With NO STRANGER TO LOVE, USA Today Bestselling Author Pamela Aares delivers another page-turning contemporary romance in the Tavonesi Series featuring love, suspense and adventure!Juliet Cabot is no stranger to trouble, but she never imagined that her work defending endangered sea turtles on a beautiful Greek island would turn deadly. Threats to her life force her to call for help from the man who’s haunted her dreams for years—wine country landowner and international polo star Parker Tavonesi.Parker owes Juliet big time for getting him out of a fix in the past. Handsome, resourceful and fearless, she trusts him with her life but she vowed she would never trust him with her heart. When danger enshrouds them and warm island nights cause their bottled-up passions to flare, Juliet’s every fantasy could become reality . . . unless the dark secrets of a sultry paradise prove fatal, not just for the struggling sea turtles but for Parker and Juliet as well.
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After lunch, Juliet changed into the sleek silk evening dress and headed down into the wine cellar with the stylist and hairdresser. It felt weird to be in such a fancy dress at two in the afternoon. Heck, it felt odd to be in such a fancy dress at any time. The dress and the shoes probably cost more than an entire month’s pay.
When she reached the wine cellar, Athena tugged at her dress and Brandy fussed with her hair. Barb had arranged a bank of lights in front of a wine barrel. A silver tray set holding two crystal glasses sat in its center.
But Juliet’s mind was captured by the scent of the cellar—cinnamon and berries and a deeper aroma she couldn’t identify. But she recognized the mélange of scents as Parker’s. She’d caught whiffs of the heady aroma in the guest room the previous morning and then again when he’d leaned in close for the shots in the redwood grove. But Parker wasn’t in the cellar.
Dimmed ceiling lights curved down the tunnel that led deeper into the wine cave. She shook off the hairdresser and peered into the darkness. When footsteps sounded behind her, she turned.
And sucked in a breath.
If she had thought Parker handsome in his riding clothes, a perfectly tailored tuxedo made him devastating.
His eyes landed on Juliet. He ran a hand through his hair as he looked first down and then up. “My God, you are a vision.”
Juliet couldn’t tear her gaze from Parker’s. She managed a smile and a nod, but didn’t trust her voice. For a moment, no one moved. The only sound was their collective breathing, as if the cellar had lungs of its own.
“Well,” Athena said, breaking the spell. “That’s the whole idea, after all.”
“I’ll need to angle this light,” Barb said.
Brandy moved toward Parker, pulling a brush from the belt of implements at her waist.
Parker held up a hand. “I do have limits,” he said in a gentle but firm tone, his eyes never leaving Juliet’s. He shook his head as if he were shaking off a troublesome thought. “And before we do this shot, I’d like for all of you to taste the wine I’m launching.”
He strode to a cabinet at the far side of the arched room and began to pull out glasses. Juliet let out the breath she’d been holding and moved to help him.
“No.” Athena put a hand to Juliet’s wrist. “You might muss your dress.”
God, she’d forgotten about the dress.
“Though we’ll have our wine critic taste all of these, I’d love to taste your wine here in its home setting,” Mark said.
Parker pulled a bottle from the cabinet. “This pinot is only three years in the bottle, but it’s ready.”
“I feel like we should have a drum roll or something,” Barb said from behind the light she was adjusting.
The thrumming of Juliet’s pulse was all the drum roll she could stand.
“As much as I’d like to, we won’t have to come back tomorrow,” Mark said. “After this session, Barb will have what she needs, and I have more than enough for the article.”
Juliet sighed, relieved.
Parker poured wine and handed out the glasses.
Juliet reached for hers.
Athena took the glass from Parker’s hand. “Best to wait until after Barb gets her shots.”
“You must think I’m clumsy.”
“No one could ever accuse you of that.”
Parker’s sultry tone rolled through her. No one had ever called her graceful. And though he hadn’t, she heard the message in his words. The compliment pleased her more than it should have.
