Sold into Marriage(5)

By: Ann Major


“Lucas?” She laughed. “You know how he is. Go to Paris now! Stop her!”

“With Abigail coming? This is my first vacation in a year!”

“I can’t forget your marriage to Celia. Do you want that for Lucas? Or for the girl?”

Adam had gone cold.

Across the courtyard, the redhead was gazing out at the night and looking wistful. He forgot his mission and his mother. Heart pounding, Adam stared at her pale face and enormous eyes, at her half-opened mouth, and at her breasts. The rhythm of his heart sped up, and he forgot himself, forgot his brother, mother…everything.

The apartment suddenly felt so hellishly hot, he swiped his hand across his perspiring brow.

He expelled a harsh breath. Damn. Suddenly the bulge under his fly felt huge. Suddenly he wanted her enough to risk everything, even his brother’s hatred, to have her.

Cursing, he willed himself to close his eyes, to shut her out, to slam out of his apartment and leave Paris.

Instead, he took an involuntary step toward the window.

Lucas. He was here to protect Lucas from making the same mistake he’d made.

Adam begrudged the effort it took to turn his thoughts back to Lucas.

Writing? Lucas fantasizing he was Hemingway.

Give me a break!

Writing was an excuse so Lucas could pretend he was doing something other than living off his trust fund. His free lifestyle, and the way he always bragged that he was a Ryder, had attracted a slew of undesirable “friends.”

On the surface, Josephine Navarre hadn’t sounded quite as bad as the rest. True, she had a chaotic history. Yes, she’d recently fallen for a notorious, narcissistic bad boy of the art world. Somehow the older, opportunistic Barnardo had shot a video of her when she was sitting nude in a white-tiled shower. Water had been streaming over her while she wept inconsolably, looking lost and young and incredibly vulnerable. Had she known she was being filmed?

Barnardo had cleverly crosscut these shots with clips of her wealthy family and their Middle-eastern friends and their offshore drilling rigs. He’d inserted footage of their gorgeous mansion in the Garden District along with images of ruined, lower-class, New Orleans neighborhoods. Then he’d shown their family-owned barges and crew boats in the Atchafalaya Swamp beside cypress trees that had been cut down and scattered like matchsticks.

Worst of all, Barnardo had exhibited his little reality montage in a leading museum during a recent oil crisis to much acclaim from environmentalist groups. The exhibit had garnered an excessive amount of publicity. Her family’s empire had suffered a major financial hit and her brothers had been accused of corruption.

The Navarres had had the film seized, sued everyone involved and had packed Josie off to Paris.

Hell.

Even before his mother had convinced him to come, Adam had been concerned when Lucas had shown him a three-carat diamond ring and had told him he intended to propose to Miss Navarre on top of the Eiffel Tower.

Why? Because she was crazy about that particular edifice.

“You just said she won’t even date you!”

“I’m in love, and so is she. There’s this weirdo, who betrayed her, and this totally weirdo vow she made to herself—not to date anybody new for six months.”

“The last thing you need is a wife. You haven’t even established a career.”

“Hell, who are you to talk to me? You were younger than me when you married Celia! Look what you did to her!”

“Exactly!”

So, here Adam was, alone in Paris, wasting his precious Christmas holidays spying on a pretty swamp girl who might or might not be as bad as his mother feared. Bottom line: he should be at the ranch courting Abigail.

Deliberately he lowered his gaze to Josie’s breasts and thighs, meaning to make a sexual object of her again. Instead, his gaze focused on her long neck, which was soft and golden and lovely.

Now that was a bona fide work of art. He could see why that guy, Barnardo, might have been tempted to capture her on video.

Adam found himself wondering just how warm and soft she’d feel.

Something fierce and visceral possessed him. He swore again, silently, viciously.

He forgot Lucas. He wanted her for himself.

Her long lashes fluttered like fans against her cheeks and then stilled. With her eyes closed, she looked younger, vulnerable. Easily, Adam imagined a beautiful, dirtily clad, abandoned little girl, alone on a barge in a swamp, growing up with crude, uncaring people.

Suddenly he felt the baffling darkness without end she must have felt.

Why had she been crying in that video? Why had she told Lucas she’d been betrayed?

For a long moment she stood there. As if she sensed him, her breath clouded the pane. Her gaze filled with so much longing, he drew a sharp, painful breath and fought for control.

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