First & Last (A Billionaire's Virgin Romance)(9)

By: Penny Wylder


But he doesn’t want to date me. He just wants to deflower me. What does he expect to happen after this date? My belly clenches again, this time with an unpleasant edge to the nerves.

“Are you finished?” he asks, and for a second I think he means with talking. Then I notice him glancing at our cups. It was delicious, but I barely thought about the flavor, inhaling it as a distraction from staring too openly at the sexy man across the table.

“Um, sure,” I stammer.

“Let’s go,” he says, rising and offering me a hand.

I accept his hand, let him pull me to my feet, even as panic starts to set in. Is this it? Does he expect me to just go home with him now and get this over with? I’m not ready for that—I’m still not even sure I want to do this, it was just a joke that spiraled out of control. I’m opening my mouth to tell him exactly that when he draws my arm through his and turns us. Away from the exit. Toward the back of the room, through which I realize there’s a hallway that expands into another space.

“Let’s go see the rest of the gallery,” he says, and I can’t help the faint sigh of relief that escapes me, as I sag against his arm a little.

Okay, so he’s not moving that fast.

Yet.

We take our time in the gallery, which turns out to be deceptively larger than I expected. We wind through corridor after corridor, room after room, finding a different style in each section. Declan talks about some of them, the historical art movements that inspired the pieces, the styles the artists are referencing. He’s right–even though I don’t know anything about art, I can still appreciate the pieces. I know which ones I like, even if I can’t quite explain why. In the last room, I’m drawn to a larger-than-life painting, filling up half the wall, all pastel colors and flowing scenes. It looks like a flower in abstract, or maybe just oil on the surface of water.

“So this is your favorite,” Declan says, after watching me study it for a while. He doesn’t ask; he says it like he knows.

He’s right, though. “How can you tell?” I counter, cocking my head as I grin up at him. He’s taller than me by several inches, but not so tall that I can’t catch his eye.

Then again, it seems like he’s spent more time in here looking at me than any of the paintings. “The way your eyes light up when you look at it. Like you can’t tear your eyes away.” But now, as he says this, my eyes are locked onto his. And now, he’s right, I really can’t tear my gaze away.

My heart beats faster in my chest, and the rest of the world, even the beautiful painting, all seem to blur and fall away. I can’t stop studying his gray eyes, the little flecks of gold around his irises at the very center. The way those eyes study me back, seeing me, in a way I’m not used to being seen.

“Which one is your favorite?” I ask.

He smiles. It’s wolf-sharp, laser-focused, and I remember what he said online. When I set my sights on someone I want, I always win. “My favorite?” he asks, mulling over the words, as though thinking. His eyes sharpen on mine. There’s no space between us, barely half a foot of air. It would be so easy for him to lean forward, close that gap, let his mouth sink into mine. His eyes drop to my lips, studying me, and I know he’s thinking the same thing. Do it, I urge him without words. Kiss me.

But he just raises his eyes back to mine and widens that smile. “My favorite view just now isn’t a painting.”

I’m still catching my breath when he breaks eye contact first, turns away. I resist the urge to catch his arm, pull him back, because I want to keep looking at him. I want to know where this is heading. So when he starts to climb a staircase behind one of the gallery walls, I don’t think. I follow him up.

At this point, he has me hooked. I’d follow him anywhere.





4





We climb the stairs, and I can’t help the gasp that escapes me at the top. We step off the staircase into a gorgeous room, full of skylights and broad balconies on either side, the glass doors open to let in fresh air. The ceiling is all wooden beams and hanging plants, intermingled with copper pots and kettles, giving it the air of a cottage hidden in the woods, or maybe a tree-house. The kind of cozy, private place you can go for some privacy, to get away from the real world and back to nature. Even though we’re in the middle of downtown, I feel like we’re the only people in the world right now.

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