Striping Hot - Page 24

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The sound of the ocean soothed Gianna as she sat by the shore. Before her, the sky was split into strands of neon orange that tinted pink in the late light. Between the iridescent clouds, shades of turquoise and violet shone, heralding the night to come.

After the wedding, Rex had taken her on a whirlwind honeymoon. They’d visited the finest destinations in Rome, Paris, and London. They’d seen the far wilderness of the Alps in Switzerland and the African jungles.

Finally, after staying in the grandest hotels and most luxurious cabins around the world, Rex had taken her on a cruise in one of his smaller yachts, the Haven. It was meant to be manned by one person, even though it was spacious and built for comfort. They had pulled away from Hawaii, venturing out into the beyond, looking forward to being truly alone together.

Even though Gianna was entranced by the sunset, she took her eyes away from it to lie back on the sand. She was so very tired these days. They had been at sea for at least two weeks, barely stopping at ports because both of them wanted the isolation of the sea to make it feel like there was no one in the entire world except the two of them.

Being at sea was draining, though. The abundant fresh air and the unmarked skyline sometimes made Gianna feel weightless, drifting without an anchor. She knew she’d want to get back to work soon, especially since the award night for the Pulitzer was coming up soon. She didn’t want to take a break. She wanted to get back to trekking around the world and finding that amazing story that changed the industry forever.

She chuckled softly to herself. Finally, finding “the big one” and breaking the story by herself had not changed her competitive spirit one bit. She still wanted to dig for the truth and spread it far and wide. She felt satisfaction at her achievements, but she was not done with her career, not by a longshot.

She heard Rex’s soft step on the sand and rolled over to watch him walking toward her. He was only wearing a pair of baggy pants, his muscular chest bare and bronzed in the dim, golden light.

He seemed to get even more handsome every time she looked at him. The dramatic dark brows, high cheeks, and chiseled chin never failed to make her heart skip a beat. His beautiful, athletic body was enhanced by his easy, confident stride. When he smiled at her like he was right now, she could see love and happiness emanating from him.

She remembered the dark, surly look he’d had the first night they met. She’d been struck by his beauty then, but it had been sharp, dangerous … almost frightening.

It had excited her, obviously. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be sitting here right now with a wedding band snuggled next to a giant rock on her heart finger.

She grinned, reaching up as Rex approached. He bent down and kissed her softly, both of them taking time with the kiss as if it were the first time all over again.

That’s why he just keeps getting more handsome. Because every moment we spend together, both of us fall more in love.

“Where have you been?” she asked as he sat down next to her.

“Just at the bar,” he said, gesturing at the line of restaurants behind them. “I was ordering some food. Do you want to stay in a hotel tonight or go back to the boat?”

She grinned, leaning against him. “Did you know that I was desperate for a soak in a hot bath?”

He wrapped an arm around her and kissed her cheek. “I had an inkling. The Haven has a nice setup, but it’s no hot tub. Of course, we could have taken one of the bigger yachts, but then we’d have to have brought a crew …”

“It’s okay,” she laughed, wrapping her arms around him. “I’ve loved having this time with you.”

He looked at her curiously, concern dancing in his eyes.

“You sound like it’s coming to an end. Should I be worried?”

Gianna leaned against him, sighing as she snuggled her cheek against his warm chest. The sun had sunk to the edge of the horizon, lighting the sky with hot pink and dusky red. Stars were beginning to glisten against the darkening blue, winking on one at a time as if responding to a secret sequence only they understood.

“This is so beautiful, Rex,” she whispered.

He held her close, stroking her hair. “It’s one of my favorite places. I didn’t get to travel much while I was in charge of the company. This has been a big change for me, but I didn’t realize how much I needed it.”

She sat up, looking into his eyes as she stroked a lock of wild black hair back behind his ear. They shared a smile that ran as deep as their hearts, a shared feeling that was identical in them both. It was just utter magic, feeling something so intensely and knowing … not hoping … that he felt it too.

“You should have been looking after yourself a long time ago,” she said gently. She put her forehead against his, closing her eyes. She knew that his mind and his heart were at peace now. He had finally realized that Melissa’s death had not been his fault.

He had opened to her more than once about his deepest inner fears … that he might be as greedy and ignorant as Voren. He’d been surrounded by tycoons his entire life and changing seats for a shot at a few million was exactly the kind of thing a villain would do. It was the loss of a bright young life that weighed on his soul … but also the knowledge that it could happen again if he let himself slide.

He had run all operations himself since that day to ensure there could be no damage done by his company. By burying himself in his work and making sure every deal was ethical to all involved, he felt he was doing penance, not just for Melissa but for himself.

As if he could prove to himself that he wasn’t a bad person for letting her die.

Gianna smiled and leaned in again to kiss her husband. The sun was slipping away. The light was dying. The stars were taking their place in the glory of the night, lending a silver glow to the sand and the low gentle waves.

A couple of young men appeared suddenly, putting up torches nearby. Following them was a waiter carrying a large tray and a bottle of champagne.

“Rex!” she laughed. “Did you organize this?”

“Of course,” he said softly. “Did you think I was up there making business deals or something?”

She laughed. “Have you even called in on the business since we left?”

