This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
The flight to Oakland arrived twenty minutes early. Laney stopped by the
ladies room, and when she came out, her heart was beating faster than normal. It
had been seventy-seven days, four hours and forty-five minutes since her last visit
to Oakland. The excitement of seeing the only man she’d ever loved was finally at
Laney walked toward the baggage claim area with a stride that was a notch
above a stroll. She glanced at the crowd gathered near the baggage carousel, but
didn’t see him. She’d never responded to any man the way she had to Raphael
Baptiste. Flummox was the first word that filtered through her mind the moment
they met. Before she’d entered the first grade, she knew the meaning of the word.
Now she understood how it felt.
For the last ten years, she’d been consumed with her research and never had
time for a man in her life. All of her energy and passion had been channeled into
continuing the investigative study her mother began before she died. She’d been
just as driven as her mother had been to discover a cure for the congenital birth
defect she’d been born. If the countless research hours meant another child
wouldn’t suffer the same fate, then the sacrifices she’d made in her personal life
weren’t in vain.
Sensuality and masculinity permeated through Raphael Baptiste. Simply
put, the man exuded sex. Now Laney understood why women chased after him,
but it didn’t mean she had to be one of them. She knew she was in trouble when
her out-of-control hormones kicked into full gear and she fell hard for the man
who’d told her upfront he’d never settle down with any woman. Therein was her
dilemma. A causal affair wasn’t on her agenda. Although she loved Raphael to
distraction, what he wanted wasn’t what she desired. She wasn’t a snob, but she’d
never sacrifice her two best friends—self-respect and dignity—in the name of love.
Laney knew it was unlike Raphael to be late for anything. Since she didn’t
own a cell phone, she headed off toward the bank of telephones a few feet away.
Her steps slowed and halted altogether when she heard the familiar baritone voice
call out from behind.
“Whatcha doing Red? Ignoring me, again?”
Laney gasped for air. Her heart pumped at a laborious rhythm and the
sudden thud against her ribcage packed so much force it hurt.
Speechless, Laney turned and allowed her gaze to roam over a neatly
trimmed five o’clock shadow, café-au-lait skin and shoulder-length dreads. Gold
hoops in each ear with layers of gold chains on one wrist would be too much on
any other man. On Raphael, it was perfect. She never took her eyes off his lean
carriage, which moved with graceful agility. It wasn’t the tailored wool slacks,
cashmere sweater or Italian leather slippers that took her breath away. It was the
intense masculine expression, which assessed her from top to bottom. She stood
still acutely aware of the appraisal, though it didn’t reveal appreciation or
disproval. If she knew nothing else about Raphael, she knew one thing—he was a
private man whose thoughts were very much his own. She tried to speak, but her
words lodged somewhere between her larynx and throat. Her second attempt
faired much better. “Hello, Raphael.”
Ray tsked. “You know, you’re the only woman who calls me Raphael.”
Laney had never been particularly fond of nicknames, but the one Raphael
always referred to her by caused a smile to tug at the corner of her lips. “You’re the
only man who calls me Red.”
“Oh my, God. It’s Ray LaSalle,” a female fan screamed. She ran up to Ray,
nearly knocking Laney over and held out a piece of paper and a pen. “Can I have
Ray flashed a mega-watt gleam and honored the request. After the giddy fan
skipped off, he turned to Laney with his arms folded over his chest. “See, most
women call me Ray.”
“I’ve told you before, I’m not most women.”
Oh, you got that one right, Ray thought. He’d seen her the moment she walked
into the baggage claim area, and the sight of her slammed him in the gut from
twenty feet away. She’d draped her jacket over one arm, and his intense
observation was unobstructed. The silk wrap-around dress with a puffed collar
stopped right above her knees. God, to be so petite she had the prettiest legs he’d
Ray let his gaze trail upward to her eyes. From day one, those green pools
reminded him of polished emeralds. Every time he stared into them, he felt as
though he were drowning. They held an unusual calmness. At times, they
appeared dreamy, but with acute alertness and enormous intelligence.