“Just a precaution,” Athena added. “I’ve learned from experience.” She eyed Juliet. “We’d have a hard time coming up with another gown that looked like this one does on you.”
Parker leaned close to Juliet’s ear. “I’ll make it up to you after. You can have your own private bottle.”
“I might need it by then.” She shook off the shiver threatening to take up long-term residence in her body. “Maybe a case.”
“Upping the ante?” he whispered, his teasing tone warming her belly.
He’d already paid far more than he should have. “No. But I will be glad when we’re done here. I’m sure you will be too.”
He held her gaze. “Maybe. I guess we’ll see, won’t we?”
Everyone except Juliet sipped the wine, admired it in the light and murmured kudos to Parker. There was talk between Mark and Parker about the aroma of the pinot varietals. Juliet concentrated on the words, the facts, anything to keep from looking Parker in the eye.
“I think at five years this wine will be at its peak,” he said, as proud as any artist would be over the fruits of his work.
“Black cherry and…” Mark paused. “I was going to say ripe tomato or mushroom. Smooth. Balanced.”
“Delicious,” Barb said as she set her glass down on the cabinet. “And now, time for work, gang. The sooner we wrap, the sooner Juliet can imbibe.”
At first Parker stood on one side of the barrel and Juliet on the other. Barb instructed them to raise their glasses and touch the rims together as if in a toast. Her camera whirred as she ran off a few shots. She looked at her preview screen and frowned.
“I think they should kiss,” Mark said in a matter-of-fact tone.
“I think you’ve had too much wine,” Parker said.
“No, he’s right. Romance. That’s what’s missing from this piece,” Barb said. “You two aren’t shy, so let’s try it. I’d like to shoot it from this angle. Mark, give me a hand with these two lights.”
Barb tugged Juliet close to Parker and then took up her camera a few steps away.
The new light positions threw a golden glow across Parker’s face. The soft light played over the sculpted planes of his jaw and cast the shadows of his long lashes onto his cheeks.
Juliet leaned close. “Now you really need my help,” she whispered. And without further comment, and before she could chicken out and blow their cover, she raised her hands and pulled his head down so that her lips touched his.
Her body quivered at the contact. She closed her eyes and brushed a light kiss along his lips. Trembling, she pulled away. She opened her eyes and, not trusting her ability to school her features, looked down at her hands.
Barb moved to their right. “Can we try that again from this angle?”
Neither Juliet nor Parker moved.
“And keep your eyes open for this one. I want to capture you gazing into each other’s eyes,” Barb said.
“One more,” Juliet said, trying to keep the waver out of her voice.
Parker moved first. His hand slid up her bare back and shot shivers along her spine. Juliet’s gaze locked with his. He looked as stunned as she felt. Or maybe she was projecting. But as he leaned down and kissed her, the lights, the room and the people in it melted away, and she was locked in the throbbing energy of his kiss.
Shocked at her response, she broke off their kiss and stepped back from him. Leaning her palms on the wine barrel to steady herself, she turned to the camera and pasted a false smile on her face that would’ve had her drama coaches applauding.
Then she turned to Parker. His lips were pressed together in a tight line.
“Smile,” she whispered so that only he could hear. “Mission accomplished,” she added, widening her own smile.
He flashed a quick grin that only she knew wasn’t real. Athena, Brandy and Mark applauded. But Barb stared at them, head nodding, her lips quirked into a smile as if they’d pleased her. Juliet could only hope that the camera had captured what Barb had wanted it to. The way Juliet’s legs were trembling beneath her gown, she couldn’t pull off a repeat performance.
“That’s a wrap,” Barb said as she flashed through the shots on the preview screen. “We definitely have our cover shot.”
Parker handed Juliet her glass of wine. “I’m thinking you might need this. God knows I do.” He turned from her and filled everyone’s glasses.
Barb flashed the shot for the cover to the group. Still stunned by Parker’s kiss, Juliet barely registered the good news. Her heart stuttered when she saw the photo. Anyone viewing it would think she and Parker were truly in love.
