The Husband Hunt Chapter Twenty

"I am going up there," Robert said grimly, heading for the parlor door.

"I would not suggest it," Richard said quietly, standing to place his son against his shoulder and rub the crying three-month-old's back soothingly. "The women will not welcome you, and Lisa will not be happy to see you."

"Hmm," Daniel said with amusement. "Do you not recall what happened when Richard went up while Christiana was in labor?"

The words made Robert pause. He did recall. Christiana had cursed her husband, and thrown the first thing she could find at him, ranting about putting her through "this hell" before screaming in agony as another contraction had hit her. Richard had come away with a bloody nose from being hit in the face with the book Christiana had wheeled at him.

"About now Lisa is probably cursing all men to hell, but most especially you for getting her into this predicament," Richard pointed out in almost a whisper as his son, Richard Junior, began to nod off to sleep.

"Well, I hardly did it alone. She participated," Robert muttered, but turned back and resumed his pacing of the small parlor at Madison Manor.

Daniel chuckled at his disgruntled expression and walked to the front window to peer out. Probably checking on his two-year-old son, Christopher, Robert supposed, knowing the child's nurse had taken the boy out front for some fresh air. Daniel did dote on his son. As much as Richard doted on his own and they all doted on their wives. But then they were women well worth doting on, Robert thought, marveling over the fact that he actually felt that way about a wife. His Lisa. It was all due to her. Any other woman would have run off with Pembroke or Tibald or one of the other suitors who had tried to claim her attention when he was acting a complete idiot and refusing to acknowledge his feelings for her. Not Lisa though. She had heart, tenacity and was fiercely loyal.

That was so obvious now, that nearly three years on, he couldn't believe he'd been so stupid. This time with Lisa had been the happiest of his life to date. Oh, they had the occasional spat, the odd falling-out, and Lisa could try his patience at times as much as he tried hers, but all in all, life was good. Better than good. The Langley curse had well and truly been broken.

While Robert had suffered one or two bouts of jealousy and worry when other men had paid more attention to his wife than he liked, Lisa had always seemed to sense his feelings and had found some way to reassure him that she loved him as much today as she always had, and those moments had passed. He doubted any other woman would have been quite as sensitive and understanding, but Lisa knew him better than anyone else. Sometimes she even seemed to understand him better than he knew himself, Robert thought wryly. He was a lucky man indeed.

"My lord?"

Robert glanced around at Bet's voice, worry claiming him as he raised his eyebrows in question. "Yes?"

"You can go up now," Bet said and then quickly hurried away before he could ask if Lisa was all right or if it was a boy or girl. Swallowing, he headed for the door at once, aware that Richard and Daniel were on his heels.

"What's happening?" Lord Madison asked, appearing at his office door as the men passed.

Robert didn't even slow, merely saying, "We can go up now," on his way past. He wasn't surprised when Lisa's father immediately joined the small parade.

Lisa was sitting up in bed with a small bundle caught protectively to her chest. She looked absolutely exhausted but beautiful when Robert hurried into the room with the other men. He spared barely a glance for Suzette and Christiana, who stood on either side of the bed like bookends. His eyes went directly to Lisa's face and stayed there with concern when he saw the worry on her expression.

"Are you all right?" he asked, dropping to sit on the side of the bed, and hard-pressed not to take her hands in his. He couldn't, however, without dislodging the baby she held, so he touched her hip instead, wanting the contact to reassure himself despite her nod. "Don't you want to see your child?" she asked when he continued to just stare at her. She seemed nervous, he noted with a frown.

"Of course he does," Suzette said, bending to unwrap the blanket a bit so the baby was more easily viewed. "My lord, your daughter, Lady Sara Maitland."

"I thought it would be nice to name her after my mother," Lisa babbled quickly. "I hope you don't mind."

"No, of course not," he murmured, glancing to the small redfaced child. She was absolutely beautiful, of course. But how could she not be, with Lisa for a mother, he thought. Reaching out, Robert brushed one finger against the baby's soft cheek, smiling when one waving hand shot up and grasped it, trying to draw it to its mouth. "The first girl in the family," Richard murmured, moving closer to get a better look.

