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Playing With Fire

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Playing With Fire
by
OKDeanna

     

Chapter Twelve

Gwen knew Tony was in shock. She was too. When her father had unexpectedly showed up at her hotel room just as she was about to leave, she had no idea what to do. He'd invited her to dinner, but she told him she had a date. That was when he'd insisted on meeting Tony. She had left a message on the answering machine at Pilar's to warn Tony, but judging by the look on his face, he hadn't gotten the message.

She watched as Tony held out his hand to shake her father's hand and felt undeniable relief when her father took it. She had been a nervous wreck the whole way here. She knew she probably would until her father left and went back home to Chicago. God, she thought tightening her grip on her purse, this was not how she pictured her first date with Tony. Dinner with her father was one thing, but dinner with her father and Tony? That was something else altogether. In fact, it had disaster written all over it.

"Our table is ready." Tony said interrupting her thoughts and capturing her eyes with his. She saw the confusion in them and gave him an apologetic smile. She knew he wanted to be alone tonight as much as she had.

Gwen followed Tony and her father to their table on the other side of the room. Tony held out a chair for her and she gave him a thankful smile as she sat down. Then he turned and started to sit beside her, but instead they found her father had already beat him to it. She saw Tony clench his jaw and knew it was more out of frustration than anger. At least she hoped it was in frustration. If it was anger then she had no idea what she was going to do. Tonight would already be stressful enough. She didn't need to worry about Tony being anger on top of it.

The waiter came and took their drink order, and after he left, the table grew silent. She was just about to ask Tony how Luis was when her father spoke. "So Antonio, what is it you do for a living? Are you a cop like your brother, Luis?"

Gwen sucked in a deep breath at the slight disapproving tone in her father's voice. She had no idea what Tony did for a living. They had never got that far in their conversations. But she knew without a doubt he wasn't a cop. He didn't fit the profile of a one. In fact, when she first met him, she wouldn't have been at all surprised to learn he was on the other side of the law. He had struck her as the rebellious sort. The kind of guy that didn't like rules and regulations. Maybe that was the reason she had been so attracted to him. It really didn't matter to her what he did for a living. She loved him regardless. She just prayed her father wouldn't make some demeaning comment about it. If her mother were there, she knew she wouldn't have had to worry, she would automatically know that a demeaning comment was going to be made. That was just the way her mother was. Her father was usually a little more tactful, but since this was Theresa's brother she didn't know what to expect from him. She hoped he would treat Tony fairly, but he was after all her father and she knew that if he did insult Tony it was only because of the pain Theresa had caused her. But god help him if he made Tony feel unworthy because there was just no way she would stand by and watch her father insult the man she loved. No way at all.

"No, Mr. Hotchkiss," Tony said taking his glass of wine from the waiter. "I'm not a cop. I'm an architect."

"Really?" Her father asked in a somewhat interested tone. "Would I know any of your work?"

Tony chuckled. "I'm sure you would. The last big project I worked on was the Bryant Hotel in New York City. I designed it."

"Yes, I do know that hotel" her father said nodding. "In fact, I stayed there last week. It's a splendid hotel. The structure really captures your eye. Isn't that right, Gwen? You're the one that recommended it to me. Did you know that Antonio had designed it?"

Gwen was too stunned to speak so she merely shook her head. The Bryant was where she and Tony first met, where they first made love. And he had designed it? No wonder he was in the hotel that night. He must have been checking on his project.

Images of their night together flashed in her mind and she could feel her face flaming at the mere thought of the things they did in that hotel room. She swallowed hard then raised her eyes to look at Tony. The look in his eyes and the smile on his face told her he was remembering too. She started to say something, but her father interrupted with more talk of the buildings Tony had designed. She only half listened to their talk, because in truth she was reliving that night in New York. She wasn't one to believe in love at first sight, but she had to admit if ever there was a chance of it proving to be true it was the night she first saw Tony.

She remembered hanging up from talking to Ethan and starting to have doubts about their impending marriage. In fact, she thought closing her eyes in remembrance, the doubts had been so strong she had taken off her engagement ring and gone down to the bar. She noticed Tony the minute she walked into the bar. He was sitting at a table in the middle of the room, holding a beer in his hand. His eyes were closed so she had taken the time to study him. Her eyes traveled over black boots resting comfortably on the chair opposite him, long, jean clad legs crossed at the ankles, and a black T-shirt that did nothing to hide the expansive muscles of his chest and upper arms. When she finally raised her eyes to his face, his dark good looks had taken her by surprise. But there was something else about him too. Something she couldn't quite name. Just as she started to turn and sit down at the bar, he opened his eyes and pinned her with a stare. Neither of them had moved. She wasn't even sure they were breathing at that moment. The only thing she did know was that he was someone she knew... someone she knew deep down in her soul.

It had taken every ounce of strength she had to turn away and break the connection they seemed to have, but she had managed it. She took a seat at the bar and ordered a margarita. She had felt his eyes on her the entire time, but she hadn't had the courage to turn around. The best she had been able to manage was glancing at him out of the corner of her eye. She tried so hard to ignore the pull he was emancipating from across the room, but then just as she thought she had herself under control, he had come to sit beside her. She hadn't been able to ignore it or deny it then. He offered to buy her a drink and she tried to act cool as if she wasn't the least bit interested in him, which they both knew was a lie. He didn't call her on it though. No, Tony being Tony merely smiled and told her if she changed her mind he would be at his table. Then he had left her to mull over his offer. It had taken her all of five minutes to make up her mind and then another three to get up the courage to actually walk toward him. Being engaged to be married should have been enough to stop her, but it hadn't. For some reason, she'd been unable to walk away from him. She hadn't known why at the time, but she did now. It was because deep down she had known he was the man that was going to sweep her off her feet. And he had. She just hadn't known it until yesterday.

