A Ruthless Proposition - Page 56

A Ruthless Proposition - Page 56

She was still trying to figure it out when a hand descended on her shoulder. She nearly jumped out of her skin in fright, and if she hadn’t just emptied her bladder she would have embarrassed herself even further. She swung around to confront her accoster and only marginally relaxed when—predictably—Dante Damaso stood behind her.

“I didn’t mean to scare you,” he said apologetically.

“Yeah? Then stop sneaking up on me,” she griped. She was still furiously trying to get her arm into the d.a.m.n.e.d jacket when he took hold of her wrist and gently guided it into the errant sleeve. Dressing her like he would a small child.

“I suppose you have something to do with Cal’s disappearance,” she said, once she had her jacket on properly.

“You don’t have to make it sound so ominous,” he replied. “I just told him that we needed to talk and that I’d drive you home. Don’t worry, he issued all the warnings a dutiful friend would but recognized that you and I have a few unresolved issues to take care of.”

“Well, I suppose we’d better get this over with, then.” Cleo couldn’t help the surliness that crept into her voice. She felt defensive and had wanted time to mentally and emotionally prepare for this discussion. “Where are you parked?”

Dante watched Cleo animatedly chatting and laughing with James, his driver. They were discussing James’s grandmother’s chocolate fudge cake, which was apparently “to die for.” Although how the h.e.l.l Cleo knew that was anybody’s guess. She didn’t look at Dante once during the drive, didn’t make any conversation, not even to ask where they were going. Not one stray smile or misplaced comment spilled over in his direction, and he wasn’t sure why, but that bothered the h.e.l.l out of him. It was as if he wasn’t even present.

Dante was not used to being so comprehensively ignored, so he did what he always did when a situation became awkward: he took out his cell phone to check messages and make calls. When he was working, he was in charge; he was never uncomfortable and knew how to handle every scenario that was thrown at him. It was a handy way to ignore difficult social situations. Still, this time he couldn’t shut them out as completely as he would have liked; part of him wanted to weigh in on the buttercream versus fondant debate. He had very definite views when it came to cake, but Cleo wouldn’t know that because she thought he was boring, stuffy, and overbearing. And maybe he was, but he could d.a.m.n.e.d well discuss cake with her—and anybody else—any day of the week.

He stifled his childish thoughts and managed to complete a couple of important phone calls before their short drive ended. James rolled the car to a stop in an underground parking lot, and Cleo stopped talking and peered at her surroundings curiously. She’d been so busy proving that she could ignore Dante that she hadn’t really absorbed the direction they were heading during the short trip from the doctor’s office.

“Where are we?” she asked, before seeing a familiar sign on one of the nearby tourist maps. “Are we at the Waterfront?”

“Close,” he said, gathering his briefcase and phone while James stepped out of the car and opened the door for Cleo. Dante didn’t bother waiting for the man to do the same for him and was at Cleo’s side before she had properly emerged from the car.

“Close? How close is close?” Her voice was suspicious, and he stifled a smile. He liked this prickly side of her, even though it also frustrated the h.e.l.l out of him.

“Close enough.” He kept his responses short and cryptic, partly because he knew it would p.i.s.s her off, and partly because he didn’t want her freaking out before he got her where he wanted her. “I thought we could have a late lunch and talk.”

She hesitated, and he sighed before gently taking hold of her elbow.

“Cleo, try to trust me, okay? What the h.e.l.l do you think I’m going to do to you? We need to have an uninterrupted talk, that’s all.”

She just stared at him, and he sighed before steering her toward the express elevator to his penthouse apartment.

“James, I’ll call you when I need you to take Miss Knight home,” Dante said once he and Cleo were safely aboard the lift. James nodded, his expression serious and businesslike once again.

“What restaurant are we going to?” she asked, her voice alive with doubt, and Dante squeezed his eyes shut before confirming her suspicion.

“No restaurant. I brought you to my apartment. We can talk there.”

“I don’t want to go to your apartment,” she screeched, and he grimaced. “Let me off at the next floor. Where are the buttons for the other floors?”

“Cleo, come on. Don’t be silly.”

“Oh, sure, now you use my name, when you have me trapped in this creepy one-button elevator. Is that supposed to reassure me? Are you using my name to create a rapport with me?”

“What the h.e.l.l are you talking about?” he asked, trying—and failing—to keep the exasperation out of his voice.

“That’s what kidnappers do, right? Try to create a rapport with their victims?” They’d reached the penthouse floor, and Dante shook his head and stepped into the elegant lobby, leaving her to frantically push at the single button in the elevator.

“It won’t work,” he told her after her third desperate jab. “It’s coded to accept only my fingerprint.”

Of course it was. She was so p.i.s.s.e.d off. Bringing her to his place was a sneaky thing to do. She would really rather speak to him on neutral ground or on her own territory. And she had a feeling he knew that. This didn’t bode well for future amicable relations.

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