"Hmmm. She shall be spoiled rotten by her doting uncles," Daniel promised with a grin.

"And terrorized by her male cousins," Christiana said with amusement.

"No doubt," Lisa murmured.

"Can I hold her?" Lord Madison asked, moving up between Christiana and Richard.

Lisa nodded and held the baby up and the old man took her as carefully as if she were made of spun glass.

"Little Sara," he cooed, rocking the child slightly as he walked a little away from the bed. "You shall grow up to be as lovely as your grandmother was. I shall tell you all about what a wonderful woman she was."

Robert smiled faintly at the words and then glanced back to Lisa as the others followed the old man and baby like they were rats following the siren song of the pied piper. But seeing the concern still on Lisa's face, he frowned.

"What is it, my love?" he asked, taking her hands in his now that they were free. "Is something wrong? You are okay, aren't you?"

"Yes, of course," she assured him quickly. "I just - are you very disappointed?"

Robert frowned with confusion. "Disappointed with what?"

"Well, I know most men want a boy rather than a girl, and . . ."

Her words died as he chuckled softly.

Shaking his head, he squeezed her hands gently. "My love, I am happy to have a girl. The Langleys have produced only boys for centuries. 'Tis time a little girl joined the ranks and I am proud to provide her." He bent to kiss her gently, and then sat up and added, "I guess this means the curse definitely is ended. I can hardly raise a daughter to be a woman hater."

"You are not a woman hater, my lord," Lisa said, smiling and relaxing now that she knew he was pleased to have a daughter. "No I am definitely a lover of women," he agreed, leaning his forehead against hers and adding, "And you are the one who taught me how to be one."

"Oh, I do love you, Robert," she whispered, slipping her arms around his shoulders.

"And I you, Lisa," he assured her. "Thank you for my daughter.

And for being patient enough to let me learn that I loved and trusted you."

Lisa responded by kissing him. He suspected she had intended it to be a light brushing of lips, but as always he couldn't resist deepening the kiss. When she pulled away with a groan, he rubbed his nose against hers and whispered, "How long until we can begin working on a little sister for Sara?"

"Well I would really rather wait a year or so to recover from this birth, my lord, before having another," she said dryly. "But we can begin practicing soon I'm sure."

"Practice is good," Robert said with a grin, and kissed her again, but this time keeping his passion in check. They had a lifetime to practice. He was looking forward to it.

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"Have fun," Carolyn muttered, starting up the walk to the lane.

"Yeah, right."

Honestly, the longer she was here the more Carolyn regretted coming . . . and it had only been a little more than twenty-four hours. But so far, she'd had an uncomfortable meal with Genie and strangers, gone to bed early, got up early, and sat on the beach alone with a book . . . mostly in the shade because everyone knew the sun wasn't good for you. She hadn't been reading the book, but had basically pretended to, keeping it propped on her chest while she watched the people around her under the cover of her sunglasses.

It had been a depressing exercise, Carolyn thought as she started along the dark lane. Watching all that billing and cooing going on around her as she sat alone without even Bethany for company. She'd found herself lying there wondering what was wrong with her. She was average in looks, with a nice face, shoulder-length blond hair and . . . well, all right, she could stand to lose a few pounds, but she was average. Why didn't she have someone to love her too? Of course, then the heckler, the voice in her head that sounded like her ex-husband, had helpfully listed all her faults. It was a never-ending list and had taken up most of the day. "Depressing," Carolyn muttered, moving automatically to the edge of the road as she heard a vehicle approaching from behind.

Unfortunately, she moved too far to the side, and her heels promptly sank into the grassy verge and nearly sent her splat onto her face. Managing to stay upright by doing a little dance that took her right out of one shoe, Carolyn sighed and bent to pull it out of the dirt. She then cursed under her breath when her purse promptly slid off her shoulder and dropped into the dirt.

