Eight

Hearing the latch click on the adjoining door, Sinclair broke out in a cold sweat. Her fingertips dug into the arms of the chair as she stared straight at the dove-gray painted panel.

The hinges glided silently and Hunter filled the doorway, his eyes simmering obsidian. But his voice was cool with control. “I thought we were a team.”

She wished he’d shout at her, wished he’d rant. She could take his anger a lot more easily than his disappointment.

She’d let him down. She wanted to explain. She wanted to apologize. But her vocal cords were temporarily paralyzed.

“I trusted you,” he continued. “I trusted your confidentiality. I trusted your discretion.”

She fought to say something, to gather her thoughts. “I didn’t know,” she finally blurted out.

“Didn’t know what? Was there something ambiguous about ‘don’t tell anyone, including Kristy and Jack’?”

“But that was before the deal went through.”

“The deal went through at 3:00 a.m. this morning. Are you telling me in the five minutes I was in the shower-” He snapped his jaw. “You called Kristy.” He gave a cold laugh. “You were so anxious to share gossip about my business dealings that you couldn’t even wait until morning?”

“It wasn’t gossip.”

“Do you have any idea what you’ve done?”

She slowly shook her head. She could only imagine the implications of her behavior now that she had all the facts.

“Well, that makes two of us,” he said. “Because I just offered to sell out of Osland International.”

The contents of her stomach turned to a concrete mass.

She opened her mouth, but he waved a dismissive hand. “Much as I’d like to sit around and debate this with you, I’ve got a few problems to solve this morning. I’ll have to talk to you later.”

Then he turned back to his own room, shutting the door firmly behind him.

Sinclair’s cell phone chimed.

She glanced reflexively down to see Kristy’s number on the readout. She couldn’t talk to her sister now. She didn’t think she could talk to anyone.

There was every possibility she’d ruined Hunter’s life. The worry that she might not get plum assignments or choice promotions at Lush Beauty faded to nothing in the face of that reality.

She stared at nothing for nearly an hour, then shoved herself into a standing position. She crossed to the closet and took out the clothes she’d been wearing when she arrived in Paris. They looked pale and boring compared to the new outfits, but she didn’t have the heart to wear any of them.

She combed her hair, brushed her teeth, left the cosmetics on the counter and gathered up the suitcase with her old clothes inside. It seemed like a long walk to the elevator, longer still across the marble-floored atrium in the hotel lobby.

She figured Hunter would check out for her, so she wound her way past smiling tourists, bustling bellboys and intense businessmen. The men reminded her of Hunter and made her sadder by the moment.

Finally, she was out on the sidewalk, glancing up and down for a taxi. A hotel bellhop asked her a question in French. She tried to remember how to ask for a taxi, but it had slipped her mind.

In the sidewalk caf? next to her, propane heaters chugged out the only warmth in her world. People were eating breakfast, enjoying the sights of the busy street, their lives still intact.

The bellhop asked the question again.

She remembered. “Cabine de taxi?”

“Going somewhere?” came Hunter’s voice from behind her.

“The airport,” she answered without turning.

“I thought Mahoneys didn’t run away.”

“I’m not running away.”

“You mad at me?”

The question surprised a cold laugh from her.

“Because I’m pretty mad at you,” he said.

“No kidding.”

A taxi pulled up, but Hunter let someone else take it. “So, what’s your plan?”

She sighed. “Why’d you do that?”

“We’re not finished talking.”

“I thought you had problems to solve.”

He snorted. “And how. But I want to know your plans first.”

Sinclair looked pointedly down at her suitcase.

“You left the rest of your clothes in the closet,” he said.

“Those are your clothes.”

“So, you’re going to pout? That’s your plan?”

“I’m not pouting.” She was making a strategic exit from an untenable situation before he had a chance to ask her to go himself.

Another taxi came to a stop, and Hunter sent it away.

“Do you think we could sit down?” he asked with a frustrated sigh, gesturing to the caf?.

Sinclair shrugged. If he wanted to ream her out some more, she supposed she owed him that much.

He picked up her suitcase, and she moved to one of the rattan chairs. She folded her hands on the round glass table and looked him straight in the eyes.

“Go ahead,” she said, steeling herself.

“You think I’m here to yell at you?”

She didn’t answer.

