Becoming Dante(4)

By: Day Leclaire

 She took a quick sip of water, no doubt to give herself a precious few seconds to regain her equilibrium. “Is that why you’ve repeatedly refused to see me? Because I didn’t attend Jessa’s funeral?”

 “It’s as good a reason as any, wouldn’t you agree?”

 “If it were true.” She took another restorative sip, before meeting his gaze. “Which it isn’t.”

 Maybe if he focused on his anger, the desire would go away. Or at least, ease up. That’s all he needed, a few minutes of respite from the fierce wave of need lashing at him, eroding his control with every passing second. He didn’t understand it. The only emotion he should feel toward her was utter contempt. And yet... That wasn’t what he felt. Why?

 “Which part isn’t true?” he bit out. “That you couldn’t be bothered to attend your cousin’s funeral, or you returned only in order to get your hands on Heart’s Desire?”

 She gave a careless shrug. “Jessa wouldn’t have wanted me there.”

 “No question about that. And yet the second Matilda tells you she’s ill, you return to circle like a vulture. Or am I mistaken about that, as well?”

 She flinched, the movement barely perceptible, bringing a hint of vulnerability to those brilliant, haunted eyes. Of course, considering all he knew about her, she’d patented the look and incorporated it into her current scam, something he found far easier to believe than the alternative—that she possessed so much as a modicum of true vulnerability. He couldn’t trust his instincts when it came to this woman, not when they urged him to make her his.

 A ray of late morning sunshine shafted across the room, losing itself in the trace of red buried in the sooty darkness of her hair. “You’re not mistaken. I’m here because my grandmother is ill.”

 “That’s not why you’re sitting in my office though, is it?” Cynicism ran rampant through the question. “I believe you’re sitting here because you know how much I want Heart’s Desire.”

 Her chin lifted an inch. “You’re right. I am. I’m betting you’ll do anything and everything to get your hands on it.”

 “Then name your price.”

 “I don’t want money. What I do want in exchange for the necklace is quite simple and well within your ability to offer me.” When he didn’t reply, she continued. “I’ve heard you’re one of the best negotiators in all of Seattle. Possibly in the entire Northwest.” She set her glass aside and interlaced her fingers, the knuckles blanching white and betraying the nervousness lurking behind her calm façade. “Care to put it to the test?”

 “Take your best shot.”

 “My grandmother is a very traditional woman. Naturally, she’s concerned about me, and about my...” She hesitated, before adding delicately, “Shall we say, my unfortunate choices to date? Right now, she isn’t open to a reconciliation. She’s simply informed me that she intends to honor her promise to give me the necklace and to let me know that’s likely to happen sooner rather than later.”

 “I gather giving you the necklace isn’t good enough for you?”

 Kat shook her head. “No. I want more. A lot more.”

 “Your grandmother is a wealthy woman. Let me guess. You feel entitled to a generous portion of that wealth.”

 She lifted a shoulder in a negligent shrug. “What I want is a reconciliation. My reasons are my own.”

 “And how do I fit into the picture?”

 “Gam has made it clear that she needs proof of my respectability. I believe her exact words were...” She wrinkled her brow in reflection. “’I will need to see for myself that you’ve settled down with a respectable man who won’t put up with any of your nonsense.’”

 “Good God,” he said faintly.

 “Yes, that was my reaction, too. But, if I do what she asks, I believe Gam will welcome me home. That brings me to the aforementioned respectable man.” She fixed her spring-green eyes on him and smiled. “Hello, respectable man.”

 He stared at her, appalled. “You’re proposing marriage? No. Absolutely no way. You’re insane to think I’d agree.”

 The flat statement didn’t come close to mirroring his profound distaste for her outrageous proposition. Or his profound desire. Marriage. The marital bed. The wedding night. He recalled the first time he’d seen Kat and his hands balled into fists. She’d been nude, sprawled across satin sheets, her youthful face so falsely innocent. Sleeping Beauty well after the prince’s “kiss” had wakened her.

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