Vows of Revenge

By: Dani Collins

CHAPTER ONE

SURROUNDED BY OLD money and cold-blooded cynicism for the first part of her life, Melodie Parnell wasn’t half as ingenuous as she looked. In fact, she actively tried to give off an air of sophistication by straightening her curly brown hair into a shiny curtain, adding a flick of liquid liner to downplay her round blue eyes and painting a bold red lipstick over her plump, pink lips. Her clothing choices were classic business style: a pencil skirt, a sweater set and her mother’s pearls.

At the same time, she privately offered people the benefit of the doubt. She believed the best whenever possible and always sought the brightest side of every situation.

That attitude had earned her nothing but contempt from her half brother and more than once resulted in a sting from social climbers and gold diggers trying to get closer to the men in her family. Being softhearted had definitely been her mother’s downfall. But, Melodie often assured herself, she wasn’t nearly as fragile or susceptible as that. The fact that she’d lost her mother very recently and kept slipping into a state of melancholy as she faced life without her didn’t make her vulnerable.

Yet, for some reason, Roman Killian took the rug right out from under her—by doing nothing except answering the door of his mansion.

“You must be the indispensable Melodie,” he greeted.

She was supposed to be immune to powerful men in bespoke outfits, but her mouth went dry and her knees went weak. He wasn’t even wearing a suit. He wore a casually tailored linen jacket over black pants and a collarless peasant-style shirt, three open buttons at his throat.

Not that she really took in his clothes. She saw the man.

He had black hair that might have curled if he let it grow long enough, tanned skin and gorgeous bone structure. Italian? Spanish? Greek? He certainly had the refined features of European aristocracy, but Melodie knew him to be a self-made American. His brows were straight and circumspect, his eyes decidedly green with a dark ring around the irises. He was clean shaven, urbane and acutely masculine in every way.

He met her gaze with an impactful directness that stole her breath.

“Roman Killian,” he said, offering his hand and snapping her out of her fixation. His voice was like dark chocolate and red wine, rich and sultry, but his tone held a hint of disparagement. No one was truly essential, he seemed to say.

“I am Melodie,” she managed to say. She watched his mouth as he clasped her hand in his strong grip. His upper lip was much narrower than his full bottom one. He smiled in the way men did when confronted with a woman they didn’t find particularly attractive, but were forced by circumstance to be polite toward. Cool and dismissive.

Melodie wasn’t offended. She was always braced for male rejection and surprised if she didn’t get it. It wasn’t that she was homely. She had just inherited her mother’s catwalk build and elfin features along with her pearls. The attributes were fine for modeling, but came off as skinny and exaggerated in real life. Spiderlike and awkward—or so she’d been told so many times she tended to believe it.

So his indifference wasn’t a surprise, but her skin still prickled and she warmed as though the sun had lodged in her belly and radiated outward through her limbs with a disarming feeling that she was glowing.

She shouldn’t be so nervous. She’d still had a pacifier in her mouth when she’d begun glad-handing, and rarely suffered shyness no matter how lofty the person she was meeting. Presidents. Royalty. Such things didn’t affect her.

Yet she found herself surreptitiously fighting to catch her breath, aware that she was letting her hand stay in his too long. When she tried to extract it, however, he tightened his grip.

“We’ve met,” he said with certainty. Almost accusingly. His eyes narrowed as he raked her face with his gaze, head cocked and arrested.

“No,” she assured him, but her pulse gave a leap while a romantic part of her brain invented a fanciful “in another life soul-mate” scenario. She was very good with faces and names, though, even when a person wasn’t nearly as memorable as he was. And he was too young to remember her mother, not that he looked the type to thumb through fashion magazines in the first place. There was an off chance he’d seen her in connection to her father, she supposed, but she was carving that particular man from her life one thought at a time so she didn’t bring him up, and only said, “I’m quite sure we haven’t.”

Roman didn’t believe her, she could see it.

“Ingrid and Huxley aren’t with you?” He flicked a look for her clients to where her taxi had dropped her next to the fountain in his paved courtyard.

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