Once burned is all it takes...
A Rancho Del Cielo Romance.
Twelve years ago, Raul Montenga left home to live life on his own terms. Yet for just as long, his nights have sizzled with erotic dreams of Penelope, the girl he left behind. Enough is enough. It's time to find out if the sparks are real, or all in his head.
Not that he expected a warm welcome, but her cold shoulder and icy rejection sting more than he cares to admit. So he's more than a little surprised to find her tomboy daughter standing nervously on his porch...claiming to be his child.
Dr. Penelope Gibson's worst nightmare isn't that her daughter wants to know her daddy. It's facing--and keeping at arm's length--her biggest youthful mistake. Now he's back and the feelings she'd thought frozen solid are melting fast. Along with her inhibitions, her clothes and her better judgment.
Problem is, Raul's not content to stop at getting acquainted with her daughter. He wants it all--Penelope's love, her body and her soul. After twelve years building a life without him, though, she's not sure she trusts him--or herself--enough to try.
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November 03, 2009
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Excerpt from Burn for Me by Dee Tenorio
Another damn dream. Seductive, sensual, sexual dreams of a woman he had never touched and a body he couldn't forget.
Raul rubbed his eyes and counted to twenty, knowing it wasn't going to do a damn thing for his aching dick. Not even cold showers seemed to do much about it these days. He'd just have to wait until his libido figured out that the sexy lady doc it craved wasn't remotely in the vicinity. 'Til then he was stuck with the cobwebs of yet another embarrassingly detailed sexual fantasy. Positions might change, outfits and places might alternate, but in the end they were always the same. Silken limbs, the scent of red-petaled flowers and long sable hair sliding through his fingertips. Her taste, her scent, so different from anything he'd ever known but stamped with a remarkable sense of coming home that never failed to overwhelm. And that was the kicker.
He'd had plenty of sex in his time, and most of it would probably have been satisfying if it had ever once been coupled with the emotions he felt in these fucking dreams.
"I love you, Raul." The whispers were always the same, too. Her voice, husky with want, following him into the waking world like ghosts. "I've always loved you."
Then their fingers would twine together while he slid into her perfect depths. Sensation that could drown surrounded him every time. He'd look into her eyes, the deep cobalt blue he'd never seen on anyone else...and he'd jerk awake in his bed, hips pressing into his mattress, face lifted above only his pillow. No kiss-moistened full lips, no passion-drenched blue eyes, no Penelope Gibson undulating beneath him, crying out that she loved him over and over again.
Every fucking time.
He hated that damn dream. For more than ten years he'd absolutely hated it. Whenever he'd been lonely, missing home, it never failed to show up. A harbinger of the homesickness he couldn't seem to kick. He'd come to think of Penelope as his personal symbol for the little town of Rancho del Cielo. After enough sexual reminders, he'd generally succumb and visit his family until he couldn't stand being around them anymore, and he'd head back to the life he'd created for himself until the next round of pointless hard-ons.
Sure, he'd looked for Penelope whenever he visited, but she always seemed to be out of town or just plain hard to find. All for the best really, since she was five shades too sweet, too perfect for the likes of him. As a kid, she'd had a crush on him that everyone and their grandmother knew about, which was probably why his subconscious used her as the holy icon of home, but enough was enough. Even if he considered her the one that got away, it wasn't like she'd hurt herself waiting for him or anything. By the time he'd made his first visit home, she'd already had a kid. His brain should have gotten a clue.
Then again, his brain knew a good thing when it saw one.
It didn't require a psychology degree to figure out that the sex dreams were because he had a one-track mind. And if that track wanted to go up one side of Penelope's curvy little body and down the other, who was he to stop it?
Apart from being the guy left with a throbbing case of blueball.
And only the ache in his groin could derail the direction of his thoughts, which it did by practically staining the edges of his vision black from the lack of blood in his brain.
Raul sat up, shifting the evil erection gingerly and willing his body to relax, wishing he couldn't so easily call up the sensation of her soft pink mouth wrapped around his c--
He jumped at the sound of his doorbell.
Who the hell rang the doorbell these days? That he knew? Most of his family thumped with their shoulders as they tried to walk right into his apartment, followed immediately by the irritated yowl of his name. Whoever it was stood out there by the second floor railing, patiently waiting. Definitely not family. Which left one option.
Groaning, Raul reached for the pair of sweats he'd draped over a chair and dragged them on. Would it be the overpriced meat truck? The mostly deaf Jehovah's Witness old lady? Or the only kind of salesperson he was happy to see--Girl Scouts bearing copious amounts of Thin Mints?
A glimpse through the peephole revealed only the top of a small red hat. Someone short. Cookies were a definite possibility. He unlocked and opened up.
A little girl in a baseball cap, dusty raglan with matching red sleeves, and beat-up pair of blue jeans stood there, smudges of dirt on her cheeks. She held on to a black BMX bike by the handle and the seat. It was just as dusty as the rest of her.
He frowned. "Not selling cookies, are you?"
She leaned her head backward and to the side to eye him with such distaste, her mouth only opening on one side, that he couldn't help but think of his mother's expression when she was requested to do the unthinkable, like his laundry. "Do I look like I sell cookies?"
