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The Necklace VI



Snow on the Mountain



Linda S. Rice



This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.


Copyright © by Linda S. Rice. All rights reserved.

ISBN: 1533285659

ISBN 13: 9781533285652

Library of Congress Control Number: 1-325-1607301


Also by Linda S Rice


The Necklace – The Dusky Club, June 1962

The Necklace II – Back to Brighton, November 1962

The Necklace III – London, August 1967

The Necklace IV – Brighton, December 1999

The Necklace V – Strawberries & Wine

The Necklace VI – Snow on the Mountain

The Harpist



Acknowledgments

Many thanks to friends, acquaintances and relatives, who encouraged me to move forward with publishing “The Necklace – The Dusky Club, June 1962,” the first book in the series, the sequels, “The Necklace II – Back to Brighton, November 1962,” “The Necklace III – London, 1967,” “The Necklace IV – Brighton, December 1999,” “The Necklace V – Strawberries & Wine.” and now this sixth and final book of the series that continues the romance between James, a member of “the most famous band of all time” and Susan, the woman who has loved him since she was 12-years old.

Special thanks to my sister-in-law, Nancy Flood, for her editing help, and to my numerous Facebook friends, for their encouragement and time spent previewing this work

Lastly, and most importantly, I’d like to thank my husband, Michael, for his patience while I wrote, re-wrote, revised and edited over the many months it took me to complete all six of these books.

Stay tuned for a possible sequel series that will carry James and Susan back into their prior lives during an even earlier place in time…the Regency era…


To contact the author, e-mail Linda at: LindainMtLaguna@aol.com

























Prologue – July 2017



The Conte di La Spezia paced impatiently in the library of his Palazzo on the eastern coast of Italy, a frown marring his handsome and aristocratic face. He brushed a lock of his hair, as dark as a raven’s wing, from his forehead, his chocolate-brown eyes piercing the room.

The woman would be his…one way or another…along with the silver ballerina necklace that had been stolen from his family over two hundred years ago in London by a conniving Russian Count.

It had taken him almost twenty years to research the history of the theft and cost him many lires and later euros to discover the whereabouts of the necklace that his family claimed to have magical powers. Whether that was true or not, he didn’t know, but what he did know is that the time spent researching had resulted in the discovery of the very beautiful and desirable donna who now possessed it.

He’d first learned of the woman a year previous and set his agents to the task of following her and her husband and finding out as much about them as he could. Over the months, he’d been sent numerous photos of her, showing her wearing the necklace and after a period of time, he began to feel a yearning in his heart more for the woman who wore it than for the necklace itself.

The fact that she was now re-married after the loss of her husband didn’t worry him. But, knowing who she was now married to presented somewhat of a problem. James, a former member of the most famous band of all time and now a rock icon, was constantly surrounded by security and had a team of people who tracked his every moveas well as that of his new bride, Susan.

Ah yesSusan, the beautiful, emerald-eyed siren who had begun to invade his dreams and his heart more frequently after he saw her in person at a performance of the Los Angeles Philharmonic just last month in June.

Vicente, his younger brother, had been the one to originally find Susan after seeing a newspaper photo of her wearing the stolen necklace. After that, his agents had been called upon to track her and her attorney daughter, Michelle. Discovering that Michelle’s fiancé, Thomas, was a concert pianist in Los Angeles., it had been easy to trail them. The Conte had flown to California with the intention of arranging an encounter with Susan, but all he’d been able to do was observe her through opera glasses at the all-Tchaikovsky concert at the LA Center for Performing Arts.

He’d been enthralled…captivatedand believed he’d fallen in love. The necklace itself became only an afterthought. And, although at age 61, he knew he was five years younger than she, it didn’t signify. She didn’t appear to be a day over fifty, and her mature beauty only made her lovelier in his eyes.

After the concert, he’d worked his way from the private balcony down into the audience, but he was too late. Susan and her daughter had vanished, and his agents who had gone with him to L.A. hadn’t been able to discover where she’d gone.

“Diego!” Vicente shouted, entering the library. “Credo di aver trovato di nuovo la donna Susan…I believe to have found the Susan woman once again!”

The Conte stopped his pacing, eyebrows raised.

“She and this James person…her new husband… arrived in London two days ago. The news is all over of their marriage. It is supposed they have just returned from a honeymoon.”

Diego’s face became a mask as he contemplated the fact that the woman he loved and wanted had been in the arms of another man for the past several weeks. He pounded his fist into his hand.

Accidenti!” he yelled. “Cosa faccio adesso?! What do I do now?”

“Do not worry, my brother,” responded Vicente. “I will think of a plan...”



Part I – July 2017 – December 2017

Chapter 1 – The Las Caletas Villa

They were two days into the cruise when James’s security told him that news of his wedding and the ship he and Susan were on had reached the press and paparazzi. A crew member had obviously leaked the news. Tomorrow the ship would be arriving in Puerto Vallarta, and it was more than likely the dock would be swarming with reporters, fans, and lookie-lous. James was annoyed, having made plans to take a shore excursion to tour the city and hoping if he wore a disguise, no one would recognize him. But now, that was out of the question. Even venturing out into the public areas of the ship would be a circus of passengers gawking at him and his new bride. He knew Susan would likely be upset and nervous. Other plans needed to be made.

When the ship docked a little after 8:00 the next morning, James and Susan, disguised at crew members, exited the ship from the crew gangway and slipped into a nondescript SUV with tinted windows. The dock was swimming with the press and paparazzi, just as James’s security had expected, but no one noticed the couple’s quick exit and escape.

“Where are we going, James?” asked Susan, her hand tightly gripping his.

He could feel her trembling and squeezed her fingers. “I’ve arranged for a Mexican villa to be rented. It’s on the sea coast near Las Caletas.

