Provocative Attraction. AlTonya Washington
wouldn’t, babe? Our communication is already in the crapper. You being out of the country for half the year isn’t gonna help that.”
“I have to take this, Rook. It’s what I’ve been working for.”
“Right. After all, you’re not just doing commercials because you’re interested in keeping the public informed on what’s new at the market.” At her confused look, he grimaced and shook his head. “So I’m losing you to this?”
“I don’t want that.” Viva clasped her hands between her breasts and moved to him. “It could work.”
“We barely see each other as it is. I’m busy all the damn time getting the firm on point and that’s done no favors to our relationship.” He paused to smooth a hand across his hair, a mass of soft, close-cropped twists capping his head. “Only thing that’s kept us together, V, is you having a less demanding job. That’s over now.”
Viva felt something chill inside her at his use of the word over. Again, she grabbed hold of fledgling courage. “What are you saying? If I take the job, we’re done?” she asked.
“Don’t put that on me, V. You know how shaky things are between us right now. You know as well as I do that we won’t survive another blow. But you can forget about me letting you go. I’m afraid that’s a decision that’ll be made for us. My actions have already set the path. I guess yours will put us on it.”
Her vision was a blur then. He was right. They’d been passing ships for months. Her going to work for Jazmina Beaumont’s gentlemen’s club had certainly not been the best decision. The fact that he’d become increasingly busy building his firm had taken his mind off the concerns he had with her waitressing there.
They wouldn’t survive this, but he was saying that he refused to be the one to put that nail into their coffin. Could she?
“When are you due to leave?”
She barely heard his voice cut through the storm of her thoughts. “End of the week,” she said.
Rook had pretty much schooled his expression but the devastation in his entrancing amber stare was unmistakable.
Viva knew she had the answer to her question then. She could put that nail in their coffin. She already had.
Six years later
Rook Lourdess knew his rich laughter had the tendency to carry whether he was in the midst of absolute silence or chaos. Both environments proved to be appropriate descriptors that night. His laughter carried out from the party still going strong indoors to the terrace that somehow maintained its serene quiet.
“Sounds good,” he was saying to whomever he spoke to through the mobile he held to his ear. “Sure you don’t need me there?” Rook nodded, listening to the caller’s response.
“I guess that’ll work, seeing as how I’ve got that five a.m. conference call...Italy,” he added, following a few more seconds of silence.
“Yeah, they sound serious. I keep waiting on them to call and tell me they made a mistake...Ha! I appreciate that,” he said once more silence had passed from his end.
“Forget it!” Rook’s laughter clung to the words. “I don’t care how much you lay on the flattery, you’re not goin’...Nah, B, I need you to stay here and hold it all down at the firm, but don’t worry, we’ll be having that talk soon enough...Yeah...” A somber element crept into Rook’s voice then. “Yeah, I’m not looking forward to it either. Listen, man, I better get goin’. Just be ready with that report by tomorrow afternoon. I want to get this all put to bed before I leave... All right, talk to you then.” Following another brief stint of silence and more laughter, Rook was easing the phone into a back trouser pocket. He didn’t head back to the party, but stood on the terrace and looked out into the night. Moving closer to the stone railing, he inhaled deeply and smiled.
Robust cheer sounded indoors, but Rook resisted the tug of the partygoers and reminded himself that he needed to hit the sack.
His Italian contacts would be speaking with him at 11:00 a.m. their time. He had to be sharp as possible by 5:00 a.m. That wouldn’t happen unless he headed for his car and home right then.
Rook was turning to make his exit down the terrace’s wide steps when he heard her.
So much for getting to sleep anytime soon, Rook thought when he saw Viva Hail seated and looking coolly lovely from her spot on one of the cushioned chaises dotting the terrace.
Seeing her never failed to seriously screw with his sleep. Whether it was on the big screen or small didn’t matter. Seeing her in person...well, he shuddered to think of what his Italian business associates would think of him when they spoke in eight hours. He wouldn’t be getting that full night of sleep he’d hoped for.
“V.” His voice was soft, unlike the sound of the blood rushing in his ears.
“Sorry for eavesdropping.” Viva lifted a manicured hand a few centimeters from her lap and let it fall back to the beige silk pants she wore. “I was out here when you came to the terrace. I didn’t mean to listen in.”
“It wasn’t anything top secret.” He moved closer to where she sat.
“Was it business or pleasure?” Viva didn’t close her eyes in mortification when she heard the question trip off her tongue, but mortification rolled in hot and heavy waves all the same. Pleasure was always a given when it involved Rook Lourdess. She knew that well enough, didn’t she? Again, she waved. “Sorry to pry.”
Rook grinned. “You’re not.”
“So, um, what part of Italy are you visiting?”
“Ah...” Viva smiled and closed her eyes as she nodded. “That’s not far from Cortina. It’s really beautiful this time of year.”
“So I hear.” Hands hidden in the deep pockets of his dark trousers, Rook strolled closer. “Has your work taken you there?” He somehow resisted asking if her knowledge of the place was on a personal level.
Viva was already nodding. “I did a movie there two years ago while the show was on hiatus. An ensemble-cast thing. It was fun.”
“Ensemble cast, like the show. How’s that going?”
“Very well. We’ve been a truly blessed bunch.”
“So no talk of finales anytime soon?”
“If only.” Viva threw back her head and sighed. “I was sure we’d be done after season four with everyone so busy with other successful projects, but...” She flexed her fingers over the pants that matched a shimmering blazer. “The audience still loves us, the ratings are dynamite... I’d say we’ll be a bunch of kick-ass secret agents well into our nineties.”
Laughter hummed around the terrace then.
“So, um, are you visiting Italy on new business for the firm?” Viva figured additional prying couldn’t hurt at that point.
“Remains to be seen,” was all he could share before the party volume grew to a maddening pitch and tipped over to deafening.
Rook and Viva realized the French doors had opened as chief of detectives Sophia Hail exited with congratulatory cheers behind her.
“There she is!” Rook’s voice carried across the terrace as he closed the distance to Sophia and enveloped her in a bear hug. “The news is in the air. Congratulations. It’s a good night for the Philly PD,” he said and kissed her cheek.
Sophia, the recent recipient of an unexpected promotion to chief of detectives,