He shook his head, grinning. “We’ve been gone over a month … I got an email the other day from one of the department managers. Lucy is in there every day, whipping them all into a frenzy. She protested at first, but now she’s come to love it. They are all terrified of her.”

Gianna giggled. “As they should be. She’s a formidable woman.”

Gianna was thinking about that very first night when Lucy had taken her aside and practically begged her to bid on Rex. Any price, she’d said. Just win him. Get close to him. He needs you.

Gianna snuggled against her husband. She had needed him too. She just hadn’t known it at the time.

The waiter bent down and handed Rex the platter and the champagne. Rex tucked the bottle next to him and balanced the plate on his lap. The fiery torches on either side of them gave the sand a rich glow and made the nearby waves flicker as the foam caught the light.

“I’ve got some musicians coming down to play, as well, if you like. We can go up to the restaurant to eat or stay down here. It’s up to you.”

Gianna giggled. “You’re only wearing shorts! Isn’t it ‘no shirt no service’ in there?”

He laughed. “It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing if your credit card is big enough.”

She laughed, sitting up so she could take a look at the food. There was some seafood she decided to stay away from, just in case. There were crispy fried chicken strips with a zesty sauce that she tucked into with great enthusiasm. Her stomach growled so loudly that Rex looked at her with overdone shock.

“What have you got in there, a tiger?” he said, eyebrows unnaturally high. She laughed, feeling silly and lightheaded. He didn’t know it, but he’d just stumbled onto her secret.

“Actually,” she grinned, “I do.”

He laughed, still thinking it was a joke. “Champagne?” he asked, lifting the bottle. She shook her head no. He frowned.

“Are you all right? I’m starting to worry about you.”

“I’m just fine,” she whispered, leaning in to kiss him. “I’ve just got a tiger in my belly, as you said.”

She pulled back a little to look into his eyes. He looked back at her, his eyes wide, his face blank. She grinned and shook her head a little.

Come on, Rex. Catch up.

Suddenly his eyes widened. He looked down at her belly, then back to her eyes again.

“A tiger … in your belly? You’re kidding me!”

She shook her head slowly, reaching up to stroke his cheek.

“I took a home test yesterday. That’s why I wanted to find a port so fast. I need to find a local doctor to check me out, then we will have to go back home … or at least stay in one place for a while so I can find a good gyno to care for me throughout the pregnancy.”

His eyes widened even further, and his face went white. It was as if he hadn’t fully understood until she said the word “pregnancy.”

“I don’t … I mean … I …”

“Take it easy, Rex,” she laughed. “You’re not the one who’s pregnant.”

He laughed, all his shock and joy coming out at once. He put the food and champagne to one side and leaned over to place a big hand over her belly.

“Little tiger,” he whispered. “Wow.”

When he looked up at her, his eyes were so bright, she could see his animal there, loving her with the same passion and fire the man did. His tiger side was primal, fierce … and devoted to her. Just as she had so many times since the day they met, she wondered how in the world she had gotten lucky enough to find him.

Gianna lay back on the sand, so Rex could rub her belly gently. The warmth of his fingers thrilled her. She was sure she could feel the child inside her already, even though she could only be a few weeks along at most. It would be exciting for them both to see the ultrasound and hear the heartbeat. She wanted to set up a stable environment as soon as possible.

It might be that I’m nesting already.

She grinned but sighed at almost the exact same time. Rex stopped staring at her belly as if it might grow right before his eyes and looked into her face with concern.

“Are you all right, Gianna?”

“Yes, darling,” she answered. “But I’ve been thinking about my career. I’ve had a wonderful time on our honeymoon, but I know, without my work, I won’t be complete.”

“I don’t understand the problem,” he said, frowning. “I want you to work. I would never keep you from it.”

She shook her head. “What’s going to happen, Rex? How will we live together, care for our baby, run your company and let me run around the world covering all the big stories?”

Rex threw his head back and laughed. Gianna waited, her heart pounding with anxiety.

“Babe,” he whispered, leaning over to give her a sweet kiss, “my company is fine in Lucy’s hands. I’m never going back. We’ll settle down near both our families for the pregnancy. As soon as you’re ready to go back to work, I’m coming with you.”

“What?” she asked, disbelief chilling her bones.

“I’m coming with you,” he said emphatically. “You think I haven’t seen the letters that come in, begging you to attend events all around the world to cover them? You’re a success, my love. You’re in demand. The only thing I want in this world is to watch you killing it every day.”

He rubbed her belly, smiling even wider.

“I’ll be the stay-at-home dad … in the sense that I’ll be standing in the crowd nearby waving at you while I juggle diapers, blankets, and bibs.”

She stared at him for a moment. Her heart beat hard against her ribs, and her eyes filled with tears. She sat up suddenly, throwing her arms around his neck and kissing him fiercely.

“I love you, Rex!” she cried, overflowing with joy. He cradled her against his chest, looking down into her eyes with a gentle, adoring expression.

“And I love you, my darling, my mate.”

Gianna let him push her back to the sand, his kisses melting her almost as much as his love for her did. For the first time in her life, she was truly seen, held, loved, and appreciated.

She was home.

The End

Tags: Milly Taiden Paranormal