Vows of Revenge(7)

By: Dani Collins



“What’s wrong?” she asked. Heat climbed up her chest into her throat.

“Nothing.”

She licked her lips and moved along the balcony toward the outer stairs, trying to escape the moment of silly make-believe, but now that it was in her head she couldn’t help wondering what it would be like to live with this savagely beautiful man.

Hard, she thought. But the right woman might be able to soften him.

The stairs descended in a curve to the area beside the pool. She stopped at the top and waved behind herself.

“She’ll have a train. We’ll fan it out here.” She twisted as she indicated the puddle of imaginary silk and lace. Lifting her gaze, looking back over her shoulder at him as if this was a bad idea. She was too far into the dream, unguarded and vulnerable. She had accidentally left herself open to his reading her thoughts. Her entire body became paralyzed in a kind of thrilled panic, as though he’d happened upon her naked, but she wasn’t afraid or ashamed. She was a nymph caught by a god.

He went statue still.

Her phone looked small in his hand, clicking, but practically forgotten as he looked past it and kept his eyes on her, taking his time as he toured her shoulder blades and waist and bottom and legs. The term brutally handsome came into her head and she understood it for the first time in her life. Roman was so gorgeous it was an assault to the senses, squeezing her lungs and pulsing heat under her skin.

He frightened her, but she wanted him to pursue her. It didn’t make sense, but from everything she’d heard about hormones, they were never big on logic. They were the opposite, and hers were responding unusually well to him. That was what frightened her. Not him, per se, but her reaction to him.

He abruptly glanced at his watch. “Ingrid has been delayed,” he said, touching the device. “She thinks she sprained her wrist. She’s at the clinic and asks if we can reschedule.”

* * *

He could have asked Melodie to stay for lunch, but he didn’t. He had his driver take her back to her hotel. He wanted time to consider how he was reacting to her before pursuing her openly.

Powerfully was the answer to how he was reacting. Taking her photo had been an excuse to study her, and he hadn’t seen a single thing he didn’t like. And even though he was far beyond getting hot over photos of women, clothed or not, for some reason he’d been fixated as he had watched her pose. There was definitely a strong sexual attraction between them, but more than that, he’d found her magnetic.

Why?

He shook off his perplexity as he pressed his thumb pad to the sensor in his office and tapped the screen, bringing up the security report he’d ignored earlier.

He swore aloud as the contents became clear.

Apparently the experts were right. He was a security genius, if late to the party this once. The myriad details that his gatekeeper and even his own eyes had missed had been refined by his closed circuit camera and proprietary software, filtered against online content, then tagged to warn him of an attack even more insidious than the one he’d suffered all those years ago.

A handful of matches had come up. He glanced through them, stomach knotting.

The surname comparison could be dismissed as coincidental. Melodie had given his guard the name Parnell, which had been tagged to Parnell-Gautier. Two and a half decades ago, a model named Patience Parnell had hyphenated to Parnell-Gautier when she married.

He flicked to a dated glamor shot from a defunct fashion magazine. Patience stared at him, young and nubile, her gamine face bearing a striking resemblance to Melodie’s big eyes and wide mouth. And there she was holding a baby girl named Charmaine. Not Melodie, but the date would put the baby in her early twenties today, precisely the age Melodie appeared to be.

Roman had met Patience once, very briefly, he recalled now. But he’d never considered her a direct threat because she’d gone into some kind of medical care several years ago.

His war, Roman had always believed, was with Anton Gautier and Anton’s father, Garner Gautier. Aside from one recent photograph, the daughter hadn’t been linked publically to either man since childhood.

He studied the photograph from a newsfeed dated two months ago. Melodie’s profile from her approach in the taxi today had been set against the profile in the news piece where a backlit woman, wearing a black hat with a netted veil, stood next to her American senator father as he bowed his head over a casket. Behind them stood Anton. The caption mentioned that Patience Parnell-Gautier was survived by her loving husband, stepson and daughter, Charmaine M. Parnell-Gautier.

How vile and just like Gautier to send his second spawn into Roman’s house like this. To use his PA’s mother to infiltrate his home.

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