Claire knew there would be no point in even trying to refuse to meet Ryan. Bubba waited just long enough for her to change and then pulled her out of the room until she insisted she could walk by herself. It was simple survival, she told herself. She would only make things worse for herself if she didn't concede to these men's demands on occasion. She needed to buy time until she figured out a way to get off this island.
A breath caught in her throat when Bubba stopped in the doorway of the dining room and Claire saw Ryan standing there, at the window, his attention focused outside.
His sandy blond hair was slightly dark at the ends from what she guessed was a recent shower. He wore a dark brown suit jacket that fit his broad, muscled back and arms perfectly, tailored down to a lean waist and long, powerful legs encased in brown slacks. He turned to her, and Claire swallowed hard, feeling a fluttering deep in her belly that made her despise the female weakness in her. His blue eyes flickered with unmistakable lust for a split second before the cloak of indifference snapped back into his gaze.
"Thank you, Jerry. You can leave us alone now," Ryan said, his attention moving behind her to Bubba.
Claire turned, almost begging the guard not to leave her alone with this man, but she was met with nothing but the door closing behind him.
The table was set elegantly with silverware and two crystal vases of orchids, her favorite flower, arranged around covered trays of food, the scent of which made her mouth water.
"The dress looks beautiful on you. I knew it would," Ryan admitted.
"You picked it?" Claire asked, trying not to be affected by the sight of him.
He gave a short nod. "I didn't tell Jake how I knew it would fit you, how I knew your style. Simple yet elegant." He cleared his throat and pulled out a chair. "Please, have a seat."
"I suppose I'd better, or you might put a bullet in my chest like you did my brother," Claire said, angry just as much for her weak attraction to him as the evil criminal he was.
He put his hands on her shoulders and leaned down, his voice tight with anger. "I did not shoot Kyle."
She knew that. She squeezed her eyes shut tight and told herself that was just a technicality. "You were there."
Ryan took the bottle of white wine and filled her glass. "Yes, an unfortunate accident of geography," he replied in a smooth, polished voice that infuriated her more than the brief flash of anger he'd shown a second earlier.
Maybe because the anger she recognized. The anger reminded her of the boy he had been. This cool, controlled man was a stranger.
She resisted the urge to take the wine and throw it in his face. Instead she took a sip, letting the sweet, crisp liquid settle on her tongue, enjoying the taste. She told herself the stranger he was now was safer to her emotions.
"I didn't know Kyle was going to be there," Ryan said.
She was unable to stop the snort before it escaped. "Right."
Again there was a brief flash of anger before he quickly hid it. "Now, let's have some of this delicious dinner, shall we?" He gave her a small smile.
It was a fake smile. Claire knew what his genuine smiles looked like because they had always been so rare. They would curve his sweet lips and lift the apples of his cheeks and make his eyes light up.
"Why even bother? Moroni's on his little trip, so why not just cancel this stupid dinner?"
"No reason you should be denied our island's delicious cuisine," Ryan pointed out.
"Hmm, when I get free, I'll be sure everyone knows that, even though I was held in a nest of murderers, at least I ate well," Claire said sarcastically.