Her parents survived. They found work—not the positions promised, but they made enough money to rent an apartment and buy a fifteen-year-old car. Danica was born a year later. But her parents made sure she knew the story. Only family can be trusted to look out for each other, they warned her and her brother over and over.
Like she was doing now. Looking out for her brother, by finishing this assignment. Parties like this were an everyday occurrence for Luke, but they were the unobtainable fantasies of film and television to her. It would be better, when she said goodbye to him in a few weeks, if she stuck to her world and did not even visit his. One dinner and one kiss had consumed nearly every waking hour—and definitely every sleeping hour. A whole evening in his company? She’d never be able to return to reality.
“Thank you so much for the offer. But I should get back to the office. The clock is ticking on my assignment.”
His smile dimmed. “If you insist. However...” His sideways glance caused her pulse to flutter.
“Yes?” she asked, using her tongue to wet her suddenly dry lips. Did he think about their kiss as often as she did?
“What cover story do you give your candidates?” he asked, his gaze fixed on her mouth. “And what is this event?”
“The community-giving job...and this is a society fund-raiser,” she said slowly.
He nodded. “My wife will be involved with the Bay Area nonprofit community and its donors.” He indicated the gaming tables. “And the biggest ones are here tonight. As your client, I advise it’s in your best interests to stay so your cover story for the search will be as authentic as possible. This is business.” His expression was impressively impassive.
“Business,” she echoed. Of course. What else did she expect? She would show up and her presence would cause Prince Charming to admit he was attracted to her and throw away his careful calculations for the perfect wife? Fairy tales weren’t real. If they were, her shirtdress would have transformed into a glittering ball gown a half hour ago.
“What else is there besides business?” The glint in his blue gaze dared her to answer.
If he wasn’t going to mention their kiss, she certainly wasn’t. “You’re right,” she said, her tone brisk. “My job is to find you a wife who will be comfortable at events like this.”
“Precisely.” He finished off his champagne. “Therefore, you need to stay in order to complete your assignment more effectively.”
“If that’s what the client prefers.”
Luke’s expression relaxed. It was the first time she’d seen him let down all of his guard. It made him impossibly appealing. Especially the warm, appreciative glow deep in his blue gaze, which lit an answering heat in her belly. “He does.”
He placed his empty flute on a passing waiter’s tray and took two new ones, offering one to her. She accepted it with a nod of thanks. The champagne tasted of bright, sharp honey. “So. What’s first on the agenda?” she asked.
“Let’s check out the gaming tables. For research purposes, of course.” He offered her his elbow.
She’d never been a huge fan of the James Bond film franchise for various reasons, not the least of which was their tendency to make Eastern Europeans the bad guys. But now she understood why Bond had his contingents of female fans. Luke was already an attractive man. Put him in a tux and he was stunning. The fine wool of his jacket was soft to the touch above the firm muscle of his bicep. She kept her grip loose, not wishing to tempt her fingers into exploring what would never be hers. “Of course,” she replied. “Let’s go.”
He escorted her to where the party organizers had arranged the gaming tables. They were organized in long rows, filling a large open space that overlooked the gardens below. Other guests had the same idea, and the seats were quickly filling up. “Pick your game,” he said with a sweep of his hand.
She scanned the sea of green-felt-covered surfaces. While she didn’t consider herself a gambler by any stretch of the definition, if she had to stay, she might as well enjoy herself. “Roulette,” she said with a nod.