Secrets and Sins:Raphael

By: Naima Simone

Something that had her visually tracing the slightly wicked arch of his dark brows, the strong jut of his cheekbones, the carnal curve of his bottom lip. Wishing it were her fingertips, her mouth grazing those features instead of her eyes.

“I don’t do this,” she whispered more to herself than the quiet, intense man across from her.

He didn’t smirk. Didn’t pop out a glib remark. Instead he regarded her with that incisive, razor-sharp stare. She managed not to squirm under it. But inside she longed to glance away, hide from the all-too-perceptive knowledge contained in that weighty scrutiny. Afraid he would see the soft objection for what it was: a denial—an attempt to convince herself that the avenue this evening was heading down would somehow take a detour or spring a roadblock.

“Greer?” Ethan’s voice doused her like a bucket of frigid ice water. She jerked, met her brother’s concerned frown. He glanced at Raphael, and the vee between his brows deepened before he returned his attention to her. “Are you ready? I need to meet Jason for dinner.”

“I’m…” She faltered, her explanation trailing off as once more the perfect socialite, eager-to-please daughter, and biddable fiancée rose, rearing her afraid-to-rock-the-boat head. Ethan extended his hand toward her, and her arm tensed as she lifted it. Then in the next moment she lowered her hand to her lap, clenched her fingers together. “No.” She shook her head. “I’m going to stay a little longer.”

“Greer,” Ethan hissed, edging closer and blocking her view of Raphael, who watched them silently and with ill-concealed interest. “I know you’re hurt and confused, but this isn’t—”

Heat surged up her throat, flooded her face. Jesus, she didn’t want Raphael to overhear her brother going into I-need-to-stop-my-sister-from-having-a-slutty-rebound mode. How humiliating would that be? “Ethan,” she murmured. “Please.”

“Don’t worry, Ethan, is it?” Raphael stood, and in an easy, smooth move, inserted himself between her and her brother. His back was braced against the edge of the bar while his arm and thigh pressed against hers, forming a partial shield from Ethan’s reproach. She blinked, momentarily taken aback. Had he just tried to protect her? How…novel.

“I’m Raphael Marcel. Your sister and I met last week at my office. If she wants to stay here, I’ll make sure she gets home safely.”

As expected, his assurance didn’t go over well. More often than not, it had been her guarding her older brother, being the gatekeeper of his secrets, acting as the buffer between him and their father. Yet as he surveyed Raphael, his mouth thinning into a straight, grim line, she sensed the advent of a full-blown overprotective fit.

“While I’m sure that should ease my mind—”

“Wait a sec.” Raphael pulled his wallet from the back pocket of his jeans and withdrew a small slip of paper. “Here’s my business card. Feel free to pass my information along to the cops if I don’t return your sister home in one piece.”

Greer groaned. Oh, Jesus.

“Ethan.” She waited until his focus shifted from Raphael’s teasing grin and reverted to her. “I’ll be fine. Please. Go to your dinner with Jason. I’m sure he’s waiting.”

Indecision warred with refusal and frustration across Ethan’s features.

“If you’re sure…”

“I am.” She offered him a smile. “Tell Jason I said hi.”

He blew out a long breath and dragged his hand through his short brown curls. “Fine. Call me when you get home.” He pinned a steely glare on Raphael before leaning down and brushing a kiss over her cheek. “Call me,” he repeated, voice firm.

“I will,” she promised.

As Ethan disappeared through the pub’s front door, Raphael’s stare settled on her like the heavy weight of a heated blanket—electric, hot, encompassing, consuming. It instilled a warmth that penetrated the chill of rejection, hurt, and doubt. Yet she couldn’t entirely shush the voice of reason that railed, What are you doing? This is crazy! God, he looked every inch the rebellious, fuck-the-establishment type she’d avoided in high school and college, afraid too close an association would draw her father’s censure. Gavin, with his short, well-groomed haircut, conservative but expensive suits, and impeccable manners, had been the antithesis of Raphael. He’d been acceptable, solid, safe.

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