Vows of Revenge(10)By: Dani Collins
“Well, it helps a great deal having a central location to bring the families into, since they’re coming from far and wide,” Huxley went on. “We appreciate it.”
Roman offered another vague smile, covering up the fact that he was very aware that Huxley’s father was a highly placed British ambassador in the Middle East, and the rest of his relations were blue bloods from the UK. Ingrid’s were old money Americans, including an aunt married to a German sitting on the EU Council of Ministers. Ingrid’s maid of honor was the daughter of a Swiss banker. The event was a who’s who of the international renowned and elite.
Being hosted by the son of a New York prostitute.
This was his entrée, he reminded himself dourly, wishing he felt more enthusiasm, but feeling more taken with the cat-and-mouse game he was playing with Melodie. What did it say about him that base things such as competition and survival still preoccupied him?
“How did you get into security software development?” Melodie asked, nearly prompting a sarcastic “really?” out of him.
He didn’t allow himself to be suckered by her solemn expression of interest. It struck him that she might not be here to steal, merely to damage. Her family had threatened to use his background to discredit him once before. They wouldn’t be above trying it again. Perhaps she intended to sabotage his hosting of the wedding, removing his chance to grow acquainted with the world’s top influencers.
He met her quietly lethal question head-on, neutralizing any bombshells she might be poised to detonate by getting there first.
“I was arrested at fourteen for hacking into a bank’s network server.”
“Are you serious, Roman?” Ingrid cried on a gasp of intrigue, cutlery rattling onto the edge of her plate. “I had no idea,” she exclaimed, eyes wide with delight in the scandal. “You’re getting information out of him I never did, Mel!”
Melodie’s ridiculously long lashes swept down in a hint of shy pleasure, betraying that she enjoyed the thought of having power over him.
Irritated by the amount of truth in Ingrid’s remark—Melodie was the reason he was going against habit and bringing up his past—Roman finished the story. If it left this table he was determined it would be framed as closely to the truth as possible, and not twisted to annihilate him the way Melodie’s father had threatened.
“Once I realized I could outsmart adults, the game was on to see how far I could go,” he said frankly. “The security specialist who caught me, a tough ex-marine named Charles, was impressed, especially because I was self-taught. Once I did my stint in juvenile detention, he brought me onto his payroll. Taught me how to use my talent for good instead of evil,” he summed up with mild derision.
Melodie’s surprise appeared genuine.
“You weren’t expecting honesty?” he challenged.
“It’s not that. I’ve just never met anyone with a natural ability for programming.” A shadow flickered behind her eyes, something he barely caught, but it colored her voice as she said, “I thought that sort of thing was a myth.”
She was talking about her brother, he was certain of it, but her smile wasn’t sly. She wasn’t trying to trick him or win him over. No, her comment was more of an inward reflection and a hint of confusion. Wondering if Anton was really as good as he’d always claimed?
As quickly as Roman formed the impression, her expression changed and he was looking at a different woman, one who seemed open and engaging, her cares forgotten in favor of enjoying a lively conversation.
“I’m certainly not intuitive with them. Someone had to show me how to set up my email on my tablet.”
And there was the “I’m harmless” claim Roman had been anticipating since he had realized who she was.
The conversation moved on to contacts and wedding arrangements. Iced coffees replaced the white wine everyone had sipped with lunch. Huxley said something about the dock and took Ingrid to inspect it.
Melodie made no move to follow, choosing instead to shift forward slightly and remove her sweater, revealing a matching sleeveless top that clung lovingly to her breasts as she twisted to drape the sweater over the back of her chair.
“I didn’t expect it to be this warm. It’s fall at home. Quite wet and chilly.” She sat straight and, as if she felt the chill across the Atlantic, her nipples rose against the pale lemon of her top.
A base male fantasy of baring those breasts formed in his mind. He saw pink tips resembling cherries melting off scoops of ice cream. He wasn’t a breast man per se, but the languid image of caressing and licking the swells, working his way to the sweet, shiny niblet at the peak, was so tangible he had to part his thighs to accommodate the pool of erotic heat that poured into his groin.