It was in his power to spare them more pain, and he would do so. And he would not let one large-eyed blonde get in his way.
“I’m really into the free-food movement. And I like to make sure that there are no salvageable edibles in various trash cans surrounding posh hotels.” She started to move away from him. “You would be surprised how much gourmet food is simply tossed. I have found foie gras that was still quite fresh just cast out into the gutter. It’s egregious.”
“You said you followed Chatsfield out into the alley.”
She squinted. “I thought he might be looking for the foie gras.”
“It is getting quite cold out.” He reached out and grabbed hold of her arm, and she tugged back. But he held fast. “Why don’t we finish this conversation in my car?”
“Oh, you know—” she waved a hand “—I would, but I have a thing.”
“What thing?” he asked.
“A thing that is not getting into a car with a stranger.”
“I feel that after all you must have surely heard from your vantage point, we can hardly be considered strangers.”
He tugged her along through the alley with him, heading to where his limousine was idling. She walked along with him, but her hesitance was clear. For a moment he questioned himself. Asked himself what the hell he was doing.
But then he imagined Leila, in her distress, confessing her indiscretion, and worrying about the consequences. No, he would do whatever he had to do. No matter what that was.
There was no room, no time, for guilt.
“I really need to go,” she said. “My bicycle is double-parked. I think there’s a timer on the rack. I bet they’re going to cut my chain.”
“I will buy you a new bicycle.”
“That one has sentimental value.”
He paused, and looked down at her. “Why did you ride a bicycle in this weather? In that dress.”
“We don’t all hemorrhage gold.”
“No, indeed we do not. I imagine you have realized that James Chatsfield does.”
“What exactly are you implying?”
He propelled her forward to the passenger door of the limousine, and jerked it open. “I’m implying that you need to get into my car now.”
“I don’t think I will.”
“I’m sorry, I see you’ve confused my command with a request.” Not breaking his hold on her, he moved down into the limo, bringing her with him, her soft body flush against his.
And because it had been so very long since he had touched a woman, even given the circumstances, he could not help but take a moment to pause and enjoy the feel of her against him.
She wiggled, her bottom coming into contact with things he would rather not have her in contact with. “What are you doing?” she shrieked.
He did not answer. He only held fast to her, trying to figure out exactly where to take it from here.
Though he was immediately drawn back to the moment by the feel of her body against his.
It was in moments like this, moments when heat and curves overtook the gravity of the situation, that he wondered whether or not he’d truly managed to change. Or if he had simply spent years burying his weakness beneath the rock of good intention. Though, as he had so rarely found himself in this position since he had changed the focus of his life, he supposed it was neither here nor there. It did not matter how soft this woman was. It did not matter how good it felt to have her in his arms.
All that mattered was Leila. Her honor. Her safety, both physical and emotional.
No one could be allowed to compromise that.
He closed the limo door, and kept his hold on the woman, who seemed to have gone limp in his grasp. For one moment he wondered if she had fainted. And then she started talking again.
“Somehow I don’t think you’ve brought me in here because you’re concerned about me getting wet.” She turned to face him, concern lighting her eyes.
“It’s quite possible you’re correct.”
“Are you kidnapping me?”
“I feel that term implies both premeditation and a desire for ransom money. And as we’ve established that I hemorrhage gold, and you do not, I have no need of ransom money. Also, there was no premeditation involved, how could there have been? I had no idea you would be in the alleyway.”
“I don’t feel that either of those things is a necessary requirement to call something kidnapping.” She cocked her head to the side. “Are you detaining me against my will?”
“That all depends.” He shifted as the car started to move, releasing his hold on her. “Do you want to stay in the limo?”