He grunted, and she couldn’t hold the laughter in any longer. His eyes widened, and he stared openly at her as though he found the sound of her laughter enchanting.

All the breath left her as she saw for just one moment a look of wanting in his eyes. Just as soon as it flashed, he blinked and recovered.

“I’ll see if my schedule permits such a trip,” he said tightly.

“Where are you taking me for lunch?” she asked, more to remind him of their date than any real curiosity over their destination. She didn’t care where or what they ate. She just wanted the time with him.

“We have an excellent restaurant at the hotel,” he said. “My table is always available to me. I thought we could eat there and then you could retire to your suite to rest.”

She resisted the urge to roll her eyes. He was smooth. Plotting the easiest way to get rid of her. She couldn’t blame him. She was an unexpected burden, and he was a busy man. She chewed her bottom lip and looked out the window at the passing traffic as she contemplated how to get him to see beyond the inconvenience to the woman who loved him and wanted him so badly.

“Is something the matter, Bella?”

She turned to see him staring at her in concern. She smiled and shook her head. “Just a little tired. And excited.”

He frowned. “Maybe you should allow me to see to the furnishing of your apartment. If you would mark down your preferences, I could have a designer work with you so that you didn’t have to go out shopping for all the things you need.”

“Oh, no, that wouldn’t be near as much fun. I can’t wait to pick out everything for the apartment. It’s such a gorgeous place.”

“What are your plans, Bella?” he asked.

She blinked in surprise. “Plans?”

“Yes. Plans. Now that you’ve graduated, what are your career plans?”

“Oh. Well, I planned to take the summer off,” she hedged. “I’ll focus on the future this fall.”

He didn’t say anything, but she could tell such an approach bothered him. She smiled to herself. It probably gave him hives. He and his brothers all were intensely driven with a take no prisoners approach when it came to business. They weren’t the world’s wealthiest hotel family for nothing.

When they arrived at the hotel, Theron ushered her inside as his security team flanked them on all sides. It was odd and a bit surreal, almost like they were royalty.

A few minutes later, they were escorted to Theron’s table at the restaurant. It was situated in a quiet corner, almost completely cutoff from the rest of the diners.

He settled her into her chair and then circled around to sit across from her. He dropped his long, lean body into his seat and stared lazily at her.

“What would you like to eat, pethi mou?”

Isabella cringed at the endearment. He’d called her the same thing when she was thirteen. Little one. It set her teeth on edge. Hardly something that evoked images of the two of them in bed, limbs entwined.

“What do you suggest?” she asked.

She studied his lips, the hard, sensual curve to his mouth and the dark shadow already forming on his jaw. She was tempted, so very tempted to reach across and run the tip of her finger along the roughness and then to the softness of his lips.

What would it be like to kiss him? She’d kissed several boys in college. She said boys because next to Theron, that’s all they were. Some were very good, others awkward and “pleasant.”

But Theron. Kissing him would be like chasing a storm. Hot, exciting and breathless. Her pulse jumped wildly as she imagined the warm brush of his tongue.

“Bella?”

She blinked and shook her head as she realized Theron had been calling her name for a few seconds.

“Sorry,” she murmured. “Lost in my thoughts.”

“I was suggesting you try the salmon,” he said dryly.

She nodded jerkily and tilted her head toward the waiter who was standing beside the table waiting for their order.

“I’ll have what he suggests,” she said huskily.

Theron placed their order in succinct tones, and the waiter hurried away shortly afterward.

“Now, Bella,” Theron said, as he sat back in his chair. He looked comfortable, at ease as he raked his gaze over her features, setting fire to every nerve receptor. “Perhaps we should talk about your future.”

A nervous scuttle began in her stomach. “My future?” She laughed lightly to allay the pounding of her heart. If she had any say, her future would be inexorably linked to his.

“Indeed. Your future. Surely you’ve given it some thought?”

He sounded slightly scornful, impatient with someone who didn’t have an airtight plan. If he only knew. She’d done nothing else for the past years but plan for her future. With him.

“I’ve given it a lot of thought,” she said evenly.

“You mentioned marriage. Are you truly considering being married before you turn twenty-five.”

“I count on it.”

He nodded as if he approved. She almost laughed. Would he be so approving if he knew he was her intended groom? A sigh escaped her. She felt so evil, like she was plotting an assassination rather than a seduction.

