“It was annoying the first few times a potential bride was dangled in front of me,” Rafe informed his brother. “Since it was Nonna and Primo, I couldn’t say much. But now everyone’s gotten into the act. I can’t move without having some gorgeous thing shoved under my nose.”
Draco signaled to someone over Rafe’s shoulder. “A fate worse than death,” he said with a fake shudder.
“It would be if it were you under the gun.”
“But I’m not.” Draco leaned past Rafe and helped himself to a flute of champagne. “Want one?”
“Consider this your lucky day. The tray’s right behind you.” He offered a cocky grin. “And don’t say I never did you a favor.”
Confused by the comment, Rafe turned to take a glass and found his elusive pixie standing there, holding the tray of drinks. Close up she was even more appealing than from across the room.
He gestured to her with the flute. “Thanks.”
Her smile grew, lighting up her face, the room and some cold, dark place in his heart. “You’re welcome.” Even her voice appealed, rich and husky with an almost musical lyricism.
Draco watched the byplay in amusement. “You know, if you want the relatives to leave you alone, there is one way.”
That snagged Rafe’s attention. “How?” he demanded.
Draco grinned. “Find your Inferno bride.”
“Son of a—” Rafe bit off the curse. “I already told you. I’m never going to marry again. Not after Leigh.”
He heard the pixie’s sharp inhalation at the same time the flutes on her tray began to wobble unsteadily. The glasses knocked against each other, the crystal singing in distress. She fought to steady the tray, almost managed it, before the flutes tipped and cascaded to the floor. Glass shattered and champagne splattered in a wide arc.
Reacting instinctively, Rafe encircled the waitress’s narrow waist and yanked her clear of the debris field. A tantalizing heat burned through the material of her uniform, rousing images of pale naked curves gilded in moonlight. Velvety-smooth arms and legs entwined around him. Soft moans like a musical symphony filling the air and driving their lovemaking.
Rafe shook his head, struggling for focus. “Are you all right?” he managed to ask.
She stared at the mess on the floor and nodded. “I think so.”
She lifted her gaze to his, her eyes wide and impossibly blue, the only color in her sheet-white face. He didn’t see any of the desire that had swept over him. Remorse and, oddly, a hint of panic, sure. But not so much as a flicker of passion. A shame.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I started to step back so I could circulate some more and my foot slipped.”
“You’re not cut?”
“No.” She blew out her breath in a sigh. “I really do apologize. I’ll get this cleaned up right away.”
Before she could follow through, another of the catering staff crossed the room to join them. He was clearly management, judging by the swift and discreet manner in which he took control of the situation and arranged to have the broken glass and champagne cleaned up. The waitress pitched in without a word, but when it was done, the manager guided her over to Rafe.
“Larkin, you have something to say to Mr. Dante?” he prompted.
“I want to apologize again for any inconvenience I may have caused,” she said.
Rafe smiled at her, then at the manager. “Accidents happen. And in this case, it was entirely my fault. I’m afraid I bumped into Larkin, causing her to drop the tray.”
The manager blinked at that and Rafe didn’t have a doubt in the world that he’d have accepted the excuse if Larkin hadn’t instantly protested, “Oh, no. The fault is entirely mine. Mr. Dante had nothing to do with it.”
The manager sighed. “I see. Well, thank you, Mr. Dante, for your gallantry. Larkin, please return to the kitchen.”
“Yes, sir, Mr. Barney.”
Rafe watched her walk away. As far as he was concerned, she was still the most graceful woman in the room. “You’re going to fire her, aren’t you?”
“I wish I didn’t have to. But my supervisor has a ‘no excuses’ policy for certain of his more exclusive clientele.”