It was almost six o’clock and Alex would be home any minute.  However, Braylee was still in the bedroom putting the final touches on her private welcome home party. 

Looking around the room everything seemed to be in place.  Candles were lit and strategically placed throughout the spacious room, Alex's favorite bottle of wine was chilling on ice on the table next to the bed, and music was playing softly in the background.  Perfect.

Fresh out of a bath, Braylee smiled at both her handy work and her reflection as she stood naked in front of the mirror.  Still marveling at the woman she'd become in such a short time.  A woman in love.  It tickled her that she'd actually become this person who plans romantic evenings versus the workaholic reviewing briefs for her many cases.  She'd better get a move on if she wanted to be ready before Alex arrived.  Reaching across the bed, she picked up her red baby doll slip and thigh high stockings wondering just how long it would take Alex to take them off.  Braylee wanted to hurry but needed to be careful not to ruin her stockings as she put one foot into a thigh high nylon pulling it gently up her long leg and then the other.   Once she was finished with her stockings, she shimmed into her slip.  The thing barely covered her behind.  Exactly how she wanted it.  Finished.  Now, the only thing missing was Alex. 

Would he want dinner before or after? She couldn’t help hoping for after her special welcome home.  Braylee didn’t mean to behave like a dog in heat, but she had become so accustomed to making love with Alex almost every night that being gone for seven long days took its toll.  Her body was craving his attention. 

Fabi had been a god send.  He was taking Cecily out for dinner and a movie.  They'd only been gone about an hour but as they were leaving, he made sure to stress that they'd be out at least until ten o’clock.  It was a school night after all.  And, one thing was for sure, Alex and Fabi took their roles as both uncles and guardians very seriously.  He really was a lot like Alex in many ways.  Although, sometimes his eyes were a bit haunted.  Braylee could only assume it was from the part he played in the deaths of those from the accidents.  However, he’d been seeing a therapist.  Hopefully, it was helping.

Looking at the watch on her arm, she and Alex had just a precious few hours to be as uninhibited as they pleased, and Braylee planned to put that time to good use.   She heard a noise.  Was that Alex?  Braylee stood perfectly still as she listened intently.  It was the garage door closing.  Whispering to herself excitedly, “Yes…it’s him.” 

Quickly she ran out of the bedroom and into the hallway.  Braylee started walking down the stairs and stopped about midway before an idea hit her.  Braylee sat down right where she stood in what she hoped was provocatively enticing.  Then, she leaned back on her elbows with her legs slightly parted.  Alex would have a clear view of what he’d been missing over the past week.

The house was in semi-darkness with only a small amount of light by the stairs.  However, Braylee would be clearly visible as soon as he turned the corner from the kitchen into the foyer.

His deep rich voice called out, “Braylee…Cecily…Fabi….is anybody home?”  She held her breath as she anxiously waited.

After what felt like an eternity but was only a matter of seconds, he appeared.  His words caught in his throat the moment he saw her.

Sexily she spoke, “Hey handsome” as she let her knees fall apart just a bit more.

It would have been impossible to pull his eyes away from the sight in front of him.  On autopilot, he dropped his suitcase and jacket on the floor.  Then, standing at the bottom of the stairs, his eyes greedily took in every inch of her.  Huskily, he spoke, “Maybe I should go out of town more often.”  That lazy smile of his appeared as his eyes locked with hers.

Braylee purred, “Hmmm…seven days is a long time.”

He agreed, “Almost forever.”  Alex took the stairs two at a time as he undid his tie.  He laughed to himself, "I didn't realize we had so many stairs." 

Braylee watched the deliciousness that was Alexandro Manchetti come to her.  And, once he was close enough to touch, she opened her legs just a little wider so that he could stand in-between the softness of her inner thighs. 

As if in slow motion, he kneeled down to capture her mouth in a hungry kiss.  Her arms went involuntarily around his neck as she eagerly opened for him.

Her head was starting to swim.  If she didn't stop the kiss now, she wouldn't have the strength to stop it at all.  Considering his flight from China was long, she didn’t want to be too selfish with her needs.  Even though every nerve ending in her body tingled with anticipation, she pulled away.  Breathing slowly, Braylee managed to eke out a few words.  “I missed you, Mr. Manchetti.”

Alex was still in the heat of the moment placing hungry kisses on the curve of her jawline, the soft flesh of her cheek, and the lids of her closed eyes.  “Not as much as I missed you.”

“Mmm…god you feel good.” She placed her hands on his rock solid chest hoping to put a little space between them, “Wait. I’m trying to be a good girlfriend here and think about your needs, but you’re making it hard.” Huskily Braylee laughed, “Are you tired…hungry?”

“No, you made it hard.  And, for you, yes.  Everything else can wait.”  Alex kissed a sensitive spot behind her ear that made her tremble then whispered, “Where’s Fabi and Cecily?”

Braylee moaned as she unbuttoned his shirt, “Out until around ten o’clock.”

A little growl escaped him, “Then, what are we doing out here?”  Alex picked her up into his strong arms entirely focused on taking her into their bedroom when the doorbell rang. 