“What’s Las Caletas?”

“It’s a resort, but we’re not going there. The villa is a couple of miles north, and it can only be reached by boat. Two of my security team have been sent ahead, and they’ll be staying there with us to ensure privacy.”

“A villa?

“You think I’d take you to a dump on our honeymoon? Yes, a villa…private and right on the sea. My team also arranged for a cook and two maids. They were cleared by security this morning.”

When he saw Susan’s face scrunch up at the mention of a cook and maids, he squeezed her hand again. “Now don’t go making a fuss about having hired help. I don’t want you spending time sweating over pots and pans in the kitchen or scrubbing floors. I want you to spend your time with me.”

She raised her chin in the air. “Maybe I won’t like what the cook makes…maybe it will be too hot or spicy…maybe it won’t be vegetarian…maybe…”

“Susan! Quit the maybes. My team knows we’re vegetarians! Do you really think they’d hire a cook who didn’t know that?! Now, behave yourselfif you want to consult with Maria regarding a menu, you can do that when we get to the villa.”

“Why can’t we just go to England? Or back to San Diego to Darian? Or even to my mountain house? No one would ever find us there.”

“Because we’re on our honeymoon, that’s why! Honeymoons are supposed to be special…”

He let go of her hands and gathered her in his arms, giving her a quick kiss.

“And now that you’re finally mine, I want to explore a new and special place with you. You never know, maybe we’ll fall in love with the villa and want to buy it. It could be another private and romantic love nest for us…”

“Exactly how many love nests do you think we need, James? We have Auntie Annabelle’s cottage and the house in Darian, and…”

“We can have as many as we want. I’m not exactly a pauper, you know.”

“I realize that…but you know very well that I don’t care about your money and all the things it can buy. You are what’s important to me, not lavish things!”

“You’ve made that perfectly clear, you know. But, I didn’t see you complaining about the penthouse suite on the ship.”

“That was different…”

“How was it different?”

“It was a cruise ship.”

“And we had the most lavish and expensive room on the ship.”

“Okay, okay…I’ll admit I liked it…a lot. I’ve been on a lot of cruises and mostly in tiny cabins.”

“So, you see…you sometimes do like lavish things.”

“Just sometimes…so don’t rub it in…”

James tilted his head back and laughed. “I aim to spoil you rotten, you know…”

“Good luck. I’m still buying my underwear at Wal-Mart.”

“We’ll see about that…but speaking of undergarments…” He slid a hand up under the skirt of her dress, tickling her thigh. “Maybe you should take these off…maybe you shouldn’t wear any undergarments at all while we’re on our honeymoon…hmmm?”

She tried to push his hand away, but he gripped her thigh tighter and moved his hand up to the leg band of her panties and tugged.

“Take them off, Susan,” he whispered in her ear.

“I will not!” she hissed back.

“If you don’t, I’ll push you down on the seat and do it for you…”

“You wouldn’t!!”

But, before she could say anything else, he grasped her upper arms and pressed her onto her back. Quickly reaching up under her dress, he soon had her panties off. As she struggled to sit back up, he lowered the window and tossed them out. Looking back at her, he could see the stunned outrage on her face.

“James!” she whispered loudly, “What can our driver and your security guy in the front seat be thinking?! You’re embarrassing me!!”

He pulled her the rest of the way up and into his arms. “They’ll be thinking we’re on our honeymoon, that’s what they’ll be thinking…”

And with those words, he leaned in and captured her mouth in a deep and lingering kiss.

***

Thomas, Michelle, and the wedding party watched from the deck of James’s and Susan’s suite on the ship as they exited the crew gangway below. Everyone was holding their breath, worried about the mob on the pier and waiting to see if they’d make their escape. A moment later, they all gave a sigh of relief as they saw the SUV slip away.

“I wonder who blew our cover,” mused Michelle before turning and going back into the suite with the others.

“I don’t know,” responded Thomas. “But, Dad was right pissed about it. I’m not so happy myself.”

“Neither am I. I think we’re pretty much stuck on the ship and in our suite for the rest of the cruise unless we want to get gawked at and harassed.”

“I can’t go on the zip line now?” asked Sherry. “Dad said I could go on the zip line in the jungle when we got to our first stop in Mexico.”

“Sorry,” said Carrie. “I think that’s out for now. Maybe we can come back to Puerto Vallarta another time and go on the zip line.”

“Why can’t we go be with Susan and my dad?” Sherry persisted. “Dad said they were going to a secret hideaway with a beach. I’d like to go to a secret hideaway.”

“Because they’re on their honeymoon and want to be alone,” said Carrie.

“Why do people always need to be alone when they’re on a honeymoon? Besides, they’ve been alone for the past two days. This morning was the first time I got to see Dad since the wedding. He told me goodbye and to behave myself, and then he and Susan were gone.”

“You’ll understand later when you’re older,” Thomas assured her.

“What if Joy and I take Sherry on the zip line?” asked Alice. “Nobody knows who we are and we can disguise Sherry good enough so that she won’t be recognized.”

“And two of Dad’s security guys can go with you posing as your husbands or boyfriends maybe?” suggested Thomas.

“That should work,” added Carrie.

“Are you sure it’s safe?” questioned Michelle. “If someone were to recognize her, it could be dangerous.”

“It won’t be a problem,” responded Thomas. “Dad’s security people are the best there are. Which reminds me…Dad is taking two of them to the villa he’s renting. He asked me to have a few more fly in today to be with us on the ship. I’d better go do that right away…”

“Does that mean I can go zip-lining then?” asked Sherry excitedly.

“Yes,” answered Joy. “Let’s take you to Alice’s and my cabin and work on a disguise right now.”