Occasionally they twinkled with amusement, but there wasn’t a damn thing funny
about the way she’d ignored him all these months. He stepped forward, seizing the
chance to touch her when she swayed a bit, and curved his hand around her upper
arm. “You been good?”
“Yes.” Laney shuddered from his touch. His closeness brought forth the
scent of his aftershave, and she called on every ounce of reserve she could muster.
Her eyes locked with his. The shade wasn’t an ordinary blue, just a slight hint of
gray. Slate blue. “How about you?”
Ray stepped closer. “Good.”
They remained silent and faced each other like rival gang members about to
square off over a territory dispute. From day one, she’d captivated him from the
top of her red silky hair, which ended mid-way down her back to the bottom of
her tiny, narrow feet. The slow closing and opening of her eyelids was
mesmerizing. Thick, long lashes swept against high chiseled cheekbones speckled
with freckles, which also were scattered along her collarbone. So far, the red hue of
her hair was the loudest thing about her. Her raspy voice hugged him, and the few
words she’d spoken were conveyed in a soft, genteel drawl.
“Let’s get your luggage,” Ray said, breaking the soundless confrontation. He
nodded at the baggage carousel. “How many pieces did you check?”
Laney stared up at him, but couldn’t think, clearly. “Luggage?”
Ray chuckled. “Yeah. You know the thing you put your clothes in.”
Slowly, sanity returned. There was no excuse for this type of behavior.
Laney knew she should’ve been embarrassed for staring, but wasn’t. Then she
noticed her garment bag on the black conveyor belt and headed over to get it.
Ray tried to tell her he was on it, but his brain refused to cooperate with his
mouth the moment she sauntered off. He planted his feet in a firm stance and
sucked in a deep breath. “Mary, mother of Jesus,” he whispered, making the sign of
the cross. Laney was walking provocation. His gaze settled on her behind, which
rode a tad bit high up her backside. He promised not to look too long, but couldn’t
help himself. The slow, lazy roll of her hips was breathtaking. Lord, what he
wouldn’t give— He crushed the thought and took another deep breath.
Ray stepped forward and stood next to Laney. He’d had a few moments to
get his thoughts together, but barely. Plus, it wasn’t everyday he was in the
presence of a child prodigy who’d pioneered a medical breakthrough. The fact
she’d accomplished in ten years what usually took researchers a lifetime to achieve
came as no surprise. Hell, Laney had completed college by the time he’d even
begun. Her research efforts had led to the discovery of a cure for amniotic band
syndrome, the birth defect she’d been born with. And in less than two weeks,
she’d be the youngest female physician ever to be awarded the Nobel Prize in
Ray allowed his gaze to roam over her profile. No, this sista definitely wasn’t
Hollywood plastered with pounds of make-up. A shiny coat of lip-gloss was it.
Nor was she weighted down with multi-karat bling-bling. A pair of pearl studs
was the only jewelry she wore. Pretty was the only term to describe her face,
which possessed an abundance of radiance and liveliness, and easily promoted her
to the category of downright sexy. Not even the absence of her index and middle
fingers on her right hand detracted from her beauty. And the tiny pierced diamond
on the right side of her narrow nose wasn’t bad, either.
He’d been so captivated, he never noticed Laney trying to lift a second piece
of luggage off the conveyor belt. He reached out and caught her by the waist when
the heavy weight caused her to stumble backwards. Her startled cry at his abrupt
movement made her grab his forearm. His mouth went dry and sweat beads
surfaced on his forehead. A thick, fierce tension stretched between them, but he
wouldn’t let go. “Red…”
Laney turned to face him. An open lust burned in his eyes. At that moment,
a sharp realization hit her. He felt some of the same turmoil she’d felt for months.
The fact they stood in the middle of the airport was the only reason she babbled an
apology. “I—I’m sorry. I should’ve—”
“It’s all right,” Ray lied. His tone was hoarse and barely audible. He stepped
back, grabbed the handle on the roller luggage with one hand and placed the other
at the small of her back to guide her toward the exit door.
Never in his life had any a woman messed him up so bad he couldn’t think
straight. This wasn’t attraction. It was a gut-wrenching emotion so foreign to him,
he was scared shitless. Laney wasn’t dangerous.
