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“You realize you’re crashing the Angelinis’ party, despite having an invitation.”
Jewel Catalano glanced up from the gorgeous ecru-colored and gold-embossed gala announcement she held in her hot little hands. A very unexpected gift from her assistant, Cameron Valens, who sat next to her in the back of a limo as they traveled the rising and falling slopes of road that cut through endless acres of ripe, rowed vineyards and tree-lined, grass-covered hills leading to the wine community of River Cross, California. Home to two internationally acclaimed vineyards that had sparked the town’s growth and stimulated its economy over the past century: the Catalano winery and the Angelini distillery.
Both cellars of exceptional reputation. Both owners bitter rivals.
“If I’m going to make a major power play for that deadlocked land the Angelinis co-own with my parents,” Jewel contended, “this is my only hope for gaining an audience with Gian Angelini and attempting to strike a deal.”
“You have a bargaining chip to take into the lion’s den?”
Jewel smiled, even though her stomach knotted over how accurate a picture Cameron painted. Yet Jewel truly did have an ace up her sleeve. “Came across it while I was in Paris. I intend to make an offer the Angelinis can’t refuse.”
She’d spent the past six years trying to ascertain what Gian Angelini didn’t have that he might want to get his hands on. Jewel believed she’d finally hit upon it.
As a Senior Vice President of Acquisitions for Catalano Enterprises, Jewel thrived on securing rare possessions to help seal her most lucrative deals. Her experience was that transactions didn’t always boil down to how much money one offered during negotiations. Sometimes it helped to find whatever unicorn was most elusive to the person on the other side of the table and use that to sweeten the pot.
Luckily, she had help in this area from two lifelong friends, Bayli Styles and Scarlet Drake. Bayli was a research hound, and Scarlet had the uncanny ability—and all the right connections—to track down unique treasures. Jewel just had to provide the scent and the girls picked up the trail.
“You are tenacious. I’ll give you that much,” Jewel’s assistant said in her smoky voice. “Gian Angelini is not a man I’d want to go toe to toe with.”
“I’m not exactly looking forward to invading his turf, especially unannounced. But what choice do I have? He hasn’t taken any of my calls or answered my e-mails. When we’re in a roomful of people, however, he won’t be able to ignore me. He might be intimidating as hell, but he has impeccable manners when in the midst of polite society.”
“I still wouldn’t want to be in your Jimmy Choo shoes.”
With a snicker, Jewel said, “I don’t blame you. Thanks, by the way, for finagling this invitation from the printer.”
“How convenient that I’m sleeping with him.” Cameron winked.
“Indeed.” Jewel laughed softly. “And I appreciate you bringing all these documents I needed to sign.” She handed over the stack of papers and Cameron tucked them into a slim black leather portfolio.
Jewel’s assistant had come in from San Francisco, where Catalano Enterprises was headquartered, to meet her at the private hangar on the edge of River Cross that housed CE’s corporate jets so that they could catch up on business.
Jewel had been in France for nearly a week, working a different deal to procure the only building left on Paris’s stunning Avenue des Lamond not owned by CE. Her father, Anthony Catalano, had plans to develop an even more prestigious Champs-Élysées. She was convinced he wouldn’t be satisfied until he’d left his footprint on every major city in the world.
Jewel’s main objective was more localized. She didn’t need her own Champs-Élysées or Taj Mahal. Just a small slice of heaven that was rightfully hers.
Well, almost rightfully hers. For Jewel was heir to property that also belonged to the Angelini estate, making their one and only beneficiary, Rogen, equally entitled.
And it wasn’t exactly a small slice. The massive acreage Jewel wanted full custody of for her own business purposes stretched between the Catalano estate and the one owned by the Angelinis.
But the tract of land was tied up in messy legalities and a vicious feud between her family and Rogen’s. So all that prime real estate sat undisturbed and undeveloped. A complete waste, in Jewel’s mind.
A thought that festered 24/7 in the back of her head.
The very reason she was currently in River Cross.
“You really think you can sway Gian Angelini?” Cameron asked. She was an attractive woman of forty-six with sophisticatedly coiffed short brown hair and an eye for fashion.