“And I’ll go down to the shore excursion desk and see if there’s room for more on the zip line tour,” added Alice.

An hour later, Sherry, Joy, Alice and two of James’s security men exited the ship and were on a bus on their way to the jungle and the zip line.

“So, Michelle Ma Belle,” asked Thomas as everyone filed out of James’s and Susan’s penthouse suite. “What would you like to do for the rest of the day seeing as though we’re stuck here?”

“Do you really have to ask, Thomas?” she responded, winking at him. “I think we should go back to our suite and continue to enjoy our honeymoon…”

***

When James and Susan arrived at the Mexican villa, the smell of cooking was wafting out of the kitchen onto the veranda that stretched the length of the building.

“Something smells good,” remarked James.

“It smells like something frying…probably something greasy and not healthy…” replied Susan, sniffing the air.

James shot her a disapproving look. “Let’s not start on that again,” he warned. “I’ll have no argument about having a cook…and I mean it…”

“Is that so?”

She huffed and quickly walked ahead of him, through an archway and towards where the aroma of food came from. Going through another archway, she entered a large kitchen and saw a middle-aged woman with jet black hair standing in front of an island that contained a gas grill. There were what appeared to be kabobs on the grill.

This must be Maria, she thought as she watched the woman deftly turn the kabobs before dipping her hand into a bowl of dough, working some of it into a ball then flattening it out before putting it on the grill. Must be corn masa in the bowl and she’s making tortillas.

When the woman looked up from cooking, a large grin spread across her face. She nodded cheerily at Susan.

Hola, Senora!” she beamed. “Bienvenido a la Villa de Las Caletas. Welcome to the Villa of Las Caletas. I hope you are hungry!”

James came into the kitchen behind Susan. “Something smells wonderful! And, yes, I’m very hungry.”

“It does smell good,” agreed Susan, lowering herself into a tall chair on the other side of the island from the grill. James joined her, sitting down in a chair next to hers.

“And, it looks quite healthy,” he added, smirking at Susan as if to say, “I told you so…”

She harrumphed.

“Zucchini, onion, sweet pepper and potato in my sauce especial,” said Maria proudly. “All will be ready in un momento.”

Saying that she turned the kabobs and tortillas then went to a counter behind her where she picked up two plates, silverware, and napkins. She set them out in front of James and Susan.

¿Qué puedo traerte de beber?” she asked, looking at James.

“To drink?” he responded. “¿Tiene leche?

“Milk?! You want milk?” asked Susan.

James looked over at her. “What’s so strange about that? You know I like milk.”

“Yeah, but with Mexican food?! You wouldn’t rather have a good Mexican beer?”

“You can have a beer. I want milk.”

Leche, no problema,” said Maria, placing two kabobs on each plate before going to a large built-in refrigerator to get a carton of milk. She set the carton and glass in front of James.

Cerveza, Senora? La Lupulosa is best. You would like to try?”

Susan nodded, and Maria went back to the refrigerator returning with the beer and a frosty glass.

“Delicious!” declared James, pulling the veggies off the skewer, wrapping them in a hot tortilla and taking a bite.

“Maria, will you teach me how to make fresh tortillas? And, also your special marinade?” asked Susan, taking a bite of her own veggie tortilla.

James kicked her foot. She looked at him. “What?”

Si…yes,” responded Maria. “It would be my pleasure, Senora.”

“You don’t need to be cooking while we’re here,” warned James. “Remember our discussion?”

“I didn’t say I was going to be cooking. I just want to learn how to make the masa and the sauce. You have a problem with that?”

His mouth formed into a straight line, but after a moment, he sighed heavily.

“No, Susan, I don’t have a problem with it. Do what pleases youand I know how much you love to cook.” He leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. “I want you to be happy…you know that.”

“I do…and, thank you. I love you, James…you know that, right?”

“I’ve always known that, Susan…”



Chapter 2 – The Plot to Capture Susan

Diego, Conte di La Spezia, stared intently at the wedding photos of James and Susan that his contact at the cruise line had been able to obtain for him.

Dannazione!” he shouted into the silent room. Why hadn’t he planned sooner and more carefully? There had been no indication that Susan would be married to James on the cruise. He’d been told that her daughter, Michelle, and James’s son, Thomas, were to be married onboard but not Susan. He was greatly annoyed.

It had been easy to supplant one of his agents on the ship before it sailed from San Pedro, California on July 9th. Surprisingly enough, it had also been easy to position Piero as part of the wait staff for the two penthouse suites. The handsome and quite charming Italian had quickly caught the attention of the female photographer who had taken the wedding photos. Thus Diego had digital copies of all of them.

Seeing Susan looking adoringly at James made his blood boil. He hadn’t been able to get her out of his mind since he saw her at the symphony in June. His opera glasses had been focused on her during the entire performance, watching her melt into the music. The thought of her melting into him rather than the music made his loins ache. If there was one thing about Diego that ruled all else, it was his passionate nature. And he’d definitely felt passion for Susan that was now impossible to shake after seeing her in person.

When he’d seen her tears during “The Sleeping Beauty Waltz,” his impulse was to leave his private box and rush down to her to find out what had made her cry. Was it the power of the music or something else? But it would have created a commotion and likely startled or scared her, so he decided to wait until after the concert.

By then, it was too late, however. She and her daughter had vanished into the crowd and two of his agents, who had been waiting outside the front of the performing arts center, had been unable to see where they had gone.

Arriving back in Italy a few days after the concert, he called his brother, Vicente, who assured him that with careful and thoughtful planning, Susan would be in his arms within two months, if not sooneralong with the coveted necklace.

***

After eating, Maria led James and Susan to their suite of rooms on the second floor of the villa. French doors opened onto a large balcony overlooking the private beach and ocean. The two maids were unpacking their suitcases and putting things away in a large walk-in closet with built-in dressers and shoe racks.