"Um...I'm gonna go with no."
Which seemed to placate the girl, because her small shoulders relaxed and her chin came down. There was a sound from downstairs, some parent snapping at their child, and her head turned as if she thought it might actually be for her. Could it be? He looked over her shoulder, noting that for an obvious tomboy, she sure had long hair. A thick sable braid, glossy even in plaits and dust, fit through the hole at the back of her hat and draped down past the middle of her back.
Nope, that mother had her unhappy kid in hand, pulling him down the walkway toward the parking lot. The girl in front of him visibly relaxed. Not a good sign. He knew what kids afraid of getting caught looked like.
"What can I do for you?" he asked, regaining her attention while wishing he had a shirt. Underwear would be even better. Best would be having a clue who the hell this kid was, but it was hard to see her features clearly, shrouded as they were by her cap bill.
"You don't recognize me?" Her small mouth turned downward, displeased.
"I can't really see you." He pointed at the hat.
"Oh, shit, I forgot." Fast as a whip, she yanked it off, zipping her braid through the hole so quick it had to have snagged some loose strands of hair with it. "Recognize me now?"
Implied was the threat that he'd better.
Trying not to smile, especially at the sense of unease creeping up his back, Raul studied the little girl's face. Heart shaped, her chin a little ball that jutted out with what could only be challenge, and cute, feminine features completely at odds with the personality glaring at him. Little bow lips, rosy cheeks on tan skin, her eyes wide and fringed with thick lashes. By feature, she only looked slightly familiar, as if he'd seen her in town or something but never been introduced. In a town of roughly twelve hundred, that wasn't a strong possibility. But he knew those eyes. Cobalt blue, almost glowing with intelligence.
"You're Penelope Gibson's girl." The one who had been the flower girl at the Whittaker wedding last February. He smiled in relief. "You look a lot different when you're not in a dress."
Until he mentioned the dress, her face seemed torn between happiness at being recognized and disappointment for something he couldn't imagine. As soon as he said "dress", though, all her features scrunched in utter dislike. "They had to give me fifty bucks to get me in that thing."
"You extorted Miranda out of fifty bucks?" He wasn't sure whether he should be more surprised about the extortion or the victim. Knowing Miranda Whittaker and her wily ways, though, he had to go with the victim.
The girl smiled, so bright and sly he just knew, right then and there, she was going to be serious trouble for her mother in another decade. Maybe sooner.
"No, I only got fifteen out of Miranda. She's good. I got the rest out of Trisha." The maid of honor. Both women were her mother's best friends, though. "She gave me extra not to get dirty, but she's a soft touch. I'd have stayed clean just to keep from pissing off my mom."
Okay, this girl was definitely trouble now.
"So, what can I do for you?"
Finally, the girl's confidence dimmed. When she blinked uncertainly up at him, for a whole second she looked exactly like her mother did at that age. "You really only recognize me from the wedding?"
Yes, but he had the feeling he'd be better served by silence.
She let out a soft, rising whistle of incredulity. "Wow, Danny's right. You are oblivious."
"You're friends with Danny?" Not as much a shock as he made it sound. His ten-year-old nephew was friends with every kid in town, if his birthday parties were any indication.
"I'm his best friend. Have been since, like, kindergarten. Where've you been?"
"Seattle," he replied numbly. Did she not realize how hard it was to keep track of the numerous offspring of his numerous siblings? He was lucky he had everyone's name right. Knowing their friends--kids who moved as a swarm, yelling, laughing, eating, crying and apparently swearing--required more brain cells than he could claim.
"Well, that's a reason, not an excuse." The little face was so prim it took real effort not to crack up. Who did she know that talked that way? Even Pen, prissy as she could sometimes get, never looked like she sucked lemons on a daily basis.
"Yes, ma'am." Amused or not, he was standing shirtless at his door, hiding as much of himself as he could with the plank of wood in his hands, and it couldn't go on a whole hell of a lot longer. "So, what can I do for you, Miss Gibson?"
Her eyes went wide and her whole little body went stock-still.
Shit, this could not be good.
Carefully, she unpeeled what he only now realized was a white-knuckled grip on the bike handle and stretched her hand out for a shake. Very formal, very proper and really strange, he could tell, for this kid. She swallowed. Slowly. "I'm Chloe Gibson, sir. I figured it was time we met."
Confused, Raul reached out his hand. "Raul Montenga, nice to meet you." If he didn't know better, he'd think she was about to cry the second his hand swallowed hers. She was staring at their bobbing hands, her round little chin wobbling and her teeth biting into her lower lip. But she kept right on bouncing her hand up and down, like a perpetual motion machine. It was shaking in his grasp, but she delivered a firm grip anyway. "Why did you think it was time we met?"
Crap, she was going to cry. Those deep blue eyes were filling with tears she seemed determined not to let fall. They floated there on her upturned face, making him want to turn away so she didn't have to wipe them away in front of him. But she didn't stop pumping his hand. What the hell was going on here?
"Because...I'm pretty sure you're my father."