By contrast, Jewel had long sleek blond hair and sapphire eyes that caught the light in the reflection as her gaze shifted to the side windows while she considered the probability of pulling off this latest endeavor.
The driver of the limo took the turn toward the northwestern portion of the county, winding through the manicured township of stylish boutiques, restaurants, and wine bars, with bistro sets dotting pavered patios. There were plenty of lush, verdant courtyards boasting fountains and freshly varnished park benches.
The sun began its gradual descent on the horizon, casting vibrant shades of blood orange, vermilion, and gold across the landscape, turning the mountain range in the distance into a fiery sentinel looming above the river that ran along the base, then weaving its way through the countryside.
Though Jewel had lived in San Francisco since she was eighteen, she’d always loved the elegantly rustic community of River Cross. Yet as the limo traveled farther north she turned away from the mesmeric scenery—before they passed the Angelini estate and distillery on their way to her family’s manor. Her stomach already churned enough over her decision to attend the gala this evening. A tricky, potentially volatile affair that left her on edge and slightly breathless.
She didn’t need to torment herself further over what she might encounter when she set foot on Angelini property for the first time in fifteen years. The mere thought called forth voices from the past. Handsome faces. Stolen kisses. Love, longing, and loss.
Trying to reel in emotions that threatened to get the best of her, Jewel returned to her previous conversation with Cameron, saying, “I believe I can get Gian to see that it makes no sense to keep the land in a stranglehold because of one argument.” Which had erupted over venomous accusations and tenuous emotions shortly after the Angelinis’ young daughter had passed, when Jewel was thirteen. “My parents and Gian and Rose-Marie Angelini used to be the best of friends. Now they despise each other.”
“Such a shame. Do you ever speak with their son?”
“Not in years.”
Rogen was her age, twenty-eight. They’d been close growing up. More than that, really. He’d been her first … everything.
But he’d spent half of his life away from River Cross, only having moved back about six months ago, or so the grapevine reported. Actually, there’d been quite a few rumors whispered of late by a high school friend or two of Jewel’s, mostly about how Rogen’s best friend, Vincent D’Angelo, had returned as well and the two men were currently pleasing several of the pampered “ladies who lunch.” It was hinted the men were experts at doing this at the same time.
Jewel waved a dismissive hand at the gossips. But, admittedly, certain forbidden thoughts cropped up. She fought their elusive pull, including the old memories creeping in on her now.
She tried to shake the remembrance of her past with Rogen from her head. Yet she couldn’t block the mental flash of his vibrant cerulean eyes and wicked grin, which instantly ignited her nerve endings.
Precisely why she didn’t allow herself to indulge in reveries of him.
That and the fact that their family situations did not bode well for any sort of wishful reconciliation. Both fathers had held their grudge to such great extent, they’d done everything in their power to separate Jewel and Rogen when they were teenagers. Gian had shipped his son off to the highest-ranking prep school in the country, Trinity, in Manhattan. Jewel had been prohibited from seeing him, though they’d found sequestered moments together when Rogen had flown in for holidays. Until their junior year. That was when the Angelinis had begun vacationing in Europe, not giving Rogen much chance to come home.
For the most part, Jewel had had to rely on the out of sight, out of mind mentality … or she’d never get past her heartbreak. Both of them. Because her disconnection from Rogen had eventually led her into Vin’s arms. That had gone horrifically wrong around graduation. She hadn’t seen him since. Didn’t speak to him.
And though she’d secretly visited Rogen once at Trinity and then one more time in Italy during a college break, she’d opted to sever the ties with him, too. It’d been excruciating to see each other on such a limited basis. To have to be so sneaky about it. That had never felt right.
Then again, her split from Vin hadn’t sat well with her, either. But it was all a complicated mess that had never been straightened out. Just like the family feud that had started with mourning, morphed into misunderstandings, and then exploded into a vindictive backlash—with the two heirs, Rogen and Jewel, caught in the cross fire. And Vin suffering along with them.
Diverting her thoughts as the limo passed through the massive gates of the Catalano estate, she told Cameron, “Take the car back into the city and enjoy a night out with Spence, on me.” They wove their way through the plush setting of velvety-green grass, voluptuous trees, and gently flowing streams before pulling under the vast porte cochere of the main house.