“These are all your cases, Senora?” asked the younger of the two maids, whose name was also Maria.

“Yes, why?” asked Susan.

“There are only four pairs of shoes,” she responded. “Did you forget the rest of your shoes?”

“No. And, I have a pair of sandals on right now, so that makes five pairs of shoes. Why would I need more than five pairs of shoes? I’ll probably be going barefoot most of the time here anyway…”

“But a woman of your importance should have more shoes…and more clothes as well.” She looked over at James who was talking to the other maid then leaned in and whispered, “Is your husband what they call a tightwad?”

Susan laughed. “No! He’s not a tightwad! I’m just not that interested in clothes or having dozens of pairs of shoes. He’s always trying to get me to buy things, but I’m happy enough with what I have.”

“You are very unusual, Senora. Most women would want beautiful and expensive clothes and many pairs of shoes, especially if she were married to a very rich man.”

“Well, not me…And I have to say that I’m happy to have you here even though I’m not so sure why I need a maid. I’m used to doing things myself.”

“But, Senora, you’re on your honeymoon! You should be pampered on your honeymoon!”

“That’s exactly what I’ve been telling her,” interjected James, coming to stand behind Susan. “And I intend to have her pampered.”

Susan rolled her eyes.

“I saw that you know,” he said, pulling her into his arms for a kiss. He winked at her. “What do you say we take a siesta, hmmm?”

Maria and the other maid, Rosie, smiled knowingly and moved towards the door. Maria pointed to a bell rope in the corner of the room near the bed.

“Just pull the rope if you need anything,” she said before both ladies exited the room.

“A siesta sounds good to me,” Susan purred into James’s ear. “Let me use the loo then change into something more comfortable.”

Pushing away from him, she walked towards the bathroom, kicking off her sandals on the way. When she came back out, she picked them up and went into the giant closet and began opening and closing drawers to see where her things had been put away.

“One of those nightie things I bought you might be nice for our siesta,” James called out from the bedroom.

Susan peeked out the closet at him and saw that he’d taken all his clothes off except for his boxer shorts and was lying back on the bed pillows, hands propped behind his head.

“Are you implying that our siesta isn’t going to include much sleeping?” she asked coyly.

“That’s exactly what I’m implying.”

She gave a lustful smile before going back into the closet.

“James!” she exclaimed a minute later, peeking back out of the closet again. “All of my panties are missing! I’ve checked all the drawers and can’t find them!”

She saw him look away before turning his head and looking back at her, a chagrined look on his face.

“Are they?”

“Yes…I have a drawer with my bras in them, but no panties…” A sudden thought struck her as she recalled him taking off her panties on the ride to the boat then tossing them out the window. She put her hands on her hips. “What did you do with my panties?!”

“I didn’t do anything with your panties.”

“Well, where did they go then? I know they were packed before we left the ship along with everything else.”

“I don’t like them.”

“I don’t care whether you like them or not! What did you do with them?”

He saw that she was getting angry and thought he needed to diffuse the situation so as not to ruin their “siesta.” Getting off the bed, he came towards her, brushed past her into the closet, opened a drawer and took out a scanty, lacy and near transparent nightie with a pair of matching thong panties.

“Just put these on, Susan,” he said, tossing them at her and going back to the bed.

She caught both before they hit the floor.

“You didn’t answer me, James,” she said, staring him down.

“I don’t intend to. You don’t need to be wearing those ugly panties on our honeymoonplus, it will make you more accessible without them…”

He smirked at her.

She felt the heat come into her face, partly from anger and partly from the thought of being accessible. Biting her tongue, she went back into the closet, took off her dress and bra then slipped into the scraps of lace that comprised the nightie.

She paused in the doorway of the closet and turned in a slow circle, allowing time for James to look at her near nakedness. She smiled when she saw a bulge growing in his shorts.

“You like?” she asked seductively.

He didn’t respond, just crooking his finger at her.

She grinned wickedly. “Maybe I just want to stand here and pose for you, hmmmm?” She turned her back to him, displaying a nearly bare bottom. Turning back to face him, she reached up and unclipped her hair. It cascaded down over her shoulders and arms.

“Maybe I’ll just stay right here taunting you…until you tell me where my panties are…”

James reached down and adjusted the bulge in his shorts. “Come here, Susan.”

She shook her head at him. “First tell me where my panties are.”

“Don’t make me come get you.”

“I’m not going to let you get me.”

“Is that so?” He sat up, moving his legs over the edge of the bed.

When he stood up and started pacing towards her, she darted to the left trying to dodge him, but he anticipated her move and grabbed her arm.

She squealed. “Let me go!”

He began to drag her towards the bed. “I think not…”

And, before she knew it, she was sprawled on her back with James on top of her.

***

Joy, Alice, and Sherry got back to the ship from the zip line tour an hour before the ship was due to set sail. Sherry was bubbling with excitement. Joy was limping; Alice was holding her back.

“I’m too old for zip lining,” moaned Joy. “Landing at the end of the zip line isn’t as easy as they made it out to be.”

“Tell me about it,” added Alice. “I never thought we’d get down the five lines. I almost changed my mind, but after we were dropped off at the top, there was no other way down.”

“I thought it was wonderful!” squealed Sherry. “The best fun ever! Can we go do it more when the ship stops again?”

“You mean in Mazatlán?” queried Joy. “I’m sure they have zip lines there too, but you can count me out! Maybe you could ask Michelle or Thomas.”

“Dad said they’re not allowed off the ship. And Michelle is expecting a baby so she couldn’t go anyway.”

