Of all the wine bars in all the world, Jim Dewing had to walk into Gemma's.
Handsome, confident, and powerful, Jim ambled in, a stranger trailing in his wake.
No, on second thought, not trailing, but strolling. Another arrogant bastard, she thought with a bitter smile. They made an arresting pair, dark and blond, two potent men out for whatever they could get.
The newcomer's electric-blue gaze flicked around the bar, assessing and measuring. Did he want company for the evening, or was this just a casual survey? She stirred at the thought of him naked and panting for her, but she kept the thought light. She wasn't available to him, even if he asked; he'd come in with Jim, and any friend of Jim's was most likely pond scum, however handsome he appeared.
Her colleague, Gary, leaned across their table to murmur to her, although he could have used telepathy, vampire to vampire. But Gary wasn't a vampire born and not always comfortable with the ways Gemma and Gary's partner, Steve--a vampire born like her--took for granted. "That's the new guy at our agency. Fabrice Germain."
"Unusual name." Idly, she stretched out her mind for empathic content but met a mental barrier so hard and impregnable she learned nothing at all. This guy had a formidable psychic block, whether he knew it or not, but nothing to indicate a Talent, so he was most likely mortal. Not every mortal knew about the defenses they developed in the first week of life, but despite that, Germain's was one of the strongest she'd ever come across.
Germain had the face of a predator, sharp-featured and alert. She had no trouble imagining him as her replacement at the prestigious agency of Taylor, Taylor, Ferrante, and Noakes. He looked the part, from the immaculately tailored suit to the carefully cut, gleaming blond hair, and he already had the air of confidence all the employees of that company wore as a matter of course.
Jim Dewing, the UK head of the agency, stared at her, defying her to ignore him, a slight smile quirking his full lips. She nodded coolly back, then immediately looked away, catching Gary's sympathetic gaze. He still worked at TTFN, but they took care not to talk business. She didn't see why she should give up her friends with her old job. "Will you get into trouble for consorting with the enemy?"
Gary shook his head, smiling. "No. When you left us to go and work at Corners', I told Jim you were my friend and would continue to be my friend. I assured him I wouldn't talk about work with you, and told him to live with it."
Steve chipped in. "We didn't want to give him any opportunity to fire us in disgrace. After all, Gemma, you didn't just chuck the agency, you chucked Jim, and he might be after revenge." He paused, frowning a little. "Though I don't think he would. It's not his style."
"Not usually," Gary said. "But he does miss you. His psychic barrier's strong, so I can't reach him, but he behaves as if he's missing something, sometimes. You know, looking around at six o'clock, that kind of thing."
She'd always checked in with Jim at six to see if he was ready to go home, or to tell him she was working late. She found those habits the hardest to break now they'd split up. She was better off working somewhere else, where she wouldn't see people who reminded her of him. Not that she wanted to remember the time when she'd come so close to making a complete idiot of herself and maybe betraying her kind as well. She'd been about to tell Jim about her true vampiric self. Until he'd betrayed her, she'd thought it the next step in their relationship.
The more fool her.
Gary's infectious chuckle drew her attention. "Fabrice is a sweetie, but a bit of a wolf."
"Sweetie isn't the word I would have used." Gemma took a thoughtful sip of wine, watching the sweetie a little closer. He really was fine. She didn't usually go for blonds, but this one was well built, his muscles shaping and reshaping under the fine wool sleeve of his dark suit as he lifted his glass to his mouth and took a small sip. She narrowed her eyes. Such a tiny sip for a big man. Maybe he didn't like the drink du jour here, usually red wine. A square jaw and beautifully chiseled features made him easy on the eyes. A complete contrast to the more rugged, darker Jim Dewing.
Both were off the radar for her. Germain had taken her place and more, but she couldn't deny he deserved it. She'd read his CV before she left the agency, curious about the man requesting a transfer from the Canadian office. He had an impressive track record in Toronto and New York. But she didn't want any contact with TTFN anymore, only Gary and Steve. The rest were dead to her. And she had the dead spot in her heart to prove it.
If leaving the bar hadn't looked like surrender, she'd have gone home. After working hard on a new pitch all day, she had a legitimate reason, and she suspected Gary and Steve were tired from the same cause. It stood to reason that they'd be working for the same account, the biggest one up for grabs for months. A big account and a big prize.
Surreptitiously she watched the two men go over to the bar, where a spectacular blonde woman sipped a glass of white wine. Jim bent to kiss her cheek and slipped his arm around her waist.
Some things never changed. Come to think of it, the woman Gemma had caught Jim with had been blonde, a pale ash blonde, just like that woman, but Gemma hadn't taken much notice of her at the time. Only that both were nearer to naked than dressed. She could easily be the same blonde, but it didn't matter. The woman had done her job--broken up her relationship with Jim.
