Fifteen

I sabella shoved aside the heavy curtains draped over the large window facing the street. Her apartment was on the top floor, larger by half than the apartments on the lower levels, and it had a wonderful view of a small park across the street.

There was no shortage of joggers, people out walking dogs, and children supervised by their nannies or mothers. It was a small mecca in the middle of a crowded city where someone could go and enjoy a short escape.

Could she live here knowing the man she loved was close by, married to someone else? On the surface it sounded absurd. In a city this size, she could go an entire lifetime without running into Theron. Except…except he controlled her inheritance and contact would be inevitable.

She sighed. She really did like the apartment, but she wasn’t sure she could remain here.

The sound of her door opening didn’t alarm her. Reynolds had been left waiting when she’d only said she’d be a minute. He probably lost patience and was coming to collect her.

Footsteps sounded behind her, and yet she still couldn’t tear her gaze away from the scene below. Maybe it was the normalcy of it all—the promise of an ordered existence where agonizing emotions such as love and jealousy or despair didn’t dictate her every breath.

Firm hands took hold of her shoulders, skimming upward, eliciting a small gasp from her.

“Bella, pethi mou, are you all right? What are you doing here?”

She spun around in surprise and stared up at Theron’s worried eyes.

“I went back to your suite and you were gone. I’m beginning to wonder if my life is going to be a study in never finding you where you’re supposed to be.”

There was a hint of amusement in his voice, but she was puzzled by his words. They made no sense.

“When I called Reynolds and he said you were here, I came right over. But Bella, there is no need of your apartment any longer,” he said calmly.

She held up a hand to his chest, almost afraid to touch him. Her head was spinning a mile a minute, but she needed to understand what he was saying, or what he wasn’t saying.

“I came to see if it was ready for me to move in,” she said simply.

He captured her hand in his and held it in place over his heart. “You won’t be needing this apartment, pethi mou.”

With his other hand, he dipped into his pocket and drew out a small square box. She stared suspiciously at it as he flipped the lid off and let it fall to the floor. Maneuvering still with the one hand, he turned it over and shook out the velvet jeweler’s box. With a few more flips of his fingers, it came open, and a brilliant, sparkling diamond caught the light from the window and flashed in her eyes.

She watched in complete astonishment as he picked up her hand and slid the ring onto her third finger.

“We’ll be married as soon as possible,” he said matter-of-factly.

She shook her head, sure that she must still be in bed back in her suite—dreaming. “I don’t understand,” she stammered.

“We must marry,” he said again, only this time the emphasis was on the must. “You were a virgin…and you could be pregnant,” he finished softly. “I didn’t think…that is I didn’t use protection. For this I am sorry.”

No, she wasn’t dreaming. In her dreams, her marriage proposal had always been somewhat more romantic. But then she was getting precisely what she wanted. It was hard to argue with that, no matter the motivation behind the proposal.

“Okay,” she said quietly.

Relief flashed in his eyes. Had he expected her to argue? Maybe play the martyr and give him a weeping, tragic refusal because he didn’t love her?

He pulled her into his arms, but instead of kissing her, he hugged her tightly. “We should go back to your suite. We have arrangements to make. Unless you’d prefer my penthouse? I’m afraid I’m no more settled in this city than you are, but we’ll remedy that. We can buy a house. Wherever you like.”

She wedged an arm between them and levered herself away. “What about Alannis?”

There was quiet between them finally, and his expression sobered. “She and Sophia are flying back to Greece tomorrow.”

Isabella tried to disguise the flinch. She didn’t want to think of Alannis’s heartbreak or her mother’s disappointment. Neither woman had been anything but kind to her. And now she was the femme fatale. It wasn’t a very good feeling.

She nodded, not wanting to delve too deeply into Alannis. She was a subject better left alone.

The sparkle of the diamond in the sun drew her gaze back to the gorgeous ring adorning her finger. And then she allowed some of the joy to shine on her like the sun beaming through the window.

With a tentative smile, she looked back up at Theron. “You really want to marry me? Okay, scratch that. Bad question. I’m sure you don’t really want to marry me. But you don’t have to. Just so you know. I mean the whole idea of putting a ring on my finger just because I was a virgin and we didn’t use protection—well, it’s archaic. Nobody does that anymore. I mean even if I turned out pregnant, there’s nothing to say we’d have to be married—”

He silenced her with his mouth, pressing his lips to hers in a deep, lustful kiss. For several long seconds, all that she heard was the soft smooching sounds of their lips. She went positively boneless.

