling the tremble in them. He bowed his head, suddenly aware of being more alive at that moment than he had been in years. All of it mingled in his senses; her body; his body; the smell of salt water and musk, the rustle of the sheets, the gleam of light on skin, the slow inevitable drive of man to woman, heart to pounding heart.


Olivia pulled his hips, and with one deliberate thrust Alexander de Montavallo joined his body with hers, his pleasured groan deep and grateful.


*** *** ***


He lost track of time, and of place. All he knew, all he wanted, was here in this petite firebrand who touched him and kissed him and did things no woman had ever done to and with him before. Alex lay back hours later, exhausted but refreshed and amazed that he still wanted her; still had stamina.


Next to him in the dim pre-dawn light, Olivia slept, her legs entangled with his, her bare breasts exposed and tempting. He studied her and let himself drift in the tenderness welling up inside him.


She was unforgettable, truly.


Twin urges rose up in him, and Alex smirked to himself, looking down at his body. Silently he chided his eager response—three encounters were enough for the moment--and carefully slid out of bed. He tugged on his trousers and made his way to the bathroom, amused at how Bohemian he looked now—graying hair in a curly tangle at his shoulders, definite sparkle in his eye. He washed his face and stepped out again, looking for paper, for pen.


In the end, the small spiral notepad frustrated him, and Alex took liberties.


When Olivia opened her eyes, she noted it was after dawn, and the pink light was just beginning to fill the bedroom. The second thing she realized was that she was alone in the bed. She drew in a shaky breath and closed her eyes again, fighting the sharp sting of tears.



Gone. He was gone.


The pain hit her hard, and she rolled to her side, reaching blindly for her pillow, wanting to smother out the sobs in quiet solitude. As she did so though, Olivia caught a glimpse of a lean bare back, muscles flexing, arms moving—


Astonished, she sat up, blinking away her tears as she watched a half-naked Alex draw on her bedroom wall. Indignation rose up as she realized he was using her best Conté A Paris Charcoal pencils with abandon, doing little sketches willy nilly over the plaster . . .


--Sketches of her.


Of them.


In some very compromising situations.


She yelped and scrambled across the mattress, tumbling out of bed in a tangle of sheets, trying to stop him. Alex turned and flashed her a smile.


God. It was a smile of such utter freedom, lighting up his entire face and bringing out the aristocratic beauty of the man that she paused. He cupped her chin with his hand and leaned over to kiss her.


“My love. Sorry, but I was torn between ravishing you once again, or channeling my joy into commemorating our passion in a more sedate manner. My God you look delicious!”


She could have said the same of him as he stood there, barefoot and furry-chested, a charcoal pencil tucked behind one ear, the others clutched loosely in his soot-stained fingers. He laughed, and touched her chin again. “I’ve smudged you—“


“Alec, you . . . my WA’!” she protested faintly.


“I’ll paint over it if you like, no matter. I’ve got all of it and more, right here—“ he tapped his breastbone lightly. “I’m sorry, love, but I’ll put it right.”


Olivia shook her head impatiently and rose to examine the pictures he’d sketched, moving closer to study them.


They were simple, but with power in the smoky colored strokes, clean lines that suggested more than they detailed, and the images were of unmistakable moments of passion. She felt heat flushing her face as she examined one drawing that showed her astride Alex, arching back in passion, eyes closed, long lines of her throat perfectly drawn.


“I . . . I nevah loo’ li’ dat!” came her half-hearted protest. Alex slipped behind her and nuzzled her neck, his body pressing against her bare one. He turned her face to look at him.


“Yes you did. Olivia, I saw you with my eyes and with my heart. I’m an artist; trust my vision, hmmm?”


She thought of a thousand protests and they all died away as she reached to kiss him.


*** *** ***


Within a month it was settled. Contractors had been hired to add on two bedrooms, a loft and a garage to the little starter home on Del Oro Lane in Marina Del Rey. Trevor had arrived with Sir Alex’s summer wardrobe and personal effects; the household goods were in transit. Another phone line had been installed, and new business and calling cards had been ordered.


The boy watched it all with quiet delight and a few troubled worries; the worries lessened each time he saw them together.


On one long sunset walk down along the beach, Alex carried his ring in his pocket. He and Olivia went down to the rocks that formed a natural jetty out along the surf, climbing onto them. They stood looking out over the setting sun, watching the tangerine and scarlet bleed across the ripples.


Alex took the heavy ring out and threw it hard, watching it twinkle as it sailed out over the water in a long arc and dropped into the foamy crest of a distant wave. He turned away, looking at the woman beside him, his expression solemn.


“She won’t give me a divorce.”


“It alwight.”


“No, it’s not. But as long as I live, Olivia, it will be with you.”


“Yes,” she said clearly, and wrapped her arms around him.


They stood entwined together on the rocks until the soft mauve of twilight rose around them, and the first stars came out in the darkening sky.


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