With a slight sigh, careful to hide the feelings seeing Jim again evoked in her, Gemma stood and picked up her purse. "I'm just going to the loo." Ignoring Gary's concerned frown, showing he'd noticed her sadness, she headed for the small passageway that led to the conveniences, taking her full glass of wine with her. That would go down the sink. Vampires couldn't take anything except blood after dark, but she'd become adept at concealing it. All the execs drank here, so she had to come too.
After washing her hands, Gemma splashed a little cold water on her face and checked her makeup. The regret, the utter stupidity she always felt when setting eyes on the man she'd nearly made an idiot of herself over, dissolved again. In time the feelings would go completely, but she'd never forget the lesson the affair had taught her: never let her guard down.
She wanted to go to the bar and order another bottle of wine, their last since tomorrow would be a big day, the day of the pitch for the new account, but hey, vampire...nothing but blood. Maybe she could find some drunk punter to taste, get a hit secondhand. She'd stay for another hour, max, then go home and sleep. She'd use the vampire way and flash into her bedroom from a secluded doorway or alleyway nearby. Flashing made her tired, but she was going to bed anyway, so what the fuck?
She wasn't thinking of anything except her nice, soft bed when she walked into a solid body, a body that immediately enclosed her in an embrace. A familiar body. Her heart sank.
"Let me go, Jim."
"You nearly fell over. Nothing else I could do."
Interestedly she realized his soft voice didn't have any effect on her anymore. That was an advance. Jim didn't let her go. She pulled back, ended leaning against the wall behind her, against the nobbly, painted-over embossed wallpaper. He followed.
Gemma closed her eyes briefly, tired of saying no to this man, wondering how many different ways there were of saying it. "I'm not in the mood, Jim. Just let me be. Go back to your girlfriend."
Jim flipped the woman off with a careless flick of his fingers. "She's not a girlfriend. Just a fuck buddy."
Gemma hated him more for that, not even respecting the woman he'd two-timed her for. "Do you never change?"
"Gemma." The single word held a wealth of regret and longing. "I was stupid, a complete idiot. If I promise not to fool around, will you give me another chance? Can't we try again?"
She'd have to be out of her mind to go back to him. Despite his undoubted male allure, a dark appeal that had seduced her into believing him once, Gemma wouldn't give in to him. Never again.
"If I'd wanted that, I wouldn't have resigned from the agency. No, it's over. We were close, but we never got there. Time for both of us to move on."
"I can't accept that." His fierce eyes bored into hers when she lifted her head to stare at him. "I want you back. Surely one little mistake deserves a second chance, hmmm? What if I promise never to look at another woman?" He paused, but she recognized the little hesitation as a deliberate dramatic effect rather than genuine confusion. Jim never let anyone see his confusion or doubt. Even her. "What if I asked you to marry me?" The deepened tone, signaling sincerity, the fiery gaze into her eyes. All perfectly calculated to invite her to trust him, to speak from her soul. Only an idiot would make that mistake twice.
She lifted her hands and pushed against his chest, palms open. "No. And it wasn't just one time, was it?" Now she could tell him everything she'd found out since their breakup. "You had three women in six months. Don't bother to deny it--I know. And no, it wasn't the Morgans who told me. They didn't have to. I asked around, and it seemed everybody knew except me." She bit her lip. "Don't you know how much that fucking hurt? What it did to me to know everyone was laughing at me?" Swallowing hard, she fought back the tears he didn't deserve. She would never shed another tear over Jim Dewing. "Well, you can have as many women as you like now. Except me."
"None of them meant anything next to you." He kept his voice low, throbbing with emotion. The pulses were too regular to be real. She'd never been close to finding out about the true Jim Dewing, only saw what he wanted her to see; she knew that now. "You're the only one who counts."
"Not anymore. I'm nothing special. I was just another of your women. Now let me go."
When he lowered his head, she realized he meant to bypass the wordplay and cut straight to the kissing. No fucking way. No more. She turned her head aside and nearly choked on her breath with shock.
Standing in the corridor, his broad shoulders nearly filling the breadth of the small passageway, was a tall figure, his bright hair glinting in the dim light of the low-wattage bulb above him. "I wondered where you'd got to," he said, his voice tinged with both French and American. Weird and incredibly attractive. "Shall I leave you in peace?"
Before he could turn around and leave, Gemma gasped, "No!" and saw his bland expression turn into one of frowning concern.
Jim turned with an expression of annoyance. "Leave us, Fabrice."
"I don't think so." Slowly he advanced on them. "The lady seems upset."