The driver opened the door for Jewel.
“I’ll see you in the office on Monday morning,” she told her assistant.
“Wait.” Cameron gingerly clasped Jewel’s arm, a hint of warning in her tone. “What about your parents?”
“Not here to grill me over why I’m in River Cross. Thank God. Daddy’s plane hasn’t landed yet from his trip to Aspen and I arranged a day at the spa for Mother.”
“Clever girl,” Cameron said with a conspiratorial grin.
Jewel nodded. It was a huge relief her parents wouldn’t be around to talk her out of attending a party she wasn’t actually invited to. They would make the attempt to thwart her efforts not just because of the difficulty and sensitivity of this impending real estate negotiation—if they suspected anything, that was, because Jewel hadn’t told them her plans, they’d come about so quickly—but also because Rogen would be there.
Her breath caught at the prospect of seeing him after so many years. Chased by a blazing fire in her veins that Vin could be on hand as well. He was the family’s Chief General Counsel now. She’d read that in the Wall Street Journal.
Vin was the last person she wanted to run into this evening. One smug word out of his mouth and she knew her temper would flare. She couldn’t afford that. Jewel had to play this hand calmly and coolly. Which basically meant avoiding Vin D’Angelo at all costs.
It also meant she had to continue greasing the wheels in order to get what she wanted. So she told Cameron, “Send over two cases of our Meritage to the Angelinis, my compliments.” It was the Catalanos’ prized merlot-sauvignon-cabernet blend. “Mrs. Angelini has always favored that variety. We used to provide it for all of her events as a hostess gift. Back in the day.”
“Consider everything taken care of.” Cameron’s manicured fingers slid away, though the concern still rimmed her hazel eyes. “And good luck with your new mission.”
“Thank you.” Jewel exited the car. Adrenaline over the prospect of coming to acceptable terms with Gian mixed with anxiety over seeing Rogen.
And possibly Vin.
She couldn’t argue with the wary voice inside her head that told her this might all be a gigantic mistake on her part. But no one else was making a move on that land. It was high time someone did.
Even if it put her in a prickly situation with three men she wasn’t exactly primed and ready to confront …
But Jewel lived and breathed the adage of no guts, no glory.
She prayed her motto would not fail her tonight!
* * *
“If I recall correctly,” Vin D’Angelo said to Rogen Angelini as Vin checked his diamond-studded cuff links to ensure they were secure, “there’s a gala about to commence in half an hour. And you’re still in jeans. Dusty jeans and boots, to be exact.” He sniffed the air and added, “You also smell like the stables.”
“Smart-ass.” Rogen dropped his saddlebags on the kitchen table in his three-bedroom house on the Angelini estate and extracted several containers. “I was out riding the adjacent property, collecting more soil samples to keep testing what grapes will grow best on that land. What hybrids I can work with.”
“First of all,” Vin said in his deep, lawyerly voice, “there’s a no trespassing without written consent clause in the contracts your parents and the Catalanos signed when they jointly purchased the property. It even applies to you.”
“Second,” Vin continued, unfazed, “Anthony Catalano will never consent to a sale—and the binding agreements specifically state that Catalanos can only sell their portion of the land to Angelinis and vice versa. Which clearly is never going to happen. So testing the soil is pretty much a waste of time.”
“Doesn’t hurt to be prepared for any opportunity that might come along, my friend.” Rogen had wanted to grow on that property since he could walk the lot line.
Perhaps a slight exaggeration, but still. It was his dream.
“The only thing you need to be concerned about right now is this ostentatious shindig your mother is throwing,” Vin reminded him. “There are over six hundred VIPs from San Diego to San Francisco—and all the Sans and Santas in between—about to fill the mansion and spill out onto the grounds. The Golden Boy son needs to look a little less Lone Ranger and a lot more James Bond.”
“I’ll leave the latter to you. You’ve got that whole Pierce Brosnan thing going on.”
Vin stood six-foot-four and had dark, strategically tousled hair. He had deep-green eyes and broad shoulders women seemed to go for.
Rogen was his direct opposite. A couple inches shorter, though still over six feet, with short, dark blond hair and blue eyes. He currently sported two days’ of stubble along his strong jawline. He was solidly built and athletic, whereas Vin was more sculpted in a refined, sophisticated way.
