“Thank you,” she repeated, her voice cracking slightly as she looked out the window, blinking rapidly.
Monaco was a small principality, only two square kilometers, pressed against the Mediterranean Sea on one side, surrounded by France on the other. But as the country had no income tax, wealthy people from all over the world had flocked to become citizens, so it was said that a third of the population were now millionaires. It was famous for its nineteenth-century grand casino, its elegant society and the Grand Prix held every year on the notoriously winding streets.
“I don’t see how this can possibly be made perfect again,” she said sadly, looking at the ragtag coat in her arms. She looked at him. “Maybe you could come back with me to her suite and explain what happened? If you put in a good word, then the comtesse wouldn’t fire me.”
His voice was cool as he focused on the road. “Mimi and I are business acquaintances, nothing more. What makes you so sure I’d have influence on her?”
“Aren’t you in love with her?” Laney blurted out.
“In love!” His hands clenched on the steering wheel, causing the car to sway slightly on the road. Then he looked at her. “What gave you that idea?”
Laney realized she’d gotten it by eavesdropping, and her cheeks went hot. She didn’t want to be indiscreet or spread rumors about her boss. Embarrassed, she shrugged, looking out at the pouring rain. “Most men seem to fall in love with her. I just assumed...”
“You assumed wrong.” He pulled the car abruptly into a spot on the street and parked. “In fact, I’ve been accused of having no heart.”
“That’s not true.” She smiled at him shyly. “You must have one. Why else would you be helping me?”
He gave her a darkly inscrutable glance. Without answer, he turned off the engine and got out of the car.
Laney’s heart pounded as he swiftly strode around the front of the car. He was very tall, at least a foot taller than her, and probably a hundred pounds heavier—a hundred pounds of pure lean muscle. But in spite of his muscle, he moved with almost feline grace beneath his sleek dark suit. Opening her door, he held out his hand.
She stared at it in consternation, wondering if she dared to put her hand in his when it had caused such a powerful reaction in her before.
“Fur?” He said impatiently.
Oh. Blushing, she handed it out to him. He threw the coat casually over his shoulder. It seemed small compared to him. He reached out his hand again. “You.”
For a moment Laney hesitated. She was afraid to make a fool of herself, and the chance seemed high. When she was nervous, she always blurted out stupid things, and Kassius Black made her very nervous.
She timidly placed her hand in his and let him help her out. The warmth and strength of his larger hand against hers did all kinds of strange things to her insides. Dropping his hand quickly, she looked up at the Beaux Arts–style building with a frown. “This doesn’t look like a dry cleaner’s.”
“It’s not. Follow me.”
She followed him through the doors of a very elegant designer boutique. He handed the old fur to the first salesgirl he saw standing inside. “Here. Get rid of this.”
“Of course, sir,” she replied serenely.
“Get rid of it? What are you doing?” Laney cried. “We can’t throw it away!”
But he was looking at the beautiful, well-dressed salesgirl. “Get us a new coat just like it.”
“What?” said Laney.
“Of course, sir,” the girl repeated calmly, and Laney had the sense that her courteous response would have been the same to the request of any wealthy customer, whether it involved tossing a candy wrapper or disposing of a dead body. “We do have one very similar from the same line. The cost is fifty thousand euros.”
Laney nearly staggered to her knees, but Kassius didn’t blink.
“We’ll take it to go.”
Ten minutes later, he was driving her back to the Hôtel de Carillon with the elegantly wrapped new ermine tucked in the trunk, which was confusingly in the front of the car, not the back. Rich people always did some things a little differently, she thought.
But there were some things they did the same.
“There’s only one reason you’d blow all that money on a coat,” Laney informed him as he drove. “Admit it. You’re wildly in love with the comtesse.”
Kassius glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. “I didn’t do it for her.” He gave her a sudden grin. “I did it for you.”
“You know who I am and the resources I have. And yet you haven’t tried to take advantage of the fact that I hit you with my car. You should be claiming whiplash, spinal injury, threatening to sue. That’s what I assumed you were after when you flung yourself in front of my car.”
