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Fia stepped into the ballroom and smoothed an unsteady palm down the front of her deep purple dress. She pasted what was probably an overly syrupy smile on her face and nodded at the pompous son of a California State Senator who raised a hand in greeting as she approached. It wouldn’t serve her well to wear her anger on the outside, so she put years of practice and grooming to good use and played the rich, friendly, tolerant-of-jerks socialite.
The senator’s son abandoned his conversation with a politician whose name she couldn’t recall and strode toward her, a smug, women-love-me-for-my-money-and-looks smile on his face. Fia resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Gordon had been pursuing her for a while now, and she had less than zero interest in the man who thought he was God’s special gift to females everywhere.
He gripped her hand in a limp hold and drew it to his lips, kissing her knuckles in an old-world gesture. “Good evening, Serafina. I must say, you look lovely tonight.”
She winced. Strike one. She hated her full name. It was too pretentious, too formal, too…celestial. “Hello, Gordon. You’re looking very handsome yourself, and please, I much prefer to be called Fia.”
He wrinkled his perfect nose. “I don’t know why you insist on people calling you by that foolish nickname. Serafina is a lovely name, and you should be proud to have it.” Still holding her hand, he drew her out on the dance floor.
It took every ounce of restraint she possessed to avoid ripping her hand from his feeble hold. Arrogant jerk didn’t even have the decency to ask if she’d like to dance with him. No, he just assumed any woman would be honored to have the privilege of being lead around the floor by his greatness.
Sure, his five-hundred-dollar haircut had each platinum strand coiffed in a perfect arrangement, and his manicured nails were impeccable, but the soft hands they adorned did nothing for her as a woman. A man needed a few calluses. Nothing felt better against her skin than the subtle scrape of a man’s rough hands. Gordon’s metaphorically turned up nose and literal lack of work ethic didn’t exactly get her motor revving either. Some things a thousand-watt smile and striking deep green eyes just couldn’t overcome.
She hated these events. If rich people actually donated as much money to the charities as they spent on the balls and banquets, the unfortunate would be much more fortunate. But, tonight’s charade was for a cause she supported whole-heartedly, so she was here. And with no desire to embarrass herself or her family, she’d behave. Even if that meant enduring a dance with a man who viewed himself as an angel sent to earth for the sake of the fairer sex. Fia preferred her angels with a bit of a crooked halo. Her own was just a bit off kilter.
Today had been a long day full of frustrations and failures. What she really wanted was peace, quiet, and a warm bath overflowing with bubbles. Oh, and wine, lots of wine. But she wanted to show her support for the cause, so her wishes would all have to wait a few more hours.
Once a year, at a different one of his prestigious hotels, Reginald Wellington held a large gala to raise money for state penitentiaries in whichever state the event was held. Money raised was used to provide counseling services to inmates in that state’s prison system.
When Fia was in college, she had friend who ran into some trouble with the law and spent a year in jail. After her release, she remained on a straight path and was now a successful defense attorney, but her time in prison had taken a large psychological toll, and Fia had watched her friend struggle with a consuming depression for years.
This event meant something to her, and with her own career in jeopardy, it gave her something to focus on besides her drama. She had some significant life-decisions to make, and no clue which direction she should take.
With a sigh, she left her head and allowed Gordon to draw her into his embrace if only to avoid an uncomfortable scene. Conscious of keeping a bit of distance between their bodies, she swayed with him to the music.
Too bad he couldn’t take a hint.
He leaned down and brushed his nose along the curve of her neck. “You smell lovely, Serafina.”
She recoiled from his unwanted touch. Did the man know any complimentary words besides lovely? “Fia,” she ground out between clenched teeth.
As though she were a child who said something cute, he chuckled against her ear, and she pulled her head farther back, narrowing her eyes at him. He really was handsome, in a straight-off-of-a-magazine-cologne-advertisement way. He was tall and wore a designer suit well. Unfortunately, she’d seen him at the country club, and what lie under the suit could only be described as soft. He was a man who spent his time indoors, behind a desk.
Not her type.
“Okay, fine, Fia.”
While they danced a familiar waltz all society girls learned by age ten, Gordon rambled on about his ambitions to assume his father’s seat in the senate, and she tuned him out, instead letting her gaze drift around the room. After scanning past several acquaintances, her focus landed on a man, standing in the corner with a scowl on his face as he listened to an older gentleman speak.
She couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was about the man that captured her attention. At first glance, he looked similar to many of the other males in the room, expensive tuxedo, expertly styled dark blonde hair, flawless facial features. Then he shifted his gaze and his eyes locked with hers. The energy flowing form him was almost palpable, like that of a caged tiger seconds away from attempting escape. She shivered. If all that power was unleashed, the effects could be devastating.
Gordon twirled them and Fia lost sight of the intriguing eye candy.
As they turned, Gordon let out a surprising and unrefined curse. “Shit, there he is.” He shook his head. “And I wagered this would be the year he finally quit turning up here and upsetting his family.”
Fia drew back and looked up at him. “Who are you talking about?”
He spun her a second time so they both faced the very man she’d been studying, only he wasn’t in the same spot he’d been in seconds before. The back of his head drew farther away as he trailed after the man he’d been speaking with.
“See the blonde guy, the one walking out of the room?”
“Yes, I see him, who is he?”
“That’s Adam Wellington.”
Her jaw dropped and Gordon chuckled. She knew the name well, at least the rumors surrounding it. Her father and Adam’s had been friends for the past ten years. Reginald Wellington owned this and many luxury hotels around the world.
Adam was a bit of an urban society legend. She never laid eyes on the man, but she’d always been curious as to whether the tales were accurate. Story was, he’d dropped out of society to join a gang after a friend of his went to prison for assault.
While it was enthralling, Fia wasn’t stupid enough to believe the story was that simple. It took guts to leave the fold. The idea of throwing all this aside, all these fluffy parties and endless senseless conversations for a life without rules was appealing. Not that she’d ever be daring enough to achieve such a thing herself, but her curiosity about the man who did was definitely piqued.
“He comes to this one charity event every year. No one knows why.” Gordon went on, his tone almost mocking. “Some say he’s planning something. Biding his time until he can get back at everyone he blames for his low status in life now.”
Fia rolled her eyes. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
The man in question turned, meeting her gaze as though he heard her from fifty feet away. Like a deer caught in blinding headlights, she froze under his attention. Why was it this particular event he attended each year? What was his connection to this charity? Had he been in prison? His eyes smoldered with a mixture of anger, frustration and…could that be desire?
As though his attention had been physical instead of visual, her nipples tightened in the confines of her bra. Damn, he gave off some powerful sexual energy.
A ripple of nervous energy ran its way up her spine and her stomach fluttered. She tore her gaze away and stepped back from Gordon as the song ended. “Thank you for the dance, Gordon. Please excuse me, I’m going to get some air.”
“Would you like me to join you, Serafina?” His tone suggested she’d be getting more than air if he escorted her.
Strike three, you’re out Gordy. She tried not to show her revulsion.
Much as he’d done moments ago, she hovered close to his ear. “No, Gordon, I’d like a moment alone. And if I have to tell you to call me Fia again, I’ll be doing so while you’re doubled over with my knee against your balls,” she whispered.
She turned and walked away from a slack-jawed Gordon, heading in the opposite direction of the mysterious Adam Wellington.
Whoops. So much for acting like a lady.