Becoming Dante(5)

By: Day Leclaire



 Even then, he’d been knocked sideways by her, had felt the initial, confusing stirrings of what had exploded into something far more this time around. He’d assumed all those years ago it had been a natural male response to the sight of a beautiful, naked woman, though he’d never been able to explain why the image of her had been branded into his memory for the past five years, while images of his wife, who died two short years ago, had already faded away. No wonder he hadn’t recognized the older, more stylish version of Kat who’d swept into his office. The two couldn’t look more different—the buttoned-up sophisticate versus earthy temptation.

 She laughed in open amusement. “Relax, Gabe. I’m not proposing marriage. I’m proposing an engagement. Granted, a prolonged engagement. One that will prove to Gam that I’ve settled down. You’ll help make her final months happy ones.”

 “As if you give a damn about that.”

 “Actually, I do give a damn. Despite all that’s happened, she’s still my grandmother.” She paused to allow that to sink in, before continuing, “Besides, who could be more perfect? Since you were Jessa’s husband, our engagement takes me from infamous to respectable in one easy step. You’re renowned for your honor and integrity. For being a powerful man who, though fair, isn’t a pushover. You’re exactly the man Gam has in mind to...” Her amusement grew, encouraged him to join in on the joke. “To keep me in line.”

 “No.”

 “Think of it, Gabe.” She used her siren’s voice on him, along with those leaf-bright eyes and sultry smile. All of it bent on seduction. “I’ll be at your mercy. Forced to toe whatever line you draw. And in exchange, you get your Heart’s Desire. Win-win.”

 He hesitated for a long minute, debating how to handle a proposition he should turn down flat, but found more tempting than he could have believed possible. What was that line from the TV show he’d watched as a child? Resistance is futile. He crossed to his desk and pressed a button on his phone. “Sarah?”

 “Yes, Mr. Moretti,” his assistant said immediately.

 “Cancel the rest of my appointments today. I’ll be leaving the office and won’t be back until the usual time Monday. Reschedule everything for next week. Give the Atkinson project top priority.”

 He didn’t bother waiting for a response. He turned his attention to Kat and gestured toward his office door. “Shall we?”

 “Shall we...what?”

 Her amusement faded, replaced by a wariness that caused Gabe to smile, though he suspected it lacked any semblance of humor. “Shall we see if we can consummate our future business agreement, of course. Assuming we’re able to reach an agreement.”

 “Consummate,” she repeated, stiffening. Nerves jittered across her expressive face. Nerves and something else, something he couldn’t quite place. Dread?

 He couldn’t explain what prompted him to provoke her this way. Perhaps it was that damned vulnerability he’d picked up on, the need to determine whether or not it was just an act. Or maybe he sensed a weakness, something he could exploit in order to gain the upper hand in their battle of wills. More likely it was the lust that had dogged him since the moment she stepped into his office.

 He lifted an eyebrow. “Isn’t that the end result when a proposal is accepted? The parties consummate the agreement. I suggest we go somewhere more private where we can do so. After all, you’ve just said that part of the deal was having you at my mercy, forced to toe whatever line I draw. Well, sweetheart, consummating our agreement is my line. So, I suggest you plant the toes of those sexy Valentinos along my line and start begging for mercy.”

 “You must be joking.” She shot to her feet, outrage lacing her words. Not exactly flattering, considering most women were quite eager to...consummate with him.

 Maybe that was why he didn’t instantly reassure her. Or maybe it was that damnable inner voice driving him on. Whatever the cause, he gave her another verbal shove. “No, I’m not joking. I am open to conversation beforehand. Perhaps a call to my lawyer to draft something nice and legal so you can’t default on our agreement. After that...” He moved in on her, stopping mere inches away. The sizzle between them increased to almost unbearable levels. “Well, let’s just say you were right. I’ll do whatever it takes to get my hands on that necklace.”

 “Even bedding me?” The question sounded almost bitter, which roused his curiosity.

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