Dante's Temporary Fiancee(9)

By: Day Leclaire

How could Leigh ever have hoped to control a man like this? Through sex, of course. But somehow Larkin suspected that would work for only so long and solely within the confines of the bedroom. She didn’t need more than five minutes in Rafe’s company to figure out that much about him.

“I’m a businessman, first and foremost. Before we move forward, I want to make sure we have a clear meeting of the minds.”

Larkin struggled not to smile. “Why don’t you explain your parameters and then we’ll see what sort of agreement we can come to.”

“First, I need to make it clear that this is a temporary relationship. When either of us is ready to put an end to it, it ends.”

She gave it a moment’s consideration before shrugging. “I suppose that’s no different than a real engagement.”

“Which is my next point. You don’t want to lie. I don’t want you to lie. So if we become engaged, from that moment forward it is real. The only difference will be that at the end of the engagement—and our engagement will end—I’ll see to it that you receive fair compensation for your time.”

“The engagement will be real, but we preplan the ending.” She lifted an eyebrow. “I swear I’m not being deliberately obtuse, but I don’t see how those two are mutually compatible.”

He hesitated, a painful emotion rippling behind his icy restraint. “I don’t do relationships well,” he confessed, “or so I’ve been told. I suspect you’ll discover that for yourself soon enough and be only too happy to end our involvement. Until then, it will be the same as any other engagement, right down to a ring on your finger and making plans for an eventual wedding day.” His mouth twisted. “I’d rather it be a far distant eventual wedding day that doesn’t involve actual dates and deposits.”

Her sense of humor bubbled to the surface. “We don’t want to rush into anything. Not after your first experience. Better to have a long engagement and make sure.”

“See? You already have your lines down pat.”

A matching humor lit his face and even crept into his eyes. If she hadn’t been sitting, she didn’t doubt for a moment that her knees would have given out. He had to be one of the most stunning men she’d ever met. It didn’t seem fair to have all of that rugged beauty given to one man. From high, arching cheekbones to squared chin to a mouth perfectly shaped for kissing, it didn’t matter where she looked, it was all gorgeous. Even his hair was perfect, the deep brown offset by streaks of sunlit gold. But it was his eyes that fascinated her the most, the color a sharp jade-green that seemed to darken like a shadow-draped forest depending on his mood.

“So how do we handle this?” she finally managed to ask. “Assuming I agree to your plan.”

He frowned, and even that was appealing. “It may not work,” he admitted. “I think we can figure that out easily enough. But you’ll have to trust me.”

She took a deep breath and jumped in with both feet. “Okay. What do you have in mind?” she asked.

“A simple test. If we don’t pass, we scrap the idea and I’ll find you a job within the organization. If it does work, we take the next step forward.”

“What sort of test?” she asked warily.

“Just this.”

He stood and circled the coffee table between them. Reaching her side, he held out his hand. She stood as well and took the hand he offered. Her fingers slipped across his palm. Instantly, heat exploded between them, a stunning flash that seemed to burrow into flesh and bone with unbelievable swiftness. It didn’t hurt. Not precisely. It…melded. With a gasp of disbelief, Larkin yanked free of his touch.

“What did you just do?” they asked in unison.

Rafe took a step back and eyed her with sharp suspicion. “You felt that, too?”

“Of course.” She rubbed her palm against her slacks, trying to make the sensation go away. Not that it worked. “What was it?”

“I have no idea.”

She lifted her hand and stared at the palm. There weren’t any marks, though based on the explosion of heat she’d experienced, it should still be smoking. “That wasn’t…” She cleared her throat. “That couldn’t have been…”