The Bride Fonseca Needs(5)

By: Abby Green

She looked at Max as guilelessly as she could. ‘That’s a pity. She sounds positively delightful.’

He made that dismissive snorting sound again and said, with a distinct edge to his voice, ‘I choose my lovers for myriad reasons, Darcy, not one of which I’ve ever considered is because they’re delightful.’

No, he chose them because they were the most beautiful women in the world, and because he could have whoever he wanted.

For a moment Darcy couldn’t look away from Max’s gaze, caught by something inexplicable, and she felt heat start to climb up her body. And then his phone rang. She broke the intense, unsettling eye contact and stretched across to answer it, then pressed the ‘hold’ button.

‘It’s the Sultan of Al-Omar.’

Max reached for the phone. ‘I’ll take it.’

Darcy stood up with not a little sense of relief and walked out, aware of Max’s deep voice as he greeted his friend and one of his most important clients.

When she closed the door behind her she leaned back against it for a moment. What had that look been about? She’d caught Max staring at her a few times lately, with something unreadable in his expression, and each time it had made her silly pulse speed up.

She gritted her jaw as she sat down behind her desk and cursed herself for a fool if she thought for a second that Max ever looked at her with anything more than professional interest.

It wasn’t as if she even wanted him to look at her with anything more than professional interest. She was not about to jeopardise the best job of her career by mooning about after him like she had at school, when she’d been in the throes of a very embarrassing pubescent crush.

* * *

Max finished his call with his friend and stood up to look out of his office window, feeling restless. The window framed an impressive view of Rome’s ancient ruins—something that usually soothed him with its timelessness. But not right now.

Sultan Sadiq of Al-Omar was just one of Max’s very small inner circle of friends who had given up the heady days of being a bachelor to settle down. He’d broken off their conversation just now when his wife had come into his office with their toddler son, whom Max had heard gabbling happily in the background. Sadiq had confided just before that they were expecting baby number two in a few months, and happiness had been evident in his friend’s voice.

Max might have ribbed him before. But something about that almost tangible contentment and his absorption in his family had made him feel uncharacteristically hollow.

Memories of his brother’s recent wedding in Rio de Janeiro came back to him. He and his brother weren’t close. Not after a lifetime spent living apart—the legacy of warring parents who’d lived on different continents. But Max had gone to the wedding—more because of the shared business concerns he had with his brother than any great need to ‘connect’.

If he had ever had anything in common with his brother apart from blood it had been a very ingrained sense of cynicism. But that cynicism had all but disappeared from his brother’s eyes as he’d looked adoringly at his new wife.

Max sighed volubly, forcibly wiping the memory from his mind. Damn this introspection. Since when did he feel hollow and give his brother and his new wife a moment’s consideration?

He frowned and brooded over the view. He was a loner, and he’d been a loner since he’d taken responsibility for his actions as a young boy and realised that he had no one to turn to but himself.

And yet he had to concede, with some amount of irritation, that watching his peers fall by the wayside into domesticity was beginning to make him stand out by comparison. The prospect of going to dinner with Montgomery and his wife was becoming more and more unappealing, and Max was certain that the old man was determined to use it as an opportunity to demonstrate his unsuitability.

At that moment Max thought of Darcy’s suggestion that he take his ex-lover to dinner. For some reason he found himself thinking not so much of Noor but of Darcy’s huge blue eyes. And the way colour had flared in her cheeks when he’d told her what he thought of that suggestion.

He found himself comparing the two women and surmised with some level of grim humour that they couldn’t be more different.

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