Isabella stared for a long moment and then burst out laughing. “Maybe I should take lessons from you. Theron would have to notice me if I did a striptease in front of him.”

Sadie joined in her laughter until the two of them were wiping tears. “If he didn’t notice you, hon, then the man is dead.”

Impulsively, Isabella leaned up and hugged Sadie. “I’m so glad I’m here. I’ve missed you. I have such a good feeling about being here in New York. Like maybe this will actually work and I can make Theron fall in love with me.”

Sadie returned Isabella’s hug and then pulled away, a gentle smile on her face. “I have every faith that Theron will fall hopelessly in love with you. But if he doesn’t? You’re young and beautiful, Bella. You could have your choice of men.”

“I only want Theron,” she said softly. “I’ve loved him for so long.”

“Well then, we need to think of a way to catch him, don’t we?” Sadie said with a grin.

Three

“A lannis,” Theron greeted her smoothly. “I trust things are well with you?”

He listened as she uttered a polite greeting, somewhat distant and reserved, but then he expected nothing less. Alannis was steeped in propriety and would never offer a more effusive greeting. It simply wasn’t her style.

“I’ve made arrangements for the Anetakis jet to fly you from Greece to New York a week from now. Will your mother be traveling with you?”

It was a senseless question, meant to be more polite than inquisitive since he knew well that Alannis’s family would never allow her to travel to see an unmarried man unchaperoned.

“I’ll look forward to your arrival then,” he continued. “I’ve arranged for a night at the opera shortly after you arrive.” If all went well, he’d request a moment alone to propose and then the two families could go ahead with the wedding plans.

Of course now he needed to apprise his brothers of his intentions.

He hung up the phone and stared at it for a long moment. He had no doubt Chrysander would, in his newfound loving bliss, be reluctant to encourage Theron to enter into a loveless marriage. Piers on the other hand would shrug and say it was Theron’s life and if he wanted to mess it up, that was his prerogative.

In time he could grow to like Alannis very well. He liked her already and respected her, which was more than he could say for a lot of the women of his acquaintance. He knew better than to expect a woman to love him as deeply as Marley loved his brother. But he’d like to think he could be friends with his future wife and enjoy her companionship in and out of bed.

He frowned when he thought of Alannis naked and in his bed, beneath his body. He glanced down at his groin as if expecting a response. If he was, he was disappointed.

Alannis…she came across as cold and extremely stiff. He supposed he couldn’t blame her for that. She was most assuredly a virgin, and it would be up to him to coax the passion from her. It was his duty as her husband.

With a sigh, he checked his watch, and to his irritation noticed that Isabella was late. He drummed his fingers impatiently on his desk. Madeline had provided three possible apartments, all in good areas and in close proximity to the Imperial Park Hotel. She hadn’t as of yet provided a list of eligible men.

No matter. The first order of business was to see her settled. The sooner, the better. Then he’d worry about marrying her off.

When he heard his door open, he looked up, startled. Then he frowned when he saw Isabella stride inside. On cue, his intercom buzzed, and Madeline’s voice announced somewhat dryly that Isabella was on her way in.

“Good morning,” Isabella sang out as she stopped in front of his desk.

He swallowed and then his gaze narrowed as he took in her attire. It wasn’t exactly immodest, and as such he couldn’t offer a complaint. It covered her. Sort of.

His mouth went dry when she put her hands on his desk and leaned forward. Her breasts spilled precariously close to the neckline of her T-shirt, and he could see the lacy cups of her bra as they pushed the soft mounds upward.

He cursed under his breath and directed his gaze upward. “Good morning, Isabella.”

“Bella, please, unless you have an aversion to the name?”

He didn’t, though it somehow seemed more intimate, particularly when he took the meaning of the Italian form of her name. Beautiful. That she was. Stunningly so. Different from the usual sophisticated type of women he gravitated toward, but beautiful nonetheless. There was something wild and unrestrained about her.

He ground his teeth together and shifted his position. Where his groin had remained stoic when thinking of Alannis, it had flared to life, painfully so, as soon as Isabella had walked into his office.

