Claimed

By: Tracy Wolff

One

Isabella Moreno froze in the middle of her lecture—in the middle of a sentence, really—as the door in the back of her classroom opened and the president of the Gem Institute of America walked in. But it wasn’t the presence of Harlan Peters that threw her off her game. She was a damn good professor and she knew it; a visit from her boss was no big deal. No, it was the tall, dark and silent man standing next to him that struck fear into her heart even as he sent shivers up and down her spine.

Don’t forget gorgeous, she thought as she forced herself to continue her discussion of the cutting and polishing of off-shape sapphires. Her graduate students had begun turning to look at what had distracted her and it was only a matter of seconds before she would lose the attention of every female in the vicinity. Already, there were twitters and giggles coming from various corners of the room, and they didn’t even know who the mystery man was yet.

Not that she did, either. Not really. Oh, she recognized him. It was hard to be in the gem industry for any length of time and not be able to identify Marc Durand, CEO of the second largest diamond exporter and jeweler in the country. His too-long black hair, bright blue eyes and fallen angel face were hard to miss...and even harder to ignore. But the look on that face, the glittering contempt in those distinctive eyes and the derisive twist of those full lips was not something she was used to seeing from him. They turned him into a stranger.

The Marc she knew—the Marc she’d once loved—had looked at her only with tenderness. With amusement. With love. At least until the end, when everything had fallen apart. But even then he’d shown some feelings. Rage, hurt, betrayal. It had nearly killed her to see those emotions on his face, and to know that she was responsible for them.

But the look on his face now—the derision, the scorn, the ice—turned him into someone new. Someone she didn’t recognize; someone she certainly didn’t want to know.

When they’d been together, their relationship had been characterized by heat, so much heat she’d often wondered how long it would take before she got burned. The answer, it turned out, had been six months, three weeks and four days, give or take a few hours.

Not that she’d been counting.

And not that she blamed him for how things had ended. How could she when the way things had gone down—the way the two of them had self-destructed—had been almost completely her fault?

Oh, he could have been kinder. She was the first to admit that tossing her onto the streets of New York City in the middle of the night, with nothing but the clothes on her back, was a hideous thing to do. But it wasn’t as if she hadn’t deserved it. Even now, there were nights she lay awake staring at the ceiling and wondering how she could have done what she had done. How she could have betrayed the man she’d loved so completely.

But that was the problem. She’d been caught between two men she loved, adored, would have done anything for, and because of that, she’d ruined everything. She’d known her father had stolen from him and though she’d tried to convince her dad to give the gems back, she hadn’t told Marc who the thief was until it was nearly too late for him to salvage his business. And then she’d made the situation worse by begging Marc not to prosecute, and by admitting that when she’d sought him out at the gala where they’d first met she’d been planning to steal from him, too. Her plans had changed—her life had changed—once she’d spoken to him, once he’d looked at her with those crazy blue eyes of his, but—

Isabella shied away from the painful memories instinctively. Losing Marc in the middle of everything else had nearly brought her to her knees six years before. She’d be damned if seeing him again, after all this time, did the same thing. Especially here, in the middle of her first graduate seminar of the day.

Forcing her wandering mind back to the task at hand, she was mortified to realize every student in the class was looking between her and Marc. As was the college president. Despite the years that had passed, the connection between them was obvious, the tension a live wire that threatened to spark at any moment. Determined not to let that happen, and not to let the atmosphere in the room get any more awkward than it already was, Isabella forced herself back to her task.

The next part of her lecture was on the world’s most famous sapphires and their locations. When she got to the part about the theft of the Robin’s Egg Sapphire—one of the most expensive and sought after gems in the world—she did her best not to look at Marc.

But in the end, she couldn’t help it. Her gaze was drawn to his, the magnetic force of his personality—his will—allowing her to do nothing else. She froze the second their eyes connected, the sardonic look he leveled at her as sharp as the finest hewn diamond. Marc knew what had happened to the Robin’s Egg. He’d made it his business to know before he’d confronted her in their bedroom—his bedroom—that long-ago night.

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