Jim stepped back, and Gemma caught a deep breath, gasping for air that didn't contain Jim in it. "You should have left well enough alone." Germain only lifted one arched, brown eyebrow in response to Jim's threat.
"You are my boss, and in matters of agency business, I will defer to you. But not in this."
Jim frowned but stepped back with ill-concealed chagrin. "Gemma Wilder, meet Fabrice Germain."
From the understanding in Germain's eyes, he knew all about her. He reached for her hand and lifted it to his lips in an old-fashioned gesture she found deeply sexy. "My predecessor at the agency. I'm pleased to meet you, Gemma Wilder." The touch of his lips on her bare skin nudged at her somewhere inside.
Jim growled low in his throat, pushed past Fabrice, and strode toward the door that led to the main room. "I'll leave you two alone, but don't get a room. I won't accept any more fraternization with the enemy. Gary and Steve are more than enough."
Germain met Gemma's look with a wry smile. "Not a good loser, I'm guessing. Good in an agency boss, not so good in one's private life."
The door would have slammed behind Jim had it not been for the slow-closing mechanism that swished as it let out the pressure when it swung gently into place. Gemma tried to withdraw her hand but felt it held in a firm clasp.
"I understand you two have history, but I don't like to see a man crowding a woman like that unless she wants it. I was right. You didn't want it, did you?"
Smiling up at him, she shook her head. "Not at all. It's over. He can be unfaithful to someone else."
"I see." Staring at her, his head on one side, Fabrice Germain smiled, and this time he caught her in the full beam. Charming, startlingly intimate, his smile could well be the best thing about him. Then again, it might be the worst, in which case Fabrice was a sad loss. "If you did not work for Corners' on the exact same account I'm working, I'd be tempted to kiss you too. You look adorable, you know."
What a sweet talker. So why did such a cheesy remark make her feel so good? But she couldn't feel angry toward this charming man.
"No, at least no sweet-talking this time. You are the kind of woman I would usually chase hard. Intelligent, with taste, style, and class. Nobody's fool."
Had she made that sweet talker remark aloud? She was almost sure she had not. Opening her mind cautiously, she sensed nothing in him and withdrew again. "Do all Canadians flatter so outrageously?" Despite her deep feelings of wrong time, wrong place, wrong everything, pleasure curled in her stomach, reminding her of the days when flattery was just a game, one neither party took too seriously.
"But you're smiling. You like it. I'm glad. Perhaps when the Lebec account is assigned one way or another, we might see a little more of each other?"
"Only when hell freezes over." She said it almost regretfully, but she wouldn't change her decision to leave the TTFN agency behind her.
"I understand. You don't want to see Jim Dewing again, and I work for him. Still--"
The door opened again, and Jim's voice echoed down the narrow space. "Oh, Gemma, I meant to tell you--"
Before she could change her mind, she grabbed Fabrice Germain by the lapels of his expensive suit and pulled him in for what she hoped looked like a good, deep smooch.
She found herself taken gently but firmly into his arms and gathered against his chest. Then he covered her mouth with his.
Oh, but he kissed well! Gently at first, caressing her, the very tip of his tongue touching her lips, she fell under his spell and opened her mouth. He didn't surge in like a marauder but took his time to taste and withdraw a couple of times before sliding his tongue into her mouth.
Tingles she hadn't allowed herself to feel for months danced along her spine, right down to the tips of her toes. He tasted of red wine and himself, a warm, inviting flavor that made her yearn for more.
But she knew as well as he must that this was her first and last time kissing Fabrice Germain.
Better make the most of it then. Rising on her toes, she put her arms around him and allowed her head to fall back, loving the feel of male muscle under smoothly woven wool, even allowing herself a small, gasping moan. He groaned back, and she felt the vibrations in her mouth traveling down to her breasts where his chest pressed so intimately.
The kiss turned deeper but still slow, still tasting, an exploration rather than any kind of beginning.
When he drew back, she was pleased to see his expression of amused interest turned to something else, more passionate, more open. This man would surely be the best in bed.
His breath came in short pants, and she felt something hard against her groin, something she knew she'd invited by her caresses. Lifting her hands to his shoulders, she pushed gently, and immediately he stepped back.
"I think he's gone," he said.
Fabrice chuckled. "Thank you. I know that was for Jim, but I enjoyed it very much."
She smiled back, shy now. She hadn't expected the kiss to drive everything out except the awareness of him. "I'll go back first." She didn't want to go but knew the inevitability of it.
He grinned wryly. "Yes. I need a minute or two." The front of his trousers wasn't smooth anymore. He saw her gaze and chuckled. "No hiding the effect you have on me. I wish things were different. Perhaps one day they will be."
"Perhaps," she said and walked away, not daring to look back.