She delighted him by laughing. “As long as you haven’t allowed yourself to be swayed by ill-informed stereotypes.”

“Not my style.”

“I’m not about to ask what your style is.”

“I’d be happy to tell you.”

“I’ll bet. So what are you ordering?” she asked.


“That’s a little cliched.”

“I can’t help myself.”

The waiter appeared and discussed the evening’s specials. Francesca chose a baked chicken dish, while he had his usual. He ordered a bottle of Wild Sea Vineyards Cabernet.

“Interesting choice,” Francesca said. “The wine I mean.”

“They’re local. Central California.”

“I know.” She tilted her head, her hazel eyes bright with emotions he couldn’t read. “So, Sam Reese, why did you invite me to dinner?”

“Easy question. You fooled me. That doesn’t happen very often. I was impressed.”

“By my disguise?”

“Sure. I should have been able to see through it and I didn’t. When you fainted, I was terrified we were going to be delivering a baby right there in the hallway.”

“It would have been a shame to spoil such nice carpeting.” She smiled. “I was pretty unattractive. I’m surprised you didn’t run in the opposite direction.”

Their waiter returned and showed Sam the bottle of wine. When Sam nodded, the young man opened it, then poured a small amount into Sam’s glass. He took a sip.

“Very nice.”

Francesca waited until the waiter had left before tasting her wine.

“Do you like it?” he asked.

“As you said, it’s very nice.”

There was something in her voice. Something he couldn’t place. Amusement? Annoyance? Both?

“Why did you accept my invitation to dinner?” he asked.

“Because I wanted to.”

Good answer, he thought as his gaze settled on her lush mouth.

“Tell me what you do,” she said. “I saw a very nice office with lots of room, but no clues.”

“I run Security International. We’re based here in Santa Barbara, although we operate all over the world.”

“What kind of security?”

“Personal. We provide bodyguards on a temporary or full-time basis. We have a security consulting division, and we will train other people’s bodyguards.”

She looked startled. “Like the movie?”

He knew which one she meant. “My people get fired for sleeping with a client.”

“That seems harsh.”

“They’re paid to stay alert, not get lucky.”

“Any famous clients?”


She waited expectantly, then laughed. “You’re not going to give me any names.”

“Not even a hint.”

“That really big guy back at the office. Jason. He’s one of your bodyguards?”

Sam nodded.

“He wouldn’t exactly blend in.”

“Sometimes that’s not what the client wants.”

“Everybody armed?”


“Even you?”

He gave her a slow smile. “Especially me.”

She picked up her wine. “Even now?”

“Want to see?”

Francesca was willing to bet Sam hadn’t spent more than fifteen minutes without a woman circling in his orbit. Her specifications had been clear-she would throw herself at the first eligible, attractive guy she ran into. She’d thought the situation might be nerve-racking and awkward; she hadn’t considered she would be a bush-league rookie playing with the pros.

“I’m not sure you want to flash the staff,” she said. “This is an upscale restaurant, and they frown on that sort of thing.”

She sipped her wine, which actually wasn’t bad. Not that she would be telling her sister.

“Afraid?” he asked. “The safety’s on.”

As if they were talking about the gun. “I’m cautious and sensible. Not afraid.” She put the glass down. “How long have you been in the security business?”

“All my life. My grandfather founded the company.”

She knew all about family concerns. “Any siblings to share the responsibility?”

“No.” He shrugged. “My father died when I was a kid. My mom passed away a few years ago, though we were never close. Now there’s just my grandfather and myself.”

The waiter appeared and set their salads in front of them. Francesca stared at the artful arrangement of baby greens, apple slices, blue cheese, and walnuts. Her mind whirled with possibilities.

Married? No. That wasn’t an option. Her luck couldn’t be that bad. There was no way the first guy she’d been attracted to in the past three years could be-

“You’re not married, are you?” she blurted.

Sam paused in the act of bringing his fork to his mouth. He set the utensil down.

She braced herself for a joke or teasing, or something snide. Instead his expression turned serious. “I wouldn’t have asked you to dinner if I were married or involved.”

Relief blended with the flavor of the cheese. “Okay.”

“And you? Any current or former Mr. Marcellis floating around?”

“No. Actually, Marcelli is my maiden name. But I was married several years ago. He passed away.”

“I’m sorry,” Sam said. “You must have married young.”

“At eighteen. Right on time, according to my rather twisted family’s expectations.” She speared a slice of apple. “I come from an Irish-Italian family. Very large, very traditional. We’re supposed to marry young and procreate with abandon.”


She bit back a smile. “Not that I know about.”

He chuckled. “I had an ill-fated marriage. I was all of twenty-two, off in Europe, out of college, and on my own. We didn’t make it to our first anniversary.” He shrugged. “We were both too young. No kids, which is good. Divorce is tough on them.”

“I agree.”

He picked up his wine. “Enough serious conversation. Do you plan to seduce me later?”

If Francesca had been drinking, she would have spit. All promises and plans made in the presence of her sisters aside, this was a first date. She might want to throw herself in the deep end, but not in the first hour.

She was reasonably certain Sam was teasing, but just in case there was a grain of truth to the question, she decided on the most sensible, mature course of action.

She ignored it.

“Has your company always been based in Santa Barbara?” she asked.

Sam chuckled. “Chicken.”

“Cluck cluck. Now graciously accept the change in subject, please.”

“Okay. My grandfather had a branch office in Los Angeles for a while, but the base of operations has always

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