He was her guardian, someone to look after her welfare, and here he sat fantasizing about her. Disgust filled him. Not only was it disrespectful to Isabella but it was disrespectful to Alannis. No woman should have to put up with her soon-to-be fiancé lusting after another woman.

“Bella,” he echoed, taking her invitation to use her nickname. It suited her. Light and beautiful.

He rose from his seat and walked around the front of his desk. She eyed him curiously, and he found himself asking her why.

She laughed. “You’re dressed so casually today. I’m so used to seeing you in nothing but su

its and ties.”

“When have you seen me?” he asked in surprise. He thought back to the times when she would have seen him, and while he probably was wearing a suit, it was hardly a basis for her supposition.

She flushed, and he watched in fascination as color stained her cheeks. She ducked away, her hair sliding over her shoulder.

“Pictures,” she mumbled. “There are always pictures of you in the papers.”

“And you get these papers all the way out in California?” he asked.

“Yes. I like to keep up with the people looking after my financial well-being,” she said evenly.

“As you should,” he said approvingly. “Are you ready to go? I have a list of potential apartments. I took the liberty of scaling down the possibilities to a few more suitable to a young woman living alone.”

And then he realized he’d made a huge assumption. There was certainly no reason to believe that a woman as beautiful and vibrant as Isabella would be living alone. He refused to retract the statement or ask her if she was currently involved with anyone. But he’d need to know because if she was involved, seriously, then he could forego the whole process of introducing her to prospective husbands.

“I’m ready if you are,” she said as she smiled warmly at him.

As they walked from the building that housed the Anetakis headquarters, Theron put his hand to the small of Isabella’s back. She felt the touch through her shirt. It seared her skin, and she was sure that if she could look, there would be a visible print from his fingers, burned into her flesh.

After loving him from afar for so many years, she’d been prepared for disappointment, that maybe the man he’d become wouldn’t live up to the dream. She’d been so far removed from the truth that reality overwhelmed her. He was more, so much more than she could have imagined. Her feelings hadn’t gone away when she’d seen him again. They’d cemented.

She sat next to him in the back of the limousine. In addition to the driver, Henry, there was one additional member of his security detail that rode up front. When they pulled up in front of the first apartment building, she noticed that another smaller car pulled in behind them, and two men got out and cautiously scanned the area.

“I don’t remember the security being this tight the last time I visited,” she murmured as they walked toward the entrance.

Theron stiffened. “It’s a necessary evil.”

She waited for him to say more but he didn’t volunteer further information.

Three hours later, they’d toured the apartments on his list with him vetoing the first two before she could even offer an opinion. He was tight-lipped about the third but offered her the choice between it and the last on their list.

She stifled her laughter and solemnly informed him that she liked the fourth. He nodded his approval and set about securing it for her.

“Will you have your things shipped to the apartment?” he asked as they walked back to the limousine.

She shook her head. “I plan to shop for everything I need here and have it delivered. It will be quite fun!”

He growled something under his breath but when she turned to him in question, he pressed his lips together.

“I’ll arrange for someone to take you shopping,” he said grudgingly.

She raised an eyebrow. “I assure you, I have no need of a babysitter, Theron. Chrysander saddled me with one four years ago, and I had no more need of it then than I do now.”

“You will not roam all over the city by yourself,” he said resolutely.

She shrugged and offered a faint smile. “You could always go with me.”

He gave her a startled look.

“No? You seem the logical choice given I don’t know anyone else here.” She purposely kept silent about Sadie. There was no reason for Theron to know about her, and he wouldn’t approve if he knew she worked in a strip club. And find out he would, because the instant she let him know of someone she was spending time with, he’d perform an extensive background check and then forbid her to associate with Sadie any longer.

Not that she’d listen, but she intended for their relationship to get off to the best possible start. Lust was fine for now, but she wanted to make him fall in love with her. She wanted him to need her.

“You’re right, of course,” he said with a grimace. “I forget you’ve lived in California and have only been here to visit.”

She slid into the limousine and smiled over at him as he got in on the other side. “Does that mean you’ll go shopping with me?”

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