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DANE

A Donovan Dynasty Novel



A.C. Arthur

An Artistry Publishing Book


DANE, Copyright © 2018 by A.C. Arthur

First Edition: 2018

www.acarthur.net


All rights reserved. This book is protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the publisher.



This book is a work of fiction. Characters, names, locations, events and incidents (in either a contemporary and/or historical setting) are products of the author’s imagination and are being used in an imaginative manner as a part of this work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual events, locations, settings or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.


Cover Design by Croco Designs



Dear Reader,


We’re taking the next step! Leaping forward to a new segment in the world of our beloved Donovans.


I want to take this moment to thank you from the bottom of my heart, for sticking with me and this series for so long. It is because of you and your love of the Donovan family, that I am able to open the door to a new day in their lives.


Dane Donovan was first introduced in EMBRACED BY A DONOVAN. He was the Secret Son featured in the last five books of the Donovan Series. And now, Dane has his own story. I originally had a different title for this book, but after thinking about all that this story would encompass, I knew the title had to speak for itself. This book is about Dane—the man, the lover, the first chapter of THE DONOVAN DYNASTY.


It is my hope that you will enjoy this journey Dane is about to take and that you will also fall in love with Zera Kennedy, the woman who stole Dane’s heart, not once, but twice and ultimately, forever.

Happy Reading,

ac





PART I



Love, like rain, does not choose the grass on which it falls.

--South African Proverb





Chapter 1


Paris, France


“He’s dead,” she said, her tone void of any emotion, eyes focused intently on him.

“Just in case you’re wondering what I’m doing at the museum alone on a balmy

summer evening. There’s your answer. Emmet is dead.”

Dane did not respond. He could only stand frozen to that spot, staring.

He hadn’t anticipated seeing her. In fact, he’d tried desperately to keep any thought of her out of his mind as he’d instructed his assistant to make arrangements for this trip. If he had assumed he would see her, surely he would have thought of something casual to say to her. Or perhaps it would not have been casual at all, considering the events that had taken place the last time he’d seen her. At this moment, he was caught off guard. And he didn’t like it.

Zera Kennedy stood just a few feet from him and Dane could not speak. It had been four years since he’d last seen her. Four years since she’d looked him in the eye and confirmed with her silence that the passionate nights they’d shared for two months had meant nothing, and that her heart was promised to another. To Dane’s college friend, Emmet Parks.

Dane wouldn’t pronounce that she’d broken his heart. He never gave his heart to be broken. Shock and disappointment more appropriately described his feelings when he’d seen Zera standing beside Emmet. He wasn’t sure how he felt about seeing her now.

She looked amazing. Just as she had the first day he’d met her, ironically, right here where they presently stood just inside the pyramid entrance to The Louvre. Her hair hung long and straight past her shoulders, her almond-colored eyes assessing him. Dane hadn’t forgotten the soft touch of her lips, the smoothness of her skin or its deep sepia, reddish-brown tone. And while he used every bit of restraint he possessed to keep his gaze above the shoulders, he recalled with great clarity every enticing inch of her svelte body.

“Are we going to stand here and stare at each other as if we have no words?” she asked.

Dane smoothed a hand over his low-trimmed beard and replied, “No.”

He breathed in easily, releasing the breath slowly and resigned himself to the unexpected reunion.

“It’s good seeing you again, Zera.”

It was, he thought, even though his body hadn’t quite caught up to the practiced calm of his brain. He was reacting to her in the same way he had four years ago. His fingers tingled with the urge to touch her and his blood pulsated hot and quick through his veins at the possibility of her naked body against his. He swallowed hard and continued to stare into her eyes. Zera was tall, six feet exactly, he recalled. So they were just about eye level with his six foot four-inch stature.

She nodded and her hair fell like ebony sheets around her face. Dane wanted to reach out and touch the silken strands or to tuck them behind her ear the way he used to. He refrained.

“Are you here to see a particular exhibit?” he asked.

“I’m here to see everything,” she replied.