“Yeah,” said Alice. “That would be a bad idea plus the dock is still packed with curious on-lookers…hoping to get a glance of James and Susan, most likely. But they also know that his sons and daughter are on here. Kind of crummy for them.”

“I heard that Thomas and Michelle might try to get off in Mazatlán,” commented Joy. “They were talking about going to England and that cottage that belongs to James…the one that used to belong to an auntie or something.”

“Oh! Auntie Annabelle’s cottage!” exclaimed Lynn, walking into James’s and Susan’s vacated suite. “Why would they want to go there? It’s not very big.”

“Because it’s romantic maybe?” said Carrie, coming in behind Lynn. “And no one in the press knows anything about it. It’s been kept a secret forever. Nobody would think Dad would go to a place like that with all his money.”

“Well, you’re all wrong as to where we’re going,” said Michelle, who’d been standing by a window in the suite next to Thomas. “Yes, we are getting off in two days in Mazatlán, but we’re going to my mom’s mountain house. No one knows about it, plus Mom is worried about her cats.”

“My Buttons kitty is with her cats, right Michelle?” interrupted Sherry. “Maybe I can come with you so I can be with Buttons?”

Michelle looked over at Thomas. “What do you think? I know we’re still honeymooning, but maybe we can take another one later…one more private…”

“Or, I could whisk you off to a Mexican villa like Dad did with your mum…”

“You could, I suppose. But, I’m feeling nervous about the baby. I’m supposed to have the ultrasound in two weeks. I want to know everything is okay. I won’t be able to relax until we know for sure.”

Carrie laid her hand on Michelle’s arm. “I know you’re worried about the possibility of Down syndrome after that last test you took, but I think your baby is going to be fine and healthy just like you and Thomas are.”

“We hope so,” responded Thomas. “But we’ll deal with it either way…”

Michelle smiled up into Thomas’s face. “Yes, we will, won’t we? So, Thomas, what do you say we take Sherry with us when we get off at Mazatlán? Unless, of course, she wants to stay on the cruise and maybe Carrie can take her on another zip line excursion.”

“I’d rather be with Buttons again,” said Sherry. “And maybe there are zip lines in San Diego, and you can take me, Thomas.”

Thomas laughed. “I’m not so sure I’m ready to brave a zip line, but yes, you can come with us back to San Diego. I’ll firm up the arrangements right now. We’re going to have to sneak off the ship like Dad and Susan did, though. I imagine the press and paparazzi will be tracking the ship to Mazatlán and it will be chaos there on the dock like it was here. No one knows that they made an escape. I’m sure most people think they’re still on the ship.”

“Unless the spy who leaked the news of the wedding knows they’re gone, added Michelle. “I wonder who it was…”

“You’re always so suspicious of people, Michelle,” commented Thomas. “It might have just been the captain who let something slip in front of one of the crew members.”

Michelle looked thoughtful. “I don’t know…I just have this gut feeling…”

He pulled her into his side for a quick hug. “Let’s just not be concerned about it anymore. We’ll be off the ship in two days, and everyone else can enjoy the rest of the cruise.”

“Does that mean I’m coming to San Diego with you for sure?” beamed Sherry.

Thomas reached over to tussle her hair. “Yes, Sherry, it means you’ll be coming with us…and we might even be able to find a zip line in San Diego.”

When the ship docked in Mazatlán, Thomas, Michelle, and Sherry, disguised as crew members, left via the crew gangway in the same way as James and Susan had, and were soon on a plane headed to San Diego. The crowd that had gathered on the dock in eager anticipation of catching a glimpse of James were once again disappointed.

***

Dono sono andate? Where have they gone, Vicente?” Diego asked, swirling the remnants of a deep red wine in his cut crystal glass. “Piero reported that they just seemed to vanish into thin air in Puerto Vallarta! E pazzesco…It is crazy!”

“I do not know, Fratello. But, it will not matter in the end. James’s website shows he is due in London at Cherry Studios to work on a new album in mid-August, and there is also news of him embarking on another concert tour in November. There will be much opportunity to catch Susan alone.”

“But the security…”

“You saw how easy it was to overcome that problem on the ship? It will be just as simple to get Piero on James’s security team…and as a personal security guard to Susan.”

“I do not want her kidnapped or frightened…”

“Kidnapping isn’t what I have in mind.”

“What then?”

“A ruse…Susan will be led to believe that James is cheating on her. She will be overcome with anger and jealousy.”

Diego poured himself another glass of wine and sat down on the couch in his office.

Proseguire…Continue…”

“I have found a woman, Lucia, a friend of Piero’s sister, who is a star in the erotic film industry. James will not be able to resist her. I will find a way to get her employment at Cherry Studios.”

Diego’s eyes were hooded, but he was intent on every one of Vicente’s words. He had not wanted a woman as badly as he wanted Susan since he’d laid eyes on a young girl, Abriella, over forty years ago and who he later made his Contessa. She had tragically died in an auto accident three years previously, and he had been devastated, never thinking to recover. That is until he came across Susan while researching the theft of the ballerina necklace.

“Are you sure you can accomplish these things?” he asked Vicente. “There will be background checks for both Piero and Lucia…puo essere difficile…it may be difficult…”

“Do not worry. I will make sure it happens.”

“Then what?”

“As he will accompany her everywhere, Piero will become Susan’s confidant. It may take a few weeks, but over that time, he will earn her trust. Meanwhile, Lucia will work her magic on James. Piero will make Susan aware of James’s interest in Lucia even if it is not true. Then all Lucia has to do is lure James into a compromising situation where Susan will discover them. She will be a broken woman.”

“I do not like to think of her as being broken…but if it is necessary. How do you know she will be jealous? Maybe James already cheats, and she knows and accepts it?”