“Good grief, you’re as bad as Jack.” Hunter signaled the waitress for coffee, and Sinclair decided it might be a very long lecture.

“It seems to me…” said Hunter, as the uniformed woman filled their cups. He shook out a packet of sugar, tore off the corner and dumped it into the mug.

Sinclair just stared at the rising steam.

“You have two choices,” Hunter continued. “You can slink back to New York with your makeover half done and take your chances with Roger. Or you can buck up and stay here a few more days to finish it.”

“It seems to me,” she offered, forcing him to get to the heart of the matter. “Those are your choices, not mine.”

“How so?”

“Why would you want me to stay? Why would you want to help me? I ruined your life.”

“We don’t know that yet.”

“Well, I might have.”

“Possibly. Did you do it on purpose?”

“Of course not.”

“So you weren’t dishonest, you simply lacked certain details and a little good judgment.”

She tightened her jaw. She normally had great judgment. “Right,” she said.

A small glimmer flickered in his eyes. “You want to fight me, don’t you?”

She wrapped her hands around the warm stoneware mug. “I’m in the wrong. I can take it.”

“Very magnanimous of you.”

“Are we done? Can I go now?”

“Do you want to go now?”

She didn’t answer.

“Seriously, Sinclair. Do you want to walk out on Paris, the makeover and me just because things went off the rails?”

Things had done a lot more than go off the rails. She forced herself to ask him, “What do you want?”

“I want to turn the clock back a couple of hours to when you were sleeping in my arms.”

“I want to turn it back nine.”

He nodded, and they sat in silence for a few moments while dishes clattered and voices rose and fell at nearby tables. A gust of cool wind blew through, while the propane heaters chugged gamely on.

Hunter took a sip of his coffee. “Let me tell you why Jack and Gramps were so upset.”

“Because you spent hundreds of millions of dollars without telling them?” As soon as the flip answer was out, she regretted it. “Sorry.”

But Hunter actually smiled. “Good guess. It’s because they wanted me to call them first. They wanted to jump in and assess the deal before I made a decision. They wanted to research and analyze and contemplate. Do you have any idea how long Jack and Cleveland’s brand of due diligence takes?”

Sinclair shook her head.

“The deal would have been lost before they even lined up the legal team.”

“Did you explain that to them?”

He shot her a look. “That was my plan. Until you stepped in.”

“Sorry,” she said again, knowing it would never be enough.

“I know you are.” But he didn’t sound angry. He sounded resigned.

Cars whizzed by on the narrow street, while a contingent of Japanese businessmen amassed on the sidewalk nearby.

“What will you do now?” Sinclair asked.

“That’s entirely up to you.”

“You’re seriously willing to keep this up?”

He nodded. “I am. There may be a lot of yelling from Jack and Gramps over the next few days, but I want to finish what we started.”

“I can handle yelling.”

“Good. You know anything about ballroom dancing?”

“Not much.”

“Then that’s next on our list.” His expression softened. “You are going to take their breath away.”

A knot let go in Sinclair’s stomach.

“Flower for the pretty lady?” came an old woman’s gravelly voice. She held a white rose toward Hunter, her bangles and hoop earrings sparkling against colorful clothing and a bright silk headscarf. “I will tell her fortune.”

Hunter accepted the flower and nodded.

The old woman clasped Sinclair’s hands, her jet-black eyes searching Sinclair’s face. Then she smiled. “Ahhh. Fertility.”

“I’m going to be a farmer?”

The woman revealed a snaggle-toothed smile, her gaze going to Sinclair’s stomach.

Sinclair sure didn’t like the implication of that.

“Trust your heart,” said the old woman.

“I’m not pregnant,” Sinclair pointed out.

The old woman released Sinclair’s hands and touched her chin. “I see wealth and beauty.”

“That’s a whole lot better than fertility,” Sinclair muttered.

Hunter laughed and reached for his wallet.

Sinclair caught the numbers on the bills he passed to the woman. Both hers and the old woman’s eyes went wide.

The woman quickly hustled away.

“Did you know her or something?” Sinclair asked.

“I once knew somebody like her.” Hunter tucked his wallet into his pocket and handed Sinclair the rose.

She held it to her nose and inhaled the sweet fragrance. Hunter wanted her to stay. The relief nearly brought tears to her eyes.