She’d said that the day they’d met. It had been raining. The sky and the landscape surrounding it a dusky gray tone with the cool drizzle of rain falling just like an old film still of Paris. Dane had run into the building, shaking water from his jacket as he’d waited to purchase his ticket. He’d only walked a few feet past the ticket booth before seeing her at the information desk where maps of the museum in different languages could be obtained. He’d tried not to stare that day and attempted to not appear as awestruck by her presence as he’d felt. He had selected the English map and noticed that she’d picked up the one in French. At the time, his French speaking skills had been rusty at best, but he’d managed to say something. And she’d smiled before chuckling. I’m here to see everything, she’d said to him in perfect English. You should see everything as well.

And he had, with her by his side. Tonight, that first meeting didn’t seem like too long ago. Especially now that she was once again staring back at him, waiting for his response.

“I’m here to see that too,” Dane said after the pause. “We can see everything together.”

It was an invitation. One he wasn’t totally sure why he’d extended.

She pushed her hair back from her face and squared her shoulders. “Yes. We can.”

Now, it was too late to take it back.

Dane walked toward the information desk with her beside him. He didn’t think about their past. This time he thought about the last nine months of his life. About finalizing the last details of his mother and sister’s estates. He thought about having to bury the only two people in this world that he’d ever loved unconditionally. And then he thought about what those two people had done to so many others. That’s why he was here in Paris now. Because those thoughts had weighed him down for far too long and he’d needed to find some peace and some calm in order to continue. When Zera touched him, snapping him out of the dark memories, he wondered if peace and calm would ever be possible.

It was a gentle hand to his arm, casual and light. Nothing for him to read into. Still, every part of him halted as he looked over to her.

“We do not need a map,” she said. “I have been here so much I know my way around pretty well.”

Had she come here after he’d gone? Of course she had, why wouldn’t she? Besides, the answer to that was obvious since she was here now and had no idea that he would be too.

“Then I’ll follow your lead,” Dane told her.

He wasn’t used to following anyone, in any respect. He’d made his fortune through a strategic investment which gave him the capital to buy a fledgling energy company. And in the last ten years he’d worked hard to grow that small company into Imagine Energy Corporation, a global conglomerate with ventures including oil and gas exploration and production, petroleum refining and chemical production, and the marketing of petroleum and chemical products. Through Imagine’s core, wholly owned subsidiaries, joint ventures and its global affiliates, Dane employed 400,000 people. He was a self-made success, without the prestige of the family name he carried, and a forty-one year-old man who had taken care of himself since he was seventeen years’ old. But he would happily follow Zera Kennedy, again.

“We will head toward the Pavilion des Sessions,” she said and walked them through the riverside Grande Galerie.

Dane remembered this impressive palace and art museum, outside of it being the place where he’d met Zera. Intricately detailed murals lined the ceilings while heavy gold molding supported the structure. Along both sides, the walls held massive portraits depicting the French history.

“Toward the Arts of Africa,” he said recalling her favorite location in this museum.

The look she gave him said she was shocked that he remembered. The warmth that spread through him when she smiled, said there was nothing about her he was likely to ever forget.

Zera was from Nairobi, Kenya. Her mother was a nurse in Nairobi. She was an only child and had attended college in the States before moving to Paris. That, to Dane’s chagrin, was all he actually knew about her. Other than the physical knowledge that he’d accumulated during the sixty days and fifty-nine nights in her arms.

“We are going to see all of the non-European art. Then, if there is time, we will see more,” she told him.

They would have time, he thought as they continued to walk. He could make the time. True, he had come to Paris with the hope of finding some balance in his life. But surely he could make a detour. Wasn’t that what Zera was? Then and now? A detour from Dane’s real life. Or was he getting too old for detours?

“Come on,” she said and reached out to take his hand. “You are walking too slow. The museum will close in two hours.”

Before Dane could respond she’d laced her fingers through his and was heading down the stairs in a quick trot. He easily kept up with her while marveling at how warm her hand felt in his. How her fingers clasped easily with his own and how much he’d missed such a simple, yet enticing contact with a woman.

