He took her hand in his. “Not a chance. Besides, I can tell you want to go.”

She gave a mock sniff. “I read about it in the newspaper. They are supposed to serve some good desserts, so that should make it worthwhile.”

Michael ushered her to his limo and the driver whisked them to The Essex House. The carefully tended mansion buzzed with activity. Crystal chandeliers lit the gleaming marble floors and antique furniture. The sound of a piano playing romantic standards in another room wafted through the house. With her fingers linked in Michael’s, she almost felt like this was a real date.

“What do you think?” he asked.

“It’s beautiful. It reminds me of a high-class woman from the 1800s. The place seems to have a personality of its own.”

“Excellent description,” he said. “Maintaining a high-class woman is expensive.”

Bella couldn’t help wondering if he felt the same way about his relationship with her. The notion threatened to sour her pleasure, so she quickly brushed it aside. “Good thing they continue to make enough money to do the job.”

“We’ll see,” he said with a sliver of doubt in his voice.

“What do you mean? Are they in trouble?” she asked.

“They’ve asked me to invest both my money and my expertise, but the collective board votes on final decisions.”

She watched him studying the house and staff. “Does that mean you wouldn’t get to rule?” she asked and shook her head. “Good luck to them.”

He chuckled. “We’ll see. At least I’m here.”

“I should have known this involved business,” she muttered, wondering why she felt let down. Why should she care that Michael was motivated by business for the evening? Sure, it was Valentine’s Day and many other couples might view it as a romantic affair, but she shouldn’t.

“You sound disappointed,” he said, searching her face.

Embarrassed that he’d read her so easily, she shook her head. “There’s still dessert,” she said, forcing a smile.

A balding man approached Michael at that moment, earning her a reprieve. “Mr. Medici, I’m Clarence Kiddlow. We spoke on the phone. I’m glad you decided to attend. We’re the hottest ticket in town tonight,” the man said proudly.


Michael nodded. “Mr. Kiddlow, this is my date, Bella St. Clair.”

Clarence extended his hand. “My pleasure to meet you.” He waved toward a server. “Have some wine,” he said. “We’re starting with a white from Virginia of all places. But it’s very smooth.” He turned to Michael after he’d tasted the wine. “What do you think?”

“Bella is the white-wine drinker. What do you think?”

Surprised he’d deferred to her, she nodded. “Very nice, thank you.”

The server then poured her a full glass.

“I’d like to show you around and tell you about some of our plans,” Clarence said. “I think you’ll find them interesting.”

“Thank you,” Michael said. “Later, perhaps. Bella and I would like to look around on our own first.”

Surprise crossed Clarence’s face, but he acquiesced. “Of course. Tell me when you’re ready.”

Bella felt surprise of her own as Michael ushered her away. “I thought you were here to investigate the possibility of working with The Essex House.”

“I didn’t come for a sales presentation,” he said, impatience flitting across his face. “I’m not an idiot. Given the choice between Clarence’s company and yours, which do you think I would choose?”

Bella blinked and fought a rush of pleasure. “I don’t know what to say. The mighty Michael Medici just paid me a compliment.”

“Don’t let it go to your head,” he said and led her through a crowded hallway. He nodded in the direction of a room to the left. “I think I’ve spotted what you’re looking for.”

“A delicious dessert, but I wonder, Michael, what are you looking for?” she couldn’t resist asking.

He turned back to her, giving her a second and third glance. “I have everything I need and more. If I want something else, I find a way to get it. You should know that.”

Her stomach dipped at the expression on his face. “I suppose I should, but I was speaking of dessert.”

He smiled. “I’ll enjoy watching you have yours. Come on,” he said and tugged her into the room. The throng around the serving table made it difficult to get close. “Wait here,” he said and positioned her in a corner. “I’ll get it for you.”

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