Finally he pulled away, his eyes glittering. He may not want to marry her, but she knew his eyes didn’t lie. He wanted her, and he definitely desired her. It was a start.

“Now if we’re through talking nonsense, let’s return to the hotel,” he said huskily.

He didn’t look any different. Isabella watched Theron from across the sitting room of her suite as he went through a myriad of phone calls. First he’d talked to the person she’d rented the apartment from. Then a few business calls had interceded. Now he was back to talking to God-knew-who about flights and planes, and she wasn’t sure what else. Her head was spinning.

Maybe she’d expected him to look…well, she didn’t know. Engaged? But then he’d been engaged for several days. Just not to her.

A knock at the door interrupted her moody dissertation on Theron’s phone calls. Reynolds, who had been going over plans with Theron, strode to the door and opened it.

Isabella couldn’t see who it was with the way Reynolds held the door, but a moment after opening it, he stepped back and glanced over at her.

“Sadie Tilton to see you.”

Isabella made a quick motion with her hand for him to let her in. Sadie popped her head around the door, her eyes filled with caution. They lightened as soon as she saw Isabella and she hurried over to where Isabella sat on the couch.

“What’s going on?” Sadie hissed. “You sounded so weird when you called.”

Isabella didn’t say anything but she raised her hand so that Sadie could see. A quick glance around her told her that Theron wasn’t paying either of them any attention, so involved was he on the phone.

“Oh my God!” Sadie exclaimed as she pounced on Isabella’s hand. “He proposed?”

“Shh, he’s on the phone,” Isabella murmured. “And yes, well, sorta. He didn’t exactly ask. He informed me we were getting married.”

Sadie frowned. “Are you happy about it?”

Isabella smiled. “I will be. He’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

“What did he say then? And what about Alannis?”

“Not much. Just that he’d taken my virginity, I could be pregnant and we needed to marry.”

Sadie winced. “Are you sure you want to marry a guy for those reasons? I mean what about love? Or at least a legitimate reason that doesn’t predate this century.”

Isabella looked at her friend and sighed. “I can’t very well make him fall in love with me if we aren’t together, Sadie. Yes, ideally he would love me now, and we’d marry for all the usual reasons, but I have to take what opportunities I’m given. He feels something for me. That much I know. Something that goes beyond simple lust. He just needs time. But

if I don’t marry him, he’ll marry Alannis, and where does that get me?”

“You’re right, you’re right,” Sadie said in a low voice. “I was just hoping for something more. You’ve dreamed about this for so long. I wanted it to be perfect for you.”

Isabella squeezed Sadie’s hand. “It will be perfect. Maybe not yet, but it will be. The day he says I love you will make everything leading up to it worth it.”

Sadie smiled. “Now that that’s all settled, I have to say thank you. You didn’t have to do it, but at the same time, I’m so grateful.”

Isabella looked at her in puzzlement. “What on earth are you talking about?”

“The apartment, the rent, the account. You know, so I don’t have to go back to work at the club.”

Isabella shook her head.

Sadie frowned. “You didn’t arrange for my apartment to be paid up for the next year?”

“No-o-o….”

The both turned and looked at Theron at the same time.

“Then I don’t suppose you also arranged my meeting with Howard,” Sadie murmured.

“No, I had no idea,” Isabella said softly.

“You’ve got yourself a good man, Bella. Not that I’m fooling myself by thinking he did it for any other reason than he didn’t want you ever going into that place,” she said with a grin.

“He is a good man,” Isabella agreed as she stared across the room at Theron.

As if sensing her perusal, he lifted his gaze, the phone still held to his ear and looked back at her. His eyes smoldered with quiet intensity. Suddenly all Isabella wanted was for everyone to be gone from her room and for it to be only the two of them. In his arms, she could forget a lot. Including that she wasn’t the one he would have chosen as his wife.

“How about I have Reynolds see you home?” Isabella murmured to Sadie.

For a moment Sadie looked startled but then she followed Isabella’s gaze toward Theron and grinned. Sadie leaned forward and hugged Isabella tightly.

“Just don’t leave town without letting me know what’s going on, okay?”

Isabella hugged her back. “I won’t.”

Isabella got up and walked over to where Reynolds stood. “You’ll see her home?” she asked, though it wasn’t a request.

Reynolds looked quickly over at Theron, who evidently heard Isabella because he nodded at Reynolds and made a go gesture with his hand.

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