Not just any woman, Dane realized when they’d cleared the steps and she released his hand. This woman—Zera. Not only had he never forgotten her, but he apparently hadn’t gotten over her either. He wondered what that meant and if perhaps coming to Paris had been a colossal mistake.



Shit.

Zera was messing this up.

Being too friendly, acting too much like nothing had happened.

When so much had.

Emmet was dead.

And Hiari was still missing.

Yet, here she was standing next to Dane Donovan wishing like hell for him to touch her. Take her hand. Put his arm around her. Kiss her temple the way he’d done before. She’d wanted him fiercely four years ago. She’d allowed herself to believe in the possibility of a future with this man. A future with someone who made her laugh and aroused her in a way she’d never experienced before, or since.

But she’d given it up. She’d let that dream, the possibilities and the hope slip through her fingers.

Now, Zera clenched her fingers together, hating that she’d lost so much more than Dane in the years since he’d left Paris. She’d lost so much that in the six months since Emmet’s death, she’d begun to feel desolate and displaced. Tonight, however, she’d felt inspired and so she’d left her apartment after she wasn’t sure how long and came here. It was as if some part of her had known he would be here. Of course that was foolish. But Zera could not deny the spike of happy that had soared through her the moment she’d seen him. That feeling had been so foreign to her lately, she’d almost forgotten how it felt.

“You favor the terracotta sculptures,” she said when it felt as if they’d been silent for too long.

That was a contradiction to the fact that she was certain she was talking too much, but she couldn’t help it. She hadn’t talked to anyone about art or food or the time of day to be exact, in far too long.

“That one is from Nigeria,” she continued. “Conical heads, short tubular bodies and simplified faces are prevalent in the Nok sculpture. Traditional or tribal African sculptures often deal primarily with the human form. Animals and mythical creatures are also favored forms of art expression.”

He did not look at her but he did nod as she spoke. His attention stayed focused on the sculpture. Zera tried to keep further comments to herself as she realized he was really studying the art work. But there was so much more she wanted to say.

She wanted to ask Dane how he’d been. How was work? Zera knew that Dane ran his own company and several subsidiaries of such. She’d also read somewhere that he’d bought shares into Donovan Oilwell, a U.S. based company with a London office. There’d also been some talk about the Donovan family and a couple of murders in the past year. But that was none of her business. Dane was no longer her business. That’s what she’d said as she ordered herself not to keep tabs on him any longer. Her resolve had been working, until now.

“I have a home in New York. I’ve been looking for others.”

Realizing quickly that he was speaking to her, Zera readily replied, “These are not for sale. In fact, I believe this part of the exhibit is on loan from another museum. But I know of a few galleries in the U.S. that specifically carry African art.”

With his hands clasped behind his back, Dane turned slowly until he was now facing her. He was still one hell of a man. Tall—which was actually a relief to Zera considering her own height—broad shoulders, slightly bowed legs, tree bark brown skin and smoldering dark brown eyes. The lightly-trimmed beard was new, but the thick brows and close-cut black hair was the same. The scent of his cologne was different, but still mesmerizing. And his stance was still powerful and domineering. If she were another type of woman, she might be inclined to sigh at the sight of him. Considering she’d never been the type to want and not make every effort to get, she openly admired him without pretense.

He knew she liked what she saw. She could tell by the slight lifting at the corner of his mouth and the way his eyes darkened. Dane appreciated honesty and having a woman ride him until he came. Zera warmed at the memory.

“You would share your connections with me?” he asked, his voice suddenly deeper.

I would have shared my whole world with you.

Those words thankfully remained in her mind.

“Of course,” she said. “I actually know a very talented sculptor from Nairobi. He has not been featured at a museum yet. But his work is phenomenal. I will get you his contact information and his website.”

“Thanks,” Dane replied. “I would appreciate that.”