He halted mid-stride and raised an eyebrow as he looked down into her beautiful face. “Are you expecting anyone?”

She shook her head from side to side, “Everybody knows you’re coming home tonight so they wouldn’t dare call me and definitely wouldn't show up unannounced.”

Sighing, Alex let her slide slowly down his solid body until her feet touched the floor.  “You go on to the bedroom and wait for me.  I’ll get rid of whoever is at the door.”

“Okay…you do that.”  Braylee started up the rest of the stairs then stopped, slowly turning around as she licked then gently bit the corner of her bottom lip, “And Alex...hurry up.”  With an extra wiggle in her walk, she continued to their room.

Irritated that he was being delayed from being with Braylee he barked at whoever was at the door, “I’m coming.”  Snatching it open, Alex looked as if he’d seen a ghost.  There in all her glory stood Gina Lee Xiou.  “It’s been a long time Alex, but I heard you went all the way to China looking for me.  Well…here I am.”

Chapter 1

“What the hell are you doing here?” Alex roared then looked back over his shoulder to make sure Braylee hadn’t heard and wasn’t still on the stairs or in the hallway.  Immediately, he attempted to turn the volume down on his voice and reign in his almost overwhelming temper.

Mocking him, Gina whipped off her all black glasses as she stood with sparkling black eyes in a matching raincoat and thigh-high stiletto boots.  She leaned up against the door. “Tsk Tsk Alex.  Why so angry?  I would think you’d be happy to see me.  Considering…”  Gina shrugged as she reached her hand out to touch his naked chest through his opened shirt.  She dragged a long manicured finger down his chest.  He flinched at her touch.  That pissed her off.  Looking at him through narrowed eyes, she spoke, “Well, that’s certainly not the welcome I expected after flying thousands of miles to China to see little old me.”  Like flipping a switch the hardness in her voice changed as she cooed, “Are you really not going to invite me into your home?”

Instead of letting her inside, Alex stepped out into the darkness and closed the door behind him.  He was so angry that he almost didn’t notice how Gina was even more beautiful than she had been the last time he’d seen her. 

Distant and not so distant memories sprung to mind, and so did the all familiar anger that always accompanied it.  His nostril’s flared as he spoke through clenched teeth.  He yanked her arm pulling her just a breath away and held it tightly.  They stood almost nose to nose lip to lip.  His gaze was hard as he looked deeply into her eyes, “I know it was you or your family.  Either way, I should snap your neck right here and now.  You take one of mine, and I promise I’ll take one of yours.”

Gina snatched her arm away and stepped back.  Then she hissed at him, “But you won’t at least not tonight because I’m sure your little girlfriend is upstairs.” 

His eyes narrowed into slits, “Braylee has nothing to do with this.”  They continued to stand toe to toe glaring at each other.  The stare down continued for another few moments until gazing into his eyes caused Gina’s to soften just a bit.

“If I would have had Luciano killed you would have known it was me.  I don’t do anything half-assed.  That’s how I know you don’t really believe I actually killed him.  Otherwise, I’d already be dead.”  Her eyes hardened again, “And, if she is upstairs in your bed, then she has everything to do with us and how all of this can play out.”

Afraid he wouldn’t be able to keep his emotions in check, Alex clenched his jaw as he struggled to keep his composure.  “There is no us, Gina.  I made that clear a long time ago.”  Braylee’s face flashed through his mind.  He needed to get back to her before she came looking for him.  He’d already dragged her too far into this quagmire and would move mountains if it meant he could avoid her dealing with Gina.  “We can’t have this discussion now.  I’ll meet you tomorrow.”

Gina swiped at her wavy dark-brown hair after it had fallen over her eyes and shoulder.  “You act like I wronged you!  And, why should I meet you?  Why should I have anything to do with you at all?”

Incredulous Alex responded, “You’ve got to be kidding.  No, there’s no point in addressing old issues. We’ve played enough games, Gina.  You’ll meet me.  Your heart might be made of stone, but there’s one place I know there’s still a speck of softness.”

She swallowed deeply and wouldn’t look him in his eyes as she started to turn away then stopped.  “My plane leaves for China in two days.  I’ll meet you, but it’ll be on my terms, and you will do something for me too.” Gina slowly looked his body up and down.

Alex braced himself for her selfish demands.  But his voice was like steel when he spoke, “This isn’t a negotiation Gina.  Where are you staying and I’ll meet you there?”

She put her dark glasses back on.  “You don’t control me.  No one does.  You should know that by now.  Like I said, I’ll tell you tomorrow when I call to set up our meeting.” And with her head held high, Gina turned on her heels to walk back toward the running car that had been waiting. 

Alex stood and watched until the luxury sedan drove out of view.  After taking a couple of deep calming breaths, he pulled his cell phone out of his pants pocket and hit a speed dial number.  On the first ring, someone picked up

"Sooner than I anticipated but just as I expected, she's here.  Beef up security at the house as well as on Braylee, Fabi, and Cecily."