The Prince's Christmas Vow(9)

By: Jennifer Faye

 “By the time this job is completed, this mansion is going to be restored to its former glory. It’ll start outside with the sweeping steps and the large, white columns and continue inside with its vintage style. In this section, I want people to forget that it’s a care home and instead feel as though they’ve been transported to a tranquil place. Do you think you can deliver something like that?”

 She glanced around at the peeling paint and the chipped plaster. The mansion had been downright neglected. It was hard to imagine the building being transformed into one of beauty. But she knew that it could be done.

 “Of course I can do it.” Her unwavering gaze met his. “But you knew that or you wouldn’t have hired me.”

 “True enough.”

 “What are you really up to? And don’t tell me that you hired me out of the goodness of your heart. I won’t believe you.”

 Demetrius’s dark brows rose. “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear you just implied that I’m heartless.”

 “I don’t want to play word games with you.” She took a second to pull herself together, because it felt as though her world had just slipped off its axis. “What are you up to?”

 “I would think that is obvious. This is a royal project and I am overseeing it from start to finish.”

 “Not that. I want to know why you hired me of all people.”

 “Does it matter?”

 “It does.” There was something more—something he wasn’t saying.

 The man standing before her wasn’t the same man she’d married—the man who’d swept her off her feet was sweet and fun. His biggest worry back then had been wondering what he’d do for entertainment the next day. She didn’t understand how someone in his position could have lived his life so carefree, but obviously it’d all caught up with him. Because this man with his lips pressed together into an uncompromising line while staring directly at her meant business—of that she was certain.

 He crossed his muscular arms. “Perhaps hiring you was a mistake—”

 “No—” She bit back her next words but it was too late. Demetrius’s brows lifted at her sudden outburst. “I mean, we have an agreement. Or at least I do with Mr. Belmonte.”

 “Agreements are made to be broken.”

 “But it’s in writing.”

 “And you didn’t think that I would leave myself a loophole—a way out if the need arose?”

 Who is this man? And what had happened to the laid-back Demetrius?

 Her gut told her to get out now. That she was getting in far too deep with a man who still had a hold on her heart. But what kind of daughter would that make her? This was her chance to make the remainder of her mother’s life better.

 And to complicate matters further, she had no job to return to. She’d already resigned from her position as interior designer for the island’s most prominent and discriminating furniture store. And most important, this job paid well—well enough to pay her mother’s bills.

 Zoe was stuck.

 “You still haven’t answered my question. Why did you hire me?” She watched him carefully, not sure what sort of reaction to expect.

 “I wanted the best for this job. And you are the best on the island.”

 Was he serious? He thought she was the best? A warmth swirled in her chest and rose to warm her cheeks. Their gazes connected and held. Her heart thudded harder, faster. She refused to acknowledge that his words meant anything to her. She was over him. Past him.

 “So you just expect us to work together nothing ever happened?”

 * * *

 A loud bang echoed through the expansive ballroom.

 Demetrius’s body tensed.

 “What was that?” Zoe whispered.

 He didn’t know but he certainly intended to find out. He peered around the various drop cloths, plaster buckets and scaffolding. “Who’s there?”

 A movement caught his attention. Across the room, a worker in a yellow hard hat straightened from where he’d dropped a load of lumber. He glanced their way. “Hey, you aren’t supposed to be in here. This is a designated hard hat area.”

 Demetrius nodded his understanding. “We were just leaving.”

 “See that you do. I don’t want to have to throw you out.” The man turned and walked away.

 Obviously the man hadn’t recognized him with the shadows and the distance. That was all right with Demetrius. Sometimes he got tired of being the prince, of posing for pictures and answering questions. Sometimes he just wanted to be plain old Demetrius. He’d been able to pull that off not so long ago when he was partying and showing up in places most inappropriate for royalty. But those times were over and not to be repeated.

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