Gianna clung to Rex’s arm, smiling up at Voren. This was going better than she could have expected. Voren was playing right into her hands.
I will never doubt the wisdom of Gerri Wilder again.
She giggled a little, a bit drunk on her own triumph. She kept Voren engaged by asking him questions about the manor and grounds, pausing, and leaning back when he spoke so he could dominate the conversation.
Powerful men always fell for it. They loved talking about themselves and gave away far too much when they felt they had an appreciative audience.
Looking up at Voren and nodding enthusiastically, she realized that this approach had not worked on Rex. He had barely spoken about himself at all. She looked up at him quickly, taking note of his expression. He looked bored, but she could tell there was a simmering impatience underneath. He really did not like Voren. That was plain to see.
Maybe, he really isn’t in on anything. I wish Gerri had elaborated.
Voren leaned in, making an effort to catch her gaze.
“The hedge maze was designed by my great-grandfather in honor of his love of puzzles. I can show you the way to the center.”
“That sounds amazing!” she said, oozing eagerness. “Rex, darling, doesn’t that sound fantastic?”
A pained look crossed his face as if he’d rather have hot nails driven under his fingernails. When his eyes met hers, though, his face softened, and she saw his eyes glint as he fell into her gaze.
“Yes, it sounds perfect,” he said softly. His hand reached for hers and squeezed it gently.
Gianna felt a sharp stab of fear in her chest for a brief moment. The way Rex looked at her, it was almost as if he was truly in love.
She gazed into his face for a few seconds, trying to read his expression. All of her instincts were telling her that there was something there, something real.
His dark green eyes were fixed on her with focused intent. His hands squeezed hers gently, warm enough to make her breath catch. His body was turned to her, completely attentive, showing her that his focus was hers alone.
For the briefest of moments, impossible images ran through her mind. She and Rex striding along a beach, hand in hand, kissing and laughing. Sitting on a couch together watching old movies and feeding each other snacks. Touching him …
Oh, dear God, touching him.
Her fingertips burned. By just thinking about his hard chest, smooth abs, and powerful shoulders, it was as if she could feel it, right here, right now. Rex gasped softly as if he was experiencing the exact same sensations. The cold blade of fear turned in her heart.
I can’t do this to him. I can’t use him. He’s in love with me!
Even though she had promised herself to never disobey her instincts, Gianna shoved them all away. She closed off her mind and locked out the sensual images and the fire that flared across her skin.
Don’t get carried away! This is a stupid little fantasy. He doesn’t want me. I have to think about this critically. I’m only seeing what I want to see.
She cleared her throat, straightened her back, and tossed her hair, looking back at Voren.
“Oh, really?” she said, having no idea what they were even talking about anymore. “That’s so exciting!”
All Gianna was truly aware of now was Rex’s warm hand on hers. She could feel a tension rising in her, and she knew she had to get out of here soon. Rex was definitely going to try to convince her to go back to his room. Her silly fantasies of love and commitment would come to a very fast end once she gave him what he wanted.
Don’t give in to lust. That’s exactly what he wants. He’s a player, so treat him like one.
She took a deep breath, holding it in as she stood up straight. She looked Voren straight in the eye, remembering that this man had been pointing a gun at her not so long ago. He seemed so nice and personable, but somewhere under that tailored suit, he was hiding a weapon that he wasn’t afraid to use.
The dinner was a perfect opportunity to sneak around and find out more about the dam project. She knew, for sure, he’d try to talk to Rex about it. If she played the role of a bubbly, silly girl, he’d buy it and practically forget she was even there.
The ego-driven attitudes of such men made them absurdly easy to exploit.
“I’d like to thank you for your invitation,” she said. She grinned up at Voren and blinked slowly. “I really must be moving on right now, but I can’t wait to see your house.”
“Of course,” he said, squeezing her hand. “It will be my pleasure. Since you’re going, perhaps I can convince you, Rex …”
“No,” Rex said too quickly. “I have to … ah … walk Gianna out.”
Before he could protest, Rex took her arm and turned away from Voren. She looked up at him curiously, trying to read him.
He really doesn’t like Voren. Is that it, or is it something else?
As they came to the big front foyer, Rex paused and gripped her arms, drawing her close. She took a very deliberate step back, brushing off his hands gently.
“I will see you for our next date at Voren’s,” she said, smiling sweetly. “Let me have your number, and then you can call me with the date and time.”
Rex fumbled in his pocket, and she reached into her purse. As they exchanged details, she could tell he was hurrying to put his phone away so he’d have both hands free to touch her again. She kept taking tiny, slow steps back, trying to avoid it.
If he touches me again, I might just go up like a badly made candle.
Her breath was coming faster as her chest tightened. She’d never felt anxiety like this before. Gianna was no coward, and with a bolt of frustration that quickly smoldered into determination, she took a step forward and put her hands on his chest, reaching up for his lips.
He was so tall. There was no way she could ever reach his mouth on her own. He bent down, his lips meeting hers as his hands wrapped around her lower back. He pulled her close, his hands gently touching her hips but not roaming over her and groping.
