She flashed him a smile that warmed parts of his body that didn’t bear mentioning. With a toss of her long hair, she rose gracefully from the chair. She gave him a small wave bye then turned and walked to the door.

A fairy. Her tattoo was a fairy with a sprinkling of glittery dust and sparkles radiating from the design.

It suited her.

But it brought up another very intriguing thought. Did she have any other tattoos? Maybe one or two that could only be seen when she wore no clothing? It made him twitchy as he imagined going on a hunt with her body as the map.

Isabella left Theron’s office, biting her lip to keep from smiling. He’d certainly been prepared to give her an endless lecture on how they could never again do what they’d done the night before. It wasn’t anything she hadn’t expected which was why she’d been prepared to head it off before he ever got started.

She mentally patted herself on the back at the expert way she’d diffused the situation. He was probably still off balance and trying to figure out just what had happened.

She approached Madeline’s desk and politely asked if Madeline had received a fax for her.

Madeline tapped a stack of papers at the edge of her desk and then smiled up at Isabella.

“Did he tell you about the party?” Madeline asked.

Isabella picked up the rental agreement and frowned. “No, he didn’t mention it.”

Just then Theron stuck his head out the door. “Bella, I forgot to tell you that I have a cocktail party planned this Thursday that I’d like you to attend. Seven p.m. at my penthouse. Madeline will arrange for a car to pick you up at the hotel.”

Before she could respond, he withdrew into his office again and closed the door.

“Well, there you have it,” Madeline said in amusement. “I don’t suppose he’s also told you the occasion?”

Isabella turned back to the older woman, her frown deepening. “Why do I get the idea that I’m being royally set up?”

“Because you are?” Madeline said cheerfully.

Isabella flopped down in the chair beside Madeline’s desk. “Tell me.”

Madeline pulled out a sheet of paper and thrust it toward Isabella. “I wasn’t told to keep this secret so I’m not violating anyone’s confidence, and I figure if I was invited to a party where my future husband was in attendance, I’d at least want the opportunity to buy a gorgeous dress for the occasion.”

Isabella snatched the paper and stared back at Madeline in astonishment. “Husband?”

Madeline’s eyebrows went up. “He didn’t tell you that he was searching for a husband for you? I’d have to think that came up in conversation at least once.”

“Well it did, briefly I mean. Just yesterday. He’s already found someone?”

Isabella tried to keep the horror from her voice, but she wasn’t entirely certain she’d been successful judging by the sympathy she saw in Madeline’s eyes. She’d gone along with it because she hadn’t really thought that Theron was serious, and even if he was, she figured she had plenty of time.

“Maybe he’s in a hurry so that he can concentrate on his own upcoming wedding,” Madeline said in a soothing voice.

“What?” Isabella croaked.

“He didn’t tell you that, either?” Madeline asked cautiously. “Well then, you didn’t hear that from me.”

Isabella leaned forward. “Tell me,” she said fiercely. “Is he really getting married? Is he engaged?”

Madeline looked stunned for a moment and then understanding softened her expression. “Oh dear,” she breathed.

She got up and walked around to where Isabella sat stiffly, her hands gripped tightly in her lap. “Why don’t we go into the conference room,” Madeline said quietly.

Isabella let Madeline lead her into the other room where Madeline shut and locked the door. “Have a seat,” she directed Isabella.

Numbly Isabella complied and Madeline took the seat next to her.

“Now, how long have you had this crush on Theron?”

“Crush?” Isabella asked in a mixture of amusement and devastation. “A crush is a passing fancy. I’ve been in love with Theron ever since I was a young girl. Back then it might have been considered a crush, but now?”

Madeline shook her head and patted Isabella’s hand. “He has the right idea to introduce you to potential husbands then. He has an arrangement with the Gianopolous family to marry their daughter Alannis. She and her mother arrive in New York in less than a week’s time. I’d hate to see you…hurt. Perhaps the best thing to do would be to focus on the men Theron has in mind for you. This fascination with Theron can only end in disappointment.”

Isabella knew that Madeline was nothing but well-intentioned, but she also had no idea of the depth of Isabella’s feelings and her determination.

Still, the thought of Theron already being engaged, of having a commitment to another woman…She closed her eyes against the sudden stab of pain. No wonder he was so put off by the kiss they’d shared the night before.

“When do they marry?” she asked in a soft voice.

“Well, he has to propose first, but from what I understand that’s a mere formality. He didn’t want a long engagement, so I imagine it will be this fall sometime.”

“So he hasn’t even proposed yet?”

Relief filled Isabella. If he hadn’t asked, then there was time to make sure he didn’t.

Madeline frowned. “I don’t like the look you’re giving me.”

Isabella leaned forward and grabbed Madeline’s hands. “You have to help me, Madeline. He’s making a huge mistake. I need to make him see that.”

Madeline shook her head vehemently. “Oh, no. I’m not getting involved in this. Theron has made his choice, and I make it a point never to get involved in my employer’s personal life. You’re on your own.”

Isabella dropped Madeline’s hands with a sigh. “You’ll thank me for this when he’s a much happier man.”

Madeline stood and regarded Isabella with reservation.

“Don’t make a fool of yourself, Isabella. No man is worth losing your self-respect over. If your mother was alive, she’d probably tell you the same thing.”

“My mother loved my father very much,” Isabella said softly. “He loved her, too. They’d both want me to be happy. They’d want me to marry the man I loved.”

“Then I’ll wish you luck.”

Isabella smiled, though it was completely forced. “Thank you, Madeline.”

They left the conference room, and Isabella quickly signed the rental agreement before handing it over to Madeline. “Let him read over it and if he has no objections, fax it back for me, please.”

“And your shopping trip? When would you like to schedule that?”

Isabella shook her head. “I’ll go by myself. When is the cocktail party again?”

“Thursday night. Seven.”

Isabella slowly nodded. “Okay, I’ll be there.”

She turned to walk out of the office, her mind reeling from the unexpected shock of Theron’s upcoming proposal. She flipped open her cell phone and dialed Sadie’s number.

“Sadie? It’s me, Isabella,” she said when Sadie answered the phone. “Are you busy? I need to come over. It’s urgent.”

Six

“T his is a disaster,” Isabella groaned as she flopped onto Sadie’s couch.

Sadie sat next to her, concern creasing her pretty features. “Surely you aren’t giving up. He hasn’t even proposed to her yet.”

“Yet. That’s the problem,” Isabella said glumly. “Yet means he fully intends to, so for all practical purposes, he’s engaged.”

“She might not say yes,” Sadie pointed out.

Isabella gazed balefully at her. “Would you say no to Theron Anetakis?”

“Well, no….”

“Neither will she,” Isabella said with a sigh. She stared up at the ceiling as she raced to come up with a plan. “She’s no doubt a good Greek girl from a good Greek family. She’ll have impeccable breeding, of course. Her father probably has loads of money, and she would probably drink battery acid before ever going against her parents’ wishes.”

“That exciting of a girl, huh?”

Isabella laughed as she looked back at Sadie. “I’m not being very charitable. I’m sure she’s lovely.”

“Now you make her sound like a poodle,” Sadie said in amusement.

Isabella covered her face with her hands and tried not to let panic overtake her. Or despair.

“Oh, honey,” Sadie said as she wrapped her arms around Isabella. “This doesn’t change anything. Truly. You still have to do the same thing as always. Get him to see you. The real you. He won’t be able to resist you once he spends time with you.”

Isabella let herself be embraced by her friend. At the moment she’d take what comfort she could get. Being alone had never really bothered her, but now she was

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