Vows of Revenge(4)

By: Dani Collins

She puzzled him at the same time. He was used to women being overt when they were attracted to him. He wasn’t so arrogant he thought all of them were, but he worked out, wore tailored clothes and was loaded. These were all things that typically appealed to the opposite sex. She was blushing and flicking him nervous looks, fiddling with her hair, obviously very aware of him, but trying to hide it.

She wasn’t wearing a ring, but perhaps she was involved with someone. If she wasn’t, that shyness suggested she preferred slow, complex relationships. She didn’t sleep with men for the fun of it, he surmised, which was a pity because that was very much a quality he looked for in a woman.

Roman had trained himself to keep emotions firmly at bay, but a blanket of disappointment descended on him. He was attracted to her, but apparently it wouldn’t go anywhere. That was a shame.

Melodie had noticed his glance at his watch and offered a wry smile. “Perhaps I shouldn’t have left the happy couple to their own devices. They’re quite late, aren’t they?”

“It’s not like Ingrid,” he allowed. If it had been, she wouldn’t be his PA. He wasn’t a tyrant, but he didn’t tolerate sloppy behavior of any kind.

At the same time, he was fine with having Melodie to himself for a little longer.

“Perhaps you could show me where she’ll dress?” she suggested, and showed him her smartphone. “I wouldn’t mind taking note of suitable photo locations. The bridal preparations and procession to the groom are always an important part of the day’s record.”

“Are they?” If he sounded disdainful, he couldn’t help it. He had lived hand to mouth for long enough that he didn’t see the point in extravagant ceremonies. Did he pay for top quality now that he could afford to? Absolutely. But weddings were already given too much importance without turning them into a Broadway musical—then filming behind-the-scenes footage for others to ooh and aah over. As much as he appreciated Ingrid for all the skills she brought to her work, he was hosting this performance strictly for business reasons.

“I take it you’re not a romantic,” Melodie said as though reading his cynicism. “Or is it just that you wish you hadn’t agreed to having your private space invaded?”

Both, he admitted silently, and realized he would have to work on controlling how much he revealed around this woman. She was very astute.

Or very attuned to him, which was even more disturbing.

“I’m a dedicated realist,” he replied, motioning for her to lead the way from the kitchen up a flight of service stairs to a breakfast room. “You?” he drawled.

“Hopeless optimist,” she confessed without apology. “Oh, this room is gorgeous.”

It was the second time she’d forced him to take stock of the choices he’d made in his surroundings. Part of him had been willing to go with the sort of design she’d said she expected of him: glass and chrome and clean, straight lines. But he’d spent enough time in an institution— juvenile, so not quite as stark as real prison—along with houses that weren’t his own. He’d wanted something that felt like a real home. Of course, it also had to be a smart investment that would fetch a tidy profit if his world ever collapsed again and he had to sell it. Which wouldn’t happen, but Roman was a plan B and C and D sort of man.

So even though he ate in this sunroom every morning, he wasn’t as charmed as she appeared to be by its earthy tones and view overlooking the lemon groves between the road and the fountain in front of the house. He had agreed with the architect that having the morning sunlight pour in through the windows made sense, as did the French doors that opened to the upper balcony that ran the side and length of the house facing the pool and the sea, but it could rain every morning for all the notice he took.

“I once had a fortune cookie that told me to always be optimistic because nothing else matters.”

Her remark caught him by surprise. His mouth twitched as he processed the irony. He quickly controlled it, but couldn’t help bantering, “They should all read, ‘You’re about to eat a dry, tasteless cracker.’”

“Ouch.” She mock frowned at him. “I dread to ask what you think of weddings if that’s your attitude toward fortune cookies. Dry and tasteless?” she surmised with a blink of her wide eyes.

She was definitely flirting with him.

Time to let her know that if she went down that road it would be for short-term amusement, not long-term commitment.

“The ceremony does strike me as a rather elaborate shell for a piece of paper that promises something about the future but ultimately has no bearing on what will really happen.”

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