He touched her with complete respect, a tightly restrained lust that she could feel raging beyond his soft and gentle manner.
A wild animal. A beast. Chained by his will.
Gianna let herself melt, pressing her body against his. He parted her lips, deepening the kiss. She opened to him, encouraging him to kiss her deeper. For a few seconds, she was lost, the heat between them building steadily from a small, flickering flame into a raging bonfire.
As her cheeks got hot and her body began to ache, she stepped back, breathless. Her mouth felt raw. Her chest felt tight. She pressed her thighs together, willing the heat to go away.
“I really do have to go,” she said, bringing her voice back to a polite, professional tone. “I have to do some work on the piece for my editor. Thank you for this evening. I’m looking forward to seeing you soon.”
Rex said goodbye, standing still in the shadows as she turned and walked away. She didn’t look back. She didn’t want to see the look on his face. If he was watching her with unmasked longing, she wouldn’t be able to shut up her ridiculous fantasies of lifelong love and partnership.
I’m playing him just right. I’m sure he’s playing me too. He’s just very, very good at it.
Still, she couldn’t help replaying the kiss, over and over. In the taxi on the way back to the hotel, she ran her fingers across her lips, savoring every moment and the memory of his taste.
I wonder if the rest of him tastes that good.
She gasped, pressing her thighs together. No, she would not think about that!
When they arrived at the hotel, she paid the driver and made a determined effort to put Rex out of her mind as she headed for the elevator. By the time she reached her room, she had her thoughts back under control.
He came stampeding back into her brain for a few brief moments in the shower, but she refused to entertain it.
I have work to do. Work is far more important than mindless fantasy.
A deeper part of her taunted her that, maybe, it wasn’t. She chose not to listen. Instead, she fired up her laptop and set about organizing all the intel she’d gathered.
The puff piece on the charity was too easy, and she had it finished within an hour. She added a few quotes from the rich and powerful and wrote about the charity itself and how much money had been raised. She sent it straight off to her editor, eager to get down to her real interest.
Pulling up the pics of Voren and his friend in the garage made her shiver. This guy had pulled a gun on her, actually meant to kill her. A short time later, he’d chatted with her casually as if he wasn’t a carefully controlled psychopath.
That’s not fair. Maybe he’s just a really spoiled, angry jerk.
Still, murder was most likely a shove into serious psycho territory. Not that murder was required for a mental health diagnosis, but if Voren thought utilizing that kind of violence was well within his rights, he was definitely far from the proverbial box that described sanity.
After a few hours, Gianna was no closer to figuring out who Voren’s pal was. Her eyes were getting tired, making the screen blurry. The time was nearing three in the morning, and she knew she should sleep soon. The thrill of the chase was too addictive to her, though.
Her breakthrough was right around the corner … she could feel it.
When she actually stumbled across a photo of the guy, she almost missed it, flicked back, and examined the face closely to be sure she was looking at the right guy.
“Well, well, well,” she muttered, grinning. “Gotcha, you shady bastard.”
The man’s name was Agrippa Santos, and he was officially connected to the environmental study on the dam project. Gianna congratulated herself on picking that up from the very beginning. She’d been sure the money that changed hands like this was some kind of bribe, and her instincts had sent her squarely in the right direction.
Now, I need more intel.
She opened up a few new pages, looking through everything that Voren had recently posted. He most likely had a publicity team that ran his social media for him, and they were very thorough.
Voren was portrayed as a great guy, sensitive, caring and heroic. Gianna mock-gagged as she read some of the posts.
What utter bullshit.
Voren also liked being portrayed as a family man. He had pictures of his daughter peppered through his pages. Gianna saw that the girl had a recital coming up. It was a very exclusive, expensive school, so the event was being well publicized. Voren wasn’t the only businessman using his kid for leverage in the media.
That will be a great time to break into his office.
Gianna smiled, feeling very excited about her new plan. This type of event would keep Voren occupied for a few hours, and most of his security team would be following him. His offices would be deserted, and she’d have plenty of time to go through his files.
She quickly organized her intel, putting her pictures and notes in sequence so they would be easy to reference later. She almost had a full article already. There were only a few details missing. Once she had hard evidence instead of just speculation, Voren would finally be going down.
Gianna submitted a request to her editor, outlining her plans and requesting immediate approval to stay and chase down the story. She needed to stay in the city for quite a bit longer, and she was almost positive her editor would agree. She had more on Voren now than she’d ever had before.
It really is my big break, the ultimate story.
After sending the email, she grabbed a woolen blanket from the back of the couch, wrapping it around herself as she held it to her chest. She curled up, trying to think about her story, her career, and all the good she could do by ripping apart this scam.
It was no good. No matter how strong she built the barriers, Rex got through them. A small sigh escaped her lips as she began to slip away into dreams where Rex was waiting.
His lips, his hands, his eyes … Gianna was swept away, and this was a wave she could not fight, even if she wanted to.