"Pretty lady, what are you doing walking? You should have called down for a ride. Come, get in, we have room."

Carolyn froze at that voice and didn't need to look to see that she was shooting the moon at a vanload of resort guests. It just had to be the case. It was her kind of luck. Sighing, she pulled her shoe free, grabbed up her purse and slung it back over her shoulder as she straightened and turned to the van. Her smile was a bit forced when she saw it was Adam beaming at her from the driver's seat. That just figured. With Beth's words ringing in her ear the last person she wanted to see was the first she did.

"Don't they ever let you go home, Adam?" Carolyn asked with a forced smile.

"Two drivers are sick. I am working overtime. Overtime pays well," he said with a grin. "Come get in. We will take you down.

You can sit in the front with me."

Carolyn hesitated, but then limped around the van to the passenger-side door with one shoe on and one off. She was running a little late and would get there faster with a ride. Mind you, it was going to be uncomfortable making small talk with Adam while Bethany's words were ringing in her head. Good Lord, he really didn't look more than twenty-one or twenty-two.

Shaking that thought away, she opened the door and climbed in, smiling at Adam as she did.

"There, see? It's all good," Adam said cheerfully, sending the van moving forward again as soon as she'd settled in the seat and tugged the door closed.

"Yes, thank you." Carolyn quickly undid her shoe, slipped it back on and did it up only to frown as her heel immediately slipped out again. She stared at it blankly, slow to realize that her foot hadn't worked itself out of the shoe, but that the sandal strap had actually broken.

"Damn," she muttered.

"This pretty lady is Caro," Adam announced to the van at large, and then added, "Caro, this is the band. I am taking them down to the main building so they can perform."

Carolyn briefly forgot about her shoe and glanced around with surprise, her eyes skating over the shadowed faces of the five other people on the van's bench seats behind her. It was hard to see much. The roads weren't exactly well lit; all she could really make out was that she thought one of them might be a woman. Maybe two, she thought next as she noted the long hair on the one in the seat directly behind hers, although, if that was a woman, she was one hell of a big female.

A snicker came from the smaller one she'd thought was a female and Caro glanced to her curiously.

"Say hello," Adam ordered cheerfully.

"Hello," Carolyn murmured even as the riders in the back did as well. Well most of them did, the one in the back who had moonlight glinting off his bald head remained silent and she eyed him curiously, wondering if he shaved his head as some sort of fashion statement, or was balding and trying to hide it by shaving his head. Really, that sort of thing fooled no one, she thought. Although he seemed to have a nicely shaped head, the sort that took well to the style.

"Caro is a friend of Genie's," Adam announced and then glanced to her and asked, "You are sitting with Genie tonight to watch them play?"

"Yes," she said, smiling as she settled back in her seat. "Genie and a young couple on their honeymoon, Marguerite and Julius."

Adam nodded, but the sudden tension in the back of the van was actually palpable, and Carolyn recalled that Marguerite and Julius had arranged for the band to come here. She bit her lip, wondering if she should say something to acknowledge that, but didn't have a clue what she should say.

"We are all related to Marguerite and Julius."

Carolyn turned in her seat again to see that the smaller female had sat forward in the second bench seat to peer between the two band members on the first seat . . . and she was definitely female. Not that Carolyn could see her any better, but the woman's voice was a beautiful, husky singsong that could only be female.

"Really?" she asked with a smile. "How are you related?"

"Raffaele, Zanipolo, Santo and I are all nieces and nephews," she said, pointing to each dark figure in turn. She then gestured to the second figure with long hair, the possibly very large female and added, "And Christian here is their so - "

"Their brother," the one called Raffaele interrupted. "Julius's brother," the woman agreed, and then jabbed Christian in the shoulder and taunted, "Put your hair back in its ponytail, cugino. Surely you realize you could be mistaken for a woman like that?"

"What?" the man asked, glancing over his shoulder to her with what appeared to be confusion, though it was hard to tell in this light. The woman leaned to whisper something by his ear and then sat back with a laugh as Christian muttered under his breath. He turned to peer toward Carolyn then and she stared back curiously, wishing she could see his face. Like the girl, he had a nice voice, though his was definitely all male.