She was deadly.
Ray admitted a hardcore truth on the spot. If he wasn’t careful, he might
very well do something really stupid—like kiss bachelorhood goodbye.
A couple of days later, Ray drove Laney back to her grandfather’s home in
Blackhawk, a gated community in San Ramon, California after Thanksgiving
dinner with his family. If he’d had any sense, he would’ve seen her safely inside the
Georgian colonial, split-level estate nestled on four acres, then hit the road
Ray knew the best way to survive the next seven days was to place some
distance between him and Laney, and he’d promised to limit his interaction with
her. Lunacy overruled lucidity when she held the door open, an unspoken
invitation to enter.
Oh, hell, who was he fooling? He’d wanted to be alone with her all day. He
followed as she led them through the grand foyer, past an array of original oil
paintings and into the family room. The moment he glanced over at the sofa where
she’d settled and saw that half-crocked smile, it was all she wrote. Before he knew
it, he’d skidded across the pristine wide-plank hardwood floors and sat at her side.
Laney glanced over at Ray’s profile. “Raphael, you seemed distant at dinner.
Is everything all right?”
No, everything wasn’t all right, Ray mused. He’d been in pain most of the
day, but there was no need to saddle Laney with his misery. If it were any other
night, he would’ve suggested they go out to a club in San Francisco. Maybe being
around other people would diffuse his focus on her, ease a little of the tension he’d
felt being in her presence. Then again, maybe it wouldn’t. If he ran to the farthest
end of the earth, it still wouldn’t be enough distance to concentrate on anything
other than her.
Damn her pretty, freckled-faced soul.
Ray stared into the green, bottomless eyes and lost it. Before he knew it, he
whispered, “Je pourrais tomber dans l'amour avec vous.” He’d never confessed those
words to any woman. Ever.
His gaze was so intense, Laney had to look away. Her body temperature
rose, responding to his voice and what he’d uttered. “Could you fall in love with
Irritation threaded down Ray’s spine so swift, he bolted to his feet in an
instant, causing his feet to tangle together. “Why the hell didn’t you tell me you
spoke French before now?”
“You never asked,” she said, her eyes a bit dreamy. “Does it bother you that I
“Ya damn skippy it bothers me!”
Whenever Ray wanted to verbalize his feelings without others knowing it,
he’d shift to the language he spoke as fluently as English. Laney had innocently
invaded his territory, his inner space, and he was caught off guard. “Why?” he cried
out in mock indignation, plopping back on the sofa. “A man needs to know that
kind of information in advance. You can’t just spring it on him.”
“Would you have said what you said, if you knew I spoke French?”
Laney’s point-blank query staggered Ray. Plus, she’d just busted him out
and did it with a smile so sweet it was sinful. He was about to put her on full blast
until he glanced over and noticed her expression. It was the one he feared most.
Whenever her face took on that calm, angelic appearance, she was either blistering
mad or up to mischief. Most times, it was difficult for him to tell which was
which, until it was too late. A faint alarm went off inside his head. This was no
dummy he was dealing with. Laney’s I.Q. placed her at the genius level. “Are there
any other languages you speak?”
A soft smile crinkled her eyes. “English and French are it, so you’re safe.”
Laney tilted her head sideways. “You never answered my question, Raphael.”
Ray looked straight ahead and remained silent. Finally, he posed a question
of his own. “For months, you’ve avoided me like I’ve got a contagious disease.
The crispness in Ray’s voice didn’t faze Laney a bit. She merely smiled at
him. “I wouldn’t call it avoidance.”
Before he knew it, Ray made the mistake of inhaling her sweet baby-fresh
scent. No doubt the sheets on her bed smelled the same way. His body responded
strongly to the thought, and he muttered a string of oaths in French for the
inability to do nothing more than wish. He gave her a measured look. “All right.
What would you call it?”
Laney kept her head down and prayed her blush would subside. What was
it about this man that caused endless nights of erotic fantasies? “Preserving my
“What the hell is that suppose to mean?” he asked in a low, rough voice.
