Dante's Temporary Fiancée

By: Day Leclaire

One




This time his family had gone too far.

Rafe Dante stared at the bevy of women being subtly—and not so subtly—paraded beneath his nose by various family members. He’d lost count of the number of women he’d been forced to shake hands with. He knew why they were doing it. They were all determined to find him a wife. He grimaced. No, more than just a wife.

They hoped to find his Inferno soul mate—a Dante legend that had gotten seriously out of hand. For some reason, his family had it firmly fixed in their heads that it took only one touch for some strange mythical connection to be forged between a Dante and his soul mate. Ridiculous, of course. Didn’t they get it?

Not only didn’t he believe in The Inferno, but he had no interest in ever experiencing matrimonial blisslessness again. His late wife, Leigh, had taught him that lesson in the short span of time from “I do” to “My lawyer will be in touch.” Of course, that phone call had never come. Eighteen months ago his wife had chartered a private plane to Mexico to recover from the tragedy of her marriage to him and met a far worse fate when her plane crashed into a mountainside, leaving no survivors.

Rafe’s younger brother, Draco, joined him and folded his arms across his chest. He stood silently for a moment, surveying the room and the glittering contents, both jeweled and female. “Ready to surrender and just pick one?”

“Get serious.”

“I am. Dead serious.”

Rafe turned on his brother, only too happy to vent some of his irritation. “Do you have any idea what the past three months have been like?”

“I do. I’ve been watching from the sidelines, in case you hadn’t noticed. I’m also keenly aware that once you succumb to The Inferno, I’m next in line for the firing squad. As far as I’m concerned, feel free to hold out for as long as possible.”

“I’m working on it.”

Rafe returned his attention to the shimmer and sparkle and sighed. Dantes international jewelry reception possessed everything a man could ask for—wine, women and bling—and nothing he wanted.

The wine came from a Sonoma, California, vineyard just a few hours from the family’s San Francisco home office. He knew the label on the bottles was as exclusive as the guest list. The women were beautiful, wealthy and shone as brilliantly as the wedding rings on display around the private showroom. As for the bling… Well, that often fell within his purview, at least it did when Dantes Courier Service transported the stunning array of gemstones and finished pieces.

And yet Rafe was nagged by a sense of utter boredom. How many times had he attended receptions similar to this one? Always observing. Always maintaining a vigilant eye from the shadows. Always the watchful lone wolf instinctively avoided by the guests, until one family member or another thrust a potential bride in his direction. It was a pattern that had repeated itself so many times he’d lost count.

This occasion celebrated the exclusive release of the latest Dantes collection, the Eternity line of one-of-a-kind wedding rings. Each was unique, combining the fire diamonds for which his family was renowned with the Platinum Ice gold from Billings, the company owned by Rafe’s sister-in-law, Téa Dante, who’d married his older brother, Luc, three months earlier. Just seeing rings that symbolized love and commitment filled Rafe with bitterness.

Been there. Done that. Still had the scars to prove it.

And then he saw her.

The little blonde pixie working the reception as one of the caterers couldn’t claim the title of most gorgeous woman in the room, but for some reason Rafe couldn’t take his eyes off her.

He couldn’t say why she attracted his attention or explain the vague sizzle she stirred. Granted, her features were quite lovely, delicate and fine boned with enough whimsy to make them interesting. Maybe it was her hair and eyes—hair the same shade as the ice-white sand of a Caribbean island and eyes the glorious turquoise of the rolling ocean waves that splashed and frolicked across those pristine beaches. Then there was that sizzle he couldn’t explain, a vague compelling itch that urged him to get closer to her in every possible way.

She circulated through the display room of the Dantes corporate office building with a hip-swinging glide that made her appear as though she were dancing. In fact, she possessed a dancer’s body, lean and graceful, if a bit pint-size, every delectable inch showcased by the fitted black slacks and tight red vest of her uniform.

She disappeared into the crowd, her tray of canapés held high, and he lost sight of her. For a split second he was tempted to give chase. A few minutes later, the pixie waitress reappeared with a fresh tray of champagne and circled through the guests in the exact opposite direction from where he stood.

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