“I do look damn good in a tux,” Vin conceded as he admired himself in the mirror mounted on the wall beyond the kitchen table.
“Spare me,” Rogen said, the sarcasm dripping from his tone. “Your ego won’t fit in this house with the both of us.”
His best friend chuckled under his breath. “Good point.”
“Who’d you decide to bring as the date du jour?” Rogen asked.
Vin flashed a mischievous grin. “As it turns out, Holly McCormick is back in town. She’ll be on my arm this evening.”
“And no doubt in your bed.”
“Feel free to join us. You know how insatiable she is.”
“The woman doesn’t have an off switch.”
“She certainly enjoys her multiple orgasms. And we enjoy giving them to her.” He winked.
“Tempting,” Rogen mused. “Chances are very good I’ll be taking you up on that offer.”
Several months ago, he and Vin had swapped their corporate offices at Angelini, Inc. headquarters in Tuscany for ones in River Cross. That was when they’d met Holly and spent one overly decadent night in her casita, pleasuring her until the sun came up. And she’d still wanted more.
The ménage had been a going-away present for her, at both men’s suggestion. Holly hadn’t even batted a lash at the risqué proposition. She was a curvy redhead with a hearty sexual appetite and zero inhibitions, which had made for a very memorable evening, with Rogen and Vin working in tandem to get her off. Repeatedly.
Though Holly was not, by any stretch of the imagination, their first foray into threesome territory. Being such close friends all their lives and having such vastly different personalities and dispositions lent to their special talent and innate desire to share a woman in that way.
The discovery of their particular gift had come sophomore year at Yale. Rather accidentally, since Rogen had been at the library when Vin had gotten Amber Halston between the sheets. Rogen had slipped into the dorm room to grab some study notes just as Amber had been hitting her high notes. Things had escalated from there.
Both men had maintained a modicum of discretion with their forbidden affairs in college. When they’d started working in the Italy offices after Rogen received his MBA and Vin graduated from law school, they’d come upon several gorgeous European women who were more than amenable to a ménage à trois.
Both Rogen and Vin had immediately realized that making a woman come with two pairs of hands and lips on her body and two cocks to satisfy her was a heady rush. And they were damn good at racking up the orgasms.
But always on a temporary basis.
“Holly’s aware you’re not looking for any sort of commitment, right?” Rogen had to lob the cautionary sentiment out there, since women flocked to Vin’s commanding presence and latched on quickly. Held on tight.
Rogen had his fair share of admirers, but he’d been told on numerous occasions that he exuded a razor vibe that apparently told women he wasn’t interested in a permanent love connection without him even saying a word.
“I trust my reputation precedes me,” Vin said. “I have neither the time nor the desire to get involved. In fact, this is the first night I’ve taken off in weeks. Your family keeps me busy, no doubt there.”
“Dad doesn’t believe in resting on his laurels. Conquer the world is his current mission.”
“Are you sure it’s not to rank even higher on the Forbes billionaires list?”
“It does annoy him that he flip-flops with Anthony Catalano on that damn list.”
“Well, I’ll bet he’s feeling a bit of vindication, throwing another extravaganza the Catalanos aren’t invited to.”
“They wouldn’t come if they were invited, out of sheer principle. Neither side cares about appearances when it comes to this feud, which I think everyone has long since forgotten how it even started.” He shook his head. “It’d be nice if they just fucking got over it already.”
“That’d certainly make things easier on the heirs.” Vin scowled. “Or maybe not. You and Jewel are nothing but a rose garden filled with thorns.”
Rogen didn’t allow himself to travel the path of wishful thinking when it came to her. Despite wanting to see her. Jewel Catalano lived in the city and, from what he’d heard, she didn’t visit River Cross all that often.
A moot point, really. They were long over. Still, Rogen would be lying to himself if he denied she was the reason he didn’t date any more seriously than Vin did. Both men had been hooked on her in one way or another since they were kids. And both men knew all that had ever brought to either of their lives was more complication.