“No, Diego. I have done my investigations. When James has been with Susan, not just now but in the past, he has never had eyes for anyone other than her. And, it is well-known that this green-eyed woman you desire to possess has a burning jealousy inside her. Believe me…she will be broken, and Piero will be there to pick up the pieces.”

Come? How?”

“He will console her and tell her of your Palazzo here in La Spezia. After all, he was Abriella’s personal security guard. He will urge her to leave James and go to a place where she can overcome the betrayal and her grief. She will be gone from England before James discovers the plot.”

“But he will surely come after her!”

“And how will he know where she has gone? It will all be done in haste while Susan is in shock and outrage. Piero will have her leave a note saying she never wishes to see him again.”

Diego began to breathe quickly.

“And when she arrives here?”

“Why that will be up to you, my brother! I’m quite certain you will be able to captivate her with your charm…and your wealth…”

“But James is nearly as wealthy as I!”

“Perhaps, but Piero told me that when he waited on them on the ship, that Susan had no jewels other than some paltry emeralds, that her engagement ring had a diamond so small, it was barely discernable…and she had virtually no shoes or clothes…and those she had were not designer made. The rumor is that James will not allow her to spend money and that he prefers her to look tawdry so that no other man will want her.”

Diego perked up even more. “How is this possible? E orribile! It is horrible!”

“And that’s not all…I learned that Susan is required to cook and clean for James. He does not allow her any hired help. It is tragic, don’t you think?”

“Cheap bastard! La mia bella, Susan, come può sopportare?”

“How can she bear it? I do not know. It is indeed shameful.”

“I will lavish her with beautiful things. I will treat her like a principessa!”

“And…we will also have the necklace back…just think…”

Diego smiled as he leaned back into the couch cushions. He no longer cared about the necklace. It was the woman he wanted. It was the first time he’d smiled in a long time.



Chapter 3 – The Honeymoon Continues

Susan wriggled beneath James in an attempt to escape him, but her efforts were futile. He was too strong and too aroused, pinning her arms above her head and bringing his mouth down on hers in a bruising kiss. Her squirming only made him more stimulated.

And, it was having an effect on her as well. No matter how many times he made love to her, the excitement and passion just kept growing. She couldn’t get enough of him, but to admit it would be like admitting to a weakness…which she hated to do.

When he released her arms and reached a hand down between them to feel for her moisture, she bucked him up.

“Slow down, James! Aren’t you always telling me I’m too anxious? Now you seem too anxious!”

“I can’t help it. Ever since I tossed your panties out the car window, I’ve been thinking about you being all naked under your dress, and it’s made me want you. I never thought the boat would get here…and then we had luncheon, and the maids were unpacking our cases…”

He began planting soft kisses down one side of her neck before switching to the other while at the same time trailing his fingers up and down her arms raising up chill bumps.

“I’m burning for you, Susan…”

“I can tell…” she whispered reaching a hand down to tug on his erection.

He flinched. “I mean right now…”

“Okay, okay,” she panted, pulling his stiffened member out through the opening of his shorts.

When she moved the scrap of lace that covered her crotch to the side, he slid into her in one swift movement, eliciting a scream from her. She raised up her hips and grasped his bottom to pull him in deeper, into the very core of her.

Then they both stilled for a moment, eyes closed, James savoring the wet heat of her and Susan reveling in the feeling of having him inside her. She dug her fingernails into his rear, triggering the rhythmic back and forth motion that soon had them both breathing heavily.

The pace sped up with James pounding into her, their bodies bouncing on the bed, passion consuming them both. Susan’s head tossed from side to side as she felt her release building, but before she was able to reach her peak, James spilled himself inside her, grunting loudly and moaning her name.

Knowing she’d been denied her own release, he slid off her and down between her legs, ripping off the thong panties before launching a tongue assault on the nub of her desire. She thrashed beneath him; his hands gripped her thighs tightly to keep her still. A moment later, she screamed as her climax consumed her, clutching the bed covers with both hands, her head rolling from side to side.

Pushing herself up onto her elbows, she looked down at him, face flushed and mouth open.

“Holy crap, James! How is it you keep getting better and better? I swear I don’t know how you do it!”

He smiled up at her wickedly. “Because I love you, Susan. It adds something extra special to our love-making, don’t you think?”

She scooted back on the bed making room for him to join her.

“Yes, it certainly does…it gives meaning and something else that’s hard to defineand I love you too…so much that sometimes I feel my heart will burst.”

He moved up onto the bed with her and gathered her in his arms. She reached up around his neck to the back of his head and pulled his face to hers for a slow and lingering kiss. When it ended, he looked into her eyes, feeling the intensity of her gaze.

Despite their tempestuous past, he was happier than he’d been in ages, knowing Susan was finally his and that she would be at his side…and in his bed…for the rest of their time here on earth. The peace and contentment from their most recent intimate encounter filled him with satisfaction, not just from the physical aspect but an emotional one as well.

He had to admit that their physical chemistry was beyond anything he’d ever experienced or expected, their union capturing the very essence of what heaven must be like if there were a heaven. And knowing how much she loved him in return made him realize that his need and desire to make her happy encompassed his whole being. It was almost frightening that she had so much power over him. Of course, he would never let her know that

“Maybe a little dozing off would be in order?” he suggested, settling into the pillows with her.

She just nodded back at him as he rolled onto his back, moving her head onto his shoulder, one arm around his waist.

“This is my favorite place to be, you know,” she whispered.

“I thought your favorite place was laying underneath me while I…”

“Sometimes, but not always,” she interrupted. “Sometimes my favorite place is sitting on the couch with you when you play your guitar and sing to me…or when I can watch you create new music…or lying at opposite ends of the couch with a blanket over us while we read and sometimes play footsie…or when you sit in the kitchen with me and keep me company while I cook…or when we take walks, holding hands and just say nothing…or a lot of other times too…”

He reached an arm around her shoulder and gave her a quick hug and kiss on the top of her head.