The next moments passed with them staring at each other, wondering which one would act first. This was different, she thought. When they’d met before there was no such contest. Dane acted and she reacted. She acted and he returned in kind. They were combustible from the first moment they met. This time, there’d been a low simmer the moment she’d seen him step away from the ticket booth. Her heart rate had quickened as the decision to stay or leave warred in her mind. Of course she’d stayed.

“We will have to leave,” he said. “The museum is closing in fifteen minutes.”

Zera lifted an arm and looked at her watch. He was correct. This was not one of the two late nights the museum offered, so they would have to leave. No matter how much she wanted to stay with him. That lack of control was familiar and irritating.

Her response was to begin walking toward the exit. Dane fell into step beside her.

“How long are you staying in Paris?” she asked because she would kick herself the rest of the night if she did not get at least some answers to the questions gnawing at her.

“I booked the hotel for two weeks,” he said.

“Business?”

“Vacation,” he replied.

She turned to him, unable to mask her surprise. “Dane Donovan is taking a vacation. I do not believe it.”

She chuckled and was rewarded by the appearance of a slow, half smile. They were rare and breath-snatching and Zera was pleased that she’d managed to get one from him before they parted ways.

“It’s been a very busy year for me. I thought a break would be good to prepare for the new work on the horizon.”

“Oh, new work. What business are you planning to buy this time? Or do you already own the world?” she asked with only a slight bit of humor.

Dane was an ambitious man. He worked hard and tirelessly, to the point she’d once thought he was trying to prove himself to someone. Or possibly to himself.

“I will be sitting on the Board of Directors for Donovan Oilwell International,” he said as they passed into the Grande Galerie once more.

“Really?” she asked.

He looked as if he wanted to say something, but a couple brushed past them in their hurry to exit the museum, and he shrugged in response.

“New business ventures are always my goal,” he said.

Zera nodded. “I recall.”

She was startled momentarily by his next move. His fingers snaked around her wrist as he pulled her to the side, turning her so that her back was to the wall. When their gazes met, he immediately released his hold on her, but did not step back. He was in her personal space and she did not mind that at all. In fact, she lifted a hand, flattening her palm on his chest as if she meant to hold him back, but without applying any pressure.

“What else do you recall, Zera?” he asked, lowering his voice until she almost couldn’t hear him.

“Dane,” was all she could manage at the moment.

He was staring at her so intently. There was so much she wanted to say, and more that she knew she could not divulge. She felt trapped. Not by him or his imposing physique. Not by the desire to kiss him, or to wrap her legs around his waist and beg him to take her. But by their world. By everything and everyone around them. By circumstances that she could neither share nor change.

“Do you recall each of those nights we spent together?” His questions continued. “Do you recall how good it felt when we were connected? When I was deep inside you and you were so tight and warm around me?”

Zera licked her lips because that memory had been what got her through on so many of the nights since he’d been gone.

“I remember,” she admitted.

A muscle twitched in his jaw.

“Do you remember telling me that you had never felt that way before? That there had never been another to bring you to climax the way I did?”

Why was he doing this? Why here? Why now?

She nodded, unable and unwilling to lie about such a simple and yet soul-searing truth.

“I remember it all, Dane. Every night. Every dinner. Every breakfast you burned and every bath you drew for me,” she said, her voice a breathless whisper. “I remember your touch. Your kiss. The way you filled me so completely. I remember it all.”

And the memory had nearly killed her.

“Then tell me why,” he said solemnly. “Tell me why you chose him over me.”

The request caught Zera off guard. She’d expected him to say this four years ago. Not now.

A guard cleared his throat loudly and Zera let her hand fall from Dane’s chest.

Dane waited another few seconds before stepping back and away from her. He turned and was walking before she’d completely gathered herself. In moments, she fell into step behind him, not wanting to get closer. Not wanting him to make that request again.

She didn’t have to worry. Dane did not say another word to her while they were in the museum. And when they were outside, he asked curtly, “Do you need a ride?”

“I have my own,” she replied without thinking.

“Then goodnight,” he said before walking away swiftly.

