Lin Soong hurried down the sidewalk, her face coated in a thin layer of perspiration overlaid with an autumn mist. Damn this fog. There hadn’t been an available taxi for blocks. She’d finally ended up just walking the three-quarters of a mile from Noble Tower to the restaurant. Her feet were killing her after a long day’s work and rushing in heels. To make matters worse, her hair would be a disaster from the humidity. She imagined herself at ten or eleven years old and her grandmother standing over her, wielding a comb and a flatiron like a warrior’s weapons.
“You got this hair from your mother,” Grandmamma would say, her mouth grim as she dove into her straightening task. Lin had been left in little doubt as to what her grandmother thought of the potential threat of her mother’s rebellious streak surfacing in Lin herself. According to Grandmamma, hair was something to be conquered and refined by smoothing and polish, just like everything else in life.
Lin plunged through the revolving doors of the restaurant and paused in the empty foyer, straining to calm her breathing and her throbbing heart. She despised feeling flustered, and this situation called for even more than her usual aplomb.
By the time she entered the crowded, elegant restaurant, she’d repinned her waving, curling hair and used a tissue to dry her damp face. She immediately spotted him sitting at the bar. He was impossible to miss. For a stretched few seconds, she just stared. A strange mixture of anxiety and excitement bubbled in her belly.
Why didn’t Ian mention that his half brother looked so much like him?
She soaked in the image of him. He was very good-looking, even if that frown was a little off-putting. He wore a dark blue shirt, and the rich brown of a rugged suede jacket brought out the russet highlights in his hair. Kam Reardon didn’t know it—and she’d never tell him—but she herself had picked out the clothing he wore. It’d been part of the mission Ian had assigned her to make his half brother presentable for a potentially lucrative business deal here in Chicago. Ian had suggested a new wardrobe for his trip to the States. Kam had grudgingly agreed after some skillful nudging on Ian’s part, but insisted upon paying for everything. It’d been Lin who actually chose the items, however, and sent the articles to Aurore Manor in France. In fact, she’d been choosing and sending home furnishings to Aurore Manor—Kam’s once grand home that had fallen into disrepair—as well.
It warmed her to see him wearing the garments, firsthand evidence that he’d considered the clothing suitable to his taste. Her clothing selection hadn’t helped much in getting Kam to blend in, however. He was too large for the delicate chairs lined up at the supersleek, minimalist bar. He stuck out like a sore thumb in the trendy establishment, all bold, masculine lines and unrelenting angles.
No . . . not like a sore thumb, Lin amended. More like a lion that found itself in the midst of a herd of antelope. His utter stillness and watchful alertness seemed slightly ominous amidst the sea of idly chatting, well-heeled patrons.
Suddenly, she realized his gaze had locked on her from across the crowded dining area.
“Bonsoir, beautiful. We have your table waiting,” a man with a mellow French-accented voice said.
Lin blinked and jerked her gaze off the man who was a stranger to her, and yet wasn’t: her boss’s infamous half brother, the wild man she’d been sent to tame.
She focused instead on Richard St. Claire’s smiling face. Richard was a neighbor, good friend, and the manager of the restaurant where she stood, Savaur. He owned the world-renowned establishment with his partner, chef Emile Savaur. Lin was a regular here.
She returned Richard’s greeting warmly as they hugged and he kissed her on the cheek. “Can you hold the table for just a moment, Richard? My dinner companion is waiting at the bar. I’d like to go and introduce myself,” Lin said, turning as he began to remove her coat.
“Mr. Tall, Dark, and Scowling?” Richard muttered under his breath as he draped her coat elegantly over his forearm, looking amused. He noticed her surprised glance as she faced him again. How did Richard know her dinner companion was the man at the bar? “You mentioned you were having dinner with Noble’s half brother on the phone when you made the reservations. I noticed the resemblance; who wouldn’t? I can’t wait to hear the full story behind this little scenario,” Richard said with a mischievous glance in Kam’s direction. “He’s like Ian Noble posing as a Brazilian street fighter, but with the added bonus of having Lucien’s seduce-like-the-devil eyes.”
Lin stifled a laugh at the apt description. Richard was good friends with Lucien Lenault also, Kam and Ian’s other half brother. He’d undoubtedly heard part, if not all, of Kam’s story from Lucien. “He’s actually cleaned up quite nicely,” Lin murmured. “Not six months ago, the people from the village near where he lived thought him homeless and mad, when he’s truly brilliant and extremely focused,” she added, her head lowered. She smoothed her expression, acutely aware of Kam’s sharp gaze still cast in her direction.
“He hardly seems like a vagrant, but he has been sitting at the bar, looking like he’s been chewing nails for the past ten minutes. Victor doesn’t know if he’s scared to death of the man or in love with him,” Richard said under his breath, referring to the bartender serving Kam. Indeed, Victor was surreptitiously studying the tower of whiskered, glowering brawn seated at the bar, with a mixture of wariness and stark admiration as he dried a glass.
Lin threw her friend a repressive, amused glance and walked over to meet Ian’s brother. Kam was one of the few people seated at the teak bar, a half-full glass of beer in front of him.