“That’s a lot of favorite places…You amaze me you know…liking the simple things…especially when I could give you so much more.”

“Life shouldn’t be so complicated. And, the simple things are always the ones you treasure most when it comes down to it. The best things in life aren’t things you can buy…”

“I used to think that, but over the years as the money started to roll in, I began to think differently…not so much when I was with my first wife, Susan, and when we were raising our children…but after she died. Money suddenly became the focus of my life. It seemed like all the people who surrounded me thought of nothing else.”

“Like your second wife, you mean? I don’t even want to say her name…but at least you have Sherry from that.”

“Yeah, like I said before…there’s a silver lining in every cloud…”

“Then your third wife, Darcy…”

“She was born and raised with money, but you wouldn’t really know it. She never made a big deal of it.”

“You lived a rather opulent lifestyle, though…”

“Yes; it was what she was used to…maids and all that stuff and shopping at the finest places. It was okay, but I could never really get into all the social things, one event after another. And, I often felt out of place, like my talking wasn’t refined enough. It was like her family, and some of her friends looked down at me like I was inferior to them.”

“But your money and fame overcame all that, right? I mean, people will overlook those things if you’re filthy rich and famous.”

“Yeah…on the surface, but underneath it all, you still know what they’re thinking.”

“I still feel guilty sometimes for breaking up your marriage. I felt awful for Darcy…you told me what a nice person she was and…”

James suddenly and angrily pushed Susan away, sat up and grabbed her by her upper arms. The memory of her suddenly running away from him when they’d been at the Darian house jumping into his mind.

“I’m warning you, Susan! I won’t have you talking or even thinking about that again…do you understand me?!”

When he squeezed her arms a little too tight, and she realized he was angry, she thought it would be best to back down from the subject. But, the truth was that she did feel guilt over the situation with Darcy. And it was the blatant truth that she’d been the reason for their marriage breakup. It was a simple fact. If she hadn’t come back into his life due to the Darian house remodel scheme instigated by Thomas and Michelle, he would still be with Darcy, happily married, and not here with her.

She began to feel angry herself and shook free of his grasp.

“And exactly why can’t I talk or think about it?! Why do you suppose you can tell me what to think or say, huh? Aren’t we supposed to be able to talk to each other about everything? Isn’t that part of what a marriage is all about? Or, is it all about your way and nothing else?!”

She rolled to the side and off the bed then stood up and made a futile attempt to cover herself with the transparent and scanty nightie. When she realized it wasn’t working, she ran around the bed and into the bathroom, slamming and locking the door behind her.

Crap! They’d only been married three days and were arguing already. Even on the way to the villa, they’d been tussling over having a cook and maids and then her missing underwear. But, not only that, they’d just made love and were chatting together so amicably before James got angry and instigated an argument

Well, what was so unusual about that? They always argued. Why would she expect it to change once they were married? Especially once they were married. Susan knew full well when she was being tricked into marrying him how it would be. When he’d held out his hand to her in the chapel on the ship, and she realized she’d been bested, it was plain as day what her future would be like. If she thought he was bossy and controlling before, it was obvious the rings on her finger would make him even more so. The fact that he kept saying she now “belonged” to him made it even more obvious.

She stomped her foot in frustration. She hated arguing with him, and she hated them being at odds with each other. When they escaped the ship, she’d anticipated days of marital bliss, including a lot of love-making…certainly not fighting.

And here they were fighting.

Again.

She sat down on the toilet seat, put her head in her hands and began to cry quietly, wiping the back of her hand across her face now and then and sniffling.

A soft knock sounded on the bathroom door a few minutes later.

“Please unlock the door, Susan,” she heard James say from the other side.

Sighing heavily, she wiped the tears from her cheek, got up and turned the lock on the door then went and stood at the sink, both hands gripping the tile counter. She looked down at them as he opened the door and came to stand behind her.

When he wrapped his arms around her waist, she removed her hands from the counter and placed them on top of his. Raising her head, their eyes met in the mirror.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered against her hair. “You’re right, you know. We should be able to talk to each other about anythingI shouldn’t have blown up on you…it’s just that when you said what you did about feeling guilty, it made me think of when you ran away when we were at the Darian house. I was so happy to be with you again and…”

She turned in his arms and looked up into his face.

“Oh, James! I just keep hurting you over and over, don’t I?”

She moved her hands up and placed one on each of his cheeks. “Why do you keep taking me back? I’ve left you repeatedly…and you keep forgiving me…I’ve lied to you and betrayed you…and I even left you standing at the altar all those years ago…”

“Susan, Susan, Susan…please stop,” he said, removing her hands from his face and grasping them tightly. “You promised me that you'd never leave me again and you promised no more lies. I’m counting on you never to break any more promises…do you understand?”

She nodded weakly. “But, what did I do just now? I ran away from you into the bathroom and locked you out.”

“You didn’t run very far, and it’s my fault for chasing you off. I’m sorry…I truly am sorry for going off on you. I’ll try not to let it happen again. You can tell me anything…anything! I want our marriage to work…I want it so very badly…”

And with those words, he sealed her lips with a tender kiss and led her back into the bedroom where they cuddled together on the bed and took a real siesta, falling asleep in each other’s arms.

***

Thomas, Michelle, and Sherry arrived back in San Diego near midnight the same day they got off the ship in Mazatlán. It was late, but they didn’t want to risk being discovered, so rented a car at the airport and drove directly up to Susan’s mountain home, which was an hour east of San Diego.