The touch of a hand on her bare back brought her out of her state of remembrance. She opened her eyes to find Tony standing beside her holding out his hand. "Would you like to dance, sweetheart?"

She blinked then broke out into a huge grin and placed her hand in his. "I'd love to."



Antonio helped Gwen out of her chair then led her toward the dance floor. Once there, he brought her into the circle of his arms and pressed his lips close to her ear. "So did you bring your father along for protection? Afraid to be alone with me again?"

She pulled back and looked into his eyes, unsure of whether or not he was joking. "Tony, I'm really sorry. I know you wanted us to spend some time getting to know each other tonight. I really had no choice about bringing him. He showed up just as I was about to leave and when he found out, I had a date. He insisted on meeting you. I tried talking him out of it, but it was no use, he had already made up his mind. I called and left a message on your mother's machine trying to warn you, but obviously you didn't get it."

"No, I didn't get it." He said moving his hand along the small of her back and pressing her closer. "I must have left a few minutes before you called."

"Are you upset that he's here?" Gwen asked searching his eyes.

Was he? No, he thought shaking his head, the only thing he felt was relief. "No, sweetheart, I'm not angry. I can't really blame him for wanting to meet the guy his daughter is going out with."

"I think he wanted to meet you because of what happened with Ethan. He was there for me when the wedding was called off. He knows that Ethan broke my heart and I think he blames himself for it." Antonio heard the sadness in her tone and shook his head as the anger started to rise with in him. His little sister was partly to blame for her broken heart and he knew some of the methods she had used to get Ethan were wrong. They were more than wrong actually and he was very disappointed in her because of them. Yes, he knew she and Ethan belonged together and yes he knew Gwen hadn't exactly been innocent in what happened, but he still couldn't believe all the things Theresa had done to try to break Ethan and Gwen up.

"You see," Gwen was saying, oblivious to his inner conflict. "Father is the one that insisted I get involved with Ethan in the first place. At the time, it was part of a business deal between him and Julian, but then as time went on I really fell for Ethan. I've tried telling him that what happened between Ethan and I wasn't his fault, but I know deep down he still thinks it is. I think that's the main reason he wanted to meet you tonight. He wants to make sure I'm not going to get hurt again."

Antonio looked into her golden brown eyes and knew there was no way he could go through with what he had been planning to do tonight. She had already had more than her share of heartache and he didn't want to be the one to cause her more pain. Hell, he'd give anything to be able to erase the pain his sister and Ethan had already caused her. But what was he going to do? If he didn't call things off then they would only get more serious until eventually she wanted more than he could offer her.

Antonio didn't realize he had stopped dancing until Gwen placed one slender hand against his cheek. "Tony? What is it? What's wrong?"

"Gwen," Antonio said turning his head away from her, unable to look into her sparkling brown eyes a second longer. "I can't..."

He broke off to clear his throat that had suddenly become too tight to talk. Then he took a step away from her. He would never be able to get through this if she was touching him.

"Tony?" Gwen asked in a worried tone. "What's wrong? Is it Luis? Is that what's bothering you?"

He closed his eyes as the guilt assailed him. Here he was about to break her heart and she was asking if he was worried about his brother. He shook his head and looked at her. "No, it's not Luis. But you're right something is bothering me."

She nodded. "I can see that. From the serious look on your face, I can tell it's also important. I'm here for you, you know? You can tell me what's wrong. Who knows maybe I'll even be able to help."

She gave him that kick-in-the-gut smile and he suddenly felt like the biggest jerk alive. Here she was offering to help him with his problem and she had no idea that his problem was on how best to go about ending things between them. He wasn't just a jerk. He was a certified jackass, too. There was no way he could tell her now.

Antonio shook his head then pulled her into the circle of his arms and placed a soft kiss on her forehead. "Thank you, sweetheart, but this is something I have to work out on my own."

"Okay." She said nodding her head against his chest. "Just know -."

"I do, sweetheart." He said interrupting her. "I know that you're there."

She pulled back and smiled. "Good. So what do you say we go eat now? I'm starving."

He laughed. "Lead the way, sweetheart, lead the way."

She ran her hand down his arm and laced their fingers together then pulled him back to the table just as the waiter brought their food. He held out her chair and waited for her to sit down then made his way to the other side of the table. He had just grabbed his wine when her father spoke. "I must say I was hesitant about my daughter dating a Lopez-Fitzgerald, considering the pain your sister caused my daughter. But I must admit that after seeing the two of you together tonight, I realize it was all for the best."

"What do you mean?" Antonio asked taking a sip of his wine.

"Well, anyone can see how much in love the two of you are."

Antonio swallowed hard then choked as the wine went down the wrong way. Gwen started to get up, but he shook his head. Once he finally got himself under control, he looked over at her father and found him grinning like the cat that ate the canary. Then he glanced at Gwen who didn't seem the least bit surprised by what her father said. In fact, she almost looked like she agreed with him. Did that mean she was in love with him? From the looks of things, he figured that was a distinct possibility. Ah hell, he thought running a hand through his black hair, what was he going to do now?

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