“No, thanks,” Gabriel turns down the offer, with a semi-grin.

“Come on, let’s get your dinner,” I tell Tennyson before excusing myself.

That’s all the incentive Tennyson requires to dart away with a ‘bye’ to the man watching us with questions swirling across his face. If only I could toss a few slices at Gabriel and make him run away. Blaze is great pizza but it’s not magic pizza. The hallway closes in on me as I hasten my steps to the kitchen.

Tennyson takes a seat at the oak pedestal table, while I open the Blaze pizza box and then plate him two cheese slices.

Once he has everything he needs, I reluctantly tell him, “I’ll be right back.”

“Is Gabriel your friend?” he asks.

“Yes,” I reply, trampling the lie under my feet as I move across the tiled floor.

Rather than face the problem in my living room, I make a quick stop into the small bathroom in the hallway, in hopes of composing myself. Inside, I sag against the door. The reflection staring back at me from the mirror above the sink looks anything but composed. My makeup-free face is entering ghost territory.

I’m a hot mess, but this could work to my advantage, because Gabriel needs to see what he’s getting. I’m not a socialite who walks around in expensive clothes and heels all day. The faded hoodie and shorts I’m wearing are my mom couture, and the only parties I host are tea parties with miniature plastic cups and a singing teapot. Not at all what will be expected of me, I’m sure.

I take a deep breath and tighten the haphazard bun piled on top of my head before leaving my temporary sanctuary.

When I return, Gabriel lords over my living room, eyeing the framed photos on the bookshelf. I hate to say it, but the back of him is just as impressive as the front. He looks so out of place here in his trim black slacks and pale-blue fitted shirt that were probably tailored to fit his body. An aura of wealth surrounds him, and my average furnishings only amplify the difference in our social status—my polyester to his cashmere.

“So, what did you want?” I ask, moving into the room.

He picks up a lavender scented candle, giving it a sniff, before setting the glass jar back on the shelf. “Where is his father?”

“Gone.”

Smooth and collected he turns to face me. I can’t believe this is actually happening. The attorney’s letter I received two days before Joseph’s death, forewarning me of what was to come, should be proof enough, that yes, this is really happening.

I know my words are futile, but I make the attempt anyway, “Listen, can’t you make this go away?”

“No,” is his disappointing and very solid answer. He’s not going to budge. It’s written in the unwavering look in his eyes and the concrete set of his masculine jaw. Talking him out of this will be like trying to lift Tennyson from the floor in the middle of a tantrum—impossible.

I drop down onto the couch. “We don’t even know each other,” I reason, rubbing my forehead to ease the tension in my head.

“We don’t need to. Marriages are arranged all the time.”

I look up at him. “I don’t come with a dowry.”

“I don’t need one.”

Feeling at a disadvantage from my lower position on the sofa, I stand, trying to take back some of the power I don’t have. My head pounds from all the reasons I can’t say no to this marriage, but I won’t throw Tennyson into this mess without an introduction. “I need some time.”

“You have one week and then our engagement will be announced.” His brown eyes drift down my body, finalizing the deal. “I’ll contact you to meet with me and sign the paperwork.”

“Paperwork?”

“Don’t be naive, Clementine.” He moves closer. “Everything will be laid out in a contract of what’s expected.”

“I’ll see if I can pencil you in.”

“You still have the same smart mouth, I see,” he says, with a wry grin.

“Yes, well you’re still demanding,” I retort, remembering the tall boy who flew his high-tech airplane into my hair and then tried to free it while I waited for my father to finish his business with Joseph Prince.

“Asking you to stop squirming isn’t being demanding.” His eyes sweep over my bun and I can vividly remember his hands working through the tangle, trying to remove the contraption. “Your hair was so thick.”

The fact he remembers the details of our childhood meeting unsettles me a bit. I wouldn’t have guessed he’d remember the incident, given the amount of people in and out of his charmed life.

“You nearly beheaded me. Thank goodness for Ronin.”

Like someone slamming all the windows closed, his face shutters, and the slight smile is replaced with a dangerously thin line. “I’ll see you next week.” He stalks across the living room. “And don’t try to run away,” he throws over his broad shoulder, “I’ll find you.”


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