His feet were planted wide. He blocked her path. Ariana couldn’t see his face, but she was familiar with the scenario. She’d just met the blonde woman he was standing in front of, and it appeared so had he. True to form his best game was on and he was endeavoring to introduce himself. But the woman looked like all she wanted to do was dodge him. Their exchange was brief. Ariana bristled watching him kiss her cheeks. She saw the blonde’s eyes widen when he whispered something to her, then a thin smile spread across her face before she nodded, shook his hand and beat a hasty getaway.
How strange. Usually women melted like butter before him—but not this one. She hadn’t given an inch, remaining cool, almost mechanical.
Ariana crossed her arms, watching him watch the woman leave. When he turned in her direction, she retreated into the shadows of the trees and took a deep breath before walking along the path toward him back into the light.
His face brightened over a clever grin when he spotted her. She knew what was going through his mind. She knew him so well. But there was no use pointing out the obvious. He’d just deny everything. And what claim did she have on him anyway?
She tried on a sweet smile. “You’ve met Charlotte then.” Cool as a cucumber.
“I did.” His black eyes twinkled like a little boy who knew he’d been caught. This was his favorite game.
“You were spying on me,” his smirk taunted her.
“I happened to turn the corner a minute ago and see you. I simply waited until you’d done.”
He pulled her into the stairwell nook and slipped his arms around her, “Koukla mou. S’agapo. You’re my jewel. You know it’s you I love.” His soft lips pressed to hers, then he pulled back and cupped her face in his hands. “Only you.”
She remained silent, her eyes steady and as blank as she could keep them.
“Why won’t you ever tell me you love me, too?” he asked.
“You know I’m only using you.” An ingenuous smile spread across her face. It was a lie she told herself but a necessary one.
“Don’t tease about that. I would do anything for you.” The press of his lips once again awakened her need for him, but she fought it back and worked her hands between them. “You always keep me at a distance, Ariana, and it hurts me.”
“We weren’t far last night.” Her eyes closed involuntarily at the memory.
He let out a soft growl. “I don’t mean in bed, my love,” grinding his hips into hers. “There I can never be close enough. But I want all of you; to own your heart like you own mine.”
She would never say it. She couldn’t. But her heart was spoken for. He had it. Yet she knew she’d never own his heart entirely. There were too many women in the world. She wanted to say the words—many times she’d come close.
His arms tightened their circle around her, his lips were at her ear. “If it’s the last thing I do, I’ll have it, Ariana. I promise you that.”
She shivered. They lived on the tip of her tongue. But she was afraid that if she declared her love for him out loud, her soul would would fly out her mouth with the words.
“Before I forget,” he said, “my father wants you to have a dress made for the party. The designer will be here later.” He traced a finger along the bottom of her breast. “But these are mine, so make sure you keep them covered.” His hands continued, spiraling to the nipple, which hardened under the stroke of his thumb. The effect went straight to her loins, as always. He lifted her shirt and took possession of one into his mouth and she threw her head back as her breath quickened. The scenes of their reunion last night were fresh. He’d been so far away for too long, and feeling his touch again had sharpened her need, opening like a wound within her. She almost gasped when he pulled his mouth away.
“So you’re not taken by surprise, Ariana, I’m bringing Jennifer Lake.”
Just like that. Ariana’s gaze narrowed, but she held her tongue. She tried to wriggle away, but he held her firmly to him.
“It’s for show, koukla mou. You know that,”
My ass, it’s for show. It was par for the course.
He ground himself into her again, his cock hard and hot against her belly. She couldn’t stop her hips from bucking forward, hating herself for letting her lust override her anger at him. But she dug deeper inside and found the strength to push him away and storm off.
“Ariana, stop!” he pleaded after her.
Maybe he really believed he was just keeping up appearances, but she had no such illusions. It was the cost of having his devotion, but it angered her—anger directed mostly at herself for putting up with it. But she’d been in love with him for too long to change that.
“Bastard!” She picked up her pace out the driveway and rounded the stone wall onto the sidewalk, yelping as she collided with someone in her path. Her face bounced off a muscular, well-tailored chest. The surprise made her grab for her nose.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
With his chest pressed to hers, she felt his deep voice resonate within her. His strong hands gripped her arms. She blinked up at intense, dark brown eyes, familiar somehow. His olive-complexioned face was chiseled, clean-shaven. When he reached a hand for her face she became aware of the heat of his lower body. She waved him off and pulled away.
But he’d taken hold of her chin, lifting it, searching her eyes for distress. A handsome smile spread across his face. “Yes, you are fine.” His breath was sweet.
She cursed herself for flushing and wrested her head from his grasp.
“What’s your hurry?” he asked, his tone still flirtatious.
“Nothing.” But she was drawn back to his eyes. They were magnetizing, and when his gaze slid lower she felt her cheeks warm.
“Then why don’t you slow down and enjoy the scenery? It’s what I do.”
She blushed hotter. His meaning was crystal clear and she found herself not minding. “So, tell me where you’re going so I can come find you later.”
Wouldn’t that serve Konstantin right? She was preparing a coy comeback when she caught sight of the ring on his left hand and her anger flared again. “Get lost,” she spat and shoved past him.
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