Claimed(5)

By: Tracy Wolff


“I don’t have time for this,” she told him with an annoyed snarl. “And while I’d like to say it was nice seeing you again, we both know that I’d be lying. So—” she gave him a mock salute “—have a nice life.”

Turning on her heel, she once again started down the empty hallway. This time she only made it a couple of steps before he wrapped one large, calloused hand around her wrist and tugged her to a stop.

“You don’t actually think it’s going to be that easy, do you?”

His rough fingers stroked the delicate skin at the inside of her wrist. It was a familiar caress, one he’d done so often in their months together that she’d felt his phantom stroking in that exact spot for months—years—after they’d broken up. Even now, with everything that had passed between them, with the power he held to ruin her life all over again, her traitorous heart beat uncontrollably fast at the light touch.

Furious with herself for being so easy—and at him for being so damn appealing—she yanked her arm from his grasp with more force than his gentle hold demanded. She ended up stumbling back a couple steps before she could catch herself, a reaction that just annoyed her more. Why was she constantly making a fool of herself in front of this man?

Infusing her voice with as much frigidness as she could muster, she forced herself to meet his gaze. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Those glorious eyes of his mocked her. “Still a good liar, I see.” He reached out and ran a hand over her braid. “Nice to see some things haven’t changed.”

“I never lied to you.”

“But you didn’t tell me the truth, either. Even when doing so would have saved my company and me one hell of a lot of time, money and embarrassment.”

Old guilt swamped her at his words. She tried to push it away, but it was too constant a companion for her to do anything more than invite it in like she always did. Still, she refused to take all the blame in this situation. Not when the tender man she used to know had vanished like so much smoke. “Yes, well, you seemed to have landed on your feet.”

“As have you.” He very deliberately glanced into the classroom she had just vacated. “A professor at the GIA, one of the world’s leading experts on conflict-free diamonds. I have to admit, when you disappeared so completely, I thought you’d decided to follow in your father’s footsteps.”

Isa drew in a sharp breath, horrified that his words still had the ability to hurt her, even after all this time. “I’m not a thief.” She’d meant the words to sound scornful, but her voice broke in the middle of the sentence.

His look darkened and for a second, just a second, she thought he would reach out to her. To touch her like he used to—with so much tenderness that she couldn’t feel anything but cherished. Every nerve ending in her body tingled at the thought and despite his hurtful words—despite everything that had passed between them—she almost melted into him. She had to lock her knees, in fact, to keep from leaning on him as she had so many times before.

But then he cleared his throat and the spell was broken. All the bad memories poured into her, overwhelming the good from one breath to the next. Tears burned behind her eyes, but she refused to shed them. Refused to be so weak in front of him. Besides, she’d already cried all the tears over him she ever would. Their relationship was in the past and she was going to keep it there.

She stepped back and this time he didn’t pursue her. He just watched her with a smirk on his face. She supposed that meant the next move was hers. So be it.

Taking a deep breath, she looked him square in the eyes and did the only thing she knew how to do at this point. She opened herself up and told him the truth. “Look, I know you want your pound of flesh, and God knows, you deserve it. I’m sorry, so, so sorry, for everything my father put you through. But he’s gone now and there’s nothing else I can do to make things right. Can you accept my heartfelt apology and then we can both move on? You teach your class, I’ll teach mine. And the past can stay dead.”

He didn’t move, didn’t so much as blink, but Isa swore she felt him recoil at her words. She waited nervously for him to say something, anything, but as the seconds ticked by and nothing was forthcoming, she grew more and more nervous. To be watched by Marc Durand was to be watched by a hungry predator, one whose teeth and claws, speed and intellect, gave him an advantage over every other species on the savannah. Or the beach, she admitted ruefully, looking out at the ocean through the windows at the end of the hall.

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