Claimed(10)

By: Tracy Wolff


A shiver ran down her spine, and with it came the answer to her question. Because Marc was there, watching her. And though she hadn’t so much as caught a glimpse of him, she knew he wouldn’t like the fact that Gideon was so close to her, his face next to hers, his hand resting softly at the center of her back.

As soon as the thought came, she beat it down. She and Marc had been over for six long years. He probably couldn’t care less that she was here with Gideon—any more than she cared who he was with. Any feeling she had otherwise was probably just a leftover from when they had been together. Back then, Marc had been extremely possessive of her. But then, she’d felt the same way about him.

“Isabel?” Gideon’s smooth voice dropped an octave as concern clouded his bright green eyes. “Are you all right? You’ve seemed off ever since I picked you up.”

He was right. She had been off—and not just for the past half hour. She’d been feeling strange ever since her encounter with Marc in the hallway earlier that day. And now, knowing that he was here made her feel a million times more off-kilter.

To make up for it, she flashed Gideon a wide, warm smile. “I’m sorry. I’ve just been caught up in my thoughts. But I’ll put them away for now, I promise.”

He grinned back at her. “Careful with that smile, woman. It’s a lethal weapon.” His own grin faded. “You know, if you need anything you can count on me, right?”

“Of course. But I’m fine. I swear.” She leaned into him, gave him a brief kiss on his cheek. “Though I am thirsty.”

“Your usual?” he asked, steering her toward a group of colleagues that they were both friendly with.

“That would be perfect.”

After depositing her among their friends, Gideon took off toward the bar. Isa tried to relax, to enjoy the ebb and flow of the quick-witted conversation she was usually right in the middle of. But she couldn’t. Not when it felt as if Marc’s eyes were boring holes right between her shoulder blades.

“So, how was the ballet you went to last week?” asked Maribel, one of the other professors at the GIA. “I’m so sad I had to miss it.”

“Yes, well, I think an appointment with your obstetrician trumps an afternoon at the theater,” Isa told her. “But the ballet was great. It was student written and performed, but you would have never known it. The San Diego Ballet Academy has a really good program.”

“Well the next time one of those afternoons of student work comes along, I want in. Even if it means I have to get a babysitter.” Mirabel softly rubbed her swollen tummy.

“How is the baby? And how are you feeling?”

“The baby’s fine and I feel gigantic. I can’t believe I have two more months of this to go.”

“Hopefully it will go fast,” her husband, Michael, told her as he gently rubbed her back.

She snorted in response. “Really? And you know this because you’re carrying around a beach ball in your stomach?”

They all laughed, even Michael, and Isa felt the tension finally begin to drain from her shoulders. Yes, Marc was here but there was no reason they had to do anything more than exchange a polite hello. If that.

Gideon came back with her drink—a crisp, cold glass of Pinot Grigio—but before she could do more than smile her thanks at him, she heard the dean’s voice right behind her. “Good evening, everyone. I’d like to introduce you to the newest guest lecturer on our faculty.”

The man hadn’t even said Marc’s name before her stomach dropped to her toes. Because, really, who else would the dean be personally escorting around the cocktail party besides the CEO of the second largest diamond conglomerate in the world?

Her friends welcomed Marc easily, much to her dismay. Not that she could have expected any differently. They were a fabulous, friendly, nosy bunch of people and any new lecturer—especially one of Marc’s stature—would be of interest to them.

He fit in well, of course. Remembered everyone’s name on the first go round. Told a quick story with a punch line that had everyone roaring with laughter. Asked appropriate questions that gave everyone in the group a chance to show off a little.

In other words, Marc was in perfect social mode—the one he slipped into so easily when he was doing the party circuit and the one she’d never been able to perfect, no matter how hard she’d tried. When they’d been together, she’d wanted to be the fiancée he could be proud of. She had tried so hard to be as charming and at ease as Marc was in the various social situations he’d thrust her into. But the fact of the matter was, she was shy.

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