Growing uncomfortable under the man's stare, she slid her gaze to the others, noting that every one of them appeared to be peering from him to her and back almost expectantly, their heads in silhouette as they turned forward then back, then forward again. Finding it all a little too strange, Carolyn started to turn back in her seat again, but paused as the big man in the back rumbled, "Since she named everyone but herself, I'll do it. The girl is Giacinta."

"Giacinta," Carolyn murmured the alien name with interest. She'd never heard it before.

"Everyone calls me Gia," the woman said absently, her gaze on Christian, and then sounding somewhat awed, she said, "You can't read her, can you?"

Carolyn was raising her eyebrows at the strange question when Santo growled "Gia" in warning.

"Here we are," Adam announced cheerfully, and Carolyn glanced around to see that they were approaching the front of the main building.

"Thank you, Adam," she said as he brought the van to a halt. "No problem," Adam said as the band began to pile out. "You call for a ride next time. It's a long way to walk and uneven. We are happy to collect you."

"Thank you," Carolyn repeated with a smile and opened her door. She turned on the seat to get out, only recalling that her shoe was broken when it slipped off her heel and to the side before she could plant it on the ground. Carolyn immediately grabbed for the door to keep from twisting her ankle or stumbling and then gasped in surprise as she was suddenly caught by the waist and lifted away from the van.

Clutching at the arms holding her, she stared blankly down at the young man carrying her, noting the long, deep auburn hair, the chiseled features and then the wide, deep black eyes with flecks of some lighter color in them. Eyes very like Julius Notte's, she thought absently, though this man's were larger with an almond shape his didn't have.

"Grab her shoe," he growled, never taking his eyes from hers, and it was only when she heard his voice that she realized it was the one called Christian.

Flushing under his intense stare, Carolyn glanced over his shoulder in time to see a man with short, black hair bend to collect her shoe and follow them, and then Christian was setting her down. He didn't just set her down as he'd picked her up though; Christian eased her down, holding her close as he did, so that their bodies rubbed against each other in a long, slow full-body caress that left her flushed and breathless and completely flummoxed.

When her feet hit the ground, the cold on her bare one was something of a jolt and had her tugging free and then dropping to sit with a little bump on the bench he'd set her in front of.

"Thank you," Carolyn breathed, looking everywhere but at him.

Her gaze slid over the other band members, noting their resemblance to each other and their differences. Zanipolo had long hair like Christian, but his was tied back in a ponytail; it was also black like Raffaele's, which was shorter. She suspected Santo's hair would be black as well if he let it grow; at least his eyebrows were black, she noted, taking in the thick metal rings on each of his fingers as he ran one hand over his bald head. The rings looked more like some modern kind of brass knuckles in silver than actual jewelry. Her gaze slid to Giacinta then, a pretty, petite blonde and the only one of the group not wearing pure black. Her outfit was a short red skirt and white tank with a white blouse open over it.

Spotting her shoe in Raffaele's hand as he approached, Carolyn forced a smile and held out her hand, but Christian took it to examine.

"It's broken," he said with a frown.

"Yes." Carolyn risked glancing his way, and felt another flush rise up through her. Biting her lip, she looked away and briefly considered taking the next shuttle back up to the villa for new shoes. But she was already late, and really, she was so flustered and embarrassed, all she wanted at that moment was to get away from the man presently holding her sandal.

That left one option, Carolyn decided, and raised her shod foot to quickly remove the still good sandal. She then stood, snatched the broken sandal from Christian's fingers, murmured, "Thank you," and hurried away through the main building on bare feet, aware that every member of the band watched her go. She could feel their eyes burning into her back. They probably thought her a crazy lady for rushing off barefoot like that, but she didn't care. She -  "Carolyn?"

Sliding to a halt, Carolyn glanced around to see Marguerite and Julius crossing the lobby toward her.