“I didn’t fling myself anywhere,” she protested.
His dark eyes seemed to trace over her petite, curvaceous body, as if imagining her without her button-up white shirt and khakis. As she blushed, his eyes met hers coolly. “You could be lawyered up, demanding millions.”
Millions? That thought hadn’t even occurred to Laney. That kind of fortune could have completely changed her life—and more importantly, her family’s.
“That wouldn’t be right,” she said slowly. “I mean, it wasn’t your fault I fell into the street. You did everything you could not to hit me. Your quick reflexes saved my life.”
“So if I offered you a million euros right now to sign some kind of legal release attesting to that, you would sign it?”
“No,” she said, sadly, cursing her own morals.
His cruelly sensual mouth curved up cynically. “I see—”
“I would sign it for free.”
He looked startled. “What?”
“My grandma raised me to tell the truth and not take advantage. Just because you’re rich doesn’t make me a thief.”
Kassius gave a low laugh as he took a tight left turn. “Your grandmother sounds like a remarkable woman.”
“She is.” She smiled. “A true Southern lady.”
Kassius stared at her for a moment, and his dark eyes glimmered in the fading gray twilight.
His car pulled up in front of the grand entrance of the Hôtel de Carillon. But as he turned off the car engine, she saw something in his face that twisted her heart.
Without thinking, she timidly touched his shoulder. She immediately regretted it as she felt the hard muscle beneath his sleek black jacket. Her hand fell away, but she couldn’t stop herself from saying, “Why do you look like that?”
His dark eyes met hers. “Like what?”
She wondered if he’d felt the same sizzle of energy she had when they touched. No. Of course not, that was ridiculous. He was interested only in her employer, who was beautiful, aristocratic and glamorous— everything that she, Laney, was not.
She took a deep breath. “You look...sad.”
Kassius stared at her for a long moment. Then he gave her an abrupt, hard smile. “Billionaires don’t get sad. We get even.” He turned away. “Come on. I’ll save you from Mimi.”
Her own car door suddenly opened. Jacques, the doorman, looked completely and utterly astonished to find her returning to the building in a sports car. He said, “Mademoiselle Laney?”
“Oh, hello,” she said with an awkward laugh and—she feared—a guilty expression. “Um. Monsieur Black was kind enough to offer me a ride in the rain.”
Jacques looked even more shocked when he saw Kassius, who handed him keys and what looked like a very large tip with a murmured, “Merci,” before he retrieved the carefully wrapped brand-new fur from the front of the car, then walked with her into the lavish lobby.
“Tell me,” Kassius said casually as they walked, “What do you think of Mimi? Is she a good employer?”
Laney bit her lip, struggling for words. “I’m grateful for the job,” she said finally, with complete honesty. “She pays a generous salary, and I’m supporting family back home. Thank you for helping me keep it.”
But she felt a little less happy about that prospect from the moment she got back into the comtesse’s suite.
“Laney! You lazy girl! What took you so long? You wouldn’t even answer your phone,” her boss said accusingly the moment she walked in. “You took so long that I was actually forced to get my own coffee. I had to call room service myself. Myself!”
“I’m sorry,” Laney stammered. “I was in an accident, and my phone was—”
“Why do I even bother to pay you, you useless—”
Then Mimi saw Kassius enter the suite behind Laney, and her jaw dropped. Her friend Araminta, lounging on the sofa by the windows, smoking and thumbing idly through a Paris Match, was so shocked her cigarette fell from her mouth.
Both women instantly rose to their feet, tossing their long hair and tilting their hips.
“Kassius!” Mimi cooed, smiling as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. “I didn’t realize you were coming for a visit.”
“I wasn’t. I ran into your assistant on the street.”
He winked at Laney, who blushed.
“What do you mean?” The comtesse looked between them, clearly unwilling to be left out of any private joke. Kassius looked irritated.