Proof of Their Sin(7)

By: Dani Collins

Now, however, everything was different. Or was it? She was still dying inside at her brazen behavior. Part of her was second-guessing her decision to come here. She’d been a fool to imagine there’d been any emotion on his side that night. Obviously it had been nothing more than an exercise in physical gratification. He wasn’t showing any enthusiasm for seeing her. This was the same man who’d frozen her out most of the times she’d seen him. Best to cut to the chase and leave.

“Actually, I’m not here to wine and dine, Paolo. I need to speak to you. I tried to book an appointment through your assistant.”

He kept a bored look on his face while people around them cast curious glances their way. “With the death of your husband, cara, I thought my ties to you were finally severed and we’d never speak again.” Nice. He really did despise her to the core.

Because of Charleston? Or did it go back to her wedding day?

She had never understood Paolo except to liken him to Ryan: driven by his ego and masculine desires, slaying women without even trying because females eagerly set themselves up for the little death such potent men promised.

And delivered. She almost had to shut her eyes to beat back the memory of how beautifully Paolo delivered.

She reminded herself she was one of many women who wished they knew him better, but honestly, she’d had so few occasions to try. He’d bought her a drink in a bar despite being engaged to another woman then sat back while his friend pursued her. He’d kissed her with unexpected passion at her wedding reception then snubbed her when Lauren tried to speak to him a few years later at Ryan’s birthday.

In Charleston he’d been solicitous and tender, then ardent and insatiable.

Then cold. Subarctic cold.

She hadn’t exactly been impressed with herself at that point, making love to her husband’s best friend the night before his death was announced, so she ought to face his hostility without feeling as though a chisel was being hammered directly into her heart, but his enmity hurt. He didn’t have to be madly in love with her, but he did owe her a few minutes to tell him they had a tie between them that could never be severed.

A woman in midnight blue chose that moment to join them, forcing Paolo to drag his gaze with visible annoyance from trying to penetrate Lauren’s to the inquiring face of a woman with unmistakable Italian coloring.

“Isabella,” Paolo said in a tense tone. He slid a possessive arm around her and brushed her cheekbone with his lips, provoking a surprised widening of her eyes. “May I introduce Mrs. Ryan Bradley. An old friend.”

His tone was dismissive, emphasizing “old.” Former. A possession of his friend.

Isabella was twenty if she was a day, and Lauren felt ancient before her. She was acutely aware of her status as a widow. A cynical and jaded one.

Nevertheless she managed to offer a courteous, “Call me Lauren, please. Since no one else seems to.” She cast that at both Paolo and the world, accompanying the request with an offering of her hand.

It trembled. She hadn’t let herself think of Paolo with a woman in his life. Seeing him touch Isabella made sharp talons rip into her from the soles of her feet right up to the base of her throat. Of course he had women in his life. They all did.

Isabella cast a look between them, trying to read what may have happened between them during the infamous disappearance of Captain Ryan Bradley’s wife into the rarely used penthouse of his close friend Paolo the night before Captain Bradley’s death was revealed.

Paolo maintained a stoic expression. Nothing, his flat gaze said.

Lauren had perfected the same poker face and baldly showed it to Isabella.

While remaining burningly conscious that her waistline would soon reveal their big fat lie.

“I can only stay a few minutes,” Lauren declared, thinking that must sound bizarre considering she’d obviously spent as many hours on her appearance as every other woman here. “Would you be very offended if I claimed a dance? I only wished to say hello to Paolo as I was passing through New York. He’s been so kind.” She choked a little on the adjective.

Had it been pity that had prompted him to make love to her? The thought had been lashing her like a whip since he’d given in with a shudder and a curse. Her hand longed to go to her waistline in an attempt to protect her developing baby from such a pitiable start.

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