Zera did not curse. She did not cry. And just like four years ago, she did not go after him. Instead, she watched for a few minutes more, until he disappeared in the crowd of people, before turning in the opposite direction and leaving.

Her steps were heavy as she walked, her heart doing a wild dance that crossed between the happiness of seeing him again, the arousal of him being so close and talking about their time together, and the utter disappointment of being unable to stop the inevitable from happening all over again.






Chapter 2


The second Dane entered his hotel room his cell phone rang. He quickly pulled the phone from his pant pocket, only to sigh with disappointment as he looked at the screen to see who was calling.

It wasn’t Zera.

She did not have his new number, nor did he have hers. They were just two people in this big city who had run into each other at the museum. That somehow did not ring true, but Dane answered his phone rather than continue to think about it.

“Hi, Son. Just checking to make sure you’re settling in alright.”

“Hey,” Dane replied, hesitating at saying the word “dad.” “Just came in from an outing. But other than that, all is well.”

He closed the door behind him and entered the room, taking a seat in the chair closest to the window. Dane enjoyed looking out at Paris lit up at night. Actually, he had a thing for cityscapes. Paris was one of his favorites. New York City’s was another, even though he lived in Upstate New York.

“That’s good. Do you have any plans for your time away?”

Bernard Donovan’s deep gruff voice sounded over the phone. It was a voice Dane had become accustomed to hearing over the past nine months. The voice of his biological father.

“Nothing in particular,” Dane replied. “I have a few business calls to make and the meeting with Roark in a few days.”

“That’s right,” Bernard said. “He’s my cousin Gabe’s oldest son. Roark’s a good one. His father trained him well, so when Gabe passed after the heart attack, Roark was able to step right in and take care of his mother, Maxine. And he made sure Ridge and Suri went to college before joining the company.”

Gabriel Donovan was the son of Aaron Donovan. Aaron was the brother of Isaiah Donovan, Dane’s grandfather. The Donovans had an intricate family tree that started with a patch of land Dane’s great-great grandfather inherited in Gillespie County, Texas in 1908. From there Dane’s grandfather Rowan Donovan, along with his brother Charleston struck oil at the Beaumont Ranch and Donovan Oilwell, Inc. was born. Years later, as the Donovan offspring each went their own way across the world, starting families, some continued to work at Donovan Oilwell while others started their own successful businesses.

Dane knew the Donovan family history well. Now, it was time he got to know the family members too.

“I believe Ridge will also be at the meeting,” Dane said to Bernard.

“That’s good that you’re joining forces with the family. This new business venture should work to solidify your rightful place in the family business.”

His rightful place. Dane’s mother, Roslyn Ausby, used to say that to him in those years that she’d been blackmailing Albert, Henry and Bernard Donovan, over which one of them was Dane’s biological father. Roslyn had insisted that Dane was a Donovan and that part of the family’s massive fortune belonged to him. Dane had made his own fortune, so finding out who his father was had nothing to do with money as far as he was concerned. The reluctantly taken DNA test had revealed Bernard Donovan as Dane’s father. And now they were here, having one of many conversations they’d had in the last nine months. Conversations which were meant to bring father and son closer. Dane was all for making the effort.

“Your brothers have done an exceptional job bringing Donovan Oilwell into the 21st century. And Roark and Ridge have worked tirelessly to achieve the same results for Donovan Oilwell UK. Expanding into the clean air market with a focus on fostering sustainable cities, is a logical next step for the overall Donovan Oilwell brand,” Dane said.

It was the same pitch Dane delivered to Roark and the same presentation, Dane and his cousin would make to the executives they’d selected to work at the new Donovan International headquarters in London.

“They’re your uncles, Dane,” Bernard stated evenly. I’m your father and the Donovans are your family.”

But only for the last nine months. Before then, Dane’s only family had been Roslyn and Jaydon, his younger sister.

“I know,” he said, because he did know the truth now. It was still hard digesting all of it—the blackmail, his mother’s mental illness which drove her to kill and kidnap in her outrage, his sister’s duplicity, and both of their eventual deaths. Not to mention the three men who had slept with his mother and then cohesively denied the child she’d carried. It was a lot to take in. And another reason for the semi-vacation.

