My first sip of champagne, she thought with heady anticipation as she brought the glass to her lips and drank. The aroma of it teased her nostrils a moment before the taste of it exploded in her mouth and bubbles played on her tongue.
“Delicious,” she said and set the glass down.
“See what you’ve been missing?” He nearly drained his own glass. “Drink up,” he said with a wave of one hand while he picked up the grilled cheese sandwich with the other.
She nodded but used restraint as she took little sips while he ate and peppered her with questions about her studies at the convent. She answered him, explaining that she was almost done with the classes and hoped to be able to get a job shortly.
“We will miss you,” he said, his tone sincere and filled with emotion.
Heat worked up from her core with his words. She grabbed the champagne and took a bigger sip of the chilled wine to fight the traitorous warmth. As she put the glass down, she realized it was empty and didn’t get a chance to protest as Rake immediately refilled it.
“And then you’ll work on your novel,” he said, more statement than question.
Buoyed by his optimism, she nodded. “I will.”
He raised his glass for another toast and she joined him as he said, “To your novel.”
“To my novel,” she repeated, elation filling her with the thought.
“Tell me about your book,” he said.
The words spilled from her as she relayed bits and pieces about the new story she wanted to write about her abuela and abuelo’s courtship in Venezuela. As she did so, she sipped at the champagne little by little until her glass was once again empty. Rake quickly refilled it as time flew by with them chatting and laughing. They drank until the bottle was empty, and Rake went for a second.
Since her head was already swimming from a combination of the wine and his charm, she waved him off, but he merely gave her that rakish arch of his brow.
“My dear Josephine, is it time for another bet?” He reached for the deck of cards and although she was vehemently shaking her head no, he shuffled the deck and held it out to her to choose one.
My, my, this is getting even more intense, isn’t it? And that champagne, so tasty and so liberating, right? Maybe too liberating, my friends?
Angel and devil wrestled with each other on her shoulders, fighting for her attention.
“Think of Martin,” the angel said, and the devil added, “who betrayed you this morning.”
The angel broke free of the devil, stamped her foot, and said, “Don’t touch those cards!”
“You can’t lose every bet!” the devil teased.
Josephine drew a card, earning a joyous shout from the devil before they both disappeared.
The Queen of Hearts, a sure winner, she thought before the queen’s face morphed. Suddenly it was her abuela staring at her, shaking her head in a chiding manner and saying, “Niña, no good can come of this.”
She placed the card on the counter so Rake could see her choice and smiled.
“Feeling lucky, aren’t you?” he said and shuffled the cards.
“I am,” she confirmed with a wobbly, possibly inebriated nod. Since she had never had a drink, she wasn’t quite sure if the lightheaded, slightly fuzzy way she was feeling had to do with the champagne or with the handsome man who had been so incredibly captivating and attentive for the last few hours.
Rake drew a card and laid it down over hers. The King of Hearts.
“Fate?” he asked and stared at her intently, his dark gaze glittering with amusement and something else. Something decidedly dangerous.
A blast of heat raced through her body and up to her face. She covered her cheeks with her hands, trying to hide her response.
He grinned that enticing smile and reached out, gently taking hold of her wrists and applying pressure to lower them.
“Maybe it’s time for some fresh air?”
It was definitely time for lots of fresh air, she thought. Maybe a walk in the cool of the night and out in public would be just the thing to prevent this all from getting out of hand.
“Yes, that sounds good,” she said and whirled to escape the intimacy of the kitchen and the nearness of Rake.
Out in the lobby, the hotel manager came running over, his anger apparent at her tardiness, but he must have caught sight of Rake trailing behind her because he stopped short and returned to the front desk.
The heat in her cheeks intensified and she raced from the lobby and across the veranda that was virtually empty at the late hour. The sound of the river and a cool breeze beckoned her, and she hurried over until she was at the railing by the start of the marina. Rake joined her just seconds later.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” he said, but as she looked up at him, she realized he wasn’t looking at the river.
“We’re well past that stage, Josephine. Rake. My name is Rake.”
“Rake,” she said, finding that his name slipped way too easily from her lips. “I-I need to walk.” She hoped that if she kept on moving it would keep things on an even keel.
“Of course, Josephine,” he said and as she rushed from the railing, he matched his pace to hers and placed his hand at the small of her back.
No, that spot wasn’t tingling, she told herself, but imagined fireworks bursting from that point of contact directly into the night air.
Gritting her teeth, she fought the sensation, but it was like swimming upstream as the waves of sensation swamped her.
“Rake,” she said, pulling away from him and off to one side of the path along the marina.
“I like hearing you say my name. Say it again,” he said, the tone of his voice low and seductive as he came closer.
She backed up to avoid him, but he kept on walking toward her until her back was against the rough bark of one of the large poinciana trees lining the path.
“Rake,” she said, but it was part protest and part plea.
“Josephine, you can’t imagine what you do to me,” he nearly groaned as he cupped her face and laid his forehead against hers.
“Rake,” she repeated again, unable to find the words to tell him what she wanted. Mostly because she wasn’t sure of what she wanted.
Rake eliminated that uncertainty for her. He pressed her against the trunk of the tree and a magical shower of white petals suddenly rained down, the petals soft against her bare skin. The subtle fragrance mingled with Rake’s very masculine sandalwood scent and was intoxicating.
Before she could protest, he covered her mouth with his, the kiss tentative at first, but quickly growing more demanding.
Her head swam with the kiss and the feel of his hard, lean body against hers. It was the champagne, she told herself. But as he engaged her lips over and over, it occurred to her that maybe it was more about the man than the wine. And once more, she knew that this was absolutely something that she should not be doing, yet found herself powerless to resist.
Resist, Josephine, resist. Think of Martin. Kind, caring, gentle, patient…unfaithful Martin. No, no, remember Martin, Josephine. And the snow falling. Josephine? Josephine, are you listening?