As Madeline introduced the last man, Theron’s door opened and he and Alannis and her mother came out. Alannis’s arm was linked with Theron’s, and his head was bent low as he listened to something she said.
Isabella stared unhappily at them until Madeline elbowed her in the ribs.
“You’re being far too obvious, my girl,” Madeline whispered. “Smile. You don’t want mama bear to be suspicious. I get the impression she can be a barracuda when it comes to her daughter.”
Isabella forced a smile to her lips just as the three approached.
“I trust you found your security team to your liking?” Theron asked politely.
Isabella nodded and smiled more broadly. Then in an even bigger effort to kill them all with kindness, she turned her attention to Alannis. “How was your trip? Everything went well, I hope.”
Alannis’s smile lit up her entire face. “It did,” she said in only slightly accented English. “I’m very happy to be here.” She glanced up at Theron, and Isabella flinched at the open adoration in her expression.
“We look forward to seeing you again Thursday evening,” Sophia said.
“Thursday?” Isabella parroted. She glanced at Theron in confusion.
“The cocktail party,” Theron said smoothly. “I, of course, extended an invitation to them, as well.”
“Of course,” Isabella said faintly.
Though his almost fiancée stood at his side, clinging to his arm like seaweed, Theron’s gaze was on Isabella, his dark eyes probing. His eyes traveled a path of awareness over her skin.
Did he love Alannis? Did he feel a certain affection for her? She was older than Isabella, but not by much. Maybe a few years? There was youthful innocence in Alannis’s eyes that made Isabella feel older and more jaded.
Isabella swallowed the rising knot in her throat and she turned brightly to Sophia. “I too look forward to seeing you again. Perhaps you can tell me all about Greece. I’ve heard it’s such a lovely place to visit. Maybe I can honeymoon there after I marry.”
Sophia beamed at her while Theron’s face darkened.
“We should go now,” Theron said to Sophia. “You and Alannis have had a long trip. I’ll have your luggage delivered to the hotel at once.”
He nodded in Isabella’s direction as he and the other women walked past. “Let me know if you have any problems, Bella.”
She nodded, unable to speak past the lump in her throat that she couldn’t quite make go away.
H e couldn’t stop thinking about her. Theron rubbed his face in annoyance as he focused on what Alannis and Sophia were talking about. He’d taken them to lunch after they’d settled into their suite, but he was only reminded of having eaten with Isabella at this same table just before kissing her senseless in the elevator.
Sophia was overjoyed with his plan to propose to Alannis after the opera. He’d planned the evening meticulously, buying tickets for Alannis’s favorite performance with a plan to end the evening with an after-party at his hotel.
So why wasn’t he more enthused?
Alannis was obviously excited. Theron was sure Sophia had hinted broadly of his plan to ask Alannis to marry him, although he’d asked Sophia to keep the details secret.
It seemed everyone was thrilled except him.
“Have you found suitable candidates for Isabella?” Sophia asked.
“Pardon?” Theron asked as he shook himself from his thoughts.
“You mentioned that you were trying to find her a husband,” Sophia said patiently. “I wondered if you’d found a suitable match yet.”
“Oh. Yes, of course. I plan to introduce her to a few carefully screened men at the cocktail party Thursday night.”
Sophia nodded approvingly. “She’s a beautiful young girl. She seems lonely, though. I doubt she’ll have any problem in finding a husband.”
Theron frowned. No, she wouldn’t have any trouble in that area. Men would line up for a chance to be her husband.
Sophia leaned forward, excitement lighting her eyes. “You know, Theron, I’d love to sponsor Isabella myself. She could return to Greece with me. Myron would be more than happy to introduce her to any number of fine young men from good families.”
“That’s a wonderful idea, Mama,” Alannis said.
“I’ll bring it up to her when I speak to her next,” Theron said. He wasn’t sure why, but the idea of her leaving the country and marrying someone so far away left a very bad taste in his mouth.
Not that her marrying closer made him feel any better.
He listened as Alannis recounted the details of her trip and her excitement over visiting New York for the first time. But his mind simply wasn’t on the present. His thoughts were occupied by a vibrant, dark-haired temptress with a smile that would melt a man at twenty feet.
As if he’d conjured her, he glanced up and saw her across the room. She was walking beside the host as he directed her to a table by the window.
Remembering Sophia’s assertion that she seemed lonely, he took the opportunity to study her. Sophia was right. Isabella did look lonely. Even a little sad.
She was dressed in jeans and a plain T-shirt. Her hair was drawn into a ponytail, and the smile that he’d just pondered over was absent.
She was seated by herself, and then she smiled up at the waiter as he attended her. But her smile didn’t quite reach her eyes.
For the first time he reflected on her circumstances. How difficult it must be for her to be alone in an unfamiliar city. No family, and if she had friends, he hadn’t been made aware of them. Guilt crept over him as he remembered his eagerness to rid himself of her.
Now he was glad he’d planned the cocktail party for Thursday night. Maybe instead of making it a bland gathering at his penthouse with polite conversation, he could turn it into a party at the hotel welcoming Isabella to New York. He could still introduce her to the men on Madeline’s list, but at least she would have some fun if he livened things up a bit. A girl her age would be bored silly at the kind of gathering he’d first envisioned.
Feeling marginally better, he refocused his attention on Alannis and reminded himself that in a few days’ time, he’d be asking her to be his wife. She’d be his lover and the mother of his children. She was the woman he’d spend the rest of his life with.
Cold panic swept over him until sweat beaded his forehead. Instead of infusing comfort and contentment, the idea of making such a commitment filled him with dread.
Why was he reacting so badly now when a week ago he looked forward to a life with Alannis? It didn’t make any sense.
Again his gaze wandered to where Isabella sat. She stared out the window, a pensive expression on her face. Her fingers twined in a strand of her hair as she twirled it absently. She sipped at a glass of water, her gaze never breaking.
Theron reached into his pocket and pulled out his BlackBerry. He thumbed a quick message to Madeline asking her when his shopping trip was scheduled with Isabella. After all, he didn’t want to commit to an appointment with Alannis at the same time.
After a moment, Madeline returned his message. He frowned when he read it and then glanced up at Isabella again. She was going alone? She didn’t want him to go with her?
Still frowning, he keyed in his response to Madeline.
Find out when she’s going. Clear my schedule.
As soon as Isabella left her suite, a man fell into step beside her. She still hadn’t gotten used to this whole security team thing, and it made her nervous to have men dogging her heels everywhere she went.
He got onto the elevator with her and stood in the back as they rode down. When they got to the lobby, they were joined by the other members. Trying to pay them no mind, she headed out the front where the taxis waited.
Before she got two steps toward the first in line, one of the men stepped in front of her, barring her path. She drew up short and sighed in exasperation.
“Look…what is your name?” They had been introduced to her yesterday, but she’d been reeling from the news of Theron’s upcoming engagement. “Or should I just call you Huey, Louie and Dewey?”
The man in front of her flashed white teeth as he grinned. So they did have another expression besides the stone statue look.
“You can call me Reynolds.” He gestured to the two men on either side of her. How had they gotten there anyway? “The one on your left is Davison and the other guy is Maxwell.”