Only on His Terms(3)

By: Elizabeth Bevarly

 She began to take a step backward, but Mr. Tarrant nudged her forward again. He announced their names to the butler, who led them through the foyer and down a hall to the left, then another hall to the right, until they were standing in the entryway of a cavernous library. Gracie knew it was a library because three walls were virtually covered by floor-to-ceiling bookcases filled with exquisite leather-bound collectors’ editions. They matched nicely the exquisite leather-bound furnishings. And there were floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out onto the gleaming water. She might as well have fallen through the looking glass, so grand and foreign was this world to her.

 Her breathing settled some when she realized the room was full of people, since that would make it easier for her to be invisible. Mr. Tarrant had cautioned her that there would be a veritable army of attorneys present, along with their clients—Harry’s former business associates and family members. It had come as no small surprise to hear that Harry had left behind a widow and two ex-wives, along with three daughters by the exes and a solitary son by his last wife. Gracie had no idea how to tell one person from another, though, since everyone was dressed alike—the men in suits and the women in more suits and a couple of sedate dresses—and they represented a variety of age groups.

 One of those suited men hailed Mr. Tarrant from the other side of the room, and after ensuring that Gracie would be all right for a few minutes without him, he strode in that direction. So she took a few steps into the fray, relieved to be able to do it on her own.

 See? she said to herself. This wasn’t so bad. It was just like working a wedding-rehearsal dinner at Café Destiné for some wealthy Seattle bride and groom. Except that she would be in the background at one of those events, not front and center, which would be happening here all too soon. Not to mention that, at a rehearsal dinner, she’d be sharing 18 percent of a final tab worth a couple of thousand dollars with two or three other waiters, and here, she would be receiving 100 percent of almost everything.

 Fourteen billion—yes, billion with a b—dollars.

 She felt her panic advancing again, until a gentle voice murmured from behind her, “How can you tell the difference between a bunch of high-powered suits and a pack of bloodthirsty jackals?”

 She spun around to find herself gazing up—and up and up some more—into a pair of the most beautiful blue eyes she had ever seen. The rest of the man’s face was every bit as appealing, with straight ebony brows, an aristocratic nose, a sculpted jaw and lips that were just this side of full. Not to mention a strand of black hair that tumbled rebelliously over his forehead in a way that made him look as if he’d just sauntered out of a fabulous forties film.

 She took a quick inventory of the rest of him, pretending she didn’t notice how he was doing the same to her. He had broad shoulders, a slim waist and the merest scent of something smoky and vaguely indecent. Gracie couldn’t have identified a current fashion label if her life depended on it, but it was a safe bet that his charcoal pinstripes had been designed by whoever had the most expensive one. He looked like one of the high-powered suits in the riddle he’d just posed and nothing like a bloodthirsty jackal. She couldn’t wait to hear the answer.

 “I don’t know,” she said. “How can you tell the difference?”

 He grinned, something that made him downright dazzling. Gracie did her best not to swoon.

 In a voice tinted with merriment, he said, “You can’t.”

 She chuckled, and the tension that had wrapped her so tightly for the last week began to ease for the first time. For that, more than anything, she was grateful to the man. Not that she didn’t appreciate his other, ah, attributes, too. A lot.

 “But you’re one of those suits,” she objected.

 “Only because professional dictates say I have to be.”

 As if to illustrate his reluctance, he tugged his necktie loose enough to unbutton the top button of his shirt. In a way, he reminded her of Harry, someone who knew there was more to life than appearances, and there were better ways to spend time than currying the favor of others.

 “Would you like some coffee?” he asked. “There’s an urn in the corner. And some cookies or something, too, I think.”

 She shook her head. “No, thanks. I’m good.” She didn’t add that the addition of even a drop of caffeine or a grain of sugar to her system would turn her jitters into a seismic event. “But if you’d like some—” She started to tell him she’d be right back with a cup and a plate, so automatically did her waitress response come out.

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