"I'm so glad you made it. I was starting to worry," Marguerite said, giving her a hug in greeting. She then turned her toward the front of the building, saying, "We were just going to check and see that Gia and the boys made it down all right."

"They have. I rode down with them," Carolyn said, resisting her pull.

"Oh." She smiled. "Well then come, and I'll introduce you to them."

"Oh, no, I - " Carolyn grimaced and held up her shoes. "My strap broke and I can't wear them and I'd really rather just go sit down. Besides they introduced themselves to me," she added in a babble, beginning to back away. "I'll just go sit down. You two - "

She paused and gave her head a shake as the strangest ruffling sensation went through her head. Then forced a smile. "I'll go save us a table."

"Don't be silly," Marguerite said, suddenly beaming. "We'll all go down together. We can talk to Christian and the others on their break. Or perhaps even before they start."

"Right," Carolyn muttered, suddenly aware that she'd probably have to meet them all again if she stuck with Marguerite and Julius.

The idea made her ridiculously uncomfortable and she found herself frowning and trying to come up with a reason to leave. They were almost to the open-air bar when she suddenly realized she was carrying the perfect excuse.

"You know," she said, coming to a halt. "I think I should probably go back up to the villa and switch my broken shoes for  - "

"Don't be silly, Caro. You're here already," Marguerite said with a gentle smile. "Everything will be fine."

Carolyn stared at her silently as her eagerness to escape the possibility of having to again face Christian slid away and a soothing calm slid over her. Then she smiled and nodded and allowed Marguerite to lead her into the open-air bar, wondering what on earth all the fuss was about. Christian had helped her when her shoe broke. She was making a mountain out of a molehill. Everything would be fine.

"She is your life mate," Raffaele said solemnly.

Christian tore his eyes away from the lobby as his parents and Carolyn were swallowed up by the crowds. Turning, he considered the group eyeing him silently, his cousins and bandmates. They'd known each other all their lives, but had only played together the last ten years or so.

"Well?" he asked. "What was she thinking?"

"She thought you were a big female at first," Zanipolo said with amusement.

"Yes, I know," Christian said dryly. "Gia giggled that into my ear. It's why I tried to read her."

"It was dark in the van and she hasn't our eyesight," Raffaele said soothingly. "All she could make out was long hair and a large frame."

"She thought you were very handsome once she saw your face," Giacinta said, patting his arm as if he might need the reassurance. She then bit her lip and added, "Which kind of horrified her." Christian frowned. "Why?"

Gia arched her eyebrows as if that should be obvious. "She's forty-two."

Christian's eyes widened. He would have placed Carolyn in her mid to late thirties. She carried her age well. Still, he didn't get Giacinta's point. "So? She's forty-two?"

"Well, you look about twenty-five or twenty-six," she pointed out gently.

"I haven't been that young for a very long time," Christian said dryly.

"But you look that young," Gia pointed out and when he stared at her blankly, she added, "She is mortal. She thinks you are young enough to be her child and is upset to have sexual feelings for someone she thinks is so young."

"She had sexual feelings for me already?" he asked with a grin. Gia threw up her hands in exasperation. "Uomini! Idiota, non essere cosi stupido!"

Christian blinked at the explosive rant of "Men! You idiot, don't be so stupid!" and then cleared his throat. "I gather this is a problem?"

"Si cugino, e un problema," Gia said dryly. "She is not the type of woman who would be comfortable having an affair with a younger man. She will now avoid you to avoid those uncomfortable feelings."

Christian frowned. It wasn't a problem he'd considered when he'd contemplated the possibility that his mother had found him a life mate.

"Don't worry, we'll help you with her. And I am sure Aunt Marguerite will help too," Raffaele rumbled and then slapped a hand on his shoulder and urged him into the building. "Now let's go find our equipment and get set up. When you called Bellina, she said Genie had our instruments kept in her office until we arrived, si?"