“This is good,” he said almost to himself. “I’ve taken the liberty of forming a list of possible candidates.”

Her brow crinkled as she stared at him in puzzlement. “Candidates? For what?”

“Marriage, Bella. I intend to help you find a husband.”

Four

I sabella eyed Theron suspiciously, wondering if he’d suddenly developed a sense of humor.

“You intend to do what?” she asked.

“You want a husband. After my initial misgivings, I’ve decided it’s a sound idea. A woman in your position can’t be too careful,” he continued, obviously warming to his subject. “So I’ve taken the liberty of drawing up a list of suitable candidates.”

She burst out laughing. She couldn’t help herself. As absurdities went, this might well take the cake.

He blinked in surprise then frowned as she continued to chuckle. “What do you find so amusing?”

She shook her head, the smile not dropping from her lips. “I’m in the city all of two days, and already you’re planning to marry me off. And tell me, what do you mean by a woman in my position can’t be too careful?”

“You’re wealthy, young and beautiful,” he said bluntly. “You’ll have every man between the ages of twenty and eighty plotting to wed and bed you, not necessarily in that order.”

She sat back in mock surprise. “Wow. And not a word about my intelligence, wit or charm. I’m glad to know I don’t plan to wed for superficial reasons.”

Theron sobered then reached over and took her hand. Warmth spread up her arm as his fingers stroked her palm. “This is precisely why I felt I should be involved in your search for a husband. Men will try to take advantage of you by pretending they’re something they’re not. Fortune hunters will pretend they know nothing of your wealth. They’ll be swept away by your kindness and generosity. It’s important that any man we allow close to you be carefully vetted by myself.”

Her lips twitched, but she dare not laugh. He was utterly serious, and she had to admit that his concern was endearing. It would be quite sweet if he weren’t so intent on marrying her off to another man.

“Don’t be disheartened, pethi mou,” he soothed. “There are many men who would give you the world. It’s a matter of finding the right one.”

It was all she could do not to cringe. If that wasn’t a painful lecture, she’d never heard one.

“You’re right, of course,” she murmured.

Because what else was she going to say? What she really wanted to do was lean over and ask him if he could be that man. But she already knew the answer to that. He couldn’t be that man. At least not yet. Not until he had time to get used to the idea.

Theron smiled his approval and slipped his fingers from hers as he leaned

back in his chair. She glanced down at her open hand, regretting the loss of his touch.

“So tell me, what are your requirements in a husband?” he asked indulgently.

She gazed thoughtfully at him, her mind assembling all the things she loved most about him. Then she started ticking items off on her fingers.

“Let’s see. I’d like him to be tall, dark and handsome.”

Theron rolled his eyes. “You’ve described the wishes of half the female population.”

“I also want him to be kind and have a sense of responsibility. As I’d prefer not to have children right away, his agreement on that matter would also be important.”

“You don’t want children?” he asked. He seemed surprised, but then he likely thought all women aspired to pop out a veritable brood as soon as they got a ring on their finger.

“I didn’t say I didn’t want them,” she replied calmly. “Let me guess, you’d want them immediately?”

He arched one brow. “We aren’t discussing me, but yes, I see no reason to wait.”

“That’s because you aren’t the one having them,” she said dryly.

For a moment it looked as though he would laugh, but then he waved his hand and urged her to continue with her wish list.

She pretended to consider for a moment. “I want him to be wealthier than I am so that my money is a nonissue.”

Theron nodded his agreement.

Then she let her voice drop, and she leaned forward. “I want him to burn for me, to not be able to go a day without touching me, holding me, caressing me. He’ll be an excellent lover. I want a man who knows how to please me,” she finished in a husky, longing-filled voice.

He stared at her, his eyes sharp. For a moment she imagined that there was answering passion in his eyes as they flickered over her exposed skin.

“Do you not agree that these are things I should expect?” she asked softly as she studied him.

He cleared his throat and looked briefly away. Was she affecting him at all or was he completely immune? No, there was something in his eyes. His entire body emanated sexual awareness. She might be young, but she wasn’t naive, and she certainly wasn’t stupid when it came to men. She’d had her share of interested parties. She could read harmless, flirty interest, and then there was the dark, brooding intensity of a man whose passions ran deep and powerful.

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