"What do you mean she's not there, Mother?" Penelope stood next to her desk, eyes closed, rubbing the deepening crease forming between her brows, her other hand gripping the phone until her knuckles hurt. Ever since Chloe had started walking--and thus doing everything she could, just because she could--the line had been getting more and more permanent. In another year, it was going to become bigger than the Grand Canyon. "She has to be there."
She promised she wouldn't leave anymore.
Penelope longed to sit down. It would be so nice to get off her feet, but she had a roomful of patients to see. As one of only two doctors in town, she was generally busy, but with Dr. Pruett downshifting toward retirement, she was getting busier and busier. With the regular fall rush of colds combined with an onslaught of upcoming births, the last thing she needed was for Chloe to start acting up.
"Would you like me to get down on hands and knees and search under every rock and cavern on the property, Penelope? She opened the gate. I'm telling you, that daughter of yours has run off again."
"Did you say something to her?" Again? Lorna's two-hour-long lectures were not events that Chloe was willing to abide.
"Nothing she listened to," Lorna replied dryly. "You can't expect me to remain silent when she speaks so disrespectfully. You simply cannot."
No, disrespect was one thing neither Lorna nor Penelope allowed. "I don't, Mother."
"I'd recommend washing her mouth out with soap, but I'm absolutely positive the child needs bleach. Where on earth did she learn those words?" Unspoken was the accusation that behind Lorna's back, Penelope must be swearing like a Godfather-film reject. Which was tempting at moments like these, but Pen refused to give in. Out loud.
"What did she say now?" Lorna's silence said more than Pen wanted to hear. She could feel the line in her forehead deepening. "I'll handle it."
Penelope didn't need to look at her appointment book to know she didn't have time for this. Wednesday was her long day. The office was full and it was only three. She was looking at another three hours before she could get home. Chloe had timed her rebellion well.
"I've been through your list of her friends. Why do you think it took me this long to call you? She's not in any of the usual places."
Damn. Damn, damn, damn. Lorna was many things, but she couldn't be accused of not being thorough. "I'll cancel my appointments and--"
The door to her office opened and a familiar red cap peeked through. Unharmed and already sheepish, Chloe slipped into the room.
Relief, quickly overwhelmed by a surge of anger, flooded through her. "She's here, Mother. I'll call you back." Penelope was already dropping the phone into its cradle, mouth pursed to demand where exactly her daughter had been, when the door pushed open further, revealing the tall, dark form of the last man she wanted within a hundred yards of her child. "Raul."
Twelve years since her final, rude awakening about this man, but one look at him could still make her heart stop and her brain short-circuit. For blank seconds she could only stare. Take in the rich golden brown of his skin and that inky black hair full of curl and life. All of him was full of life, as if he were crackling with energy in that powerful frame. Her eyes traced the breadth of his shoulders under an old USC T-shirt, impossibly broader than in his youth, sliding helplessly down his torso to the lean hips encased in old jeans that loved him. So not fair. Couldn't he have gotten some kind of flaw over the years? One? But no, the same bedroom eyes, soulful and dark brown, same squared jaw and mouth with those dimples in his cheeks that never quite filled out. Full, tastable lips...
Lips most of the women in this small town have tasted, she reminded herself harshly, snapping herself back to reality. It had been a hard decade since she'd been the girl who'd have sold her soul for one second of his affection. She wasn't that girl anymore. She met his dark gaze with an even glance before dismissing him to address Chloe.
"Where have you been? Your grandmother has been worried sick."
Chloe's full lips quirked downward. "I should be so lucky."
"Hey, what have I told you about wishing bad things on your grandmother?"
Chloe's sigh could have moved a mountain. "Sorry."
"Where were you?" Pen wasn't about to be derailed.
"She came to my place," Raul's deep voice interjected softly. Not wanting to face him, unable to avoid it, Penelope turned her attention to the near-stranger leaning casually against her office door. His expression confused her. Watchful. Assessing.
Better to stick with Chloe. "What on earth possessed you to do that? Your grandmother lives miles away." Eight, to be precise, not that she was counting.
Chloe's left eye narrowed and her right brow raised, meaning she'd picked up the obvious question of how Pen knew where Raul lived. Wisely, she didn't ask. "I needed to talk to him."
"What could you possibly need to talk to him for?" Not shrieking, which was impressive, because her heart was thumping like a broken washing machine.
"Maybe you and I should talk privately, Pen."
Penelope skewered him with a fast glare and Raul's brows rose too. Not the sugary sweet little girl he expected, hmm? She crossed her arms and waited for Chloe to answer.
Chloe shrugged stiffly, her head dropping so that her hat shadowed her face all the way to her chin. When it came, her voice was small and tight. "I wanted to meet my dad."
Penelope felt the blood drain from her face. Without her permission, her eyes shifted to Raul and her stomach pitched sideways. A cord worked in his jaw, but his eyes held all kinds of questions that almost unlocked her knees. "Would you excuse us please?"
His hooded eyes blinked slowly. "I don't think so."
"She thinks I'm her father. If you can deny it, go ahead. I'll get out of your hair. But if you can't, then I think you and I have some talking to do."