Because their relationship was tenuousness, with her grandfather serving as
the only common link between them, Laney had promised never to reveal her true
feelings. But his last question opened the gate of truth, and she walked in, closing
it behind her. “You’ve proven that when it comes to women, the only thing you’re
interested in is someone to warm your bed. Unfortunately, that’s not what I’m
Ray clenched his fist. He wanted her so fiercely, his entire body ached. “So,
you think all I want from you is sex?”
“Only you can answer that question, Raphael. However, regardless of what I
think or what you want, I hope we’ll always be friends.”
Friends. Ray snatched his head around, peering over a pair of yellow-tinted
Dolce Gabbana frames with narrowed eyes. “Uuh, wanna roll what you just said
by me, again.”
Laney lifted her chin as a militant gaze shone in her eyes and repeated her
Ray sucked his teeth. “Hmm-hmm. That’s what I thought you said.” Before
he knew it, he was on his feet. Reaching out, he plucked Laney off the sofa as
though she weighed no more than a feather and hauled her next to him. “Girl, I
can’t sleep at night. My nerves are shot. I haven’t been with a woman since the day
you waltzed into my life, and you’re sitting here telling me you hope we can be
friends? He pulled her so close, the warmth of his breath brushed over her cheeks.
“Damnit Red, I get hard just thinking about you. So, hell no! There’s no way we can
ever be friends.”
Laney shivered as her body responded to his words, even though they’d been
uttered in aggravation. The silence between them was awkward. Laney took a step
back and headed toward the patio door. She turned and smiled at him, again.
“You’re welcome to join me, if you like.”
Ray watched her leave the room. The slow roll of her hips caused beads of
sweat to break out on his forehead. He started to follow, but knew he needed a
moment to get his head together. A slow rhythmic squeak caught his attention a
few moments later. Quietly, he slid the door open and stepped outside. Not even
the chilly night air cooled him off. He stopped a few feet from Laney who sat on a
white swing with her eyes closed, smiling. He leaned his shoulder against a post
and watched. To save Jesus, he couldn’t look away. Right then and there, he knew
his resolve had hit rock bottom.
Honesty shot through him like a stray bullet, demolishing his sense and
shattering the one vital organ he’d never allowed a woman to ever get close to—his
heart. His two older brothers had warned him. They’d told him about the day a
woman would come along and knock him to his knees. Did he listen? Oh, no. In
fact, he’d laughed in their faces. “Red, we need to talk.”
Laney kept her eyes closed. A few seconds passed before she softly said, “All
right, but there’s an important question I need the answer to, first.”
“Talk to me.”
“Could you fall in love with me?”
Ray pushed away from the post and sat next to her. His weight caused the
swing to dip and sway. With his left foot, he took control of the motion, rocking
back and forth. His senses were raw, his emotions exposed. “Hell, yeah.”
That’s all she needed to hear. Things were settled now. Laney took no
offense at his silence. She understood he needed time to come to terms with his
feelings. She firmly believed an innate knowing was buried deep down inside of
every human spirit. They were meant for each other. He was hers and she was his.
It was as simple as that.
In the clairvoyant way she saw things, Laney went for broke. She turned and
stared him straight in the eyes and gave him a private smile, one she’d never offered
any other man. “And if you hadn’t thought about marrying me, I suggest you do.”
Marriage? They hadn’t even kissed yet, and she was already talking about
jumping the broom. If he were a sane man, he’d be up and running toward the
front door, if he didn’t want the next words out of his mouth to be “I do.” Ray
didn’t budge. And what shocked him even more was he never once thought to
laugh out loud or tell her she was crazy as hell. With other women, he had mind-
blowing, back arching sex. He’d stayed clear of any serious commitments and
always made his position clear up front that he was an “into the moment” man.
Well, that was then and this was now.
Ray avoided relationships because he feared it would interfere with his one
passion in life, his music. Music was absorbing, and he threw himself into it the
same way he did with his personal life, with control. Whenever he sensed a
woman wanted anything beyond a casual affair, he simply ended things and moved
But Laney Olivia Houston was different from the women in his past.
