Vows of Revenge(2)

By: Dani Collins

He met her gaze with an impactful directness that stole her breath.

“Roman Killian,” he said, offering his hand and snapping her out of her fixation. His voice was like dark chocolate and red wine, rich and sultry, but his tone held a hint of disparagement. No one was truly essential, he seemed to say.

“I am Melodie,” she managed to say. She watched his mouth as he clasped her hand in his strong grip. His upper lip was much narrower than his full bottom one. He smiled in the way men did when confronted with a woman they didn’t find particularly attractive, but were forced by circumstance to be polite toward. Cool and dismissive.

Melodie wasn’t offended. She was always braced for male rejection and surprised if she didn’t get it. It wasn’t that she was homely. She had just inherited her mother’s catwalk build and elfin features along with her pearls. The attributes were fine for modeling, but came off as skinny and exaggerated in real life. Spiderlike and awkward—or so she’d been told so many times she tended to believe it.

So his indifference wasn’t a surprise, but her skin still prickled and she warmed as though the sun had lodged in her belly and radiated outward through her limbs with a disarming feeling that she was glowing.

She shouldn’t be so nervous. She’d still had a pacifier in her mouth when she’d begun glad-handing, and rarely suffered shyness no matter how lofty the person she was meeting. Presidents. Royalty. Such things didn’t affect her.

Yet she found herself surreptitiously fighting to catch her breath, aware that she was letting her hand stay in his too long. When she tried to extract it, however, he tightened his grip.

“We’ve met,” he said with certainty. Almost accusingly. His eyes narrowed as he raked her face with his gaze, head cocked and arrested.

“No,” she assured him, but her pulse gave a leap while a romantic part of her brain invented a fanciful “in another life soul-mate” scenario. She was very good with faces and names, though, even when a person wasn’t nearly as memorable as he was. And he was too young to remember her mother, not that he looked the type to thumb through fashion magazines in the first place. There was an off chance he’d seen her in connection to her father, she supposed, but she was carving that particular man from her life one thought at a time so she didn’t bring him up, and only said, “I’m quite sure we haven’t.”

Roman didn’t believe her, she could see it.

“Ingrid and Huxley aren’t with you?” He flicked a look for her clients to where her taxi had dropped her next to the fountain in his paved courtyard.

“They’ll be along shortly,” she said.

He brought his sharp gaze back to her face, making her quiver inwardly again. Slowly he released her and waved toward the interior of his home. “Come in.”

“Thank you,” she murmured, disconcerted by everything about him.

He was so masculine, so confident yet aloof. Secure, she thought, with a twist of irony. He’d made his fortune in security, starting with a software package but now offering global solutions of all kinds. It was one of the few things she knew about him. She hadn’t researched him much, mostly relying on what Ingrid had shared, turned off by the idea she might wind up reading about her half brother if she looked up Roman online.

But knowing he was Anton’s competition had made her predisposed to like Roman. He also seemed to have a streak of magnanimity, supporting causes from homelessness to dementia research to donating computers to libraries. And he’d offered his home in the south of France for his employee’s wedding. Surely that meant he possessed a big heart under that air of predatory power?

“I didn’t expect a security specialist to have such a welcoming home,” she confessed, trying to ignore the sense that his eyes stayed glued to her narrow shoulders as she took in a modern house built with old-world grandeur. “I imagined something very contemporary, made of glass and stainless steel, all sharp angles.”

The high ceilings held glittering chandeliers. A double staircase came down in expansive arms of delicate wrought iron and sumptuous red carpet over yellowed marble. The tiles continued through the huge foyer to an enormous lounge where a horseshoe sofa in warm terra-cotta would easily seat twenty.

Did he entertain often? Something in the way his energy permeated this airy interior so thoroughly made her think he kept this all-comfortable splendor to himself.

“The sorts of things that people want to protect are often attractive. Jewelry. Art,” he supplied with a negligent shrug. “Six inches of steel works to a point, but surveillance and alarms allow for designs that are more aesthetically pleasing.”

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