Photographer Antonio De Soto’s life is out of focus. Everyone in his family thinks it’s time for him to settle down. He doesn’t want to be strong-armed into domesticity, even if he does feel the bachelor lifestyle is starting to wear thin. So when his friend invites him to do a pictorial on the community theater, Antonio’s prepared to do his thing and follow his normal womanizing M. O. Instead, he finds himself sparring with the resident artist, Lucy Marceloni. Lucy’s dime-store analysis of his love life—and him—leaves him angry and shaken, but it’s too close to the truth to dismiss. The quirky artist is not his type, but their passionate fights generate a deeper heat between them he can’t ignore…
Lucy wants a man who’s sensitive and intellectual, the exact opposite of Antonio De Soto. The moment she meets the handsome photographer she pegs him as arrogant and self-centered, but that doesn’t protect her from the sizzling chemistry between the two of them. Being drawn to the rogue’s charm and subtle seduction tactics is the last thing she wants. Working with him on the community theater fairytale production could prove to be more than she can handle…
After a smooth cab ride to Felix’s apartment, Antonio let himself in with the key Felix had given him and dropped off his things. He was hungry and Felix wouldn’t be home until six. He strolled the main street, camera in hand, eyeing some of the changes in the decor in the store windows since his last visit. Then he stumbled upon the café Metro Eatery, went inside, and parked himself at the counter.
The sound of Nat King Cole’s song “Mona Lisa” oozing out of the sound system immediately put him at ease. He read the menu, although he already knew he wanted. The roast beef on rye was a favorite of his, but what was making his mouth water was a slender woman with long, flowing red hair sitting at a table reading a fashion magazine. He imagined her name was Simone or some other sexy name that started with an S. Something seductive that made you want to say it over and over in throes of passion. Simone smiled and dropped her gaze back down to the magazine. Ah, the game begins.
Wasn’t this his problem? Meeting random women and having brief affairs? Well, it was according to every woman in his life. His mother constantly asked him when he was going to settle down. Yesenia kept sending him e-books to read about fear of commitment, and Lauren just sighed when he pooh-poohed her inspirational talks about finding his soul mate. He wasn’t sure he bought into that, the idea that there was one person in the world who was meant to be with him. It could have been his hound dogging that had him jaded, but then the disproof of his theory would pop into his mind. Alejandro was evidence that there was no curse of the De Soto men, just choices that one continually makes until you find someone that fits into those ragged grooves on the side of your body.
A woman seated on the other side of the counter broke him out of his daydream. She seemed to be laughing to herself but looked in his direction. He turned his attention to her. She looked up from her paper and shook her head.
“Hi,” he said, smiling.
She didn’t answer.
Determined not to be ignored, he leaned over and said it again. “Hi.”
She didn’t look up from her paper.
“I was wondering what you thought was so funny,” he said, a little louder.
Once she put down the paper, he saw a pair of glasses teetering on the edge of her nose. The first thing he noticed was her face. It was round but not too round and she had a cleft in her chin. Which made him think of something dirty he’d said one time to this woman he dated who had a cleft in her chin. Though he thought this prim woman sitting across from him with a scarf wrapped twice around her neck wouldn’t find his limerick even remotely funny. She seemed no-nonsense, but her pretty brown eyes were warm and inviting.
“I was just thinking, I haven’t seen a mating ritual like that since watching the Animal Channel. It would be simpler to just go over there and sniff her, and then maybe the hamburger I just ate wouldn’t come back up from watching the two of you.” She smiled.
Antonio knew he shouldn’t say the first thing that popped into his head. That she was jealous he wasn’t flirting with her. The angelic red-haired aberration and the wisecracking scarf woman were as different as night and day. Scarf woman had on overalls, for heaven’s sakes! She was essentially covered from head to toe, looking more like a vagabond than a grown woman whose age he couldn’t determine.
“It’s just human nature, I suppose.” He glanced back at the woman sitting at the table. “We all have a mating dance. Some are more obvious than others.”
“Some are more sickening than others.” Scarf woman shook her head.
“Whore,” she shot back at him.
“Did you actually just call me a whore? You don’t even know me.” He laughed, put his hand on his chest, and feigned indignation.
“I don’t have to know you. What you are is written all over your face.” She smirked.
Antonio knew he was headed down the wrong road with this fireball. But what the hell. He had time to kill until Felix came home.
He ordered quickly when the waitress appeared, then turned his attention back to the scarf woman. “OK, tell me all about myself,” he said with a devilish smile.
Scarf woman took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “You are a narcissist, who is probably the baby of the family. Always got what you wanted and is never in short supply of women. The camera is your ruse to lure women into your tacky web of seduction. Little do they know that they are just a prop for your entertainment. I bet you could bat those pretty, light-brown eyes and get any woman to do as you please. And that is thrilling to you. Knowing you can gain such immediate control over some unsuspecting bimbo’s life so easily.”
Antonio said sweetly, “So you think my eyes are pretty?”
“I rest my case.” She smiled and slid off her stool. If she was trying to make a graceful exit, that went down the toilet. Scarf woman had bags and a huge purse. When her feet firmly touched the floor he could see she was much shorter than him.
“You have a good day,” he said, half sorry to see her go. “And your name is?” He was sure Felix would have seen this weird creature flitting around town.
“I was just born yesterday. Don’t have a name yet,” she said as she walked out of the café.
Antonio laughed, thinking that women like that would forever be angry with the Simones of the world. With her crazy colorful overalls, that damn double-wrapped scarf, and the cluster of bags she juggled, this woman obviously didn’t want anyone to see her. Still, he felt compelled to pick up his camera and snap her picture as she turned right out the door and walked past the window. And he had seemingly forgotten all about his angelic aberration Simone sitting at the table. He’d been so enthralled with his conversation with the scarf lady that he hadn’t even seen her leave.