“Somebody like her?” she asked Hunter, inhaling one more time. “I once burned down a gypsy’s tent.” Then he smiled gently at Sinclair.

He swiveled his coffee mug so the handle was facing him. “When I was a teenager, a gypsy at the local circus told my fortune. She said I’d fall for a redheaded girl and have twins.”

Sinclair reflexively touched her hair.

“The thought of twins freaked me out, too. I wanted to be a rock star.”

“So, you burned down her tent?”

“She also said Jack would marry a woman he didn’t trust, and we’d buy a golf course.”

“But, you burned down her tent?” Sinclair repeated.

“It was an accident.”

“You sure?”

He rocked back. “Hey, is there anything about me that strikes you as vindictive?”

“I guess not,” she admitted, a small smile forming on her lips. Heck, he wasn’t even kicking her out for ruining his life.

“It was an accident. And Gramps compensated her fairly. But, I guess I’ve always felt a little guilty.”

“Have you been giving money to random gypsies ever since?”

“It’s not like I come across a lot of them. Alhough…” He pretended to ponder. “I suppose a charitable foundation wouldn’t be out of order.”

“I’m sure they appreciate it.”

Sinclair’s cell phone chimed.

She opened her purse to check the lighted number. “Kristy.”

It chimed again under her hand.

“Better answer it,” Hunter advised. “She’s probably worried.”

“So was I,” Sinclair said over the sound.

His hand covered hers for a brief second. “We’ll talk more.”

Sinclair pressed a button and raised the phone to her ear. “Hey, Kristy.”

“You okay?”

“Yeah. I’m fine.”

“And Hunter?”

Sinclair looked at him. “He’s had better mornings.”

“What was he thinking?” There was a clear rebuke in Kristy’s tone. “Going out on his own. Jack says that Hunter was being dangerously cavalier with the family fortune.”

Some protective instinct leapt to life within Sinclair. “He was thinking it was a good deal.”

Hunter shook his head, mouthing the word, “Don’t.”

Sinclair ignored him. “And they might want to look closely at it before they decide it’s a bad risk.”

Hunter stood to lean over the table, but Sinclair turned away, protecting the phone. The least she could do was come down on his side.

“Are you defending him? Did he try to make this your fault? It wasn’t your fault, you know. You were being honest. He was being underhanded.”

“He was being smart.”

There was a shocked silence on the line.

“Are you sleeping with him again?” Kristy demanded.

“None of your business.”

“That’s it. I’m coming to Paris.”

Hunter lunged forward and grabbed the phone from Sinclair’s hands.

“Goodbye,” she quickly called as he snapped it shut.

“Have you lost your mind?” asked Hunter.

“She said you were being underhanded.”

“You can’t fight with your sister over me.”

Sinclair folded her arms over her chest and blew out a breath. “Sure, I can.”

Hunter handed back the phone. “No. You can’t. She’s your sister. Keep your eye on the long game.”

Meaning Hunter was the short game?

“And she loves you,” he said.

“She’s coming to Paris.”

“You want to go to London?”

Sinclair grinned. “We couldn’t.”

Hunter sighed. “You’re right. We couldn’t.”

She caught a figure in her peripheral vision, turning to see Jack pulling up a chair at their table.

“You okay?” he asked Sinclair.

“You’re as bad as Kristy,” Sinclair responded. “What exactly do you think he’d do to me?”

“What did he do?”

“He invited me to go ballroom dancing. We’re getting ready for the Valentine’s Day ball on Thursday.”

Jack shot his gaze to Hunter. “That true?”

“What if it is?”

“I just had a call from Kristy,” said Jack.

“She’s coming to Paris,” announced Sinclair.

Jack nodded. “That’s what she said.” He was still eyeing up Hunter suspiciously. “You’d better sign us up, too.”

After the day they’d had, Hunter wanted nothing more than to curl up in bed and hold Sinclair tight in his arms. He’d discovered he hated fighting with her. And he hated that her family and his had decided to protect her from him. Even now, across the floor in the Versailles Ballroom, Kristy was scoping them out, staring daggers at him.

A private jet had whisked her across the Atlantic in time for dinner.

Part of him wanted to thumb his nose at the lot and haul Sinclair away so they could be alone. Another part of him recognized they had legitimate concerns. His efforts to help her had gotten all mixed up with his desire for her.

