Becoming Dante(10)

By: Day Leclaire

 Pain tore through her. Leave, a small voice insisted. Go now. Nothing is worth this. Maybe she would have if it hadn’t been for one unfortunate detail. Something happened when he’d kissed her. Something that changed everything. She couldn’t explain it. Didn’t understand how or why it altered the playing field. She simply knew it did.

 Somehow, some way, he’d forged a connection between them, one she couldn’t escape. Didn’t want to escape. Oh, she knew it wouldn’t last. Of course it wouldn’t. But it compelled her to stay until that connection broke, or dissipated, or ran its course, no matter how painful that course might be.

 She’d come to Seattle with one purpose in mind—a reconciliation with Gam. Nothing else mattered beyond that, especially now that their time together was so terribly finite. Or so Kat thought until her meeting with Gabe Moretti, until she’d walked into his office and been knocked sideways by a desire so paramount, nothing else seemed to matter. She closed her eyes. Okay, fine. So, she’d just proven to herself that she had base desires like every other woman in the world. That didn’t change her goals, not really. Once that desire ran its course and once she’d made Gam’s final days as happy as possible, she’d be free to move on and start over with a clean slate. The thought hovered before her like a golden dream. A dream she’d spent the past five years believing impossible to achieve.

 “Well?” he demanded “Do you agree to my proposition?”

 She struggled to conceal how much the small growl rippling through his question unsettled her. “Let’s say I’m open to further negotiation.”

 If he felt any triumph at the concession, he didn’t show it. If anything, his tension grew. “I insist on a legally binding agreement that you’ll give me Heart’s Desire.”

 “One that goes both ways,” she shot right back. “I need you to promise to stay engaged to me and treat me appropriately while my grandmother’s alive. Trust me when I say I intend to spell out in explicit detail just what ‘appropriately’ entails.”

 “Fair enough.”

 “Then we’re agreed?”

 He shook his head. “I expect you to consummate our agreement.”

 Heat stormed across her cheekbones. She turned on her heel and paced the room, pausing to examine a small free-flowing statuette, the dark polished wood exquisitely carved. She ran a finger along the smooth lines, wishing just once her life could run along equally smooth lines. A fruitless wish since it never had.

 Even as a child her life had been one of turmoil, her grandmother the only steady, unwavering influence in her life. From the tender age of five, when her parents had died from a virus while on a humanitarian mission, her grandmother had been her world. Her rock.

 Until Jessa changed all that.

 She turned from the statuette and faced Gabe. “I suspect ‘consummate our agreement’ is your not-so-subtle way of telling me that you want to sleep with me.”

 “Not at all.”

 Confusion swept through her. Had she misunderstood? “Oh. Then what do you mean?”

 He silently approached. “Sleeping won’t be involved in our consummation. Sex will.”

 She didn’t dare agree to that. It offered the possibility for far too many pitfalls. She assumed he wanted the necklace as badly as she wanted to reconcile with her grandmother. That didn’t mean she’d risk everything on that one assumption. She forced herself to throw a quick, amused glance over her shoulder. “Sorry. That won’t happen.”

 “You think not?”

 She turned to face him. “Let’s just say I’m saving myself for marriage,” she said, perfectly serious. Not that he believed her.

 Laughter escaped, the sound dark and rich and sliding through her veins like the sweetest of wines. “I like your sense of humor.”

 She fought to keep her barriers strong, to ignore the sensations lapping at her in ever increasing waves. “I didn’t realize I’d said anything funny.”

 His eyes darkened, the color a tawny antique gold. They held her, warmed and warned her, made promises that filled her with longing and dread. “Fine,” he said at last. “If you insist on waiting until you’re married, I’ll accept that.”

 But she knew he didn’t mean the words, that he thought she’d cave to her baser instincts. Sadly, it was a strong possibility. “Then we have a deal?” she asked.

 “We do.” He tipped his glass toward hers. The crystal touched, releasing a soft, sweet note, the purity of it at odds with their unwholesome agreement.

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