By: Tracy Wolff

She shifted under his scrutiny, uncomfortably aware that the last time he’d spent this much time looking at her she’d been naked and begging for him to make love to her. And while sleeping with him was the farthest thing from her mind right now, her traitorous body still remembered all the pleasure he’d brought her. Pleasure she had never seen the likes of before or since.

Her nipples hardened at the thought and her cheeks burned in humiliation. He hated her, was disgusted by her very presence. She’d spent six years in a new life, trying to forget him. And still she couldn’t help fantasizing about what it felt like to be in his arms. Marc was an incredible lover—passionate, unselfish, fun—and the months she’d spent with him had been the best of her life.

But they’d been followed by the worst, lowest months, she reminded herself bitterly. She needed to remember that. Just because her body was still attuned to him, still wanted him, didn’t mean the rest of her did. Sexual chemistry had only gotten them so far, after all.

He still hadn’t said anything and the sensually charged silence between them grew more and more uncomfortable—at least on her part.

Isa squared her shoulders, cleared her throat and said, “I really am late. I need to go.”

She hated that it sounded like she was asking his permission, but the connection that had sprung up between them was such that she wasn’t sure she’d be able to walk away if he didn’t do something to help her sever it.

“There’s a cocktail party tonight,” he said abruptly. “In the gem gallery.”

Surprised by the bizarre change in subject, she nonetheless nodded. “Yes. It’s the spring faculty mixer.”

“Go with me.”

Isa shook her head, certain she must have heard him wrong. Marc couldn’t possibly have asked her to attend the faculty cocktail party as his date? Why would he? Unless he planned to humiliate her there in front of all her colleagues.

The Marc she used to know, the one she’d been hopelessly in love with, would never do anything like that. But she hadn’t seen that man in six long years and this one—hard, angry, uncompromising—looked like he was capable of anything. She wanted no part of him, no matter what her pleasure-starved body said.

“I can’t.”

“Why not?” It was obvious he didn’t like her answer.

“I already have a date.” The words poured from her lips before she had a clue she was going to say them. And while they weren’t a lie, they weren’t strictly the truth, either. She and Gideon, another professor, had made plans to go together weeks ago. They were just friends, though, and she knew Gideon wouldn’t mind if she canceled on him.

But she would mind. She could barely stand the fifteen-minute conversation she and Marc were having in the hall. She couldn’t even imagine what would happen to her—or the new identity she’d worked so hard for—if she spent an entire evening in his company. If she gave in to the attraction that still flared between them. Besides, she might be insane enough to still be attracted to him, but her days of being his whipping girl were long over. She was nobody’s masochist.

“Who is he?” The words grated out from between his clenched teeth.

“Gideon. No one you know. But maybe I’ll see you there.”

She forced a smile she was far from feeling. She even gave a little wave before she started down the corridor for the third time in the past twenty minutes. This time he let her go.

By the time she opened the side door and stepped into the early spring sunlight, she’d almost convinced herself she was happy about that fact.

* * *

“Who pissed in your cornflakes?” Nic demanded.

Marc looked up from his computer with a scowl. Per his usual modus operandi at Bijoux’s new California headquarters, his little brother had barged unannounced into Marc’s office. Normally Marc didn’t mind, but right now, just hours after that conversation with Isa, dealing with Nic was the last thing he wanted to do. Not when his brother was unusually perceptive—not to mention his wicked and slightly strange sense of humor. It was a dangerous combination, one that usually required Marc to be on his toes if he had any hope of staying one step ahead. And today, he didn’t have it in him to even try.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Sure you do. Look at your face.”

“That’s pretty much impossible considering there’s no mirror in here.”

“Why, oh why, did I get stuck with a brother with absolutely no imagination?” Nic demanded, looking upward as he did—as if he expected the universe to answer his question. Frankly, Marc thought Nic had a better chance of finding the answer written on the ceiling than waiting for divine intervention, but he didn’t mention that. It would only give Nic more ammunition.