Marrying Mari: Excerpt #3

“Hello, Mariella.” He held out his hand and, without thinking about it, she put hers into it. Ethan smiled as she did, and then raised it to his lips to kiss the back of it.

She caught her breath, then let it out in a gasp when he turned her hand over and pressed another kiss to her inner wrist. His lips were firm and warm, and her skin burned where they touched.

He gestured toward the booth. “Sit down, won’t you?”

Pulling her hand away from him, she turned to the end away from him. The leather was perfect, and Mariella bit her lip, knowing her wet coat would mark the seat. A quick glance at Ethan and she saw that he was watching her, waiting patiently, smiling that annoying smile. She wiped off her bum, quick, and sat, perched almost on the edge of the booth, one foot reaching down toward the floor outside the booth. Without comment, Ethan reseated himself in the farther end.

“Do you want some wine?” he asked.

She shook her head. “No, I’m fine. Where’s Mr. Pryor?”

“Around somewhere. He’ll be here in a minute.” Ethan signaled one of the waiters. “And it’s Gabriel. I’m Ethan.”

“What’s that?” She frowned.

“A glass of wine for you. Take away the chill.” He sipped the red wine in his own glass.

“I distinctly heard myself say no.” Mariella shook her head. “Maybe I wanted a beer. Or a shot of tequila.”

Ethan shrugged. “Would you?” He smiled at her.

A glass appeared before her. “Thank you,” she said politely to the waiter. After glancing at Ethan, the young man left.

Mari fidgeted with the glass, sliding it over the pristine white linen of the tablecloth. Sliding her hand into her purse she pulled out the wad of bills, laid it on the table, pushed it toward him. She looked up and started to speak, but Ethan forestalled her.

“Wait. Gabe will be here in just a moment, and you can tell us both.” He smiled again when she frowned at him, fiercer than ever. She raised her glass and took a huge mouthful, then froze.

“I know. It’s an excellent Chilean cabernet. You shouldn’t gulp it.”

She swallowed. “Wow! That might be better than sex!” she immediately threw a glance at him and away, and blushed. She took another, smaller sip.

Ethan was charmed. Blushing? Delightful.

While they waited for Gabriel, he studied Mariella. Her skin was a pale olive, and the remnants of bright color hung on her cheeks, highlighting the exquisite curve of the bones under her skin. Tonight she had more makeup on, but still far less than most women in the restaurant. She’d unbelted and unbuttoned the trench, if she wouldn’t remove it, and he could see the soft gray sweater lying against her chest and the upper curves of her breasts. He was glad for the curtaining effect of the linen over his lap, because looking at her, smelling her light fragrance, seeing her reaction to the wine had immediately made his cock harden to the point of discomfort.

Part of him was reeling from his immediate reaction to everything about this woman. Without talking to her for more than ten minutes, he was convinced she was the mate he and Gabriel had been waiting for—or at least, that he had been waiting for. And since he and Gabriel were determined to find a woman to mate them both, he was eager for his partner and friend to join them, to witness Gabriel’s reaction to Mariella tonight.

The other part of him simply wanted to get her in private, naked and flat under him, so he could show her that nothing—not even this marvelous wine—was better than the sex would be between the two of them. Or the three of them.

The thought crossed his mind that once they were alone, he might lose complete control with Mariella Amorini.

Impossibly, his cock hardened even more.

Where the hell was Gabriel?

Mariella suddenly shot to her feet. “Look, Mr. Stone, I only came here to return this—” she thrust the money at him. “And to tell you—”

“What’d I miss?” Gabriel’s amused tone came from behind and above her. She turned, and faced the wall of the man’s broad chest. She looked up, and drew a deep breath. Immediately his scent filled her nose. Spicy, with a hint of green.

Damn, he was tall, too. Mariella knew she was on the short side, but both men made her feel ridiculously tiny. And she knew it was as much their personalities as their actual height in inches.

“I think she wants to give back her bonus.” Ethan’s voice was dry behind her.

She whirled to confront him. “Yes, I do. One grand? For delivering one little envelope? I’m not an idiot. Either there was something hinky about that envelope or you’re trying to buy something that isn’t for sale!” She dropped the cash on the table as if it burnt her hand.

“Hinky?” Gabriel chuckled.

“I find myself desperate to know what ‘hinky’ might include. Please sit, Miss Amorini.” Ethan stared at her, intent.

Gabriel’s big hands clasped her arms from behind and pushed her, gently but firmly, back into the booth.

“Hey!”

Before she knew what was what, she was seated in the center curve of the booth, flanked by both men. Who were now staring at her intently.

Gabriel turned and, seeing a waiter, flicked a finger. The man jumped toward the booth.

“Yes, Mr. Pryor?”

“Tell Etienne we’re ready for the first course.”

“Yes, sir.” The waiter bounded away, obviously eager to follow Gabriel’s orders.

Mariella made a disgusted noise. “Does everyone leap when you speak?”

Gabriel grinned. “Here, yes. It’s my place.”

“You run Insatiable?”

“Yes. I run it, and Ethan and I own it. He’s the silent partner.”

While Mariella digested this, five staff members hustled to the table, bringing china, silver, napkins, and a wineglass for Gabriel. One of them carried an opened bottle of wine, sweating in a silver cooler. He poured Gabriel a glass. Other staff members set down small plates of mixed olives, cornichons, bite-sized croissants, three silver saucers of what looked like soft cheese or dip, and fresh curls of butter. All of them ignored the wadded money, keeping blank looks on their faces.

She wondered what they’d say once they were back in the kitchen.

Ethan sighed. He scooped up the crumpled bills and smoothed, then folded them together. He picked up her purse from where it sat next to her wineglass and opened it.

“Hey!”

He smiled at her, like a wolf, and inserted the neatly folded bills inside. He closed it and laid it back, next to her hand. “Now,” he drawled, “explain ‘hinky.’”

Mariella shook her head. “I can’t stay for dinner. I only came to return the money—”

“Do you have a date?” Gabriel asked on her right.

“Maybe,” she said.

Ethan smiled as he bit into an olive. “No, she doesn’t.”

She flashed back to him on her left. “How do you know?”

“Too late for a date on a work night.”

“Have you had dinner already?” Gabriel asked.

“No—”

“And you came to Insatiable not intending to eat, despite all the buzz?” Gabriel’s voice was mocking. He clicked his tongue. “Ridiculous. You must at least try these.” He buttered one of the tiny croissants and held it to her lips.

“I—” When she opened her mouth, he ruthlessly shoved it in. “Hey!” Her indignant outburst was garbled by the obstruction of the croissant, which she had to chew.

Oh. My. God. She nearly swooned. She did moan in delight.

“What was that?”

Gabriel smiled. “Blue cheese and rosemary. Good, isn’t it?”

“Back to hinky,” Ethan said smoothly.

Mariella turned to him—and stopped . His eyes were glittering with arousal. The dark blue was molten. She dropped her eyes to his mouth. He had firm, masculine lips that tightened now, as she watched. “Mariella.” Her name came out in a growl, a warning. His hands were fisted on the tablecloth.

“Mmm?” She stared at his lips.

“Don’t move too quickly, beauty, or you won’t get your dinner.” His voice was thick. “You might just be dinner.”

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