“To First Flight wines,” Mark said as he clinked his glass against Barb’s. “And to your always amazing work.”
“He says that to all the ladies.” Barb set her glass down and began to wrap the light cords into their cases. She looked up at Juliet. “Have you set a date?”
“April twentieth,” Parker answered.
“I’m sure you already have your dress,” Barb said. “But if you don’t, my friend Vera has the most delicious wedding designs. They’d be gorgeous on you.”
Juliet couldn’t look her in the eye.
Parker topped off the glass that Barb had set aside. “That’s the date we’re launching First Flight.”
Barb smiled and picked up her glass. “Ah, yes.” Her eyes slid to Juliet. “First things first.”
Thankfully, the sound of raised voices coming down the passageway had everyone turning.
“You really are a rat,” Zuri said, aiming her comment at her brother as she and Coco burst into the room. “Did we miss all the action?”
“You could say that,” Parker said. “But I saved you a taste.”
Coco sidled over to Barb. Juliet heard her asking for tips about lighting and camera angles.
Parker poured wine into a glass and handed it to Zuri. He turned to Juliet and raised the bottle. She shook her head. Her head was spinning well enough without alcohol. Zuri knit her brows as she looked from her to Parker and back again to her.
Mark took out his notebook and began peppering Parker with questions about the launch.
Before Zuri could corner her with questions, Juliet slipped out of the room. The stiletto heels made it hard to navigate the brick flooring of the dim passageway, but it wasn’t the shoes that made her feel unsteady. What had happened back there? Flaring passion she didn’t want to admit to feeling flooded her as she finally exited the tunnel and stepped out into the daylight.
She didn’t stop walking until she reached the barn. Just past the entrance, she sank down onto a bale of hay, ignoring the prickle of the straw through the silk of her dress.
Lowering her head to her hands, she pressed her palms to her eyes. She hadn’t planned on her heart having to pay the price of her deception.
“Yo!” Zuri’s voice startled her. “Hope you don’t mind that I followed you.” Zuri sat on the bale next to her. “Hey, you okay?”
“We could spend the night here. Unwind. Have a girls’ night. You can drive home in the morning.”
“I should get back. We wrapped the shoot.”
“I heard. Parker seems pleased.”
When Juliet didn’t respond, she added, “This was really, really good of you. Parker said you played your part perfectly. He even admitted I was right—pulling this off was so much easier without all the stickiness of attraction.”
But she hadn’t played her part perfectly. Her heart had pulled up stakes and crossed the line and now… Now she had to corral it back to reality.
But at hearing Parker’s words via Zuri, her anger fired and she couldn’t stuff it down.
No stickiness of attraction.
Well, wasn’t that a kicker?
When had her feelings begun to run away with her? To obliterate her good sense?
She shouldn’t feel anger toward him. He’d donated to the foundation. He’d done everything he said he would.
Zuri tapped Juliet on the knee. “He owes you, you know. He told me so this morning.”
“He doesn’t owe me. He wrote the check.”
Zuri narrowed her eyes. “Did he do something he shouldn’t have? I’ll have his—”
“Zuri, he was a perfect gentleman.”
“Well, he has many talents, my brother. If you ever need help, just ask.” She laughed. “I doubt you’ll need a polo player, but he’s really good at throwing parties.”
Juliet stood and brushed the hay from her gown. “I need to change. And I should get going. Mom will be thrilled that I can have dinner with her tonight. Especially since she couldn’t make it for the shoot.”
And maybe, after a good night’s sleep in familiar surroundings, she’d wake up and be able to remember the past two days for what they were—a caper. Wasn’t that what Zuri had called it?
She’d fly back to Kona early, wrap up her work there and make her reservations to fly to Greece.
And try to forget the chasm that Parker had unwittingly opened in her heart. Try to forget a caper gone wrong.