"Si, all but the drums and keyboard. She had those set up on the stage." The words were said absently. Christian's mind was on the problem of Carolyn and the disturbing assurance that his mother and cousins would help him woo her. Cripes, he thought with dismay, as he imagined that scenario.

"Well I hope your friend Bethany feels better soon," Marguerite said with a sympathetic smile.

"So do I," Carolyn assured her. They were seated at one of the tables on the edge of the lower deck, the sandy beach close enough to touch if she just slid her foot over the slightest bit, which she'd done several times already, digging her bare toes into the cool sand and allowing it to slide around and between her toes. "And I'm sure she will."

Marguerite nodded. "Well, we're here to keep you company tonight, so she couldn't have picked a better time to recuperate." Carolyn smiled, but shook her head. "Don't be silly. You two are on your honeymoon. You don't need me hanging around.

Besides, I have Genie. As soon as she gets here we'll move to another table so you two can be alone."

"Cara," Marguerite said with amusement. "We like having you here, dear."

Carolyn smiled wryly, finding it odd that Marguerite always managed to make her feel like a child when she was probably twenty years older than the woman. It was quite bizarre, really, she thought. Her gaze slid to Julius then, to note the solemn expression on his face as he eyed her, and Carolyn found herself wondering if he or Christian were older. The brothers looked like they could be about the same age, but her instincts told her Julius was probably the older one, though she couldn't say why for sure except that it was something about the eyes.

"Oh, here they are," Marguerite said happily, and Carolyn followed her gaze to the stage, where drums and a keyboard had been set up. Genie was now leading the band members onto the low stage and taking up the microphone to introduce them as they moved to their spots. Santo settled behind the drums, Raffaele stepped behind the keyboards and began to check things, Zanipolo and Giacinta both carried guitars and Christian was holding a . . . "Violin?" Carolyn said with surprise.

"Yes!" Marguerite beamed. "Isn't he clever?"

"Er . . ." Carolyn stared blankly. The men all wore black Tshirts and either black jeans or leather pants, making Gia stand out in her red and white. And their hairstyles were all kind of rock punky. Gia's hair was now gelled and wild around her head, while Raffaele's hair stood up in shiny spikes all over like a porcupine.

Then there was Santo's bald head, and Zanipolo and Christian's long hair, although Zanipolo had let his out of its ponytail while Christian had pulled his back into one. All in all they looked like a rock band . . . except for the violin.

"Christian was trained in classical violin, but he prefers hard rock," Marguerite said, sounding more like a proud momma than a new sister-in-law.

"Hard rock violin," Carolyn murmured, a bit befuddled. She'd never heard of such a thing. She liked modern music; pop, hip-hop, alternative and some hard rock, but she'd never heard of hard rock done with a violin. This should be interesting, she thought dubiously. "Just wait till you hear them." Marguerite grinned.

Carolyn forced a smile and nod as Genie finished introducing them and stepped off the stage to hurry to their table.

"Oh, my God, they are so hot, Marguerite," Genie gushed as she fell into the chair next to Carolyn's. "You didn't mention that they were all gorgeous."

"I showed you the video," Marguerite said with a laugh. "It was very small, and didn't do them justice at all," Genie assured her and then glanced back to the stage. Heaving a sigh, she muttered, "If only I were twenty years younger. I don't suppose any of them would be interested in a fling with an older woman?"

Marguerite chuckled. "Oh, Christian happens to like older women. But he generally prefers blondes."

"That leaves me out then," Genie said with a sigh and then elbowed Carolyn. "But it means you might have a chance."

Carolyn nearly spat out the wine she'd just taken into her mouth. Swallowing it quickly and managing not to choke, she glanced to Marguerite to find the woman smiling at her encouragingly. Carolyn could feel the blood rushing to her face with embarrassment. She shook her head and turned quickly to the stage as Gia stepped up to the center mic.

