The Executive's Vengeful Seduction(9) by Maxine Sullivan

His eyes narrowed. “You might be surprised.”

“About you? Never. I know the sort of man you are and the sort of friends you’ll have.”

A muscle began jumping in his cheek. “I’m glad you think you know me,” he snapped, then strode back inside the apartment.

A few moments later she heard the front door close in a quiet, controlled manner. In a way she wished he’d slammed it instead.

A couple of hours later they drove up to a luxurious mansion along the waterfront at Cullen Bay. Gabrielle, dressed in a silky blue dress that had received an approving look from Damien, was proven right about his friends.

Yet wrong.

The house obviously belonged to moneyed people, but when she stepped inside the front door it was to find one other couple besides their hosts and a warm greeting that softened the hardness around her heart and made her feel very welcome. They were all very different from what she’d expected. And that added an insight into the man beside her that she would never have seen otherwise.

Danielle and Flynn Donovan owned the house, and Kia and Brant Matthews were obviously close friends and frequent visitors. The women were gorgeous and friendly, the two men handsome and suave, but with a slight reserve that told Gabrielle they were the same breed as Damien. They didn’t let down their guard easily.

Dinner was quite a lighthearted affair in a magnificent dining room that really showed off the house to perfection.

“This is such a lovely room,” Gabrielle said to Danielle once they’d finished the first course and there was a lull in the conversation.

Danielle flushed, looking pleased. “Thank you. That’s really nice of you to say so.”

Something occurred to Gabrielle and her eyes widened. “I’ve just realized. You were the one who did Damien’s apartment, weren’t you?”

Danielle nodded with pleasure, though Gabrielle mentally acknowledged the mention of her knowing Damien’s apartment had been noted by all of them.

“My wife is quite the decorator,” Flynn said, sending his wife a loving look. It was a look that Gabrielle herself had hoped to receive one day from the man she loved.

At the thought, her gaze slid to Damien opposite her, and saw him watching her through half-closed lids. She wondered if Damien would ever be as relaxed as the men around their wives. He’d always seemed so alone.

Appearing nonchalant, she reached for her wineglass and took a sip, but her thoughts were far from casual. Damien had never sent her a loving look like the one Flynn had given his wife. Lustful yes, but not a warm look filled with respect.

Not that it mattered. She didn’t plan on falling in love again. Nor did she plan on marrying for a long time to come, despite what Damien said. For the moment she was just going to be one of those women whose dreams of being swept off her feet were just that—dreams.

“Gabrielle Kane?” the other woman, Kia, said with a slight frown on her beautiful forehead. “Your name seems familiar. Are you from Darwin?”

Gabrielle darted a look at Damien, but Kia’s husband, Brant, pulled her gaze to him instead. “You’re Russell Kane’s daughter, aren’t you?” he said, a curious gleam in his eyes that made her wonder what he knew about her. “You’ve been living interstate for the last couple of years.”

She moistened her suddenly dry lips. “Yes, I have.”

“Oh, that’s right. Your father recently had a stroke,” Kia said sympathetically. “I remember reading it in the newspapers now. I’m so sorry, Gabrielle. How is he?”

Gabrielle inclined her head in gratitude. “Thank you.” Her voice broke a little, so she cleared her throat. “He’s heavily sedated at the moment.”

“But we’re hoping he’ll soon be on the mend,” Damien added, his voice losing that steely edge, surprising Gabrielle, making her feel less alone in her fears.

“I’m so glad,” Kia said with sincerity. She paused, her eyes a little surprised. “You know, Gabrielle. You’re not like we expected.”

Gabrielle grew a little wary, but wasn’t sure why. “I’m not?”

Kia’s lips curved into a smile. “You’re much nicer.” The other woman sent Damien an approving look. “I’m really glad Damien brought you here tonight.”

Gabrielle let out a silent sigh of relief even as she refused to look at Damien. “So am I.” And she meant it. She just wished it hadn’t been because of Damien that she was here.

