Secrets and Sins:Raphael(3)

By: Naima Simone

That thought had her expelling the breath from her lungs in a soft gush of air. So not going there. But once introduced, expunging the image from her mind was akin to stemming up a flooding fissure with a wad of tissue. Pointless.

Raphael Marcel was an intimidating blend of sex and danger. Both had her leaning back against the bar’s edge. And tipping her drink up for a healthy sip.

“So, princess, give,” he said, sliding onto the stool Ethan had vacated. “What brings you down from the lofty tower to grace us lowly peasants with your presence?”

Princess. Not an endearment coming from that mouth curved in a mocking smile. But…not an insult either. Not with that deep voice with its hint of sensuality. As if he concealed some sexy, naughty secret—about her. She blinked. They’d met once in his office for forty-five minutes a week ago. Why did he feel free to be so familiar with her? The answer immediately came on the heels of her question. Because she doubted Raphael Marcel acknowledged boundaries or protocol. No. The man with the bad-boy piercings and attitude to match probably manufactured his own set of rules.

“A drink,” she shot back, scrambling for the composure that had been ingrained in her since she’d been in Pull-Ups. “And it’s Beacon Hill. Hardly slumming.”

“I hate to break it to you, but that’s just geography.” He peered at her drink, a pierced dark eyebrow arched high. “What the hell is that you’re drinking?”

“I think the bartender called it a Peppermint Patty.”

“A Peppermint Patty,” he repeated, disbelief heavy in every word. “Um. Wow.”

She couldn’t help it; she chuckled. It sounded as if a rusty spoon had scraped her throat raw, but it was genuine. And the warm glow in its wake was welcome and needed. Desperately needed.

He leaned an elbow on the bar, his beer bottle with the blue-and-white Sam Adams label dangling between his fingers.

“I have to say I’m a little disappointed, though.” He dipped his head toward the bar’s front door. “Seeing you here with another man. Kinda ruining my Ken and Barbie image of you and your fiancé.”

And that fast, the glow was snuffed out. She cleared her throat, toyed with the stem of her glass. Everything but look into this man’s eyes and admit the humiliating truth.

“That was my brother,” she murmured.

“Ahh.” He splayed his fingers over his chest. “Thank God. My faith in love is restored.” He grinned, and the mortification in her belly gave way to something else. Something she had no business feeling toward an almost-stranger when the man whom as of one week ago she’d been about to marry hadn’t inspired the same leaping-off-a-high-dive sensation.

“Somehow I doubt that,” she said, the observation popping out of her mouth before she could reconsider the wisdom of engaging him in a verbal fencing match. Intuition warned her he was a master.

With his long dark hair, eyebrow and ear piercings, graphic long-sleeved shirt, and black cargo pants, he resembled a rocker, not a security specialist. But unable to quash her curiosity after meeting him in his firm’s office after a home security consultation, Greer had Googled Raphael Marcel. Not only was he a partner and half owner of the successful and respected firm Liberty Security Services, but apparently he was a brilliant computer programmer and information systems expert. Her search had pulled up several articles that had heralded how his skill and talent had saved several Fortune 500 companies from losing money, clients, and their reputations by detecting the weaknesses in their security and IT systems.

He might look like a sexy rock guitarist, but he possessed the mind of Steve Jobs.

“Y’know, when the two of you left after your consultation last week, the office was teeming with how cute you were as a couple.” His smile widened, turned just a tad bit more wicked. Okay, way more wicked. “Gavin and Greer. G&G. Greervin.” He snickered, tipping his beer bottle up for a long sip. “Where’s Ken, anyway?”

“We broke up.”

“Oh.” He blinked. “Well. Damn.”

She coughed. Chuckled. Then bent over clutching her stomach, laughter spilling free as if a balloon had been punctured in her chest. And if her hilarity contained the barest tinge of hysteria, well… There wasn’t much she could do about that. Wiping moisture from her eyes, she straightened, an arm still wrapped around her middle. Raphael studied her, the corner of his sensual mouth quirked even as what appeared to be sympathy darkened his eyes.

“I’m sorry,” she gasped, smoothing her palms over her hair, suddenly restless, antsy.

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