Everything about her, appealed to him. There was nothing overtly sexual about
her. He was familiar with desire, had experience the physical side of it before he
turned seventeen. What he felt for Laney had absolutely nothing to do with sex.
The nameless emotion was real and too strong to walk away from. A man would
be stupid to ignore the magnetic attraction between them. He was a lot of things,
but a fool, he wasn’t. Laney came at him straight up, without a chaser. She hadn’t
thrown herself at him or chased after him the way other women had.
Ray accepted what he’d denied for months. This southern belle was one bad
mama jamma and had straight up dropped a bomb on him.
The next morning around five, Laney walked next to Ray, their fingers
entwined, toward the front door. The fact her grandfather offered them an evening
of privacy made last night perfect. They’d stayed up most of the night and talked.
She learned more about Raphael Baptiste in the past eight hours than she had the
last twelve months. Just before dawn, she fell asleep in his arms. Over a gourmet
breakfast of cheese omelet smothered in a mushroom-cream sauce, which Raphael
prepared, they decided to spend a few days together in Stockholm, Sweden after
the Nobel Prize award ceremony. And when he extended an invitation to dinner
this evening, she accepted without hesitation.
The moment Raphael opened the door and walked out, she felt alone and
empty. She hadn’t realized her body was capable of a sensation this strong for
anything other than her medical research. The feeling was both electrifying and
terrifying. They stood on the porch and faced each other, only inches apart.
Breathing swiftly, Ray stared down at her. His expression was hard and sensual,
his eyes dilated with arousal. “See you later tonight.”
Laney couldn’t speak. On shaky legs, she nodded, her entire body aching.
Hunger rose swift. Patience had never been his best virtue. Ray knew
thirteen hours stood between now and the chance to witness Laney’s beauty and
hold her, again. Fire and desire connected and swept him into oblivion. “I need to
kiss you,” he whispered and pulled one of her arms around his neck. He circled his
arm around her narrow waist and pulled her hard against him. “Just once…”
Laney molded against him as though it were the most natural thing in the
world to do. It felt right. This wasn’t an “I’ll see you later kiss.” It was hard and
deep. She drew her other arm around him and hung on for dear life. The nerves in
her legs shut down, and she couldn’t support her weight, even if she wanted to.
The force of his mouth opened hers, and she knew this couldn’t be any more
perfect than if she’d landed in heaven.
Laney could care less if anyone saw them. Raphael increased the pressure on
her lips, placed her head more securely into the cradle of his shoulder and
unleashed all the sensuality she recognized in him from the beginning.
She matched his fervor. Her heart slowed then sped to a thunderous pace.
His shudder made her release a low, sweet groan. Inches separated them. She
stared at him as a spike-tipped breath stabbed her lungs and opened her mouth.
His eyes radiated arousal, his lips still wet from the moisture of their kiss. He
trailed his index finger down her cheek. “Later.”
“No,” Ray uttered, raggedly and shook his head hard. “Go back in the house,
mon ange.” His hair-triggered nerves were about to detonate any second. Damnit,
the way she’d whispered his name, with that sweet inflection in her voice, had just
about sent him over the edge and destroyed what little control he had left. He
loosened her and stepped back. “The environment’s real bad right now. Go.”
My angel. She contemplated a refusal, but nodded her compliance instead.
His kiss had produced a level of delirium she hadn’t expected and certainly had
never experienced. She turned and walked toward the still the opened door. Her
eyes were drowsy, her lips swollen from his kiss. She thought she would cry on the
spot she loved him that much.
Ray returned to his estate thirty minutes later. The northbound drive up
Interstate 680 was the most difficult one he’d ever made. He unlocked the door,
bracing his back against it almost before it was shut and closed his eyes. Lord, the
woman who’d dominated his thoughts by day and his dreams by night had been
right there in his arms, willing and ready, and he’d walked away. Daaayuuum.
Blissfully tired, he swaggered up the staircase to the master bedroom and tossed
his keys and cell phone on the nightstand. Reclining on the bed in a spread eagle
position, he laced his hands behind his head, smiling. With Laney, it wasn’t about
touching her nor having sex. If he was going down this road, he wanted, no
correction, needed to do things the right way.