Vin didn’t typically speak of Jewel, and Rogen respected his privacy on the matter. Rogen had no idea what had happened between the two of them after he had been sent to Trinity, a year after the dispute over the untouched land had flared. The exile from California had happened right around the time Rogen and Jewel had fallen in love—a huge source of contention for their parents, who’d proven they would do anything to keep the two away from each other. And had succeeded, for the most part.
Rogen had his suspicions as to how Jewel and Vin’s friendship had progressed after he’d left but wasn’t really sure he wanted to know the actual details. Vin’s intensity when the subject came up was a loud and clear warning for Rogen to avoid the topic entirely. Vin clearly felt the same. Hence the scowl.
Rogen said, “I’d better get around. I’ll see you in a little while.”
“I’m taking one of the limos to pick up Holly. We’ll be along shortly.”
“Don’t get that particular party started without me.” He grinned.
Vin chuckled again, on his way out the door. Rogen hit the shower and shaved. As Chief Operating Officer of Angelini, Inc., which housed its auxiliary offices within the estate, Rogen was usually on the clean-cut side. But he didn’t mind the scruffy jaw when working the vineyard or doing his soil testing.
He dressed in an Armani tux, then raked a hand through his hair, making it stand a little on end. He took an all-terrain Rhino to the service entrance of the mansion and joined the festivities as they were getting under way.
He grabbed a glass of champagne from a passing server. There were numerous food stations and seafood towers, plus hot- and cold-passed hors d’oeuvres. Free-flowing champagne and the distillery’s top-notch cognacs.
A pianist and a harpist were set up in one of the courtyards. A steel-drum band played in the gardens. An eighteen-piece orchestra took requests on the event lawn. And a contemporary band rocked the grand ballroom.
Tree trunks outside were all lit with clear twinkling lights. Candles burned in hurricanes and decorative lanterns. Inside, the chandeliers glowed brilliantly, sending glittery rays across the cream-colored marble floors. All of the rooms designated for entertaining flowed into one another, making it easy for groups to mix and mingle.
Rogen greeted guests, accepted pecks on the cheek, shook hands, and chatted everyone up as he moved toward the spacious great room by the entryway. There he dropped off his empty glass and was served another before strolling closer to the foyer to ensure there was a welcoming committee at the front door.
He drew up short when he caught sight of a striking blonde wearing a one-shouldered sparkling dress in ice blue that set off her sapphire irises. She stood on the landing of the steps that led down into the great room, adjacent to the twin staircases that stretched and curved to the second floor and beyond to two more floors.
Rogen did a double take. He absorbed the sight of her from head to toe, including the slit in the left side of her dress that started at her slim ankle and ran clear up to the top of her shapely thigh, where a diamond-encrusted brooch was pinned.
His cock sprang to life. His pulse shot through the roof.
It was her.
Rogen handed over his crystal flute to another server and worked his way through the crowd, his heart hammering. He took the three steps up to the landing and asked, “Are you a mirage?”
Jewel gave him a beautiful bright-white smile. “Not that I’m aware of.”
“Because I’ve fantasized about you appearing out of thin air when I least expect it.”
“Sorry to catch you off-guard. It couldn’t be helped.”
“Do you hear me complaining?”
Her smile softened. “I wasn’t sure how you’d feel about me showing up.”
“Like I just took a dive out of an airplane and am free-falling without a chute.”
“Interesting.” She stared up at him, her big blue eyes shimmering under the chandeliers. “I know the feeling.” Her voice was low and evocative. Breathy.
“Good.” He mentally shook his head. Maybe it wasn’t so good they still reacted so strongly to each other. Especially after what Vin had said about the thorns. Rogen changed the subject. “I don’t recall seeing your name on the guest list.”
“Nor would you. I’m crashing. For a good cause, I promise.”
“I don’t care that you’re crashing,” Rogen said with conviction in his tone. “It’s fucking incredible to see you, Jewel.”
So much for changing the subject …
But, damn—it’d been seven long years since he’d last seen her.
His gaze slid over her from head to toe and back up. Slowly, as he once again took in the long, sculpted leg on display, the gentle rounding of her hips, the dip of her waist where the material clung to her feminine curves, her enticing breasts, her bare shoulders.
He soaked in all that creamy, silky-looking skin. The long column of her neck. Her full, glossy lips, which were slightly parted as she drew in wispy breaths.