Then she realized the others were looking at her as if they knew there was more to her and Damien’s relationship, but thankfully talk turned to general things while they worked their way through the rest of the meal.

Just as they were finishing dessert, the housekeeper, Louise, came into the room to tell both women that their babies were growing restless. Kia and Danielle instantly jumped up and so did their husbands, jokingly saying that they wanted to see their daughters, too.

Danielle went to leave the room, then stopped and frowned. She opened her mouth to speak but Damien cut her off, “Don’t worry about us, Danielle. We’ll be fine until you come back.”

“Are you sure?”

Damien gave a slow smile. “What man in his right mind would complain about being left alone with such a beautiful woman?”

Danielle laughed. “Oh, you’re such a smooth talker.” She winked at Gabrielle. “Watch out for him, Gabrielle.”

Gabrielle tried to smile but it felt forced. Her heart was thumping, and not just because she would be alone with Damien. She was so thankful the housekeeper hadn’t brought either of those babies into the dining room. She wasn’t sure she could bear it.

She waited until the others left the room, then put her napkin on the table and stood. “I need some fresh air,” she choked, hurrying toward the patio doors. They were closed to keep the room air-conditioned and she prayed they weren’t locked. They weren’t.

But as she stepped outside onto the well-lit terrace, the humidity that swamped her was as heavy as her heart. She stood there for a moment, letting it overwhelm her, welcoming the pain…the ache of loss.

“You don’t like children?” Damien said from behind her, making her jump.

She schooled her features into a blank mask before slowly turning around. “What makes you say that?”

“Gut instinct. Most women usually fuss over babies and all that motherly stuff.” His eyes pierced the distance between them. “You didn’t.”

She held his gaze. “Perhaps I have other things on my mind.”

“Like what?”

“My father.”

He inclined his head, conceding the point as he came toward her. “For your information, Kia’s baby, Emma, is only a few weeks old. Danielle’s little girl, Alexandra, is about nine months.”

“I’m sure they’re gorgeous,” she said, her heart breaking even as she was surprised he knew the ages of his friends’ children.

“They are.”

She wanted to ask if he liked children. And if he ever planned on having another one day. Only, she couldn’t say that. Not to the man who’d unknowingly fathered one child already. A child who had died.

She swallowed hard and tried not to let him see her anguish. “Your friends are really nice,” she said, pushing aside her heartache.

“Not boring suits at all, eh?”

She winced. “No.” She felt bad now for being so judgmental about them.

“Apology accepted.”

Her eyes widened. “I didn’t apologize.”

“I know,” he said with a slight smile as he came toward her.

She was suddenly too aware of how close he was. Quickly she turned away to look out over the lush landscape. “Um, this is a beautiful house. And this garden is just lovely.”

Desperately she tried to concentrate on the beauty of the well-lit setting. A light breeze dipped palm fronds in the swimming pool, and flowers from the frangipani trees spread a blanket of white over a patch of lawn. Hibiscus provided splashes of red-orange color.

He put his hand on her arm and turned her back to him. Something deep kindled in his eyes. “Not as beautiful as you,” he murmured, pulling her toward him.

Oh God. Five years ago she’d lacked the know-how to control her crazy feelings for him. Now she could feel the same craving for him gnawing beneath the surface.

“What do you want, Damien?” she said huskily, unable to stop herself from savoring the warm, male scent of him rising up in the pocket of air between them. At a subconscious level, it tantalized her senses and turned her legs to jelly.

His gaze dropped to her mouth. “You.”

His head began to lower, and she unwillingly swayed toward him. Dear Lord. Suddenly five years was too long between kisses.

In the space of a heartbeat, he molded her mouth to the fullness of his own. Unable to ignore the taste of warm memories, she groaned and kissed him back, as a wonderful sensation quivered through her. Heat licked at her veins and she needed no further coaxing to let him venture into the hollows of her mouth while she clutched at his shoulders and let him intoxicate her.

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