The young woman stood there for a full minute, garnering the attention of everyone in the room, and then she opened her mouth and released a high pure note that pierced the silence. Her hand crashed down across the strings of the electric guitar she held and the band suddenly kicked to life, all movement and sound. Santo's body vibrated as he appeared to try to beat his drums to death. Zanipolo was working his electric guitar like a cross between a lover and a submachine gun. Raffaele was pounding on his keyboards, his head bobbing to the music. Gia was alternately making love to her own electric guitar with long riffs and singing into the microphone with a clarity that Carolyn had never encountered before, and Christian . . .

Carolyn stared, watching the muscles in his arms and chest ripple under his black T-shirt as his bow scraped so quickly over the strings of his violin that she expected to see sparks flying and smoke rising. His eyes were closed, his face transported as the music moved through him. She couldn't seem to tear her gaze from him as he played song after song . . . and then his eyes suddenly opened and met hers. Carolyn felt like someone had jammed an adrenaline shot into her heart. She was sure it skipped a beat when his eyes opened, but when he caught her gaze and didn't release it, her heart started thumping again, charging ahead at a frightening rate that left her breathless and almost dizzy.

The music ended as abruptly as it had started. At least it seemed that way to her. Surely it hadn't been an hour and a half already, she thought faintly as the band suddenly began to set their instruments aside and move off the stage.

"Break time," Genie announced over the microphone and Carolyn blinked. She hadn't even been aware of the woman leaving the table.

"Weren't they great?" Genie asked. "They'll be back in fifteen minutes. I can't wait. How about you?"

The bar erupted in claps and cheers, but Carolyn's eyes were still locked with Christian's as he led the band toward their table. He hadn't even looked away while setting down his violin, and the intensity of his stare made her feel like a gazelle being stalked by a tiger. What remained of her intelligence pointed out that she was being ridiculous, but her instincts were screeching at her to run. Before she quite knew what she was doing, Carolyn stood, tore her gaze free of Christian's, mumbled something about the ladies' room and fled in that general direction at little short of a dead run.

"I told you she'd avoid you," Gia said as Christian watched Carolyn flee. His instincts were telling him to give chase, run her to ground like a panther with prey. The problem was what to do with her once he caught her. He knew what he wanted to do, but it was entirely inappropriate behavior in a public place.

Christian shook his head as that last thought registered. He already wanted her, he realized on a sigh. The moment in the van when he'd realized he couldn't read her, he'd immediately been curious. And he'd felt a strange flutter and tingle as he'd touched her to lift her out of the van, which had grown as he'd carried her to the bench. It was what had urged him to deliberately let her body slide along his as he'd set her down, which had only increased those sensations. But when he'd felt her watching him while he was on stage and opened his eyes . . . he'd been captivated by the emotions flitting across her face. He'd recognized awe, appreciation, loneliness and raw need and it had called up similar responses in himself. By the time the set had ended all he'd been thinking was to get to the table to claim her.

Christian hadn't been clear on how he intended to do that. Actually, he hadn't been thinking clearly at all, his blood was up after performing and he suspected it might be a good thing she'd fled.

"I'll go get her and bring her back," Gia offered as they reached the table.

"No, it's better she doesn't return until he's back onstage," Marguerite said at once, and when Christian glanced at her with surprise, she smiled apologetically. "Your passions are too hot right now. If you carry her off as you were thinking while playing, you'll scare her off. It's why I didn't stop her from going."

"I wasn't thinking that," Christian said at once.

"Darling, that was the most G-rated thing you were thinking," Marguerite said gently.

Christian flushed as his cousins chuckled, but couldn't deny it. He hadn't really been thinking of doing that, but images of that and much more had been running through his mind. Grimacing, he dropped into a chair at the table.

Marguerite patted his hand, then glanced to Gia and said, "You could go talk to her. Calm her and make sure she returns to the table once you're all back onstage. I think you'll like her, Gia."

"Okay," Gia started to turn, but paused when Santo caught her arm. "You need water," he said, spotting a waiter nearby and concentrating on him briefly.

"I don't drink water," Gia said with a scowl.

"But we don't have what you do drink here and there is no time for any of us to make a run back up to the villa to get it. Water will deal with the dehydration from the performance for now."