“How’s Keysa and Madison?” Dane asked in an effort to shift the topic.

Keysa was Bernard’s daughter with his first wife Mary Lee Donovan and Madison was Keysa’s one year-old daughter.

“They’re doing really well. I was in Detroit just last weekend visiting with them. Keysa and Ian are planning a huge Labor Day cookout to make up for everyone who missed Madison’s first birthday party. So be sure to keep some time free on your calendar so you won’t miss it. I know she’ll want you to be there.”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Dane said. While he was still adjusting to being part of such a large family, the thought of seeing his niece again made Dane smile.

She was a precious little girl who knew nothing about his past or the wrongs his mother or the Senior Donovan men had done. She was innocent and pure and each time she looked up at Dane it was with unconditional love. Something he’d never known in his life.

“Brynne and Wade will travel for the party as well, I presume,” Dane said. One thing he’d learned about the Donovan family, even before he’d been accepted into the fold, was that they were a loyal bunch. They supported each other in everything from business ventures outside of the family oilwell, to weddings, baby showers, and now with the 4th generation marrying and having children, birthday parties.

“Yeah, they’ll be out. Your youngest sister is doing really well with her new job running the San Francisco branch of the Lakefield Galleries,” Bernard said proudly.

Brynne was Bernard’s daughter from his second, and now ex-wife, Jocelyn.

“I talked to her just before I left the States,” Dane said. “She’s looking into a few paintings I was interested in.”

“Good. Good,” Bernard said. “I’m so glad my children are all coming together.”

Dane did not respond.

“You know I’ve been thinking a lot in these past months,” Bernard continued. “Not about the mistakes I’ve made, because I’ve apologized for them and I’m dedicated to doing whatever I need to do to make things right in the present. But instead I’ve been thinking about the future.”

Dane held the phone to his ear as he looked out to the evening sky. He slipped a hand into his front pant pocket while he waited for whatever else his father wanted to say.

“I’m thinking about asking Mary Lee out on a date,” Bernard said. “I know it’s been more than twenty years since we were married. But to be honest, I was always confused by why she left me in the first place. And since Keysa had the baby, I’ve been going to Detroit more frequently and you know Mary Lee lives there. So I’ve been seeing her more frequently. Of course, you know, we’re connected by our daughter and our grandbaby. But I don’t know, the last few times I’ve been feeling like there may be something more to it.”

Was his father asking for his advice? Dane never had any close guy friends to exchange advice on dating or women in general before. He wasn’t sure what to say.

“It’s silly, huh? Thinking about asking out a woman you were once married to.” Bernard chuckled. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“Ask her,” Dane said.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” he continued with a slight grin. “You like her. You want to take her out on a date. Ask her. What’s the worst that can happen?

Bernard chuckled. “She can say no.”

Dane shrugged. “Well, she married you once. She had your daughter. Then she left you. Now, you’re sharing an adorable granddaughter. Even if she turns down your offer of a date, you still have all that history together.”

“Yeah, I guess you’ve got a point there, Son. “

As he listened to his advice to Bernard, Dane thought of a particular woman that he had history with.

The phone call ended a few minutes later with Dane promising to touch base with Bernard again next week. It was weird to type a date and time to call his father into the calendar on his phone. He’d never had a father to call before. Now, he could admit it felt kind of good.

What didn’t feel good was showering and sitting down heavily on the bed with thoughts of Zera Kennedy plaguing him. He’d been successful in keeping her out of his mind—for the most part—over the past years. He’d decided when he boarded that plane and left Paris four years ago that there was no going back. Dane never liked to look back. The future was forward. Always. So he’d tried to forget the betrayal that had cut through his chest like a hot blade. He tried to tamp down the hurt that threatened to take over his every action in those days following her decision to stay with Emmet. And he’d told himself that he would get over it, that it was no big deal.

Seeing her today, Dane had proven himself wrong.