Ray rolled to his side toward the nightstand and lifted the receiver off the
base. He punched in a number and listened to three rings.
“Mon frère, are you up?”
The insistent ringing had awakened Alex Robinson from a dead sleep. “Ray,
it’s six the morning. Hell no, I’m not up!”
Ray swung his arm up and glanced at his watch. “My bad. Listen, player, I
need a favor.”
“Ray, I don’t do favors before eight.”
“All right, it’s a minute after nine. Now listen up, will you?”
Alex sleepily yawned in the phone. “Shoot.”
“Let my security detail know I’m heading to Stockholm. Red and I are going
to hang out there after the ceremony.”
Alex chuckled. “How is it that come hell or high water, somehow you
always manage to land in a woman’s bed?”
“Shut up, mon frère,” Ray growled, growing testy. “Red…she don’t roll like
Alex burst into laughter. “Aaah, have you finally admitted to yourself what
everyone else has known for months?”
“Look, mon frère. You need to stay in your lane. It’s too early for a freeway
“Huh…yeah, right.” Alex snickered. “Anything else?”
If Ray heard the question, he didn’t answer. His thoughts were solely on the
woman who’d clung and kissed him with such passion, he doubted if sleep would
come any time soon. Although it had taken every ounce of self-control he had to do
the honorable thing, if she’d looked back just once, to hell with good intentions.
She’d be lying under him and his bed would be tore up from the floor up, but not
out of frustration. “Go back to sleep. I’ll talk with you later.”
Ray placed the receiver back on the base, undressed and slipped between
the sheets. Never in his life had he felt like this. He was a sensualist and knew his
body well. Since the day Laney walked into his life, he’d been so physically
frustrated for her there was never a thought of being with any other woman. For
twelve long months all he’d dreamed about was red hair, green eyes and flawless
butter-smoothed skin. At that moment, the vision was too much for him to bear.
Ray prayed he didn’t dream too hard about Laney…at least before he got a
few hours of shut-eye.
Friday morning Ray sat inside the private office of his personal physician.
The incessant wait for his eleven o’clock appointment was as nerve-wracking as
being hauled in front of a firing squad.
Sweaty palms methodically smoothed out the arrow-straight crease in his
slack. Every once in a while his Italian loafers tapped against the carpeted floor to
a one—two beat. Ray wasn’t sure what hurt the most, the ache in his groin or the
knots in his shoulders.
Ray sprung to his feet the moment the door hinge squeaked. “Okay, doc.
You’re going to give me a clean bill of health, right?”
Dr. DiMaggio walked inside and sat in a brown leather chair behind his
desk with a drawn face. He motioned at the chair behind Ray. “Ray, as much as I’d
like to tell you everything is okay, I’m afraid I can’t. Your condition is more serious
than I’d initial thought.”
Ray sat heavily. “You mean I don’t have a pulled groin?”
Dr. DiMaggio shook his head sideways.
“Well, whatever is wrong, won’t a prescription take care of it?
“Ray, medicine won’t solve your problem entirely. I wanted to wait until I
got the results of your lab reports and ultrasound before I confirmed your
diagnosis. Ray you have—”
“Bed rest,” Ray interrupted followed by a snap of the finger. He chuckled
nervously. “That’s all I need to do is take it easy for a few days, right?”
“Bed rest isn’t the answer, either. Surgery is your only option” Dr. DiMaggio
cleared his throat and pointed to the chair behind Ray, again. “You’re getting
ahead of me. Let’s discuss your diagnosis. Then we’ll go through your treatment
options step by step.”
“Whoa, whoa, doc. You need to slow your roll here,” Ray shouted in
disbelief and shot to his feet. While he knew something was wrong, he never
expected it to be serious enough to involve surgery. Plus, surgery meant he’d be
out of commission for a while. Before he headed out the door this morning, he’d
made arrangements for him and Laney to fly out a week from today to Stockholm
aboard his private jet. Treatment options? Panic looped and twisted inside of him
until it settled in the pit of his stomach. He blew out a hard breath. With both
hands at his waist, he assumed a wide-legged stance. “Exactly what is wrong with
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.