Secrets and Sins:Raphael(4)

By: Naima Simone

“No need to apologize,” he murmured. “But I have news for you, princess. If your intention is to get drunk, that frou-frou drink isn’t going to cut it. And…” As if time slowed to half speed, he shifted to the edge of his barstool, lifted his arm, and brushed a knuckle down her cheek. He silently studied her with an intensity that seemed not just to see her, but peer deep past the perfect social-butterfly persona to the flawed, sometimes scared woman beneath. “For the record, I already figured out your ex had a stick up his ass. Now I know he had his head up there, too. Because if he let you go, he’s an idiot.”

Her breath stuck in her throat, captured by the fist of need lodged there. And as his gaze roamed her face and the echo of his gentle caress hummed under her skin, the hunger strangling her was more than physical. Yes, he was wildly sexy like an exotic, untamed, unpredictable creature. His confidence and I-don’t-give-a-damn attitude were as alluring to her as his hooded, knowing stare and lean, muscled body.

Yet there was something behind the sex and swagger. The simmering desire he didn’t even attempt to conceal as he lingered on her mouth before returning to her eyes. That heat touched her, stroked her battered spirit and bruised self-esteem in ways that put her two steps above pathetic and only one above a Bachelor contestant.

But there it was.

“You don’t know me,” she murmured, and if there was a shade of desperation tinting the protest then she couldn’t erase it.

Another gentle caress stroked under her bottom lip. “You’re right,” he agreed simply. “I don’t know if you like the crusts on or off your PB&J sandwich. I don’t know if you prefer to fall asleep to the sound of the television or total darkness and silence. But even an idiot—including that lackwit you were engaged to—can’t deny your beauty, elegance, sweetness, and intelligence.”

With any other man, she would’ve scoffed, waved the words aside as blatant flattery—blatant bullshit flattery. But not with Raphael. She wasn’t well-acquainted with the idiosyncrasies of his personality, but she sensed he didn’t do smooth sweet talk. Not because he couldn’t—she didn’t doubt he was more than capable of enticing a woman out of her panties. Most likely he just wouldn’t bother. And that made his words that much more precious.

“I don’t eat peanut butter and jelly.”

His eyes rounded as his lips parted on a loud, exaggerated gasp. He slapped a palm to his chest as if her admission had wounded him.

“What the hell? Are you American?”

She chuckled, shaking her head. God, he’d made her laugh more times in the minutes they’d been together than she had since finding Gavin with another woman three days earlier. It didn’t seem possible she could discover humor in anything when the life she’d planned and built for herself was crumbling apart at the foundation. But…

Raphael tipped his beer up to his mouth for another sip. She swallowed, attempting to wet her suddenly dry mouth and throat. Something more than amusement coiled inside her. Something proper bankers’ daughters didn’t utter aloud. Something that should’ve had her pushing away from the bar and cutting a path through the crowd for the front entrance.

Something that had her visually tracing the slightly wicked arch of his dark brows, the strong jut of his cheekbones, the carnal curve of his bottom lip. Wishing it were her fingertips, her mouth grazing those features instead of her eyes.

“I don’t do this,” she whispered more to herself than the quiet, intense man across from her.

He didn’t smirk. Didn’t pop out a glib remark. Instead he regarded her with that incisive, razor-sharp stare. She managed not to squirm under it. But inside she longed to glance away, hide from the all-too-perceptive knowledge contained in that weighty scrutiny. Afraid he would see the soft objection for what it was: a denial—an attempt to convince herself that the avenue this evening was heading down would somehow take a detour or spring a roadblock.

“Greer?” Ethan’s voice doused her like a bucket of frigid ice water. She jerked, met her brother’s concerned frown. He glanced at Raphael, and the vee between his brows deepened before he returned his attention to her. “Are you ready? I need to meet Jason for dinner.”

“I’m…” She faltered, her explanation trailing off as once more the perfect socialite, eager-to-please daughter, and biddable fiancée rose, rearing her afraid-to-rock-the-boat head. Ethan extended his hand toward her, and her arm tensed as she lifted it. Then in the next moment she lowered her hand to her lap, clenched her fingers together. “No.” She shook her head. “I’m going to stay a little longer.”

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