He didn’t want to hurt her, but he might in the end. The Lush Valentine’s Day ball was only a few days away. He’d make sure she was a smash hit there, but then what?

She’d still work for him. Could they possibly keep sleeping together? Could they keep it a secret? And what did that say about them if they did?

As he guided her through a simple waltz, he considered the possibility that Kristy was right. After all, who would have Sinclair’s best interests at heart more than her twin sister? A twin sister whose thinking wasn’t clouded by passion?

God knew his was clouded by something.

Sinclair had dressed for the evening in a brilliant-red strapless satin gown. When he glanced at her creamy shoulders, the hint of cleavage, and her long, smooth neck, his thoughts were definitely on his own best interest. And that best interest was in peeling the gown off inch by glorious inch to reveal whatever it was she had, or didn’t have, on underneath.

The bodice molded gently over her breasts, it nipped in at her waist, then molded over her bottom, while the full skirt whispered around her gorgeous legs.

“How am I doing?” she asked as the music’s tempo changed.

“Fine,” he told her, forcing his thoughts back to his job as dance instructor. “Ready to try something more?”

She nodded, blue eyes shining up at him, making him wish all over again that he could whisk her away.

He led her into a turn. She stumbled, but he held her up, tightening his hand in the small of her back, filing the sensation away in his brain.

“Sorry,” she told him.

“No problem. Just pay attention to my hand,” he reminded her, demonstrating the touches. “This means left. This means right. Back, and forward.”

He tried the turn again.

She stumbled.

He tried one more time, and this time she succeeded.

But, while she grinned, she fumbled the next step.

He tried not to smile at her efforts. “I can see this is going to take practice.”

“You’re too sudden with your signals. And why do you get to call all the moves?”

“Because I’m the man.”

“That’s lame.”

“And because I know how to dance.”

“Okay, that’s better.”

Someone tapped Hunter on the shoulder. He turned to see Jack, looking to switch partners. Before he knew it, Kristy was in his arms.

“Hello, Hunter.” She smiled, but he could see the glitter of determination behind her eyes.

“Hello, Kristy.”

“I see you’ve spirited my sister away to Paris.”

“I’m helping her out.”

“That’s one way to put it.”

“What’s another?” he challenged, keeping half an eye on Jack and Sinclair.

“Why don’t you tell me what your intentions are?”

To have sex with Sinclair-the most amazing woman I’ve ever met-until we can’t see straight. “I don’t know what you mean?” he stalled.

“You know exactly what I mean.”

He did. And that was the problem. His interests and Sinclair’s did not coincide.

“I have no intention of hurting her,” he told Kristy honestly.

“You think Jack intended to hurt me?”

“I think Jack was insane to marry you.”

Kristy’s eyes flashed.

“You know what I mean. He went into it for all the wrong reasons.”

“Unlike you and Sinclair?” She didn’t give him a chance to respond. “She’s going to fall for you, Hunter. You’re wining her and dining her and she’s thinking she’s become a fairy princess. How could she help but fall for you?”

“Point taken.” Hunter tried a turn with Kristy, and she easily followed his lead. But it wasn’t the same as dancing with Sinclair. It was nothing at all like dancing with Sinclair.

“So, what are you going to do?”

“For tonight-” Hunter took a deep breath and made up his mind “-I’m going to switch rooms with you and Jack.”

Kristy and Jack were on a different floor of the hotel. And Hunter knew deep down in his heart that the adjoining door with Sinclair would prove too much of a temptation.

“You’re a good man, Hunter,” said Kristy, her eyes softening.

“Can I have that in writing? It might sway your husband.”

“I’m talking about your moral code, not your business savvy.”

“Nice.”

“But that’s none of my business.”

“The push and pull has been going on a long time,” said Hunter. “Jack, Gramps, the investors gripe and complain, but they take the dividends all the same.”

“Your investments make dividends?”

“And capital gains, each and every one of them.”

Kristy shook her head in obvious confusion. “Then why-”

“Because they think the odds are catching up with me, and they’re sure I’m taking the entire flagship down one day.”

“Will you?”

“Not planning on it.” He danced her toward Jack and Sinclair. He might not be able to hold Sinclair in his bed tonight, but he could at least hold her on the dance floor until the clock struck midnight.

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