When they got there, Sherry was fast asleep in the back seat. Michelle didn’t want to wake her up right away, so she and Thomas unloaded the luggage from the trunk and carried it into the house and up the stairs. When they came back down for the last case, Sherry was sitting up, arms stretched up over her head and yawning.

“Are we at Susan’s house now?” she asked. “Is Buttons here?”

“Yes, we’re at my mom’s house,” responded Michelle. “And Buttons is asleep on the sofa next to Maxwell.”

Sherry got out of the car and followed Michelle through the garage then upstairs. “Is Maxwell one of your mum’s kitties?”

“He was my dad’s cat, but it appears he must like Buttons since they’re sleeping side by side.”

“Didn’t your mum have another cat?”

“Yeah, she still does. Her name is Isabelle, but I think she told me that Isabelle and Buttons don’t get along.”

“Dad told me that when he and Susan come back from honeymooning that the cats will all come to live with us in England. Maybe Isabelle should stay here if she doesn’t get along with Buttons.”

“And who would take care of her? Plus, I think my mom would miss her.”

“Maybe they’ll get to like each other then…”

“Let’s hope so…”

They arrived at the top of the stairs, and Sherry went to the couch to say hello to Buttons, who just looked up at her sleepily for a second then put her head back down on her paws and closed her eyes.

“Let’s all get tucked up in bed,” suggested Michelle. Spying Isabelle asleep on the reclining chair next to the couch, she added, “It looks like all the kitties are asleep and don’t want to be disturbed.”

“Oh, okay,” responded Sherry. “So where do I sleep?”

“In here!” yelled Thomas from down the hallway. Sherry followed Michelle up a few stairs, down a short hall and into Susan’s guest room.

“Nice!” exclaimed Sherry, bouncing on the bed a few times.

“I put your cases on the window seat,” said Thomas.

“I’ll help you find your nightgown,” Michelle said, opening one of the cases.

Five minutes later, Sherry was in the bathroom brushing her teeth, and a moment later Thomas and Michelle heard the guestroom door close.

Michelle flopped down on the couch next to Maxwell and Buttons and began to absently stroke Maxwell on his head. He started to purr. She looked up at the picture above the fireplace of her mom and dad. Thomas sat down next to her.

“Just look at them, Thomas…I remember us all being so happy when I was growing up…looking back, they were good parents, even though my brother, Steven, and I gave them a lot of grief from time to time.”

“All children give their parents some grief. I recall turning my nose up at the music my mum and dad made together and got into fights with them when Robert, Carrie and I had to go on tour with them. I was into classical music after my first piano lesson with a man who played with symphonies all over the world. I wanted nothing to do with my parent’s ‘silly love songs,’ as I referred to them.”

“Yeah, I guess kids will always buck up against their parents. It’s just natural, I suppose.”

She reached over and squeezed his hand.

“Do you think our child will be rebellious? Just think of the generational difference. When we go to school functions, we’ll seem like grandparents being in our forties, while the other parents will likely be in their twenties.”

“It won’t matter all that much. There are a lot of couples waiting to have children later in life.”

He squeezed her hand back. “I know you’re worried about our baby and the possibility of Down syndrome. I’m trying not to worry…I think our child will be fine and healthy.”

“We’ll know next week when I get the ultrasound, won’t we?”

“Yes, we will. And until then, I don’t want you worrying. Let’s just enjoy our time here with Sherry and not dwell on it, okay?”

“I’ll try, Thomas.”

She looked back up at the picture. “Just think…if Dad hadn’t died, my mom would still be with him, and your dad would still be with Darcy.”

“Maybe…probably…but I don’t think he was happy. He might have been okay with the way things were between them as a couple, but I think her social commitments were beginning to wear on him as well as her family and their high society lifestyle.”

“But he should be used to living an opulent lifestyle and rubbing elbows with the rich and famous!”

“I’ve talked to him about it, though, and he found it exciting for a while, but then there were too many people who wanted a piece of him. People who just wanted to rub elbows and then brag about it or who wanted something from him…a constant stream of ‘toadies’ is what he called them.”

“Well, what else would he expect being as famous as he is? It comes with the territory, doesn’t it?

“Yeah…but it wasn’t that way when Mum was alive. They toured a lot and were in the public eye a lot, but at home, they lived a simple life. Mum did the cooking, and they didn’t have a giant mansion or a hoard of servants or anything. When Mum got sick, Dad did buy a rather large estate outside of London that had hired help. He was thinking to pamper her as she got wellbut it never happened…”

“It’s the house where we were to be married, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

Michelle was quiet for a moment. “That was so awful, Thomas…what happened when Mom and I time-traveled back to 1999 so she could give the engagement ring back to your dad…that awful Hilary…”

“It was awful…but, if you hadn’t traveled back in time, we wouldn’t have met; I would never have known you…we wouldn’t be here now…”

“You wouldn’t have tracked me down using my mom’s mobile phone that she left behind…”

“And we wouldn’t have plotted to get your mum and my dad back together…”

“Did we do the right thing, do you think?”

“Yes; I’m sure of it. And, I’m sure your mum and my dad are having a very romantic time on their honeymoon…wherever they are.”

“Speaking of a honeymoon, what do you say we go upstairs and continue ours, hmmm?” She placed her hand on his knee.

He smiled at her. “I’m all for that, Michelle, Ma Belle…”

Standing up, she turned out the lights, and they both headed up the stairs.



Chapter 4 – Sex on the Beach

The days at the Las Caletas villa passed quickly for James and Susan. They spent hours relaxing on the private beach, swimming in the ocean and making love upstairs beneath a slowly rotating fan above the bed. Susan spent time in the kitchen with Maria and learned how to make fresh masa and tamales, which was a lot more work than she thought it would be, while James spent time on the veranda with his guitar, toying with new melodies.


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