Gia clucked impatiently, but when the waiter suddenly appeared with several bottles of cold water dripping with condensation, she accepted one and moved off in the direction of the ladies' room. "So . . ." Christian accepted the bottle Santo passed to him. "How am I supposed to woo her if I can't go near her?"

"I don't think you should . . . for tonight at least. I think you should let us work on her first," Marguerite said thoughtfully. Christian stiffened at the suggestion. "Mother, don't confuse me with Father. Unlike him, I know how to woo a woman."

"Excuse me, I know how to woo a woman." Julius slid his arm around Marguerite, pulling her close as he added, "And here's the proof."

Christian nodded. "Which wooing technique do you think did it? When you attacked her and Tiny in that hotel? Or when you threw her over your shoulder and carted her back to that townhouse in York like a caveman dragging his woman back to a cave?"

"What? He did that?" Raffaele asked with surprise as Julius's eyes narrowed.

"I'm just asking so I don't use the wrong technique on Caro," Christian said, holding his father's gaze and ignoring Raffaele for now. Lips twitching, he added, "Maybe you could school me on how to talk to her. Should I practice in my head?"

"Oh man, I'm so missing something here," Zanipolo muttered. Julius suddenly relaxed. "Go ahead and laugh, son. But it's you in the hot seat now." Expression solemn, he added, "And Carolyn isn't immortal, with an immortal's understanding of life mates. She's also been hurt and has a natural resistance to getting involved with men at the moment, not to mention an utter horror at the idea of even being attracted to someone she thinks is as young as you. She will be difficult. Accept your mother's help."

Christian frowned, but glanced to his mother. "What do you suggest?"

Marguerite relaxed, though he suspected it was the brief verbal exchange between her son and husband that had made her tense to begin with. Now she said, "Well, I think we should see how Gia's talk with her goes. Then Genie can help."

"Genie? The entertainment coordinator?" he asked with bewilderment.

Marguerite nodded. "They are friends and Genie seems open to the idea of a vacation romance for Carolyn. As is her other friend Bethany."

"I'm not interested in a vacation romance," Christian growled. "Yes, dear, I know," Marguerite said patiently. "But it's a start. You have to work your way up to this."

He shifted impatiently, but knew she was right. "Okay, so how can Genie help?"

"With the right prodding, I'm quite sure she'll help convince her," Marguerite assured him. "But, in the meantime, I don't think you should even talk to Caro again until tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?" Christian sat up abruptly. Cripes, he wanted her now. Waiting till tomorrow was -

"You have waited five hundred years. One day won't kill you," Marguerite said, patting his hand soothingly. "Besides, it won't really be tomorrow."

When he allowed his confusion to show, she smiled. "Shared dreams."

"Oh, man." Zanipolo punched Christian in the arm. "Shared dreams are supposed to be hot."

"Hopefully between talking to Gia, encouragement from Genie, and the shared dreams she may be more willing to overlook the age difference."

Christian suspected it wouldn't be that easy, but merely asked, "Is she close enough to have shared dreams?"

"She's in the villa below yours," Marguerite grinned. "We arranged it."

"Thank you," he murmured.

"Don't thank us. We haven't won her for you yet," Marguerite said, and then warned, "And I suspect no matter what we do she'll still run eventually."

When Christian stilled, she shrugged. "All of your brothers' life mates ran at some point or other," she said quietly. "It's a frightening prospect for a mortal. They have not only to accept our existence, but trust in nanos, something they didn't even know about before meeting an immortal."

Christian glanced up as Genie suddenly appeared at the table, smiling widely.

"Oh, you guys are great. Everyone I've talked to loves you," she announced happily, and then asked, "Where's Gia?"

"She's in the ladies' room. I'm sure she'll be right back," Marguerite answered. "Christian was just asking about Carolyn, but I don't know her as well as you. Perhaps you can answer his questions?"

Genie's eyebrows rose as her gaze shifted to him. "Sure. What did you want to know?"

Taking his mother's cue, Christian smiled and said, "Everything."

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