Becoming Dante(9)

By: Day Leclaire



 But most important of all was her desperation to reconcile with the woman who’d been her entire world until five years ago. Not to mention her ultimate goal and eventual destination...San Francisco and the shot at a job as a jewelry designer for Dantes. It steadied her as nothing else could.

 When she checked the mirror again, she saw a woman in charge of her own destiny. A woman who could resist Gabriel Moretti. She took a deep, calming breath, praying that’s what Gabe saw, as well.

 She returned to the study to discover him pouring drinks. He glanced at her and a knowing gleam shot through his distinctive gold eyes. “Feel better?” he asked.

 “Much.”

 “Drink?”

 She shrugged. Why not? “Thanks. Neat, please.”

 “I’ve arranged for lunch. It should be ready shortly. I also put a call in to my attorney. I’ll have Tom Blythe pull together some sort of agreement. I can assure you he’ll be discreet.” Gabe approached and handed her a leaded crystal tumbler. Their fingertips brushed, intensifying the faint sizzle and burn that hummed between them. For some reason, it centered in her palm and in her lips. Odd. Very odd. And very distracting. “So, why don’t you present your proposition and we’ll discuss how we should go from there?”

 His businesslike attitude helped steady her, earning her gratitude. “It’s fairly simple. We make a point of a first meeting, somewhere public so it’s both noticed and notable. We date for a set number of months. Announce our engagement. Allow the engagement to run its course until...” She took a quick drink, the burn of liquor helping to keep her composed and focused. She repeated the word, with more finality this time. “Until.” She still couldn’t bring herself to say the words, words that threatened to break her heart. Until Gam died.

 “I think there’s a little more involved than that,” Gabe warned.

 She lifted an eyebrow. “Such as?”

 “The venue for our meeting. How long we should date. How and when to announce the engagement. How best to handle Matilda. At what point the transfer of property occurs.” His voice dropped and his gaze heated. “Not to mention, the...consummation of our agreement.”

 This time he didn’t even have to touch her for her to come undone. She took another quick drink before speaking, praying her voice didn’t reveal any hint of her inner turmoil. Why him? Of all people, why Jessa’s husband? “I suggest the most trendy, public venue possible for our initial dates. I’m a bit out of touch these days, so you would know better than I where that would be.”

 “Acceptable.”

 “As for announcing our engagement, I suggest we wait three to six months.”

 “One.”

 She shook her head. “No one is going to buy that.”

 “I believe they will.” He smiled in a way that caused nerves to skitter along her spine and the tug of desire to intensify. “Especially when they see I can’t keep my hands off you.”

 “Three,” she bargained desperately. “Three months.”

 “One.”

 Her mouth tightened. “People won’t believe it. And I need them to believe.”

 “People will believe I’m merely a fool in love,” he stated matter-of-factly. “Unfortunately, your reputation precedes you, so I’m afraid they won’t be quite so generous in their opinion of you. And when I end our engagement and cut off all contact with you, I suspect your flirtation with respectability will also end.”

 Kat got it then. Every ounce of color drained from her face and the breath stuttered in her lungs. “When you end the engagement, you hope to confirm the general consensus, don’t you?” The question escaped in a thready whisper. “Why? Why would you do that?”

 His tarnished eyes burned like the fires from hell. “Let’s call it an engagement gift from Jessa. Of course, you can refuse, take the moral high ground and walk away from the deal. But something tells me you won’t, even if it means finding yourself in the middle of another scandal with your reputation, once again, ripped to shreds.”

 “If you destroy my reputation, how am I supposed to convince my grandmother I’ve changed?”

 “I don’t plan to destroy your reputation while Matilda is still alive. In the meantime, she’ll believe whatever I tell her. If I put my stamp of approval on you, she’ll go along with it, mainly because she wants to believe. But we’ll know the truth, won’t we, Kat? And eventually, so will the rest of Seattle.”

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