Finding out that Zera was involved with Emmet Parks had been a huge deal. It had crushed any ideas that Dane had about being in a personal relationship with a woman. But today he’d touched her. He’d been so close to her that he could smell the sweet scent of her perfume. He’d listened to her speak, her tone heavy with the African accent that was her heritage. He’d looked at her and remembered every time he’d touched or tasted her.

And now he was damned. Again.

Switching off the lights he lay back against the pillows and closed his eyes. But even that didn’t work. He still saw her, still heard her voice. And when he inhaled deeply, he could smell her once again. His body hardened, his mind blocking out everything but her and the glorious two months they’d spent together.

He wanted Zera Kennedy. Again.

He still wasn’t sure if she wanted him.



Zera drove through the wet streets of the city, turning and detouring, making her ride home last much longer than it needed to. Rain splashed against the windshield and rolled down the side windows. It was a torrential drenching, one which seemed to fit well with the stormy mood brewing inside of her.

She still couldn’t believe she’d run into Dane, after all this time. The decision to visit The Louvre this evening had been an impulsive one. She’d spent the day inside her apartment as she had so many days before. But as the afternoon dragged on and the pity party she’d been deeply ensconced in since January became repugnant, she’d decided that some fresh air was a good idea. Did she somehow know that he was going to be there? Of course that was ridiculous. She could not have known. She hadn’t spoken to Dane since the day he’d left her standing beside Emmet at Emmet’s New Year’s Eve party.

Emmet had reserved the entire Four Seasons George V resort—meaning he was able to transform every event space in the resort into a private celebratory oasis for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Zera recalled the amount of money it had taken to secure the venue, catering and transportation for most of Emmet’s more important associates. It had been exorbitant, but then she’d expected nothing less of him.

She wore the off-the-shoulder form-fitting red dress, with its sheer train hanging down to the floor that Emmet had delivered to her the night before. The dress barely skimmed her upper thighs and made her feel way more exposed than if everyone in the room had known where she’d come from and why she was truly there. Revealing dresses weren’t her favorite, but she’d known Emmet for almost three months at that time, and already she’d surmised that he did not like being disappointed. And the people who were foolish enough to disappoint him didn’t care for Emmet’s reaction to whatever they’d done to displease them. Probably because they ended up injured, maimed, or dead.

The ballroom she was in had been decorated in gold, silver and black. Lavish centerpieces of gold candles dangling off the ends of black branches that had been stuffed into tall crystal vases on each table. On black linen covered tables, paper top hats were stacked in pyramids and ropes of beads lay haphazardly. Flutes full of champagne filled silver trays that were carried by servers who walked around the room for easy access. A DJ played everything from Hip Hop to Pop, and during dinner, Jazz. Zera stood near the doors leading to the patio, one arm crossing her waist as she held her nearly empty glass of champagne in the other hand.

“I’ve been looking for you,” Emmet had said from behind her.

She hadn’t heard him approach and wouldn’t berate herself for the lapse in attention either. There were at least three hundred people in this ballroom and the music was blasting. That was a justifiable excuse, but the real reason she hadn’t heard Emmet was because she’d been too busy thinking of another man.

“I’m right here,” she’d replied in a voice void of her African accent. “I figured you would be making your rounds and I didn’t want to disturb you.”

That had been partially true.

“You could never be a disturbance,” Emmet had continued as he trailed the tips of his fingers along the bare skin of her shoulder.

His touch made her feel weird. It hadn’t when she’d first met him, but in the past two months another man’s touch had brought new life to Zera’s body. There was no comparison, so enduring Emmet’s touch was a little harder to stand. But she did. There was no other choice.

“And I’d actually like you to meet someone,” Emmet had continued.

Zera relaxed enough to smile as she finally turned completely toward where Emmet stood. The action caused his hand to fall from her shoulder, but Emmet immediately turned so that he was now standing beside her. His arm went around her waist as he pulled her close to his side. Then she saw the man Emmet wanted her to meet and her smile faltered.


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