Becoming Dante(8)

By: Day Leclaire

 “What did you just do to me?” she demanded in a low voice.

 “I kissed you.”

 She shook her head and felt the knot at the nape of her neck give, the heaviness of her hair loosening to tumble down her back. For some reason it signaled a final betrayal, a surrender she neither wanted, nor could avoid. A loss of the worst sort...of herself. Their kiss couldn’t have lasted longer than a moment or two and yet look at what he’d done to her. Or rather, look at how he’d caused her to come undone. She’d always taken such pride in her cool poise, knowing that others might want, but could never take, not while she held herself at a careful distance. But with one touch, Gabe had stripped all that away.

 “That was no kiss.” She lifted trembling fingers to her mouth, where palm and lips both throbbed in tempo. “It burned. How did you do that?”

 Something flickered in his golden gaze, almost as though he’d made an unexpected connection. “It just happened. I don’t know how or why.”

 “Did it...” She moistened her lips. They felt warm and swollen...and delightfully sensitive. “Did it happen with Jessa? Is this a Moretti thing?”

 A sooty eyebrow shot upward. “A Moretti thing?” he repeated, amusement lacing the question. He shook his head. “No, I suspect if it’s anything, it’s a Dante thing.”

 “Dante?” Did he mean the same Dantes who’d created his mother’s necklace? The Dantes she one day hoped to work for? That didn’t make any sense. “I don’t understand.”

 “I don’t either, but I will.” He took a step in her direction and she tensed. To her relief, he didn’t come any closer. “I don’t know about you, but I need a drink. And I don’t mean ice water.”

 “It’s barely noon,” she protested.

 “I need a drink,” he repeated. He gestured toward a room that opened off the foyer. “If you’ll wait for me in the study, I’ll arrange for lunch.”

 “I’d like to freshen up.” She glanced around, an unwelcome helplessness settling over her. “Where...?”

 “There’s a bathroom off the study.”

 Praying that her shaky three-inch heels would hold her for the length of time it took to cross the wooden foyer floor, she headed in the direction he indicated and entered the study. It was a surprisingly charming room, beautifully appointed. As much as she’d have liked to linger and admire the heartwood floors and antique furniture, she continued on to the bathroom. One glance at the mirror confirmed her worst fears.

 She didn’t just look like a woman who’d been kissed senseless. She looked like a woman who’d been stripped bare. Exposed. Left utterly defenseless. That had happened only once before and she’d sworn she’d never allow it to happen again. And yet it had. Somehow Gabriel Moretti had found a way in and unlocked the Pandora’s Box she kept buried in the deepest, darkest part of herself. And he’d done it with a single kiss. How was that possible?

 And what was that bizarre heat that had flared between them? It hadn’t been passion alone. Something more burned there. Something she didn’t have a hope of controlling, that instead directed and ordained, as though fate had seized hold of her life and set it on a new and unalterable path. She didn’t have a single doubt that path led straight into Gabe’s arms, the one place she had no intention of going and the one place she most wanted to explore.

 Lucky, lucky Jessa.

 Kat lifted a hand to her mouth, stricken at how her fingers trembled. And her eyes... Dark, filled with pain. A window to her every thought and emotion. With her hair tumbling around her shoulders and her mouth ripe and swollen she appeared— Oh, God. Ravished. And with one kiss. What would happen when he took the embrace farther than a single kiss?

 She shoved the thought away. This would never do. She simply wouldn’t allow it. Opening her purse, she swiftly rebuilt the feminine barriers women through the ages had used to protect themselves. With her hair once again ruthlessly knotted at her nape and her makeup impeccably applied, she felt better. She’d feel a whole lot better if she could somehow shield the expression in her eyes.

 She closed them and remembered. Remembered all she’d gone through, all she’d achieved to date. All she intended to accomplish in the future. She remembered the past, and the immense debt she owed her grandmother for taking her in after her parents’ deaths. Of her struggle the past five years and how she’d ruthlessly pinched every penny of the inheritance she received from the trust account her parents set up. Life had been beyond difficult until her finances had taken a swift upward swing eighteen months ago, enough of a swing to indulge in a few excellent pieces of designer clothing and shoes.

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