Secrets and Sins:Raphael

By: Naima Simone

He might look like a sexy rock guitarist, but he possessed the mind of Steve Jobs.

“Y’know, when the two of you left after your consultation last week, the office was teeming with how cute you were as a couple.” His smile widened, turned just a tad bit more wicked. Okay, way more wicked. “Gavin and Greer. G&G. Greervin.” He snickered, tipping his beer bottle up for a long sip. “Where’s Ken, anyway?”

“We broke up.”

“Oh.” He blinked. “Well. Damn.”

She coughed. Chuckled. Then bent over clutching her stomach, laughter spilling free as if a balloon had been punctured in her chest. And if her hilarity contained the barest tinge of hysteria, well… There wasn’t much she could do about that. Wiping moisture from her eyes, she straightened, an arm still wrapped around her middle. Raphael studied her, the corner of his sensual mouth quirked even as what appeared to be sympathy darkened his eyes.

“I’m sorry,” she gasped, smoothing her palms over her hair, suddenly restless, antsy.

“No need to apologize,” he murmured. “But I have news for you, princess. If your intention is to get drunk, that frou-frou drink isn’t going to cut it. And…” As if time slowed to half speed, he shifted to the edge of his barstool, lifted his arm, and brushed a knuckle down her cheek. He silently studied her with an intensity that seemed not just to see her, but peer deep past the perfect social-butterfly persona to the flawed, sometimes scared woman beneath. “For the record, I already figured out your ex had a stick up his ass. Now I know he had his head up there, too. Because if he let you go, he’s an idiot.”

Her breath stuck in her throat, captured by the fist of need lodged there. And as his gaze roamed her face and the echo of his gentle caress hummed under her skin, the hunger strangling her was more than physical. Yes, he was wildly sexy like an exotic, untamed, unpredictable creature. His confidence and I-don’t-give-a-damn attitude were as alluring to her as his hooded, knowing stare and lean, muscled body.

Yet there was something behind the sex and swagger. The simmering desire he didn’t even attempt to conceal as he lingered on her mouth before returning to her eyes. That heat touched her, stroked her battered spirit and bruised self-esteem in ways that put her two steps above pathetic and only one above a Bachelor contestant.

But there it was.

“You don’t know me,” she murmured, and if there was a shade of desperation tinting the protest then she couldn’t erase it.

Another gentle caress stroked under her bottom lip. “You’re right,” he agreed simply. “I don’t know if you like the crusts on or off your PB&J sandwich. I don’t know if you prefer to fall asleep to the sound of the television or total darkness and silence. But even an idiot—including that lackwit you were engaged to—can’t deny your beauty, elegance, sweetness, and intelligence.”

With any other man, she would’ve scoffed, waved the words aside as blatant flattery—blatant bullshit flattery. But not with Raphael. She wasn’t well-acquainted with the idiosyncrasies of his personality, but she sensed he didn’t do smooth sweet talk. Not because he couldn’t—she didn’t doubt he was more than capable of enticing a woman out of her panties. Most likely he just wouldn’t bother. And that made his words that much more precious.

“I don’t eat peanut butter and jelly.”

His eyes rounded as his lips parted on a loud, exaggerated gasp. He slapped a palm to his chest as if her admission had wounded him.

“What the hell? Are you American?”

She chuckled, shaking her head. God, he’d made her laugh more times in the minutes they’d been together than she had since finding Gavin with another woman three days earlier. It didn’t seem possible she could discover humor in anything when the life she’d planned and built for herself was crumbling apart at the foundation. But…

Raphael tipped his beer up to his mouth for another sip. She swallowed, attempting to wet her suddenly dry mouth and throat. Something more than amusement coiled inside her. Something proper bankers’ daughters didn’t utter aloud. Something that should’ve had her pushing away from the bar and cutting a path through the crowd for the front entrance.

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