Beauty and the Bachelor

By: Naima Simone

He pulled the mask free.

The air punched from her lungs, leaving her light-headed. The room spun around her, and for a horrifying moment, she almost pitched forward. At the last second, she gripped the edge of the table, steadying herself and preventing a humiliating tumble out of her chair.

The face carved out of stone that accentuated the carnal curve of the mouth…the dark slashes of eyebrows…the stunning turquoise eyes… They fit like puzzle pieces to form a truly beautiful man.

A man she’d never seen before.

Chapter Three

Round one: Lucas Oliver.

Triumph and satisfaction burned in his chest like a blazing torch as he studied the sudden burst of activity at the table directly in front of the stage. Jason and Charlene Blake leaned toward their daughter, their faces drawn into tight, furious lines. Sydney—the endgame in this evening’s plan—wasn’t looking at her parents, though. Didn’t appear to be paying them any attention at all. Her focus was aimed at the stage. At him. The spotlight slightly blinded him to every nuance of her expression, but still…he felt her gaze on him. Like a light hand on his chest, his face. The touch was delicate, determined. Probing.

Inhaling sharply, he gave himself a mental shake, knocking aside the fanciful thought like an aggravating gnat.

“What the hell just happened?” a furious voice demanded next to him.

Arching an eyebrow, Lucas turned to the tall, dark-haired man to his left, a scowl lowering his eyebrows over his green glare. Tyler Reinhold, the fiancé of Sydney Blake. The man she’d assumed she was bidding on in the auction. But a promise to meet with the mistress of ceremonies’ husband regarding a business proposal had garnered her cooperation in supplying the wrong information to Sydney.

Aiden would’ve called his tactics underhanded. Lucas preferred inventive.

“I’m sorry?” he replied to Tyler’s hiss, feigning ignorance.

Tyler didn’t reply but instead shot Lucas an eat-shit-and-die glance before storming off the stage. Lucas stared after the other man’s retreating, stiff back then returned his gaze to the tableau unfolding on the floor. Sydney rose from the table, and her parents formed a barrier on either side of her. Though from his distance he couldn’t catch the words, the tense figures, lowered heads, as well as the young woman’s calm—too calm—expression telegraphed the verbal attack her parents waged.

And soon, her enraged fiancé would join the melee.

Damn. Turning sharply, he strode toward the wing and the exit at the bottom of the shadowed staircase. He didn’t analyze or question the urgency in his steps or the need to act as her ally.

Even if that ally was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Moments later, he approached the tight-knit group. He clenched his jaw, grinding his teeth together so hard he could’ve breathed enamel dust. With mother and father on either side of Sydney and fiancé in front, they looked like a legion of armies surrounding a fortified garrison.

Like she was the enemy.

“Excuse me,” he murmured, smoothly aligning himself next to her. “I’m sorry to interrupt.” Not a chance in hell. “But I wanted to introduce myself.” He smiled, clasping her hand in his and lifting it to his mouth. Ignoring her soft gasp and the dark scowls of the other three people, he brushed his lips over her knuckles and met a pair of lovely hazel eyes. He fought off a frown. Perhaps the loveliest he’d ever seen.

The alluring, fragile scent of honeysuckle wrapped around him. For a moment, her parents, fiancé, and even Lucas’s own fifteen-year-old plans of revenge faded and disappeared into the netherworld outside the intimate circle enclosing him and Sydney Blake.

For six months now, Boston had been his temporary home, so he’d attended many of the same social events as she—had even glimpsed her tall, curvaceous figure and the long, straight fall of gold and brown hair—a vibrant, warm blend that couldn’t be achieved or copied in a beauty salon.

Still, he’d never been this close, had never stood face-to-face with her. Had never detected the spattering of golden freckles dusting her nose and cheekbones that were barely discernible against her honeyed skin. Never glimpsed the sweet dip over her top lip that invited a man’s tongue to sample, to taste. Never noted the sensual, plump fullness of a mouth created for sin and pleasure.

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