Shiny blond hair was swept away from her delicate features to fall in a sleek curtain between her shoulder blades. Her dark irises continued to glow seductively.
Rogen’s chest pulled tight. His cock pulsed with erratic beats.
“You’re sensational,” he said, completely blown away by the sight of her.
The corners of her mouth quivered. A hint of mist covered her eyes. “I’m not really sure I prepared myself enough for a reunion.”
Her fingers curled around her silver satin clutch as though that would keep her from touching him.
Frustration tore through him. Rogen burned for her touch. Instantly. Fervently.
“Jesus, Jewel,” he murmured. “You could stop a man’s heart looking like that.”
“Rogen…” She stared deep into his eyes. Searching them. Likely looking for all the elusive answers even he’d never found when it came to the two of them.
“I’ve missed you,” they said in unison. Each took a stride closer to the other, then instinctively stepped back.
Rogen let out a low growl, annoyed with himself. “We’re not fucking teenagers, Jewel. If I want to hug you, it’s no one’s goddamn business but mine.”
“I know. You’re right. Of course.”
He closed the gap. His head dipped and his lips brushed over her cheek. He inhaled her rich, sultry scent. And everything inside of Rogen went haywire.
“Fuck,” he muttered. Moved a bit away from her. Shoved a hand through his hair. His gaze roved her body again and his jaw clenched.
Jewel seemed to swallow down a lump of emotion before she said, “You look good. C-O-O of Angelini, Inc., suits you. So does the tux.”
“I prefer my jeans, but what can you do?” He tried to lighten the suddenly tense moment. Yet every muscle in his body was rigid with wanting her. That rapidly. That painfully.
She gave him another pretty smile, though it looked a bit strained. Like she felt the electric current of their unwavering attraction—and the tormenting tension it elicited.
“How’d the California cowboy make it through an East Coast prep school and Ivy League college?” she asked.
“That’s the last thing I want to talk about.” He stepped toward her again, held her gaze, and continued the free fall. “Tell me why you’re here. And it’d better have something to do with being desperate to see me.”
Desire flashed in her eyes. Along with something deeper, darker. Something elusive. Alluring. Soul stirring.
Yet a heartbeat later—
“Yes, Jewel. Please do tell us why you’re here.”
Rogen winced at his mother’s smooth, cultured voice shattering the private moment he’d shared with Jewel. Too fleeting a span of time.
His father added, “This is quite a surprise, young lady.”
Jewel’s soft features hardened—a soldier preparing for battle. Regret replaced the desire in her sapphire irises. She appeared reluctant to drag her gaze from Rogen but turned her attention to his parents. “I apologize for the intrusion. I need to speak with you, Mr. Angelini. It’s important.”
Rogen’s parents exchanged a curious look.
His mother said, “I trust everyone’s well at your estate?”
“Yes, of course. We’re all perfectly healthy. I hope the same goes for your family.”
“It does,” his mother assured Jewel. “And thank you for the meritage. That was … considerate.” That last word seemed to push the boundaries of civility where Rogen’s mother was concerned.
Jewel pretended not to notice. “I was pleased to hear that you were entertaining. Your parties have always been the talk of the Valley.”
“I plan to host them more regularly.”
Though the conversation was cordial, there was no mistaking the underlying hostility on his parents’ part, the contained aggression and bitterness exuding from them. It infuriated Rogen that they directed their angst toward Jewel. Like him, she was but a victim of circumstance when it came to the dispute.
But Rogen’s admiration for her surged as Jewel squared her shoulders and lifted her chin. She boldly told his father, “I only need a few minutes of your time. Then I’ll leave.”
Rogen didn’t like the sound of that. Though he was dying to know what business Jewel was here to discuss, he was mostly agitated that she intended to make a hasty retreat.
Hoping to stall her exit, he suggested, “Why don’t I get us all some champagne?”
He headed off for a tray of glasses, his mind whirling over how to get Jewel to stick around awhile longer.
This was the first time since he’d returned to River Cross that he’d had the chance to see her, to talk to her. He sure as hell wouldn’t let the opportunity to spend more time with her slip through his fingers.
His family and a fifteen-year feud be damned!
Copyright © 2017 by Calista Fox