His for Revenge(9)

By: Caitlin Crews

He didn’t speak. And Zara found she couldn’t. Not only was the house lifted from the pages of the books she studied, but now that she was this close to getting out of her horribly uncomfortable dress at last and, God willing, sinking into a very deep, very hot, restorative bath for about an hour or five, every single step that kept her from it was like sheer torture.

That and the fact that Chase was more than a little forbidding himself. It was that set way he held himself. Contained and furious, even as he prowled along beside her. It seemed particularly obvious in a place like this, all shadows and absence, empty rooms and echoing footsteps.

You’re becoming hysterical.

When she felt like herself again, she was sure she’d stop thinking like this. She was sure. And then she’d fish her cell phone out of the bag she fervently hoped was in that limo and she would either listen to the host of apologetic messages Ariella should have left for her today, or, in their far more likely absence, call Ariella until her sister answered and explained this great big mess she’d made.

And then maybe all of this would feel a little bit less Gothic.

Particularly if she got out of this damned dress before it crippled her forever.

“Here,” Chase grunted, pushing open a door.

Zara blinked. Her head spun and her heart began to race and her feet suddenly felt rooted to the floor. “Is this…?”

“Your rooms.” He smirked. “Unless you planned to make this a more traditional marriage? I could no doubt be persuaded. I’ve certainly had enough whiskey to imagine anything is a good idea. My rooms are at the other end of this hall.”

Zara thought she’d rather die than persuade him to do anything of the kind. Or anyone like him who would, she had no doubt, need nothing in the way of persuasion if she was lanky, lovely, effortlessly appealing Ariella.

Not that you want this man either way, she reminded herself. Pointedly. She’d always been allergic to his type: basically, male versions of her sister. Younger versions of her father. Entitled and arrogant and no, thank you.

Despite that thing in her that felt like heat, only far more dangerous.

“Whiskey wears off,” she said crisply. “And more to the point, I haven’t had any.” She brushed past him, determined to sleep in whatever the hell room this was, even if it was a cell and her only option was the floor. “This is perfect, thank you.”

“Zara.” She didn’t want to stop walking, but she did, as if he could command her that easily. You’re tired, she assured herself. That’s all. “I’ll be back later,” he said, his voice dark and, yes, foreboding.

“For what? Persuasion? There won’t be any. No matter when you come back.”

He let out a noise that might have been a laugh, and the madness was that she felt it skim down the length of her spine like a long, lush sweep of his fingers.

There was no reason that she should have felt him the way she did then, like an imprint of fire, large and looming over her from behind, like he could cast a shadow and drown her in it all at once. And there was no reason that her body should react to him the way it did, jolting wide-awake and hungry, just like that.

“I’ll be back,” he said again, a low thread of sound, dark and rough, and she felt that, too. Felt it, like his hands against her skin.

She nodded. Acquiesced. It was that or succumb to panic entirely.

Zara waited until he closed the door behind her, then let out a long breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. It came out in a kind of shudder, and she had to blink back all that overwhelming heat from her eyes.

Then she actually looked around her.

The bedroom suite was done in restrained blues accented by geometrical shapes etched in an elegant black, with a lit fireplace against one wall that was already crackling away and an inviting sofa and two chairs in front of it that begged for a book, a cozy throw blanket and a long, rainy afternoon’s read. The bed was a cheerful four-poster affair, with quilts and blankets piled high and a multitude of deep, soft-looking pillows. It was a contented, happy sort of room, and it made all that Gothic fervor ease away, leaving Zara feeling overtired and foolish in its wake.

Her gaze snagged on the set of photographs on the mantel above the fireplace as she walked deeper into the room, all featuring pictures of a very tall, very recognizable black-haired girl, solemn dark eyes and an enigmatic almost-smile on her pretty face. Mattie Whitaker. Chase’s infamous sister.

Zara read the tabloids, and not only when she was stuck in line at the supermarket. Mattie had been all over them recently for her “secret marriage” to “playboy Chase’s greatest rival,” which Zara didn’t think could have been too terribly secret if there were all those pictures of Mattie and her harshly attractive husband gazing at each other in front of a glorious Greek backdrop. Just as Nicodemus Stathis couldn’t possibly be the terrible rival the papers wanted him to be if Chase and he were working on a merger.

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